|Fr. Luis Rafael Santos Varela , LC|
I would like to begin by confessing that it
is not an easy task to tell one’s own vocational
story. It is hard because you have to speak about
yourself and some memories may slip from your hands, from
your mind, from your memory, from your heart. You have
to leave out many details when there is little time
and space to summarize God’s action in one’s own life.
Nevertheless I think the story of God’s action should be
Catholic…but not a fervent one
From my confirmation until I
was eighteen my faith began to fade away. I went
from living an ardent faith to neglecting it and falling
I can’t deny I was raised in a
very good family with solid values. My family however, wasn’t
too worried about living the faith too fervently. Until that
point you could say my family, as many other families,
was Catholic, but not a fervent one.
Still, we were always
taught that we had to live the commandments of God’s
law and of the Church. We were taught that going
to Mass once a year was enough. But we wouldn’t
ask more from ourselves.
It was in one of those
breaks in high school when a friend of mine approached
me and told me it would be great if I
could attend a weakend activity along with him and some
My first reaction was to ask what that “activity”
thing was all about. I found out that activity was
an encounter for young people who wanted to know more
about the faith.
This was a clue that explained why
my friend was different from all others. It was definitely
a sign that would set him apart from the rest
of my friends. My answer an immediate yes.
This encounter was
the first of many weak-end meetings with young people who
were joyful, simple, and healthy. Young men and women who
wanted to know, love, and above all, live their Catholic
faith. It was then that I began to reflect on
the parable of the man who built on solid rock,
“who hears the word of God puts it into practice”
(Cfr. Mt 7, 24-27).
From this gradual increase of knowledge of
my faith, together with my engineering studies at Baja California
University, I began to understand why that mysterious desire to
do something for others, why all that I learned in
those years and all those good things I saw in
that environment had to go beyond.
Let’s start a group.
knew that this burning passion inside me had to spread
itself, that it had to reach others. And by participating
in those meetings with Catholic younth in the parish, I
understood those words of Saint Paul: “Woe to me if
I do not preach the Gospel” (I Cor 9:16).
on I began to spend some of my time reading
and meditating on the Bible. And I tried to live
it, especially what the Gospel demanded from me every day
in my dealings with other people, and in concrete situations
in my life. I shared these ideas with a group
of friends, and within just a couple of months we
formed a prayer group.
I could say that God’s grace was
working with those in the group. Fruits? We had a
Franciscan, two nuns, two diocesan seminarians, a young man who
joined Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s order, and the one who
is telling you this story.
Other friends from this prayer group
discovered that God’s will for them was to raise good
Christian families. I have no doubt that they have made
beautiful families, some of them with many children. I know
one of them who has six kids right now.
environment helps a vocation to grow
If some one were
to ask me what made me decide to become a
priest, I’d say that I found the answer in that
healthy environment of young men and women who are in
the quest of a sincere ideal. In a quest you
may find success and failure as well. There will troubles
and difficulties in that path that will surely lead someone
to become more mature.
I came across with troubled men who
tried to satisfy their thirst with material things, or unfortunately
with people, who were treated like mere objects.
I was wrestling
with others’ “existential” problems, and with my own problems as
well. In the midst of those thoughts I pondered the
question of how to help and bring solutions for those
problems. I wondered how I could make the world and
my friends find what they were searching for. And I
asked myself how I could possibly find what I was
That’s how I found out with great clarity that
my vocation was to become a priest, to look after
the good of others and bring them close to God.
I found that my vocation was steadfast service to my
neighbor, who is Christ.
I decided to follow Christ at the
end of my engineering studies. I really believe that God’s
grace was what made me choose to leave everything behind.
It was God’s grace that began to surprise me through
concrete events, God’s voice that continually spoke with the words,
“Come, and follow me!”
God’s grace was what gave me the
strength to tell my parents that my vocation was to
become a priest. God’s grace was even greater when he
made my parents understand that my vocation is a gift.
Finding the signs
After a couple of months I was able
to find a spiritual director, a very holy priest from
the diocesan seminary who advised me in my vocational discernment.
remember very well what he told me first time we
met. Once we agreed on my vocation he suggested prayer
life, the Rosary, and a Mass attendance of at least
twice a week.
I faithfully lived these resolutions, and my meetings
with this priest were few.
In my last meeting with him
he encouraged me to ask God to help me fulfil
his will and lead me to the place I could
become holy in the happiest way possible. But what he
left deeply imprinted in me, and something I still apply
to my life, was this phrase: “Read the signs of
I was able to perceive God’s signs not much after
that. I got a phone call from the sacristan of
the parish. He asked me to go to the parish
and speak with him; he had something very important to
That very day, after going shopping with my mom,
the topic of my life as a priest came up.
I told her I didn’t know why but I felt
God wanted me to be far from home.
That afternoon, the
meeting with Mr Fidel Garcia, the sacristan of the parish,
had an effect that changed my life. He showed me
a couple of pictures of young men wearing cassocks walking
in very nice gardens, playing music, working in the kitchen,
I saw a small pamphlet. When I saw it I
felt as if I had been driving at seventy-five miles
per hour and suddenly run into a wall. In this
pamphlet I saw the picture of a smiling young man,
and on the picture was written: “Find what I found.”
began to read and said to myself, “This is where
God wants me.” I do not know how but the
certainty was present. I understood that God wanted me to
follow him there, as the son of the sacristan, Br
Fidel Garcia LC, had done some years before and later
died in a car accident.
The certainty was such that it
surely came from God and that same night I called
Salamanca, Spain. It was from there that the pamphlet had
come. In Mexicali it was 12:15 am.
Out of this
call came the meeting that has brought me to this
point in my life. Father Gabriel González Zambrano introduced me
to my first vocational experience with the Legion of Christ.
As the Bible says, I went from clarity to clarity
(2 Cor. 3:18) always marveling at the work of God
in my life.
The moment of adjustment and strength
I spent the
following summer discerning my call with the serenity and conviction
that God was calling me to this type of priesthood.
recognize that it was not easy and from a human
point of view there were some obstacles. My family was
not in favor and I felt my own weaknesses mostly
because of comparing myself with other Legionaries who seemed perfect.
has shown me that God takes charge of everything and
the power that pushes me forward is God’s grace. It
is beautiful to see how God carries us on this
mysterious road that human reasoning cannot understand or foretell.
Legionary formation there have ups and downs in all areas
of my life. I had to make a lot of
adjustments, learn, listen, understand, but above all follow what God
wants and see in this my greatest happiness. Not because
somebody tells me but because you know God is behind
it, and Christ is the one showing you what happiness
The secret of successful marriages is that you never forget
the person for whom you live. Love is love for
a person, not the qualities of that person. If I
founded my love in the qualities I would end up
losing a lot in comparison to the person I am
called to love.
God calls and gives us the means
God calls the ones he wants and he gives
the one he calls the talents to correspond. Throughout my
twelve years as a Legionary I am convinced that John
Paul II was right when he said that we should
not be afraid. One cannot live based solely on the
difficulties or limitations one experiences nor on what could have
When God calls he also gives us the means to
continue the fight and bring it to completion. This is
true of any state in life because the call is
to holiness of life. God wants all men to be
saved and come to knowledge of the truth.
If God is
calling you and you believe this call is to the
priesthood or to the consecrated life do not let your
own limitations beat you. Do not give in to waiting
periods that are only obstacles to the Holy Spirit. Do
not doubt God’s grace. Do not be afraid to open
the doors to Christ because as Benedict XVI says, “He
does not take anything away and gives us everything.”
Santos was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico on January
30, 1973. He studied electrical engineering with a specialization in
semiconductors from the University of Baja California. On August 15,
1996 he entered the novitiate of the Legion of Christ
in Salamanca, Spain where he also studied classical humanities. For
three years he worked with young people in Santiago, Chile.
Presently he is finishing his final year of a license
in Theology from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome.
He also collaborates in initiatives to give spiritual support to
diocesan priests in Italy.