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Turn to Jesus (Article)

God calls who He wills
Fr. Juan José Hernández Rodríguez

P. Juan José Hernández Rodríguez L.C.

Preparing the Ground

As we headed back to the university that Sunday, my friend Andrew mentioned to me that he was thinking about the priesthood. It struck me from his tone that this is something that he had been considering very seriously. I assured him that he would make a great priest. I then told him that I was glad I knew what the future had in store for me: I would soon finish college, find a job in Atlanta, and marry my longtime girlfriend. Unknowingly though, God had just planted the seed of the vocation in my heart. 

During those last few years of college, in varied ways, God had been drawing me closer to Him. I had spent my first years at Georgia Tech (Atlanta, Georgia) making sure I had a good time and kept an active social life. I made good friends and my list of “things to do before finishing college” was almost all checked off. I took road trips all over the country with my friends, I was involved in many campus activities, I joined a fraternity (I was their president for a year), … I thought my life was pretty good and yet something was missing.

All these external aspects soon lost their appeal. I knew deep down inside that I did not want to spend the rest of my life making the most effective, low cost, high quality “widgets” in the world and then worry about how to come out with a better version next year. I felt a longing to do something greater in life, something that could help transform people’s lives. Without knowing it at first, this is what I was really looking for in my busy life.

Events that Opened My Eyes

As a member of my fraternity, I was committed to doing a certain number of community service hours every semester. We would regularly go to downtown Atlanta and help out at a local soup kitchen that ran out of the basement of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. I remember seeing the long line of homeless people that would wait for food every Saturday morning. After each trip I would leave asking myself the question: how come I’m not in their situation? I was born in a stable and loving family, I received many opportunities to study and move ahead in life, and yet it seemed like I was just wasting my years away selfishly and without any direction.

At the same time I was making an effort to go deeper in understanding my faith. I was brought up in a very Catholic environment in Puerto Rico. Growing up everyone I knew shared the same faith
P. Juan José Hernández Rodríguez L.C.
and so my beliefs were rarely challenged. I was now in a different environment and I had a new desire to come closer to Christ and find some clearer direction in my life. I started reading the Bible, praying the Rosary, and studying the catechism. The deeper I went, the more I wanted to learn about Christ, and the more I wanted to do for him.

Together with all this I felt myself drawn to the Eucharist. I was frequently going to daily Mass at the university. I had also discovered opportunities to participate in Eucharistic adoration. God was transforming my life from within.

During this time I also had a wonderful relationship with my girlfriend of almost two years. We shared countless things in common (even our love for the Atlanta Braves!). In fact it was relationship that had begun as a solid friendship years before dating had come into the picture. Although we weren’t engaged we frequently talked about the future of our relationship and I believed it would end up in marriage. She wasn’t Catholic, but she would accompany me to Mass and she was very open to learning more about my faith.

The seed is sown

The conversation with Andrew that I mentioned above sowed a seed that would continue to grow during the next months. Never before had I given a thought to the priesthood. All of a sudden though, the idea of the priesthood started popping up everywhere. Turn on the TV, see a priest. Open a book, a story about a priest. Go to the supermarket, guess what? A priest. Then there were the “prophets” at church. These are the people that come up to you after Mass and say, “You would make a great priest.” Funny they never mentioned this until I started thinking about the priesthood!

But I had a clear answer to all these “coincidences.” God would never call me. I mean, he’s God and he knows how I’ve spent my life, so there is no way that he would choose me. But He insisted.

One morning as daily Mass was about to begin, the priest pointed out that he was being accompanied by a transitional deacon who would soon be ordained a priest. “Let us pray for him and for anyone who is considering the priesthood,” he added. Well it certainly wasn’t a homerun, but it was enough to drive it home. I left church that morning knowing that God was calling me and that I had to do something about it.


So God was calling, but I had no idea where to start. One thing was certain: I wasn’t going to tell anyone about this. After all, it might still be a mistake. At the same time I soon realized that I couldn’t properly discern while I had a girlfriend. It was clear to me that we had to stop seeing each other in order for me to walk down this path. Couples usually break up because difficulties have appeared and that wasn’t the case here. It was a very difficult thing but she was very understanding.

I finally began the process of talking to some priests I knew and attending vocational activities. These first few steps helped confirm the calling I felt towards the priesthood; and yet I still was sure that I had to keep searching.

I finally decided to share this with my good friend, Andrew. He was a Regnum Christi member and he suggested that I visit the Legionary seminary in Connecticut during Holy Week. I had only met one Legionary before, but I decided to give it a try because by now I was set on finding out what God wanted from me.

God had been saving the best for this moment. I had arrived with many objections already in mind: I don’t think religious life is for me, I don’t want to be sent out “anywhere in the world”, etc. On the first day I explained all this to the director of the vocation retreat and he just kindly listened and gave me some tips on how to make the most of the retreat.

Anyone who has been at a Legionary center for Holy Week is struck by the beauty of the liturgical celebrations. I had never seen anything like this and it really prepared my soul to hear God’s voice. During the all night Eucharistic adoration that begins on Holy Thursday I received my answer. I knew then that God wanted me there. What was said? I don’t know. What I know is that any objection just melted away. Nothing else mattered. I was certain at that moment that God wanted me entirely and without condition. And I said, “Yes.”

Good Friday was a day of silence and it allowed me to enjoy the experience of the previous night and continue to talk to God about it. At the same time I walked around the seminary grounds and observed everything that was going on. I kept telling myself, “I’m home.”

That moment has been an anchor in my vocational journey. In times of difficulties I only have to go back to that moment and am reminded of Christ’s words, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”

When I returned home after the retreat I realized that things would never be the same. I told my ex-girlfriend about this experience and she was very understanding. In fact, the next Easter she entered the Catholic Church. I also shared all this with Andrew and insisted that he needed to visit the novitiate, too. He did and eleven years later we were ordained together.

My life as a Legionary has been full of many blessings. I have constantly been challenged to come out of my comfort zone and reach out to souls. I have discovered in the Legion of Christ a family in whom I can count on, with whom I can pray, and where I feel at home.

Fr. Juan José Hernández was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico on January 14, 1976. He graduated from high school at Colegio San José and then moved to Atlanta, Georgia to study engineering at Georgia Tech. He began novitiate in Cheshire, Connecticut in the fall of 2001 and professed his first vows in Dublin, Ireland. After returning to Cheshire for a year of classical humanities, Fr Juan spent two years in Rome studying philosophy. From 2006 to 2009 he directed youth work activities in Florida before beginning his studies in theology. During this time he has also been heavily involved with the direction of the Regnum Christi Mission Corps in the United States. He is currently the young men’s section director in Atlanta.



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