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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Not What Anyone Expected
Testimonio vocacional del Fr. Matthew Schneider, L.C.

P. Matthew Schneider, L.C.
Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC

As I begin my ministry, I’m often back in my home town, Calgary, Canada. When people ask me where I’m from I mention my childhood neighborhood, and the response is sometimes, “Can anything good come out of Rundle?” (cf. John 1:46) My family left the neighborhood as it turned bad. That is, however, one of the least surprising aspects of my vocation.

My grandfather left Germany to escape the Nazis. To him, his brother and his mom, sleeping in a freezing barn in Canada was preferable to living in Germany in the 1930s. They worked hard to raise themselves out of poverty. My dad is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met.

Even though my name is Schneider, I take after the Buckleys (my mom’s family) more. We are a bunch of nerds. My great-great-grandfather was already a University professor in Canada. Every generation since then has had a university degree. My grandparents met at a chemical research facility and between them and their 4 kids they have 10+ university degrees. My cousin is finishing her PhD in Chemistry as I write this. Simplified: I’m a nerd from a family of nerds.

I followed the family path; despite being one of the youngest kids in my class and a late bloomer, I always got top marks in Math and Science. When I was a kid, my favorite camp wasn’t ECyD but Dinosaur Country Science Camp. We dug up real dinosaur fossils and participated in archeological mapping of an Indian village. I loved this all. After High School, I signed up for Computer Engineering with a minor in Philosophy and the local university and loved it. I figured I would be happy as a Catholic layman designing computers to better this world.

Now all I needed for the good life was a cute wife
P. Matthew Schneider, L.C.
and a few munchkins.

But it was not to be.

Before we get to the moment of the call while I was in University, I’ll review my childhood spiritual journey. My family was Catholic but not boisterously so. We went to mass every Sunday – even on vacation we’d find a church. But beyond that we didn’t really do much; we’d pray together every so often, I went to Catholic school, and we learned the importance of marriage and family.

My family was and is extremely close. I remember many moments of family closeness as a kid. My mom gave up a promising engineering career to be a stay-at-home mom. My 3 sisters, mom, and dad still regularly spend time together even while 2 sisters are married.

As a teen I fell away from the Church. However, when I didn’t want to go, my parents still dragged me to Church. At one point my sister convinced me to be an altar server. My obsession with science led me to question free will – I mean we can describe everything with scientific laws – and my obsession with aliens and other phenomena lead me to question everything spiritual – if they’re out there and they’re smarter, they could do stuff like that we would think was supernatural. The arguments of science seemed airtight. The arguments about aliens seemed confused and uncertain but they seemed to be the best I could come up with so I stuck with them.

I was never a big partier or got into big trouble – the biggest grounding I ever got was for staying out past midnight at a chess tournament. Externally I seemed like a great kid but inside the gears were turning hard in the wrong direction.

These beliefs I developed seemed true yet incomplete. To me it seemed liked I discovered something so many others had missed. However, something was off. They didn’t quite satisfy. Then one day as I was taking the C-Train (metro) to high school a thought came to me, These beliefs are all a void, they are empty, they don’t satisfy, and if they’re really true it didn’t matter if I was moral, if I killed myself, or if I cared about others. They did not give me meaning in life. I needed to find beliefs with meaning. I looked briefly at different beliefs like Hindus and Jews but focused on Christianity since that seemed to give meaning to some people around me. I began to be convinced of the claims of Jesus. I went to my parish and I couldn’t find 5 teens who wanted to go to mass and took their faith seriously – maybe it is some other form of Christianity that would give me meaning since Catholicism doesn’t seem to give meaning. There were many active Protestant teens nearby; maybe they understood Jesus better? But my parents and my grandpa seemed to get meaning from Catholicism so perhaps it deserved another look. What claims separate the two versions of Christianity? I found answers online and it seemed that Protestantism was invented 1500 years after Jesus by denying stuff the Church had always taught. How could Jesus have left his believers so confused for so long? That is when I was saved by the Internet – I began to find Catholic teens online, and they were fired up.

Shortly after that my family moved to the country (as I mentioned, we left a neighborhood that was turning bad). I would ride my bike out to a secret place, lie down in the tall grass, look up in the sky, and think. I thought about God, about eternity, about so many different things. Later, I would realize that this was the way Jesus was teaching me mental prayer.

I was a serious Catholic at university; few people who knew me doubted that. I was involved in campus ministry and pro-life, and I was always debating students in a weekly public forum on issues of the day. I didn’t date my first 2 years because I was waiting till dating might end with marriage. I had already picked out one girl and knew a few others who I might ask out if the first didn’t work out.

In my second year, I had one fateful night, February 11, 2001. We had evening mass at the university where I was the sacristan, but then before we went out to a restaurant, we had a presentation on World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. The goal was to get us to sign up for WYD 2002 in Toronto; I would have gone except for this presentation. At one moment the words of John Paul II flashed across the screen, “Be not afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.” At that moment I was gone. I don’t remember anything else. All of a sudden, I had this interior certainty that Jesus wanted me to be his priest. It’s hard to describe, I just knew that was what he wanted. I had thought about the priesthood before but at this moment it went from an outside possibility (like running for politics) to a certainty. I knew it but I briefly tried to run; I avoided my friends a little, and spent hours searching online trying prove to myself that it wasn’t true.

One of my best friends was an ex-consecrated member of Regnum Christi and I had a few other friends in the movement. Their example of life, lead me to immediately consider the Legion when I heard the call. So I decided to visit Cheshire.

I was still fighting it. I dyed my hair black and made sure I wore a shirt I got by donating to the campus radio station – “Spreading Lies and Misinformation for 15 Years CJSW 90.9” – when I visited Cheshire to try to scare the Legionaries off. As I arrived at the airport in Connecticut, two brothers searched around for me, while I listened to Invincible by Skillet (Industrial Christian Rock – yes it exists) on my Discman. One pointed to me and wanted to ask if I might be the guy they were picking up, while the other gave me one look and said “He can’t be coming to visit a seminary.” The 2nd brother was just ordained a priest last year. Despite this mixed judgment, the moment I stepped in the novitiate, I felt a great peace. The closest I had experienced to this point was lying in the tall grass and “thinking.” At this point, I said to myself, “I am going to die here.”

The rest of the visit is a blur. The only other thing I remember was some video of John Paul II greeting Legionaries at various events.

I went to a diocesan vocation day after I visited Cheshire but, despite being well run and objectively attractive, it seemed dead to me.

I joined the candidacy with the intention of staying for novitiate, at least. In a way I treated the vocation like I had thought about dating: I was giving it a maximum of 2 or 3 years and if I wasn’t pretty sure by then, I was leaving.

I skimmed through candidacy. As candidacy was ending we had 8-day spiritual exercises. On the 8th day, after dinner I went outside lied down on a bench and looked up into the sky, and interiorly lost all my wind and everything turned black. For the next six months I swerved from one obstacle to my vocation to another. It was the darkest time of my life. I wondered, I questioned, I doubted, and I almost lost hope. Yet I didn’t. I came through and then almost as quickly as it began, it ended. I had presented every obstacle to my vocation to myself, my director and to God. None of them had succeeded. Very soon after it was over, I was able to have a moral certainty that this was my path – it just took the superiors 7 years to agree when they accepted me for final vows.

My Legionary life has been much like the others so I won’t bore you with all the stages; I’ll just narrate two episodes. First, went I was finishing philosophy, I thought “I’m never going to work with kids, I’m too much of a nerd and I’ll speak right over their heads.” Then I got assigned with ECyD. I decided to give it my best because I’d either succeed or fail in a manner my superiors could see I tried so they would assign me to an apostolate I’d be good at. I guess I succeeded. By the end of internship, I saw working with ECyD as part of the specific vocation I have in the Legion.

I had really clearly felt the call to the priesthood but as I worked out in the field, I noticed something else. I was not just a seminarian, I was a religious. I realized the value of my religious consecration and not only being a priest. It was a deeper understanding of the same call I received listening to John Paul II.

Somehow through God’s mysterious plan, he has lead me through this serendipitous path and I will be ordained as a Legionary this December. I’ll be the first Legionary priest from Calgary.

Fr. Matthew Schneider, L.C., was born on October 24, 1982, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He left a degree in Computer Engineering to enter the Legion. He entered the Legionaries of Christ as a novice in Cheshire, Connecticut, U.S.A., on September 14, 2001. He studied Classical Humanities in Cheshire. Has a degree in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Ateneum Regina Apostolorum. He collaborated in youth ministry in Ohio (U.S.A). He currently serves in youth ministry in Calgary, Canada.



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