Love of God Above All Else
It is hard to express all that has happened to bring me to the gates of the priesthood is just few lines, but if I had to summarize my whole vocation story I would do it in the following terms: “God’s love for me”. I perceive my vocation to the priesthood as a free gift from God that I do not deserve. I owe everything to him and even though it may seem that I have left a lot to follow him, in reality I feel that I have gained everything, and I experience a great joy following our Lord on this path of the priesthood.
I first saw the light of this world in the city of Hemet, California, July 4th 1982. I am the youngest of seven children, not counting two who are already in heaven preparing a place for us. I was brought up in a Catholic environment where Sunday mass, CCD, and the practice of our faith was a fundamental part of our lives. My parents are very religious people and if it were not for their good example of living the faith, I believe that I would have never been able to make the decision to follow Christ on the road to the priesthood. The catholic atmosphere in which I lived was a decisive point that made it possible to arrive to where I am today.
I grew up like any other normal kid- nothing special. I used to like bike-riding, playing football, or just hanging out with my friends. At first, when I was still very young, the idea of becoming a priest never caught my attention. In spite of that, I still desired to be a person dedicated to helping others in their needs. When someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would respond saying that I wanted to be a fire fighter or a police officer. Now after many years reflecting on that, I can perceive the hand of God in my life, giving me high ideals to help those in need. I see that as a priest I can help people in a more significant way in what they most need, preparing them in their journey towards Our Lord in eternity.
My dad was a CCD teacher for many years. At times besides attending my normal CCD class, I would go to his classes for confirmation students. I learned a lot about my faith and I started to really appreciate it more, and the desire to share it with others became ever-present at that early age. It was still not until a little later that the spark of the priesthood came into my mind.
It was when I was eleven years old when I first started to ponder the idea of becoming a priest. It all happened when for some reason or another, we started going to another parish in the city of Riverside, California called St. Francis De Sales. We began to get involved in the activities of the parish, we met a lot of very good people and my dad also began to give CCD there.
It was not long before the parish priest invited me to help serving the mass, and I was very excited to do so. I was so excited that I still remember the first day that I served the mass: it was a Friday, the 10th of December. The mass was a special one celebrated by a visiting missionary priest. From that moment onward, I would serve mass every week, and that is where this desire to serve God started. I remember when I was serving mass some simple reflections would come to my mind: “Thank God that there are priests; Jesus is present among us in a real way and if there were no priests, we would have no Eucharist and no forgiveness of sins.” That simple syllogism made me think of the importance of the priesthood.
Fr. Louis Marx was the parish priest at that time. For me he was a great example of what a priest should really be. I saw him as someone who was always happy and available for anyone who needed a word. I admired the way he celebrated the mass with respect, devotion and a real love for our Lord. He also did not limit himself to necessary work but also would go out and bless houses, including my families. I decided then that when I grew up, I wanted to be just like him. I also remember all the stories that either Fr. Marx or my dad would tell us about other priests who are missionaries throughout the world. I basically made up my mind: I wanted to be a missionary priest who serves God in different countries. I also wanted more adventure as is normal in a person of such a young age.
Now how did I ever turn out being a Legionary of Christ? All the pieces came perfectly together as though God were telling me that this is where he wanted me. It all began in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. When I was twelve, we started the homeschooling program and I was pulled out of my school because the environment was not the best. Now being homeschooled, I started to go to daily mass with my dad preceded by adoration early in the morning. I would happily go even though I would fall asleep on the pew; at least I could always defend myself saying that the apostles also fell asleep in their prayer. It happened that on one of those early mornings I began to look through the magazines that are in the back of the chapel. By chance, I found one that was about the different priestly orders and congregations all over the United States. I have no idea why, but the page of the Legionaries of Christ caught my attention. I showed it to my dad and then we asked Fr. Marx about who these Legionaries are, and he told us.
Shortly afterwards, a Legionary who was from the area came to visit his home parish, which happened to be our own. I did not even know that there was a Legionary from my parish: another coincidence or providence. Right after I had asked about who the Legionaries are, a Legionary popped up! At the same time, three of my older friends started to become interested in joining the Legionaries, so we got into contact with the Legionaries and we had a big dinner with two of them and my three friends.
At that time I only knew about the novitiate for those who wanted to be a Legionary and had already finished high school, but during the meal they mentioned that there is also a minor seminary for those who are still in middle school and high school. At that moment I told my dad that I wanted to give it a chance. I don’t know if my parents were as excited about it, but they said that it could be a possibility.
Just a few months later, after constantly reminding my dad about visiting the minor seminary (also called apostolic school) he finally let me go. The apostolic school was in New Hampshire, so you can imagine that it was quite a trip from California. During my three-day visit, I really felt that that place was for me. I saw that they all had the same ideals that I did. They loved our Lord, they had a strong missionary spirit and lived for the salvation of souls. That is what most brought me to want to join.
That weekend was in June. When I came back, the only thing I had on my mind was to return the following month to try out their summer program. The summer program is a trial month spent with the minor seminarians before the school year begins My parents did not put up too much of a problem about giving me permission to go even though I know that it must have been difficult for them: I could tell by the tears in my mom’s eyes when I went aboard the plane.
I ended up joining the apostolic school that year (1995) when I was thirteen years old. From then on my priestly missionary adventure began. I was in the apostolic school in New Hampshire from 1995 to 2000. After much discernment about my vocation, I joined the novitiate that year in Cheshire, Connecticut. A couple months later I was sent to Salamanca, Spain to complete the novitiate – an unusual opportunity!. Following that, I did a year of humanistic studies in the same place. In 2003 I headed off to Rome where I studied philosophy for two years. After that I was sent to Buenos Aires, Argentina until 2009. There I did what is called my “apostolic internship”, a time dedicated to pastoral work. After that I went back to Rome and I did a master’s degree in philosophy for another two years before spending three years studying theology. Now, I will be working as a chaplain of one of our schools in Buenos Aires. I will also be working in a pastoral ministry for young men.
All these years were full of ups and downs, days of light and days of fog. In spite of it all, I can say that it was really worth it. Even in the difficult moments that we went through as a congregation and at other times of doubt and uncertainty, I see that God has called me in this particular moment to continue to help him in his salvific work as a missionary Legionary priest. He has blessed me so much and I feel his love carrying me through all the moments of my life.