A story of my vocation
After turning 30 years old it occurred to me that I had just became of the same age as Jesus Christ when he started his public ministry. That realization was gone as fast as it came. Three years later, at the age of 33, a new and more intense understanding glided into my mind, that I was entering the age of Christ when he chose to lay down his life for us, for me.
This time it was a more deep and profound thought and it lasted throughout the whole year. I knew that Christ’s love for me was sealed by His redemptive act on the cross and yet, what was I doing for him in return during the course of my life? That question ignited a change in my life, a call and a grace to respond to it and eventually would lead me to entering a religious life and the priestly ordination.
Soon after having that understanding I reached for a random book on my shelf, started reading it and simply couldn’t put it down. It was “The dark night of the soul” written by St. John of the Cross. Later I would find out that most people never read this great spiritual work , or if they do, they only do it at more advanced stage in their spiritual life. I, on the other hand, had started my spiritual journey with this book. The hours were passing by and by the wee hours of the night I knew that in the words of John of the Cross I was finding a key to the truth, the beauty, the love I have been looking for my entire life.
Then followed the seven years of research and learning and reading and praying. I was led to a discovery of the great works of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and even listen to some protestant radio programs while lamenting a lack of equivalent catholic programming and resources. Eventually I discovered EWTN, the Relevant Radio, Dr Scott Hahn, St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the body,” and I was truly affirmed in my belief that there is only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it and that I not only shouldn’t be shy about it but be proud and try to lead as many as I could to discover it and love it.
I also started realizing that with the growing knowledge and understanding of the faith there must be a change of heart and my actions must be aligned with what I professed to believe.
Therefore, I decided to pray more, go regularly to confession, receive the Holy Communion and spend more time in front of the Eucharist. These actions had a profound impact on strengthening my faith to the point that one day while kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I started wondering what would happen if I totally surrendered, stopped playing games, gave everything up and follow Christ unconditionally. Yet, I wasn’t ready. In an instant I took control of my thoughts and became very scared, since I wanted to be in control of my life, my destiny and not willing to walk by faith but by sight.
That process lasted for 7 years and I was finally ready at the age of 39 to change for good. A decision came to join a group from Chicago on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When our group was still at the airport waiting on the flight to Tel Aviv, a priest joined us and I realised that there was something different about him. Here he was in the middle of the crowds not being afraid to wear his black suit and a white priestly collar making his fidelity and the witness to Christ almost palpable in the human sea of indifference. Then later I saw him praying breviary at the airport looking as if the whole world around him ceased to exist. I started wondering, who is this guy? It was such a powerful testimony of one’s fidelity and authenticity. He was the first Legionary of Christ I have ever met and his humility and charity were instrumental in my realisation that I wanted to live my life just like that, faithful, authentic, humble and charitable.
During the Mass in Jerusalem it became obvious that the Eucharistic celebration is very special for a Legionary priest. Right there I knew that such a reverence was appropriate of this greatest moment when Christ’s Last Supper, his death and resurrection converged and was preserved for all generations wherever the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated. This convergence is available for us due to the fact the the eternal God in the person of Jesus Christ entered the temporal reality through his incarnation and changed the dimension of time forever.
In the Mass the divine eternity and temporal dimension of creturness coexists at the same time for us to receive the fruits of Christ’s redemptive action from 2000 years ago.
Visiting the holy places and reflecting upon the mystery of the infinite God of universe, who stooping so low in order to prove his fidelity and love for his creatures and at the same time discovering and learning more about the Legionaries of Christ left such a mark on my soul that for the first time in my life I started seriously thinking about giving my whole life to God to prove my love for Him. There, in the land where Christ lived, walked, died and rose my fascination with becoming a Legionary of Christ began. Following the footsteps of Christ especially in the narrow streets of Via Dolorosa and attending the Holy Mass at the most holy sites of Christians changed me completely. When following the footsteps of Our Lord among chaotic crowds of shoppers, bystanders, buyers, and sellers I felt this calmness in my heart realizing that when Christ was passing these narrow streets he was completely focused on God the Father and his mission and nothing distracted him. I had been given this beautiful grace of understanding that one’s life is just like this walk Via Dolorosa, a way full of distractions and disordered commotions yet if we are totally focused on God we can persevere and get to the finish line faithfully following Our Lord. At that point I knew that I could never go back to my comfortable way of living and be indifferent to that deep understanding I had experienced some 7 years earlier at the age of 33 and what Christ’s sacrifice meant for me.
Yet, that knowledge, that experience, that new meaning in my life would probably have never happened without these three major events in my life. First, the day of my first communion which was a real and profound experience and understanding of the mystery in which Christ came to dwell in my young heart. All the truths of the faith learned during a year long preparation crystallized in a form of such a powerful experience that would never lead me to doubt the real and true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Second, occurred during a period in my life away from God when I finally went to confession one day and for the first time ever did not receive an absolution. Until that moment I was always certain of God’s great love for me and always ready to forgive me. In my mind I wanted to have it both ways, to be close to God and his promise for eternal happiness, yet at the same time to enjoy to the fullest the joys of this life, even though they were not according to His plan. There was probably no other way for me to stop blurring the line between what my faith was and what my actions were, but hearing for the first time in my life the words of a priest “I cannot absolve you.” It was a shock to me, as a son of the Church, believing in all its teachings, hoping for the eternal happiness in Christ’ kingdom I found myself for the first time separated from the priestly absolution and the forgiveness of sins.
This led me to quickly change of my ways, returning to God in humility and soon hearing anew these beautiful words: “I absolve you…” And, the third moment was a discovery of the “Theology of the body,” written by St. John Paul II. Upon finishing reading it I realized for the first time in my life that it doesn’t matter if one gets married here on Earth or not. Because even though the conjugal union is the most beautiful thing in this life, and we all know it when experiencing an unquenchable thirst to love and to be loved, that this is nothing but a spark, a dim reflection of what the flame of love is that awaits us in the mystical union of Christ and his most beautiful bride – the Church. For the first time in my life I was free, I knew I didn’t have to spend all my energies searching for happiness here in so many places, so many faces… for the first time in my life I was ready to embrace fully everything what God had in store for me.
And embrace I did. On the eve of my fortieth birthday after sending an email to the Legionaries of Christ asking for an advice on a possibility of entering their Congregation, I stopped at a street corner, as I used to do for some time, to give money to a poor man, whom I haven’t seen for a while. And then his normal “Thank you” and “God bless you” were replaced with a long pause, a deep look at me and a question: “Where have you been?” And right there I thought at that moment that it was Christ asking me about my last 39 years.
That e-mail resulted in my attending the “Test Your Call” retreat for those who are discerning a vocation and I was impressed with the quality of those who already answered the call. During those days I had experienced a kind of dark night of the soul and after spiritual direction and an initial interview with a Legionary priest I had an understanding that this religious and priestly vocation was probably not for me due to my age and there might be other possibilities in a lay Regnum Christi movement. At first I thought that it was a great news since it was God’s answer to my search for Him. But for some reason I felt sadness and spent hours in prayer leaving everything in Mary’s hands. Then after speaking with a Novice Instructor a door was open for me to join a candidacy program in June of 2008 to see if the religious life was for me. Then a final trip to Lourdes and Fatima followed to thank Our Lady for keeping watch over me over all those years and asking for her protection. When I heard a reading in the chapel of the apparition in Fatima about those who leave everything for God will gain a hundred fold, I knew that it was meant for me. Later taking a bath in the waters of Lourdes I asked Mary to cleanse me from all impurities and guide me with her holy hands and transform this unworthy speck of dust into a humble and holy Legionary priest and her son. And finally leaving my job, entering the candidacy program, eight days of Spiritual Exercises, and receiving my Legionary cassock on Sep. 14, 2008 followed.
After turning 30 years old it occurred to me that I had just became of the same age as Jesus Christ when he started his public ministry. That realization was gone as fast as it came. Three years later, at the age of 33, a new and more intense understanding glided into my mind, that I was entering the age of Christ when he chose to lay down his life for us, for me. This time it was a more deep and profound thought and it lasted throughout the whole year.