Many and varied are the ways in which our saintly forebears laid down how everyone, whatever his station or the kind of religious observance he has chosen, should live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ—how, pure in heart and steadfast in conscience, he must be unswerving in the service of his Master.”
—St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem
But let us return to San Francisco, 2011. Fr. Garry Cappleman planted a seed in me that day at St. Dominic’s church in the city of St. Francis, and although it would take years to bear fruit, it began to germinate in me at once. The Rosary Confraternity sent me a certificate of my perpetual enrollment listing the feast day on which I had been enrolled as a member: Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I felt inspired to adopt Our Lady under that title as the personal patroness of my conversion, as well as the patroness of my vocation.
“Our Lady of Mount Carmel, glorious Queen of Angels, channel of God’s tenderest mercy to man, refuge and advocate of sinners,” began a prayer which I found in those early days and copied into my notebook, “with confidence I prostrate myself before thee, beseeching thee to obtain for me certainty in my vocation, security in my relationships, trust in God my Father and true friendship with Jesus Christ my Lord…”
Furthermore, I adopted St. Dominic as my personal patron and took his name at my confirmation. I began praying the rosary almost every day, usually before daily Mass at my parish. One day I remember an older gentleman who also came to daily Mass asking me, “What are you praying the rosary for every day?”, and without even thinking about what I was going to say, the words “I’m discerning a vocation to the priesthood” flew to my lips. (Afterward, I thought incredulously: “I am?”)
It wasn’t long before I spoke with my pastor and then the vocation director of the Archdiocese of Portland about discernment and the possibility of my being called to the priesthood. My first desire was to join the Dominicans, but I saw on their vocations website that they only accepted candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree, so I set my sights a little closer to home. In the winter of my senior year of high school, I went on a diocesan vocations retreat over a weekend in Portland, which was in many ways confirming, but I knew I was young both in years (at that time only 16 years old and just about to graduate high school) and in the faith, having been less than a year in the Church. I was restless and uncertain.
For years I had planned to study graphic design, or possibly creative writing, at the University of Puget Sound. I started telling people instead that I was going to apply to Mt. Angel Seminary to study to be a priest. Some people were incredulous, but I found almost everyone was supportive; some even said they weren’t surprised! However, I wasn’t sure. I knew I couldn’t ignore this sense I had of being called, chosen for something more, but I didn’t feel ready to take the plunge. I missed the deadline for UPS; I vacillated back and forth between beginning my application with the diocese or staying at home to discern another year and studying at our local community college, UCC.
Finally, one day after daily Mass, I stayed behind in the church and sat looking up at the crucifix, and found myself overwhelmed by this sudden intuition of just how much my life had changed in the few years prior. It was as if I could see all my own plans for my life, all neatly laid out, but the foundation they were built on was just gone, like the proverbial house built on sand. Instead, here I was, sitting in a Catholic church, not only confirmed and received into communion, but discerning a vocation to the priesthood! I never could have imagined it, nor could I have known how much healing would go on in my heart from wounds I wouldn’t even have known I had then, how deeply I would feel at peace and filled with joy and gratitude.
I was struck by the realization all at once that God had brought me there, and not in an abstract or a theoretical way, but actually, patiently, through my years of wandering, loneliness, confusion and doubt; through slow revelation, through gentle nudges from path onto path, from grace unto grace, by a quiet burning in my heart that grew greater and greater, a longing for that love which no one but Him could ever satisfy. And there I was, in His Church, having just received Him into my very self, and I felt in that moment I could die and be perfectly content.
Looking up at Our Lord then, I offered a simple prayer: “Lord, I don’t know what you have in store for me, but my life is yours. You can have it all. My plans are nothing compared to the plans you clearly have for me. These past years are proof enough of that. So I surrender it all to you, Lord. Just show me what you want me to do.”
After that, it became abundantly clear that my discernment of priesthood was going in the “right direction”. People from all areas of my life started asking me almost daily, as if by clockwork, whether I had considered becoming a priest, or telling me they thought I would make a good one (including a certain secular Carmelite and parish sacristan who would always let me stay in the church after she locked up, and who one day said, “I think you would make a great Carmelite, you’re so quiet and pious!” before pressing that order’s vocations brochure into my bemused hands).
I decided, however, to take another year at home to grow in discernment and maturity in the faith. Almost immediately after graduating high school, I started working at a cell center in Roseburg as a bilingual Spanish insurance claims intake and customer service rep, where my schedule was flexible enough to allow me to go to daily Mass almost every day. I went on the archdiocesan vocations retreat again the following year, January 2014, just after Archbishop Sample had been appointed to the see of Portland, and after a full year of serious discernment, then hearing his vocations story and reflections on priestly life and ministry, I thought: “I’m ready.”
In a holy hour at that retreat, I renewed my offering of my life to Jesus Christ and begged him especially to give me a special grace of detachment from my family and friends, especially my best friend from high school—”to love them as they need to be loved,” so I could give myself fully to Him. That prayer was answered in a beautiful and clear way during that very retreat, and I threw myself into the application process with zeal over the next few months. In June 2014, I was accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Portland, and I began my formation at Mt. Angel Seminary in August of that year.
This is part 3 of Quo Vadis? – a series on my own discernment of the Lord’s call to priesthood. New updates will be posted weekly.