Ad Majoriam Dei Gloriam
I was born to loving parents, a Baptist mother and Catholic father. I was baptized into the Catholic Church three months after my birth. I have been in Catholic school since 1990. I was an altar server because being an altar server was the cool thing to do (Oh, have times changed!). Even in my short stature, I took up the trombone. These two pursuits, serving at the altar of God and music, would weave back and forth throughout my faith journey.
My father’s mother, Mamere, as we called her, was the bedrock of faith for our family. She taught me how to pray and that I should never waste anything. She taught my sister and I that we should be grateful for what God has given us. In the early nineties, she contracted breast cancer. She beat it and went into remission, only to have it come back with a vengeance in 1998.
By then, I had entered into eighth grade at my dad’s alma mater, a local Catholic boys’ high school, run by the Christian Brothers and the Archdiocese of New Orleans. There was a vibrant faith among the students. Each day during the first half of the 1 1/2 lunch, a group of student would pray the rosary in the small chapel we had on campus. I decided to join them to pray for the healing of my grandmother. I would offer up that intention everyday. “For the healing of my grandmother …” August, September, October, November 22 she dies.
What faith I had was shattered. How could an all loving and merciful God, a God who promises to answer prayers not answer the one, THE ONE, I had made faithfully for four months! My trust in Him diminished to nigh on nothingness. I believed in His existence because He needed to exist for me to be angry with Him. My attitude toward life changed. It was useless to study, do homework, etc. I picked up the horrible habit of procrastination that still haunts me today. I started hanging around with guys who weren’t bad necessarily, but who were imbued with the ideals and desires of the world.
This apathetic malaise continued through my freshman year. I was of the impression that the only one I could trust from then on out is myself because if the most trustworthy being in all of existence is untrustworthy with regards to my prayers, why then should I trust anyone else?
The Holy Spirit had different plans for me. At the beginning of my sophomore year, at the opening school mass, three seniors gave testimonies before mass started. All three spoke of how a grandparent, upon them praying, e healed a various dangerous and/or terminal illness. In my hardened heart, these words could have hardened it even more by the vice of envy. Praise be to God, I was rather cut to the heart, feeling like those in Jerusalem hearing St. Peter’s speech on Pentecost.
I returned to the lunch rosary time. Different people were there but the time was the same. The guys there were all my classmates. They were praying the rosary, but decided to expand the religious activities to praise and worship as well. It was the same six of us so we decided to create a little youth group. In our masculine teenage zeal, we called ourselves the Righteous Soldiers of God (RSOG). For the first time, I had a community of faith, guys with whom I could share my faith. Two of these guys kept telling the rest of us about a ‘real’ youth group at their home parish. I procrastinated. I would now have to find a ride, or drive, it was no longer convenient to practice my faith. I now had to go out of myself. After months of them pressuring me, I finally caved into positive peer pressure. I went to what seemed to me to be the safest of the youth group events. It was night of praise and worship which I had come to love. They called it PHAT night, Praise Helps All Teens. That night I encountered Christ in adoration. I was overwhelmed with the power of the Holy Spirit. From then on, my life changed.
I became very active in the youth group, which was augmenting the Life Teen program. I had a broader community of faith to learn about the faith, to learn how to pray, to grow in relationship with God together. Many of these people, ten years later have remained some of my closest friends.
The summer between my junior and senior year of high school I went to a Stuebenville South Youth Conference. The atmosphere was exhilarating, but Saturday evening was another life changing moment. Bishop Sam Jacobs, the bishop of Alexandria, Louisiana at the time, came in to the 6,000 arena with the monstrance bearing the Eucharist. Music was blaring, all were singing. I would have normally been right there with them, but my eyes and my focus were totally on Him. For two straight hours, I never took my eyes off of Jesus. It was at that point that transubstatiation had ceased to merely be a doctrine requiring my faith and became the center of my worship. Jesus is present in the Eucharist. Amen. I believe. My faith at the point became Eucharistic.
It was through the Eucharist that Christ called me definitively to His holy priesthood. The morning after that Eucharistic procession around the arena Bishop Jacobs asked for all men and women discerning a call to priesthood and religious life to come forward. I took a public stand to the feeling I had within me.
Throughout my senior year, I would return to that petition, “Lord show me your will for me.” “What is my vocation?” I would go in front of the Eucharist in the local perpetual adoration chapel a pray this prayer through a set of mysteries of the rosary. One particular day during the South Louisiana winter I was returning to this prayer in this mode, in a particular chapel. During my time of prayer, I had my eyes closed. The phone of one of the other adorers rang (please turn off your phones before entering into the adoration chapel). He went outside. I could hear him speaking. I didn’t know who he was but I was somewhat annoyed by his lack of charity for the rest of us adoring. Upon returning, he asked the person closest to the door, “Where St. Benidle?” Something stirred in my heart, no it burned. “Show this person where St. Benidle is. Have him follow you.” This is not a normal occurance for me but I can vividly remember having this intense drive to follow that command, so I did. I walk outside and ran to the car whose break lights just flashed. I knocked on the window startling the man inside, when he rolled down the window in full view was his Roman collar. It was a priest! I said, “Father, follow me. I know exactly how to get there.” I got in my car and he followed. When we arrived at the parking lot, it was packed. I knew the pastor because he was the chaplain at my high school. I proceeded to look for him so as to talk with him, but he wan’t in the rectory. He wasn’t in the office. The lights of the church were all off. Where are all these people? As I walk back to my car to go home, I run into Fr. Kyle. Fr. Kyle was the new priest at my parish. It was his witness of priesthood that first spurred my desire to pursue the calling. Double priest. I was starting to get the picture but the Lord knows my head is hard. We did the random run “what are you doing here?” thing. I told him my side of the story, but instead of him telling his, he invited me to come with him. We walked into the cafeteria of the school and in on a big white banner with black letter read the words, “Thank You for being our Priest.” It was a dinner thanking priests for being good priests. This was in late 2002. Earlier that year the molestation scandal in Boston had broken in the press. I universal distrust of priests had spread throughout the country. These lay people wanted to support the men who had brought them the sacraments, who had been there when they were sick, who supported them during difficult times in their marriage, who represented to them Jesus Christ.
It was eminently obvious to me at the point the Lord was calling me to the priesthood. There is much more to my story, but I have already gone over the self-imposed word limit per post. Until next time, peace be with you (and with your spirit).