Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Journey into Religious Life

I remember as a young man being asked by my Priest Monsignor Duncan if I wanted to serve on the altar.  I was at the age of 10 at that time and was terrified of the prospect of getting on the altar and serving in front of all those people.  It wasn't until two year later when Monsignor retired and we were assigned a new Priest did I finally answer his request.  From the first moment I set foot on that altar I was attached to it like a magnet to a refrigerator!  I served 8 years until I moved from that Parish in Mount Airy, NC to Warrenton, Va at the age of 20.  I tried to serve at my new parish, however the Priest said I was too old and my career as an altar boy officially came to a screeching halt and I entered retirement... much to my sadness.

I believe it was while I was serving I felt the call to be a Priest.  I had always dreamt of it as a child, Mom was always purchasing a new saints book for me and I loved to read their lives and adventures over and over again.  By the time that I hit my early 20's, the last thing I wanted to actually do was be a religious, I wanted money and the fantasies of the world!  I began to do stupid things in my life, like fall into the trap of Multi-Level-Marketing (MLM) where I was continually being sucked into fantasy of working from home and being a rich man and I ate it all up, I followed everything these people told me.. I hassled family and friends, called people endlessly on the phone, and then even went to the extremes of badgering Christ about it and then getting mad when he didn't drop that pot of gold into my lap. I remember one particular day, now that I look back on it years after it happened.. I just shake my head and laugh at the mere stupidity of myself..  I was in a new program called "Club Colossal"  (just the name rings of stupidity) and I was convinced as a founding member that I was going to be making 10,000 bucks a month selling leads and selling positions in my downline.  So I ran into Church and had this wild idea that I would make a deal with God that I would prob never live up to.  I ran up to the altar in a frenzy and knelt down and told God that when I was making 10k a month I would give it all up for him and do whatever he wanted, ie: follow him as a religious.  

And so I found myself lost once again in the turmoil of scam and now I realize that God not only heard my prayer, he answered it.  Granted, it wasn't in the way that I wanted.. but here I find myself in 10K of debt and entering  religious life!!  Ironic isn't it?  HAHA!  God has a sense of humor.  He must have looked at me and just shook his head and said "Child, I accept, however this will not end the way in which you originally proposed".  

At first I ran from the idea of a vocation...  I would do anything and everything to avoid even the topic of it.  I began to become just a shell of what I was meant to be.  One one side I would feign holiness in Church, but as soon as I got home I become the soulless cyber addict.  I spent years and years just trying to reach a life of richness and I spent gobs and gobs of the money that I worked hard for in my day jobs.  There were definitely times in those years that I had an inkling of a calling and as time went by I continued to feel a call grow stronger and stronger and I would find that the more that I tried to avoid it, it would rise from stangers who would tell me that I should look into religious life or I should be a Priest.  Some morning I would wake up in bed and have some religious song  playing in my head or I would wake up with a dream of being a monk or a Priest.  It was around the age of 25 that I began to take my life more seriously and the prospect of a vocation, I began what would be a major conversion in my life.  I finally stopped running from God and one day stopped by Church and told him that I was open to what he wanted in my life and if he wanted me to be Priest then I would do as he asked.  It was at and around that time that I felt a peace enter my life.  I began to say the rosary again, daily, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day.  I began devotions, adoration, stations of the cross, spending time in Church and getting to know Our Lord more intimately.  

I remember one day kneeling down in Church before mass and I asked God what he wanted me to be, where I should follow him through.  I had no more finished my prayer when I felt someone tap me on the shoulder and ask if they could sit down, it was just a few moments before sunday mass began and the pews were filling up fast.  I remember not even looking over, just scooting down a few feet and then sitting back and looking over at the person who had tapped me on my shoulder...IT WAS A MONK IN A FULL HABIT!!!!!  I almost fell out of the pew.. and then looked around and saw that the pew in front of me was empty and the pew behind me and yet this man chose to sit in my pew.  I took it as a sign from God and was like "WOW!".  It was a Benedictine monk and remember being just enthralled with the man, he probably felt suffocated by the sheer amount of looks I was giving him during and after mass. =)  

After mass, I followed this man outside and we spoke.  There were a few things that just threw up red flags for me immediately.  1. He was also a police officer for Prince William County Police (that was a big one)  2.  His monastery was in Indiana and he was living outside of it.  3.  He had two children who he was taking care of.  None the less, given all these things, I was enthralled with the man and believed everything he said, he had an answer to ever question I gave him and I even thought about answering his request and visiting his monastery.   But again, these questions continued to bother me and I felt I needed to visit a Benedictine monastery and ask them about this man.  So I went up to the oldest Benedictine Monastery in the USA in Latrobe, PA and visited for a week of vocation discernment.  It was there that they had a book of all the Priests, Monks, Convents, and Monasteries in the world that were Catholic.  We didn't find his monastery, in fact after further research we found that he was an Episcopalian and his monastery was founded as a joint place between a Buddhist 'woman' leader and a man who one day decided he wanted to start a monastery.. 

I returned home with a broken heart feeling utterly betrayed by this cop.  When I got home I learned that he was not properly vetted by our Priest and returned one weekend as an ordained Priest from a Caribbean island and concelabrated mass with the Priest as well as heard confessions on a Saturday.  He also handled the money after mass.  Luckily nothing was missing, however when the Bishop found out about this sacrilege he was banned from all the Churches in the Diocese and the Priest that was originally at the Church was moved.  Needless to say I felt the Benedictines were not the ones for me and I continued my search.  I began to search online for religious orders and what I found were a bunch of liberal old men who didn't wear habits and had such things as prayer mazes at their monastery and other new age crap.  I  created a system that worked rather well.  I would visit a site and would go immediately to the pictures, if I saw a group of old men with gray hair and no habits I would close out the website and move on.  I sent out my name to several of the places that I found, however when looking into the further or visiting them I realized that they were not were I wanted to be.  

I let my vocation and the desire to slide and entered a dark period in my life.  I began to lose my love for the rosary and for Holy Mother and it was then that I found myself in a dark place that would take me years to escape from.  I ended up going to confession weekly for years confessing the same addictive things over and over again and not getting anywhere in my spiritual life.  Back in the fall of 2008 I found a silent retreat down in Hampton, Va and experienced a miracle from Mother Mary and had a second conversion.. this time it was to stay and brought me into a deep relationship with God.  It has taken me the last two years to come back in all totality with God and to have that relationship that I once had.. perhaps even deeper now.  It was back in 2008 during this period of renewal that I found a religious order known as the Mercedarian and got in contact with them.  I remember speaking with the then vocation Dir. Fr. Matthew Phelan who is now the Superior and he invited me up for a visit and around the time that I was thinking of going up to see, my much beloved Grandfather passed away unexpectedly.  I told Fr. Matt that I needed to mourn and I would get back in touch with him when I was ready.  Little did I know, I was going to forget about them.  It wasn't the right time for me to go up there.  

I started a new job with a Catholic Charity in December of 2009 and couldn't attend the March for Life in D.C of this year.  Mom however, was able to go and in the hundreds of thousands of people in the march.. who did Mom end up next too?  Yup.. the Mercedarian Friars!  She came home all excited about an order of young guys that she had just met and wanted me to look into them.  I remember thinking to myself.. this group sounds really familiar.  I looked them up and realized that I had lost contact.. I read my last email back in 2008 and quietly said "wow...".  Was it mere coincidence that Mom ended up next to them?  I think not.. it was providence, this was God working in my life.  Mom told me that one of the ladies from Church told her after the March for Life "I feel Michael is going to have something to do with this order".  What she said range true.  I got back in contact with the Friars who were now under the direction of a new vocational director "Fr. Joseph Eddy"..  Fr. Joe asked me if i wanted to come up and visit and I said absolutely.  I went up on March 15th and stayed for a week.  I spent a day at St. Charles Seminary and had a marvelous time.  All the brothers were very welcoming and the house was absolutely beautiful.  I felt right at home and I had a spiritual high the entire time I was there.  I enjoyed everything, from the daily prayer, to the community rosary and recreation.  I knew this is where I wanted to be.  

While there I spent some time in the beautiful chapel located in the house and asked God for 3 signs if this is where he wanted me to be.  

1.  The order would invite me in
2.  I would have an outward sign from someone not associated with the order that this is where I should be.
3.  That my debts would be paid off or the order would accept me and allow me to work something out with them in regards to the money that I owe.

All 3 things have been answered in this order:
Upon my last day there, Fr. Joe told me I was a good fit and asked if I wanted to apply.  First sign was answered.  
I got home and excitedly was telling Mom all about the order and my experiences and where the Novitiate house was... in Leroy, NY.  Mom was like.. "Hold up.. are they the Fathers of Our Lady of Divine Mercy?" .. I told her "No, the Fathers of Mercy are a different order".  Mom said, "No, I this isn't the Fathers of Mercy".  We bantered back and forth for a few minutes and then she told me hang on .. she was going upstairs to get a card from a group she has been dealing with in Leroy, Ny.  Mom came back downstairs and told me that since I was born she has been having masses said for me and prayers said through a group called "The Fathers of Our lady of Divine Mercy" in LeRoy.. she laid down the card and I flipped it over to find none other than the seal of the Mercedarians and it was signed by Father Provincial!!!!!!!  I almost fell out of my chair. Here was my second sign.. neither she nor I knew that this was the same order!  It nearly blew my socks off.  =)  God answers these things in mysterious ways.  My third sign was answered as well.  

I went back up to the Philadelphia House in May for my grueling psychological exams and was accepted into the Postulancy program on June 2nd.  =D  

On August 20th I begin a new chapter in my life.  May God and all of his angels assist me.