Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever. The title of this article might be a little misleading, because this article is not really about me; my story is not worth telling, except insofar as Christ has redeemed me. The story of the vocation which I have received is about Christ. I did not choose my vocation for my sake; I have chosen Christ, and it is from Him that I have received this calling to the Canonical Life. But before I received this vocation, I received the call common to all people: the call to sanctity. How I wish I had known the faith well from my youngest days! How I wish these words had echoed in my ears from my birth, that I might have pondered them and kept my heart pure! Although I was Baptized, raised in the Church by good and loving parents and a caring sister, and even catechized by well-meaning people, the faith was never taught to me beyond a level which befits children who are yet without their reason. Thus, in my adolescence, I was ignorant of these inexpressibly important truths, and so my faith had no foundation. Without understanding the faith, I rejected it as unreasonable. I associated the Church with sappy emotions, arts and crafts projects, and weird music. There was nothing about it that communicated to me the holiness of God. Nothing witnessed to me the might and majesty of God. So my heart grew cold, my countenance grim, and my desires vain.
I suffered greatly as I wandered further and further from God in my search for meaning and fulfillment. Soon I turned to dark places and sought to quench my thirst in unclean waters and my hunger with the husks of swine.In order to tell my story, I must explain how much my mind has changed in the past ten years. The boy that I was ten years ago would not have understood the mind and heart of the man that I am today. You see, about ten years ago I was constantly angry because I could not find a good enough reason to live, and I was indignant because no one else seemed to care that our lives were, apparently, fundamentally meaningless.
During that time I thought, “Sure, you can pretend to create meaning for yourself, saying, ‘I live for this or that,’ but then you die, and your illusion of meaning dies with you. Or, you could say that you have a ‘shared meaning’ which is carried on by loved- ones, or by the existence of humanity itself, but what good does that do you now that you have ceased to exist? It makes no difference for you or even for them because they will all die too eventually. Everyone dies, so what’s the point? Furthermore, why bother ‘enjoying it while you can,’ because, from the beginning and in the end, it did not and will not matter to anyone at all in any way forever after. And if that’s true, it seems infinitely pointless to pretend that your thoughts, your desires, your feelings, your experience, your very existence is worth caring about, by you or anyone else. It would be simpler and more reasonable to just die now and be done with it.”
However, regardless of how simple and reasonable this may have seemed to me, I rejected it; at the time I could not explain why, but I see now how flawed the argument was. The fact that I could not find the foundation of meaning did not prove that everything is fundamentally meaningless, nor did it disprove the existence of the little meanings I encountered in myself, other people, and things, it merely meant I had not found it; it could still be out there. Moreover, I should say that I was never suicidal – thanks be to God – I just did not know how to reconcile these contingent reasons with an ostensibly meaningless universe.
Thankfully, Christ was simultaneously building in me a foundation that helped lead me through these murky waters and bring me to the Truth. I took solace in the Boy Scout program, which at least provided me with a framework of natural virtues to strive for, the fun of camping and hiking, and the company of good friends. By the providence of God, this and the example of my loving family prevented me from resigning myself to a life of complete depravity and despair. The Scout Oath and Law served as my compass in life. If I had a moral question, I made a habit of running it through the tenants of Scouting. I even earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
In high school, I met a Protestant friend whose sincerity of faith inspired me to start praying again, and I considered myself a Christian, though I was still entirely ignorant of Christ’s teachings. My parents had insisted all along that I continue attending Mass with my family, and after I had begun praying to know God better, I received a prompting of God's grace: during one Sunday Mass, at the point of Consecration, though I did not understand or believe in the True Presence at that time, I was drawn to the Eucharist by a longing in my heart for Christ. It was unexpected and I did not know what to make of it, so I met with my parish priest, and this began my reversion to the Catholic Church.
After graduating highschool, I decided to study Forestry at Northern Arizona University. When I arrived, my parents and I toured the campus, then my father brought me to the Catholic Newman Center and said to me: “Now, you have seen the cafeteria, and that is where you feed your body, and you have seen the library, and that is where you feed your mind, but this is where you must feed your soul.” I thought of this often and month by month I began to spend more time there, learning about the faith. I met there a very holy priest who witnessed to me the sacrificial love of Christ by his tireless ministry, and many young Catholics who shared the riches of the Church’s teachings and their own stories of conversion. To my amazement, I realized that there actually were answers to my questions. Moreover, these truths fit together perfectly, explaining every aspect of life in a reasonable and beautiful way, and revealing an ever more cohesive reality all flowing from and pointing to Jesus who is Truth Himself. I saw now that faith and reason were not incompatible but complementary because it was God who established both, and He cannot contradict Himself. I was encountering Truth at an incredible rate, and I could not learn fast enough all the wondrous knowledge laid out before me. I had fallen in love with Christ and His Church. During this year it dawned on me that my sense of purposelessness was the result of trying to find satisfaction in the finite, contingent, passing things of creation, rather than the Infinite, Subsistent, Eternal Being, the Creator of these things. I had only seen life as meaningless because I did not know Him who is Truth. Now I sought to know Him better that I might love Him more. The following summer, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation.
I was falling deeper and deeper in love with God and His Church, and I hadn’t really asked what I could offer Him in return until an acquaintance of mine, named Gabriel, looked me in the eyes and said, “Derek, you should be a priest.” I was completely stunned and didn’t say anything. My initial thought was, “No way, I couldn’t do that!” I tried to ignore the thought but it kept returning to me, and a week later I finally prayed about it. I asked God, “You wouldn’t want me to be a priest, right?” Suddenly it felt as though all of my future plans were washed away like sand through my fingers, and I realized that up to now all my plans were merely my own and I had not sought to know God’s will for my life. God gave me my very life and every good thing init–ifHeaskeditofmewhatwould I not offer Him in return? So I asked, “Jesus Christ, do you want me to be a priest?”
Over the course of the next few months, I met with the vocation director of the Diocese of Phoenix and began filling out the application. I had finished every other section but couldn’t answer one: “Why do you feel called to priestly ministry in Phoenix?” One evening after I had already done my holy hour for the day a woman asked me to stay with the Lord as she had to leave and no one else was there. As I had already finished my regular prayers I merely asked the Lord if he wanted me to return to my home and apply to the diocese of San Bernardino.
I felt at peace after I asked the question even though I didn’t want to return to a place that lacked the four seasons and caused allergies, besides the fact that the bishop of Phoenix, whom I’d met a number of times, was solid and encouraging to vocations. I ended up applying to the diocese of San Bernadino and after studying for two and a half years I realized that my understanding of the priesthood was more akin to religious priests, a distinction I had not known clearly before entering discernment and formation. When I read Scripture and the lives of the Saints I am drawn to their absolute abandonment to Divine Will, to Love of God above all else, to radically living the baptismal promises. Thus, I see this as the completion and culmination of my discernment to give myself back fully and completely to Christ. The Canonical Life seemed to me to be the fullest expression of the religious priesthood, one entirely given over to God and to the souls entrusted to their care. It centers the life of the priest on prayer and contemplation, which gives him the strength and resources to minister in parishes. Some of my friends from seminary had begun discerning religious life together and we felt drawn to the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception. Thus, I applied to join the community. Yet, I sought a more faithful expression of the Canonical Life, so I decided to join my other Brothers in attempting to found a new Order of Canons Regular devoted to the Blessed Sacrament.
I look forward to living out this life doing whatever God wills for me as it provides the opportunity to give back to the Lord for the many blessings he has given me. May it please God that I take the words of St. Paul as my own, and I encourage you to do the same: quae quidem retro sunt obliviscens, ad ea vero quae sunt priora, extendens meipsum, ad destinatum persequor, ad bravium supernae vocationis Dei in Christo Jesu. [Forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before, I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.]