I was born prematurely in Ojai and quickly rushed to the ICU in Los Angeles, site I had crushed my umbilical cord between my shoulder and neck, thus cutting off the needed nutrients and oxygen that would normally have kept me alive. It was sort of a miracle that I survived without any major problems, apart from having to be on a monitor for a number of months to make sure I kept breathing on my own. Apparently God had a plan in store for me since He kept me alive even before birth.
I was raised in Santa Paula in a family where the Faith was central to our life together and my parents were models for how to live a life of holiness. We would often go to weekday Mass, which sometimes involved waking up at 6 A.M., and we tried to pray a daily rosary, even if sometimes there was more sleeping than praying going on. My parents have always been models for living a fully Catholic life and thus showed us how to let Faith inform everything about life. Due to their example, I always knew that Christ and the Church were at the center of my life.
Learning how to altar serve when I was eight years old opened the door to a deeper experience of the Faith. At the altar boy meetings I not only learned how to serve Mass well but also many aspects of the Faith that were expressed therein. I remember particularly the explanation of the liturgical colors and how they pointed to the different mysteries and celebrations of the liturgical year. When we learned about the sacred vessels, we were told that they were not “the thing with a lid” nor merely ordinary precious objects but were consecrated to God only for His use.
Each had a name, a proper function and, if they were damaged beyond repair, they needed to be disposed of reverently and according to the ritual of the Church. Everything devoted to God was to be beautiful and with the best materials available, for nothing was too good for Him. I began to think about how our parish priests were consecrated in a similar fashion, set aside from normal life in order to be an offering to God and a dispenser of His Grace for those whom He calls.
In these meetings, I also noticed firsthand the importance of discipline and the constant need to strive for perfection in serious activities, like serving God. The servers who paid attention and tried hard to do their tasks well rose in the ranks, even so far as to be in charge of the liturgy of the Triduum or Corpus Christi, orchestrating the most solemn and complex rites so that the priests and the people could come closer to God in prayer without worrying about logistics. We would vie with each other to be the best and most reliable server, to teach those younger than us the proper way of assisting the priest at Mass and to appreciate the great and wonderful duty entrusted to us. The priests always reminded us that we were striving for perfection. Through my exposure to the beauty and richness of the liturgy, I first began to ponder the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood.
Like most parents, mine would sometimes ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Around five years old, I was interested in being a scientist. A couple years later, I replied that I wanted to study insects. By the time I was eight or nine, after starting as an altar server, I told my parents that I wanted to be a priest. Whenever they asked me that question again, I would say a bit exasperatedly that I had already told them that I wanted to become a priest!
This call kept growing stronger, especially as I started going on a daily rosary walk and praying part of the Divine Office, practices that fit well into my homeschool education. I enjoyed the richness of ideas and expressions that the Church had carefully crafted over the centuries, as She wove Sacred Scripture and the insights of the great saints and theologians into a hymn of praise to Her Beloved. I began to see that the liturgy, in the Mass, the Sacraments and the Office, gave voice to spiritual experiences that I wouldn’t have understood or been able to express in my own words. Thus, the beauty, reverence and truth that the liturgy conveyed helped me to see Christ and the Communion of Saints as integral to life and the journey to our Heavenly homeland. In this way, the liturgy was forming me in a school of prayer, whereby I was able to approach God with greater familiarity in my personal prayer.
After high school, I went to Thomas Aquinas College, where the experience of a community of people growing in friendship while seeking Truth helped to imbue me with a desire for deep friendships that centered around God. We would often stay up until midnight or later discussing and debating the important questions of life and the Faith and seeing how these should influence our own actions. In my Senior year, I decided to do a Holy Hour once a week. Being quietly in the Presence of the Lord showed me that I couldn’t hide anything from Him, He drew to the surface what I needed to confront or admire but He does so as the Good Physician to heal our wounds and make us more like unto Him.
After College, I went to Saint John’s Seminary, in part because I wanted to give back to the community that had done so much to make me the man I am today. I was proud to be part of a group of men who were seeking to give their lives to Christ and His Church and hoped to do so with the same vigor and constancy. During my four years of Seminary, I learned that discernment is not something done by oneself but it must be confirmed by the Church as represented by the Bishop and the formators. They sought to help me understand better who I am: as a man, as a Christian and as a candidate for Holy Orders.
I was sent to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in Lomita during my fourth year of Seminary which, especially with the many crises we are facing, helped to clarify what God wanted of me in this vocation. I found that I longed for a group of men who would help me to grow in virtue and holiness, who are also dedicated to giving their whole lives to God. I wanted to share the riches of the liturgy and the Sacraments, the freedom that comes from the Truth of Jesus Christ contained in Scripture and Doctrine. I realized that these aspirations could best be fulfilled through religious life, seeking to found an Order of Canons Regular whose charism would be to share the beauty of the liturgy in a life of religious community with the parishes entrusted to their care by the local Bishop.