This week is National Vocations Awareness Week. I'm celebrating by sharing the stories of some of my friends who have answered the call to the religious life. Here's an overview about the week.
Today we're meeting Bro. Victor! Capuchin, rapper, and all around cool guy.
I was born to two Catholic parents who, thanks be to God, are still married to this day. They raised me in the Catholic faith and educated me in the faith as best they could, by teaching me at home and furthering that education by enrolling me in Catechism and CCD classes at our local parish in Southern California. Thanks to their efforts, as well as my Godmother’s and of course by the grace of God, I felt that I had a great love for God at a young age.
However, as I got older, things began to change as a series of events slowly depleted my love for my Creator and ultimately shaped me into an atheist by the time I was 1 8. Being a victim of bullying in middle school, followed many self-perceived “failures” on my end, coupled with conflicts with my peers in high school and adopting a more “scientific method mindset,” were just some of the problems that I encountered in my youth. To briefly expound further on a few of these issues, I always have had the tendency to be a perfectionist. Starting as a young child, I would strive to be the best in everything that I participated in. In high school, there were many instances in which I got a taste of the real world, and didn’t meet the expectations that I set for myself. I was used to being at the top in academics and sports throughout my life, and I wasn’t meeting those standards anymore. At that time, I had the incorrect idea that “one gets what he/she deserves.” In my mind at the time, I felt that I was a good student, a good athlete, a good, son, and a good person, and I was doing everything that I was supposed to be doing. It didn’t make sense that I was “failing” and that I wasn’t getting anything that I wanted. I saw other kids, who seemed very happy with their life. They had the popularity, a plethora of friends, and the girl on their shoulder, yet in my mind, they were bad students, bad people, etc. I thought to myself, “Why are they getting what they want, and why aren’t I?”
While this was happening I became very influenced by what I was learning through various facets. I became infatuated with science, especially with the scientific method. One important aspect of the method is that in order to prove something, you must have evidence. You must be able to measure it or observe it in some way. Because I figured that one could not scientifically observe or measure God, God could not exist. These events as well as others ultimately led to me losing my faith in God, and becoming an atheist in the summer after graduating from High School.
When I entered college, I decided that I was going to change, so that I could get those things that I wanted. The change didn’t happen immediately, but rather over a progression of years, but I literally became a new person. I stopped going to Mass, began to hang out with a different crowd, and immersed myself in the party scene in college. I began to live a life full of sin and debauchery, as I “messed” around with women, and abused alcohol and drugs. At the end of my 4 years in college, I felt surprisingly very sad with my life. I couldn’t understand how I could be sad with everything I thought would make me happy. I had a degree, a car, friends and popularity, etc. Despite having all these things, I was empty inside and was longing for something else. That something else was God, but I did not know it at the time.
A few months later, I was back at home with my parents and still very sad with my life. It was Christmas Eve, and my family wanted to attend Midnight Mass. For some reason, which I can only explain as a pull from the Holy Spirit, I decided to join them. During Mass, the priest, Fr. Pat Kirsch, was giving a homily and he showed the congregation a quilt that some of the parishioners had made for him out of pieces of clothing that his deceased mother had once worn. I remembered that he would always talk fondly about his mom, and I just saw how beautiful of a gift it was for him. The expression of love from the parishioners was amazing, and I wanted to come back to Church to be a part of a loving community like that, something that I didn’t’ experience with the type of people I surrounded myself with. But I knew that I couldn’t come back because I couldn’t get around the fact that I didn’t believe that God existed.
Four days later on December 29th, 2010, I was at my friend’s apartment watching a movie. Out of nowhere, my entire body became paralyzed, and I heard a voice of great power and thunder and it said, “Why have you abandoned Me?!?!” It was very strange, for even before the words were spoken, I knew that it was the voice of God, for in scripture it says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me,” (Jn 1 0:27) and “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.” (Jn 1 0:1 4). After that experience, I began to realize that God was always there for me, that He had never abandoned me, but it was I who had abandoned Him. I realized God’s infinite love and mercy, that He would do anything to bring one of His lost sheep back to Him. I had done absolutely nothing to earn this gift from God. Rather, it was His own free gift to me. I knew that God would do the same for any one of His children, not necessarily in the same way, but that He is continually searching for us.
After that experience, I came back to church, began to pray frequently, read the Bible often, and eventually received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After some more time and more experiences, I wanted to give my life to God for what He had done for me. I felt His call very strongly and began discerning a vocation to the priesthood and religious life. After months of discerning, I applied with the Capuchins of the Western America Province, and was accepted in May of 2011. My formation in this order has been a great blessing, and I hope to continue to share God’s mercy with those I encounter in the future.
Check back Friday for RJ's story!