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 R.J - newly ordained deacon, midwest guy, who also happens to be my swing dance partner!
The first thing to know about me is that I didn’t grow up Catholic. That’s right, I’m a convert. I grew up in a “culturally Christian” home, that is to say, that my family celebrated Christmas and Easter and I would say I was raised with very Christian values. While my family was never opposed to religion, going to church was never an essential component in my family’s life. Yet, I was always very fascinated with religion and God.
In third grade I decided I wanted to go with some friends to their church and see what it was all about. Mainly, I wanted to know where they were going every Sunday for several hours on end and why we couldn’t hang out. They assured me that they were going to something called “Sunday School” and that it was fun and I should come with them to check it out. That’s where I learned about accepting Jesus into my heart. There are a lot of details that have faded due to the passing of time, but what remains is this strong sense of peace I felt when I started to learned about Jesus and how powerful it felt to belong to something special I could take with me everywhere I went. So, with the desire to accept Jesus in my heart I was baptized in third grade.
I don’t intend to highlight every single event in my spiritual journey in this brief essay, but I use this event to highlight what St. Ignatius of Loyola would call a touchstone moment. These moments serve as anchors in our spiritual journey. They are moments that we often only recognize with prayer and reflection, and they are those moments where we are absolutely certain that God’s grace is operational. For me, this moment is not only important because it would serve as the moment of my Baptism, that would take more reflection at a later age, but because it serves as such a powerful stance to take in the world—to let Jesus into my heart and be open to the grace that follows. I’ve never regretted the decision of my third grade self, even if I didn’t completely understand what that would mean for the rest of my life.
|Here I am relaxing at the crisis center where I worked as a social worker.|
It would also be about this time that I would discover two of my greatest passions: Swing Dancing and Social Work. Swing dancing all started my sophomore year when my high school put on a school musical, which was essentially a medley of musical numbers from all across the spectrum. I was cast in a swing dance number featuring Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood.” It was an East Coast Swing routine with aerial stunts and I was hooked. It didn’t stay there, of course. By the time I was in college I was going to Swing Dancing Clubs twice a week and teaching on the side to have some spare cash. I loved dancing, but I loved sharing that passion with others almost as much, maybe more.
|Here I am teaching Swing Dance with the young adults last February. Another one is coming up next week!|
|It was a similar sign to this one. I was taken by how often social workers could be involved in people's' lives.|
|In addition to Swing Dancing and Social Work, I loved coaching high school football. Here's one such coaching moment from my phase of formation just before theology studies.|
|What do novices in Minnesota do when it snows? They go sledding, of course.|
On October 22, 2016 I was ordained to the transitional diaconate. With God’s grace, I’ll be ordained to the priesthood as a member of the Society of Jesus in June of 2017. I still swing dance, and love it. I am incredibly grateful for my social work training and those I’ve been privileged to encounter along the way. I am indebted to my friends and family for their love and support. And I’m amazed by our wonderful God who has always been with me, as my third grade self proclaimed after baptism, “I have Jesus in my heart.”
|Here I am receiving the Book of the Gospels as part of the ordination rite. The bishop tells us to: Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach.|
Hope you've enjoyed this series! Make sure to check out David and Bro. Victor's stories, and Jacob's For the Love of the Church series: