Meet David, S.J. - {Vocations Awareness Week}

Monday, November 7, 2016

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.

First up is David, S.J. whom we refer to as "David the Jesuit" around the parish. He's currently our parish's deacon, Faith Formation chair for the Young Adults, and runs the RCIA program. Last year he ran the Drama program at Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco.
He wins the award as youngest-entering Jesuit I've ever met (entered at 19).
Let's hear him!

Growing up, my family was a fairly typical Catholic family-- we went to Mass every Sunday, my sisters and I went to CCD every week, and my mom was involved in the church choir. For high school, I went to the Jesuit high school in Houston. Up until my junior year of high school, I was strongly considering a career as a Naval officer, and thought about having a large family. I have a lot of family members who are in the Navy, and a strong desire to join them in that work. Now and again during my junior and senior year of high school, I remember having thoughts of being a priest, but I would usually quickly swat them out of my head, either by reminding myself that I wanted to join the Navy and have a family, or by telling myself that only really holy people joined the priesthood.

The same respect and admiration I felt towards the Naval officers in my family, I was slowly but surely starting to feel for the priests and brothers who worked at my high school. One moment in particular that stood out for me was how one of the priests was supposed to come and join us for part of our senior year retreat, but was called away to be with a student's mom in the hospital and give her Anointing of the Sick. That ability to just drop everything to be with someone and administer the sacraments to a person in a time of great need stayed with me long after the retreat had ended.

Around March of my senior year, I remember talking with a friend of mine from my sister school (Strake Jesuit in Houston is all-boys, so we collaborated with the all-girls Dominican high school for lot of things) who I did theatre with, and telling her about how these thoughts kept on popping into my head, but I was still pretty set on getting a commission in the Navy. She then asked me point blank why I didn't consider becoming a priest, and I had no answer, so I decided I would at least look into it. I was generally attracted to community life, so almost from the start I decided that I wanted to join an order rather than the diocese. I had recently discovered Thomas Aquinas, so I looked into the Dominicans. I had heard that the Passionists did a fair bit as military chaplains, so I looked at them, but nothing was really sticking. Deciding that I had done due diligence, I decided to go to the Jesuit website and learn more about the Jesuit vocation. I remember as I was reading about the typical ministries of Jesuits, when I came across "teaching catechism to boys," there was sort of a "eureka" moment. What I wanted to do as a priest and what the Jesuits did just seemed to click, and I realized "aha! Yes! That's what I want to be!" The intellectual rigor of Jesuit formation really appealed to me, and the opportunity to share the fruits of that study in education was likewise exciting.

I'm in the back row, 2nd from the right. The woman who suggested I should think about becoming a priest is the young woman with the glasses in the front row, third from the right.
When I got in touch with the vocations director for the Jesuits, it was too late in the year for me to start an application process, so he suggested I go to Texas A&M as I had been planning and think about applying during my freshman year. I still remember praying about what I should do in a small Catholic church on an island in coastal Georgia where my mom's family gathered every year, thinking about when I should apply--if I should try to enter the Jesuits after my freshman year, wait and finish college, or go through the Corps of Cadets at A&M, get a commission, and get the Navy bug out of my system. Weighing my options, as I thought about entering the novitiate after my freshman year, I began to ask what the worst thing could be if I entered, found it wasn't for me, and left--I would have a great spiritual foundation, met some people, and had some really good experiences. Suddenly, I felt a great peace about applying to the Jesuits-- though I reminded God that if it wasn't what He wanted, a rejection letter would be pretty helpful.

 My arrival at the novitiate on 14 Aug 05. The man in the goatee is Fr. Billy Huete, S.J., my novice master.
My year at A&M is something I'll always cherish, and there are people I am still very close to from my time there. But as good as it was, I knew that the Jesuits were where I needed to be. When I entered in 2005, there were eleven of us in my class, and four of us were teenagers--two guys who had entered right out of high school (the same Jesuit high school I went to, in fact), and one other who had entered after a year of college. We ranged in age from 18 to mid-40s (a diocesan priest who wanted to explore whether he had a vocation as a Jesuit priest), but our novice master, Fr. Huete, emphasized that no matter where we came from, we were all novices and all there to learn about what it meant to be a Jesuit. The youngest and oldest still needed to do the same chores, and still needed to learn how to pray and live as Jesuits. Everyone's prior experience was respected and utilized, we were all still very much in the same boat, and I never once felt isolated from any of my fellow novices, no matter what their age.

2007, the moment I took vows. For the Jesuits, the provincial places the Eucharist before the vovendus, and he pronounces his vows directly to the Lord.

My novice master entered right out of high school, and as he put it, "there's a grace to growing up as a Jesuit"--that is, to entering the Jesuits before you've completely entered adulthood. There's less to unlearn, as so everything has a great chance to sink in and really become second nature. Going through the early stages of Jesuit formation and figuring out where God was calling me while my identity was still taking shape meant that the Jesuits were really able to shape my identity and who I am in a significant way.

I never stopped being "David," but I did very much become "David, S.J." If I had entered a little later, that Jesuit part of me would have had to compete with the other parts, and grab hold in a different way. St. Paul says that Jesus came "in the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4)--the Incarnation wasn't just a matter of Jesus coming down, but coming down at a specific time and place. God didn't just call me to enter the Jesuits by telling me "enter any old time you please," but called me to enter at a specific time, and made it clear that this was the time I should apply to enter. That experience of peace I had about entering after my freshman year simply wasn't there when I considered the other two possibilities. Who we are and the stories we tell about our lives are constantly in formation--I'm forever grateful that I was able to enter the Jesuits as young as I was, and to begin to make my Jesuit vocation part of my story and identity "in the fullness of time"--just as soon as I knew when I was called to be a Jesuit.

The moment of Ordination to the transitional diaconate last month.
Check back on Wednesday for Br. Victor's story!

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