From Agnostic Theist to Seminarian: Part 1

Catholic Sistas debuts its first post from a priest-in-training! Today, seminarian Craig DeYoung shares the first part of his journey from an agnostic theist to a Catholic man blessed by a call to the priesthood. Please join us in the coming weeks for the full story of Craig’s inspiring conversion.

There are two questions I am asked most often since becoming a seminarian.  The first is, “How did you know you wanted to be a priest?” and “How did you decide to become Catholic?” Over the next few weeks, I will answer both by sharing the story of how God took an apathetic agnostic and made him into a Catholic seminarian.

I am currently a seminarian studying to be a priest in the Diocese of Austin, Texas. For the past year, I have lived at Saint William Catholic Church in Round Rock, Texas. I am about to begin my sixth year of seminary formation and am preparing to be ordained to the deaconate next May. Prior to entering seminary, I graduated from Texas A&M University, where I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial Distribution. It was in college that I became Catholic and heard God’s call to the priesthood.

From the first time I heard the story of St. Augustine I loved it.  The remarkable account of his conversion from decadent sinner to loving saint resonates somewhere deep down in my soul.  And those who have truly recognized their own sinfulness and utter powerlessness to pull themselves out of the mud and muck of sin will appreciate how real and lasting conversion only comes through the grace filled work of God.  There is a reason St. Augustine is called the “Doctor of Grace” and he understood, as well as anyone not God can, the freely given and gratuitous gift of grace.  He understood the frightening reality that if we were given what we deserved, it would certainly be an eternity of separation from God.  Augustine also knew the great reason for our joy in salvation that instead of condemnation God reached out to us and offered himself in place of death.  God gives us the greatest of gifts -Himself- which we don’t deserve, merit, or earn solely by our own action.

God is already at work in the lives of all people as he was in mine.  By what is called prevenient grace, or grace proceeding human decision or participation, God prepared my heart to receive his gift.  For many years God was working in my life but I could not see him.  There were moments when I caught glimpses of him but he was always a stranger or perhaps a distant neighbor.  It was only after many years that I came to know the God who provided for me so lovingly.  I came to know him as someone other than a generic, vague, and distant God but, rather, I came to know him as Father.

God prepared my heart to actively receive grace;  like a flower opening its petals to receive the sunlight my heart began to feel the light of the Father’s face shining upon me in the darkness.  My heart leaned toward the light and gradually opened to the gift.  This has been the challenge of conversion to remain open to grace and actively receive it.  As I look back on my life, I am awestruck by the amazing truth that my story is the unfolding of my heart to receive God.

In many ways, I am the product of secular society.  God had a place in my family’s life, but he was only one thing among many things, and certainly not the most important. I called him a thing and it betrays the way my family and I thought about God.  He was simply a thing not the creator of all things and the source of all goodness in whom all things have their being.  He was not a loving Trinity of Divine Persons in an eternal exchange of love but a nebulous, obscure, and distant deity who we treated like a cousin whom you only awkwardly encountered once every decade at a family reunion.

And whatever else we thought about God, there was always a vagueness about the place he held in our lives. It puzzles me why my parents had me baptized as a baby at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan. Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful to them for having me baptized, but I don’t remember visiting a church of any kind after being baptized for at least eight years. I was baptized at an Episcopal Church because my mother was raised attending that tradition and to this day, my maternal grandmother still attends services there.  My extended family participated in the baptism, with my uncle as godfather and my mother’s best friend as godmother. But I still wonder why they had me baptized at all, especially since my father didn’t become Christian until 1991 and my mother stopped practicing her faith long before I was old enough to understand. Yet for some reason, it was important to my parents that my siblings and I were baptized.

When I was eight years old, my little sister, Rebecca, was born.  We have some terrific family videos from around that time that illustrate this happy period in our family. It was then that my father became Christian and we attended the Episcopal Church for a period. I don’t remember much about church from this time, but it must have left its mark upon me.

Things got rocky after this. But if you want to know how, you’ll have to join me for Part 2. Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing the rest of God’s call home with you soon.

Craig DeYoung is a seminarian for the Diocese of Austin and, God willing, will be ordained to the presbyterate in 2014.  A graduate of Texas A&M, he became Catholic while in college and often refers to the Easter Vigil he entered the Church as the happiest day of his life. His deepest desire is that his heart be conformed to the Sacred Heart of Christ.  His favorite prayer is “Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto yours.”

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