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The Story of a Seminarian…From a Mom’s Point of View

mary and jesus

When I first became a mom, I was not quite 23 years old. I lived 3 hours away from my parents and my friends, and I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have the internet or blogs back in those days, I really felt like we were completely on our own. I honestly couldn’t believe the hospital let my husband and me leave with a tiny human being. As I looked around at other human beings, I couldn’t fathom that so many people obviously had figured out how to do – what seemed to me – this monumental task of raising a little baby.

On our first night home, I was sure that our new son needed a bath. In fact, wouldn’t I be a neglectful mom if I didn’t bathe my newborn son? So we got out our “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book and opened to the chapter on newborns. My husband walked me through this process step by step and we got our “filthy” son cleaned up. We bumbled our way through and made many mistakes along the way, but about 6 weeks into being a new mommy, I understood what all the fuss was about. I was head over heels in love with my precious baby boy. I couldn’t get enough of him and thought he was the sweetest, smartest, most beautiful baby that had ever been born. (Except for Jesus of course.) 😉

As soon as we got into a groove and figured out what we needed to do to keep our child alive, we were able to kind of get back to what we wanted most for our baby. We wanted him to know that even though our hearts overflowed with love for him, God loved him even more. We enjoyed researching, reading, and talking about different ideas to teach him the truths of our faith and to try to prepare the garden of his heart to receive the love of God.

Before long, he also became interested in Super Heroes, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. One of the ways God showed His love to our son was through the presence of an amazing new priest who also shared these loves. ** God, Super Heroes, Star Wars and Harry Potter ** A match made in Heaven. So our son also started seeing priests as men who were fully alive and full of joy and men who cared about the small things, like talking to a 9 year old about which Harry Potter book is the best. We never prayed for our son to be anything in particular, but we prayed that he would know, love, and serve the Lord.

One of the most beautiful moments of my motherhood journey happened on a Confirmation Retreat. I was a small group leader, and my son, totally by chance, was my teen assistant. During Adoration, one of my teens, who had been struggling terribly with life, was overcome with emotion, and I think, felt the love of God for the first time. I was privileged to watch my son, my child, go to him and bring him words of peace and love. The other young man said, “Man, why do you even care?” My son cared because God cares. He had experienced the love and mercy of God in his own life and wanted to share this peace with another soul.

When he was in middle school, priests would ask him if he had ever thought about being a priest someday. He hated when people asked him this and from about 8th grade until 11th grade he started saying, “No way!” He loved Jesus though, and the Lord was always leading my son more deeply into a relationship with Him. My son also loved being Catholic, and since he attended a public school, was always looking for ways to defend his beloved faith. So, right before his senior year in high school, my son felt very strongly that the Lord was confirming in his heart a call to discern the Catholic Priesthood with a deliberate and an intentional heart.

At first, he told everyone, and I cringed. “Not yet,” I thought, “Not yet. Don’t tell people yet.” That year, after his initial zeal, I think he felt like maybe God was chaining him in and the only way God would be happy is if he succumbed to the chains. Time passed, he finished high school and went to college, and during this past year the Lord relentlessly pursued him. And my son couldn’t help but fall deeper in love with his Savior. Slowly, sometimes painfully, and sometimes full of joy, he began to see his calling as an invitation, not a chain. The Lord was offering him a gift.

So what do you say to your son when you know he is seriously discerning this life’s vocation? There is such a fine line. While you want to be supportive, you don’t want to be too excited. And honestly, you worry. The life of a priest is not easy, and your son is saying, “Yes, I will consider this completely counter cultural life.” I’ve learned that when a young man chooses to open his heart up to discern the will of the Father in this way, that young man will suffer vicious attacks from the evil one. I’ve learned that moments of consolation can be followed by moments of fear and sorrow over what is being given up. I’ve learned that people will not hold back what they think of this vocation, for good and for bad. And yet, how proud am I? My child is willing to say, “Yes!” to consider taking up the cross of my Lord, and follow Him. He is willing to sell all he has for the pearl of great price. But if he changes his mind, I want him to know that’s ok. That means it wasn’t his calling.

Jesus, I trust in You. That’s all I can say. I love my son, but I love You more. I want Your will for his life, whatever that is. This is so not about me, but I feel like when he is suffering with this decision, a sword is piercing my heart too. Mother Mary, pray for me to be strong like you. Mother Mary, how did you let Him go? Mother Mary, how will I let my son go? I love you, Son. No matter what you decide, I couldn’t be happier as a mom knowing that you love the Lord and want to serve Him with your life, no matter what. Be strong, child. The world is hurting and needs you to show them The Way. If you don’t, who will? Who loves people more than you? Who has a smile like you that brings light to the darkest places?
And then there are the details; the details that are really none of my business. My super smart, sweet, handsome young man is not very detail oriented. Quite honestly though, I’ve been a pretty great secretary for 19 years. But this whole process of saying yes to God’s call actually has nothing to do with me. I can’t even get his medical records for him because he’s 19. I have to sit back and watch and pray and trust. Last month I had this notion that I needed to go see the seminary where he was going to be staying. I needed to see if he should bring Tide HE or regular Tide for crying out loud. Due to various circumstances, the Lord said no this notion. My son has already seen the seminary and he has made this choice himself. He didn’t need his mom going there and hovering. So the Lord showed me, “This is not your journey, this is his. Walk with him, but trust Me and honestly trust your son.“

I cried very hard that day.

There are so many unknowns still, but there is peace because I know he is where God is calling him. When he looks back on his life, the Lord has been calling him for a long time. My son has a heart for the Lord.

God help me to keep walking with him and encouraging him. Help me, dear Lord, as my heart is sad sometimes because my world is changing. It is changing for the better, but it is changing.

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On That Day: From Agnostic Theist to Seminarian to Deacon

::Friends, we are excited to share with you the next installment in the ongoing story of Catholic Sistas friend Craig DeYoung, a former agnostic who began his journey to Catholicism, then to seminary. We invite you to get caught up by reading his first four installments, part I, part II, part III, and part IV. And now that you are up to speed, please dive in and see what has happened with Craig most recently.::

On the morning of May 18th, 2013 at St. Mary’s Student Center in
 College Station, Texas I was ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacon.
 For the last six years I have prepared for that moment and still
 prepare for a moment yet to come next year when I am to be ordained as
 a priest. But, on that day as I was surrounded by friends and family, I 
was called to Holy Orders and then promised to live celibacy as a
 total dedication to the Lord and in service to His Church. I committed 
myself to praying the Liturgy of the Hours faithfully for the Church
 and the whole world, I resolved to carry out the office of deacon and
 conform my life to Christ’s own, and I promised respect and obedience 
to my Bishop Joe Vásquez and his successors. Moments after this, as I 
lay prostrate on the ground I gave my life and all I had to God just
 before Bishop Vásquez laid hands upon my head invoking the Holy Spirit
, ordaining me as a deacon in the Catholic Church. All in all, it was a
 big day. I’d like to offer this article as a reflection about the 
ordination and its significance.

It is my belief that an Ordination to Holy Orders is less about the
 man being ordained and more about the work that God has done and will
 do in him. For this reason, any ordination is an occasion for joyous
celebration and much thanksgiving for the local Church. That said, there is usually a larger 
turnout by the people of a diocese for a priestly ordination than for 
a deaconate ordination. There is more excitement for a priestly 
ordination because it is the ultimate goal of seminary formation, in addition to 
various other reasons. I mention this because for the seminarian 
eventually preparing for priesthood, their deaconate ordination is in
some ways the more important of the two. I say “in some ways” because
, while the seminarian longs for the day he becomes a priest, it is at t
his deaconate ordination that he first lays down his life before God
 and gives himself in service to the Church and her members. It is at t
his deaconate ordination where he makes his promises of celibacy,
 obedience to his bishop, and commitment to praying the Liturgy of the
 Hours. For a new transitional deacon, his ordination is a fulfillment,
 a beginning, and a transition. It is a fulfillment by his commitment
 to live out a vocation faithfully and for life. It is the beginning
 of a new identity as a servant lived out in mission. And as a deacon
 preparing for priesthood it is a transition which becomes the 
foundation for a future participation in the priesthood of Jesus
Christ. As for myself, being ordained as a deacon was all of this, and
 more.

As I reflect on God’s work in my life and how I ended up where I am,
 I think perhaps the most beautiful thing about discovering my
 vocation and making a total self gift of myself to the Lord through
 ordination, is the realization that I am becoming who I am meant to be.
 I am being fulfilled day by day and am becoming more myself, more me.
 However, finding my vocation and now living it out has been a
 challenging and sometimes frightening process, as it is for many.
Whether a vocation is to holy orders, religious life, consecrated 
life, or the married life doesn’t make this less true. Certainly, this is
 because vocations have to do with giving your life away, all of it,
 holding nothing back. It is frightening because answering a vocation 
means committing yourself irrevocably and for life. There are no take
backs so to speak. A vocation is a specific call from the Lord to
respond in a particular way to His total gift of Himself to us in
 Christ by the total gift of ourselves to Him. This is true for every
 vocation. What I have sometimes forgotten during my journey is that
God’s will is for my good and ultimately my eternal happiness by being
with him forever in heaven. This is true for every vocation. A
vocation is God’s plan for a person’s ultimate happiness and joy
through eternal life in Him. Vocation is the road God sets a person
 upon in order to lead them to Himself.

It is important to note that a vocation necessarily includes other 
people in some way, shape, or fashion. (Even for those called to be 
hermits.) This is because vocations are always the path of love and
 every true act of love is an act of sacrifice in which we die to
 ourselves a little so that another may have life through our
 sacrifice; this demands there be another to love. Through vocations, 
the Lord teaches us to live in communion by humbling ourselves in
 order to exalt others. This kind of Love demanded by vocation 
prepares us to be the kind of persons who will enjoy heaven. Heaven 
is nothing other than a participation in the inner life to the Trinity
 wherein the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit live in an eternal 
exchange of love, in communion.

Even knowing this truth doesn’t make it easy to respond to God’s love
 with our own love. There are very real obstacles such as sin and 
fear. This has also been true for me in my own vocation. A little
 over a year ago I was battling with the decision of whether to take
 time off from seminary or to continue formation toward ordination. I
 found myself paralyzed with fear and feelings of inadequacy. After 
much inner turmoil and debate I found myself undecided until the
 morning of my final evaluation at St. Mary’s Seminary. Just before
the evaluation I spoke with a friend about my dilemma and his own
 discernment. I remember in speaking with him how everything suddenly
 became clear. I realized that I wasn’t in doubt about what my
 vocation was but, rather, I was afraid to give my life away to Christ.
 I was holding back out of fear that somehow God wouldn’t be enough 
for me. Moreover, I had an acute case of what Bishop Fulton Sheen 
called staurophopia or fear of the cross. I was afraid of what God
 was asking of me, namely that He was asking everything of me. At that
 moment I realized my fear was keeping me from God. Knowing the truth, 
I was free to chose. Thanks be to God, He gave me the grace to 
respond in love by following Him. Increasing Him, decreasing me.

Committing to a vocation is not a once and done kind of thing. A 
vocation must be recommitted to daily both before and after making a
 final commitment. My formation last year was dedicated to having the
 freedom to make a complete gift of myself to God without holding back 
because of fear or personal sin. An essential moment in this work 
included making the 30 Exercises of St. Ignatius. Those 30 days helped 
me to grow in friendship with Jesus and to trust Him as my friend
 and Lord so that I might follow Him even to His cross. From then 
until today, each day has included its struggles to recommit myself to 
the Lord and place my heart and trust entirely in Him. My greatest 
help in this ongoing effort has been the Blessed Mother who knows my
need, intercedes for me before the Lord, and provides every virtue
 where I am lacking. As the Mother of Jesus, she becomes the Mother of
 every vocation leading each of us to her Son.

On that day I was ordained deacon, I became a little more of the person I am meant to be. I 
was surrounded by my family, my friends, the people of the local 
Church I am studying to serve, brother deacons, future brother
priests, the angels, the saints, and my bishop. I was held up to the
 Lord by their love and prayers but it was the Lord’s work in the Holy 
Spirit which made that day great. As He does for each of us, on that
 day He gave me myself so that I might give myself away and become 
one of his deacons. By his work, I have been blessed in becoming a 
little less so that He might become more in the hearts of men and
 women. Please keep me in your continued prayers so I may continue to
 commit my life to God day in and day out. God Bless!

In Christ,

Dcn. Craig DeYoung

 

 

 

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From Agnostic Theist to Seminarian: Part 4

Catholic Sistas welcomes the fourth and final installment of seminarian Craig DeYoung’s beautiful conversion story. You can click on the following links to reach the first, second, and third parts of Craig’s story.

The last two months have been an incredible blessing. I had the opportunity, for the month of July, to make the 30-Day Exercises of St. Ignatius. The exercises were an incredible experience, during which I fell even more deeply in love with Jesus and He showed me how real His love truly is. He drew me deeper into the mystery of His desire for my heart, and called forth a greater self-gift.

It seems fitting to me that Jesus should draw out my desire to love in such a graced way during my final preparations for ordination. He has done so in a way that rekindles in me the incredible joy that first helped me to recognized God’s call to seminary.

In Part 3 of my conversion story, I spoke about the love that brought me to the Church. The love I saw present in Catholics who lived their faith with an authentic desire to be always with Christ drew me in and stirred up the desire in my own heart to have that same love live in me. It was love that brought me to Christ’s Church; it was the joy of living out that love that called me into the seminary.

Three months after becoming Catholic, I went to confession with Fr. Kurt Lanzrath, a Franciscan priest who came to St. Mary’s frequently. A priest of 50-plus years and more than 80 years old, Fr. Kurt overflowed with joy. He was hardly ever seen without a tremendous smile on his lips and a playful gleam in his eye. He would swing his cane over his head with a laugh and almost fall over trying to stay on his feet.

One Monday, while I was in the confessional with him, the thought struck me, “If I could be as happy as this man, I could see myself becoming a priest.” It was his joy that called to me and I began to realize that the most joyful people I knew were priests…

Me, kneeling in front, during Seminary Sprint.

At first, the thought seemed a passing fancy, but I indulged it and began to attend discernment dinners at the rectory with other college-aged men. At some point, the possibility came up to attend a discernment event called Seminary Sprint. Seminary Sprint is an event put on by the Diocese of Austin that takes men discerning the priesthood and religious life to visit various seminaries and orders. I saw it as an opportunity to put my thoughts of the priesthood to their final rest.

We visited diocesan seminaries, a Dominican friar, a Cistercian monastery, a Carmelite monastery, a Trappist monastery, a hermit, a Benedictine monastery, and a Jesuit. It was a lot to take in, but it began my discernment and gave me what I needed to consider the call seriously.

I realized then that I wanted NOT to be called to the priestly life. I wanted to check it out, to say I’d considered it, but that in the end it was not for me. What happened over the next three years, however, made me identify readily with the prophet Jeremiah when he writes, “You duped me, O Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped.” For the Lord had planted the seed deep and began growing it in me.

I kept meeting joyful priests: Fr. Keith Koehl, Fr. Brian McMaster, Msgr. Mike Sis, and Fr. Italo Dell’Oro. The Lord was rather subtle, I think, so as not to scare me off, but eagle-clear hindsight has allowed me to recognize His handiwork. After two years of discernment, I decided not to worry about seminary, and began to pursue dating and a career. The dating didn’t work out, but work prospects seemed to line up perfectly.

During college, I majored in Industrial Distribution and I did well in my classes. The summer before my final year of studies, I interned with Siemens Energy and Automation in Houston. At the end of the summer, they offered me a job in their management training program for when I graduated. I accepted with great enthusiasm, knowing the position would require me to move four times in two years.

Soon, however, I realized I was unsatisfied. Something nagged at me, saying, “You need to stay in Texas.” I didn’t understand what it meant, but finally began looking for a more local job. I quit before ever starting with Siemens, which was a very sickening experience. I quickly found another job with Womack Machine Supply and thought I was ready to go to work.

But then Easter came.

After Easter Mass, I was at a friend’s house with 10 other people. Among them was Fr. Brian McMaster (associate pastor at the student center), Fr. James Ekeocha (then a transitional deacon), Marcel (one of the campus ministers), and two other college-aged men. A conversation began on the back porch, where Marcel asked Fr. Brian which of the young men he thought would someday be a priest. Fr. Brian cryptically said he thought one of us would be, but refused to say which one. This got me thinking seriously about the priesthood again, though to my great amusement, it later came out he was not thinking of me. (Aside: He is now my vocation director, a.k.a. my boss.)

Soon after this, the Virginia Tech shootings occurred. The event struck me deeply and I went up late one night to pray in the Church. Deep in prayer, I was overcome with a sense of the sin in the world, the sin of what happened in the Church during the sexual abuse scandals, and my own personal sin. I felt a great remorse and sadness, but immediately began to feel a warming joy for what Christ offered in the sacraments of the Church for healing and forgiveness. In this joy, I was filled with gratitude, and had the strong desire to give my life to share with others what I received in the Church, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation.

After talking with Fr. Brian, I contacted the vocations director at the time, Msgr. Mike Sis. We met and talked for a long time. At the end of the talk, he said he considered me a good candidate for seminary. That same week I presented my final project in class to Womack Machine Supply, then informed the company I would not be joining them after all.

I was a messy mix of emotions. Anxiety, guilt, fear, excitement, joy, and probably some mix of every emotion a person can feel. The summer was anxious and midway through, I received my acceptance as a seminarian for the Diocese of Austin.

For five years now, I have been in seminary and I will, God willing, soon be ordained. It has been an amazing pilgrimage, which has strengthened me in faith, hope, and love by the gift pure grace. Jesus has accompanied me and become my best friend and beloved. But that is a story for another time.

My final word is this: It is love and joy that make me want to be a priest of Jesus Christ.

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From Agnostic Theist to Seminarian: Part 3

Catholic Sistas welcomes the third installment of seminarian Craig DeYoung’s beautiful conversion story. You can read the second part of Craig’s story here. Please check back soon for the fourth and final installment in this inspiring series.

In Part II of my conversion story, I wrote about how my life was simply blah. God was present and working in me, but I couldn’t see him very well. I didn’t think him very important, nor did I think of him much at all. I believed there was a God, but not a particular sort of God. But I deeply longed to be loved and to love. In college, he revealed himself to me as the God who loves me in a scandalously particular way!

It’s hard to write a story when so much of it is a mystery even to the one who lived it. So much of God’s work in my life is still hidden to me. I see the harvest of much labor, but can only marvel at the growth of my soul.

Me at Texas A&M, where providential friendships would lead me to a true friendship with the Lord.

It was a special providence that brought me to Texas A&M University to begin my college studies. Texas A&M began in 1876 as a land grant college, and was a military academy until many years later. It retains many traditions from those days and the heart of the school is still the traditions upheld by the Corp of Cadets from its ROTC program. Over the years, it has remained a conservative school and the practice of religion is more common than not. I’d estimate 80% of the student population is Christian, with 25% of those being Catholic. The Catholic center of the university is the very active St. Mary’s Catholic Student Center.

Being in the top 10% of my high school graduating class, I was automatically accepted to any public university in Texas. I didn’t particularly want to attend A&M, but chose it after visiting the university twice. I knew hardly anything about the school until I attended “fish camp,” a camp for incoming freshmen designed to teach students about university traditions and help them make new friends. The camp is often referred to jokingly as a brainwashing session. It was at fish camp that I met my first college friends, and developed a crush on a camp counselor named Becky.

Becky was a beautiful young woman, full of energy and joy. All of which was attractive to a young man who longed for both. She was also a devout Baptist and truly in love with Jesus. Our Lord was the center of everything for her. It was, perhaps, my first glimpse of the joy that having a relationship with Jesus can bring.

When I told another counselor I liked Becky, she told me I would have to be more in love with Jesus than Becky was for her to want to date me. So when Becky invited a group of freshmen to attend church with her one Sunday, I went. The most vivid memory I have of going to church that day was being very uncomfortable at the service.

As Becky dropped us off back on campus, she invited me to attend another event and I immediately said yes. I didn’t know what the event was, nor did I really care. All I cared about was that Becky had invited me.

When I showed up it turned out to be a Baptist Bible study for freshmen called Upstream. As soon as I showed up, I saw Becky, who introduced me to her boyfriend, Casey, and then left. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled to find out I was at a Bible study, that Becky had a boyfriend, and that she wasn’t even going to attend. Casey, to my disappointment, turned out to be a good guy.

As we were talking Casey introduced me to another guy named Jason. By now I was biding my time and looking for an opportune moment to slip out unnoticed. So when praise and worship began and Casey went in, I thought I’d have my opportunity to leave. Jason, however, stayed and kept talking to me. It must have been apparent how uncomfortable I was, because he asked if I wanted to sit and talk outside. It’s funny how such a small moment can change everything.

Outside the Bible study, we sat and talked. He asked me what I believed about God. He didn’t challenge me or tell me about Jesus or tell me what I believed was stupid. Instead, he listened and cared about what I had to say. When praise and worship ended, I went back in with him and was assigned to his Bible study group.

I began attending every week and to my surprise, looked forward to it as the best part of my week. At first it was because of the friendships; I simply enjoyed being with Jason and the others. As we studied the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, I realized I had something to offer the group: questions…I was full of them! Many of my questions remained unanswered and that challenged the group to go deeper. In studying Scripture with my Upstream group, I felt valued and loved. I felt closer to truth and it felt great.

As it turned out, Jason was a Catholic but was co-leading one of the Upstream groups. He saw it as giving back to Upstream, which had been influential in his life. As a leader of a Baptist Bible study group, he was not allowed to explicitly teach the Catholic faith. What he did do was love me, affirm me, and build me up in my quest for truth. He also invited me to my first Catholic Mass.

At the time, I was still unconvinced of the truth of Christianity and was attending different services on weekends more out of curiosity and loneliness than any sort of religious devotion. I went to my first Mass alone; I didn’t go with Jason but just sort of showed up. I was very lost and had no clue what was going on. I did, however, remember my time in the Episcopal Church and went up to receive Communion. In my ignorance, I received my first Communion. After I received and was walking back to my pew something told me I shouldn’t have received and without knowing why, I never went up again except for a blessing.

Except for that prick of conscience after Communion, there was nothing remarkable about my first Mass. I remember thinking the priest seemed kind of fake, though this turned out to be far from the truth. After Mass, I saw Jason and he invited me to the parish’s Sunday Catechism classes and I began attending sporadically.

Not long after, Jason invited me to a Catholic student retreat called Aggie Awakening. This retreat turned out to be the single most influential event in my conversion. It was on this retreat that I realized Christianity was real. The love present at this retreat was tangible. God was active and working in the world. Jesus was not just 2,000-year old history, but was present in the here and now; I saw him working in and through all those who led and staffed the retreat.

I left the retreat convinced Christianity was true. I wanted to be Christian, but I wasn’t going to do it halfheartedly or blindly. But even then, I wanted to know what I was committing myself to, so I began to explore what seemed to me to be different kinds of Christianity. I went to the Lutheran church, the Baptist church, and others searching for the truth. After a while, I was attending only the Catholic Church, involved in many of the ministries, and was going to Mass every day.

It was then that Christ became my friend. He was no longer a stranger, but someone I longed to be with all the time. Life was no longer blah but exciting! I was changing and becoming more of who I was meant to be, a child of God.

I constantly found myself on the same page with the teachings of the Church, though there were still some things about which I remained unconvinced. It was a long while before I would pray the Hail Mary, for example. Once when I was praying with a group and I didn’t pray it along with the others, some of the girls asked me why. They were surprised to learn I wasn’t Catholic since I was always at St. Mary’s..

The priests at St. Mary’s made a huge impact on my life, too. They taught and proposed the faith through their examples and homilies. Monsignor Mike Sis was especially influential in my spiritual life and became my hero. But it was during prayer at Mass that I found real peace.

At the beginning of my second year at A&M, I began RCIA to continue learning about Catholicism. Even then, I didn’t intend to enter the Church. That changed after I came back from staffing an Awakening retreat while attending Mass one Sunday. At this Mass, there were baptisms, professions of faith, first Communions, and Confirmations. I remember watching and saying to myself, “I want that!” I went home at Thanksgiving and told my mom, “I’m becoming Catholic, I’m changing majors, and I might be dating a girl.” Her response was, “What’s her name?”

I asked Jason to be my sponsor and during Lent made my first Confession, which took an hour…poor Monsignor Mike! I chose St. Jude, the patron saint of lost and impossible causes, to be my confirmation saint and I entered the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2004. It was the happiest day of my life and my jaw was sore the next day from grinning so much. Right after the profession of faith, I turned to all my RCIA classmates with a cheesy smile on my face and said, “Guess what…we’re Catholic!”

I had come joyfully home to the Catholic Church! For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had a home. The sacraments, by which Christ is present in a special way to his Church, became my life. From that time, things only became better, thought they have never become easier.

In the fourth and final part of my story, I’ll share how God called me to the seminary to become a Catholic priest. Thanks for reading!

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Conversion Guest Posts Religious Seminarian Series Testimonials Vocations

From Agnostic Theist to Seminarian: Part 2

Catholic Sistas welcomes the second installment of seminarian Craig DeYoung’s beautiful conversion story. You can read the first part of Craig’s story here. Please check back soon for the next installment in this inspiring series. 

In Part I of my conversion story, I emphasized how God’s presence in my life was hidden but active.  Last week,  I discovered how he was more active than I have even remembered.  My mother and I were able to revisit my early life from her point of view, something I have never had the courage to do before. God, it seems, was very present to our family though my mother.

Early in the life of my brother and I, my mother took us to Sunday school on a regular basis, taught us about God, and taught us to pray each day. We attended church regularly, though I remember none of it. However, she told me she didn’t believe in Christ, but in God, and was undecided about Christianity. Essentially, she was an agnostic theist, too, though she wouldn’t use the term. As it turns out, I was more like my mother than I’d ever known.

As you’ve seen,  God was tilling the soil and planting the seeds for conversion from the earliest moments of my life. By means of grace, he had begun his good work and was bringing it to completion, as he still is even now.  In Part I, I left off with a happier period in my life and to my memory, the best of my childhood.  It was the calm before the storm.

My family was a typical secular family and like many such families our ship wrecked upon the shoals of divorce. Up until this time, my family had already moved many times and one of the wounds of my heart was feeling like I didn’t have a home, a feeling which only became worse after the divorce.  It was while moving from Arlington, Texas to Georgetown, Texas that my parents began to have more serious marital problems, which ended bitterly with divorce.

I don’t condemn my parents for divorcing.  Right or wrong, it happened, just like so many other miseries in the world. It’s enough to say that their divorce is the single greatest wound I carry on my heart. At the age of twelve, my world fell apart.

At the time we were living in a duplex and I remember the anger in the house.  There was fighting, screaming, and yelling.  When the divorce happened, my father moved out while my mother, brother, sister, and I stayed in the duplex. As a family, we went from having some money to having practically none.  My brother and I started receiving free and reduced lunches at school.

The tension and the pain of all that happened was unbearable. Everyone found their escapes. My father escaped into work. My mother into alcohol and her boyfriends. My brother used drugs.  My sister, who was only three or four at the time, got the worst of it and I have no idea how she coped. I escaped into fantasy books, TV, video games, and acting out through vandalism and fighting.

My father struggled to make ends meet while paying lawyers and child support. My mother started dating and going to school to become a nurse. Her schooling was paid for by a full athletic scholarship she received for running. Schooling and running then became her primary focus and occupied most of her time. The rest of her time was occupied by surviving and taking care of us.

Among the children, my mother’s  time was mostly filled by caring for my sister Rebecca, who was still very young.  My mother was responsible for too much.  The consequence was that Doug and I were mostly left to ourselves and we became more and more self-sufficient. After a time, Doug began getting into trouble and using drugs.  Then came the fighting between him and my mother; screaming, yelling, and punching walls was common.  I cried a lot and retreated even further into myself. Any notion or thoughts of God had fled long since the divorce. I was too busy surviving to care, though had I known it God would have been a better refuge.

During all this, we were visiting my father every other weekend, attending school, and running wild. There were too many happenings to recount, but I was very unhappy during this time. It was then I decided to go live with my father. I think I might have done anything to get out of my living situation.  There was a court date and I had to tell the judge that I wanted to go live with my dad. It was finalized and I went.  I know this decision deeply wounded my mother and has had far-reaching consequences.

A year after the divorce, my father remarried and I moved to a new home in tiny Bruceville-Eddy, Texas with him, my stepmother,  my stepbrother Nik, and a new brother on the way. My father and stepmother went to work early and got home late and because he was older Nik was always off doing his own thing. I was even more on my own at my dad’s than I had been at my mother’s, but at least there was no fighting.

Did I have any faith during these lonely times?  I suppose I might have had some as a pure gift from God.  At one point, my dad gave me a Bible. He hadn’t given me any particular instruction along with it, but I tried to read it from cover to cover. I got through Genesis and quit reading. But prayer stuck with me and I remember at the darkest times praying to God.  In those moments God was a final refuge but when difficult situations became easier I soon forgot him.

Once, I went to a Baptist church with a friend from school.  There was an altar call and I went up.  Something in me longed for what God was giving.  I’d grown raw with emotion during the time of the divorce. In some ways, my heart was super sensitive but in other ways, I was numb from  feeling too much, too often.

During high school, we moved again. This time to Temple High School, a large school in central Texas. It was very different from little Bruceville-Eddy. My freshman class was something like 900 students. Most of the time, I felt like I was on the outside looking in.  I played sports but had few friends, nor did I really know how to have a friend. Outside of classes, I was absorbed in online video games.

The few friends I did have were agnostic or atheist. Sometimes other students would ask me what I believed and I’d say I was a Christian but not mean it. To me, “Christian” was just a word; I knew nothing about it. For example, I thought reincarnation was a belief held by Christians. I had no inkling that Christ was the Son of God come to save or any of the rest.  To me, God was still a stranger.

I certainly thought there was a God in a vague and general sort of way, but I didn’t think you could truly know him.  Frankly, I didn’t give it much thought, but when I did, my thinking sounded like, “Yeah, there’s probably a God, but who knows which one it is or what he’s like?”  God was an unknown so I didn’t worry about him much. Somehow, through the events of my life I had become an agnostic theist.

This was my thinking through high school and into the early part of college. It wasn’t a very happy life, but nor was it a horrible one.  Everything was simply blah. I’d been wounded by divorce. I felt very much on my own and longed for companionship. More than anything, I felt empty and was ready for something more. And in college, I was about to find it.

Coming next: the third chapter of my conversion story from agnostic theist to seminarian. Hope you stick around for Part 3!