Committing to God’s Will Strengthens the Church
Written by: Steven Geerling, Intern (Grand Rapids Diocese)
I always begin my story with the treasured fact that I grew up in a great Catholic family in Michigan, with a mom and dad who loved each other and genuinely showed their love for my brother, sister, and me. To this day, I admire my parents’ courage and commitment to each other, even when (at times) their children could make life difficult. I have great memories of attending a Catholic grade school, and an introduction to “the world” at a public high school. From there, I attended Aquinas College aspiring to be a weatherman. Joining a seminary was the last thing on my mind. After being hired full-time with the USPS just before I graduated from Aquinas, I still finished my undergraduate degree. I was not sure that I would use my Geography degree to pursue my dream career, but I figured someday it was worth a shot.
Doors closed by God are a gift
Two providential events that happened to me in my early twenties proved to be the catalyst for a move to Denver in 1997 and points beyond. The first providential event was that I never had a chance to date the college “girl of my dreams”, but one day walking through campus with her, she suggested that I sign up for an introductory Geography course taught by a dynamic professor. After taking this course and really enjoying it, my choice of major was set by the end of my sophomore year. The second event involved a road trip from Michigan to Colorado to participate in World Youth Day 1993 in Denver. At the time, I just wanted to see the beautiful Rocky Mountains, and considered seeing Pope John Paul II as no big deal. Looking back, it was that gathering of Catholics that helped fertilize the seed to my priestly vocation which I would not recognize for another 10 years.
A year after graduating from college, I was still working for the Post Office. In 1997, a unique opportunity surfaced at work offering a transfer to Denver. Upon spying this ad on the employee bulletin board, I was instantly attracted to the idea. I reminisced about the Colorado visit a few years before, and had nothing holding me back from giving this a try. Besides, I could then apply for studying Atmospheric Science at the University of Colorado. After some initial doubts, I decided to go for it. When the paperwork for the transfer was approved, I was thrilled. Another gift came my way just two weeks before I made the move: A woman I worked with heard that I was going to move to Colorado, and she said that her son John was going to be studying in Denver and that he needed a roommate. I agreed to meet her son, who also happened to be Catholic, and we were able to find housing there and everything providentially fell into place.
Rocky Mountain guy
Upon arriving in this new environment, I was pleased to be back in the classroom and soaking up all the outdoor activity Colorado had to offer. At the time, both John and I felt a bit jaded with our faith, and dragged ourselves to Mass on Sundays but were more complacent with being on cruise control in regards to the Church, which is “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Besides, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were stopping by the apartment from time to time to “welcome us” to the neighborhood and preach to us, warning us that our souls were in danger of hell. Down the hall was an energetic bunch of nondenominational Christians who more tactfully invited us to their Sunday services. The four years I spent in the Mile High city allowed to me to dig deeper into my Catholic faith and find a new love for Catholicism, Mary’s intercession, and for the gift of the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Through all this, I realized that John was also having a similar conversion.
After many struggles with my studies, I bowed out of my masters program, and decided to just stick with the Post Office. I eventually moved back to Michigan in 2001, transferring once again through my employer. Though it was a bittersweet return, I soon discovered new opportunities for me back home. I was close to my family and friends again, and I purchased a really cool house in an awesome neighborhood. Things at work were great, and I was striving toward achieving all my financial goals. God blessed me with an ideal girlfriend. I felt unworthy with all these answered prayers. I was asking, and He was giving. I was seeking, and I was finding so much that reassured me of the love God has for His children.
Now John and I had kept in touch since I moved back to Michigan. He stayed in Denver for a number of years. In 2004, after John met Archbishop Charles Chaput and talked to him about the faith, John decided to join a seminary. When I first heard of John’s change of plans, I was shocked. I was generally supportive, wished him well, and prayed for him often.
Pray for Forest Rangers
Often one of the petitions at Mass would center around “vocations”. I often wondered what my personal response would be if the pope listed as one of his general intentions to “pray for an increase in Forest Rangers”. I am sure I would find the wording of that prayer to be rather odd, but not personally uncomfortable: “Lord, may strong and healthy men and women who love the outdoors rise to the occasion to devote their lives to forest management. Amen.” Ok, easy enough. No personal qualms that the pope thinks we should pray for more Forest Rangers. Yet during my discernment when prayers for “vocations” surfaced, I could not sincerely say these prayers without it bothering me. I realized that this was exposing me. Perhaps God was calling me to be a priest?
The Lord gives…and ultimately gives even more
After owning my house for about five years and completing all of the home improvements I had on tap, my girlfriend of a year-and-half broke up with me. This came out of nowhere, and I was crushed. I very clearly remember a few months after the breakup that I was talking to my friend Dave about my misery (he was my roommate in my new house). Dave, who was Catholic to the core, patiently listened to my whining and complaining about my failed relationship, and after I went on and on for about 20 minutes, he very candidly asked me, “Steve, maybe God wants you to be a priest?” In that moment, the Holy Spirit pierced my heart, and an earth-shaking revelation came to me. God wants me to be a priest. I was scared and confused. There was no audible voice from heaven, but I know that God spoke through Dave in that moment to reach me, and it was undeniable. The idea of priesthood was not coming from me. I had practically everything I wanted, and now it was time to let it all go. “Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God’s call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit” (CCC 1578).
For the next year or so, I did my best to brush aside the idea of ministry. I worried about my investments, I dated again, and piled up more distractions. Unfortunately, my mind was polluted with misconceptions about the priesthood, one of which was that there really are no authentic “late vocations.” God calls when He calls! My other concern was with the vow of poverty, but it is clearly more simplicity of living. Besides, the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience involve all of us in our vocations. Thoughts of priesthood followed me everywhere: during prayer, driving in the car, when I would go out with friends, before I went to bed. Some of my family and friends would ask me, “What’s wrong? You look dazed and confused!” I would respond with, “Whatever!” But they knew me, and this “pondering the priesthood” was evidently shaking me up.
Trust Him, He loves you!
What it came down to was my self-sufficiency versus my Divine trust. I had so much work to do regarding my faith. I was fearful because I lacked love, and many of my perspectives were worldly. God was making me walk very close to Him. He was challenging me to grow, as any loving Father would do. I figured that my ticket out of this commitment was that I am not the most talented person nor the brightest student, but God was showing me that riding on the power of the Holy Spirit is all we need to overcome the cross of human limitations and faithfully accomplish God’s unique plan for our lives. I so longed for the peace of being in the center of God’s will. So what did I discover? I found out that commitment affords us with identity, stability, and a clear course of action. Lack of commitment is not attractive, and I did not want to wander on that trendy path.
My life before seminary was obviously full of blessings. Yet, when I asked God for the opportunity to get married, He said “no”. It was clear. I had to embrace the fact that He was in control, and He was showing me a special path that He designed for me. My inclination toward marriage stemmed from the fact that I wanted to be “a real man”. Well, a real man is not truly fulfilled unless he does the will of the Father. God had proved His love for me by saying “yes” to many of my prayers. How could I say “no” to Him? It was not like a random person was suggesting that I should become priest, it was the Creator of the universe calling me! I truly believe that this was beyond an invitation. Invitations are easy to turn down; divine callings demand obedience. All love requires obedience, so if I cannot obey, I cannot love. Mary’s obedience perfectly countered the disobedience of Eve.
“Riding the fence” is advice you would never give anyone
I was on the verge of taking the leap to sell my house and quit my job, but I just kept pushing things back. I felt like Jonah, and considered what storms I was bringing into others’ lives due to my running away from God’s call. I was asking God to give me the courage and strength to commit to join a seminary. So I prayed “the dangerous prayer” with all my heart: “Lord, I will go wherever You want me to go and I will do and believe whatever You want.” I guess the breaking point came when I made a serious meditation on “time and eternity”.
One summer day I was cruising down the highway on my way to hang out with some friends at Lake Michigan. I popped in a Catholic CD and found myself listening to a seminarian’s vocation story. As I listened, I sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit. About a minute later, the seminarian admitted that he too was delaying his plans to journey toward priesthood, and revisited a phrase that he read in a Catholic book about dragging your feet in service to the Lord. He said the following four words: “delayed obedience is disobedience”. At that moment, I started tearing up. His words rang true. Okay Lord, You win. Show me the way. Where do I go? Which seminary?
Obedience brings clarity
So I called John, who was now studying Theology in Boston. I told him my recent news: I was saying goodbye to my Catholic girlfriend, selling my house (which sold in 12 days), my piano and car. Despite the difficulties and sacrifices, doors were opening. There were confirmations to my decision at every turn.
Throughout my discernment, I became used to the idea of being a priest, and God turned my heart to embrace it joyfully. I was too wrapped up in only the positives of marriage, and the apparent negatives of celibacy, and not thinking any other way. Jesus’ life implies that celibacy is just as fulfilling to a celibate as marriage is to spouses. In the end I knew that whatever I decided, I had to serve God joyfully and not simply out of duty. I thank God for His patience with me, and for giving me the grace to follow through despite some criticism regarding my decision to study for the priesthood. Looking back, there were many vocational “signs” and indications that resulted from intercessory prayer and the charitable advice of many along the way.
I’m all in
May we all shun society’s mantra of “committing to not committing.” Let us joyfully commit to God’s plan, right here and at this moment. The Church needs us to rise up and be on our way (John 14:31), and to help conquer the world through faith in Jesus Christ (1 John 5:5). I cannot imagine any of the saints in heaven who regret following their vocations. So like the saints, may we lovingly serve God and never cease asking, seeking, and knocking (Matthew 7:7). Wherever we are in our journey, Divine providence never sleeps. He will show us the way. Prayer and commitment are powerful! Believe it!