28 May 2007

The call of the Lord came to me thus

Today being the anniversary of my ordination to the priethood, I thought it fitting to share, in somewhat brief fashion, the story of how I was able to discern the Lord calling me to serve him as a priest. What follows is that story, though there is always more to say.

In order to fully share my story, I must – as I so often the case - go to the beginning. I grew up in a home that was not unlike many others, although it was certainly not perfect by any means, nor is any family.

When I was about four years old, my mother developed a brain tumor, which confined her to a hospital bed in our home. I have a few very fond memories of Mom walking, but most of my memories are of her bed ridden. After Mom’s cancer developed in this way, Dad stopped working as an electrician and stayed home to care for her, my brother, and I.

On 20 February 1986, my brother and I awoke as usual. We readied ourselves for school and only needed Dad to cook us breakfast before we got on the bus and were off to school. Oddly though, Dad was not up yet. Typically when we awoke, Dad was already in the kitchen listening to the radio and fixing breakfast. This morning, though, he was not. My brother and I thought nothing of this and when we were ready, I went to wake him up. Not finding him in his bedroom, I found on the couch where he had fallen asleep the night before. I called his name and shook him, but Dad would not wake up. I woke Mom and she, too, tried to rouse him, but to no avail. Out of desperation, we called my Aunt Marie, who arrived shortly thereafter, but she could not wake Dad, either. At long last, we called the ambulance.

When the paramedics arrived, my brother and I were sent outside to wait with the neighbors who had come down. If I remember the morning correctly, it was snowing lightly but was not chilly outside. The wait outside seemed like an eternity.

Finally, one of the paramedics stepped outside. He said not a word, but I can still see the look on his face as he sadly shook his head as though to say, "No, he did not make it; he is dead." The look on his face said it all. As soon as he stepped through the door, I knew, and I cried my heart out. I could do nothing but cry for the next two or three days. I was not quite eight years old.

I was, quite naturally, devastated. For a long time, I constantly asked God, “Why did you do this? How could you let this happen? What did I do to deserve this?” I simply could not understand.

I am not quite sure how I survived that experience, but I did. My brother and I moved in with Dad's sister, her husband, and their four children. Let me tell you, it was a houseful, especially when you count the dogs, cat, hamsters, and bird.

Mom was placed in a nursing home and we visited her every week after Mass and other times throughout the week when we could. As time progressed, she grew steadily worse.

On 18 January 1988, I was building yet another bigger and better Lego castle with my cousins when the telephone rang. My Aunt then told me the purpose of the call: Mom had just died. I was not quite ten years old.

I was again devastated. Again, the questions of “Why?” emerged from deep within me. I could not grasp how God could take away the two most important people in my life, especially when I was so very young. I had done nothing wrong. I did not deserve this. Day after day, I would ask God, "Why? Why me?" I also asked countless times for him to be returned them to me. I remember wishing many times, "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight." Each time I thought those words, I asked for my Mom and Dad to be returned to me. I told no one of this wish. And yet, even though I told no one my wish, it never happened.

To this day I have not received an answer to my initial question, but as I continually questioned him, I slowly found myself praying and in the midst of this prayer I heard him say to me, “It is I. Do not be afraid” (John 6:20). “I am here. I love you.” “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you,” and come to me he did: through the Scriptures, prayer and the sacraments (John 14:18). I slowly came to know that “the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

I began to feel his loving presence and I began to ask him – subconsciously, but I asked him nonetheless - “Who are you, sir?” As I listened to him in prayer I came to know him and I recognized him as “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Growing up without my parents was very difficult indeed, and their deaths impacted my life very profoundly. All of my personality and characteristics can be traced back to their deaths in some fashion. Do not get me wrong, my Aunt and Uncle were both very good to me and I could not have asked for better, but they could never take the place of my parents. This they realized and never did they attempt to do so.

These many years later, I look back on these two events that shaped my very being with gratitude, not because of the loss of my parents, but rather because of how I grew and matured as a result of their deaths. After Dad died, but especially after Mom, I began to pray to God, asking Him for answers, for support, for love. And ever so slowly I began to feel the great love of God and drew immense peace and comfort from that experience.

I began to spend time in the presence of God and to feel His love in a very real way. It was in my great sadness and pain that I went to Him, and there that I experienced His love.

When I was seventeen I went on my first
TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) retreat in Quincy. Here, I was able, for the first time, to really let go of much of the hurt and pain that I had kept bottled up deep within me. It felt so good to be free of that pain after so many years, and with that release, the love of God seemed to flow through me. I could truly feel the healing presence of God around me.

This call was further manifested in the person of Fr. John Beveridge, the pastor at St. John the Baptist parish (St. John the Baptist parish merged with St. Rose of Lima parish to form All Saints parish in 1999; All Saints parish merged with Immaculate Conception parish to form Blessed Sacrament parish in 2007). Fr. John helped me through these difficult experiences without even fully realizing he had done so. He was always there for me from the moment I first arrived in the parish after Dad died. As I grew, so too, did our friendship. He was always there with a listening spirit, a compassionate heart, helpful advice, a great joke, and an encouraging and loving sense to him. Fr. John shared in all of my pains and in all of my joys; this I felt called to do for others.

My experiences of Fr. John’s loving care and concern for me, together with my experiences of God’s deep love for me, began to foster within me a desire to serve Him with all that I could. This desire developed through grade school and especially into high school, as I began to become more and more involved with the parish and with the TEC community.

In high school I began to feel him stirring within my heart, calling me to his service. I heard his voice “in a tiny whispering sound” in the stillness of my heart (I Kings 19:12). I came to realize that his love that I had experienced and came to rely upon required me to give it to others; I could not keep it to myself. I heard him calling, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). As he called to the Apostles so he called to me, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). But unlike the Apostles I did not immediately leave everything to follow him. I said, “I am too young” (Jeremiah 1:6) and he responded: “Follow me” (Mark 2:14).

Even so, I thought myself unworthy of so generous a calling; indeed, I am unworthy of it. There were others in my parish more fit for his service, I thought. There were others more popular, more intelligent, more talented, more loving than I, and so I at first declined his invitation, choosing instead to teach history. I could not see why the Lord wanted me, wounded as I was. I did not yet realize that, as Thornton Wilder wrote, “In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.”

After my first TEC weekend, I could not decide exactly what I wanted to do with my life, whether I wanted to teach history or become a priest. I told no one about what the Lord was saying to me, which made even more remarkable what soon happened after: at this point of indecision many parishioners approached me before, after, and during Mass and told me, “You should think about the priesthood; you’d make a good priest.” I was stunned. Within a matter of weeks, it was not simply a handful of my fellow parishioners saying this to me, but dozens, and the number grew with each passing week.

They never pushed or shoved, they simply commented. But even with such affirmations, I still was unsure. I knew that I was not worthy of so great a calling, but who of us is?

At one point, I decided that I wanted to teach history and yet, as is often the case with God, the desire of the priesthood never left me. It was like a flashing light in the back of my mind irritatingly blinking, “Hey, look at me!” And so I did. I looked closer at, and prayed about, the priesthood and came to the conclusion that this is God’s call for me: to be a priest. The priesthood simply seemed as though it would fit my personally and my desires, and I somehow knew that only as a priest would I ever find joy, contentment, fulfillment and peace.

After I made this decision, the thought of teaching history no longer appealed to me. (Now, as a priest, I teach Church history in our parish high school.) After this decision, signs of God’s call became more and more apparent. I grew more in love with helping at the parish and in the TEC community, and this continued through my college years at
Quincy University as I devoted most of my time to Campus Ministry and the RCIA. All through college, the desire to serve God as a priest only grew.

It was in each of these experiences that I most deeply felt my call to the priesthood as a call to share the love of Christ Jesus with a hurting world. They seemed to come together, almost like a puzzle, and in them I was able to discern the Lord’s will for my life.

After receiving the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in history, I went to study and be formed for the priesthood at
University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary. After receiving the Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology (S.T.B.) and the Master of Divinity (M.Div.), the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, ordained me to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ on the 28th of May 2005 for service in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

If reading this you find yourself asking, "What does the Lord want of me?", ask yourself three simple and basic questions:

  1. Where do I find joy?
  2. Where do I find peace?
  3. Where do I find fulfillment?
Where these three answers coincide there I am certain is God's will.

If you find yourself asking, "Lord, why me?", ask yourself instead, "Why not me?"

10 comments:

  1. So do you now know why God took yoru parents? Have you figured out how you got thru their deaths?

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  2. Leann, I do not know why parents died when they did; this side of heaven I do not think I can know. What I do know is that God drew me to himself through their deaths.

    So often we speak of these tragedies as though God made so-and-so die. "He called him home," we say.

    But if we honestly ask the question, "Does God truly desire a child to be orphaned? Does God will these tragedies?", we must answer, "No." Rather, God permits such tragedies and allows human freedom to take its course. Death, you will remember, is the consequence of original sin, of the first turning of humanity away from God.

    I have continued living - and happily by and large - only by the grace of God.

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  3. Anonymous6:52 PM

    Thank you for this beautiful post.

    Thank you most of all however for answering the call to the priesthood.

    I will offer my daily rosary today for you and your intentions.

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  4. Father, this was very touching and I appreciate the fact that you would share your story with us. You and your brother priests are in my prayers daily.

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  5. I am deeply grateful for your prayers; thank you!

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  6. Father Daren,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story.
    You`re in my prayers.

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  7. You're welcome; thank you, Brad!

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  8. Fr. Daren,

    Thank you for sharing your story. Our prayers to you in your Journey.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Ed! Thanks for your prayers; it was great to be with you yesterday! Mahalo!

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  9. That was a beautiful story, Father! As to your parents' death, you mentioned that you became to pray more to God after they died. Perhaps your parents moving out of this world was His way of getting you to trust completely in Him, so that you may be molded into His priest.

    Blessings!

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