Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Josh's Vocation Story

Recently, Abide talked discernment with Josh, a 21-year-old U of A grad from St. Albert who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood with the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph, based in Washington, DC. In this interview, Josh shares about his experience of the discernment process. 

AbideTell us a bit about yourself.

JoshI'm 21, I live with my family of 9 on a small acreage. I have a degree in chemistry and physics from the University of Alberta. I work now as a research chemist for my Dad. I spend most of my free time either with my family (little kids take up a lot of time) or reading these days. I read some classic literature, and also a lot of theology and philosophy.

AbideWhen did you first consider the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood?

JoshI was aware of the possibility of a vocation, and the shortage of priests in the Church, when I was quite young, but I did not want to be a priest because I wanted to be a great scientist. My mom always liked to go to a nearby used book store and binge-buy books at cents a piece. She bought a lot of religious books, and those stacked our shelves, but I never read all that many; I read a lot of Hardy Boys and science books at the time. When I was in high school my Mom got me hooked on all these theology and philosophy books, and I was captivated and impressed by the intellectual tradition of the Church. When I was 16, I was reading The Life of Christ, by Fulton Sheen, and I was struck by the part about the rich young man who asked Jesus what more he could do. Jesus told him to give his possessions to the poor and follow, but the man went home and wept, for he had many possessions. Sheen understood this to mean that poverty (and as an extension, complete discipleship a la religious life) was a special calling for certain people who want to do more than just follow the commandments. I thought perhaps that Jesus was talking to me in this passage, and maybe I had a vocation. I guess the biggest shift back then was when I came to consider a vocation as a calling to fulfil me, and not simply to fill a need in the Church.

AbideWhat made you consider a vocation as a religious priest (i.e. as a Dominican friar as opposed to a diocesan priest)?

Josh: There are not a lot of very active and prominent orders in Western Canada, so my contact with the various charisms and missions was limited. I visited St. Joseph's Seminary here when I was 17, and I really loved the community, but I realized I felt more drawn to a strong community life than to the life a diocesan priest would live after the seminary. I also came to see myself more as a specialist, operating under a particular charism, than as a diocesan priest responsible for everything for a parish.

Abide: Why the Dominicans?

Josh: I never knew Dominican priests growing up. I had a great respect for St. Thomas Aquinas (a Dominican) and I wanted to study a lot of theology and philosophy, so I was interested in the Dominicans since high school, but since none were around I did not think much of it. I was getting spiritual direction from a Legionary priest during my third year of my degree and he also suggested the Dominicans when I told him I wanted to be a pastor (not first an academic) but still study and pass on the faith intellectually. They are medieval enough for my taste and their intellectual heritage is impressive. I also like the liturgical life they live. They sing the liturgy of the hours together throughout the day. I also felt that I fit into the communities that I visited.

AbideWhere are you at this point in your discernment journey?

Josh: I was hoping to enter the order this summer, but the vocations director asked me to wait at least a year, so now I am planning to volunteer for the next few months in a homeless shelter in New York with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. There I will be able to serve the poor and maintain a good prayer schedule in preparation for religious life. I will leave to do so at the end of August. While there, I will be close to the Dominicans and be able to continue to prepare for entry into religious life. 

Abide: How have your family and friends reacted to your decision to seriously discern the religious life? 

JoshMy family is quite supportive. My Catholic friends are all happy. Non-Catholics, whether friends or strangers, seem to generally have positive, but confused, reactions to my plans. I think there is a natural curiousity in a lot of people when they see an apparently well-adjusted, successful, normal young man seek out an apparently anachronistic life. Sometimes people think I must not be attracted to women. It's pretty funny. I have yet to see brows furrowed.

AbideWhat do you think will be the biggest challenge of religious life? What do you think will be the greatest reward? 

JoshThe evangelical councils are poverty, chastity, and obedience. Everybody says poverty and chastity get easier over time, and at 21, that's my experience. I never liked having a lot of things, so poverty does not scare me. The Dominicans are set up in quite a democratic way compared to, for example, the Jesuits, but I still will have to obey other humans, and one day that may become difficult. Everybody says obedience gets harder over time. I expect I'll have to work very hard on my humility.

AbideDo you have any advice for other young adults who are considering the possibility of discerning priesthood or religious life? 

JoshFind a good spiritual director who can tell you that your weird idea to give your whole life to Jesus and wear funny clothes for the rest of your days is not all that crazy after all. In general, just do it. If you like an order or a seminary, go check it out. You can't get very far on a laptop. God wants your love, not your complacency.

Pray for Josh as he continues his journey of discernment! 

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