WHISPERINGS OF GOD
Whoíd ever have guessed
that I would become a priest? My parents hardly ever went to church. In
fact, they were divorced, and my Mom remarried, when I was only ten years
old. I never went to Catholic school. From pre-K right through high school
I was sent to public schools in NYC. And yet, God had ways of whispering
to me. Both my grandmothers were religious, and I was very impressed by
their love for God. One of my earliest memories as a tiny child is my father
kneeling down with me at the side of my bed to say night prayers: "Now
I lay me down to sleep...God bless mommy and daddy and...." Even though
Mom never went to church, she saw to it that I made my sacraments. I remember
one afternoon when I was about thirteen years old. I was hanging out on
the corner after school with my friends. My mother came by and told me
to go and join the Confirmation classes that were starting that day. I
told her "No," I wanted to stay with my friends. But Mom insisted that
I go to CCD classes. I didnít like it, but I had to go.
Whoíd ever have guessed that one day I would become a priest?
Although there were long months in which I never went to church, I was developing a deep fascination with God, and with the role of the priest. I even remember building a simple little shrine altar in my bedroom.
As a teenager I had a lot of problems with my Momís new husband, my stepfather. He scared me, and I felt so alone. It was then that I began to hear Godís whisperings more clearly. I felt drawn to church and to prayer. I started going to church not only on Sundays, but every day of the week. When things at home or within me got especially bad, I would start talking regularly with a priest. God gave me the light and strength I didnít have to get through my teenage years.
During this time I was feeling a deep attraction, a "calling" if you will, to become a priest. But I didnít want to do it. I wanted to get married someday and lead a "normal" life. I liked science and math and thought it would be exciting to become one of the worldís first astronauts, or, if I couldnít do that, at least an aeronautical engineer, designing planes and rockets.
But as I grew older
and understood more about the world and its problems, I began to realize
that there would be plenty of astronauts and scientists. What the world
really needed were more people to teach us about Jesus and the new way
of living that he won for us. People needed to know about Godís love for
them, so that they could start to love themselves and one another.
Otherwise we would be using all the inventions of the scientists to hurt each other, instead of making the world a better place.
I kept going to church and the pull to become a priest kept getting stronger. But I didnít want to do it. I even tried to make a deal with God. I told God I wanted to be a regular married man, but that I would make a lot of money and give it to the Church for Godís work. Now I realize, with a smile, that I was trying to buy God off. God didnít want money, God wanted me.
During these years I became enamored with St. Theresa of Lisieux. I would read her autobiography at least once a year. She helped me, and millions of others, to see that you donít necessarily have to do great things, like convert thousands of people, in order to become a great saint. You needed to love, to put love in everything you do, to make love the most important thing in your life.
St. Theresa is the special patroness of priests. I guess she was praying for me, just like my grandmothers, and many others, because one day the whole direction of life changed. I was going to my after-school job when I "happened" to run into two brothers I had played ball with a few times. I had always liked these brothers. They seemed so nice and wholesome, very different from many other boys I knew. As we traveled along together talking, I learned that both of these brothers were studying to become priests. I was very impressed with their generosity. I remember thinking that if they can be so generous with God, giving their whole lives to God, I could be that generous, too. I donít know what ever happened to those brothers. I donít even know if they became priests. But from that day onward I decided that my goal would be to become a priest, if God would have me.
One of the great joys in my decision to become a priest is that I have been able to live and work with people as nice as those two brothers. Not everybody in this world is able to have the beautiful friends and companions that priests have. And I am doubly blessed. Because I am a priest in the Dominican Order, I do not have a wife and children of my own, but the many thousands of Dominican priests, brothers, and sisters throughout the world are truly my family. And what a wonderful family we are!
Being a Dominican priest has also given me great opportunities to do special studies and ministries. After becoming a priest, I studied to become a social worker and to learn Spanish. I have worked for many fulfilling years with poor families, both in the United States and in Latin America. In recent years, I have enjoyed working as a Catholic chaplain at a large state university. I preach, celebrate Mass, and council college students, helping them to grow, the way priests used to help me when I was young.
The life of a seminarian and then a priest has not always been easy. But just as happened when I was a teenager, when I had problems, God whispered to me, drawing me closer in prayer.
I am so grateful to God for keeping me a happy priest for over thirty years now. It is such a joy and an honor, again and again, more times than I could ever count, to be an instrument of Godís grace to people in need. Dear God, I thank You for making something beautiful and worthwhile out of my humble life.
I pray that you too will listen to Godís whisperings to you. I pray that, whatever God is calling you to do and be, you will be generous with God, so that God might be as generous with you as God has been with me. Remember: no one ever outdoes God in generosity.
Are you a Catholic? Is it simply because your parents are Catholic? Here are the reflections of one Catholic on this important question. May it help you to form your own answer.
I AM A CATHOLIC BECAUSE...
Jesus Christ has captured me! No one in all history can compare with Him--His sublime teachings, His perfect love, His power to heal hearts, minds and bodies. In Jesus, heaven touches earth, God is with us, the Reign of God comes....
Day in and day out I experience the liberating power of Jesus' Presence in my life- - loving me, sustaining me, guiding me, challenging me, healing me, empowering and ripening me. In Jesus, I touch God deep within me, and all around me. Jesus brings out the very best in me.
Jesus and His Good News would have been lost in history, except that Catholics for 19 centuries have been practicing and preaching His Way of Love. Millions of Catholics down through countless generations have been captivated by Jesus. Catholics have come together to share the Word of God in the Holy Bible and in the Holy Eucharist. United in faith and love, the Spirit of the risen Jesus continues to live and work through us.
Through the Catholic Church I have come to know and belong to God's family- - in baptism, in prayer and worship, in preaching and instructions, in the Holy Bible, in suffering, sacrifice and service, in the great witness of the saints.
Although other Christian Churches also seek to know and serve Jesus, and these brothers and sisters teach and inspire me, yet it is the Catholic Church that was founded by Jesus Himself through Peter and Paul and the other apostles. All through the centuries, and all around the world, the Catholic Church has been the most authentic and consistent witness of the Good News. In order to faithfully advance the Reign of God in the world, the Church must continually seek to be renewed and reformed. Love and unity among Jesus' followers suffer whenever Christians, and the structures they create, refuse to be renewed and reformed in His Spirit.
Although many non- Christian religions also help to advance the Reign of God in the world, yet it is through the Christian religion, and in particular the Catholic Church, that the Reign of God breaks decisively into human history, providing the leaven to raise up saints and a society rejoicing in justice and peace.
In my heart of hearts, where I am one with God and all creation, it is through the Catholic Church that the deepest desires of my heart for ultimate meaning and love are fulfilled.
Ronald Stanley, O.P.
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