As I left Scott AFB for what I thought was my last time, I had a lot of uncertainty in my life. I didn't know when I'd get a job. I didn't know where I would be living. Everything that I owned was under a tarp in the box of my truck. This truly was the closest I've ever come to being homeless, and in fact was technically homeless for a couple of weeks.
Through a series of connections and the grace of God, my time as a homeless person didn't last long. One friend offered to let me stay at his house until the job situation was sorted out. Another friend had a connection to a landlord who had recently remodeled a couple of duplexes that were available to rent. My resume which I had posted on an Internet job search site had finally gotten a strong prospect. In short order, after only a couple of weeks, I had a job and a place to live, so I thought things were going well.
During this time, I was making Sunday Mass attendance a priority. Unlike previous moves, I wasn't going to wait a couple of weeks, or even months, to get to Mass. Instead, I went back to St. Clare Parish in O'Fallon, which happened to be only about 5 miles from my new apartment, and formally registered as a member of the parish. I also introduced myself to Fr. Jim, the pastor. We had met briefly when I was “church shopping” before the end of my enlistment, but it was pretty brief, just a quick handshake at the end of Mass.
My new job was on the other side of St. Louis, in the western suburbs, so I began to experience the joys of commuting that so many other Americans trudge through every day. For two hours each day, one hour each way, I had nothing better to do than sit in my truck, drive, and listen to the radio. At first, I would listen to the typical music on the radio, but shortly after I began working, a friend introduced me to WRYT 1080 AM, a Catholic radio station. Catholic radio? There's such a thing? I knew about EWTN, even though I never had the opportunity to watch it, but had not heard of Catholic radio. I started listening and was hooked. More good information, and I could learn as I drove to and from work. This was great!
I had learned a lot from the Catholic Answers website, so I was excited to hear that they also had a radio program, Catholic Answers Live. Oh, boy, more good stuff! There was no end to the amount of material that I could learn about the faith, whether apologetics, Church teachings, history, you name it.
Of course, Catholic Answers Live wasn't the end of the great programs that I was able to listen to. Because WRYT used EWTN for much of its source material, I also got to hear Mother Angelica, the Journey Home, Life on the Rock, and much more. This was an information fire hose, and I just had to turn on the radio!
The more I learned about the faith through the radio and Internet, the more involved I wanted to be. I started to get more active in the parish, volunteering to be a Lector and Eucharistic Minister – now more accurately called an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. I was also getting involved in communal prayer, such as the Rosary, and was starting to meet new people through my involvement.
It was about this time that I met a couple who has been a strong supporter of my vocation, even throughout our respective moves. I don't remember if I first met Mike and Denise at Mass or as part of a communal prayer, but we quickly became friends. Having met and worked with a lot of people my age who were barely Catholic at best, it was exciting to meet a young couple, a little older than me, who were as excited about the Faith as I was.
One day, Mike invited me to an evening of reflection at the Opus Dei center in St. Louis. He explained that it involved a couple of spiritual conferences, exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and reception of the Sacrament of Confession. I had heard of Opus Dei through my research, and was interested in what this evening of reflection was all about, so I agreed to go. It was incredible! Two powerful conferences with lots of silent time for adoration. Following the conferences, there was time for socializing, and it was amazing to meet more Catholic men who were on fire for the Catholic Faith. They loved the Church, they loved her teachings, and they weren't afraid to say so. It was a powerful experience for me, and one I had the privilege to repeat many times over. I even began to look forward to these evenings of reflection, especially as the job and commute became more intolerable.
By the end of the first year out of the Air Force, I'd felt like I'd had enough of the job I was doing. It wasn't a bad job, just wasn't what I expected when I was first hired. My experience from the Air Force was that of a computer administrator, keeping servers and networks up and running so that users can get to them 24 hours a day. The job I was doing was more data manipulation, working with a database to set up reports for customers. Not my interest, so my performance at that job suffered. A weakness that I am still working on is my extreme procrastination towards tasks I find unpleasant, and much of this job fell into that category.
My Knights of Columbus connection came through about this time. One of the members of the Scott AFB council was working for a military contractor which specialized in computer programming. They were looking for a computer administrator who knew UNIX, which I happened to know. It was 6 months on base at the main server facility, with the potential to continue with the company for further contracts. This was the job I was looking for. I really thought God was looking out for me.
Well, it turns out He was, just not the way I expected. The main server facility was next to one of the headquarters buildings on base, and had a small restaurant where I would go for lunch. It was also where my friend Mike worked as part of his job, as he was an officer in the Air Force. One day, around noon, I was walking over to the restaurant and ran into Mike. He was heading to daily Mass, and invited me to join him. He had been encouraging me to consider trying to get to daily Mass, and I had plenty of excuses why I couldn't. On this day, the excuses ran out, and I walked with him to the base chapel. From that day on, I would regularly go to daily Mass before grabbing a quick lunch.
It was at daily Mass at the chapel that I first performed the role of altar server, having not done it as a child. I think that this was the turning point in my discernment process, as I started to get a better appreciation for the Mass and how important it needed to be in my life. Instead of just going to Mass once a week to get it “done with”, I was daily present at the Sacrifice on Calvary and receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
About this time, I found out that my friend Matt, who had given me a place to stay when I was between the Air Force and my first job, was not baptized. I had seen him at Mass, and never seen him receive communion. One day I asked him why, and after hearing that he wasn't baptized, asked him if he had ever considered going through baptism. He said that he had, and was considering going through RCIA at the parish.
A couple of weeks later, Matt asked me if I would be willing to be his sponsor through RCIA. I agreed, and for the next year, Matt and I caused trouble during the RCIA classes (in a good way, of course). I was learning a lot about the Faith, but Matt was a voracious reader. He even read the Catechism of the Catholic Church all the way through! (Something I've never done, admittedly.) We never directly contradicted the instructors, but we did ask some questions that they had no idea how to answer. After he completed the RCIA process, and received the Sacraments at the Easter Vigil, I turned to ask him how he felt following the reception of three Sacraments at once. I didn't have to. The tears of joy said it all.
With all this going on, the defenses were starting to go down. I found that I was actually willing to consider a vocation to the priesthood, although I wasn't going to make any commitments at that time. It would still take another year and a half before I finally submitted my will to God's divine will.
Continue to Part 4 - God's 2x4