The temptation when writing a vocation story is to make the story about the author, not about the movement of the Holy Spirit within the author's life. In my life, I can definitely see the Holy Spirit nudging me in the right direction, even as I resisted and tried to go the opposite way.
When discussing my vocation story, I always go back to high school in Culbertson, MT. Culbertson is one of the little towns that dot much of the Great Plains in North America. Big enough to have its own school, but small enough that it's not hard to know everyone in town. We moved into Culbertson right before my Freshman year in high school, and I wasn't happy. We'd moved a lot throughout the years that I grew up, mostly following jobs for my parents. I wasn't looking forward to yet another move, and to a very small town this time.
Despite my misgivings, we did move to the small town of Culbertson. After we had gotten settled into our new home, we went about getting to know this town. We were signed up for school and went to Mass at the small parish of St. Anthony for the first time. I was amazed by the size of the church compared to what I was used to. The church in the previous town could seat 800 people, while St. Anthony's could only hold about 250, and that would be stretching the limits.
Fall came around, and school started. Like many parishes, high school youth group started about the same time as classes started, and I had been signed up for youth group as well. You see, my mom wanted both of us to receive a good Catholic grounding, even if we really didn't practice the Faith at home. Yeah, we said the grace before meals once in a while. Sure, we had a crucifix or two hanging on the walls of the house, but we really didn't talk about how the Faith matters to us. Since it didn't seem to be important to our parents, it wasn't important to me. We went to Mass more Sundays than not, and I was a regular at youth group, but the practice of the Faith ended there. Over the summers, the Sundays we attended Mass became lessened due to the desire to enjoy Summer break, not to mention the all important high school part-time job which frequently meant working on Sundays.
The practice of my faith went like this for about two years until my Junior year in high school. At the time, the procedure in the diocese was to confirm during high school, preferably Junior or Senior year. In our case, the bishop only came around every other year, due to small numbers of confirmandi, and it happened to fall on my Junior year.
As part of the preparation for Confirmation classes, we had a one-on-one meeting with the instructor of the class. During this meeting, she asked me to consider lectoring and teaching Kindergarten and First Grade religious education. I agreed to give it a try, do my part to help out at the church and all that. We were expected to be at Mass every week, so I made sure to attend. It would be impossible to hide the fact that I'd missed, but I still wasn't really committed to the practice of the Faith.
At one point, about half way through the year, she came up to me during a weekend retreat and said the most surprising thing that I had ever heard before: "Cory, I think you're going to be a priest." I was shocked. Me, a priest? Get up there every Sunday, suffer through the Mass willingly? Me? No way, forget it. I'm going to college, get a degree and a job, get married, have a family, and live happily ever after. That's what we do in the US, right? The priesthood is not a part of that picture.
She wasn't satisfied, however. About a month later, a religious sister came to the parish to talk about vocations. During the talk, as the sister was discussing the priesthood, the Confirmation instructor leaned over and said, "You know she's talking about you, don't you?" Once again, I shook my head no. There is no way I'm going to become a priest. Forget it!
As I look back, I can clearly see the work of the Holy Spirit through this woman, who happened to be the mother of one of my classmates. She told me one more time before the year was over that I would become a priest, and again I refused. In a way, I almost see a parallel between her three invitations to the priesthood and St. Peter's denials of Our Lord. Just as he didn't give up on St. Peter, Our Lord didn't give up on me, but continued to work in my soul.
Following my Confirmation, I continued to Lector at the parish on occasion and occasionally be involved with the parish youth group, but I still wasn't committed. The summer following my Junior year, I went on a Christian leadership retreat sponsored by the diocese, but the Faith was still something vague and unimportant to me throughout my Senior year. It was after high school that something in me began to stir, and practice of the Faith became important.
Continue to Part 2 - Air Force