Br. Jason

“…my desire for consecrated life grew more and more.”

Br. Jason of the Holy Spirit Perpetually Professed.  Discalced Carmelite Friars San Jose, California.  MEFV Grant Recipient

 

I grew up in the beautiful city of West Covina, nestled in the middle of the San Gabriel Valley, which is not too far outside of Los Angeles. My household usually consisted of my mother, who was a homicide detective, my half-brother, numerous foster brothers, most of who struggled with some kind of emotional disturbance, and me. While I was young, we attended our parish church, St. Christopher’s.

 

I had been going to a Lutheran elementary school since pre-school, as had my older brother before me. This school had created a wonderful Christian environment and had great educators, but it was also known, even by other Lutherans, to be notably anti-Catholic. In time, I began to believe all the old prejudices that I learned there. Also, with no developed concept of the gravity of sinful acts, I began to have “faith” without any good works to match, and we remember what James had to say about that (Jas. 2:26, among other places).

It was a religious sister that God worked through to change all this. This “reversion,” so to speak, all began as I was nearing the completion of eighth grade year. My mother decided that I was going to go to a Catholic high school nearby: Bishop Amat Memorial High School. I did not want to go there, but as I said, my mom was a cop, and everyone who’s been pulled over knows that if you’re smart, you just don’t argue too much with a cop. It took about half of a semester in Sr. Therese Auer’s “Catholic Christianity” class to undo my false understanding of the Church and to begin to correct my skewed view of sin. She explained the Faith with such clarity and logic, so very differently than I had heard about it before. Her teaching of the true Church would set me back on track; a track that I never thought I would be on. I still remember a short prayer that I almost said that year when so many “new” ideas of Christ began coming into my mind. “Lord,” I said, “please don’t let me leave . . .” I was about to say “Lutheranism,” but something was telling me that this was not the right word to use. I began again, “Lord, please don’t let me leave the Truth.” Well, the Holy Spirit could work with that, which is why I think it was He Who prompted the proper words (“for we do not know how to pray as we ought” Rom. 8:26)

 

 

Br.-Jason_2

 

I am sure that it is no surprise that it was the Eucharist that sustained my new Catholic way of life. I began to attend the Communion service everyday at lunch. Of course, in order to receive Him, I needed to enter the Tribunal of Mercy (as St. Faustina calls the sacrament of Confession Sec. 1448). I also then had to be sure that I went back to going to Sunday Mass, whether the rest of my family was going or not. Through the encouragement of other religious sisters on campus, and the retreats of the Fr. Kolbe Missionaries, (a secular institute) I began to realize the importance of service as well as the power of prayer, especially in the presence of Our Eucharistic Lord. The Lord changed me in huge ways during those years.

 

By the time senior year came around, I already knew that I wanted to study theology. This, I figured, would lead to a teaching career and still leave the door open for a possible religious or ministerial vocation. The next step was to find a school where I can learn solid theology. I began asking around. Many told me of a few very good schools. With prayer, I chose Franciscan University of Steubenville. Before I could go there though, I had to spend two years at a community college. During that time the Lord continued to work with me, preparing me for FUS and all I would learn there.

 

Soon enough, the time came for me to enter into university. I had no idea what I was getting into. I was surrounded by “so grat a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) among the faculty and students at Steubenville. To see so many people my age so strong in their faith brought even more change to my life. I discovered many weaknesses that I had not realized before. So, with God’s grace and the wisdom imparted by the faculty and priests, I was confronted with the task to again “strengthen [my] drooping hands and weak knees” (Heb. 12:12). A task that I realized is a life-long process.

 

I was eager t begin this process. In fact, I grew rather anxious about my vocation. Despite all the ways the Lord was bringing more light at this place, my calling remained clouded. I had no feeling for any particular vocation. Perhaps it was a calling to focus on my primary vocation as a student. Still, I remained opened. At one point, I found myself discussing discernment with an Eastern Catholic who said that he had been taught that a man should first discern if he is called to celibacy by living celibate. I then was determined to try to have a “celibate mindset” in my life so that I can properly discern. It did not take long for me to be almost fearful of the possibility that I would never marry and raise a family. My attempt then failed.

 

Something interesting happened two months later. My friends and I were on a long car ride through Pennsylvania going to Vermont for spring break. Our driver, who was going to her home in New York, began to explain her discernment process and how she discovered that she was called to be a Carmelite sister in Alhambra (also in the beautiful San Gabriel Valley). When she was done, she turned to me and asked, “Jason, are you called to the priesthood?” My response: “yes.” I could not believe that I had said that. Was it not I who had failed at the attempt to live with a celibate mindset; the one who could hardly imagine life outside of marriage? Did I just lie to this woman? Initially when I though about it, I felt guilty. Yet as time went on, I could not ignore the fact that my desire for this way of life grew stronger within me. This time, it would not be just me who decided to live in a consecrated mindset, rather I would be aided by the grace of God. I began to see that what I had said in the car was not a lie, after all. It seems that it was the deeper desires of my heart which the Holy Spirit finally let free; much like my prayer at Bishop Amat (though it would be later that I would find that I am called to be a brother rather than a priest). I do not think it was any coincidence that this all happened toward the very end of my college career.

 

Before that fateful spring break, I had already signed up for a traveling ministry, and by April, I had signed up for another one: NET Ministries and Totus Tuus of Denver. These were both different ministries, but the were great places for discernment. A team member had numerous opportunities to speak with great religious and great diocesan priests, as well as with many seminarians and discerners and married couples. Also, each team member is challenged to live simplified evangelical counsels for the term. Room and board were provided, so we were paid little. We were not allowed to date while on the road, and we had to obey our superiors. Through this time my desire for consecrated life grew more and more. I was so excited that I began to grow impatient about not being able to actively discern. Little did I know that I would still have to wait four more years until I was able to enter the order I was called to.
When I completed the time of these ministries, my loan companies were waiting for me and so was a position at Mary, Star of the Sea High School in San Pedro, California. I taught religion there for three years to freshmen and began to work with the youth group at Holy Trinity Parish, where many of my students attended. During this time, I was searching for God’s Will for my life. It was not easy since I took my teaching job seriously, and I had already learned at Steubenville the concept of primary vocation, as mentioned above. Still,I visited a few groups and asked many questions of the religious that came to my school’s vocation day. I spoke to the Columban Fathers, I went to Brazil to visit the male branch of the Father Kolbe Missionaries, I worked in close contact with the Norbertines (the order that my spiritual director is from), and made trips to three different Carmelite groups. I realized that it was the Carmelites that I was called to. Many of the things that Carmelite spirituality focuses on coincided with my own devotions: the focus of prayer which started in me back in high school, the focus on being hidden, the slight Eastern Catholic flare that was absorbed in the Order, even the Order’s roots on Mt. Carmel, which hearken back to some of my favorite stories from Scripture that I learned at my Lutheran school, and which connect to my own Jewish roots from my mother’s side of the family. Most importantly, it is some unexplainable way that the Carmelite way of life just seems to “fit” with me.

 

After three years of teaching, I thought that I was off to the Carmelites in Hopkins, Minnesota. When talking it over with my spiritual director, we figured that I should wait one more year so that I could relegate more money to paying off my loans. What I did not know while we were discussing this, Mary, Star of the Sea had just filled my position a few hours earlier. So, I went to teach at a school called St. Bernard High School which is right next to LAX airport. Since it was so far and my jeep was so old (its name is Carmelita — it’s brown), I was unable to pay any more than the normal amount toward my debts. I also had to live even more simply than before. This year, though, is when I realized that I am probably more likely called to the Western Province of Carmelites, instead of the group in Minnesota. Yet, my student loans are still holding me back from entering into full participation with the Carmelite way of life. Admittedly, it is only two years of debt and I have paid off a good chunk of it these last four years. Nevertheless, it is still more money than Carmelites usually make. So, I was hoping that you could help me in this way, God Wiling, so that I could dive into what I feel is my calling from God. Either way, thank you for helping those that you have already helped and those you will help in the future. and I know that the Lord is blessing you abundantly.

Fr. Kevin Mann

“… Through imitating Christ, poor, chaste, and obedient, I desire to give myself completely to His Bride, the Church.”  Father Kevin Mann

Perpetually Professed, Canons Regular, of St. John Cantius Chicago Illinois, MEFV Grant Recipient

 

080925.kevinUntil five years ago, the priesthood was something totally foreign to my idea of a happy and normal life. While growing up, our family of seven practiced the Roman Catholic Faith dutifully. I do not recall missing Sunday Mass more than three times in my life. Our parents prayed with the children before we went to bed, and eventually, we began to pray the family Rosary. Prayer and responsibility were certainly a part of my upbringing.

 

I attended public school, played sports, and spent time with friends as most kids did. During middle school I decided that I wanted to be a doctor, and therefore, I was motivated to apply myself to obtain higher grades. I was mindful of objective truth; hence, when my father told me that the Roman Catholic Church was the one true Church of the one true God, I was proud to be Catholic.

 

Although Holy Mass attendance, Lenten practices, and public Rosaries to end abortion often conflicted with my priorities as a child and teenager, I knew these were ultimately good things. Unable to afford a Catholic high school education, my parents took us to morning Holy Mass several times a week. Consequently, I maintained at least one weekday Mass through most of the second half of my college career.

 

Throughout high school and college I was determined to seek earthly happiness by becoming a wealthy physician and finding a nice, pretty Catholic girl to marry. The priesthood was far from my plans; moreover, any suggestion of it made me quiver. Near the end of my college career, I started to take my Catholic Faith more seriously as I began to be more honest with God and myself. In preparation for applying to medical school, I became more involved in medical service-related volunteer work. God was preparing me for a life of total service to Him and His Church.

 

A major step towards my vocation was my resolution to receive the Sacrament of Confession monthly after I finished my undergraduate coursework in the Winter of 2002. This provided a great opportunity to examine my relationship with God regularly, and therefore I was able to amend my life more effectively. I actually felt myself growing up, and after scoring well on my MCAT, my life really seemed to be taking the shape I had envisioned.

 

This fantasy ended that summer (2003) after a tough breakup with a Protestant girl. I sought the advice and counsel of the holiest and most intelligent priests I knew, the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey. Rather than finding out how I might convert my former girlfriend, Father Charles, a Norbertine, challenged my faith in the Eucharist and convinced me to ask God what He wanted for me.

 

I immediately resolved to attend Mass and pray before the Blessed Sacrament every day. This was the perfect setting to plead with Our Lord to make His will known to me and to beg of Him the grace to follow it. As I began to view life in the light of eternity, the idea of renouncing marriage in order to commit my life to God in the ministerial priesthood for the salvation of souls became reasonable to me.

 

After only two months of praying about my vocation, I was convinced that God was calling me to His priesthood. Eagerly, I returned to St. Michael’s ready to manifest my discovery. Providentially, I found Father Charles in the confessional again, and he counseled me to seek entrance to the Norbertines in Orange County. I wanted to be a Norbertine, because I observed that they were reverent, intelligent and loyal to the Holy Father. I made a four-day visit, applied, and was accepted.

 

The atmosphere at St. Michael’s was inspiring. During my visit, I was very impressed by the community life and enchanted by the singing of the Divine Office. It was also a relief to discover that they did normal things, too, like play sports. I continued my regimen of daily Holy Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, Holy Rosary, and increased my reception of the Sacrament of Confession to every two weeks. I began to seriously strive for sanctity through prayer, penance, and charity.

 

In August of 2004, I entered the Postulancy of St. Michael’s, where I became enamored with Gregorian Chant and the celebration of Holy Mass in the sacred language of the Church. Unfortunately, I left that same December, as my Superior discerned that I did not have a vocation with them. Reluctantly, I agreed. I needed guidance, as I was zealous, but lacked maturity and prudence. My formation confessor was generous to continue hearing my weekly confessions. He also introduced me to an experienced spiritual director who he thought would be a good match for me. Under Father Thomas Nelson’s direction, I matured significantly. In addition, I was blessed with the support of new lay friends who cherished their Catholic Faith as I did.

 

After about a year of being under Father Nelson’s direction, he introduced me to a new community of Canons Regular whose apostolate focuses on restoring Beauty to the Liturgy, and through the Liturgy to the rest of the Church. After visiting the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in February of 2006, I entered the Postulancy that June.

 

At St. John’s, I have truly come to value community life as both a means of sanctification and a source of joy. Every aspect of our lives revolves around the Sacred Liturgy, whether it be our meals, our work, our recreation, our studies, or most importantly, our prayer life; thus, our life is truly centered on Christ. While the sanctification of the faithful by means of the liturgical apostolate is what originally attracted me to this community, I am increasingly convinced that my personal union with God is fundamental and absolutely vital to the efficacy of the apostolate. Therefore, I am grateful for the many occasions of grace that God provides in our daily life to cultivate this union.

 

My desire to become a priest has led to a greater zeal and willingness to seek configuration to Christ, which I have leared is only through sharing in His cross. Through imitating Christ, poor, chaste, and obedient, I desire to give myself completely to His Bride, the Church.

Sr. Brigid Ancilla Marie

“I realized that I was in love with the Lord; no person nor anything other than He would fulfill me.” – Sr. Brigid Ancilla Marie

Sisters of Life, New York, New York, MEFV Grant Recipient

 

070806.bam.lifeWhen looking back on my life I see very clearly that the Lord has been directing my heart, gently leading it to find life in Him, to find Love in Him, to desire Him to be my completion. Having said that, I did not think about a religious vocation until I was on my way to college. I was going to be a married missionary doctor with ten children. My plan though, seemed like too much; no person could do all those things and be present to them all. Therefore, I decided my life would work if I were a doctor, a missionary and a nun. Upon telling that to a wise priest, he smiled and gently said, “OK, go to school.”

 

And so in August of 2000, I left Cleveland, my parents, my three brothers and my sister for Washington University in St. Louis. I was born and raised Catholic. Although my parents imparted a firm foundation of faith, when I left school I was only just beginning to understand what it meant to be Catholic. At Wash U, the Lord placed me in the midst of a great group of friends who knew much more than I did. They taught me about the Faith, they introduced me to Mary, and they showed me how to live a Catholic life. The more that I learned, the more I wanted to learn. My freshman year was a year filled with great graces. As I worked towards medical school, though, time restraints slowly closed the door to any discernment that had begun. I was very active at our Catholic Student Center, running programs, participating in the choir, helping to lead retreats, while playing Club Volleyball and working.

 

I chose to major in Cultural Anthropology while completing the pre-medical course work. While originally drawn to anthropology because of the cross-cultural focus, I soon realized that I was longing for Truth. I was searching for what united all humans. It was not in my classes, but in the Theology of the Body that I found that “adequate anthropology” that speaks to the dignity of every person simply because they exist.

 

During my senior year, my attention again focused on my future and, although minimally, to what the Lord wanted of me. I applied to medical school and was not accepted. Although I had asked the Lord to prevent my acceptance if it was not His will, I decided that my denial was not because it was His will, but because my application was not strong enough. In May of 2004 I returned to Cleveland to work and prepare to apply to medical school again. I worked through the summer at the city pool. At the end of the summer, I was unable to find a job in the medical or anthropological field, and thus, spent the fall caring for my sister Rachel.

 

Rachel was born when I was seven with a deletion in chromosome 8, spina bifida, clubbed feet and profound mental retardation. Today she is 16, spends most of her time in her wheelchair and is at a cognitive level of a two- or three-year-old. Her life led me to question what it really meant to be alive, how were we to measure the value of a life. Through the Theology of the Body, I realized that the Love of the Lord dignifies us, and we do nothing to earn that. Although we do not deserve it we are loved infinitely and there is nothing we can do to be loved more and there is nothing we can do to be loved less.

 

The Fall of 2005 was full of great soul searching. It was a graced time in which I learned great humility, the importance of family life, was introduced to and accepted the real possibility that the Lord was calling me to religious life. For the first time in my life I discovered what it really meant to love. My sister had two surgeries that fall, a release of a tethered spinal cord and a spinal fusion. As she lay in the bed, fading in and out of consciousness, unable to move, I was keenly aware of the great and simple love that she had for me. And I was surprised to realize my great love for her, who in that moment had nothing but her presence to give me, and how perfect that love was. It wanted nothing, it expected nothing, it needed nothing but the simple presence of each other. That is how the Lord loves us, He simply delights in our presence, asks nothing, needs nothing.

 

During that fall I also met a beautiful Ursuline Sister who was starting a discernment group. Still sure that I was called to marriage, I went to the first meeting in October mainly looking for some friends. But, by December I knew that I needed to pay attention to this new yearning in my heart.

 

Meanwhile, I was getting ready to move to Virginia. While I loved being home, I knew it was time to take another step. In January of 2005, through the great generosity of my aunt and uncle, I moved to McLean, Virginia to start working towards my Masters’ Degree in Public Health at George Washington University, to take the MCAT and to find a job. In March I started working at George Washington University Hospital as a concierge in the Emergency Room. As I was either studying, working, or sleeping that semester my heart began to long for something more. I was on the road to fulfill my dreams; I was working in a medical environment, I was going to increase my MCAT score, I was earning my MPH which would prepare me to use medicine as a service, and yet I was not content. My studies were distracted by a longing to be with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

 

I knew that my move to Virginia was also a step to be able to freely discern religious life. I had made a deal with God. My terms for moving were a solid, faithful parish and a spiritual director. The Lord heard and provided for me. I live across the street from St. John the Beloved, and through Fr. Beaudet met Fr. Scalia, my spiritual director. In six short months, through the graces poured forth through St. John’s parish and Fr. Scalia, I realized that I was in love with the Lord; no person nor anything other than He would fulfill me. He was not calling me to medicine, but to be His. Therefore, I did not apply to medical shcool again, and I left the Public Health program. My heart longed to be His, and so I began looking for the community to which He was calling me. I have spent the last year working, searching and praying.

 

The Lord led me to the Sisters of Life. It was here that I realized that my seemingly crooked path was preparing me for religious life and a life spent upholding the dignity of every person. My relationship with my sister, my anthropological education, my desire to serve through medicine and public health, and even my desire to love and be loved in marriage had directed me to the Sisters of Life. The Sisters live a life of Love centered on the Eucharist. They are united with their Beloved so that they might bring about a cultural revolution, the culture of life.

 

I dreamt of running a pro-life OB/Gyn clinic, but the Lord showed me that our world needs a deeper spiritual healing; that is the healing that I am longing to participate in and it is the healing the Sisters of Life embrace.

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