“It was as though something had taken hold of my heart, at once powerfully and lovingly, urging it to choose the priesthood in order to share with others the Good News of the love of God…”
My vocation story would not make much sense if I did not mention the transforming encounter with Christ that I experienced at age eighteen. At a moment in my life when I felt alone, unhappy, and unsatisfied with myself and with my life, I made a Cursillo retreat. There I experienced Christ as a real person who was alive, who knew me totally and loved me unconditionally. I understood that He was the answer to my deepest aspirations and desires. Only in Him could I fulfill the purpose for which God, in His love, had brought me into existence. After this experience, I resolved, with the help of the grace of God, to live according to His will, and I made a commitment to live a live of personal prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments, and service.
My call to religious life and to the priesthood did not emerge until months later. As I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament one afternoon, I asked Our Lord to show me what I ought to do with my life, which road He wanted me to take. I was a first-year university student, but still did not know what career to pursue. While I was praying, I saw the pastor of the church pass by as he prepared to celebrate Mass. I thought: “This man is so fortunate! He has no occupation, job or profession other than God and His work. What better cause is there to live and work for?”
At that moment, I felt a very strong attraction to the priesthood. It was a desire that did not come from me; it was as though something had taken hold of my heart, at once powerfully and lovingly, urging it to choose the priesthood in order to share with others the Good News of the love of God in Christ Jesus. This took me completely by surprise, since I had never before felt the desire to be a priest.
I felt stunned and excited at the same time. One part of me wanted to say “yes” immediately. Another part reasoned that these desires were merely the result of the powerful spiritual experience I’d had on my Cursillo retreat. Besides, I wasn’t holy enoughto be a priest! I thought about my weaknesses, the many ways in which I was inadequate, and other reasons why my sudden desire could not possibly be from God.
Other experiences followed which confirmed that God was truly calling me to the priesthood and to religious life. No longer doubtful, I went to the other extreme, wanting to know immediately the specific religious community that God was calling me to join… But there were so many religious orders! How was I going to find the right one? And so I proceeded to wear myself out going from one place to another, from one religious community to another, trying to discern and to find the place where I was being called, but with very little success.
During this process, I began getting to know the Discalced Carmelite Friars. I fell in love with their spirituality, and my spiritual life began to be guided and formed by it. Several years passed. I finished my degree at the university and landed a job as a teacher in a Catholic school, a job which I enjoyed very much. Nonetheless, I knew that God was calling me to religious life.
One day I decided to contact the vocations director of the Discalced Carmelites, Oklahoma Province. I had already contacted him years before, and he had invited me to visit them, but at the time I did not have the necessary funds to do so. This time, I was able to accept his invitation. I visited the friars at the Basilica of the Little Flower in San Antonio, Texas. While there, God allowed me to see in simple but clear ways that this was where He was calling me. I entered as a postulant in 2001.
I have now spent eight years as a Discalced Carmelite friar and a little less than two years as a priest, and I have no regrets. Quite the opposite; I feel very grateful. It has not always been an easy journey, but Jesus has always been faithful to me, even when I have not always been faithful to Him.
As a Discalced Carmelite, God calls me to a life of intimate, loving union with Him through contemplative prayer, following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every ministry I participate in must be the overflowingof this loving encounter with God. I give Him thanks for his mercy toward me, and I beg Him to give me the grace of fidelity and total self-giving, that I might follow Christ until the end, all the days of my life.
Fr. Juan, O.C.D., is a member of the Discalced Carmelite Friars, Province of St. Thérèse. He is currently studying Carmelite Spirituality in Ávila, Spain.