Putting God on the Top Shelf — God or the Girl? Part II

It was the non-Catholic responders to yesterday's blog who were most effusive in asking me to share my version of “God or the Girl” — how I came to the decision to choose the priesthood (or “ministry”) over other very good things, including career, marriage, and family life. Your curiosity gives me pause and courage.

I tell you my story hesitantly because this blog is not about me, nor is it about my faith. Here we talk about the news and try to understand it in its fullness, unashamed to say ethics and morals matter, and aware that in the news, when we pretend they don't, we tell partial truths; lies.

I'll approach this story, my own, as I generally do, probing reasons behind facts.

As the third of seven children, I'd like to think I'm almost perfectly balanced. Lawyers run in the family. Priests don't. My parents were religious, but not only. Their love of each other was fed by their individual love affair with God. I breathed in their spirituality as a child, rejected it as passé as an adolescent, and made it my own as a young adult. If it were just religion, cultural formulisms, or even an ethical code, I could have done without it. I wasn't needy.

But for Mom and Dad it wasn't just religion. They educated by example to love a personal God. A personal God? What's that? It's the difference between deism (the clockwork God) and providential (the God who cares about me and intervenes in human history). And this is where my story starts and someday will end, beautifully or tragically. If there is no God, or if he is not personal, I'm a fool.

I knew Dad would only give me $2,000 when I graduated from high school. It was his way of telling us kids we would do best to build our own future and to start right away. Graduating with honors and doing well on the SATs would be my only money in the bank. Success would have to be my own.

When I met my college roommate, I was intrigued — a California surf dude who wanted to be a priest. My girlfriend and I used to go with him and his girlfriend on double dates. I never failed to remind him to let the lucky girl know about his clerical plans. He hemmed and hawed, but it made for great table talk, and it was part of my devilish plans to help him make up his mind — God or the girl. That year I accompanied Rhett on visits to seminaries and set him up, so to speak, to talk with priests. I instinctively knew his decision mattered. One way or the other it would change people's lives. I reasoned like the business marketing major I was. Time is not money, but it's like money. We invest it and it produces dividends accordingly.

Then I got the bug. There was nothing about poverty, chastity, or obedience that excited me. Not my idea of success for sure. And for that very reason, I knew the bothersome bug was not my own creation. “Vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare” — to call. Was the worrisome itch to give up everything, even good things, a call from God? It was an unconventional conflict of interests. I loved business and had already started my own. I loved my girlfriend and she loved me. I loved God too, as icing on my own cake. Mine wasn't an existential love, the type that pervades every instance of your life. It was a pragmatic one. I knew life would be short, and preferred to be on the winning side when the whistle was blown.

But I also knew deep down, that when it comes to God, the existential type is the only sensible type. After all, I couldn't explain how I came to be. Nor could my parents or teachers give me the whole answer. When I was honest with myself, I recognized that I, as a person, was only fully understandable in light of a greater being. My “hierarchy of values,” something we've talked about on this blog before, was rather worldly at this point. And it was glaring back at me. If there is a God, by definition, he should be on the top shelf of my life. Top shelf? What would that look like? Well, if he's personal and cares for me, then he made me for a reason, and that reason must be perfect. He also gave me a heart and mind to find out what the reason might be. That way of thinking got me thinking some more, and asking the big question: God, what do you want me to do for you?

For you? The non-religious reader may have just lost me. See how personal the question had become for me? The living presence of God had seeped beyond the crusty surface of my ambitions. My idea of success was beginning to change. Making money was still a good thing. Human love too. The attraction to power and influence did not vanish. I hadn't lost the gusto for any of these. Their relative importance is what began to change.

My next step came in the form of an invitation — a personal one.

More tomorrow... God bless, Father Jonathan

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