Saturday, August 7, 2010

Walking With Jesus

Ever since infancy, I have been seen as a child close to Jesus. I always loved going to Mass, jumping at every chance I had to be with Him. My love for Jesus in the Eucharist was so strong that I struggled not to show any emotions during the transubstantiation. It’s no wonder that my favorite liturgy has always been the Holy Thursday Mass. It wasn’t only a sentiment of being with Jesus in church, my love for Jesus extended to the highway. Whether it was driving past the big lit cross in Orient Heights or waiting to see Our Lady of the Highway coming home from trips to the Cape. I found myself alone praying and spending time listening to the silence where God waits to meet all of us. A story was told of how my great grandmother Caruso touched my head when I was just a baby and told my mother that someday I would become a priest. My parents weren’t the best of Catholics but God used them in mysterious ways. The summers were filled with weekend visits to the North End and other locations for religious feasts. My father played the drums in the Roma Band and my mother and I, later with my baby sister, would follow the saint though the streets. This unassuming act brought about an interest in the lives of the saints but I didn’t like to bring attention to this most personal devotion. Thinking back to when my family lived with my grandparents I can remember lying in my bed at their house, my Grandmother would come tuck me in and we would say our prayers. After we were finished and my grandmother left the room, I would look up and see the image of the Holy family hanging on the wall. I spoke to them: Mary, Joseph, and little Jesus. I thought of them as another family. There was always an awareness of someone looking over me, a family that I could go inward and talk to.
One year in elementary school I was picked to help with the children in the special needs room because of my sensitivity and caring. There were all kinds of kids with all sorts of physical and mental disabilities. As much as this job was intimidating, I liked it. There was this one boy from Korea that needed to exercise his stiff joints so they had a special gym class for him with a student picked from the regular classes. At that time I liked drawing dragons, and my teacher asked me to show the drawing to the Korean boy. When I did, he came to life. A boy who was stiff and stubborn smiled and was walking full of joy. It scared me, why did all of those kids react to me just by being there? I know God was telling me something. He was using me then and I remember Him now.
A teacher once told my class that you should always make eye contact with the speaker. These words I have taken to habit. Since the eyes are the portal to the soul, this act goes far beyond the physical. The Lord has been teaching me along the path to Him, my senses fixed on His Word. Sitting with my Sunday school class at Mass, the pastor was giving a homily on a reading from Mark. I can’t remember the reading but at the end of the homily the priest asked the children “who would like this little book of the Gospel of Mark?” I think it was something I heard in the Gospel but I didn’t raise my hand; I was the only one. All the other kids were jumping out of their seats hands raised high. My hand was not raised, not because I didn’t want the book. On the contrary, I wanted it very badly. Instead of raising my head I raised my self in prayer. Jesus heard me, the priest came over to me, the one quietly seated, head lowered in prayer. His hand extended and I accepted the book. I looked up at him in awe of what had taken place. The Lord had been speaking to me in the Gospel, and I to Him in prayer. Like Mother Mary kept the significant events of her son’s childhood in her heart, I stored these things from my youth in mine. Still today I think of how I have grown more and more in Jesus.
I looked for Him everywhere. When I wasn’t looking He looked for me. It was a few days before Christmas I was twelve or thirteen when the Lord overshadowed me. I no-longer was shy about my love for Jesus and the Church. Jesus was my true friend and I spent lots of time learning and getting to know him better. I enjoyed watching movies to the extent that I wanted to be a film maker. Up the point of my Confirmation I had this pursuit. I wanted to make movies about the saints. The Lord wanted my name in lights but in a different way. A couple of weeks before Confirmation there was this candle lighting ceremony. My father filled in for my godfather, who was my sponsor, because he wasn’t able to make it that night. When it was time to light the candles, my father went over and picked up a candle from the basket, lit it and handed it to me. As everyone’s flame was lit, my flame grew taller and brighter than the others. Everyone looked and laughed at me. I focused on the words that were being read. It went something like this: “Let your light shine bright before people” and I took it to heart. I’ve come to realize now that as people laughed at Jesus, that’s what happens when your light is trying to shine the love of God. Like Saint Francis and Saint Anthony, for whom I took the Confirmation name Anthony, I became a fool for Christ. I abandoned the film making goal and was feeling called to become a sculptor. I wanted to work for the church as an artist. A dream I know, but one that I followed with conviction. I felt that this is what God wanted me to do. In 1999 I entered The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University were I received a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 2003.
I know I was different, and I know God was calling me to serve him in some way. In the spring of 2004, for the first time, I admitted that I thought I was being called to the priesthood. After about a month I pushed it away because I didn’t feel ready but the Lord didn’t give up on me. The New Year came and my life was soon changed. In the first or second day of the new year I had a dream. Divine Wisdom was calling me to the right path. It stayed with me for almost a week and on the Epiphany I received incites and knowledge that helped me gain the courage I must have to do the will of God. Like Saint Joseph, it was a heavenly visitation in a dream that woke me up to follow Gods word.
On April 2nd 2005, Pope John Paul II was in his last hours of life. I sat in front of the television the entire weekend, watching his life and ministry in news programs. I saw him touch people around the world, giving them hope, spreading the Good News. At that moment, I saw myself as an ambassador for Christ’s message. I felt angry with myself for being a coward all of these years, but I know now that the time spent up to this point had prepared me for the mission that I would take on. It was right before they announced his passing that I decided to seriously discern my vocation to the priesthood.
The process of finding where God wanted me had begun. I went to The Little Brothers of St. Francis who lived near me at that time. We talked and they gave me some pointers on how to begin my search. It was a rough summer of searching with the good and bad experiences. Then I stopped to think of an order that would allow me to spread the Word of God to all kinds of people. This is what brought me to the Franciscans. It must have been in me all along. Thinking back to the first time I went to Assisi, I couldn’t move myself closer to where St. Francis was buried. The holiness of that man who truly took on the physical image of the crucified Jesus and ministered to the outcasts of society was too overwhelming for me. I only said a prayer from a distance. I think I felt the future weigh on me at that moment, all of the fear of what worldliness I was to give up in life. I have always been drawn to St. Francis and other saints of the Franciscan Order, but it took some time to realize that I had a Franciscan spirit.
Once I decided that I was going to pursue the Franciscans, I prayed this little prayer, “Lord, reduce me to nothing so that I rise in you which are all things.” After I prayed this, my life began to get turbulent. The Lord heard me. I was robbed in my apartment, and I lost my job as a candle maker within three days. This was a trying time. It would only be the beginning of my walk in the desert. My student loan debt was preventing me from entering the Order. So the vocations director suggested that I look at the Secular Franciscan Order at St. Leonard’s. And so I did. After ten months of being unemployed and finding jobs that didn’t satisfy my hunger to serve, someone suggested that I would be good at working in home care for the elderly. It is a job that I have held for over three years. This work has exposed me to the frail Christ, the dying Christ, and the Christ that cries out to the Father in Heaven. I have experienced the worst of conditions, people lying in their own waste, cleaning bed sores, and becoming a servant to the needy. It has taught me that first to become a leader you must serve the poorest among us.
I was accepted as a Candidate in St. Leonard’s fraternity on November the 21st 2006, on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary. When it came time to make my profession, my fraternity was being disbanded. So I had to find a new fraternity, and I went to visit my old friends, The Little Brothers of St. Francis and their Fraternity of St. Paschal Baylon. The minister there wanted me to wait a year to be professed, and on October the 4th 2009 on the Feast of St. Francis, I made my Profession in the 800th year of the founding of the Order.
There have been ups and downs in my journey but I have not wavered in my love for Christ and His church. This love has been tested in the fires of suffering. It’s a transforming love that has taken me to the foot of the cross. I can remember as my profession grew nearer something was changing. An image came to mind of a speeding train with its windows open and all of my belongings being hurled out the windows, taken by the wind. I was changing, yet it was what I wanted. Now I was hearing these words “In persona Christi.”
I haven’t changed a bit it is Christ that has changed me. It is when He calls and in my voice saying “Hear I am!”, and then there may be silence. No, the silence isn’t empty it’s the time of surrendering the will, my will for His. I have never been much good at that but through His divine grace I’ve ripened over time. I pray that God make me an instrument of His peace that in my vocation as a Franciscan I may repair the broken faith of our church one soul at a time. I want to create a dialogue with other faiths since we all share this planet and should live in love which is God Himself. Also, I would like to use the arts to repair our secular culture that has made an idol of the “me” with a culture that serves the one true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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