September 24, 2010

Thirteen Days Left: Late Have I Loved You

By Fr. Joshua Allen *

I remember how it happened, just like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my office at home. I was surrounded by theological books. I had "reverted" back to the faith only months before, and I found myself rereading St. Augustine’s Confessions as a man with nascent faith, breathless at the beauty of such mystical reflections. Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you (St. Augustine, Confessions, X. xxvii).

I was looking at vocations websites.

The tenth book of the Confessions is a reflection on the nature of memory, which is an amazing and mysterious faculty. Memory is our access to the greatest and most sublime of events in our life; it is also the constant reminder of our sins and of our past failures, of horrors past and of losses we would prefer to forget.

But St. Augustine sees memory as not just the recollection of the graces and the faults of the past, but as something created by God to be redeemed by him. Thus, memory redeemed by God offers us something more than recollection: it offers the opportunity to see the reality of grace, a reality that can exist in contrast to our memory.

These are the words of St. Augustine: "There is a struggle between joys over which I should be weeping and regrets at matters over which I ought to be rejoicing, and which side has the victory I do not know." (Confessions, X, xxviii).

This was the struggle with which I was fighting: the joys of my non-Christian life were actually causes for mourning and my prior regrets were causes for rejoicing. It is only in memory that we can see the death of a loved one as a font of grace, that we can see our falls from the life to which God has called us as the path to sanctity and true humility. Memory is the fodder for perspective: as we mature and gain experience—and sometimes distance—we gain a view of our lives that can be profoundly different than that which we might have held at a less mature time.

I remember reading the Confessions with the eyes of faith, a newfound faith, an excited and fresh faith, ready to accept any challenges that might be offered. And I remember hearing the voice of the Lord, speaking to me through the home he had built in my soul: Joshua, you are to be my priest.

That was some seven years ago. I couldn’t accept it. I remember scouring the internet looking for ways out of my dilemma: surely I was too old to be a priest? Surely I was too sinful? I mean, after all, someone who had supported the right to abortion and had actively fought against the Church could not possibly become one of her ministers! I was too sinful. I was too imperfect. I was too avaricious. I had nothing to offer.

Joshua, you are to be my priest.

But God, I can’t do it! I can’t be a priest. I have too many other possibilities. I enjoy working in finance. I want to be married. I want to have kids. I have always wanted to have kids. Eight of them. I have known my entire life. I will be a good father. I will be a good husband. I will do something to contribute to society. I can’t be a priest.

Joshua, you are to be my priest.

But what if I say no? I mean, you can’t really force me to do anything, can you? Even if you could, you wouldn’t. I don’t want to be a priest. I don’t intend to be a priest. I won’t be a good priest. I won’t be a faithful priest. I would do more harm than good, and Lord, there has already been enough harm. Just let me be married, and I will do magnificent things for the Church. I don’t know what, but I will.


Joshua, you are to be my priest.

I wonder if I was more concerned about being the "priest," or about being his priest?

I relented. Late have I loved you. I called the vocation director for the diocese. It took every ounce of courage I had. I mustered up that sort of gumption one draws from deep inside. My Mom was in the hospital. I called him from outside her room. She left that hospital but soon returned to another, and then another, with only brief periods at home.

Joshua, you are to be my priest.

I said yes, and the first thing I had to give up was my mother.

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or land, for my name’ sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life" (Mt 19:29).

I left my house. I left my brother. I lost my father and my mother.

Joshua, you are to be my priest.

In 13 days I will be ordained a transitional deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. I left my life, and I received joy. Joy worth more than a hundredfold. The Lord multiplies his promises on those whom he loves, and it sure seems like he loves his priests.

Late have I loved you, Lord. Thank you for the gift of memory. Thank you for letting me see grace where once I saw sorrow, and thank you for letting me see sorrow where once I thought I saw happiness. You have turned my life on its head, and in so doing, have put it in order. I know joy now that I could not have thought possible, joy which I try to express but which words fail.

Joshua, you are to be my priest.

And soon.

Fr. Joshua Allen is currently the Chaplain at the Georgia Tech Catholic Center in Atlanta, GA. He was ordained in 2011 and is a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He has a License in Patristic Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and also teaches at Holy Spirit College.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.