Vocation stories are peculiar things. Like any good story, they can change slightly in each retelling. I do not mean that they change and are modified with untruth—a vocation story is not a fishing story, although a vocation director can be considered a fisher of men. Rather, it is the background behind the story that changes quite naturally throughout our lives. I see my own story differently because my current perspective has changed. Certain things now seem highlighted, not because they were not there before, but because my attention is drawn to different aspects. In a way, a vocation story is more like looking at a piece of art than it is like giving a biography.
With that in mind, there are essentials to my story that could not go unmentioned. I had never given the priesthood or religious life more than a collective hour of thought until I came to Notre Dame. It simply was not on my radar or in my imagination. The vocational seed always seems to be planted in people in different ways, but what is most common is that a seed is planted that does not go away. It need not always be at the foreground, but the thought remains present. I have come to see this as one of the clearest signs of a budding vocation. For me, it was planted by my roommate in Zahm, with whom I had innumerable late night conversations ranging from topics such as life and the universe to the best weapons available in Halo 4. It was during one of these such conversations that he had planted the seed that would never go away with the simple words, “You should think about being a priest.”
He was fairly direct, looking back. That simple line, which he often repeated with slight variation, was essential to my discernment. I was a pre-med student at the time, though I had a tendency to change majors often. I knew I wanted to give my life to something, but was just trying to figure out what that thing might be. In high school, it was politics and serving my fellow citizens. In undergrad, it was medicine and giving my life to those with physical need. Often, I had thought I would give my life to a woman in marriage and travel with her into mutual holiness. I considered all of these options, but after a few months I would change and find a new thing to which I could devote myself. But this idea, given to me by my roommate, was always in the background.
It was not until late in my junior year that I began to take the idea much more seriously. I began to tell my other friends that I was considering religious life, and I was stunned by the responses. Many mentioned how they were not really that surprised. A few even told me they had considered telling me to think about it. I have realized that vocations, while personal, are also confirmed by others. When I was hesitant and worried, these friends gave me confidence to pursue this life.
One may rightly ask why Holy Cross and not some other congregation. If I am honest, I have always seen this question as a little silly. Yes, I love the mission of Holy Cross and want to be involved in education of the mind and heart. But at its core, the draw to a community is fundamentally relational. You are not called to marry someone you will never meet. Divine Providence is constantly at work, directing us without our knowledge to exactly what He wants us to do. I am convinced that God led me to Notre Dame so that I could meet the Congregation of Holy Cross. Through that encounter on campus, I came to know Holy Cross. Through these years of discernment, this knowledge has become a love for Holy Cross. My brothers in the Congregation inspire me with their zeal for souls and in their devotion to the Lord. They are not only role models; they have become some of my closest friends.
As I mentioned, vocation stories are peculiar. Different aspects strike a person at different times. To close, I will mention what is currently the most important factor of who I am and what God has called me to do. Last August, I knelt down in a church and professed my dedication and my vows to God. Through the vows of religious life, I professed to give my entire self to God. After I had done so, God responded in the exact same way. After I had given myself to Him in my vows, He in turn gifted His entire self to me in the Eucharist. This reciprocal gift was and is perhaps the most profound experience of my life. The vocational seed surely has already begun to blossom.
Gil Stoy, CSC, is in his first year as a professed religious. He hails from Minnesota. Please contact him at email@example.com.