My vocation story
The mystery of God has captivated me since I was a young lad. Daily my heart desires to “seek his face” (Ps 27:8). The seeds of a vocation to religious life and priesthood germinated in the good soil of a loving Catholic family of my Mom, Dad, three older brothers, and a younger sister. Until my Catholic grade school closed, we were all educated in Catholic schools. We never missed a Sunday Mass whether we were at home or traveling. My paternal grandfather had been a Benedictine novice but did not profess vows. My father’s cousin was a diocesan priest who had witnessed my parents’ marriage; however, he died prematurely, and I was too young to know him. My mother’s brother is also a diocesan priest, who was ordained when I was in junior high.
At the age of eight, I uttered my first explicit articulation of what I now know with adult vision to be a vocation to religious life. Sitting at the kitchen window of our new home and looking upon the backyard, I told myself that there were two things I was never going to do in life: I was never going to drink, and I was never going to get married. I think both were and are an expression of a desire for freedom—to offer myself freely to God and to receive freely God’s Spirit. I have always experienced celibacy as a positive in giving myself to God; it is a charism rooted in a sense of self rooted in the deep life-giving water of the Spirit. “The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD searching all his innermost parts” (Prov. 20:27).
In junior high school, my encounter with God deepened as I would regularly ponder the Word of God in Scripture at my desk in the solitude and silence of my basement bedroom. I drank deep of Lady Wisdom’s invitation to dine at her table as I listened to her proverbs and teachings in the Wisdom literature. The Gospels also attracted me. Coming across the encounter of Jesus with the rich young man, I responded to Jesus’ command to him—“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21)—by saying, “I can do that. Why doesn’t everybody do that?”
The poverty and simplicity to which Jesus was calling this particular young man in Scripture I had discovered through my relationship with God’s creation. One of my earliest memories is of watching an orb spider in the front yard of our home wrap up a honeybee trapped in its web. The natural world of God’s creation has always captivated me and filled me not only with wonder for its beauty and biodiversity, but also for its mystery that points beyond itself to the Creator. Whether pondering insects and trees or the stars and moon in the depths of the universe, creation was a pathway to the mystery of God the Creator. An immersion into the wonder and rhythms of the natural world begets joy and praise of God such that the heart does not readily desire artifacts of human ingenuity. The panoply of creatures is a thesaurus of treasures that reveals the richness of God. They are all a sign and message of Jesus Christ, the Divine Logos through whom they are all created.
I attended Notre Dame as a biology major, and my enthusiastic immersion into the study of lakes and streams flowed into a Master’s program in stream ecology at Virginia Tech. I returned to Notre Dame to enter the seminary and was ordained a Holy Cross priest in 2000. As a priest, I had started a doctoral program in entomology at the University of Minnesota but left behind the glory of naming new species of caddisflies from the tropics to work on a Ph.D. in systematic theology at Catholic University of America.
I am now the assistant director for life science research and outreach at the Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing. I teach undergraduate theology courses (Science, Theology and Creation and Theology and Ecology), and my overall research and preaching is to help the Church and the world better understand who God is as Creator, who we are as creatures, and what our relationship is to God (liturgy, Sacraments, praise), ourselves, one another (especially on marriage, family, sexuality, natural family planning, sanctity of life), and the created order (care for creation). God’s single divine economy intrinsically includes creation and redemption. My proclaiming the Kingdom of God focuses on a care for natural and human ecology. I lead nature tours around campus preaching about the relationship of dragonflies to Jesus Christ, and I have written a book (Man of God) on how men (and women) can grow in holiness amidst struggles with lust and chastity. As a religious priest, I mediate our Christian offering of the created world and ourselves to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. All creation is ordered to the worship and praise of God.
Father Terry Ehrman, C.S.C., is the assistant director of the Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing and a concurrent instructor in the Theology Department at the University of Notre Dame. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.