What's a (Gen-X) Guy Like Me Doing...

by Leo O'Boyle, C.P.

Leo CPThere are many different reactions when people find out that I am member of a Catholic religious order studying for the priesthood. These range from general curiosity to "and another thing wrong with the church is..." to a simple "Why?"

The question or comment by people my age is usually about celibacy. Many people in my North American culture are curious as to why someone would choose this particular lifestyle. I respond by offering my experience as a Gen-X cultural piece to be considered. After all, if nothing else, celibacy provides part of an anti-cultural Gospel witness.

In deciding on religious life, the first thing which attracted me to the Passionists was our rich charism. As a volunteer with hospice for a year, I came to appreciate and articulate for myself "this charism thing" which I always heard of when talking with different Passionists. Defined and expressed in an array of different ways, I offer how I experience our charism as an X-er.

Central to our charism is recognizing the crucified Jesus of today. This is a continual source of reflection for me in answering the question: Who are today's crucified? In answering this, we Passionists preach Christ Crucified. We have the privilege of walking with others in their times of suffering, preaching by our very lives that Jesus has not abandoned them. It is a hard message to live and preach, but one which speaks ultimately of hope.

Did You Always Want To Be a Priest?

I never could say that I wanted to be a priest from birth! I thought about it growing up. In my home parish we always had newly ordained priests who enjoyed working with the youth. There was an investment in the youth. I saw that one could be happy and fulfilled as a priest. (Plus, they drove really nice cars.) But around the seventh grade, girls became more important. sSo much for becoming a priest.

In looking back, I do feel that my vocation started early in my life, but I also had to live life in order to recognize it.

In my junior year of college I had everything I wanted. But there was still something missing and I could not put my finger on it. At the same time, I was not going to Mass because I was usually hung over from the prior night's party. I returned home that same summer thinking to myself that I would have to start thinking about life after college. In doing so, I turned to a higher source.

As a child, I was dragged to St. Ann's Solemn Novena in Scranton. Out of this affiliation with the novena I went to pray about my future. Four days into the novena, I was making my way to my car when I heard the announcement that confessions would be heard in the lower church. I thought to myself it had been a good eight years since I went to confession: maybe it was time. I mustered up all the courage I had and went for it. Even telling the priest that I had forgotten how to say an act of contrition did not stop me from receiving God's mercy that day.

I began to get my spiritual house in order. Over the rest of the summer I slowly started going back to Mass. The more I went to Mass the better I felt, and soon those "feelings" of vocation began to creep back into my heart. That was a decade ago; the rest, as they say, is history.

Are You Crazy?

When I thought seriously about religious life, one of the practical things I considered was, that if God were calling me to a celibate lifestyle, I wanted to be happy. That is the second thing which attracted me to the Passionists. I saw happy Passionists.

I now realize why we are happy. We are happy because we are crazy. Crazy in love with God, yes; certifiably crazy, no. (Well, not yet.) It's a crazy-in-love kind of feeling which is difficult to put into words. At the same time it's a prayerful, mature and conscious choice to fall in love with God with each new day.

Living as a Passionist is saying yes to God with each new day. And I do so within a community of like-minded men. My sense of living out our charism is within community; I live my call in and through community.

One of the sustaining characteristics for my vocation is that we come together to pray as community. This is the hallmark in which community sustains, challenges and affirms me in responding to mission in the spirit and example of our founder, St. Paul of the Cross. From morning and evening prayer to the Eucharist celebration, I see community prayer as complementing my own personal prayer. Community helps me to articulate and respond to God as a Passionist.

So why do I stay? I stay because at my core I feel this is where God has called me, plain and simple. This is who I am, graced and sinful, and where I want to be.

How Do I Stay?

I am also conscious how I stay. As a Passionist, I am nothing without prayer. I know from experience that if I am not rooted in prayer, everything else becomes a blur and loses its meaning.

I also reflect on what recreates me -- not only my spiritual life but life overall. Keeping in touch with family and friends is very important to me (and easy, thanks to e-mail). Going to the gym or for a run gets me out of my head. Having a good sense of humor is important in how I stay. The ability to laugh at myself and life is a great gift from God!

There are things that I can not go without, but ultimately the call has to be lived out for what it is: mystery. Often, poets can bring us to and help us articulate mystery. I would like to end my little reflection with a poetic quote from Pedro Arrupe, S.J. about the mystery and reality of call as it pertains to an 'Xer.' I like it because it conveys the mystery and reality of committing, in a very practical way, to a Passionist way of life.

Nothing is more practical than finding God;
that is,
falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you will spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love.
Stay in love.
And it will decide everything.

Leo O'Boyle, C.P. is a Passionist seminarian. On September 5, 1999, before Fr. Terence Kristofak, Provincial, he made his perpetual vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and a fourth vow: to keep alive the memory of Christ Crucified.



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