by Patrick Stewart.
If you ever visit Madonna House Combermere or any of houses around the world, you will likely see a small sign that says, "I Am Third." This means: God is first, my neighbor is second, and I am third. Do you want to be third? I don’t think most people do.
But what does this have to do with my vocation story (which is what this article is about) or even more importantly, with the culture of life? Everything!
Let me start at the beginning. I did not graduate from the "school" of early childhood with "high marks," and so I entered all the subsequent stages of life emotionally impaired.
My twin brother had a louder voice, my mother was stretched to near breaking point by the needs of five small children, and my father was emotionally distracted by many things, including alcohol.
In infancy and early childhood, we need love, care, and much attention. We need to be first. From age four to twelve, we need to learn to take care of ourselves and become aware of the needs of those around us. When we enter adulthood, we need to learn to take care of at least one other person besides ourselves.
Even though wonderful grandparents living close by showered me with love and attention giving me some core strength, I entered adulthood barely able to take care of myself, let alone anyone else. This is a not uncommon occurrence in our modern world.
During the summer between my junior and senior years of university, I spent several weeks driving and camping up the west coast of the United States, across Canada, and finally, south to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where I attended school.
Shortly after my return, I received a thick letter from my father. Well aware that he and my mother knew that I had made that camping trip with a somewhat older female friend, I headed off, letter in hand, to a nearby pub.
After draining a large pitcher of beer, I read the hard words I was expecting. Then I walked out of the bar into one of the worst thunderstorms I had ever seen, one that perfectly matched my mood.
I was drenched by rain, pummeled by hailstones, and saw violent lightening-bolts strike very near me. Finally, a tornado tore by, ripping trees from the ground less than a hundred feet away from me.
Terrified, I prayed at the top of my lungs—the only time I have ever done this. I promised God that if he saved me, I would become a priest.
This should have marked a turning point in my life, but it didn’t. When I got home and told my girlfriend what had happened and declared that God had saved my life, she laughed at me and talked me out of thinking that God would encounter me directly. With that, I was back at the "flesh pots."
A few weeks later, she came to me in tears to tell me that she thought she was pregnant. My response? Panic and self-protection. I suggested an abortion. I was not concerned about her or the baby; I was only concerned about myself.
I thank God that she was not, in fact, pregnant, so there was no abortion. But I had been ready to kill a life, the life of my own child.
It had not occurred to me to turn to my father, the priest on campus, or any other elder for advice, much less, in my fear and shame, to the Lord.
Several months later, I was sitting in the campus chapel. Graduation was just weeks away. I was torn apart within and praying to Jesus to give me a sign of his presence so that I could start living a righteous life. If he gave it to me, I missed it.
After graduation, I headed straight into the culture of death. Throughout my twenties, though I contemplated marriage twice, I remained single, choosing unhealthy and sinful relationships. I am thankful that God protected a woman and children from my immaturity and self-centeredness.
Meanwhile I was in the U.S. navy and during my eleven years there, I was assigned to four different combat ships. I began as a junior officer on an aircraft carrier and eventually worked my way up to weapons officer aboard a nuclear-powered cruiser.
For most of those years I was, from the commanding officer’s point of view, a very desirable officer.
Besides being highly capable, I was a workaholic. Part of my drive, I suspect, came from my lack of self-confidence, which in turn came from my moral short-comings. I may have appeared to be "third," but in reality I was "first" by a mile.
By the time my naval service was nearing completion, I was probably an alcoholic as well as a workaholic, and I was hooked on the drugs of codependency and seduction. I was also in a long-term, unmarried relationship.
My parents knew all this, and unbeknownst to me at the time, they and a priest friend made a pilgrimage to Fatima to pray for me.
to be continued
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