James Downey

2017-18: Theology III
Pontifical North American College, Vatican City

The first notions towards the priesthood came at a very early age. I considered it as one of my many options in life and I would always leave this option open, never completely rejecting it as a possibility. However, as time went on, that option continued to fall farther and farther down the list. At the top was following somewhat of a family legacy in engineering. This option would have to include academic success, something I was doing pretty well at already, and would likely lead to financial success. Nothing wrong with that. And so that was what I began to pursue.

This pursuit continued throughout high school. Football and choir were also included in this experience, though I had no intention to continue with them after high school, at least in an organized setting. I thought life was good. Sure I had problems, but nothing too serious...on the surface. I made sure not to pay any attention to how I was very casually destroying myself with habitual sin and an almost complete lack of confession. At a few points during my time at high school, this issue did come to light for me, but I did my best to brush it away as quickly as possible. I would just re-hide the problem and try and forget about my faults. This system worked for quite a while, at least until my junior year where a rather bizarre and painful chain of events left me with pretty much nothing. I guess I was finally forced to face what I had been doing to myself. It was at this point that you could say I hit rock-bottom. I had blinded myself by my sin and I could see no hope for myself because I could no longer see God; and I was left with was despair.

Even in this despair, I went to a Sunday Mass out of obligation, something my parents had thankfully ingrained in me from birth (not the out of obligation part, but the Sunday Mass part). For the most part, this particular Sunday probably has or had very little significance and I'm sure some just spaced-out through the first reading, Jeremiah 1:5, 7-8, just as I usually would. By the voice of some lector, God broke through my blindness and despair and gave me the promise of a purpose. A few weeks later, during a high school retreat, I sort of received His call. Where before He left me with the promise of a purpose unknown to me, I now had no question as to what it was: the priesthood.

However, the plans to get in contact with the vocations director quickly withered in the next week and the overwhelming peace was overcome by fears and doubt. Many obstacles would have to be overcome if I were to follow God's plan, and I wasn't sure I even wanted to overcome some of them. Abandoning the family legacy, the girlfriend and, not to mention, the chance at a big family and big career. These thoughts and many others resulted in me fully acknowledging the direction of God's Will and then promptly running in the complete opposite.

Running from God isn't easy. In fact, it's impossible; and only after a full year and many mistakes, ranging from stupid to grievous, I realized this. This realization accompanied leading the same retreat I had attended the year before. It was there that I collapsed, too tired to run any longer, and finally gave in to God. To many of the fears and doubts, I still didn't have an answer, but I did have trust. A week after the retreat, I unofficially began on the road to seminary by revealing my story and intentions to my parents and quickly followed this up with meeting the vocations director. From there, the application process began. There were still obstacles that would be extremely difficult to resolve, but God's Grace is certainly overpowering.

Since entering seminary and formation, I've undergone deep spiritual growth and healing and continue to learn. Glory be to God.