Photo: Chris Sparks
Meet Br. Alex, MIC
By Chris Sparks (Mar 4, 2014)
Brother Alex, MIC, from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, professed second vows on Aug. 15, 2013, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Here's what he has to say about his vocation, the Marians, and the role of the Blessed Virgin in his discernment.
What drew you to join the Marians in the first place?
I saw Fr. Donald Calloway on [EWTN's] "The Choices We Face" with Ralph Martin. His conversion experience appealed to me. Despite his past, the Marians accepted him. I, too, had a slightly sinful past before a reversion. I also liked the Marian dedication to promoting Divine Mercy and their love and devotion to Mary and the Souls in Purgatory.
I first heard the call to the priesthood in October 2005. I was at the New Life Retreat and had just finished confession. I was given Ephesians 6 to read as penance. When I got to the part that says, "Put on the armor of God," I felt as if God was putting priestly vestments over me and calling me to be a priest. I thought this was completely nuts and felt as if I was pulling my arms up to protest and refuse the vesting. I knew that I should start going back to church and praying. I tried to convince myself that the armor only meant real Christian living. Of course it does, but I also strongly sensed a call to the priesthood.
This was just the start of my reversion. I thought my imagination and ego were playing tricks on me if I really thought I could jump from being a big doubter and "deluded, happy" sinner — before the New Life Retreat, I had thought that selfishness was a strength and led to happiness, that being a sinner was a good goal — into priesthood. What is the priesthood? Could I even stick with regular prayer and churchgoing? Was I going to be changed and renewed as a layman? Never mind even beginning to think about a journey to the priesthood. I still thought that I would hold onto my will and the pleasures of the world over God's will. I was hesitant and hoped to start a more prayerful, faithful, and hopefully less sinful life.
At the recent retreat in preparation for professing vows, I read Ephesians 6 and had a strong sense that I was back in the church pew of 2005. I again felt like I was being vested, but this time, I prayed to be more open and accepting of the call. In my present meditation, I felt that my dear Mother Mary was behind me vesting me in the priestly garb and wrapping her protective arms and hands around me while her head rested affectionately on my shoulder. I grabbed the arms, hands and vestments and felt that I also was grabbing her Immaculate Mantle, which was draping over the vestments and my heart. I entrusted myself to her and desired to be with her always. I had a sense of her desire, too, and unsaid, yet interiorly spoken, words of her pledged love for me. I pledged my love to her as well. Although my love is imperfect and weak, I believe her love and spirit will perpetually envelop my weak heart to make it acceptable and pleasing to the Lord our God. I said I would not let go and she promised to hold onto me and not let go, either.
I pondered after the meditation if she was the one who tried to vest me at the New Life Retreat. Yet I knew she was vesting me now. I was ready to say yes and trust that, with her help, I will remain and persevere.
What did you leave behind to become a consecrated religious?
I left an easy, high-paying union job and the comfort of being spoiled by my "earthly" mother. I had been living at home for quite some time, which made my mother happy.
What keeps you going throughout the discernment process and life in community?
Only my own prayer and the prayers of others help to keep one at it. Also, I feel that Mother Mary wants me to be a Marian priest. I hold on to the simple thought that the door to perpetual vows and ordination is still open. If it closes, then that was not God's plan, and I must look to what I think is plan B, which I will discover was always God's plan A. So I will continue to move towards perpetual vows and ordination if the door remains open.
How has life as a Marian changed you?
I seem to be a bit more sensitive to others and take notice of other people's needs more than just my own. Selfishness may still prevail many times, but I am more aware of the need for continual repentance. I prefer vocal prayer, but I have learned that silence and work can also be used as prayer.
What do you hope to do as a Marian over the course of your life and ministry?
As a Marian, I hope to be involved with healing ministry. If nothing else, I just want to give the message of the truth of the Church through mercy and love. I hope to be a priest with a rich devotional life and want to promote some basic prayer devotions to others, as well.
What have you learned or done throughout your formation that came as a complete surprise?
I never liked school, but I surprised myself by studying hard and spending a lot of time on my studies. I was surprised that the Marians were not super strict and were flexible within the structure of religious life. I guess part of me was hoping that the religious life would be more micro-managed, but I realize now that the call to holiness is not about being given a straitjacket to wear and being ordered about, but rather to have a strong personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The rules are there as guideposts and a road map. Obedience is a discipline that requires a personal responsibility and not an individual to be an automaton.
Living in community has made me realize how sinful and intolerant I actually am, so prayer helps me not go into despair about how much work there is in just becoming a little less sinful and selfish. In the secular world, you are not challenged as often to become better, holier. You see many who are not seeking God or comfortable with a routine of regularly going to Sunday Mass late. But in community, you see others striving for holiness, which is a motivation and humbling as well.
Tell me about the role of Mary in your spiritual life and personal devotion.
Mary is the one that brought me to my conversion and keeps trying to open me more to Jesus. She is the beauty of my life. She is my special protectress. I don't know when I fell in love with her. I know that, through Jesus, she has fallen in love with us. My return of love to her is so small. I gaze at a few images, pray to her and Jesus, and say a consecration prayer and other little devotions to her monthly. She is the one that helps me trust in Jesus, and I hope, through her, to be more and more grateful and charitable.
What would you say to the Marian Helpers about the importance of their prayers and support in the formation of you and your brother Marians?
The Marian Helpers will only know in eternity how much their prayer has helped us. I know that the evil one hates anything to do with Jesus, Mary, and the priesthood, so they should know that their prayers are more precious than all the gold bullion in the world. Also, who will ever know how many darts or trials missed or were lessened because of prayer?
How much longer before you'll be able to be ordained as a deacon and a priest?
I will probably have at least two to three years before making perpetual vows and more years before being ordained a transitional deacon. Each person's case may be slightly different. I have so many more years to go and a lifetime of prayer will be needed!
For any man interested in information about vocations with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, please visit marian.org/vocations. To make a gift to help Marian seminarians, please visit marian.org/seminarians, or call 1-800-671-2020.