As a child I loved to put puzzles together, and as I grew older, I began to challenge myself with more challenging puzzles—500 pieces, 1000 pieces, etc. Yet, I could not seem to put the puzzle pieces of my life together. I seemed to struggle with my own identity. It seemed I was a “jack of all trades” and a “master of none”.
Although I attended public schools my entire life, I received excellent catechesis through my family and parish. The other kids in CCD would say, “Matthew is going to be a priest.” No way! Forget it! Not a chance! My parish priest often suggested that I consider it. Yeah, right! “Thanks, but no thanks Father.” When my mother would bring up the idea of becoming a priest, I would get furious. So, my life went on.
During college, I became lackadaisical in the practice of my Catholicism—going to Mass when it was convenient [or I when with my parents]. I graduated from Marquette University in 1991 with a B.A. in Broadcast and Electronic Communication, and landed an entry-level position in the production department of a cable company and did some freelance video production. Although I enjoyed my career, something was missing from my life. I knew that I was lacking in faith, and said a simple prayer each night: “Lord, I have no faith, help me.” I began to help teaching the confirmation class at my parish. Something inside told me I had to be willing to serve if I were to receive the gift of God’s grace.
Almost immediately after, our whole family went through a transformation. My dad went to a parish mission that profoundly changed him. After speaking with him one weekend, I began to examine my own life. I knew intellectually that the Catholic Church possessed the fullness of faith, but I did not let that Truth penetrate my heart. My initial reaction was fear of hell—I was well on that path! I returned to the sacrament of penance—it had been about 6 years—and started attending daily Mass. The fear quickly began to turn into love. My parish had perpetual adoration and I would stop in to visit Jesus whenever I had a spare moment.
Deep inside, I began to wonder if God had been calling me to the priesthood. Had I been too stubborn to listen to him all these years? Was I merely concerned with I wanted to do in life? My life was filled with puzzle pieces that did not seem to match. Was I just not putting them together properly? After months of trying to discern whether God was calling me, I sat in the Church reading the scriptures, looking for an answer. At the height of my frustration, in failing to recognize the answer, I decided that it was time for drastic measures—“Bible Roulette”. I said to Jesus, “If I am supposed to be a priest, you have to let me know! I can’t figure this out! I want to know—today! Guide me through your Holy Spirit.” I closed my Bible. I closed my eyes. I opened the Bible at random and put my finger on the page. I opened my eyes. Imagine my shock when just above the tip of my finger was Matthew 9:9: As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
Fr. Matthew H. Phelan, O. de M.