"I don't ever want to be a priest," I said to myself with conviction as my elementary school teacher handed out the Lenten "mite boxes" with the name and photo of a seminarian printed on one side.
Despite their smiles and smart attire, my third grade pitied seminarians — and all priests, for that matter — as a group of men God had somehow dragged and condemned to a life of boredom and banality, robbing them of all the adventure that a free life promised.
"No, I definitely won't be a priest," I repeated while resuming the finishing touches of my drawing of future Stanley Cup winner R. Salvino, Ring Winger, #44, Vancouver Canucks. Or was R. Salvino a fighter jet pilot? No, definitely a world-class surgeon. Regardless of each year's changing career interest, a Rev. R. Salvino was never on the horizon of possibility. On my horizon, at least.
I grew up in East Vancouver, where I spent an ordinary and happy Catholic childhood with my parents and three younger brothers. By temperament I was one who was always preoccupied with the future and finding an answer to: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
While still in elementary school, I had mapped out the ideal university trajectory that would land me the best career I could attain. I must seize and shape my future, for I was convinced in doing so I could find my fulfilment in this life.
This career-first mentality carried me straight out of Catholic elementary and through public high school. The academic year progressed, my grades were improving, and my prospects were opening up. Yet curiously, the closer I drew to attaining the careers I had bet my future happiness upon, the more a quiet gnawing question grew inside me. Is this all there was to my life?
Thus, I entered university, not full of hope, but void of a sense of purpose and inwardly terrified, because the question now screamed at me. What if, after all this, I achieve my perfect career and family, and still live with this feeling of meaninglessness? I was beginning to realize the incredible risk of betting all on my earthly fulfilment on future material achievements, but I didn't know any other way.
Unexpectedly, some Catholic friends from high school invited me to join them on a weekend retreat. I accepted, motivated by my own existential desperation, but also by a piece and quiet joy these friends seemed to carry with them. What was it, and how could I get it?
I wandered into the quiet chapel in the forest, waiting for a moment alone. I finally felt free to unburden upon God the pain of disillusionment at having placed all my hope in career and achievements. I boldly cried out that He show me a different way — if He was even real.
My torrent was suddenly interrupted by these clear words: "Raffaele, I love you."
I looked around, but there was no one in the small, one-room chapel. I turned to the altar, where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, and found the source of the voice: Christ Jesus Himself. With those simple words, I experienced in the absolute depth of my heart a power and peace no word has since come close to replicating.
In the span of those brief seconds — or it may have been an hour, I don't know — my life was irrevocably changed: 20 years of relentless and meticulous planning for the future shattered before me as I was now alone and face-to-face with the Source of all fulfillment. I experienced not only a deep peace about whatever God's plan for my future would be, but a sudden burst of joy. God loved me, what else mattered?
With His words to me that day came also the sense of an invitation — a lifelong invitation — to follow Him. In all freedom and joy, I said yes! Although these last ten years have had numerous challenges, it has been more than worth it for the priceless joy of knowing the living God.
Surgeon, soldier, scholar — exciting careers perhaps. But I've discovered the true adventure of a lifetime is in the choice of following God no matter what the cost. And in the mystery of His mercy, God is now inviting me to follow Him as a priest. How happy I am to have been so mistaken in Grade 3.
Deacon Raffaele Salvino. "I've discovered the true adventure of a lifetime". The B.C. Catholic (November 2, 2020).
Reprinted with permission of the B.C. Catholic.
Deacon Raffaele Salvino serves in the Vancouver Archdiocese.Copyright © 2020 The B.C. Catholic
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