Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Vocation Was Born in Russia 19 Years Ago Today - Слава Богу!

"My son has gone very far astray and I don't know what to do about it."
"The only thing left to do is to give him to Our Lady."
This was the conversation between my mother and a priest as they stood outside Red Square in Moscow on October 18, 1992.  A group of pilgrims that filled two 747 planes full, or 20 busses by land, had just crowned Our Lady as queen of Russia in Red Square and as they filed back to the hotels, my mother approached one of the priest chaplains that accompanied them on the journey.

She knelt down in the hotel lobby and the priest placed his hands on her head.  He asked her, "Do you believe that by your maternal right you can be a proxy, a stand-in, for your son?"  "Yes," she replied.  The priest then declared, "I consecrate you, Samuel, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary with the protection of all the angels and saints."  In this act of intercession was the cry of desperation of a mother for her boy.

Heaven heard a mother's cry.

Three years later, after having been the singer in a punk rock band, after having tried to slice up a piece of the American Pie of the pursuit of happiness and coming up empty, after having been promised to a lady marriage, after having been terrifyingly bored of the path on which I was beginning to tread, I heard the call of Jesus Christ to become a priest.  It was the clearest and most lucid moment of my whole life.  I remember where I was sitting in my apartment in Southeast Minneapolis, Minnesota, the clothes I was wearing, the song I was listening to, but most importantly, I was given in one instant a very clear knowledge of the eternal reason why God created me as clear as I knew my own name.  I was born to be a priest.

Soon I also came to understand that it wasn't only a calling to be a priest, but also to serve in Russia.  Two years later after my mother's plea in Russia yet before I felt the call to priesthood, for no apparent reason whatsoever, I began to study Russian at the university I was attending.  Then when I entered my religious community, the founder of SOLT, Fr James Flanagan, verified my calling, "Our Lady is calling you to go to Russia, for it was there that the seeds of your vocation were planted."

Aren't all these events and spiritual things a bit too much?  Well, I began to think so.  I doubted and asked God for confirmation about this missionary vocation to Russia.  Soon after I began a novena for clarification on this matter a Russian Orthodox deacon from Moscow walked into my Roman Catholic theological faculty in Rome and looked me straight in the face and told me that it would not be easy to go to Russia but would be for the good of the unity of the Church for which Christ prayed.  That day I met fifteen young people from eastern Europe whose common conversational language was Russian, and I got a tutor to teach me the language better.  So much for clarification.

Bishop Tomash Peta, of Kazakstan and I at the
2006 Asian Mission Congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Time went on, and my community's mission in Russia folded.  It seemed that I wouldn't ever go there, and foolishly I asked God again for clarification.  This time I was in Thailand at the 2006 Asian Mission Congress.  It was the 14th anniversary of my mother's consecration of me in Moscow.  I found myself in chapel with several Cardinals of the Church celebrating Mass.  After it was over and we had walked out the door there was a bishop from Russian speaking Kazakstan, who brought with him some Russian speaking missionaries.  He asked me if we could celebrate Mass in Russian!  It was the first time I had ever attended a Mass in Russian and he asked me to do the first reading.  Afterward he approached me and told me that, although I had never set foot on Russian soil, I did not have an accent when I spoke Russian, unlike many Polish, Italian, or American missionaries in his diocese.  I told him that Our Lady was calling me to go to Russia.  He gave me a big Russian bear hug and said, "The Mother of God loves you very much."  I walked out of the chapel and there was the largest billboard size picture I had ever seen of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to whom I was consecrated in Moscow 14 years previous.  I told them I would never doubt again.

Will I still go to serve in Russia?  I did get a chance to visit in 2009 but with no clear plan from my community to start a mission.  All I know is that I am called by Our Lady to Russia.  When and how this will happen is not really up to me.  Wherever I am called I will go.


  1. Great, great account Father. Very moving.

  2. May it be done unto you according to His will ... Russia needs great prolife priests .. it is a nation hurting even more from abortion than our own ... someday when the time is right may you go there and be the face of His Mercy to poor hurting humanity....