Salutation by Fr. Gerard O’Brien (May, 2011):
I want to share, with great joy, that our parishioner Gilbert Guzman, after years of discernment and many interviews, has been accepted by St. John’s Seminary as a student for the priesthood! The following is a very powerful reflection by Gilbert as he shares his journey with all of you. Please pray for him and support him, as he prepares for this awesome transition in his life!
It was Fr. Gerard who heard my Confession the day I decided to come back to the Catholic Church three years ago. I was a nervous wreck…I hadn’t been to Confession since I was thirteen years old! I had been taught as a child growing up in a Catholic, Mexican-American family, that it was not allowable to receive the Eucharist if you had not been to Confession. Luckily, I had found a website that provided the template that I took with me into the confessional. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned…it’s been…MANY YEARS since my last Confession…” Immediately the curtain moved toward me as I perceived that Fr. Gerard moved forward in his chair. “Yes? What is it you would like to say to the Lord?” I remember shaking, sweating and saying, “I want to come back to the Catholic Church. I want to participate…I want to experience God in the Eucharist again.” Fr. Gerard exclaimed, “That’s beautiful! You’ve come to the right priest and you’ve come to the right church…Welcome home!” All my nervousness and trepidation melted away in a moment and I was flooded with the warmth and peace of Christ’s forgiving love.
Although I had been raised Catholic, received my Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist (in that order according to Mexican tradition), by the time I went off to college, I wanted to know about what the other Christian denominations believed. I visited Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal and Non-denominational churches. I learned a great deal about the Bible and about the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Immediately after college, I went to Seoul, Korea to teach English. It was during this time in Korea that I clearly felt that I wanted to work full-time in service to God. So, in 1990, I decided to apply to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Fuller is known to be an Inter-denominational Seminary and so, at that time, even though I was a Catholic, I felt that perhaps God wanted me to be a Youth Pastor at a church. I loved my classes: but I must have visited at least nineteen different Protestant churches during this time, yet I never felt at ease in any of them.
At about this time, I was talking to a friend of mine who was a substitute teacher in Los Angeles. He told me about how gratifying it was to teach a child to read. Both my parents were educators and, until then, I had pushed the thought of being a teacher to the very back of my mind. However, I thought I should at least observe a classroom. The teacher I was to observe told me, “Oh no…you need to take a group.” She sat me at a table with five first graders who were putting syllable cards together to make words. I watched them sound out each syllable separately and then saw their faces light up as they recognized and then shouted out the word with pride! I was hopelessly smitten.
I left Fuller Seminary and became a Bilingual Spanish Elementary School Teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District for the next eleven years. These last nine years, I had been working out of the classroom as a Coordinator for Federal Programs and now I am an Assistant Principal for Special Education.
Working with children, parents, teachers and the community as both a teacher and as an administrator has been deeply rewarding. But during these years, I became so engrossed in my profession that I had not even realized that I had drifted away from God. My school principal, a devout Catholic, sensed my angst and said, “Why don’t you go back to the Catholic Church?” It hadn’t even occurred to me that the church that I knew as a child, could once again be the church that could meet my spiritual needs.
My confession with Fr. Gerard marked a turning point in my life. God used it to assure me that my decision to return to the Catholic Church was the right one and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has since been my spiritual home.
After I had begun to go to church regularly, I worked up the courage to ask Fr. Gerard if he had some time to answer some of my theological questions over coffee. It was during this conversation that he asked, “I wonder if God might be calling you to a vocation…perhaps He wants you to be a priest?” At that moment, I felt my life flash before my eyes and my initial desire to give my life to full-time service came back to me in full force. Fr. Gerard immediately directed me to the Los Angeles Archdiocese Office of Vocations, got me started in the process of “Discernment” and introduced me to a Spiritual Director.
Last October, at the Priestly Discernment Retreat, I verbalized my intention to formally move forward with my application to St. John’s Seminary Priestly Formation Program. After a very rigorous application process, I received a phone call from Msgr. Forsen, Director of the Office for Vocations of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, informing me that I had been formally accepted to attend St. John’s Seminary. The first day of instruction will be Monday, August 15, 2011…the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary! With God, I know there are no “coincidences.”
These last eighteen months have been exciting, deeply satisfying and, at times, quite challenging. I’ve learned that the process of discernment never stops. It is the process of waking up every day and deciding to follow Christ’s example in every personal interaction, in every decision, and in every action. God honored my initial “Yes!” to Him over twenty years ago and I now realize that He never let go of me…and for that I am eternally grateful.