Gilbert Guzman – Yes to Vocation – The Journey
Read about his latest reflection before his Ordination:
Reflection by Deacon Gilbert Guzman
“Did you ever think that God might want you to be a priest?”
This was the question Fr. Gerard asked me after I had turned down a promotion to school principal in the Los Angeles Schools.
How could God possibly want me? I thought, “Priesthood was for extraordinary saintly people who only pray all day. Priests were set apart from birth and dedicated to God. Priests led sinless lives and were practically perfect in every way.”
Fr. Gerard’s then said, “You don’t answer the question all at once. Would you be open to discussing it with a Spiritual Director?”
“Yes, I would be open to discussing it….” This relieved the pressure!
This conversation took place in 2009 and it feels like my entire world has changed since then. I ended a career in education, my father then my mother went home to the Lord, and now at 51 years of age, I am starting my life as a priest. My vocation to priesthood gives testimony to the scripture passage, “With God ALL things are possible!”
All of you here at Assumption have been my backbone, my family, my friends and companions along this exciting journey. Your prayers, acts of kindness and hospitality have carried me through times of joy and times of sorrow.
Fr. Gerard has been a great role model, mentor, friend and brother to me these many years. The fact that he has been called away to Ireland to be with his mother just days before my ordination is an example that “Gods ways are not our ways.” Our faith is continually being purified, refined and tempered. But one thing I have learned when things don’t go according to my plan is to bring it before the Lord in prayer and if it is God’s will, there will be perfect peace. The only condition for that peace to take place is to pray the prayer that Jesus prayed during His passion, “Not my will, but your will be done.”
Doing the will of the Lord has not been easy, but it has been wonderful. God knew exactly what I needed to be truly happy. Thanks to all of you, Assumption Family, for your prayers and love.
Please be assured of my prayers as I begin my ministry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Santa Clarita. I will never forget you. God bless you!
Father Gilbert was ordained on June 2, at the Cathedral of Our Lady Queen of Angels. His first Mass is the Sunday, 11:00AM Mass, here at Assumption. We send him to Santa Clarita with our love, prayers and best wishes!
Earlier Reflections by Gilbert Guzman
A Special Day
On a warm and beautiful Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011, our beloved friend Gilbert Guzman began his first day in St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, CA. Accompanied by our Pastor Fr. Gerard O’Brien, associate Pastor Fr. Joe Wah, seminarian Javier Hernandez Rodriguez, and Gilbert’s parents and friends, along with all the love and prayers from the Assumption Parish community, Gilbert begins his vocation journey to serve the Lord. We are so proud of you, Gilbert! With the grace of God, we wish you an amazing experience and we are with you all the way! See you in our church when you are on breaks and holidays!
Take a look at Gilbert’s photo album. It will be updated as new pictures are received.
Drop Gilbert a note at:
St. John’s Seminary Theologate
5012 Seminary Road
Camarillo, CA 93012-2500 or firstname.lastname@example.org and keep him and his family in your prayers!
Reflection by Gilbert Guzman
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.
A Reflection written on his first anniversary in the seminary
July 8, 2012
It is hard to believe that I have completed my first year of Pre-Theology at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. This has been a year of transition and the word that best captures the essence of this transition is humility. The day I said yes to Fr. Gerard’s offer to enter the process of discernment and spiritual direction, God began to reveal His perfect will for my life. I have learned that the Holy Spirit can make His will known by working through our feelings, thoughts, and the people in our lives. I recall an incident that took place shortly before I began formal discernment. I was at a parish gathering and was introduced to the then Vocations Director for San Gabriel Valley, Fr. Francis Ilano. I made an off-hand comment that I was hesitant about even becoming a Eucharistic Minister. I said, “I just don’t feel worthy.” And immediately Fr. Francis said, “None of us is worthy!” Needless to say I was startled and felt corrected. But he made an excellent point and helped me to re-orient the way I see myself to the way that God sees me. Fr. Francis continued that we are all earthen vessels: it is God who makes us worthy.
My first day at St. John’s Seminary, I felt like it was my first day in Kindergarten. Fr. Gerard, Fr. Joe, my parents, and even my boss at the time came to drop me off. I had just said goodbye to twenty years as an elementary school teacher and assistant principal. I had said goodbye to my house, my dog, my family and friends. When the seminary rector announced that it was time for family and friends to depart, saying goodbye was emotionally overwhelming. I felt that I was dying to my old life, my old identity, and beginning anew as a seminarian.
I realized almost immediately after everyone left that first day, that I was being received into the very caring and competent arms of the seminary community. “Formation” is what I have entered into as a seminarian. The four pillars of St. John’s priestly formation program are: Human, Spiritual, Academic and Pastoral. Each day is scheduled to include all of these aspects of the formation program, with the bulk of the day dedicated to class attendance and homework. Morning and Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, and daily Mass make up the spiritual activities. Daily physical exercise and fellowship with other seminarians make up human formation. Each of us is given a dorm room and three meals per day. As a former educator, I love school and I love learning. However, it was this last semester, when I was given my first pastoral field education experience at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, that I felt truly outside my comfort zone.
Two of us were assigned to serve as Catholic Chaplain Assistants at the correctional facility where we would visit individual inmates in the high security section and also led a sacraments class to about six youth. Our Chaplain supervisor showed us what to do and what to say, but quickly trusted us to go it alone. During the four months of weekly visits, I was able to establish a rapport with the youth. I had never been in a prison nor had I ever met any gang members. To say that I was very nervous in the beginning would be an understatement. Once I became accustomed to the security routines, protocols, and culture of prison, I started to recognize in the youth, the same spirit of wonder and curiosity that I had seen in my elementary school students. As the weeks progressed, these youth started to share how God was starting to answer their prayers and how God was becoming more real to them in their daily lives. On the last day of sacraments class, we had the youth share what they had learned from one another these last four months. In January, we were lucky to get two word answers to questions, but by May, these young men were pouring out their hearts to one another in gratitude for the caring and the friendship that had grown among them. One young man started to play a guitar while another youth joined him in a freestyle rap about how God had picked him up out of the mud and had given him a new life in Jesus Christ! My ministry partner, my supervisor, and I just looked at each other and realized that the Holy Spirit had clearly taken over, and to step aside and get out of the way.
Today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians states,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Even though I felt completely unworthy, unskilled, and inexperienced, God sent the Holy Spirit to be with me, to be His presence to these youth through me. The Holy Spirit ministered to me through the youth and showed me Christ in each of their faces. I do not know what crimes they may have committed, but I do know that they have been forgiven and, like all of us, are being redeemed.
I have a deep sense of peace and joy in my life that I have never felt before. I believe that it is because God has me where He wants me. Seminary continues to be a place of discernment of God’s will for my life, please pray for me that I would continue to heed His call wherever He may lead me.
Looking back on my first year at St. John’s Seminary, I am deeply grateful to the Assumption parish community for taking me in, supporting me and encouraging me on my new journey as a seminarian. I am very happy and proud to call Assumption my home. Thank you and I love you!
A Reflection by Transitional Deacon, Gilbert Guzmán – August 12, 2017
With hugs, kisses and a formal blessing by my father, both he and my mother dropped me off at St. John’s Seminary on Monday, August 15, 2011, the Feast of the Assumption! As they walked away from their son, I embarked on my new life as a seminarian.
Sadly, both my father then my mother entered into eternal life on February 27, 2013, then on December 10, 2016, respectively.
I remember returning to Assumption for the first time since my mother’s passing, when upon entering coffee and doughnuts in Msgr. Crean Hall, an Assumption parishioner with a smile on his face, placed his hand on my shoulder and proclaimed, “Now you can be the priest God meant you to be!” Shocked at first, his words sank in and I realized at that moment that his words rang true.
Choosing to pursue a vocation to the priesthood has meant choosing death to self in order to choose life in the Lord: death to my career and identity as a professional educator, priority of ministry to the people of God over family and friendships and loving God above all things.
The loss of my parents during my formation has given me insights into the paschal mystery of Christ’s life, suffering, death and resurrection that I would not have known otherwise.
But God is faithful, and has filled my life with the most intimate friendships I have ever had in my 51 years of life. Fr. Gerard presented me with the question, “Do you think God might want you to be a priest?” and since then, has become my mentor, friend and brother clergy.
My seminarian brothers and I have shared so many life experiences during these last eight years of discernment and formation, both highs and lows and have developed a loyalty and devotion to each other that will last the rest of our lives.
Today, we hear about how Elijah, fearing for his life, fled to Mt. Horeb and after terrifying wind, earthquake and fire, found God in the tiny whispering sound of His voice. It was then, after leaving the shelter of the cave in the mountain, that Elijah could meet God and remember his identity as prophet of the Most High, remember his purpose and his mission and remember that with God by his side, he had nothing to fear.
Similarly, the disciples, tossed about by the waves of the sea in the middle of the night feared for their lives. Walking on the waves, Jesus came to them and said, “”Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Today’s scriptures speak to my heart. Jesus has been with me every step of my journey. He has given me much consolation and peace in the midst of pain, heartbreak and loss. It is a tremendous mystery that wherever there has been fear and suffering, Jesus Christ brings deeper knowledge of His very being and of the depth of His divine love.
In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, I turn to God and freely offer my heart, mind, soul and strength to Him in service to the People of God, His Church. I know God is faithful and in return, promises to continue to fill my life with fullness of joy, peace and happiness.
God invites each of us, wherever we may find ourselves to do the same. Jesus Christ is infinitely patient, loving and merciful. He is ready to receive us with open arms, and to be with us in our joys and our sorrows and bless us with everything we need to live a full and beautiful life.
All of you here at Assumption have been God’s gift of love and support to me since the moment I arrived and I am deeply grateful for having you in my life. God bless you all.
Love, Deacon Gilbert