I first thought of becoming a priest when I was in eighth grade. I remember the exact seat that I was sitting in, in Mr. Vincent’s homeroom class. (I guess many priests also remember vividly the first moment God called them.) I remember feeling like I needed to answer a question, but I didn’t even know what the question was. Then, boom! I discovered the meaning and purpose of life.
In eighth grade, the meaning and purpose of life, for me, was other people.
The way I saw it, if God wanted us to get to Heaven, he could have just put us in a maze or given us a test where we could figure out the answers and—we’re there! But that’s not what he did. Rather, he put us in a world where we can affect other people’s salvation and they can affect ours. So, other people must be essential to the purpose of our own lives.
I also felt I had a strong foundation in faith and strong relationship with God. Faith was always first in our family. While I saw faith become less important to many of my friends, I found it to be a great source of peace for weathering hard times.
It was this foundation that I wanted to give to friends and people who had never even heard the gospel. I wanted everyone to have what I had—a relationship with a God who loves them. This led to the idea to be a missionary, but I reasoned that the best missionary is one who can offer the Eucharist, and that is a priest.
I held onto this dream through high school and college, and I became very involved in the pro-life movement. I saw it as the greatest cause worth fighting for, and I wondered if my life wouldn’t be better spent in fulltime pro-life ministry than as a priest.
It was Christmas time 2012 when I was at this crossroad and listened to the Christmas carol, “I Wonder as I Wander.” I had heard it many times before, but this time I heard it in a new way.
The song beautifully describes how Jesus came to die for our sins. That was his vocation—the man with all the power to stop all the evil and injustice in the world saved the world by being crucified and rising. The song gave me permission to respond to the invitation that had been there all along, his invitation to be a priest, and to know, also, that I did not have to save the world—he already saved it! Nobody needs John Carlin to do more stuff.
My first day of seminary felt a lot like home in that everyone wanted exactly what I wanted, to know and follow God’s will for our lives. Now, beginning my fourth year of seminary (Theology II), I still feel that same strength and peace as when I began seminary and when I first heard God’s voice in eighth grade.