NB: I had my vocation story published in the Vocations and Prayers Magazine sometime last year if you’d like to read it there, here’s a copy of the pdf, alternatively, if you’d like to support the publisher, a physical copy is available for purchase here. Lastly, below you’ll find my copy of my vocation story. I publish it here on the chance that it might be of service to a young man struggling with his discernment.
Vocation Story – Andrew Hedstrom
It was 1997, and at 10-years-old I returned to the Church for the first time since my First Communion. My parents were never terribly religious, but both sets of grandparents attended Mass weekly, if not daily. One Sunday my maternal grandparents had brought me to church. I remember the moment well; we sat in the back and the music began playing, the procession started down the central aisle of the nave, the altar servers were in cassock and surplice, the priest in his Sunday vestments. As they processed towards the steps leading up to the altar, a single thought made its way to my consciousness, “I want to do that.” I expressed these sentiments to my grandparents, and by that Wednesday I was back at church training to be an altar server.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school. I was asked to help teach Confirmation after receiving the sacrament the year prior. I began to delve more into the teachings of the Catholic Church to prepare to lead classes with the confirmation students. The more I read and learned, the more I hungered and thirsted for the wisdom of Holy Mother Church. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church to papal documents, there was such a depth of truth that I had never seen in my religious or secular education. It was as if all the questions and ailments of the culture and society at large were answered before my eyes. The more I learned, the more I shared, not just in confirmation classes, but also in my public-school classes.
During a World History class, the teacher, who was anti-Catholic, asked, “Do Catholics even believe in the Real Presence anymore?” A fellow Catholic piped up, “We attend Mass every weekend, but most Catholics don’t think it’s actually Jesus. It’s just bread and wine.” Because of all I had read and studied I knew that wasn’t true. I couldn’t just let it go. Now, I was a very shy kid in high school, but I raised my hand (something I never did) and corrected him. “Actually, Catholics still teach and believe in the Real Presence. It’s not an easy concept to understand, but transubstantiation is real.” I went on, with a shaky voice, to talk about Aristotle, his distinction between accidents and substance; it may look like bread and wine, but as Catholics we must hold that the substance does change, that it really and truly becomes the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. After this, the teacher and fellow classmates asked me a question directly related to my vocation: “Andrew, are you going to be a priest?” My reply was, “Absolutely not. I like girls.” It was a ridiculous response, but what can you expect from a 17-year-old in public school?
While my outward response was no, my conversation with God was different. With God it became a negotiation: “Okay God, only if you appear and tell me to be a priest.” But I realized that was unfair; the Father isn’t going to come down to earth to tell me to be a priest. So, then my response became, “Okay God, if your Son comes down.” Again, unfair. “Okay, if Mary comes down, then I’ll be a priest.” I figured a Marian apparition wasn’t out of the question, as those still occur with some regularity; the negotiation stayed like that for some time.
My first year in college I started taking the question of priesthood seriously while remaining open to marriage and family life. I attended Mass more frequently and began to visit the Blessed Sacrament in a local adoration chapel. As my prayer life increased, so did awareness of my vocation along with the fear of committing myself to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. So, I ran. Before the end of my second year of college I joined the Military Police Corps in the US Army. I didn’t realize it then, but I was running away from a deepening awareness of a potential vocation to the priesthood. It was easier to commit to an 8-year contract with Uncle Sam than it was to commit myself to a lifetime of service to Jesus Christ and His Church.
The next 6 years saw my discernment ebb and flow. Some months I was gung ho about entering seminary, and other months I was scared at the prospect of doing something so outside of societal norms; I still struggled with the idea of marriage and family life. On a deep level, I still very much wanted and was attached to the idea of having a wife and kids. It took many visits to the Blessed Sacrament before I was finally willing to accept even the possibility of a life without them.
Shortly after enlisting in the Army I was introduced to a priest of Opus Dei, he became my spiritual director. I expressed my dual desires to him: family life, and priesthood. He explained it like this, “At the natural level we desire a wife and kids, but at the supernatural level we desire the priesthood. If you find that you have two competing desires, then the supernatural desire should win out, as not everyone finds themselves with the desire to the priesthood.” After listening to my spiritual director, I realized he was right; it then became easier to accept a life dedicated to Jesus Christ. It was okay to choose one desire over the other; my spiritual director brought clarity to a confused mind.
In 2012, towards the end of my enlistment, I was attending a local Catholic hospital for daily Mass. It was December 12th, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Immediately after receiving communion I was back at the pew, kneeling in prayer. I hadn’t thought about the priesthood for 6 months, maybe a year. But out of nowhere the word, “priesthood,” popped into mind. The Hound of Heaven had pursued me since I was 10-years-old; after having run so far for so long, I finally relented. The fact that this happened on a feast day of Our Lady wasn’t lost on me, either. It immediately called to mind my earlier negotiations with Our Lord. God had finally caught me, and I was happy that He did!
I sat with this for a few months to make sure the desire to join seminary and begin my journey towards the priesthood didn’t disappear like it had before. When I finally met with my spiritual director, I told him that I was ready, and that I wanted to enter seminary. I remember fondly his words to me, “Oh, I’ve known for a while now. I’ve just been waiting on you.” Applying to seminary felt right; there was no question in my mind about my readiness to enter, there were no doubts about what I might be called to do. I was all in. And so, after a year of living in LA County while I was working the Port of Long Beach doing Anti-Terrorism with the Army, I applied to seminary with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. And I haven’t looked back since.