Open to the will of God

First slide

Through his discernment and time at the seminary, transitional deacon Chris Christensen has learned to let God work within him. Now he will be able to share his deep love for Christ with others by serving as a priest after ordination June 7.

"The whole process has been an exercise of openness to the will of God," he said. "Allowing Him to work the way that He wants to has been essential for me."

Born in Washington state May 7, 1984, Deacon Christensen grew up one of three children in a military family. In 1992, he moved with his family to Woodbridge, where he attended St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School and Our Lady of Angels Church.

He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria in 2002 and went to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. There, he studied philosophy and Japanese and became involved in its Navy ROTC program. He also became involved with campus ministry, where his friends and spiritual directors kept him connected to the faith and prompted him to maintain a good prayer life. In prayer, he began to have thoughts about the priesthood.

"But I put it off for a while," he said. "I thought that I had to go into the Navy."

After graduating from college in 2006, Deacon Christensen was commissioned into the Navy and stationed in Japan, where he served on the USS Blue Ridge. In Japan, the thoughts about the priesthood became something he could not ignore.

"As I became more involved with all my naval duties, this voice in the back of my head grew louder and louder," Deacon Christensen recalled.

He talked to his Navy chaplain on base, who was Catholic. The chaplain helped him realize that the military chaplaincy needs more priests.

"The more I worked on my ship, the more I tried to be a good naval officer, the idea of priesthood became clearer to me," he said.

Then, during a Christmas break, Deacon Christensen and three other sailors took a short flight to Seoul, South Korea, where the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services was holding a vocation discernment retreat. After he returned to his ship, he emailed Father Brian G. Bashista, former Arlington diocesan vocations director, and Navy chaplain Father Frank Foley, to see if pursuing a vocation was even possible.

"I didn't know it was even possible," he said. "But I decided to give it a shot and see what happens."

After lots of discussion and paperwork, Deacon Christensen was re-commissioned to the military in 2008 - this time as a chaplain candidate. Everything fell into place, and he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., that year.

In addition to keeping up with his studies, he learned to juggle all his responsibilities. This skill was especially helpful this year while he served as a transitional deacon both at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington and St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Philadelphia. Deacon Christensen said he had a taste of the business of a cleric's life, and was able to experience its rewards.

He preached and gave communion on Sundays at the cathedral and enjoyed helping with baptisms, the Legion of Mary, and youth and young adult groups. "It was fantastic to come back on breaks and at Easter," he said.

Deacon Christensen said the priests he has met in the last 10 years - in the Arlington Diocese, the Navy and in college - have shown him a lot of different models of priesthood. He has become close with priests who projected their deep faith and charity in every aspect of their lives, and they have taught him the importance of having a welcoming interaction with parishioners.

At St. Thomas Aquinas, he served people from many different countries, especially their large Hispanic, Vietnamese and Indonesian communities. Deacon Christensen's ministry was focused on Vietnamese and Indonesian youths and young adults.

"Working with immigrant communities was great," he said. "They were very open, genuine, kind, wonderful people. It made me more comfortable working with people who are not of my same background."

"Seeing their struggles and their approach to these struggles through their deep faith was inspiring and encouraging to me," he said. "I could see how strengthening their faith goes a long way in their lives."

Deacon Christensen is looking forward to strengthening people's faith and bringing people closer to Christ. Co-sponsored by the Arlington Diocese and the military archdiocese, Deacon Christensen will be ordained to the priesthood in Arlington June 7 and will first serve local parishes before serving as an active duty Navy chaplain.

"I look forward to just being a priest and being able to lead people to Christ in every aspect of their lives," he said. "My relationship with Christ guided everything in my life and I want to be able to share that."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014