Life outside the cubicle

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As a young adult, Father James Searby never saw himself in a 9-to-5 job. As a college student at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas, he studied history and was active in drama. He considered working in a theater or in public relations, dedicating himself to education or getting involved in the adventure travel industry.

One thing he didn't consider seriously was the priesthood.

"Growing up, I played priest when I was young, but I think that was an excuse just to tell my brothers what to do," he said.

Though he was born in New York City, Father Searby grew up mostly in Vienna. The oldest of seven children, he attended Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington for three years before graduating from North Ridge Prep School in Chicago. While in college, he spent a semester abroad in Rome, where he couldn't help but think of a possible religious vocation, but the idea was fleeting.

"The fruit wasn't ripe yet," he said.

Instead, Father Searby spent his first four and a half years after college working in marketing and public relations, switching jobs regularly and moving around between New York and Washington to try and find the best possible fit. For one year, he did public relations work for the Ringling Brothers Circus, which allowed him to experience the entertainment industry from the inside. Though he was successful, Father Searby felt something was missing.

"Many people look for meaning in career, and I thought I would find the perfect job, the perfect career," he said. "Every job I had had some aspects that were satisfying professionally, but not satisfying spiritually. There was always that lingering thought that there must be something more than this."

In the meantime, he was also dating and discerning whether or not he was called to the married life. Unsure where God wanted him, he began spending more time in prayer than he had ever before.

"I got to a point where rather than me trying to find what I was supposed to be doing, I sincerely asked God by making myself present before Him daily," Father Searby said. "I went to the chapel, I started going to Mass every day at noon. By making myself present to Him, He made Himself present to me and then I didn't want anything else other than Him. I fell in love."

Soon, it became clear he was called to the priesthood. Newly fervent in his faith, Father Searby entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., in 1999. He was ordained June 11, 2005, at age 33.

During the time spent discerning his vocation, Father Searby, who is now parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Lake Ridge, learned the difference between admiring Jesus and actually following Him.

"A follower places his feet in the footsteps of the Master," he said. "An admirer appreciates Him from afar and doesn't want to get too close. Most of my life I was probably a great admirer, but it wasn't until my late 20s when I became a follower."

Since becoming a priest, he said he's fallen even more in love with his faith, with the church and with God.

"It's a daily marvelous unfolding," he said. "I'm in love with Him and His bride, the church. That's my bride. Before it was someone else's love story and now it's mine."

What he enjoys most is making personal connections and watching other people be transformed by their faith like he was.

"Ultimately seeing the transformation that occurs in someone's heart and is seen in their eyes when they leave their comfort zone and meet Jesus," he said. "I'd say that most profoundly takes place in the sacrament of confession. That's the most rewarding. It's not the feeding the 5,000, it's the woman at the well, it's the leper, it's seeing my friend in the eyes of the people He loves."

Though being a priest was never something he expected, he enjoys the way it keeps him busy and challenged and calls the vocation one of his "greatest blessings in life."

"I used to say I never wanted to sit in a cubicle having a 9-to-5 job and I don't," he said. "Now I have a 12-to-12 job and you never know what's going to happen when you wake up in the morning."

To stay balanced, Father Searby continues to pursue his creative talents through photography, painting and cooking. In his spare time, he reads, spends time with his family and friends and challenges himself with daily CrossFit workouts. Currently, he also is working toward a certification in bioethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

For strength to stay so busy, Father Searby relies on his faith. He believes an active prayer life is crucial for all Catholics. To have one, he suggests people should have "norms" - those prayers they say consistently every day, no matter what.

"Spread it out throughout the day to keep the presence of God in your life. It's really that simple," he said. "People say, 'I don't really know how to pray,' but we are all amateurs in prayer. If you don't know how to pray, just tell God you don't know how to pray and you've begun."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012