A young agnostic becomes a priest

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If good things come to those who wait, then great things are in store for Deacon Michael Baggot, a seminarian with the Legionaries of Christ. After 10 years in formation and studies that took him from Germany to Mexico to Rome, he is just days from his goal. The Christendom graduate will be ordained a priest Dec. 16 at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the pontifical commission for the Vatican.  

His path to the priesthood was not always so clear. He spent his early years far from the church. It was his passion for the classics that first exposed him to Catholic culture and opened his eyes to the reality that Jesus Christ was more than just a fairy tale.

“I’m very grateful to be a child of the Arlington Diocese." Deacon Michael Baggot

Deacon Baggot was born in Texas in May 1985, but spent most of his life in Virginia, where his family moved to be closer to his grandmother. While his parents were both born Catholic, they had fallen away from the faith. It was through his grandmother that he caught glimpses of Catholicism. But while he was very close to her growing up, she never pressured him to share her beliefs — she only prayed. 

With no direction as a child, he drifted into an agnostic view of God and the world. 

“My sensitivity to the beauty of nature and art led me to conclude the existence of a creator,” said Deacon Baggot. “But I did not believe that creator had any impact on my life.” 

He regarded those with religious beliefs to be good, but unintelligent, people holding onto a fantasy. But as much as he wanted nothing to do with religion, he could not avoid the allusions and references to Catholic culture as he read. He realized if he wanted to teach literature one day, he needed to learn more about this religion, so he studied it as if it were mythology.

On one of his many trips to the library he picked up a book called, Intellectuals Speak Out about God. Opening the cover, he found an introduction by Ronald Reagan and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. 

It slowly was becoming more reasonable to believe in God’s existence. During high school, he met a friend, one of the smartest people he knew. The only problem was this friend was a devout Christian. 

“I thought if I only just studied the Bible and found the contradictions, I could save him,” said Deacon Baggot. 

In an effort to rescue his friend, Deacon Baggot read the New Testament and prepared to challenge the book’s main character — it did not go as planned. 

“I was instantly impressed with the person of Christ,” said Deacon Baggot, who recognized that Christ had solid moral advice that could help his life.  However, he was hesitant to accept the miracles and other supernatural aspects of the text. He needed more information and headed to the local bookstore.

Among the countless books on religion and mythology, a little volume called Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis caught his eye. 

“I had enjoyed Narnia so I knew he was an excellent writer, and it was a small book, so I thought ‘this couldn’t hurt,’” said Deacon Baggot. “C.S. Lewis ruined everything,” he laughed. “I’m one of the many victims of Lewis.” The book helped him understand the deepest truths of the faith. 

“C.S. Lewis says ‘We cannot look at Christ as just a good man,’” said Deacon Baggot. “‘He is either Lord, Lunatic or Liar.’” 

At this point, the high school student respected Jesus too much to believe he was a lunatic or a liar. 

“It brought me tremendous peace,” said Deacon Baggot. “In the quiet moments, I think most high school students wonder if there is more to life than the weekend. I realized that yes there was. There was so much more.”

But he was not ready for the seminary, far from it. 

Thinking of his grandmother, he felt he owed it to himself to look into the religion of his past. He typed Catholic.com into his browser and found the Catholic Answers website.

“I found clear and concise answers that went to the core of the issues,” said Deacon Baggot. “I realized that the Catholic Church was the church of the Bible, the church of history. I realized that this was home.” 

He contacted Father Michael C. Kelly, parochial vicar of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester, and he started the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

“My senior year, my chief concerns were applying to college, finding a prom date and RCIA,” said Deacon Baggot.

He received the sacraments and entered into communion with the church April 19, 2003 at the Easter vigil. 

“I remember there being a lot of emotion, both excitement and joy and gratitude,” said Deacon Baggot. “Above all there was a profound peace.” 

His parents were with him, and while his grandmother was not mobile enough to come, she was thrilled. 

In the fall, he entered Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, where he met a great group of young Catholics who taught him what it meant to live out his faith.

“It was a godsend,” he said. “I felt like I attended the campus ministry and went to class occasionally. It was there that a vocation really began to emerge.”

During the moments after adoration and Communion, he realized he could bring Christ to others just as the priest was bringing Christ to the students. But he needed more. 

He desired a more Catholic and comprehensive world view in his education and transferred to Christendom College in Front Royal his sophomore year.

He thrived in the complete Catholic immersion there, and while he enjoyed the rigorous schedule of courses, he didn’t want purely the academic side of Christendom. He wanted it all. He was involved in every aspect of campus life — the plays, mic nights and the dances. He was active in the pro-life group, volunteered with the Legion of Mary and was a resident assistant and summer camp counselor for the Christendom summer program. But no matter how late the events of the previous night, he could always be found praying in the chapel early the next morning. 

While discerning his vocation to the priesthood, he found the Legionaries of Christ on a list of recommended vocations on ratzingerfanclub.com. 

He was impressed by the order that seemed to fulfill the call to the new evangelization by empowering people all over the world to be leaders in service to the church. He joined the candidacy program the summer of 2008, a year after graduating college.

“I often thank God for the clarity he gave me in my priestly religious vocation,” said Deacon Baggot. “It has always been a rock for me, especially during difficulties and tribulations that dealt with the scandals of the founder. It was key because He was the one who called me. Not the founder. It gave me the strength to persevere.”

His studies resulted in degrees in philosophy and theology, as well as bioethics and medical ethics. He has served as a correspondent for the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights since 2011; contributed to the journal of religion and public life First Things; and began teaching at the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum. He also enjoys singing in the choir, playing basketball and giving tours at the Vatican. 

“I’m very grateful to be a child of the Arlington Diocese. I look forward to the day I celebrate Mass at Sacred Heart Church, Christendom and the Catholic Campus Ministry.” 

He hopes to celebrate his first Mass Dec. 17 at the Church of the Trinity of the Pilgrims in Rome. 

After ordination he will continue to work as an assistant professor of bioethics at the university, while also finishing a dissertation on bioethics. 

He calls it, “The beginning of a new adventure.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017