Peace for a restless heart

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Some people know from a young age exactly what they want to do with their life. As children, they pick a path for themselves and they stick with it through high school, college and beyond.

Seminarian Jason Burchell, now in his third year of theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., was not one of those people.

A born and bred "Virginia boy," Burchell was born Feb. 1, 1980, and grew up in Charlottesville where he attended Catholic middle school. While in high school, he played basketball and competed on track and cross-country teams.

Burchell attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, where he continued his love of sports by studying kinesiology and sports management.

"My dream was to work in the big leagues as a trainer or sports agent," he said. "I was really into sports, it was always a very big love of mine."

After graduating in 2002, Burchell realized he had other interests he wanted to pursue so he began looking for a job that would completely fulfill him.

"I was always the type who had numerous things planned out ahead of time," he said. "My dad and I had a conversation that, 'You're young, you can do anything you put your mind to, so try (those ideas) out.'"

With that, Burchell began to explore his options. First, he wanted to work by the water, so he took a job as a lifeguard in Nags Head, N.C. From there, Burchell wanted to travel, so he took a job working on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, touring the Mediterranean Sea.

After visiting 35 countries in only five months, he decided to change paths again. This time, he took a job working for his father in the family business, a Chevrolet dealership. Though he was successful at selling cars, Burchell was still not happy. After trying out so many dreams, he finally began to consider a different option for the first time: the priesthood.

"From the time I was 12 to the time I was finishing the job with my father, I think I was running away from the priesthood," he said. "I always thought, 'That's not for me, I want to get married.' I kept saying to myself, 'I've just got to try something else, I can't do that.'"

Still not ready to take the leap, Burchell went back to school. For the next two years, he worked as a graduate assistant at James Madison, eventually earning his master's in athletic administration and coaching. While there, he continued dating. He dated one woman for more than two years, but with the priesthood still in the back of his mind, he found he couldn't make a commitment.

After finishing school, Burchell began working as an aquatic director for the YMCA in Richmond. He and his girlfriend broke up and Burchell finally took the time to hear what God was telling him. He began attending Holy Hours and daily Masses and, through his job, he found a love for counseling.

"I started to notice people coming into my office and sitting down and talking to me and letting me listen," he said. "I always realized that I felt fulfilled when I was driving home from those nights."

Finally, Burchell began to put the pieces together. He realized all of the things he had enjoyed about previous jobs - working with people, helping others, counseling - were key aspects of the priesthood. Then, out of the blue, he received an email from a friend he hadn't spoken to in years, inviting him to a discernment retreat for the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.

Burchell decided to bite the bullet and attend. There, listening to seminarians talk about their discernment, he felt a peace he had never experienced before.

"After it ended, I went into the parking lot and started the car and just sat there for an hour and a half, thinking, 'This is what I need to do,'" he said.

Burchell was accepted into the seminary in 2006 at age 26. The past six years since then have been some of the best of his life, he said.

"While it's tough, I feel like in the past six years, I have learned to love God in a completely new way and it has really prepared me well."

Burchell is co-sponsored by the Arlington Diocese and the military archdiocese. When he is ordained to the priesthood, he will spend his first three years in Arlington before being released to the military archdiocese, where he will serve as an active duty Navy chaplain. Following his retirement from the Navy, he will return to Arlington to serve as a priest.

This plan suits Burchell perfectly, appeasing his love of service, physical challenges and adventure. And, unlike his previous jobs, he has never had any doubts.

"There's a huge piece of me that knows this is what I was made to do and it makes me very happy to know that I'm doing the Lord's will," he said. "Even though it's going to be a tough job, I know that I can do it with the grace of God."

Looking back, Burchell is grateful for the strong relationships he has with his family, all of whom have been great cheerleaders along the way. For his year in the transitional diaconate, he is most looking forward to serving the parishioners of his new parish. One of his first acts will be baptizing his nephew next month.

"I'm ready to work, ready to give my life for the Lord, ready to work for the salvation of souls, and I can do it especially this year as a transitional deacon," he said.

Now that he has found the fulfillment he has always yearned for, he takes great inspiration from St. Augustine, who said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him."

"My heart was restless for all those years and it was only when I said, 'OK, Your turn, I'm going to stop running,' that I was fulfilled," he said.

He urges other men discerning a vocation to take a similar path.

"Your life will not be as fulfilled until you're doing God's will," he said. "No matter what you choose, if you are only doing it for yourself, you're not going to be nearly as happy as you would be if you were doing the will of God."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012