An unexpected vocation

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As a young man, Brian McAllister considered several career paths for himself, including serving in the military, selling real estate and working as a defense contractor. One path he never anticipated was becoming a priest.

"I'm the last person I would have thought should be a priest," said McAllister, who is now in his fourth year of study at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. "But I'm happy and I feel it's some sort of fortuitous gift from God."

McAllister, who is only 33, grew up Lutheran. For him, the journey to seminary was a long and messy road.

Originally from Virginia, McAllister lived in Richmond until his senior year of high school when his family relocated to Indiana. After high school, McAllister attended Centre College in Danville, Ky., majoring in English literature.

After college, McAllister attended the U.S. Army Airborne School in Fort Benning, Ga., before being commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant. He then attended the U.S. Army Advanced Airborne School in Fort Bragg, N.C., while assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. While in the Army, he was deployed twice - first to Afghanistan and then to Iraq.

Over the years, McAllister kept finding himself drawn to the Catholic Church. When he was in high school, he watched his mother become Catholic.

"When she converted, through her conversations and her example, she really showed me there was a profound change in her, a general movement toward something greater, and I saw that in her," he said.

Other relatives also joined the Church, including McAllister's brother and aunt. Impressed by the changes he saw in them, McAllister began exploring the Church for himself by attending Mass and reading about the Faith. Still undecided, he would switch back and forth between Mass and Protestant services.

While serving in Afghanistan, McAllister was introduced to a Catholic chaplain. The chaplain, a green beret, instantly won McAllister's respect. Yet, after completing his service to the Army, McAllister was still unsure of his faith.

"I really had to do some hard searching and I just tell people that I lived selfishly for a while. I lived for me and that didn't bring me any of the happiness I thought it would. I felt very entitled, but that didn't make me happy," McAllister said. "And then I entered a place where I opened my heart up to God."

Although he still had doubts, McAllister knew it was time to let go of his reluctance and join the Church.

"I thought, I'm gonna be like an airborne op," he said. "I'm just gonna jump and hope my parachute opens."

For the third time in his life, he began the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes, where he found the sense of meaning he had been looking for since college. Looking back, he says becoming Catholic was like falling in love.

"It was just as much romantic as spiritual and it was a long and haphazard route," he said. "God is an artist and an artist can be messy because He's working with messy subjects."

While he was still a catechumen, McAllister was able to receive the sacrament of penance for the first time. He took the opportunity very seriously, and, after an extensive examination of conscience, McAllister filled six pages of a college-ruled notebook with things to confess. The priest listened with a smile on his face. As McAllister finished reciting his long list, the priest asked if he had ever considered becoming a priest. The surprising response ended up being the seed that would grow into McAllister's decision to enter the seminary.

"Ever since then, I just couldn't shake the idea," he said.

Immediately after entering the Church, McAllister began discerning the priesthood with a spiritual director. After two years of being Catholic, with the support and encouragement of his family and friends, he entered the seminary when he was 28. There, he has continued to discern his call to the priesthood.

"Some people think by going to the seminary that it automatically locks them into the priesthood, but really it's a place of ongoing discernment, a greater frequency of sacraments and exposure to the Church's teachings," McAllister said.

So far in seminary, he's learned to know and love God more and appreciate the Church more deeply, spiritual gifts he says that are "priceless, but not flashy." He also has been challenged.

"Faith is a theological virtue, but it's like a muscle that can be deepened and strengthened over time," he said.

For other young men discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood, McAllister insists the most important thing is to pray and frequent the sacraments.

"I would just say that you have to pray, and if you don't know how to pray, you have to learn and God will teach you if you ask Him," he said. "You need to frequent the sacraments as much as possible, particularly the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance. If you do that, you're clearing the way for God to speak to you."

And lastly, if one feels called to the priesthood, he must act.

"God cannot work with a parked car," McAllister said. "You have to start talking to your pastor and your vocations director and not be afraid of them because the last thing they want is to send someone to seminary who doesn't want to go."

Today, McAllister can look back and see how entering the seminary was not his own idea at all, but rather something God was calling him to do.

"I really thought that only saintly people got called," McAllister said. "It's just such a great gift to be able to say this was something I really felt that God called me to do. I didn't come up with this on my own."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012