My name is Andrew and I am a priest for the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey. Now I could tell you that I’ve always wanted to be a priest, but that is not true.
I could tell you that I’ve always had a deep personal relationship with God, but that is not true. And I could tell you that my decision to enter this vocation was peaceful and beautiful, but that is most definitely not true.
I’m not special. I am not impressively holy or pious. My vocation journey was not magical. My path was not obvious. Maybe this is ringing bells for some of you.
After high school, I wanted to serve. I joined the Marines. I did really well there and was selected to be a presidential guard for two presidents.
After that I went back to school for mathematics where I met my wife Barbara on the first day of my first class. I did really well in school. I was awarded a medal for academic excellence from the governor of New Jersey.
After that I got a job at Princeton University and did well there, eventually running their advanced physics lab. I was then offered a job by the Defense Intelligence Agency to do … what I did for them, and did really well there. Then the FBI took interest and I did what I did for them and did really well there.
Notice I am not mentioning God in any of this.
Then the Department of Energy took interest and Barbara and I moved to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and did what I did for them really well. But then on Dec. 26, 2011, Barbara and I went to sleep and I woke up. We still don’t know what happened. I got guesses from the coroner.
(See a related video.)
After that nothing mattered. The house, the cars, the job, friends, family … they all seemed pointless. All that was left was my horrible, stunted relationship with God. And that relationship devolved into me just being incredibly angry at him.
So I connected with my military intelligence brothers and went back to Afghanistan to basically get myself killed. But while there I began to talk to a priest. He wasn’t manipulative. He just asked me questions. “Why are you holding on to God if you are so mad at him?”
After what seemed like an eternity of these types of questions, I began to realize that our relationship with God is the only thing that matters, that I held on to God because I loved him. It was only when I lost everything, when I emptied my heart, that I realized this.
This is what it took for me to notice my relationship with him and I would not wish this for anyone else.
We are all called to give ourselves to God, whether we admit it or not. We all do this in a way that is unique to us.
For some it is through giving ourselves to another in marriage. For others it is through living a single life that frees us up to work on ourselves and our personal relationship with God.
For still others, it is through a priestly or religious life where we share ourselves with all of God’s children and guide them into relationship with him through our words and actions.
Our vocation stories are varied and personal, but the underlying truth to all vocation stories is that they are what should lead us to a relationship to him.
If they do not, we are not living out the vocation that God has planned for us. We are denying the purpose God has for us. It took a traumatic event in my life for me to understand this. It is my prayer that this never needs to be the case for any of us in the future.
Father Andrew Dutko, a priest for the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, is chaplain and theology teacher at DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne, New Jersey.
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