By Fr. Joe Narog, O.S.A.
Vocations Director, Augustinian Province of St. Thomas of Villanova
When reflecting on Jesus’ promise in the Gospel of Matthew – “I am with you always,” (Mt 28:20b) – I can’t help but recall the many moments when this proved to be true during my vocational discernment and initial formation as an Augustinian. As a ‘later vocation,’ entering formation at the age of thirty-nine and a half, it would be an understatement to say that I encountered a good deal of transition in my life. While I was signing my letter of resignation from a fifteen-year career in the United States Intelligence Community, I felt like I was having an out of body experience. And learning to sacrifice some of my independence wasn’t always so easy. During my first year of initial formation, in fact, I often would find myself questioning Jesus as to whether this was where he really wanted me to be. The answer, I sensed, remained the same – he was calling me to discern more deeply with the Augustinians. And so I did.
It is through my Augustinian brothers and sisters that I most vividly came to recognize that Jesus is indeed with me – and all of us – always. After returning from my novitiate year, taking simple vows, and starting another year of studies, I was faced with one of the biggest tests of my life. First my mother and then my father died about ten and a half months apart. It’s a journey I’ll never forget; I’m ever grateful that I was allowed to be with them in their illnesses and their deaths.
In what seemed, at times, to be a very lonely experience, I was reminded that I never was truly alone. On the day my Mom died, my former Novice Director and two of my Augustinian classmates showed up at my parents’ home. They nor my family had any idea that their visit would coincide with her passing. Yet, there we were, celebrating Mass at my mother’s bedside and reassuring her – and ourselves – of Jesus’ powerful words – “I am with you always.”
Just about six months later, my Dad had surgery from which he never recovered, remaining in the hospital for 130 days. During that period, we were visited by no less than eight Augustinians – all of whom offered to anoint my father. He’d wink at me, not wanting to disappoint any of them. Each time my Dad was anointed, both he and I again experienced the promise – “I am with you always.”
Even on the most stressful or sad days of caring for my parents, I still would find something for which to thank God. This struck me as quite significant and was cultivated only through much prayer – including turning to my friends, St. Rita and St. Jude – and the times I shared with my Augustinian family. It spurred me to continue to solemn vows and ordination. It’s what inspires me as I now work with men in their vocational discernment and initial formation. No matter what life holds for them, I humbly hope that, in some way, I and my experiences can serve as a reminder of Jesus’ unending promise – “I am with you always.”