A response to God’s loving presence
I credit my vocation to the priesthood to a profound experience that I had while in the eighth grade.
It was a Saturday afternoon and I was the only person in the church as I was preparing to go to confession.
During my preparation I was acutely aware of the habitual sins in my life that I seemed unable to change. After confession, as I was kneeling and saying my penance with my eyes closed, I became aware of a presence with me.
I began to weep in sorrow for my habitual sins, something I had never done before. But this divine presence did not seem to be as concerned with my habitual sins as I was. I suddenly heard a soft whispering voice say to me, “Bob, I love you. I have always loved you and I will always love you no matter what.”
I then began to realize that I had been focusing on the wrong sins. The greatest sin of all was not to realize this unconditional loving presence that had always been with me throughout my life.
My tears flowed even more intensely with this realization as I asked God’s forgiveness. How could I have not realized this unconditional loving presence in my life?
I then experienced myself being embraced and lifted up by this divine presence, with the following words being whispered to me: “Bob, don’t be afraid. Stop trying to stand on your own two feet and trust me.”
I then vowed never to turn my back on God again. I resolved never to live my life unaware of God’s loving presence with me and in me.
After some time, I left the church and felt reborn. Everything looked different and I felt different. In a sense you could say that I had fallen in love with God.
My life changed radically from that moment on and it was then that I decided that maybe, by becoming a priest, I could fulfill my vow to God never to be unaware of God’s loving presence in my life.
I wasn’t quite sure how to go about fulfilling this private vow of mine. I was already an altar server but wanted to do more. I then joined the parish choir, became a certified catechist and taught CCD, joined the Legion of Mary and the Sodality in high school.
The following year I became a student at Bishop Stang High and read the book “Damien the Leper,” which confirmed and deepened my desire to focus my entire life on serving God in response to God’s loving presence in my life.
As they say, all the rest is history. Without question my experience in the eighth grade has been the guiding force of my life and my priesthood. As a priest I try to help people come to know God’s unconditional loving presence in their lives.
Father Powell, ordained in 1976, is pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Orleans.