My six years as an infantry paratrooper in the U.S. Army took me many places and stretched me in ways I could not have predicted. My most trying times were my combat deployments to Iraq (2007) and Afghanistan (2009–2010). As a member of a reconnaissance team in Iraq and leading my own team of paratroopers through the mountains of Afghanistan, I learned quickly that war is callous and unforgiving. Actions are decided within milliseconds and their consequences are absolute.
I often struggled to reconcile my Catholic faith with the mission I was carrying out in combat operations. I eventually resolved this with the aid of Saint Ignatius Loyola, who in his Trinitarian spirituality, taught that it is good to pray to each of the Three Divine Persons, individually and together. I recall standing guard and watching the sun rising over the mountain peaks scattered across the eastern border of Afghanistan. In those moments, I experienced the physical warmth of the sun and the perfection of creation that flows forth from God the Father. While surrounded by the barbarity of war, I would experience brief moments of prayerful union with the One who created us.
I had always had an attraction to the priesthood since my childhood days. Like many others, I experienced doubt: perhaps I’m not holy enough, intelligent enough, selfless enough. In part, my choice to enter military service was my effort to ignore the life of priesthood that God perhaps desired for me.
As I made my transition back to civilian life in 2012, the allure of priesthood came back in force. I eventually entered my diocese’s formation program before realizing I was more suited to an overseas missionary vocation than to serving my own diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y.
I cannot recall exactly when I learned of Maryknoll, but I had heard the name a few times as a child in my parish. The only thing I knew of Maryknoll was that it is synonymous with overseas mission. Doing online research as part of my discernment, I would frequently come across Maryknoll references, but would quickly dismiss the idea that I could serve as ardently as a Maryknoll priest does.
I spent some time in Cambodia writing and doing service work and, quite providentially, encountered some Maryknollers. I met Father Charlie Dittmeier, a Maryknoll priest associate, and several Maryknoll sisters serving there. As I witnessed their fervent service, I found the authenticity of their vocation so attractive. And I could not question that God had a hand in orchestrating my place of residence to be just a few streets away from theirs.
I suppose it is fitting that I learned of my acceptance to the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers on July 31st, the feast of Ignatius Loyola. He too made the transition from being a soldier representing his country to a soldier representing Christ and the Church. As a Maryknoll seminarian and eventual priest, I hope to be the presence of Christ to all those I encounter, especially those living in difficult conditions who perhaps need to be reminded of God’s love. I hope to live in their midst, loving and serving just as our Lord teaches. After all, the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.
Featured Image: Cintron (l.) joined students preparing for diocesan priesthood in Douglaston N.Y., before discerning his call to serve overseas as a Maryknoll missioner. (C. Germosen/U.S.)