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September 30, 2003

eyes on the prize

The Autobiographical Sketch of Robert Antonio Ramos Diaz

?I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.? (Phil 3:14 RSV)

I realized, half-way through the first draft of this autobiographical sketch, that my paper had no goal. It told certain facts about me, but I did not feel like it conveyed the point I was trying to get across. I had to ask myself, "So what?" A man without a goal is lazy. Some people think they are working toward one goal, when in actuality they're working toward a goal that's totally different than what they intended. Since we are all part of God's plan, we must realize that we are working toward the goal of fulfilling the Father's will. How we get that accomplished, however, is not our goal. It isn't even our concern because God will fulfill His own will. Our goal is to make sure that we are participating in His will. In surrendering ourselves to His will, our goal becomes not only to get to Heaven, but also to take others with us. That is what I want to show through my story. My goal is not to become a priest, but to hopefully bring as many souls to heaven with me. I feel that God is calling me to reach my goal through the priesthood.

I was born on May 13, 1981 in Phoenix, AZ to a joyful Robert Betancourt Diaz and Elva Ramos Diaz. As joyful as my parents were at my arrival, I?m quite certain that they were saddened to hear of Pope John Paul II being shot earlier that day. My mom, the infinite optimist, said in her beautiful motherly logic that the pope would be okay because I was born. While I take no claim to the Holy Father?s healing, I still think it?s a nice story. However, as Pope John Paul II credits his miraculous healing to Our Lady of Fatima, I claim credit for my vocational call to her as well. I think God must have had something up His sleeve that day. May thirteenth is the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, who came addressing herself as ?Our Lady of the Rosary.? It is also the feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Eucharist. At any rate, I was born to wonderful parents - Thanks to God.

In St. Anthony Catholic Church on July 25, 1981, Fr. Jesse Galez, CMF, baptized me. My Godparents are Augustin and Salomé ‡arcia. I am told that I have always been large for my age. Apparently my baptism outfit didn?t fit as well as it could have. A few years later, my little brother, Samuel, was born on December 31, 1985. My only sibling, whom I love, has grown to be a smart young man. I pray for him often, hoping that the spark that took me from being an apathetic teenager into a man on fire for Christ will come to him.

I love confession. However, I don?t remember when my first one was. I do know that it was shortly before my first communion. I didn?t cry or anything, but I thought that being forgiven for everything I?d done wrong in my life was certainly a good thing. Now that I?m older, I try to go to confession on a weekly basis. I think that confession is almost as important as the Eucharist. Just like the Eucharist, we need to frequent confession to gain the graces that Jesus gives us. I almost feel that you can?t have the Eucharist without Reconciliation. To me they are ?brother sacraments.? Through the grace of confession, I can receive Jesus with a clean heart. Through the Eucharist, I gain the grace of a clear conscience that convicts me when I have done wrong.

My first communion was on May 7, 1989. It happened in St. Luke?s Catholic Church in San Antonio, TX. I remember that my parents bought me a very expensive suit for the occasion. I also remember that it was the first time I?d ever seen a brown scapular. What sticks out the most though is my trembling with excitement at receiving the body and blood of Christ. I couldn?t wait. Even though it was an entire group of children getting their first communion, I felt like the sacrament was for me. As if Jesus were paying attention especially to me in that moment when I received him. His presence in the Sacrament was something I never doubted. Sadly, it was something I started taking for granted.

When I left St. Luke?s Catholic School for a public school, I became a bit apathetic towards Catholicism. I knew that I was Catholic, but I didn?t know why. And for some reason, it didn?t concern me. Without the Catholic School to make me pray the rosary, I eventually fell out of practice and, aside from the Our Father and Hail Mary, forgot how to pray it altogether. During these years, I had a friend named David. David was a good kid overall. I met him just before his parents got a divorce. I think God put me in his life for a reason. I only wish that I had taught him everything that he needed to know. His parents weren?t practicing Catholics, so as a result, my family ?adopted? him and made sure that he received his first communion and Confirmation. He was a teenager then, but I?m happy to say that we got him to receive those sacraments. However, my friendship with him had some pitfalls. I think through him was when my struggle with pornography began. That was a terrible addiction that enslaved me for much of my teenage life. It ruined relationships, put my family in debt and in spite of my efforts, twisted the way that I viewed women. Through the grace of God and the Sacraments, I eventually broke free.

My reawakening to my faith came around the end of my sophomore year in High School. That was when I was told that I would be confirmed. I knew, instinctively, that the sacrament of Confirmation was important. However, I wasn?t sure what it was. So, I decided that instead of treating it like my peers would (as something to do to make my parents happy), I?d treat it as something that obviously deserved my respect and full attention. I searched everywhere I could, but I didn?t know where to look. One day, my father signed my brother, himself and me up for a men?s conference in San Antonio. I heard Marcus Grodi, Scott Hahn, and Tim Staples give wonderful speeches on what it meant to be a Catholic man. I was inspired by every single one of them. I traveled around the various booths that were in the convention and I came across a stand for a magazine called ?Envoy?. It was heavier than any other magazine I?d seen, but the cover was attractive. It told me that there were articles about Jehovah?s Witnesses inside. Since my dad had put in me an interest about various cults, I decided to get myself a copy. It cost me five dollars, which was all I had in my wallet. Little did I know that this first magazine would help reawaken my faith. Besides learning about the dangers of the Jehovah?s Witnesses, I learned that Catholicism was the Church that Jesus started. I learned that there was Biblical evidence to support my faith, something that I knew nothing about in spite of my belief in everything Catholicism taught me. I suddenly knew that Catholicism was against contraception, and I wanted to learn why. These things I never learned in three years at Catholic school, and I suddenly had an interest in them. I poured over the Envoy Magazine website, reading everything I could and not absorbing it as quickly as I wanted. There were times, I?d print 30 or 40 pages of articles so I could take them home and read them. I didn?t know it at the time, but I had fallen in love.

My friends thought I had gone nutty. Suddenly, whenever somebody said something about the Catholic faith I didn?t like, I?d stand up to them. I didn?t know all the answers, but I took a stand. If someone got into an argument over abortion and tried to say that an unborn child inside the womb was anything less than that, I?d try to convince them with the facts I had collected. I had so much information running through my head, I couldn?t keep it straight. I was learning about purgatory, the sacraments, sacramentals, the papacy, the saints and Mary! I fell in love with my blessed mother again! I relearned the rosary, and I prayed it as often as I could. She taught me about Jesus again and how beautiful His life was. I felt like I was laying my head on her lap as she told me about His life, death and resurrection. I wanted to be close to her like I had been as a little child. As a little child, I had a night-light by my bed. It was the blessed mother carrying Jesus, and Jesus was carrying a golden ball. She was dressed in pink and gold. It was a gift from my uncle, and I had it on during the night well into my early teens. It was made of porcelain, and it broke a few times, but we always glued it back together. I used to dream about her. I dreamt that she was holding me, just like the baby Jesus. She?d tell me I was special and that she knew I could do great things. I don?t say that these are private revelations of any sort but I knew somehow that Mary had been protecting me my entire life, and guiding me through my various adventures.

I learned what confirmation was all about. I knew I?d be receiving a special seal from the Holy Spirit telling God that I belonged to Him and His Church. I wanted to choose a saintly name for myself. I poured over various saint books looking for something that might work. One day, I asked my father, ?Who?s the patron of people who keep losing things?? (This had been a particularly bad habit that had plagued me my entire life.). He responded, ?St. Anthony, I think.? ?Who?? ?St. Anthony. San Antonio is named after him. He talked to fish and they listened.? ?Oh. Cool? I said. I didn?t give it much thought at first, but eventually, I decided that ?Antonio? would be my new confirmation name. So, that day, May 22, 1999, I was anointed with oil by Bishop Patrick J. Zurek, DD and became Robert Antonio Ramos Diaz.

I graduated High School in 2000 and left for the University of North Texas. There, I met Fr. Bob Lewandowski, SM. He was big on promoting vocations among the college students. It was a very blessed Catholic ministry. They had Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, rosary and Mass every day. I went as often as I could. I loved Benediction. It was the first time in my life that I?d really seen it with new eyes. I loved how Fr. Bob would treat the Eucharist with such love when he handled it. I loved singing Tantum Ergo. I met Janet Rose Wolf, a dear friend who is now hoping to be a Nashville Dominican. I also met my friend Mark who is currently Benedictine at Subiaco and other friends. I became involved with the pro-life movement there. I think it was a spiritually enriching time for me. Unfortunately, it was stressful, and I wasn?t ready for college life just yet. I withdrew and went to Edmond, OK where my family had moved after the closing of Kelly Air Force Base. I stayed out of college for two years, got the psychiatric help I needed and enrolled in Rose State College. Currently, I?m trying to raise my grades and get into some place better. I?m also taking a weight-lifting course to help me lose some weight.

I became interested in the MFVAs when I met Sr. Carrie Comitz, SSEW online. Then, she was just Carrie, an eighteen year old girl who was very excited to be entering the convent. She encouraged me to look them up. I had been quite frustrated with the other orders I had looked into. I was beginning to think that nothing was for me. I tried the Marianists, but news that their college in Dayton had allowed a pro-abortion speaker on Campus troubled me. I?d also heard that they weren?t as orthodox as I hoped. The Benedictines weren?t my cup of tea either. Although a lot of my friends who had become monks in that order were some of the funniest and smartest men I ever knew, they just weren?t Marian enough for me. I also briefly looked at the Precious Blood Missionaries (C.PP.S) and the Conventual Franciscans.

I digress.

Sr. Carrie told me to look into the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word because she thought my gifts of a good speaking and singing voice might be put to good use there. I contacted the Vocations director through the website and eventually got a reply letter. I read the charism and realized that this order was just about right. It had a focus on my two favorite things: Eucharistic Adoration and The Blessed Virgin Mary. I called Fr. Anthony Mary, who left his number in the letter, and after a long bout of phone tag, we eventually talked with each other. I told him about my weight problem and my surgery to correct it. I told him about my prayer life and my consecration to Mary through the Militia Immaculatae. He encouraged me to keep losing weight for my own health and also to continue praying the rosary and going to confession weekly, both of which I had said had become a regular habit for me. He told me to write an autobiographical sketch. I thought it would be easy, but it?s taken me a few months to get my thoughts organized.

I hope that my story is received well. It is difficult to capture a twenty-two year spiritual journey in just four pages. However, I wanted to show that while my travel hasn?t been straight and narrow, I feel confident about where God is leading me. I?m keeping my eyes on Jesus Christ and his upward calling. I realize that the road ahead of me will have suffering. I?m willing to accept this because Priests don?t come out of the womb ordained. Rather, becoming a priest is more like the agony in the garden, or the carrying of the Cross. However, keeping my eyes on the prize will assure me that after my suffering, I will be rewarded with the glory of Heaven. I hope and pray that such is the case for those I pray for and myself.

Posted by Robert Diaz at September 30, 2003 2:54 PM