In 1963, I was 10 years old and in the fifth grade at St. Leo's Catholic School in Fairfax, Virginia. It was in the fall of that year that I decided that I had but one future: to be a priest.
I had been an altar boy for a year. (Girls weren't allowed to serve then so we were not yet called altar servers.) I had been admitted to the service after passing a strenuous examination by Sister Bernadette. Satisfied that I knew the entire mass and Latin, she informed the priest that I was ready for duty.
It's not clear to me today what brought about this absolute certainty of my vocation. I loved to serve mass and probably felt that my Latin mastery put me a notch or two above most of my male classmates. (My female classmates didn't count toward my stock of self-esteem at age 10.)
I do remember, though, that for some reason I kept my ambition a secret. I vividly remember waiting for the opportunity to steal a needle and thread from my mother's sewing basket as well as some old bath towels from her neatly folded store of rags. (Yes, the irony struck me even then that I was setting off on the spiritual journey by brazenly breaking the seventh commandment.)
I took my loot to my room and made a crude set of altar linens, a chasuble, and a stole, all of which displayed ample evidence of the fact that I did not know how to sew.
I “embroidered” a cross on each piece. Using a paper cup, some grape juice, and a squished piece of white bread I proceeded to imitate the priest celebrating Mass. I took it all quite seriously.
My assumption that I would be a priest lasted for five years. I had a like-minded friend in the 10th grade. We talked for hours about what seminary must be like and how great it would be to finally be a priest.
Alas, during those five years two seismic events rocked my world: The Second Vatican Council and puberty. The former left my Latin skill superfluous and the latter...well no need to elucidate.
By my junior year in high school, while still serving and attending Mass faithfully, the certainty of my vocation faded. Five more years passed, then marriage, an Army career of 21 years, and two children.
Occasionally in the more than 50 years since I “decided” to become a priest, I have wondered: Did did I screw up? Worse yet, had I sinned? Was my life based on good but wrong choices? Had I turned a deaf ear to a genuine call? Such questions, now, more than half a century later, are more amusing than troubling.
If I did sin by turning away from God's calling, he certainly has employed a strange manner of punishment and consequence: the love of a good and godly woman, children, family, and not one but three separate and successful careers.
In all of this is the infinite mercy of God. Perhaps I did ignore a genuine call. Even if I did, God's love and grace towards me were not diminished one whit. This is true of big choices like a vocation and little choices each day--some choices are good and some are not and neither has any effect whatsoever on God. They may change me for good or for ill, but they do not change God. His love for me is not changed by my actions. It’s why the biblical writers were so fond of the refrain, “His love endures forever.” I suppose that’s why it’s called perfect love.
As I've aged, the world I was so sure of in my earlier years, the world of black and white, has not only morphed into tones of grey but into vivid colors.
When I was a little boy, Sunday nights meant gathering around the TV with my brothers and watching Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. The one-hour TV show began with a song, the first words of which were “The world is a carousel of colors!” sung against the backdrop of the iconic Disney castle and bright multi-colored fireworks.
At least I assume they were colorful. We had a black and white TV.
Watching the Wonderful World of Color on a black and white TV is an apt metaphor for my earliest ability to reason and my earliest thoughts about the world around me. We eventually got a color TV when I was in high school, about the same time, to continue the metaphor, that my absolute conviction of my calling in life begin to fade.
I've wrestled many times in the last half century with the world around me and my part in it. I have come to a point today where I can feel liberated by the fact that I'm not smart enough to know what I don't know. Being less certain about things is not troubling, it's freeing!
God's grace, his mercy, and his forgiveness are prisms that radiate his light and love. They result in color.
The world looks a lot better in color.
(c) 2017 Larry Pizzi
50 years of photographs and 35 years of keeping a commonplace book.