My relationship with Christ as far back as I can remember has always been very personal. Christ was real for me, a real person to whom I could speak and ask help. The awareness of Christ in my life I believe came from my Mom and grandparents whom I heard speaking and imploring Christ, especially when I irritated them. I was also influenced a great deal by my Father and Grandfather. They always gave me a witness of manhood. My Grandfather made it through the Great Depression, was an army soldier during WWII (with pictures to prove it!), and he was someone who loved Christ. My Father taught me to do hard things (even if against my will) and he would not let me give up in my undertakings. These human characteristics engrained in me were and still are an absolute necessity in my following of Christ.
The death of a close friend of mine impacted me a great deal. When I was about 12 or 13 my friend Monica, with whom I had just spent the day, was tragically hit by a car on her way home. I remember thinking, I just said goodbye to her, how could she be gone? This event turned my attention towards eternity…
In 1992, I started my freshman year in high school. I entered quite a different school environment than my time being homeschooled. My Christian convictions would be put to the test every day. Normally, the biggest crisis in high school is trying to fit in with a crowd. I probably fit in too well. My freshman year in high school, I played on the football and baseball team, so I was able to find a group of people to hang out with at school. I played sports throughout high school,
Only by God´s grace was I protected from doing really imprudent things which would have adversely affected my life and my vocation. I was surrounded by drugs, but I had no real desire to take them. I was surrounded by promiscuity and girls that wanted to be loved and wanted, but they sought it in mistaken ways. I had the conviction that I was going to wait until I got married. I remember thinking at the time: «What are they going to have left to give to the person that they are going to marry? They have given their hearts and bodies to so many people». All this I attribute to the grace of God, who was preparing me from something that I never thought I would do in my life! Like most young people these days, I wanted to be a professional athlete, but reality starts to set in when you look at those who go on to play professionally and look at your own talents. Needless to say, by the time I was a junior, I knew that I was not going to be playing professional sports. «What´s next?» I thought. «Let’s go get the bad guys!» I found a desire within myself to be an FBI agent. This was my new goal in life.Spiritually speaking this was a roller coaster moment in my life. The desire to fit in with others around me and the world with all its vanities were pounding at the door. On the outside I was just like everybody else, but deep down I wanted to be faithful to Christ. I knew that my faith in Christ called me to be different, but I could not find the strength to do it. I was not a disaster, but I was not a saint either. The very fact that I experienced this internal turmoil was a sign of God’s grace. He was calling me to holiness. My biggest regret in high school was
being a coward. There were so many people that I saw needed help or an example, but I was too self-centered to take a risk. I was too chicken to show my faith! Thinking back on high school, it is amazing how we are just kids but making decisions that affect us for a lifetime. One of my friends was murdered because of retaliation after beating someone up. Several friends dropped out of school because of pregnancy, one had an abortion, and others with drug problems.
The spiritual tension which existed throughout high school only intensified in college. There was a fire within my soul to be holy, to stop being mediocre in the way that I lived my faith. I had a desire to give of myself, but I did not know how or where. I wanted to find other people who loved Christ and wanted to follow him. I did not find them or, better said, I did not look hard enough. Humanly speaking things were going very well for me. I received a scholarship to pay for my first year of college, and providentially I got a job working for a Semiconductor in Orlando. They were even going to pay for the rest of my studies. The only drawback was that I had to work full time and attend school part-time.
By 1998, I was making a good amount of money, so much so that I had my own apartment, my car was paid off, and I was pumping money into my bank account. I lived pretty meagerly only spending about $30 a month on groceries, a lot of «hand-on-ham» sandwiches (ham and cheese with no bread). Spiritual tension was growing, manifesting itself in a feeling of emptiness or dissatisfaction which I could not understand. I had everything I thought would make me happy. I had an easy, well-paying job, car, apartment, money in the bank, and friends. «Why am I not happy!». Then I got my God-smack…
After a worldly night out with my buddies, I had the need and desire for a good confession. I planned on going after work on Saturday. A co-worker of mine asked me if I wanted to go out to lunch with her, and I accepted. Just before the lunch break, there was a short summer rain shower, typical of Florida, and as she was driving around a curve, the car fish-tailed. We ended up driving head-on into a light post. The car was totaled. I did not have my seat belt on, and I flew head-first into the windshield and broke the entire dashboard with the lower half of my body. She had an airbag and seat belt and so suffered just a few scratches and back problems. When I regained consciousness, I looked up and saw the imprint of my head on the windshield and blood pouring out of my head. I said: «I am going to die, and I am going to Hell. For what? Was it worth it?». I was taken to the hospital to get my head stapled. After this near-death experience, I received a grace to really try and live what I said I believed.
My conversion was noticed by a Jehovah Witness (a very good man) at work. He saw that I was actually trying to be a good Christian, and he began to challenge my Catholic faith. At the time I did not realize it, but the JW´s have a book on how to convert Catholics, so he began to ask me certain questions which I did not know how to answer. I told myself: «I am not going to let this guy shut me up», and I began to study Catholic apologetics (a way of explaining and defending the faith). The website Catholic.com helped me a great deal. We ended up debating different topics for hours every day. A former Catholic and atheist got involved, and I started to debate them. I discovered a treasure that I had all along but did not realize. I started to understand my faith for the first time. I learned the history of Christianity and saw that the only reasonable option was that the Catholic Church was indeed founded by Christ. I became proud to be a Catholic and belong to the Church of Christ. While I was falling in love with my faith, I was hating college more and more. My accounting studies were not very fulfilling, and the reality of the life of an FBI agent was losing its appeal. I thought: «I have to do something that I like even if it means living poor. What do I really love? I really love my faith. What can I do with theology studies? I can teach».
In 2000 I decided to change majors. I started to study theology, and it was at this time that people started to ask the question: «What exactly are going to do with a theology degree, become a priest?» I would respond: «Forget it! I am going to have ten kids! I can teach!». But the seed of the priesthood was planted by these unaware Individuals, and from that point on, the idea of the priesthood was a thorn in my side.
I started studying Theology through a distance learning program with Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. This enabled me to begin my Theology studies and continue working in Florida. My plan was to spend one year saving money so that I could leave Florida and pay for the rest of my education at Steubenville. This was my plan but not God’s.
I did my best to really live my faith that year and made use of all the means the Church had to offer: frequent confession, Mass, and adoration. The idea of the priesthood was like a mosquito, hiding in a room at night. Just when it is quiet and you lay down on your bed, you hear a buzzing sound. You turn on the lights to kill it, but you can’t find it. Then you lay down again, hear the buzz, turn on the lights, but nothing, and then you ask yourself if you are just imagining it. But the buzzing sound will not go away! And then you wake up with a bite on your leg! The call happened in much the same way.
The buzzing sound increased, but I just worked harder to kill it. One Saturday, I decided to attend a «Call to Holiness» conference with several Catholic speakers. In between speakers there were vocational testimonials, but I conveniently left the auditorium. I did not want to hear about the vocation, so I went to browse the religious goods store. Then something caught my attention. I was shocked by a flyer. «$299 pilgrimage to Rome for 12 days». I decided right then and there that I was going to go even if it meant sleeping on the floor.
After signing up for the pilgrimage the priest in charge of the trip left a few messages on my phone, which I never returned. I was really reluctant to meet with him. By chance, I answered the phone when he called (the days before Caller ID), and I reluctantly agreed to meet him. The meeting was enjoyable, and he told me about a group of young Catholic students (RC members) who met for study circles at my old university, UCF. These Catholic students were the cause of a turning point in my life….
August 2000: I was really impressed with this group of young Catholic students. The university would not give this group a room to meet, so they would meet in the student lounge. Try to imagine the scene: you have a bunch of sofas with college kids laying around, Jerry Springer showing on about five or six televisions, and us in the middle doing an opening prayer and reading a Gospel passage. I remember thinking: «These guys are pretty radical. I can hang with them». The fearlessness in which they witnessed their faith coupled with a normal and balanced college life showed me that you can live the faith and not smash the Bible in someone’s face. I learned that you preach the Gospel by giving a witness of the way you live your life. The leader of the group did just that with me….She was an intelligent, pretty girl who was discerning a consecrated vocation. I remember thinking: «Why is this girl discerning a consecrated vocation? She seems normal to me». At the time I thought that the only people who become priests or nuns are weird people or who couldn’t do anything else with their lives. Even though I knew normal priests throughout my youth, I had bought into the worldly view of them. I guess that’s why becoming a priest never crossed my mind earlier in life, or perhaps I was just distracted with the castles in the sky which the world offers in abundance.
Her example of seeking out God’s will in her life was probably the most powerful influence on me. I could not get the idea of being a priest out of my head, and I would block it out of my mind during prayer. As I struggled with just the idea of being a priest, I watched her seeking to discover what was God’s plan for her. I saw her travel to convents for discernment visits and vocational retreats, while I was so scared of the idea, I wouldn’t even talk about it. Her witness was a slap in my face, exposing my cowardliness and lack of love towards God. After about three months with the group I started to seriously ask the question: «Could God really be calling me to the priesthood?».
December 2000—January 2001: I was on a pilgrimage in Rome with about 200 hundred other young men admiring all the sites and graces that the Church has to offer. The Legionaries were offering daily Mass, retreats, and spiritual dialogue during the trip. I decided sleep was more important and did not bother with daily Mass or retreats. I even avoided talking with the Legionaries who were with us because I was scared of the vocation. Despite all my efforts to avoid thinking about the vocation, it kept forcing its way into my mind. We went to the ordination Mass of about 60 Legionaries. Even though I slept through half of the Mass, at the moment of ordination, I was overwhelmed with emotion.
My last night in Rome, I told God: «Look, I do not have a vocation, but I will give you three months of my summer to discern and prove that it is not for me!». At that moment a tremendous peace came over me….
Fr. Zachary Dominguez, L.C., was born on June 26, 1978, in San Diego, California, United States of America. He entered the Legionaries of Christ as a novice in Cheshire, Connecticut, U.S.A., on September 14, 2001. He studied Classical Humanities in Cheshire. Has a degree in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Ateneum Regina Apostolorum. He collaborated in youth ministry in Atlanta (U.S.A).