Drawn by a Greater Love

Br Adam Zettel LC will be ordained to the transitional diaconate on July 8, at Cheshire, CT. Four other North Americans will join him that day on the path to their December ordination to the priesthood: Br John Klein LC, Br Andrew Tarleton LC and Br David Spillane. Below we share Br Adam’s story…

It was the blood from his wounded heart that touched me the most, because I knew he wanted my heart to be wounded like his, bleeding like his, and I knew that if I united my heart to his he could say, “Now I have a friend to suffer with me.”

I grew up on a little dairy farm outside of a town of about 200 inhabitants in Bruce County, Canada: a life full of daily contact with nature, the beauty of creation, the mystery of life, real hard work, simple, healthy pleasures. My dad was a man of faith whose life was marked profoundly by the Gospel, who for as long as I can remember was a leader in our parish – directing music and prayer in our much renewed community – and most certainly the spiritual head of our family. My mother too was always very practicing and believing, and has always supported my vocation to suffer in union with Christ, by uniting herself to Mary at the foot of the cross.

Life in the parish led me to take part in adoration, prayer groups, monthly healing masses, and for my family constant involvement music. My oldest brother had a conversion on a mission trip and started a youth group in the parish, which became for me the place where I would spend my high school years, grow in my relationship with God, and begin to discover his plan for my life.

How did it come to be, Lord, that I began to experience you in such a real way, at such a young age? You gave me everything, you made me sensible to you, you protected me, you guided my decisions. From the very start you gave me a longing for what was real and lasting. I don’t know why you have been so good with me, but I thank you; your work deserves all the praise I can give.

Yes, it seems looking back that God broke into my life in so many powerful ways that he took me up and carried me away in his storm, showed me how wonderful and beautiful he is and made me fall in love with him. Because of all the positive influences, I began to attend every kind of faith-related event, practically to live at our parish, to visit Christ in the Eucharist, to read the Gospels, and to seek to share Christ with others. I listened to so much preaching on conversion, on Christian life, on the love of God… I listened to talks about prayer, about giving your life over to God… I read about Christ in his own word, I began to be immersed in the writings of St Paul. In music and through many songs directed to God I found my heart being formed to be totally centered on the One who would become the only thing that mattered in my life. I became convinced that a love I could never fully grasp had erupted into my life. I was touched above all by his passion, in which his blood shed for me was the witness to the infinite mercy that had united me once again to him.

The external things that happened, which eventually led me to decide to become a Legionary priest, were much less an influence than what I have just described. That was the real source of the vocation: God’s original work in me, the gentle transformation of my whole interior world and my way of seeing everything. It was the motor that pushed me toward him; the following events were like the tracks that guided me in the right direction.

When I received the sacrament of confirmation, I really desired the Holy Spirit to fill my soul. I was given a journal that day as a gift, some days later was the first time it struck me that maybe I could be called to be a priest and wrote about it on one of the first pages. The same summer I had my first real contact with a new group of priests we had just come to know, at a Camp Caribou run by the Legionaries of Christ in Cornwall. Two Brothers had come to my house, randomly, despite it’s being an 8-hour drive from the Novitiate. They impressed us, made us curious, and struck us as being men who had a true and deep relationship with Christ and a sincere desire to change the world for Him. During the camp, one of the brothers invited me to visit the Apostolic School in New Hampshire, a project that I only realized some years later.

So one summer I visited the Apostolic School and had a first experience that made me fall in love with the idea of being part of this army of God. Somehow, as the notion of the vocation grew in me, I became aware of a desire I had to sacrifice my own life for others, to be the one who would make the sacrifice necessary in order for souls to be saved. Without knowing how to express it, Christ was preparing my heart to be united to his and become a victim with him – to let my heart be opened and united to his open heart, so that in him I too could pour out his mercy in the world.

Although that summer I decided to come home for another year, I had the strongest hopes of returning to the summer program again. I continued to be constantly immersed in the things of God and to be open to God calling me, but in the months that followed, I also started dating. As much as I loved God and wanted to do good for him, my heart was not totally free as it had been; I was very torn inside and drawn to the beauty of human love, to the point of looking everywhere for signs that I might not be called to the priesthood. I stubbornly decided to come home at the end of the summer. That year the Brothers continued calling to invite me to activities that I never went to, until eventually I told them I wasn’t really interested. It seemed clear to everyone that I had long since forgotten about the priesthood.

But I hadn’t completely forgotten. There were many moments when the call would break through my barriers and the echo of that desire I once felt would resonate in my heart. One night at the beach, I was looking at the reflection of the moon on the water, like a path to heaven, and began to wonder what my path was. Another night I awoke with the words of the song Here I am Lordin my thoughts, “… I have heard you calling in the night”. There was an anguish I felt in these moments which I resisted by could not shake off. In my last year of high school, I was at the point of making a decision about my future, which is stressful for everyone except the few people who at that point are absolutely sure of what they want to do with their lives. I was not.

Before starting university, I went with our band to play at a youth event in Cornwall, Ontario. After the final Mass, they had the tradition of inviting all of those who felt called to the priesthood to the front of the giant circus tent, to pray for them. I was on the stage, behind the drums, while a few meters to my left were the acolytes from the Novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ – and my girlfriend was out in the crowd. At the moment of the “vocations prayer” I felt the strongest pull inside of me, like as if I had been caught by a fishing hook and someone was pulling hard on the line. My thoughts were like a hurricane “It must be me – I must be called to this” but at the same time it seemed there was no way I could stop a relationship that meant so much to me. I had a beautiful project that implied a future in which I had already placed all my hopes – but a much stronger love was pulling, pulling very hard, and only in these moments did it come to the surface and begin to draw me away towards a much more amazing plan.

On that occasion, I managed to calm myself down, and resolved to forget about it again. About a month later, I had just started my first semester in university and had come home to spend the weekend at home. The first Friday of September there was a healing Mass, to which I arrived late, while my girlfriend was in the choir. The priest had a gift for announcing which healings were taking place during the Mass, and so, after communion, he sat down with the microphone and began to speak of different types of healings. Then his speech took an unexpected turn: “I believe the Holy Spirit is telling me that there is someone here tonight, whom God is calling to become a priest…” – of course in this moment my heart began to race, I began to feel afraid, and at once to feel desire, and to feel pulled again like I had before – the sensation that it was inescapable, that it was certain, but with so much resistance and struggle – “…and he wants to tell you that…” I’m sure he said these words very slowly, pausing, reflecting to say the right thing “…if you say yes, you will be happy for the rest of your life.”

It’s amazing how much patience you had, Lord, and how insistent you were! It’s amazing that you wanted me so much for yourself that you almost invaded my own freedom and made it so clear what you wanted! How many young people would love to have it that clear, and yet, you choose how to call each one in the way you prefer.

I was in a state of distress, a state of struggle, a constant movement of rejection and resistance going on inside me. The rest of the Mass and the adoration that followed seemed eternal. In that hour or so I made a different resolution than I had before, this time, I resolved to think about it, to consider what was going on, but certainly not to say anythingto my girlfriend. Mass ended. We had a tradition of going out to eat with friends after Mass. But on our way out of the Church, she stopped me. “Adam,” she said in a serious tone “do you think he was talking about you?” I think my heart nearly stopped, but somehow, as if something inside me gave me strength in spite of myself, I managed to say “Yes.”

In those months, God taught me to love him in a way I had heard of but never experienced, and to love even the cross with great joy. In December I heard a Legionary preach about changing society for Christ, and decided the same weekend to apply for the Candidacy, which I entered the following June 2004. In the Legion, the movement God began in me went deeper than I ever would have imagined, continuing to transform me, in spite of my own weakness. He has shown me that my generous disposition at the beginning was there so that I could let him work through me as a priest. It was the blood from his wounded heart that touched me the most, because I knew he wanted my heart to be wounded like his, bleeding like his, and I knew that if I united my heart to his he could say, “now I have a friend to suffer with me.” What joy and gratitude we would have towards each other if we shared this suffering for the whole world! I knew that all throughout my life I had been chosen to give myself to all men in this way, and that he kept offering, not forcing me, saying “if you want to, choose to have your heart pierced with mine” and how many times, by his grace, I said “yes, I choose it”.

Br. Adam Zettel, L.C., was born in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada, on August 8th 1984. He is fourth in a family of six children. He entered the Legion of Christ after studying one year of Liberal Arts, and did his Novitiate and Humanistic studies in Cheshire, Connecticut. After completing a Bachelor’s in Philosophy in Rome, he was asked to help with the formation of Legionary novices, first for one year in Cheshire, then at the Novitiate in Cornwall, Canada. There he professed his perpetual vows on the 18th of August 2012. He did youth work for one year in Michigan before returning to Rome to complete his studies, where he is currently obtaining a license degree in Theology.