Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 26, 2004
God led him - - step by step
Seminary may welcom up to 11 candidates
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
After reencountering God through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults a year ago, Aaron Roth has decided to trade the "poisonous" world of politics for a priestly collar.
The 25-year-old legislative assistant to the Liberal house leader is one of three members of St. Joseph's Basilica who might enter St. Joseph's Seminary in September. The others are Robert Fanning and Lee Leslie.
According to the archdiocesan vocations office, a total of 11 candidates from throughout the archdiocese and Vietnam may enroll in the seminary this fall, one of the highest numbers in decades.
Archbishop Thomas Collins was reluctant to confirm the number of candidates "until we see them in the seminary in September." But he was clearly delighted at the sudden increase in priestly vocations.
"I'm very happy that there are so many young people interested in the priesthood," he said. "This is very good news. I'm truly delighted."
Father Paul Moret, the archdiocesan director of vocations, said using numbers before classes begin could be misleading because there is no certainty everyone will show up.
"It's possible (that they all show up) but we can't be certain," he said. And just like the archbishop, Moret is happy with the upsurge, saying the credit should go to everyone who has prayed for and raised awareness of vocations in the past few years.
Roth has already been accepted as a priestly candidate and will move into the seminary in August. "I'm very, very excited," he said at the basilica July 12. "I'm looking forward to it. I do feel called to the priesthood."
Moments of doubt
This is a big step for Roth, who got back into the Church recently. "I had thought for many years about how it would be to be a priest, but I'd never really thought that it was something that I had strong enough faith to do," he said. "I still have moments when I question whether or not I have a strong enough faith to go through it."
Born and raised in Edmonton, Roth has spent half of his life in Lethbridge, where he moved with his mother at age 11. There he completed a bachelor in political science and began a career working with the Alberta Liberals.
In 2001, after a three-year stint as secretary for Liberal Party leader Ken Nicol at his Lethbridge constituency office, Roth moved back to Edmonton to further his political studies at the University of Alberta.
Just over two years ago he moved into the Legislature as assistant to the Liberal Party's house leader. He thinks his master's degree in political science will be completed when his political career officially ends in a few weeks.
"It's a very good job, but I guess there are things that you lose (when you pursue your true vocation)," Roth said.
He is certain to miss the political world which provided him with many opportunities to raise important issues and make a difference in people's lives. More than once he saw his own ideas debated on the legislature floor.
Devour your soul
"The world of politics is very exciting but at the same time it can happily devour your soul if you let it," he said.
"It is not a world that encourages kindness and understanding, even though it should. It's very poisonous to the soul or it can be and it's very easy to fall into that trap. I've fallen into that trap and committed many great sins in that occupation. That's why part of me is happy to be leaving it."
Roth believes one of his biggest challenges as a seminarian will be to deprogram himself of five years of professional politics.
But that might not mean dumping the Liberal Party altogether.
"To me, being a Liberal allows you to have a balance that you don't get with either Conservative or NDP (philosophies). During my thesis, I've been looking at pro-life issues like embryonic stem cell research and that sort of thing and I realized that you cannot really codify the Catholic Church as either being liberal or conservative because they have elements that would fit nicely into each camp.
"And I think that the Liberal Party has been the best to accommodate that balance, even though there has been a lot of controversy about the Liberals' stance on same-sex marriage."
Although he was baptized a Catholic, Roth spent the bulk of his life away from the Church due to family circumstances. He lost touch with the Church as a child, following his parents' divorce. "My father is a Catholic, but my mother isn't and I lived with my mother most of my life. That means I wasn't a practising Catholic for a lot of my life."
Thoughts of the priesthood first came to Roth's mind during his last two years at the University of Lethbridge when he began attending Church regularly. But they didn't last and he abandoned the practice of the faith soon after he became immersed in the political process.
Yet, in the fall of 2002, Roth joined St. Joseph's Basilica after he felt something inside him say, "Go to Church."
Attending Mass at St. Joseph's changed him. "Last summer I began to have experiences that led me to explore the priesthood a bit deeper," he recalled.
One morning, for example, Roth was lying in bed "sort of semi-conscious' when he saw a flash of light as if someone had flashed a camera in a darkroom.
"I saw this brief flash of light and shortly after I saw an image flash very briefly as if somebody had taken a picture before I woke up," he related.
"I was looking down holding a pallium in my hands. I woke up and just instantly inside me there was this desire to explore fully what I had been thinking about for some time, which was what would it be like to be a priest."
Led by what he calls "an unexplainable urge" to enter the Confirmation process, Roth enrolled in the RCIA and was confirmed last April. Sister Annata Brockman, the basilica's associate pastor, and one of the parish's priests began guiding Roth as soon as they learned he wanted to explore the priesthood.
"And then after I had entered the RCIA and I had been going to Mass regularly for several months I went to my first Lectio Divina and I had another experience that confirmed to me that I'm being called to become a priest," Roth related.
The topic was Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee where he called some of his disciples and said, "Come, follow me and I'll make you fishers of men."
As Collins repeated that passage over and over, Roth felt a surge of energy grow inside of him "to the point where I felt I was going to explode all over the Church.
"As this unexplainable energy grew inside me, I could barely sit down," he recalled. I had never felt anything that powerful in my life before and it was then that I decided that I needed to start the process of discerning. This was sort of the final nudge towards actively seeking information on going to the seminary."
Roth's mother is very supportive, "but she wanted grandkids," he laughed. "It's something that she is not accustomed to and certainly something she is not prepared for."
His father and stepmother, both members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park, have also been supportive. "I think for them, being Catholics, it has been a little bit easier."