The Surprise of my Vocation
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Vocation Story of Fr. Gabriel Ruiz, CMF
Puedes leer este artículo en español aquí
It is amazing to me to realize how life is full of surprises. In my own life, I have had plenty of them. One of them had to do with who I have become now and what I have been doing for the past 40 years. I was born into a large Mexican family in 1956. I am the seventh child out of ten living siblings. I have been told by family members that as a child I was rather sickly. It is almost a miracle that I am still living, considering my illnesses at an early age, the limited resources our family lived with and the lack of adequate resources to sustain such a large family. It must be for some reason that my life was spared from dying at an early age and that the Good Lord has granted me all these years.
I would like to say that my life has been good and I have been blessed in so many ways. I am very thankful for being part of a large family, and that we grew up with moral and Christian values. In my early years of life, I enjoyed the company and the kindness of so many people around me. Some of them were relatives and others were simply our neighbors. Poverty was prevalent in our environment; however, good morals and values were part of our daily lives. And for that I am thankful to God. I grew up with the sense that God was at the center of everything. Coming from that reality, early on I realized that my life was to serve God. Seeing the example of young friends and relatives, I became an altar server at the parish in my hometown.
I suspect the seeds for my vocation as a Claretian Missionary were planted there and then. At the age of 12 and following the example of my brother Alfonzo, I entered the minor seminary in my home diocese of Zamora. I received there the opportunity to continue my studies along with many others from throughout the diocese. I enjoyed my education and the solid formation received there during most of my teenage years. I spent 7 years there. I was able to complete junior high, high school and one year of Philosophy. At that point, at 19 years of age, my strong desire was to return home and reconnect with normal family life. That is what I did for the next 3 years. During that time, I worked in our family grocery store to help sustain our family. Then I became very restless, desiring to continue further studies. Due to financial limitations and lack of local educational opportunities, I explored possibilities in Mexico City and eventually I migrated to Los Angeles.
The fact that I migrated to Los Angeles in 1979, at the age of 23, changed my life in a dramatic way. My only goal at that time was to find a job, make some money to help my family needs and save money to be able to continue with my education. At that time, I was able to find jobs like gardening in the neighborhood and other small manual sort of things. I realized then that there were few and limited opportunities for new arrivals, like myself. Other things began to occupy my time; in gratitude for my brother and his young family’s hospitality, I did some babysitting. Looking at the future, I saw the need to learn English which I did by attending evening English classes for adults. Also, at that time, I began to participate as a Lector at the Sunday Liturgy and in youth ministry. Soon afterwards, some people were asking me if I was considering becoming a priest. I guess they were seeing in me something resembling a possible vocation to priesthood or consecrated life.
What to do now? At the prompting of some dear parishioners, at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Highland Park and out of my own initiative, I started to entertain the idea of priesthood as a life option. My first thought was to go back to my home diocese of Zamora: the place of my birth, the place I know and where I am known. One of my options was the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Soon that option closed its doors to me due to the fact that I was not fluent in English and another factor was not having my immigration papers in place. Then the idea of becoming a Franciscan entered into my imagination, but for whatever reason that option never came to fruition. The greatest surprise and gift to me was the invitation I received to come to the Claretians and eventually become one of them. Wow! How mysterious are God’s ways!
This is how I came to know the Claretians and after 9 long years of preparation I became one of them myself. The first Claretian and the one who introduced me to them was a newly ordained priest, Fr. Alberto Domingo, CMF. At that time, in 1979, he was part of the team working at Old Plaza Church, La Placita. At my time of inquiry, he became my mentor. I shared with him the fact that I was entertaining the idea of pursuing once again my vocation to the priesthood. My conviction at the time was to return to my home diocese; since other options here seemed to be out of reach. In a sense, I felt the doors were not open for me. One of the challenges he proposed to me was to make a commitment to help him and the community with the religious education program he was coordinating at the time in La Placita. That experience proved to be very beneficial: Fr. A. Domingo and I had the opportunity of getting to know each other, I had the chance of getting to know some of the fine volunteer religious education teachers at the school in China Town. I was insisting with Fr. Domingo about the idea of going back to my home diocese of Zamora and continue there with my formation towards the priesthood.
He reasoned with me, insisting that I needed to be open to consider other possibilities. Fr. Domingo was the person I needed at that time to be able to discern my own calling. He became my spiritual guide, my friend and mentor. He made me promise that that I would wait a few months before making any big decision; at the same time stay committed with the religious ed. program as a volunteer teacher, continue working and going to ESL classes in the evenings. I did that to the best of my abilities. In the meantime, he gave me some literature introducing me to the wonderful and holy life of Claret and the work of the Claretian Missionaries throughout the world. The next thing I knew, I was completing the formal application process to be considered a candidate and soon after that I was admitted to the formation program. Two factors were instrumental at that point: 1. Fr. Domingo made me realize that vocations, especially in the Hispanic community, were badly needed in this part of the world and 2. The life and Spirit of Claret made a tremendous impression on my soul.
I honestly consider my vocation as a Claretian Missionary priest as God’s gift, not only to me but to others. I see myself as someone called to be of service even with all my human limitations. It is an honor and a privilege to be considered a part of this religious community. About 2/3 of my existence, 40 years, I have spent in the context of this reality and for that I give glory and praise to God. Since my ordination in 1989, I have been blessed with being called to serve in 8 different missionary assignments. My current assignment is at San Gabriel Mission, the same place I was ordained to the priesthood 30 years ago.
As a conclusion, I would like to share a prayer that is my guide and inspiration, as well as for many of my brother Claretians. This is known as the Apostolic Prayer given to us by Saint Anthony Mary Claret:
O my God and my Father! May I know you and make you known. May I love you and make you loved. May I serve you and make you served. May I praise you and make all creatures praise you. My Father, grant that all sinners may be converted, all the just persevere in grace, and all of us attain eternal glory. Amen.
Could you be called to a vocation to serve the people of God as a missionary? Check out www.myclaret.org to find out more and contact a vocation director who will be happy to accompany you on your discernment journey.