Jerek Scherber, LC
3 August 2019
My vocational discernment started when I was thirteen and ended when I was twenty-five. My vocation, however, has its roots in God’s eternity, and he has been leading me to himself ever since I was born–in some ways known to me and in many ways unknown to me. This is a summary of that story as I know it. I’m sure God would have much to add.
I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota and am the oldest of ten kids. That in itself is pretty good preparation for a religious vocation. There are eight boys and two girls in my family. I only really grew up with five of them because the other four came through adoption while I was already a novice. I thank God for my family. I am such a Scherber and so much of that farm is still in me. I received the sacraments as a normal Catholic kid and enjoyed being an altar server at our rural parish. I always liked our pastors, but for some reason never wanted to be a diocesan priest.
I went to a public school through fourth grade, but come fifth grade my mom and dad wanted the faith to be more part of our lives, so we switched over to Cedarcrest Academy (now Ave Maria Academy), a private Catholic school founded two years prior. My mom had recently joined the Regnum Christi Movement, and the founders of this school were also members of the Movement. I fussed at first about having to wear a tie every day to school, but soon came to love it and consider everyone there as a sort of extended family. And that’s where I met the Legionaries of Christ.
I soon began going on weekend retreats with the Legionary brothers who would come to the area every month or so. At those retreats–first at St Boniface Parish in Minnesota, then at Oaklawn Academy in Wisconsin–is when God began showing himself to me as his friend. In a way you can say that’s where the adventure began. That’s what my vocation has always been–an adventure.
I first heard of the Apostolic School when I was 12. Chris Vogel, now Fr Christopher, was my carpool companion to and from Cedarcrest. He is a few years older than I and decided after finishing eighth grade to go to the Immaculate Conception Apostolic School out in New Hampshire. I didn’t know anything about the school, and I didn’t know where New Hampshire was, but I remember him telling me that New Hampshire was next to the ocean and that the school was for boys open to the priesthood. “Interesting,” I thought.
The following year one of my best friends went to the Apostolic School. He was Joshua Schmitz. He wrote me a letter every single month, and I wrote him back almost every time. The Apostolic School suddenly became much more real now that my friend was there, and I suppose that’s what made me seriously consider it for the first time. But then something happened that I can’t explain. Somehow without my realizing it, a conviction formed inside of me that I would go to the Apostolic School that following year. Not so much that I wanted to go, but that I would go. I can’t explain this and I don’t know how or when I started thinking it. It wasn’t because my friend was there. Something else attracted me. I started telling many of my friends that I was going before I even told my parents. When I got home after visiting the Apostolic School for the first time in January of 2002, my mom asked me what it felt like. I told her it felt like home.
This next part of the story is not very well known to me because at this point it is not my own. It’s about all my parents must have prayed about and gone through before allowing their oldest son to leave home before even finishing middle school. The short version of the story–and the one I’m most familiar with–is that I visited the school again that summer and enrolled for eighth grade. It was 2002. I was fourteen years old.
My four years at the Apostolic School were very happy years. I learned that Christ was my friend and that I could visit him often in the tabernacle or stop wherever I was to make a spiritual communion. I learned how to dream big, love crazy things, and have a great time with very little. I think this aspect came especially from climbing in the mountains, building massive forts in the woods, and waging epic snowball wars. I grew in responsibility and learned how to challenge myself and that I could offer up whatever I was doing for an intention, thus turning every activity into a prayer. At the Apostolic School I made great friends that brought out the best in me.
After graduating in 2006, I went on to the novitiate and was sent to Cornwall, Ontario (Canada). I loved the novitiate. In my second year, I took what was perhaps my first fully-conscious adult decision. Up to this point, my vocation was very much something that happened on its own. During my second year, I began to understand that my yes to Christ is a response of love and that that yes has consequences. I began to see that following Christ is serious business. And I began to fall in love with Christ. That year remains perhaps the happiest memory of my Legionary life. On September 6th, 2008, I made my first profession of vows.
Then began a strange period that I don’t fully remember or understand. I didn’t think it at the time, but the scandal of the founder that came to light in late January of 2009 affected me in a way deeper than I imagined. I went through those years without really knowing what was going on, without assimilating much in my formation, without looking deeply into myself and without letting things stick to me. I moved happily and quickly from one year to the next, from humanities to philosophy and to the beginning of my internship, without taking much of those years of formation with me. My past in the apostolic school and novitiate confused me, so I buried it and kept moving forward without letting anything build up. Maybe that’s why I survived, who knows?
I know that living like that was pretty childish, but I was indeed pretty young. I started coming out of that in my years of apostolic internship, when I was twenty-four. A couple of things compounded at the beginning of my internship to help wake me up.
Before that, however, it is important to explain an important aspect of those first twelve years away from home. They are the twelve years of my discernment: four years at the Apostolic School, two of novitiate, and the first six years of temporal vows. I knew that I was where God wanted me to be, but I didn’t know if he wanted me here for the rest of my life. I went year by year and was happy where I was, but I never felt sure about my future.
As I began internship, this started to bother me. I was nearing what could be the end of my temporal vows and I didn’t want to delay my final vows. At the same time–and perhaps for the first time–life started getting really difficult for me. To add to that, it finally and suddenly began to weigh on me that most of my friends had left the Legion. These elements combined to throw me into a sort of vocational crisis and force to seriously consider what I was doing with my life. I needed God to be clear now. “Lord, if it is you (who are calling me), command me to come to you on the water! (Cf. Mt 14:28)”
I began asking God if he wanted me in or out. After about a year, I realized that that wasn’t the right question. Instead of asking God what mountain I was supposed to climb, all I needed to ask now was what the next step was. A couple times in my life I’ve heard very clear answers, and this was one of them. God said, “ask Fr James to be your spiritual director.” Done. I had known Fr James Perez for a long time and he immediately accepted me as a directee. He helped me a lot in the coming years.
The final battle and the moment of grace finally came. It was the beginning of my second year of internship. It was a Sunday in September 2013, the sixth day of my spiritual exercises, the last hour of prayer for the day. God had been doing a lot in my heart in the preceding days, and I could feel that something big was going to happen. I thought this year would be my last of temporal vows and I needed God to answer this question: Did he want me in the Legion forever, or not. “You don’t need to tell me right now,” I said, “but sometime this year.” The director choose for that hour or prayer the passage of the Rich Young Man (Mk 19: 16-21) Somehow I knew that the time had come for God to give me an answer.
Front pew, center aisle–that’s where I knelt down for battle that evening. “Teacher, what must I do (Mt 19:16)? What is wrong with me? What is holding me back?” I don’t remember prayer being so tiring as that evening, neither before nor since. I was sweating. I wanted to give the rest of my life to God, but something was holding me back. It was like I was standing on top of a cliff and looking over the edge. I could hear God calling me to jump into his arms below, but I was holding onto a tree behind me and couldn’t let go. I didn’t know what was holding me back. After about a half-an-hour I grew frustrated and cried out, “What is holding me back!” God’s response in that moment was clear. “It’s not me!”
That seemed a strange answer to my question–because it didn’t answer it–but no other answer could have shut down all future doubts quite like that one did. “It’s not me.” Whatever was holding me back did not come from God. What then did it matter! I let go of whatever it was I was holding on to and fell into God’s arms. And I cried. Something in my heart somehow felt fixed. I knew that God wanted me, and that he wanted me here for the rest of my life. My twelve years of not knowing had come to an end. I cried…and then I remembered that I was in the front pew and others were watching, so I stopped crying. Just because…
I had asked the Lord to command me to come, and he said, “Come!”
That evening in September 2013 marks a definite before and after in my life. My vocational discernment was over, and I would never put it into doubt again. God wants me as a Legionary. What kind of Legionary? That’s something I’m still learning, and he is revealing to me little by little.
As it turned out, I was not able to make my final vows that year. My whole generation was asked to renew our vows for another two years so that we would be back in Rome for our final vows. I felt in some way, however, that I needed to seal the deal, that I couldn’t wait two more years. So on the vigil of Good Friday, April 18, 2014–with the blessing of my spiritual director–I made a private profession of vows for the rest of my life.
As you can see, the drama of my vocation happened almost entirely within the Legion. Many more important details could be added to this story. There are parts of my story, in fact, that I’m just beginning to understand. Some healing during my last year of theology has allowed me to understand much of my early years of formation. I pray that God continue to help me know my story better so I can love him more. The purpose of many things remain unclear to me. But what is clear is that God has looked on me and has said to me: