Fr. Philip Scott probably has a special appreciation for God’s word to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” His mother was warned by doctors that she should have her tubes tied to prevent death in a future pregnancy. She refused at the last moment (on the operating table!), the doctors did an alternative, non-sterilizing surgery, and a few months later she gave birth to two priests.
Not that Fr. Scott imagined in his wildest dreams that he would be a priest. Raised in Lima, Peru, his adolescent dreams tended toward the more machista goals of getting married and being a tennis star. However, God had other plans and rather circuitous route for his life to follow in order to prepare him for his vocation.
It began with his conversion–from Catholicism to Protestantism. Like all too many of us Catholics, Fr. Scott was badly catechized (and not terribly attentive to Church teaching) as a youth. When he was led to a living encounter with Jesus Christ through an ex-Catholic relative, he found himself also being led right out of the Church by a regular diet of fundamentalist anti-Catholic literature. He remained anti-Catholic for some time, and was even thinking of becoming a lay Protestant missionary, but then he met some Spanish priests who were able to intelligently and convincingly reply to his “case against the Catholic Church.” The more he argued with them, the more he found that the effort to shore up his opposition to the Church had the curious effect of convincing him it was indeed the fullness of what Jesus had intended. As he puts it, “In my effort to show Catholicism wrong, I became a priest.”
But he did not do so without a call. That call came at a retreat which he–and his girlfriend–were attending. He was sitting, holding her hand when the Scripture was read in which Christ called Peter to be a “fisher of men” and suddenly “God and I were in the room. Alone.” Fr. Scott knew God was calling him to be a priest.
After this began a period of prayer and discernment. Fr. Scott envied the apostles living on Divine Providence and longed for a life of poverty. After seminary and ordination, he was placed in various parishes in Florida, where he began the habit of teaching apologetics which he continues to this day.
Later he was sent by his bishop to work with Hispanic migrants. Here he experienced “tragedy after tragedy” living with some of the poorest of the poor for three years. Drugs, violence and death were constant companions. He grew familiar with the sound of machine gun fire outside his trailer. It was two years before he said a funeral for someone who had died a natural death.
Yet he would not trade it for the world. “I needed the poor more than they needed me. They taught me God’s providential care.” Fr. Scott came through his desert experience with a deeper faith and deeper love for God. “I learned the gift of solitude. I learned to pray 3 hours a day. And I enjoy it because I’m in love. I’m married.”
But the fruit was not all interior. Fr. Scott, in addition to organizing door-to-door apologetics classes also brought food and clothing to the poor in his community. Despite the threat of death which hung over him as he opposed drug traffickers, there were also many families involved in the drug trade who were converted. In addition, he organized youth groups to carry on the work, giving them a sense of purpose and belonging which they had never known.
From that experience was born Fr. Scott’s apostolate, the Family of Jesus Healer, which he founded April 1, 1998 in Tampa, Florida. Fr. Scott now lives in a neighborhood afflicted with everything from satanism to drugs to hedonism to violence to poverty. Dedicated to “bringing Christ’s healing touch”, Fr. Scott lives and works among the poorest of the poor to establish a community which engages in contemplative prayer, teaches apologetics, cares for the sick (including AIDS victims), provides retreats, and bears witness to the sanctity and dignity of human life in many ways. All this is the fruit of one man saying yes to the call of God.
How can fathers help their sons hear and heed the call of God? Fr. Scott offers several suggestions:
- Know it is Christ who calls a man to the priesthood. You do not have to make it happen.
- Pray for this gift for your son and that, if the gift is given, he will recognize it.
- Teach him to know and love the Church and her teaching. Get the catechism, read it, and discuss it with your children.
- Christianity is caught even more than it is taught. Pray God send you a joy-filled, enthusiastic priest who truly wishes to be faithful to Christ and his Church. If He does, befriend him. This is not only for the sake of your son, it is for the sake of your priest as well. Priests need love, support and committed Catholic families that will prayerfully support and even challenge them to give their whole being to Christ.
- Ask your son, “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” Seeds are planted. You might be surprised!
- Live your Catholic vocation of marriage all the way. As you need to see priests committed to their vocation, so your children need to see that knowing and loving Jesus and his Church is exciting–and the only way to live.
- Trust God, he knows what he’s doing.
Finally, Fr. Scott challenges fathers to live radically by bringing their sons in touch with the poor. “Hands on,” he says, “not a check.” Try taking your son to volunteer in a soup kitchen or mission downtown.
“The poor evangelize us without opening their mouths,” says Fr. Scott, “The poor strip us, leave us vulnerable, take down the walls of their hearts.”
And that is excellent preparation for hearing and answering the call of God.