By Beth Donze
Father Brad Doyle says the joys of the priesthood are numerous and often unexpected – like the night adults celebrating Halloween began lining up outside a pub for confession when word spread that the collared Doyle – one of the pub’s patrons – was a “real priest” and not someone simply costumed as one.
“The priesthood thrusts you into people’s lives, most of the time during the most important parts of their lives,” said Father Doyle, showing photos of himself as the invited “third wheel” among couples exchanging their wedding vows and having their first kiss as husband and wife.
“Being a priest allowed me to become a professional photo bomber,” joked Father Doyle, speaking to about 2,500 teens and adult leaders gathered in a muddy field at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College March 17 for the Abbey Youth Festival.
Although the gifts he has received as a priest have been wonderful, Father Doyle, who serves three parishes in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, told the young people that they need not become ordained ministers of the church to experience the fullness and holiness of the Christian “adventure.” When he was the age of some of his listeners, Father Doyle said he was the last person he – or anyone else – would have thought would pursue that vocation.
“I didn’t come out of my mother’s womb wearing a collar. I stood on this same (Abbey Youth Fest) field. I went to y’all’s schools. Everything in my heart wanted adventure, wanted a crazy life of soaking everything up,” said Father Doyle, admitting that as a young teen, he got drunk, didn’t go to Mass or confession regularly and was involved in hurtful relationships with girlfriends.
“I got suspended from eighth grade three times. I got kicked out of a high school. That’s right. This priest right here, with the collar on,” Father Doyle said. “I was looking for adventure, love, greatness, fulfillment – but I was doing it in all the wrong ways.”
A wakeup call came when back surgery in Father Doyle’s sophomore year of high school scuttled his plans to play football. At a Catholic youth conference he halfheartedly attended the following summer, a priest held up a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament, and the teen realized there was something “much greater than football” awaiting him.
“In that moment, I thought to myself, ‘That’s God.’ It was the first time, I ever recognized in my heart that that was God,” Father Doyle recalled. “I fell to my knees.”
Prodigal Son spoke to him
To illustrate the milestones of his personal faith journey, Father Doyle read the Parable of the Prodigal Son to his audience in segments. Like the Prodigal Son, who demanded his inheritance early and then squandered it on frivolous things, the young Doyle had bought into the “lie” that fulfillment can be found only in the unbridled pursuit of things like wealth, status and sex.
But the maturing Doyle came to realize the parable contained an equally relevant “second lie”: when we do finally decide to change the direction of our lives toward the good, we assume, like the Prodigal Son, that our only option is to become an eternal penitent – a “slave” sentenced to a miserable life.
In Father Doyle’s mind, as he fell to his knees before the Blessed Sacrament that first time, being a good person meant he would have to become “boring.”
“It’s a lie from Satan and it’s this: If you give your life to God, you’re gonna be bored. You’re gonna be a slave. You’re just gonna be a servant of God and not a son,” Father Doyle said.
“I want to destroy the idea that God wants to destroy you!” Father Doyle told the crowd. “Look me in my eyes: God does not want to destroy you! He doesn’t want to take anything away from you. In fact, it has been the exact opposite! When I gave my whole life to Jesus and his church, I gained everything. I gained the best friends I’ll ever have. I gained so much adventure, it’s not even real!”
Father Doyle reminded his listeners that rather than having contempt for the Prodigal Son, the jubilant father called for a great celebration. Although suffering certainly visits every life, Father Doyle said God, likewise, wants us to have life in abundance.
“When you go to confession, when you give your life to him, God doesn’t say, ‘You failed me.’ He says, ‘We’re gonna party!’” Father Doyle said, looking back at personal adventures that included celebrating Mass for 10 college-age men on a 18,000-foot high mountain in Mexico.
“You’re gonna have some adventures you never thought you would have!” he said. “My friends are holy, fun, crazy individuals. They’re the funnest people I’ve ever met and they love Jesus and they love his church!”
Before body surfing into the crowd, Father Doyle urged the high school seniors in attendance to resist the idea that college and the work world automatically usher in a life of debauchery.
“You wanna be alive? You want to rise up? Give your life to Christ!” he said.
St. Patrick: ‘Arise!’
Father Doyle’s vocation story marked the beginning of a full Saturday of faith-filled talks, live music, Mass and a fair of Catholic exhibitors at the Covington campus.
Because this year’s festival fell on St. Patrick’s Day, organizers designed programming around the theme “Arise!” – a reference to the prayer on St. Patrick’s breastplate: “I arise today through a mighty strength, through the invocation of the Trinity, through the belief in the Three-ness, through concession of the Oneness, of the Creator of creation.”
Participants were treated to gender-specific breakout sessions, tours of the abbey church and opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation and eucharistic adoration. They also got to browse an exhibit on 40 eucharistic miracles assembled by Servant of God Carlo Acutis, who traveled the world to research miracles connected with the Blessed Sacrament before his death in 2006 at age 15.
Abbey Youth Fest concluded with a vigil Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond and an hour of candlelight adoration.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.