From Pro Soccer to the Priesthood: The Witness of Fr. Chase Hilgenbrinck

When I was in high school–that’s the
place where this dream that I had of being a professional athlete,
specifically a professional soccer player, became a goal. When I went to college and I was playing
on one of the top programs in the country,
I’d befriended another coach who was from Chile.
He told me that he thought that I had the ability to play in the South
American style, that he could even open the doors for me there because he knew
the game there. So he did when I graduated from college
just two months later. I traveled for the first time to Chile and had a tryout. I had to earn my spot and I had to earn
respect and I had to show that I actually could play, which made it all
the more worthwhile it made it all the more worth it when I actually earned my
starting job with the first division team called Huachipato. When I moved…a huge culture shock –my friends changed, my family was no longer there and here I am practicing for two hours a day and sitting for 22 hours in my own house. I had a lot of downtime and a lot of
time to think about where my life was going and all these questions started to
come and started crashing in my heart. I started to ask: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Why was I chosen to play here?” and “Do I believe the things that I profess that I
believe on a weekly basis?” I was sitting in an ice-cold chapel in
the middle of the Chilean winter, which is a terrible rainy season and I just
sat there before the tabernacle and I remember it was one day that I was
just truly praying for comfort. I didn’t feel a great level of comfort–I
didn’t feel “great”–and I went there to be a professional athlete–to be great. My
heroes were professional athletes. I thought greatness was everything that
I saw other professional athletes being, and so seeing them excel at their sport–that was greatness to me, that’s what it was to be a great man, to be respected by
others, to be known by others was to be great. To make money was to be great. To
have a beautiful woman by your side– that’s what it was to be great. I didn’t
feel that I was living greatness. Mix that with a loneliness, and the
culture shock… I was before the Blessed Sacrament in this Chapel, knowing that
Jesus was present there, and I was just praying for comfort: “Lord bring comfort
into my life, bring me all the things that I believe
to be great–make that happen for me.” And it was right there, in the silence of
that chapel and in the silence of my heart–the loudest voice that I have ever
heard, that’s never audibly spoken. At that moment I heard: “Be my priest.” And
that shocked me like you wouldn’t believed because it wasn’t anything that
I was thinking about. I immediately rejected that thought and that idea and
it was not something that I was willing to live and it wasn’t something that I was
willing to do for Him. I continued to live my life as a
professional athlete, and things actually went very well for me. I began to experience greatness in my
definition on the field. I began to experience greatness in every aspect of
my life–I had a lot of friends, I was becoming well-known, I had a great
girlfriend, and even being named the best player in my position in the league that
year. I remember sitting up in my bed at night,
not being able to sleep and recognizing: “I don’t know that it can get any better
than this” and right there–in a split second–I recognized that I had nothing
else planned for my life. I recognized that there was maybe nothing greater
that I could do… and it was at that very moment this call to priesthood was
heavily on my heart and I realized that if God truly does have a plan for my
life, then maybe it is priesthood–maybe priesthood is what I’m really seeking to
satisfy the longings of my heart and to satisfy the lack of peace that I
continue to have in the midst of the greatest happiness that I’ve experienced
as a human. The church does need good men.
It needs faithful men and it needs someone to turn the tide–not that I’m the one to
do that, but good men who are faithful need to respond to the
call of God in their life and to live out whatever he has planned for us–and if we
do that, then people are going to start talking a different way about the
Catholic Church, about Christianity, about men in general, and our culture. Nothing is better than fulfilling the
role that God has chosen for you. That is what we are created for, that
moves what we are called to do, and truly nothing will satisfy us unless we do that.


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