by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Deacon Michael J. Guastello went off to the seminary in October 2010, he was certain that his stay would be short.
“I told my mother while I was at the seminary checking it out, ‘This isn’t going to happen,’” he said. “I felt that God wanted me to come look at this. Now that I satisfied my curiosity, my plan was to go back home and resume my life.”
During an interview at the seminary, one of the priest faculty members said, “Now, I don’t want you to be nervous.”
“Nervous?” thought Guastello. “I don’t even want to necessarily be here. I was waiting for someone to tell me that I shouldn’t be here, so I could tell God, ‘See, I’ve done what you asked me to do. I’ve seen this through, and now I’m going back to my life, thank you very much.’
“’I fought this thing the entire way.”
As it turned out, God’s call is pretty hard to resist.
Deacon Guastello will be ordained a priest by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on May 27 at St. Peter Cathedral in Kansas City, Kansas.
“I couldn’t get [the idea of priesthood] out of my heart and my mind, no matter how hard I tried to push it aside,” said Deacon Guastello. “I kept coming up with all kinds of reasons: I’m older, I won’t fit in, my education isn’t geared toward this kind of study, and I’m selfish — I want to make money.”
He had plans — for marriage and a family, a good income, and to have his own company and be his own boss.
The irony is that as a priest he’ll never have a wife and family, won’t make a lot of money and he will always have a boss — the archbishop.
“In that irony I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “This is what God has called me to do. And at this point in my life, there’s nothing else that I’d rather do. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Deacon Guastello, 44, is the second child and oldest son of Mike and Frances Guastello of Kansas City, Missouri. The family belonged to Holy Cross Parish there, and the entirety of Deacon Guastello’s education was in Catholic institutions, although it wasn’t planned that way.
Even as an altar server while growing up, the thought of the priesthood never entered his mind. Nor did his parents encourage him or mention it as a vocational possibility.
Following graduation from Rockhurst University in 1997, he worked in pharmaceutical sales for a couple of different companies. He helped launch a couple of new products and was doing very well for himself — at least in terms of professional success and material acquisition.
He was, in his own words, just “a nice guy.” His faith life? Not so great.
“I had a reconversion in 2007,” he said. “I went back to the sacrament of reconciliation. I recognized my faith walk wasn’t all that great. We sometimes fall into a mindset that, ‘So long as I haven’t killed anybody, I must be doing OK.’”
“That’s not really what God calls us to,” he continued. “God calls us to be as holy as we can be, and to discipleship — not just being nice guys and gals.”
The priest in the confessional, hearing that he’d been away from the sacrament for more than 10 years, said something stunning.
“Welcome back,” the priest said.
“While I hadn’t left the faith, mentally I had checked out,” he said. “I was just pursuing [membership in] the millionaire’s club.”
Until that time, he had gone to Mass sporadically — not out of love or devotion, but to “get my name checked off in the divine attendance book in the sky.”
And a funny happened to him as he began to live the Catholic life again: He began to have thoughts about becoming a priest. He met with his pastor and the archdiocesan vocations director, thinking, “This is crazy.” But he felt compelled to follow this line of inquiry.
And many baby steps followed.
Eventually, he was sitting in front of archdiocesan vocations director Father Mitchel Zimmerman with an application to enter the seminary in his hand.
“Are you willing to take it?” asked Father Zimmerman.
“Yeah, I’ll take it,” Deacon Guastello replied.
He told himself he’d take it, but he didn’t have to look at it. It sat on his desk for weeks. And then he thought he’d look at it, but he didn’t have to fill it out. And then he thought he could fill it out, but he didn’t have to turn it in. And next he thought he could turn it in, but he didn’t think they’d accept him. And if they accepted him, he didn’t have to go.
At one point, he even got a little peeved at God.
“Lord, why did you wait so long to call me to do this?” he prayed. “I have my own dreams, plans and desires. You can’t make me do this. I don’t want to do this, so you’re going to have to make me feel better about this.”
“The Lord heard that prayer,” said Deacon Guastello, “and put it into my heart to have peace about it.”
He also told the Lord that his salvation was not predicated upon becoming a priest.
“It was almost as if I heard back in prayer, ‘You’re right — your salvation isn’t predicated upon you doing this. But others’ [salvation] might be,’” said Deacon Guastello. “‘I will be able to use you if you say ‘yes.’
“And that really got to me.”
He even grew to understand the answer to his question: “Why so late?” It was because he wasn’t ready until later.
He was ordained a transitional deacon on May 22, 2016, at St. Peter Cathedral. He looks forward to his priestly ordination and administering the sacraments.
His advice to others seeking direction in their lives is simple: Spend time asking the Lord. In time, he will reveal it to you.
“Be open,” said Deacon Guastello. “Pray. How do we become close to Jesus? How do we know what his will for our life is? Spend time with him. Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament and go to daily Mass if you can. Develop a devotion to the Blessed Mother.
“God can work with a ‘maybe.’ . . . Avail yourself of the sacraments and just ask.”
“Sometimes there’s a misunderstanding that a ‘yes’ to the seminary is a ‘yes’ to the priesthood,” he added. “No, it’s a ‘yes’ to discernment.
“Plenty of guys come to the seminary and learn that they’re called to marriage. Good for them. The system worked.”