Photo: Felix Carroll
'Here I Am, Lord'
Referred to lovingly by his legion of admirers as the "Energizer Bunny" of the Marians — a dynamo with a heart on fire for Christ and His Church — Br. Chris Alar, MIC, professed his perpetual vows as a Marian on Aug. 16, in a liturgy celebrated at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.
God willing, he will be ordained a deacon on Sept. 21, and his superiors are planning for a priestly ordination in 2014.
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The vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, which he made before a standing-room-only crowd in the Shrine, couldn't be any more palpable in the case of Br. Chris. Indeed, in order to give his life more fully to God, Br. Chris gave up a beautiful fiancée, a lucrative career, a nice house, nice car, nice boat, and the independence to do what he wanted, whenever he wanted to. In return, he gained a new life in God and the "privilege" (his word) to bring the Gospel message to a world in desperate need of it.
After professing his vows, he was led to the altar where he signed his name to the official document containing his vows and oath of perseverance. When he placed the pen back down, he looked out to all assembled with a beaming smile whose only other worldly correlation could be that of a child on Christmas morning enmeshed in the miraculous.
"I am so unbelievably happy," he said after Mass. "I was up there overwhelmed with the reality of all of the love and support of the entire Marian family, especially the staff on Eden Hill, and all our benefactors, the Marian Helpers, and my Marian bothers. I am so thankful for God and the people He has put into my life."
Sitting just behind Br. Chris as he professed his vows were his parents, Charles and Rosalie Alar of Michigan. Before entering the Shrine, Mr. Alar said he felt like he was going to a wedding.
"And that's how Chris sees this," he said. "It's his wedding day. He felt the call, and there was no stopping him. He couldn't be happier, and neither could we."
And neither could the Marians.
"In a few minutes, when Br. Chris makes his vows for life, Br. Chris is going to be stuck with us," said Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, earlier in his homily, speaking on behalf of the Marian Congregation.
Grinning, Br. Chris said in a low voice from his seat, "And you're going to be stuck with me."
'Your Servant is Listening'
The readings Br. Chris chose for the liturgy ring familiar to his own spiritual journey, as noted by Fr. Joe, the Marians' vicar general in Rome who served as main celebrant of the Mass.
For the first reading, Br. Chris chose from the First Book of Samuel. Before he became a prophet, Samuel struggled to discern God's voice in his heart until the Lord came and more fully revealed Himself.
Brother Chris, too, struggled with his discernment early on. He joined the Marians for a time, and then, unsure of his religious calling, he left to return to his secular life.
In an interview several weeks ago, he explained, "I made the decision not to renew my vows. I returned home to my job and got back together with my former girlfriend. When I thought God was asking me to return to the Marians, I told Him that I couldn't put her through another round of agonizing decisions. But this time, she heard the message from God that I was meant to be a priest. When she told me to pursue the priesthood, it was as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, and my heart was finally free to pursue my vocation.
"She opened my eyes to true love," Br. Chris said.
Now etched upon his soul are the words of Samuel to the Lord: "Speak, for Your servant is listening" (1 Sm 3:10).
To underscore the life he has freely chosen, Br. Chris chose the Responsorial Psalm, "Here I am, Lord: I come to do Your will" (Ps 40:2).
The Second Reading was from St. Paul who famously and radically turned away from his old life of seeking the false gods of material riches and power to follow Christ. Triumphantly, St. Paul writes, "We proclaim Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:22-31).
Like St. Paul, Br. Chris "turned his life upside down" in order to live an "intensely apostolic life," said Fr. Joe. The Lord wanted Br. Chris to use his talents and education "to work for Him, and like St. Paul, Br. Chris said 'Yes,'" said Fr. Joe.
Finally, in the Gospel reading from the Book of Mark, we learn what Jesus demands of His disciples: to give up everything to follow Him (Mk 10:24b-30).
"God is very generous to those who give up things for Him," said Fr. Joe, "and Br. Chris has given up many things to come to this point in his life ... to say 'I am here. This is what the Lord wants, and I have no choice but to say yes to the call of the Lord. I am surrendering to the Lord.' And we know the Lord will never be outdone in generosity."
View Fr. Joe's full homily:
His Calling to the Marians
The Mass program handed out to attendees defines the term "consecrated" as living a life "set apart by God in order that, like the apostles, [a person] may be totally dedicated to God and may draw closer to Him through prayer, love of neighbor, and apostolic works."
That, in a few words, describes the life that Br. Chris has chosen — or the life chosen for him by God, as he would say.
"When I first felt God calling me to the priesthood, I had a very real devotion to Mary," he said. "I felt a deep connection to the Holy Souls; and I wanted to be of service to the Church in any way that I could be. I couldn't believe that this turned out to be the exact charism of the Marians. Once I found the Marians, I never looked at another community," he said.
Amidst the grueling college schedule of a seminarian, Br. Chris earned his "Energizer Bunny" moniker for his work on Eden Hill — both at the Shrine and Marian Helpers Center.
Amidst his many commitments, on any given day he is leading tours of Eden Hill, meeting Marian Helpers, and helping to plan events and evangelization initiatives.
Three years ago, Br. Chris, with the blessing of his religious superiors, formed the Marian Evangelization Team, which has since logged tens of thousands of miles speaking to parishes and youth groups throughout the United States.
Brother Chris, himself, has logged many of those miles, along with the Marian Evangelization Team Director Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC.
A former wrestler and a former engineer with a Master's in Business Administration, Br. Chris comes equipped with an analytic mind and a bottomless wellspring of zeal to help train laypeople to become apostles of Divine Mercy and to speak of how Christ loves all of us despite our sinfulness.
As for his future, he says "I will go wherever the community and the superiors ask me to go. I would like to continue to spread the message of Divine Mercy. I feel a peace and a joy in bringing this message to parishes, different groups, and youth. I will be obedient in every sense of the word to what the community asks, but especially excited about continuing to spread the Divine Mercy message to parishes."
In the closing remarks of his homily, Fr. Joe said, "Brother Chris, I am very, very happy we will be stuck with you, and we will be praying for you and supporting you every step of the way."
John Foster and Chris Sparks contributed to this story.