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GROWING UP, Father Francis Peffley planned to be the manager of his parents' bookstore, the Catholic Shop. But according to Peffley, God saved a sales position for him elsewhere.
"There was never any lightning bolt or loud voices or apparition," says Peffley. "It was just a silent tugging at my heart that God wanted me to dedicate my life to serving him." So Peffley was called to become a salesman for God--except "you're not selling a product. You're selling Christ's church," he says..
As a youth, Peffley attended a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, where he was exposed to many religions. "But because I was deeply rooted in the Catholic religion, I didn't stray," he says.
In fact, his faith intensified throughout high school and then at Christendom College in Front Royal, as he was an active member of the Legion of Mary and attended daily morning Mass.
Peffley says he felt more and more called to the priesthood in the last couple of years in college. He and his girlfriend broke up, his family remained supportive, and upon his graduation, he entered the seminary at Mount St. Mary's in the Arlington Catholic Diocese--deciding to stay in Virginia rather than return home to Pennsylvania.
"Seminary is a time of discernment," says Peffley. About 60 percent of those who attend seminary actually make the commitment to get ordained to the priesthood, he says. Despite challenging classes and intense community service required by the seminary, Peffley still had time to play sports, travel, and continue his intense passion for music.
Peffley was ordained in 1990, taking three vows as a Diocesan priest: celibacy, obedience and prayer. He did not feel called to make the vows of a religious order priest, which include poverty.
"For me it wasn't so much that I didn't want to make the vow of poverty," he says. "It's that I was called to work with the parish." His salary, gas, meals and housing are paid for by the parish. "Traditionally [the salary] is not a lot of money, but it's enough to live on," he says.
Since his ordination, he has already been stationed at four parishes in the Diocese. Young priests are moved every three to four years in order to gain wisdom from different pastors, or senior priests.
"I think that wherever the bishop sends you is where God wants you to go," he says.
Peffley has only spent a year at St. Mary Catholic Church in Fredericksburg, but he has now been requested to move to a new parish in Warrenton. He leaves Fredericksburg this week.
One of Peffley's primary goals is to establish the Legion of Mary wherever he goes, and he has done that at St. Mary as well. Devoted to the mother of Jesus, the Legion's community service and evangelization make it "an invaluable tool in my priesthood to reach out to more souls," says Peffley.
Peffley also brings a sense of humor with him. "I try to be practical in giving people ways in which they can live the Christian life, and also to be positive," he says. A good Catholic joke, for example, never hurts a homily.
Peffley draws inspiration from his collection of over 5,000 audio tapes that range from intense theology to hard-core humor.
Peffley participated in the recent Theology on Tap series at Orbit's Downtown Eatery, where local priests fuse Christianity and practicality in lectures.
"Theology on Tap is wonderful because a lot of these young adults don't go to church--but they have a chance to eat, drink, socialize, get the talk and then some more socializing," he says.
Peffley also has a unique way of reaching out to his parishes--he juggles. His best trick is a bowling ball and two machetes, and he also juggles torches, sickles, baseball bats, and apples--which he can eat as they go around.
"If people ask me to juggle at their birthday parties, I'm happy to do it," Peffley says. (He learned his initial skills by reading the book "Juggling for the Complete Klutz.") He doesn't charge--and if he's given a donation, he uses it to buy religious items that he then distributes to parishioners.
The priesthood doesn't prevent Peffley from keeping up the rest of his hobbies, either. He enjoys scuba-diving and collects sand from every island he visits. He only has 12 more states to go until he's hit all 50. He maintains a Web site (that has gotten 25,000 hits since 1998. He enjoys photography, golf, bowling and playing pool.
He has over 500 CDs and 25,000 baseball cards from 1887 to today.
And he has ticket stubs from almost all of the 200 concerts he's attended since high school. In fact, despite the pain of having to leave St. Mary, this music-loving priest is a little excited to be moving to Warrenton this week, where he'll be a short walk from the Nissan Pavilion.
Though Peffley says he's never been unhappy as a priest, some do leave for depression, alcohol problems, and the celibacy issue--though it's less than 5 percent. Generally, priests are "happier and more content with their vocation than the rest of their society," he says, because "with God's grace, all things are possible."
Peffley says celibacy is a breeze--his detachment from the material world allows him to be more attached to God, which in turn makes him more spiritually available to the world. For him, it's freedom.
Despite the general contentment of priests noted by Peffley, there's a nationwide shortage that transcends Catholicism into other denominations. The Arlington Diocese is a rare exception, having enough priests to cover the Northern Virginia area.
Despite the shortages, and unlike other faiths, Catholicism does not allow women to become priests since Christ himself did not designate women to be priests or Apostles. "They are equal, but they have different roles," Peffley explains. Women have three vocations with the church: to be a religious sister, to receive God through the sacrament of marriage, or to live the single Christian life.
"The priesthood is being the role of a servant. People shouldn't look upon it as a power position," he states.
Theological questions, of course, are integral parts of the priesthood--but the daily demands of the calling keep Peffley juggling more than thoughts and torches.
"Some think it might not be very exciting, interesting or fun to be a priest," says Peffley. "Yet it's challenging. There's a lot of variety. In one day I might baptize babies, do a wedding, visit the sick in a hospital or nursing home, do a funeral, say Mass, hear confessions and teach in a school."
Peffley is making the most of his vocation, and he loves it. "The best part of the priesthood is being used by God to make a difference in the lives of other people," he says.
And he's doing it one sale at a time.