By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Deacon Joshua Barlett learned the hard way. You can’t make a deal with God.
“I first thought about the priesthood when I was eight,” said Deacon Barlett, who will be ordained to the diocesan priesthood on May 23.
“I struggled back and forth with the idea as I wanted to be married and have a family. In high school, I all but rejected the idea and tried to bargain with God, telling him that I would work for the church if he would let me have a family.”
His prayers were answered. And the answer was “No deal.”
“It was late in high school that I really listened when I prayed, and heard God calling me, asking me to take the next step,” Deacon Barlett said.
“I recognized that it was through the gift of the priesthood that we are able to access the graces that come from the Eucharist,” he said.
In other words, no priests, no Eucharist, and no priests if the men God calls want to make deals and other plans.
His decision to at least give seminary a try led him to “Encounter with God’s Call Weekend” at Conception Seminary College.
But even then, he still wasn’t fully prepared to take the plunge.
“It was not life-changing, convincing me I should go to the seminary, but I did enjoy getting to know some of the seminarians and have some understanding of what seminary living was like,” he said.
Far more influential, he said, was his decision to begin attending daily Mass at his home parish of Holy Family in Kansas City.
“I encountered Christ in the Eucharist for the first time,” Deacon Barlett said.
“Christ moved me in that moment. He wanted me to go to the seminary, and I knew I couldn’t fight the calling any more,” he said.
“I still was not 100 percent thrilled with the idea, but once I got to the seminary, I fell in love with it,” Deacon Barlett said.
Homeschooled, Deacon Barlett said that the decision to go to Mass every day meant pushing back his school work, and that wasn’t always easy.
“A little sacrifice to get to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not too big a deal,” he said.
And not when you consider what he received in return.
“The Eucharist changed my life in ways I never expected,” Deacon Barlett said.
“I went from being a passive Catholic to being someone who looked forward to encountering our Lord in the Eucharist. Mass was no longer an obligation, but and encounter with our Lord,” he said. “How could that not change my life? How could I say no to what he was asking me to do?”
Smooth sailing from that point on? Hardly, Deacon Barlett said.
“Understanding and living are two different realities,” he said.
“I went off to the seminary to see what God was asking of me, but at first, I did not like it because seminary asks each man to give of himself completely which meant being open to change,” Deacon Barlett said.
“But then, I realized they were helping me to change into a better man than I was,” he said.
“I released my perceived control, and freely entered the seminary formation program. From that time on, I no longer worried about my vocation,” he said.
Deacon Barlett said he struck a new deal with God.
“I told God that I would be willing stay in seminary, and if he wanted me to do something different with my life, he would have to let me know,” Deacon Barlett said.
That time, God’s answer was, “Fair deal.”
“Through lots of prayer and discussion with my spiritual director and formation advisors, I saw how God was working in my life and encouraging me along this path,” Deacon Barlett said.
“I knew the whole time I was in seminary that I was where God wanted me to be, and through other smaller signs and encouragements felt that priesthood was the final goal.”
One of his biggest “encouragements” is his family, starting with his parents Edward and Maryann Barlett.
“We would get together to pray for vocations, and Mom and Dad would especially offer up prayers for each and every one of us kids and our future vocations,” he said. “They would always encourage us saying that they would support us in whatever vocation God had planned for us.”
And God did call each and every one of them.
Deacon Barlett’s sister is a social worker in Kansas City. His older brother is Brother Juniper Barlett of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace in St. Paul, Minn. His younger brother, Silas, is completing the application process to enter the seminary, hopefully in August.
“Now, thanks be to God, I am looking forward to the priesthood, and I know he is the one who has led me to this place today,” Deacon Barlett said.