You could say that I have taken the path less traveled toward ordination. My first vocation was to the married life. I was married for 24 years and we raised three kids. After my wife Marilyn died in 2005, I began to wonder if God was calling me to a second vocation as a priest.

There was no voice from heaven or dramatic event that I can point to as the moment I felt called. Rather, it seemed like I was comfortably following a path I only faintly understood. Along the way, any obstacles I came across were somehow swept aside. Looking back on it, I thought I could see how the hand of God might be directing me to the seminary.

My time at the seminary has been fulfilling and affirming. Still, I longed for some assurance that God was really calling me to the diaconate in May, and then the priesthood. Just following the path of least resistance did not seem like an adequate reason to become a priest.

A month into the fall semester this year, all of us in our final year of formation made a retreat at the Marie Joseph Spiritual Center, owned and operated by the Congregation of the Presentation of Mary in Maine. The vision statement on their website promised "a sacred space for persons seeking to encounter God in solitude, in stillness, in the beauty of nature, in the healing rhythm of the ocean and in the presence of a praying community."

That sounded perfect. I arrived fully prepared to do all the hard work of encountering God and having a heart-to-heart talk. I had a plan. I would immerse myself in stillness and beauty and finally succeed in putting my question to God. Surely, some dramatic sign I had missed before would be found in the grandeur of nature.

By the third morning, no such discovery had yet been made. I sat half-listening to the retreat master talking. Frankly, I don't remember a lot of what he said. I was thinking more about walking on the beach and resuming my search. After all, I had a plan.

I was so certain that I knew the words I needed to hear - but, evidently, God was not impressed by what I thought I needed. Instead, He gave me the words He knew I really needed to hear.

The only thing I remember the retreat master saying that morning was this: "If you are supposed to be someplace according to God's design, then rest assured that God will provide the opportunity for that to happen." That sounded a little vague, but I convinced myself that God wanted me out searching for Him on the beach.

As I headed out, my phone rang. I usually don't answer my phone on retreat, but it was the vocations director. He had news. Instead of being ordained a deacon in May and a priest sometime after that as planned, the bishop had indicated that he wanted to call me to the diaconate in January, and then, God willing, to the priesthood in June.

I could still hear the retreat master's words echo in my ears: "If you are supposed to be someplace according to God's design, then rest assured that God will provide the opportunity for that to happen."

On my way out to search for God, the unexpected had happened: He found me. I was being told that not only was He calling me, but He was calling me sooner than later.

The voice on the phone was saying "Hey Rick, are you there?" My dramatic moment was not some monumental sign from God like I planned. It was there in the quiet, timeless space of the unexpected.

(Rick Lesser is the widowed father of three, a former equine veterinarian and a graduate of St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Albany, now completing his last year at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass. He will be ordained a transitional deacon Jan. 3; priestly ordination will follow when he completes his seminary studies.)