Excerpts from the Rev. Joe Bradley's book, "The Four Gifts: How One Priest Received a Second, Third and Fourth Chance at Life," with permission of Behler Publications. Bradley is a chaplain at Serra High School in San Mateo and priest in residence at St. Gregory's Catholic Church.
On his early relationship with the church:
"Church was the place I always felt most safe and confident. It was the one place I was completely at ease with myself. I know this may sound terribly naive, and even theologically inaccurate, but I think I saw priesthood as a safe, protective womb from the challenges and struggles of life. I'd be so busy doing good things for people that I'd miss the messiness of life, even the pain of life. I think there was a not-so-subtle sense of escapism mixed with a rather romantic feeling that it was entirely honorable to leave the world in pursuit of a higher calling."
On his reaction to the death of his father:
"Even I was surprised at how quickly my faith disintegrated. Within moments after the doctor declared the official time of Dad's death, I no longer considered myself Catholic ... or anything else for that matter. Obviously, the seeds of my faith were not planted on solid ground. Jesus may have encouraged his disciples to build their faith on sturdy rock, but mine were clearly built on mushy sand. It didn't survive the test, and it opened the door to some seriously self-destructive behavior."
On his wild years
"I would usually start each shift with a toke of marijuana in my car, then once I arrived at work, I would wash it down with a cold one. As the shift moved along and things began to get a little sloppy, I would switch over to cocaine to sharpen up so I could go out and enjoy a few beers at the end of the day. And that was a typical workday. Days off were simply a blur."
On his spiritual adviser at St. Patrick's Seminary, the Rev. Bob Gavin, who helped put him on the path to sobriety:
"But Father Bob was adamant; he saw addiction, or anything similar, as a chance to grow closer to God. He felt that people in recovery had paid their dues and emerged with a unique perspective on God's love and mercy. He was so full of spiritual hope, and I wanted to catch on and hold on to what he offered."
On reaction to the book:
"If this book in any way tarnishes my reputation as a priest, I am willing to take the heat. If what I've shared rocks anyone's image of priesthood and seminary, please blame me because the choices made were mine. The priests in this book are blameless for how I chose to live back in the day; that is, until the grace of God touched me. His people helped save me."
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