Wednesday, February 27, 2008

AFFIRM THE CONCERN TO DISCERN

Two years ago Fr. B and Fr. O and I were on retreat in New York with Fr. Benedict Groeschel FFR. We had to leave very early in the morning the day the retreat was supposed to end and Fr. Benedict bade us to come to his quarters (which to my eyes is an old stall in the carriage house where we stayed) so that he might give us some parting words.

It was bitterly cold outside and very early, around 5:30 AM, and Fr. Benedict was already up and working on a paper he was writing. He sat in a chair under the dim light of a floor lamp with papers in his lap. Most of what he said that morning I have forgotten but he did say, “I want you boys to start writing.” (He’s old enough he can still call me a boy and be spot on.) Then we knelt down and received his blessing for our trip.

We discussed at length what he might have meant by his exhortation and did not come to much of a conclusion (I have maintained that it was heavily directed to Fr. O, the brains of our operation,) though it seemed to have something to do with the joy we three have in being priests. The incident came to mind again recently when reading from a book that one of the priests with whom I live gave us. It is entitled, “Lent and Easter Wisdom from G. K. Chesterton”. Every day there is a little exercise that the authors suggest. This is one from last week:

“In your journal or on a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle of the page, splitting the page into two columns. On the left side, make a lost of things for which you are grateful. . . In the right-hand column, comment on these blessing, recording your thoughts of amazement, wonder, and joy.”

This I set off to do. On the left side I wrote down the first thing that came to mind. “Priesthood.” On the right side I started listing why I loved participating in the ordained priesthood of Jesus Christ. I never got around to writing another blessed thing on the left side because the right side kept demanding my attention in the listing of blessing that being a priest has given me. Here are some of the things that I wrote:

I believe in what I do. I wake in the morning and I am happy and look forward to doing the things that a priest is called upon to do. Even bad days are not bad days, they are difficult days and I know it has to do with a particular situation and not the priesthood. What a blessing it is to find joy in what you do and how you live life.

You might be inclined to thing that next thing on the list would be the confecting of the Eucharist. Not exactly so. I love that the priesthood keeps me close to the Eucharist but being the celebrant of the mass, at least at the canon of the mass I find daunting. Actually, it is Okay as long as I do not think on it too heavily. The sensation of being overwhelmed starts around the “Orate fratres” when the people respond, “May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His Name, for our good and the good of all His Church.” I think, “Wow, these people are entrusting me with this!” Then we move into the sacrifice proper. It is like being entrusted with carrying the most valuable and delicate work of art every day at the museum but more so! One cannot think too deeply on it at the time. That risks being rendered immobile at the wonder of it. Meditation on it, for me, is best done later.

Confession is of course awesome. Can you imagine being a dispenser of God’s mercy? What it is to be present when so much healing is occurring? I have so little to do with it and yet to be privileged, for some unimaginable reason, to be a witness it. Wow.

One of my past career paths was in the theater (nothing too fancy) and I loved it because I believe in art and its power to transform people. But I was not always able to control the message that went out. At times had to “preach” ideas that I thought degrading to human dignity and God's glory with as much gusto as those in which I did believe. Not so with the priesthood. Week in and week out I am afforded the chance to ask hundreds of people to stop and think about something I believe in with every ounce of my being and know can transform their lives.

I love that despite fixed marks on my schedule, every day is different. Every season is more different still. I love that part of my job is to work out my salvation; to grow spiritually and to grow in knowledge of something that gives me joy. Further, I belong to an organization that despite its faults I am confident in and proud of. In general I respect my superiors and trust them.

Because I am a priest I meet and am on friendly terms with people that I know I would not be if it were not for the Roman collar. I see amazing places that I would most likely never be able to see otherwise. I am not rich, I won’t be, but I live comfortably enough. Being a member of the clergy gives me the structure that I need to pray more than my fallen nature would fall into on its own I fear. I can go into the Church late at night with not but the moon beams through the stained glass window and the sanctuary lamp for light and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. And if truth be told, I like being able to go over to the gym and throw hoops when nobody else is around. Who has that available to them?

A wife and kids? I do think about that from time to time. My biggest worry has been that some day I might regret not having taken that route. Then I realized that every time I had thought it, I was happy and figured why should I not continue to be happy in the future? Every decision “for” means saying “no” to many other things no matter what one's life decisions are. I am happy with mine and choose not to dwell on what could have been for what is is so incredible to me. As a prayer from the same book mentioned above says, “Grant me wisdom to set for myself healthy limits. And let those limits set me free – free to enjoy what is instead of fettered over what might or might not be.”

I share this not so much to convince anyone into a priestly or religious vocation (unless you are so inclined) as much as to implore everyone to truly take the time to discern what it is God is calling you to. And that which he is calling you to is not what everyone else is doing or what people expect of you, but the holy path that best fits the aptitude He has given you. There is nothing worse that a priest who should not have been ordained, or a married person who should not have been married, or a single person who is bitter at their state. This is an anguished cry echoing out of the confessional. It was more accident than anything else that afforded me the time to discern and think. Do not leave it to chance! Ask God for guidance. Find out where He is leading you and may your discernment allow you too to wake up in the morning with joy, purpose, and meaning every day for the rest of your life!

8 comments:

Rob said...

I thank God for you, Father.

adoro said...

Interesting. There seems to be discernment in the air!

And I thank God for you too, Father.

uncle jim said...

Deo gratias!

and, as Adoro says, there seems to be discernment in the air.

I have a talk to give in 2 weeks on that very topic [although the official title / theme is "Endless Possibilities] as part of a parish adult formation series.

i find this an area most of us neglect in our everyday life. and not only neglect, but about which we have no clue.

i admire you, and people like adoro, to whom discernment is such a part of who you are and what you are doing.

Father Schnippel said...

Fr. V. I confess, I swiped this and posted it over at my blog, with proper attribute of coarse!

A great post by a joy filled priest shining forth the love of Christ, there is nothing greater.

We should get together sometime soon, and we can even drag along that Fr. M.G. character.

Adrienne said...

Excellent and touching. I have printed it out for my pastor to read. I'm always telling him things about you and how special you are (but.......not more special than he is.)

Another great little book on this subject is called Journaldeeping, Exploring a Great Spiritual Practice, by Carl J. Koch.

JustMe said...

Fr. V., you live up to the meaning of your name, "gracious gift of God." What a beautiful testimony to the priesthood.

Fr. V said...

Awe shucks! Thanks guys - you are awesome.

Good luck Uncle Jim!

Fr. S. - Excellent idea! I hope we can pull it off!

Grant said...

Thanks, Fr. V, for another thought-provoking post. It's a blessing to know priests like yourself, Fr's O and B, and so many others who truly love their vocation and are such great witnesses to it!

When you said, "Wow, these people are entrusting me with this!", all I could think was how awesome the Mass is, but also how often I go through the motions, just saying the next line. Next Sunday, I'll definitely be paying closer attention... if my daughter lets me! :)