In keeping with my desire to find more good news in the Catholic blogworld (and with thanks to Sharon for her comment), I wanted to share of mine with you.
Recently, I was approved to move on to my final studies prior to ordination. Part of gaining that approval was to write a letter reflecting on my experience of my vocation and my desires with regard to the priesthood. I share some excerpts from these reflections below:
. . . I have come to know in my heart that I can only be my truest and most complete self by constantly seeking God’s will. That will has been made manifest to me in varying, surprising and unexpected ways in these past seven and a half years of living a Jesuit life.
Perhaps my earliest and most immediate lesson came in realizing the possibility of a calling to become a Jesuit. The call came at a time in my life when I was very happy and content. I had a job I loved and some of the truest and dearest friends I’d ever had. I thought perhaps I’d even make a life in this place and this work. But it was in the midst of this happiness that I felt God calling me to something more. Soon, I would leave that all behind to pursue an uncertain vocation. Life in the novitiate wasn’t easy. It brought out my insecurities, it challenged me in various ways, and I was soon faced with the reality that this life, while not unpleasant, was not as “happy” as the one I’d left behind. God was teaching me the lesson that doing his will did not include a guarantee of happiness. Indeed, as I discovered in my particularly difficult second year, I could even be quite miserable and find God reassuring me that this too was part of what he desired for me. I learned that I could be unhappy and still find Jesus reassuring me in my prayer, “I want you to be with me.”
That one expression of Jesus’ desire was enough to convince me to vow myself to Jesuit life. It has also been a constant reassurance to me in the ups and downs of living that life. As I look back, I see that my first couple of years of vowed life, caught up as they were with the demands of Philosophy study, were more “slow and steady” than remarkable in any way. Beyond studies, there were some important learning moments like a lesson in collegiality realized by a hostile reaction to my honest and frank assessment of another Jesuit’s student retreat program, the deep impression left by an experience of mission with ten students in India and successes and failures experienced in several different apostolic ministry experiences. Otherwise, my experience often was of what our rector called “the asceticism of studies.” However, there was also a turning point in my third year of studies which God used to begin to map a direction for my future ministry. I am still amazed how mere proximity to a disaster of the magnitude of the September 11 attacks on New York could have had such an effect on me. In the depression and confusion I felt in the wake of this event, I felt God’s challenge to not just have convictions about peace and justice, but to act more fully upon them. And, as I saw the response to the attacks move not in the direction of reconciliation and compassion, but in the direction of further violence and aggression, I felt a growing disquiet which I could not be silent about. As I prayed about, reflected on and acted upon those feelings, God seemed to be leading me in a difficult and unexpected direction. God, it seemed, was asking me, the man who prior to joining the Jesuits had actively avoided conflict, to pursue a course that would be sure to put me in the very midst of conflict—ethics. My interest and work in this area in the intervening years have only seemed to affirm this intuition . . .
. . . pastoral and “priestly” demands are as apparent to me in the classroom as they are in a retreat setting. I find myself being called to be more than just an ordinary professor. The fact that I’m a Jesuit does have a bearing on what I teach, how I teach it, and especially how I care for my students both in class and outside of class. I want to challenge my students not just to be better students, but also to be better people, and in doing so I have to be better, caring not only for their minds, but also their souls. I ask my students to make me aware of their needs both academic and otherwise and I offer them my prayers and whatever other support I can give them. I have already been a listening ear for a number of my students who were experiencing death, personal illness, mental distress or various other difficulties. They don’t come in droves, but those that do come, come, I believe, because they see that my concern for them goes beyond their performance on exams and papers . . .
. . . My lay colleagues on the faculty and the university ministry staff show me daily what they need in a priest and how I might be priest for them and with them. I also have had the benefit at Loyola of a community of exemplary Jesuit priests, who in their many diverse ways serve as models for me of what I might hope to be when I myself join them in priestly ministry. Witnessing the struggles and successes of these brothers and friends in the first years of priesthood, still in awe and unsure, those already tested by many years and in their prime, and those in their twilight making the most of the time and energy they have left, I am humbled by their examples of devotion and dedication to God’s will and God’s people, and by the fact that God might call me to join their company. It is my constant prayer that Jesus would help me to stand as worthily as they in his company.
It is also my prayer that I might be worthy of the hopes that I have found others, especially in recent years, placing in my vocation. Recently, I have seen a shift in the way that I am being called. My vocation becomes less and less a matter of just me and God, as I find it being called out of me by the people whom I serve and with whom I work. When my students pray that I be a good priest, I want so badly not to disappoint them. When my colleagues tell me how needed I am as a priest because of what they see in me, I hope that I can be true to them. When I have to say, “Sorry, I can’t do that, I’m not a priest yet,” I feel that desire to be able to offer that blessing, that reconciliation or that sacrament to them all the more. I am thankful that God has allowed me to grow in such a way that they might see this potential in me, and I pray that I will always grow more worthy of the many facets of the vocation which God has given me so that I may offer it to the world for God’s greater glory.
I welcome your prayers that in the coming years I may grow more worthy of the vocation that God has given me.