Thursday, February 28, 2008

Time of Testing

I've heard stories in the past about men about to be ordained priests having a particularly trying time in the months leading up to ordination. I've always thought that such stories were probably apocryphal, or at least exaggerated. But, the last couple of months have begun to make me wonder if there isn't something to it. After my province meetings in December I arrived back in Boston on January 1. One of the first things I learned upon my return was that my spiritual director had died that morning. Perhaps in part because of this jarring news, the remainder of my work for the fall semester then began to take twice as long as I had anticipated, to the point where I was starting to wonder if I was going to get it done at all! I eventually did. Then the grad school roller coaster began. I received my first rejection letter before the end of January. Then my hopes that I would be invited to interview at a certain school in Indiana didn't come through. Suddenly, I was getting a sense that something had gone terribly wrong. I had made it a point to try to get my applications in early, and now I realize that was a mistake. Because between the time I'd submitted them and now I had begun to realize that what the schools wanted (though often not stated directly) and what I had given them were not quite the same. This all started to get me very stressed out, and this started to manifest itself in the form of some physical health issues. I won't go into the details, but it was very uncomfortable for a week or two in the middle of all this. And the kicker is that I have now received regret letters from all the PhD programs to which I'd applied, except from that school in Indiana whose silence started me on this roller coaster ride to begin with! It's all a little bizarre and mysterious. But the trouble in it all is that, unfortunately, I'm just not at the age where I can happily just say "better luck next year," reapply and hope for a better result. And, I've been scratching my head a little because I thought that this was what God wanted me to do.

However, the positive side of this has been that when I reached my point of crisis I started to pray about and reflect on my priorities. And I realized that this whole process has served to tear away a bit at my identity. A number of years ago one of my graduate school professors (this is when I was studying literature) expressed some doubt about my suitability for PhD studies. "Mark," he said, "you're an A minus." What he was trying to say was that he didn't see me devoting everything to being a literary scholar. And he was right, there's a lot more to me than a scholar. Now, at the end of my Jesuit formation, and on the eve of my ordination as a priest, that is even more true now than it was then. So, in recent weeks I've started to realize that I probably need to be in a program that doesn't feel so much as if it is tearing away at my identity as a Jesuit, a priest, a teacher, a writer, a minister, etc., all those things that will not take a back seat to being a scholar. Rather than pursue a PhD maybe I'm much more suited for a ThD or an STD, doctoral degrees that are as much about ministry as they are about scholarship. These will help me to achieve the goal which God has set for me as well--if not better--than the PhD programs to which I've applied.

Having arrived at this renewed sense of priorities, with a peace that tells me that I'm on the right track, I asked myself what the next best step was. I also asked a number of professors and mentors whom I trust. The result is that I have applied now also to the STD program here at Weston, which In June will become the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. And though there is no guarantee of my acceptance, I at least have the confidence that the people deciding know me in my whole person far better than those who were deciding elsewhere. So, I ask your prayers for me in this new step, this new wrinkle. And also please pray for fewer distractions for me in the coming months both for the sake of completing my thesis and preparing myself for my ordination in June. Thanks!

I hope you all are well!

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