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!


Blogger Kat said...


Sometimes we think we know what God wants from us, then he shows up, smacks upside the back of the head turns us a quarter turn to the left and says "thatta way".

I am starting to set in my own discernment process about what is next after I finish the degree I am working on which is about a 1 1/2 years away from happening. So in a way I kinda know that feeling, yet another thing I have to bring to my SD the next time we meet.

Anyway, you are in my prayers.


9:34 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

Oh, I saw you still have my old blog linked . . . "Finding God in all things" That is dead. . . I am now blogging at

9:37 AM  
Blogger Amy Giglio said...

I'm sorry that things were so wacky for you in January. I'm glad that it all is working out.

11:26 PM  
Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...


Are you familiar with the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit? It's the honking goose. I find that the Spirit in my life is often like a honking goose, annoyingly pushing me in the right direction. Sounds like that's been your experience these past few weeks.

Know you are in my prayers.


11:57 PM  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

That new peace you feel does seem to mean you have found the right route.
In less than five weeks now I will have left home and be heading for France and walking the Camino of St James. I see myself as a walker rather than a pilgrim. But in France in 2006, I kept being 'surprised' by St Martin in the Loire. The other day I was speaking to a Marist priest who told me that my starting point, Le Puy, was an important place for the start of his order. Suddenly it seems like Day 1 will see me exploring Le Puy as a kind of pilgrim, not just a walker.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Natalia said...

Hey Mark,
My prayers are with you. I'm sorry to hear about the uncomfortable process you've been going through. I too know how that feels...I am ata place I never imagined myself being, but it came after a long period of re-molding and growing into my priorities.

I am rooting for you guys this semester. See you around, if not at graduation!

2:09 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

I've been in a similar-enough situation to have a decent feel for the rollercoaster-ish thing you've been enduring.

Will throw prayers your way. Let me know if you need heavy artillery and I'll call in the Carmelites.



8:26 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi, Mark,

So good to hear from you! When you are silent, I always say a few extra prayers for you, figuring that whatever life is dealing, prayer support might help.

I know firsthand the kind of roller coaster you've been riding. Sometimes when the ride is over a while I have found that the path for me was the process, that there was something or somethings I needed to find via the process (in your case, the applying and/or the not being "accepted") rather than the outcome (entering the PhD program). Or that I needed the benefits of the roller coaster rode in order to better be able to accompany others through their roller coaster rides... Sometimes I do think I could develop empathy without my own ride on the roller coaster, but oh well ...

As a scholar/activist myself, I am not sure I'd agree with the "A-" interpretation, but I get the point the person was trying to make as far as not subjecting you to the psyche of PhD programs but rather engaging in intellectual inquiry in a setting that energizes your ministerial pursuits.

In any case, it sounds like the idea of Weston's doctoral program really resonates with what you envision doing as a priest and seems to fit well.

My prayers will continue.

6:28 PM  
Blogger TMB said...

Your academic pursuits remind me of the old adage: "If you want to hear God laugh, tell him all of your plans!"
Know of my prayers. Looking forward to seeing you in June at St. Peter's in Columbia, SC.
God Bless,

9:01 AM  
Blogger angelmeg said...

Flannery O'Connor called God's grace dark and disturbing. Sometimes when God' sgrace is moving in our lives in a dark and disturbing way we don't see it for what it is. What we see as loss and disappointment can often turn out to be moments of great growth for us when we look back on them.

Remember that God sees the bigger picture, all we see is the small point in front of us upon which we have fixated our gaze. If we could only get a glimpse of our future as God sees it!

9:39 PM  

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