This past fall was unusual for me with the significant amount of travel I had to do for various reasons. As the transplant to rural Iowa, I have gotten used to traveling long distances to do just about anything important. My spiritual director is a 1.5 hour drive away and the closet airport with jet or international service is either 1.5 or 3.5 hours away respectively.
In no way do I claim to be an expert in the life of spiritual discernment, but I feel called to share a few of my thoughts with you on the journey of discernment. In my six years in seminary and several years thinking about seminary before I graduated high school, I have learned a few things from my own experience and the experiences of my brothers. Father Brad mentioned that, as of week ago, we had six guys applying for the seminary. This is one of the most challenging and vulnerable decisions most men have ever been through in their life. It is hard for a man to tell family and friends that he is thinking about priesthood, or that he has applied to seminary. Once I told others I was applying to seminary, I felt that there was more pressure to go through with it, in that I was locked into the priesthood. I would like to encourage family members and friends of a man who is thinking about the priesthood not to pressure him into his decision but support and encourage him with open arms. I would also encourage you to let the potential seminarian know that you are praying for him, so that he may know the Lord's will, whether that be to the priesthood, religious life, or to the married state of life. Men and women who are discerning a call to the married state of life need just as many prayers, often times, as seminarians or religious need. Men who thinking about entering the seminary, know that there are many people praying for you, especially that you may have the courage to answer God's call. When I realized all the spiritual support I was receiving, the amazing thing was that I didn't know most of the people who were praying for me.
Time and again I have seen many men who have begun the application process to seminary and were really excited about the possibility of the priesthood but, partway through the application process, they got cold feet. The closer that we come to doing God's will, the more Satan and our earthly ambitions will try to pull us away from God. Many thoughts begin to move through our minds, such as: “I am not worthy;” “marriage is beautiful and women are way too beautiful to give up;” and “I want to live life my way.” You are correct you are not worthy; neither is any other priest worthy to celebrate the most sacred sacrifice of the Mass. God does not call the worthy, but the sinners, and those who are seemingly unfit to serve Him, so that He may receive the glory rather than the glory being ours. This is a gift that God gives us out of His love. God gives us the grace to make our insufficiency into His glory. Satan is the great deceiver, and so he uses little bits and pieces of truth, mixed with lies and deceit, to pull us away from God and His will. Yes, women are incredibly beautiful, and marriage and family life are gifts and blessings- but so is celibacy. Know that you are not alone: every man in the seminary has desired to be married and to have a family at some point in his career as a seminarian, and also before he entered the seminary. These struggles do not make you an exception to the rule that, in fact, make you normal. We must all die to our selves; priest or not. There is no "my" way as a Christian; only "Christ's" way and this will in-fact bring freedom. Even in the seminary, my brothers and I have to wrestle with our calls to the priesthood. Wrestling over whether we continue to follow the Lord out of love will only make us stronger in our resolve to serve the Lord and His people. Ultimately we can only truly discern if we respond to God's call out of love.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ himself wrestled deeply with His Father’s will. Jesus prayed three times, “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou will.” (Matt 26:39) In this passage I think He indicates something key for us who are discerning God’s call: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Ultimately we want to do God’s will, but left to our own powers, we are weak and will follow our lower passions.
So what do we do when we are faced with thoughts of despair and desolation? The best thing I have found to help me was PRAYER. Pray MORE, not less, and know that you are in good company- before Jesus’ mission He went into the desert and was tempted. Prayer is absolutely crucial when discerning anything. If you are feeling dry, like God has abandoned you and that God is no longer calling you, hang in there. At the first sign of doubt, do not just decide not to enter seminary because, “God was not really calling me, and I just made all that stuff up.” One of the great rules of discernment that St. Ignatius of Loyola and many other saints have talked about is, when you are in a period of dryness, continue to go down the path that you were on before entering the dryness. If this leads to you to seminary and you are not called, the time you spend in seminary will still be a blessing. I have never heard anyone say he regretted his time in seminary, even after he left, and I have known a lot of men who have left seminary. St Ignatius also encouraged prayer during these times. Lean on God more heavily than you were before. The other piece of advice I give you is to talk to a priest or another spiritually mature adult, such as youth minister, about your experiences and trials. Sometimes talking it out with someone you trust can even help to sort things out.
Another thing to bear in mind is that when in the process of discerning, when we are in the state of grace (that is when we are not in the state of mortal sin), we are attracted to the things of God. We are attracted to prayer and holiness of life, and we are disposed to move toward God much more than when we are in the state of moral sin. Through concupiscence (the fall), we still have some temptation to sin. When we are not in the state of grace, we are attracted to things of the earth and flesh. In this state, sin will look better, and we will even see the sin as not sin. We are also more likely to justify sin in our life and even fall into even greater sin. This is why it is so important to make a good and regular confession so that we can clearly see the will of God and follow it every day.
Men in Christ, Men of the Church, Men for Others
How Should I Pray?
How should I pray?
Over the past couple of weeks at seminary, I’ve had conversations with three different people about their prayer practices. I took this as an invitation from the Holy Spirit to blog about prayer!
Length of Prayer. When I talk with people about prayer, most of the time they express that they feel bad that they don’t spend more time in prayer. Considering motives is important before changing prayer practices. If somebody truly desires to spend more time in prayer, then this is an invitation from the Holy Spirit to enter into a deeper relationship with God. If a person feels compelled to pray more because they feel guilty, then more reflection should be done on why they aren’t praying more. There is a good chance that the devil is trying to make the person feel terrible about themselves so they are less capable of receiving God’s love.
I’ve been asked if seminarians have to do a holy hour of prayer a day. Not all seminarians do. Many (including myself) work into it over time. I like the holy hour because it gives me a chance to really talk to God by removing myself from the daily chaos. Sometimes it takes me an hour just to figure out what He’s been trying to say, and sometimes I don’t figure it out. I like the holy hour because it makes me consistent and guarantees that prayer is a regular part of my day, regardless of whether or not it is fulfilling. Some seminarians split a holy hour between morning and evening, and I know others who don’t have set amounts of time, hoping to have a more organic and less ‘legalistic’ approach with their relationship with God.
I also try to pray throughout my day, seeking to find how God is present around me. I will often offer up prayers of praise, thanksgiving, or petition to Him as I go about my day.
Kind of Prayer. Seminarians often discuss their prayer practices. What devotions should I do? How much should I read? Do I spend time in silence? There is no set structure that works for everyone. I had been recently struggling in my spiritual life because I had spent all my time trying to make my prayer coincide with the ideas of St. John of the Cross and St. Ignatius of Loyola. I had been living inside my spiritual toolbox, instead of living my spiritual life and going to my toolbox as a resource.
Use the kinds of prayer that feed you. My prayer since I’ve started seminary has gone through three major shifts. I began with praying mostly devotions and meditating on Scripture. I then did a lot of visual contemplation, putting myself into the Scripture and experiencing the scene as unfolds. Right now I spend more time in silence, using the Scripture to help me focus my attention on God and to help me focus less on my daily tasks.
The kinds of prayer you use will change with time. God gives us a particular grace to engage in a particular style of prayer, and that grace may change. Visual contemplation use to be very fruitful for me, and now I couldn’t do it if my life depended on it. God must have accomplished what He wanted with that form of prayer, and who knows, I may return to it someday. Pray however you are fed. Having said that, dryness is a natural part of prayer. It’s God’s way of seeing us how much we love Him. Will we continue to pray even when it doesn’t feel good?
After a dry spell in prayer, I asked my director if I was doing something wrong. He asked me to consider the fruit of my prayer. If I leave a ‘dry’ holy hour and still find myself acting lovingly and compassionately to others, was it really all that ineffective and dry?
Regardlessbof the kind of prayer you engage in, I highly recommend some silence. Give God a chance to talk!
Life at St. Meinrad
Here is a new video St. Meinrad made that shows what life is like at Seminary. The video interviews 3 seminarians who are at different points in their formation process, and they discuss their discernment, how they've benefitted from St. Meinrad, what they like most about seminary, and what some of the biggest suprises were for them.
I am one of the students they interviewed, and I think the finished video is very well done and represents my experience in seminary.
In case the video doesn't show up, you can click on this link and view it at the St. Meinrad Website.
The deepest desire of our heart is to know that we are loved. Before we can be fathers we must first be sons who know that we are loved. In order to be a father whether biological, or spiritual we must first be a son, and ultimately a son of God the Father. Our hope lies in God the Father, Our Father. At Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River, Matthew recounts that “when Jesus was baptized he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw this Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and behold a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17) Through our Baptism we participate in the word God proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We are already sons of the Father. We are already loved dearly by the One whose love matters the most. In our Baptism we begin to participate in the Trinitarian relationship. When we are baptized the Father calls us by name, “Aaron (you insert your name), you are my Son with whom I am well pleased.” Nothing we have done has merited this love, but God still loves us. At Baptism we enter into the perfect Trinitarian act of love. This love is more beautiful than any earthly harmony that has ever existed, or will exist. It is more beautiful than the most beautiful football pass where the QB throws the ball at just the right moment, and the ball just seems to sail through the air in a glorious spiral and the ball goes right to the receiver who catches the ball and steps into the end zone!
When we sin we choose to disrupt our movement within the Divine Harmony. Through our Baptism, we have everything given to us and yet we choose to separate from the Harmony and try to make our own happiness. This is the reason I find the Parable of the Prodigal Son to be so moving for me, because we begin to see how much we're loved as sons without earning any of it by ourselves. (If you want to read the parable which I would greatly encourage you to do, you can find it in Luke 15:11-32.) When we are baptized everything is provided for us. As we grow in the Christian life the Lord gives us a few responsibilities to help the Father in His vineyard, but everything is still provided for us if we would but ask. If we would even dare to ask for the fattened calf, this would be given to us. Often we choose to walk away with everything that we have, and were given. We squander all of our graces and our eternal inheritance in search of our own pleasures. To the Jews who heard Jesus speak this parable, they would have understood the son's asking for his share of the inheritance to be the ultimate slap in the face. To ask for the inheritance was to wish that the father was dead. When we sin, particularly in grave sin, our words and actions reject and deny our love for God. At some point our life hits bottom and they find themselves incredibly unclean and impure. For the Jews to work, sleep, and eat with pigs would have been seen as reaching rock-bottom, to be in a state of complete desperation, and hopelessness because pigs were seen as unclean and impure animals. It was to say that the son was a dirty and unclean animal.
At a certain point in our wandering we realize the emptiness in our life and we begin to work towards our true fulfillment but we CANNOT find the fulfillment by our self, or in our self. So where do we go? So often it feels like we cannot go back after we have broken the ties with someone dear to us, because we fear that we will not be welcomed back, or that we have forever destroyed the ties, or are too ashamed to go back. This is where I think the parable is the most powerful. I have seen grown men cry over the last part of this parable, because they have seen the infinite love of the Father, even after we have hurt him so deeply. Scripture shows us something of infinite beauty when in complete humility the son decides to go home and asks to be a servant because he recognized that he was no longer worthy of being called son, or receiving the love and affection of his father. “And he rose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and he ran and embraced and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) In order for the father to see the son coming from such a distance he had to have been watching the horizon, waiting and hoping the son would return. The father had waited so very long, and yet in all his years of waiting for his son he never gave up looking toward the horizon, waiting for the moment when his son would appear. 2000 years ago people did not run just to be healthy, as a matter of fact very few people ran. The Jews would have caught this point where we often overlook it in today's world. There were two groups of individuals who ran young children and slaves or servants. For this father of great wealth and stature to run was unheard-of because it was seen as being below his dignity. And yet the father ran because he was so overjoyed to see that his son had returned home.
Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son
Ultimately we are all sinners. Some of us are greater sinners than others. Some of us are more like the son who stayed with his father and worked for his father faithfully, and others of us are like the prodigal son who squandered everything in an attempt to find unnecessary worldly pleasure. The first son was ungrateful for the father’s mercy on the son who went astray. The second son denied the father outright, but the father loved both his sons greatly. This is true sonship. Neither son deserved the fathers love, but yet he loved both. We are not worthy of the Father's love. No one is worthy, and after everything we have done to offend Him, He still watches for us on the horizon day after day and waits for us to come back to Him. When he sees us in our repentance and humility returning to Him, He in His great excitement and joy RUNS to us, EMBRACES, and WELCOMES us back to His love by giving us more precious grace and a new and greater inheritance. It is here that we reenter into the beautiful Harmony of the Trinity. This is what it means to be a son: to be loved infinitely even though we do not deserve the love.
“For no greater love have a man then to lay down His life for a friend.” (John 15:13)