How funny things don’t always work out as you planned them to be; but there has been many gifts in all that I did not plan.
It was 10 years ago that I began my novitiate experience. When I entered the novitiate, I thought nothing of it at first. The novitiate is a place for a person to seriously take the next step towards becoming a “Religious,” that is someone who serves the Catholic church through a dedicated life of prayer, service, and who will live in community with other Religious.
I was told of my acceptance as a novice at a party only for Religious. They were celebrating one of the Saints that founded their community, St. Ignatius of Loyola. When I was told, I didn’t think I was going to be rejected, so I did lack surprise and even a little enthusiasm. “Are you excited?” the Religious in charge of vocations asked me. “Oh, sure!” I hastily replied, “I’m glad to start this next part of my journey.” We looked at each other for a couple of moments, we smiled, and then parted ways. I didn’t call anyone immediately. Yet, I did tell people at the party, and they congratulated me. My parents got the news when they came to pick me up. “Wow,” and, “That’s wonderful,” were the main comments I remembered. Everyone seemed happy, but as I said, I wasn’t overwhelmed with excitement.
I remember my enthusiasm shooting up as the week before I moved into the Novitiate began. I had both happiness and nervousness. I was sure I was doing the right thing for myself, renouncing any opportunity to be married in the future, but also knowing that the novitiate was still a trial time to really live out a Religious lifestyle so that in two years, I would make a proper discernment about whether to continue, or to do something other than the priesthood.
I remember also that very moment when my family and select friends said good-bye to me, and left the party that celebrated my moving-in day. I remember watching them leave, and finally saying to myself, “Wow, this is it.” Finally, I felt a sense of awe at the decision I had made.
It was only as I lived my first month at the novitiate that I started realizing how hard it was to live with men, be surround by men, and be constructively criticized by men. I was well aware of the sacrifices needed to live such a lifestyle, but I didn’t know how much growth I needed in humility and courage to become a priest.
I definitely thought it was supposed to be a cakewalk if it was meant to be.
I wrote about all this as one of my first journal entries in a leather-bound book I finally used up. It took 10 years to use all of it. I had stopped journaling often since I was writing in other ways: lengthy email updates to friends and family, writing reflections about books, and even writing letters to friends I had made across the Nation.
That was August 30, 2003. Since then, I have done many different things, and most of them not what I intended. The biggest change in events was my departure from the novitiate after one year, and eventually joining l’Arche in a very full-fledged way.
But it has been helpful to remember my “Entrance Day.” It reminds me of the hurt I went through most of my time at the novitiate, and how much I felt abandoned by God. I remember the fantasies of love that started to plague me as if I was smitten with a curse. I remember feeling lonely amid a community.
It’s after all that pain that now I see the truth. I now understand that God never abandoned me, nor did God want me to ditch loving companionships with women. But there is a difference between falling in love and having a respectful relationship, and objectifying love as if it was a “cure-all” to natural passions. I was lonely because I was choosing to distance myself from others, not letting the other men help me nor allowing my experiences to help them.
I would not change the course of events of my past. My prayer life has forever been affected with depth since my time in the novitiate. I believe that it wasn’t so much that my idea of becoming a priest was not meant to be. It’s more telling about the graciousness of God in allowing things to always work out for the better because I’m cared for. Maybe I was supposed to try harder to be humble, or grow deeper in courage, yet I am now where I am because I have said yes to dancing with God. Sometimes I wanted to lead the dance, but the best parts of the dance in my life have surely been when I decided HE could lead instead.