Tag Archives: vocation

Not a Wasted Decision

Gilbert and his Novitiate Spiritual Director, 2003

Gilbert and his Novitiate Spiritual Director, 2003

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.

We were a group of six who entered in 2003.

We were a group of six who entered in 2003.

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.

Wanting To Not Just Do Something But Be Something

I read a deeply thought out article on vocation and discipleship by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, featured in The Tidings newspaper, titled “The Three Levels of Christian Discipleship”:

There are three major phases in our human and spiritual journey:

            -Essential discipleship: The struggle to get our lives together;

            -Generative discipleship: The struggle to give our lives away;

            -Radical discipleship: The struggle to give our deaths away.

In a nutshell, he explains that we all naturally hit a point in our life that makes us want independence.  A Christian approach would be that transition from dependency on parents and their faith, to growing intellectually in our faith to claim it as our own, and start living out our life responsibly by building up a home for ourselves.

The next transition calls the Christian to step away from fulfilling personal needs, and to look outside of the self.  Being helpful to strangers, increasing the amount of volunteering done, etc.

The final stage is when a Christian realizes that there needs to be a way that we live out our life so that when we do die, we leave behind a great gift.  Not so much an inheritance or a legacy, but an acceptance of all things that come with death: general helplessness like loss of intellect, loss of being able to speak up, feeling “in the way,” or feeling unworthy of all the attention and favors given by both strangers and beloved ones.   In a simple phrase, when a Christian accepts their death, they strive in their own capacity not to be a burden on others.

The 3 stages aren’t meant to be compartments to force one’s self to fit in, but more like general objectives.  Even better, they help frame the main questions we could ask of ourselves to enrich our life and gauge our journey in the faith.

On a personal note, I’m in the second stage.  I’m yearning to give my life away.  I ache for it.  The difficulty is that I never really completed the first stage, that whole process of finding a full-time job, a place to live, a woman to marry.

Or better yet, it’s not so much that I didn’t finish the first stage, but that I’ve decided to merge the first and second:  I want to make a career of giving my life away.  I want to be able to have a family and home while primary serving others.

And so the idealist in me lives on, continuing to search, continuing to hope.

 

Read full article by Rev. Ron: The three levels of Christian discipleship.

Find out more of Rev. Ron here: www.ronrolheiser.com

Image originally found: http://ignitionblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/adventist-leaders-invited-to-discipleship-and-habitudes-training/