Back in April, I had the privilege of being part of a panel for the NRVC. We were talking about addressing parental concerns for those discerning. You can watch the whole video below.
The Deepest Truths
With the Ordination and First Mass behind us, I’ve been struggling a bit to find my footing in this strange new reality. Despite the fact that I’ve spent the past six years learning more about priestly formation and deepening my own understanding of Catholic theology, the actual reality of Evan’s ordination caught me flat-footed.
On Sunday, May 26, 2019 Evan returned to St. Rose of Lima (our home parish) to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving. Two of his Paulist brothers who had served as pastors of St. Rose in the 80s joined him and concelebrated. Our pastor, Fr. Clarence Sandoval, concelebrated as well. The church was packed with our parish family as well as friends and family of other faiths who came to celebrate with us.
It was a joyful worship, but one which was – at the same time – very, very strange. Seeing Evan at the altar leading the community in prayer, making the familiar gestures of blessing and consecration, and ultimately elevating the host and the cup was beautiful. He seemed so confident; his voice calm and clear as he recited the prayers and he moved through the liturgy as if he’d been doing it for years. It was a moment of fulfilment; the manifestation of something I’ve anticipated for a long time.
It was also deeply unsettling.
On Monday, Memorial Day, Evan celebrated a house Mass for us. So there, in our living room with our cats roaming about, we three enjoyed a quiet Mass before breakfast. In his alb and stole, Evan stood behind a desk which had been pressed into service as an altar. Just before he began, he said, “This is one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done.”
“Surreal.” That was the perfect word to describe what I’ve been feeling since the Ordination in New York.
I knew it was coming, but I don’t think I’d fully anticipated the impact. I hadn’t realized that Evan’s ordination would force me to confront the deepest truths of our faith.
In the language of the church, Ordination changed Evan at an ontological level. That is, through the sacrament, he has been changed and his relationship with the community has changed. The Evan who entered the church as a deacon, left as a priest. Those aren’t simply different titles; they are different states of being. At the same time, he is still very much the child Kit and I raised.
He has been given the authority to “confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi.” Which is a poetic way of expressing that he acts in the person of Christ to consecrate the bread and wine at Mass.
At the same time, he delights in good meals, entertaining movies, and beloved video games. He groans at my bad puns and shares warm hugs with his mother.
His is simultaneously a minister of heaven and a child of this world.
This is the very heart of our incarnational faith. God isn’t some remote figure who sits in a distant heaven judging us. God is the love which forms and sustains the universe. To drive the point home, God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ; simultaneously fully divine and fully human.
This strange co-existence isn’t just something which happens only at ordination. It is the nature of every sacrament to bring us face-to-face with the truth of the incarnation. It’s just that sometimes we get so used to the sacraments that we forget exactly what’s taking place. We overlook the extraordinary truth.
In the language of the church we call this a mystery. It’s a reality we can wrestle with, but never fully comprehend.
Evan’s ordination drew me up short and sharpened my awareness of the sacraments and the mystery they express. It reminded me that I participate in a community which treats the physical and the spiritual as parts of a whole and that the rituals and practices of the church are designed to put us in touch with the Divine. It was an invitation to enter into the mystery of faith in a new and deeper way.
For this, and for the opportunity to walk with Evan on his vocations journey, I can only say, “Thank you, Lord.” (Even if it’s going to still be weird to see him saying Mass!)
We are back from Evan’s ordination and, honestly, I think it’s going to take me a while to process everything. It was an extraordinary, wonderful, and transcendent experience. There will be a longer post later sharing some of my impressions.
In the meantime, the Paulists have posted links to the videos of Evan’s Ordination and Mass of Thanksgiving. If you have time and want to join in the celebration with us, please take a look. http://www.paulist.org/the-conversation/video-paulist-fr-evan-cummingss-ordination-and-first-mass/
— Dad (of
Evan Fr. Evan)
Vocations, Journeys, Paulists and Bread
As of this writing, we are one week away from (God willing) Evan’s ordination to the priesthood. To be completely honest, it’s all a bit overwhelming.
Earlier today the Paulists released a brief video profile of Evan in which he talks about his calling, how this blog started, the broader Paulist family and how he prays with bread. If you have four-and-a-half minutes, I think it’s worth watching. (Of course, I’m Evan’s dad so my opinion in this matter is not especially objective.)
Thank you all for your prayers for Evan and for all of us. Please continue praying and, if you can, please join us for the livestream of the Ordination at 10:00 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, May 18, 2019. You can find the stream on the Paulist Fathers Facebook page or their YouTube channel.
Finally, if you think you might be called to be a Paulist, you can learn more at the Paulist Fathers Vocations page.
— Dad (of Evan)
An invitation arrived in the mail this week. It wasn’t, of course, unexpected. In fact, we’ve had the date for a while now. The arrival of the invitation moves the ordination more solidly into the realm of “this is going to happen.”
I very much wanted to write something insightful here — something which summed up the last six years, something meaningful and inspiring.
But as I contemplate this next step in Evan’s journey all I can really give voice to is a profound sense of gratitude to God. Gratitude for both my sons, for my wife, for the life God has given me, and for love that God has shown me through all of this.
So I’ll leave the invitation here and ask your prayers for us and for Evan as he takes this next important step in his journey of faith and service.
Discernment — It May Not Be What You Think
There’s a phenomenon known as “analysis paralysis.” In essence, it refers to being so caught up in thinking about a decision that you face that you never actually make the decision. You go back-and-forth over alternatives wondering “what if” and “why not” and never actually make a move.
It’s a phenomenon which causes headaches for businesses, families and (especially) those who are trying to discern God’s will for their lives. And not just those discerning religious life, but all of us who feel called to God and aren’t quite sure what that means. It is all too easy to fret away our lives wondering whether or not we’re doing what God wants.
If all you’re doing is fretting, I’d venture to guess that you aren’t doing what God wants. Over at Aleteia, Meg Hunter-Kilmer takes this idea and runs with it. She describes herself as a “hobo missionary” who travels with no set agenda or fixed destinations. Her practical, lived advice on discernment is as refreshing as it is startling.
It’s a life of near-constant discernment, trying to figure out where to go and when, how long to stay and what to speak on. But I don’t spend a lot of time sitting in prayer waiting for angels to descend and hand me an itinerary. In fact, I discern in just the same way I tell others to discern: I’ve largely quit seeking God’s will.https://aleteia.org/2019/01/28/if-youre-discerning-you-have-to-read-this-it-will-change-what-you-think-you-know/
Meg expands on the idea, giving some practical advice which is simultaneously simple and difficult to follow. At the end of the piece she takes a gentle, self-deprecating tone as she contemplates her ultimate encounter with God.
It’s entirely possible that I’m going to go to my judgment and find the triune God standing baffled before me, wondering why on earth I thought I ought to be homeless and unemployed for the sake of the kingdom. There’s a reason people don’t live this way, and perhaps I’ve gotten it totally wrong and I was really supposed to be an accountant in Idaho or something.
Still, I expect to see pleasure mixed in with the bafflement. “Oh, but honey, well done. It was a weird life you chose, but you tried so hard. You got it wrong, but you sure were seeking me.”https://aleteia.org/2019/01/28/if-youre-discerning-you-have-to-read-this-it-will-change-what-you-think-you-know/
So, if you’re not quite sure what God has in mind for your life, join the rest of us confused human beings and follow Meg’s sage advice on discernment.
— Dad (of Evan)
It’s been a wonderful Christmas for us … and I hope for you as well.
Both boys were able to come home. It’s been good to be together again as a family. We’ve had lots of meals and laughter and family time.
Evan served as the deacon for a couple of Christmas Masses and it was wonderful to see him moving farther into his vocation.
The Paulist Fathers media team has put together a nine-minute “highlights reel” from the ordination Mass in September. It was a moving event that I doubt I’ll ever forget … but it’s still nice to have the video to go back to.
— Dad (of Evan)
Paulist Promises Mass — In Six Minutes!
The good folks who provide media for the Paulist Fathers have put together a short video to give you a little taste of the Promises Mass.
If you have the time, I think you’ll find this well worth watching!
— Dad (of Evan)
Eventful Weekend – Promises, Ordination, Blessings and Masses
We’re back from Washington, D.C. and I don’t know that there’s any way I can properly capture the experience for you. It was, in truth, a little overwhelming. Perhaps the best thing to do is to share little slices of what happened to give you a sense of what it was like.
Friday evening was the Promises Mass for the Paulist community. At present, the Paulist seminary occupies the top floor of St. Joseph’s seminary. The main chapel is a beautiful, compact space with a soaring ceiling and a sanctuary space surrounded by marble. The Mass was a celebration of the community during which two novices made their first promises, the continuing students renewed their promises for the coming year and Evan made his final, lifetime commitment to the community.
The Mass was lovely, with Fr. Andrews hitting the right notes of service and devotion during difficult times. The voices of the congregation, led by seminarian and cantor Richard Whitney, filled the worship space giving the occasion a sense of unity.
When it came time to make his commitment, Evan spoke clearly and firmly. I don’t think I was prepared for the emotional impact of the moment. I keep rewriting this paragraph over and over trying to find the words to capture the experience and I just can’t seem to manage. (Which doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of this post as there are bigger things coming!)
After the Mass there was a reception for everyone in attendance. Kit and I had some time to meet and mingle with the Paulist community. Over the past five years we’ve gotten quite close with several of the Paulist priests and others who are associated with the community. (Shout out to the Paul and the media team who were providing great coverage for the event.) We also met the parents of a young man who made his first promises. It was great talking to them and reflecting on our own experience of having a son in seminary.
After Final Promises, the next step on the road to the priesthood is ordination as a transitional deacon. Bishop Roy E. Campbell presided over the Mass in the Crypt church in the basement of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Evan was one of four men ordained that morning. The others represented other orders, but all of them had family there to support them. We have been to a deaconate ordination once before–for a friend who was entering the permanent deaconate in Salt Lake–but it is very different when it is your own child.
With an acapella choir of Franciscans for accompaniment, we spent about two hours in the solemn observance of the Mass and ordination. As has been the case in other ordinations, the most powerful moment came when the candidates lay prostrate on the floor while the choir and congregation chanted the Litany of the Saints. It was a few minutes of heaven on earth as we asked the Universal Church to pray for the men as they moved forward in their formation as priests.
A bit later in the Mass Evan was vested in his stole and dalmatic (the traditional vestments of the deacon) by his friend and inspiration Fr. Michael Hennessey C.S.P.
Ian, Evan’s older brother, was given the opportunity to bring forward the gifts during the Mass.
It was a timeless sort of experience. We were participating in a centuries-old ritual as our son joined an organization which is two millennia old. The cool perpetual twilight of the Crypt church, the smell of the incense, the plain chant and the ancient prayers and formulas made this a moment out-of-time; at once ephemeral and eternal. We were able to be fully present as the Mass unfolded and, at the same time, it seemed to end too soon.
Kit and I wanted to be completely present to the Mass, so we didn’t take any pictures. We’re grateful to Kit’s sister Beth and to the Paulist media team for sharing the pictures they took.
As a consequence of their ordination, deacons are able to impart blessings on objects and people. Some time ago Kit and I realized that we didn’t actually have a crucifix in our home. We decided we’d buy one and ask Evan to bless it for us. We found a San Damiano crucifix at the Basilica gift shop. We took it (along with a few other religious items we picked up) to the seminary after the ordination. Evan put on a stole and blessed everything by following a rubric from a book of blessings he received as an ordination gift.
This was, for me, a very surreal moment. I have seen hundreds of objects blessed. I have a modest understanding of the theology involved. But, to see my own son performing the ritual was … odd. It reinforced the fact that by virtue of ordination he has been ontologically changed. Again, words fail me in conveying exactly how it felt.
The final event of the weekend was the first Mass at which Evan served as a deacon. He’s been assigned to work at St. Elizabeth’s parish in Rockville, Maryland. To this point, he’s mostly worked with the young adults and RCIA groups. As a deacon, he’ll be spending a lot more time in the sanctuary. We were able to attend Mass with him before we had to catch our flight home.
The Paulists brought along the students and novices and some of the priests who had come for the ordination. We watched as the familiar beats of the Mass moved along, but with a new joy as we saw our son performing the actions of a deacon. This rendered the ordinary extraordinary in every sense of the word.
For Kit and I, the overwhelming response is gratitude to a God who has invited us to a ringside seat as our son cooperates with grace. It is humbling and beautiful to witness. We are also grateful for the many people who have prayed for Evan and for us through this experience. May God richly bless you as he has blessed us.
Next Steps – Final Promises and Deaconate Ordination
As we’ve noted elsewhere, one of the challenges involved in blogging about the seminary experience is that there’s a lot to write about at the beginning, not much in the middle, and then a whole lot to write about at the end.
Evan is entering his last year of formation and we find ourselves approaching a couple of important milestones. Although the process of priestly formation no longer includes the full formality of all of the minor orders, there are still several important milestones along the way. Those who are members of a society of apostolic life must make final promises and all who are headed toward priesthood must be ordained as transitional deacons.
God willing, this coming Labor Day weekend Evan will make his final promises and be ordained a transitional deacon. To help understand these two important events, it we’ll take a look back to last year’s final promises and deaconate ordinations with Ryan Casey and Mike Hennessy.
Final promises Mass is the time when a seminarian (who has been making annual promises) makes a final, life-long commitment to the Paulists. You might be wondering why “promises” and not “vows”. As the Wikipedia explains:
The Paulists are a society of apostolic life, meaning they do not make religious vows; rather, by means of promises they are supposed to pursue their mission through living in community.
This is an important moment in the life of a Paulist. It was a moving moment for both Mike and Ryan:
Like Ryan, Mike Hennessy was also touched by being surrounded by brother priests. The most moving moment for him was “when the other Paulists who have already made their final promises came up and we were all together — surrounded each other.”
“They’ve all been where I’ve been,” Mike said. “And, you know, they have years of experience and ups and downs and struggles and joys that I’ll be able to, God willing, share in now myself.”
Fr. Eric Andrews presided over the Mass and carried on a Paulist tradition.
Friday’s celebration also included a traditional moment of levity when Fr. Eric gave Ryan and Mike each a symbolic penny in payment for a lifetime of ministry work. The men also were given the traditional Paulist Mission Cross, dark wood crucifixes that symbolize the community’s mission.
“For some, the cross is foolishness, for others a stumbling block,” Fr. Eric prayed during the blessing of the mission crosses. “But for those who believe, it is the Power of Christ and the Wisdom of God.”
The day after final promises, Ryan and Mike were ordained as transitional deacons.
Ryan and Mike committed to several promises including obedience. One of the most moving points of ordination masses is the moment when the ordinands lie prostrate in front of the altar and the congregation sings the Litany of the Saints.
As part of [the ordination] liturgy, Ryan and Mike were publicly vested in new garments to indicate their new status, and they immediately took their place at the altar, and then, seated on either side of the bishop.
“These days after surgery you’re up and walking within hours,” Bishop Knestout said. “After ordination, you’re serving at the altar within minutes.”
Deacons, whether transitional or permanent, are ordained clergy. As a result, deacons are permitted to do a number of things which aren’t possible for lay people. They can:
- preach during Mass
- expose and repose the blessed sacrament for adoration
- impart many types blessings
- conduct Baptisms, weddings and funerals
Deacons may not:
- celebrate Mass
- hear confessions and grant absolution
- perform the anointing of the sick
- ordain anyone
There are some people who think of a deacon as a sort of “lite priest,” but that misses the point. The role of the ordained deacon is different from and complimentary to the roles of other ordained clergy. (For more information on the deaconate in the U.S. check out the resources available from the USCCB.)
By the way, the passage through the transitional deaconate isn’t just an idea that someone came up with to mark the time. It is a requirement of the law of the church. Canon law requires that a man entering the priesthood must be a transitional deacon for at least six months before being ordained as a priest.
We are looking forward to being with Evan and our extended Paulist family in D.C. in a few weeks. We hope to celebrate not only Evan’s milestone, but also the dedication and faith of all the in the Paulist community.
The deaconate ordination is a time or great joy for the community and the families of those involved. To give you a taste of that, I’ll leave you with a some sound clips from Ryan and Michael’s families.
Thoughts on Obedience
(Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Megan Dahle shares a few thoughts on an aspect of the priesthood that is sometimes overlooked.)
Many Catholic parents are excited when their sons show, on their own accord, increased devotion to Christ and to his church. When many young men fall away from the truth, it can be especially joyful to see the opposite happen in your family.
They smile when their children show interest in the saints or attend mass more than once a week. They are excited to see their children partake in the sacrament of reconciliation or buy religious medals to remind them of the lives of the faithful.
When parents see that devotion turns into a desire to take holy orders, parents can sometimes have objections and worries about their son’s future life and happiness. When a young man is ordained a priest, among his vows are celibacy and obedience. While most of the conversation around the discipline of the priesthood surrounds the vow of celibacy, obedience can be difficult for parents to accept, too.
Obedience Can Be Scary
Why do parents object to the idea of obedience? We all want to think that we are independent, free to choose our own life’s path and direction. This is particularly the case in America and the rest of the west, because we often confuse the general good of political freedom with complete personal freedom as well. But the desire to remain independent is not something that God desires for us.
Being Fully Human
To understand the virtue of obedience, one must understand what it means to be human as God designed us to be. For that, Christians across the world turn to the creation story in the book of Genesis, because it describes what God intended for his creation.
In Genesis, chapter one, we read, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God created humans in his image, which means that God’s image is manifest in us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the image of God is made manifest when we live in accordance with the created order and obey God’s will.
The Image of God: Sin and Redemption
Independence from God’s will, however, comes from sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s will by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they marred humanity with “the wound of original sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1707). Our desire to be independent comes from our desire to be independent of God.
Jesus Christ’s passion and resurrection, however, heal the wounds of sin and restore the image of God in us. The adoption we receive in baptism gives us the power to live rightly and obedient to God’s will. The life of a faithful Catholic is a struggle between the desire to obey God and the desire to sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1707-1709).
The Paradox of Obedience
We cannot be completely free, because we always obey one master, whether it be God or sin (see Romans 8). Being fully human, by manifesting the divine image, means we live in perfect obedience to God’s holy will. When we are independent, however, we end up as prisoners to sin and bound in chains of our own making.
Even St. Paul lamented how frustrating this can be for the faithful Christian when he writes, “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:23). This rule is counterintuitive, and provides a seeming paradox: obedience is freedom. Independence is slavery.
The Life of Jesus
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, demonstrates this principle most completely in his obedience and submission. Though he was the eternal Son of God, he submitted himself to fallible human beings, his parents. “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). Not only does Jesus follow God’s will, but he submits to the proper authorities, which, in this case, means his parents.
The whole of Jesus’ life was following his Father’s will. He says in John, chapter eight, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”
We see perhaps the most beautiful example of Jesus’ total obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus leaves his disciples to pray, and he asks God to spare him. He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus expressed his freedom through submission to God and His will.
The Religious Life
The religious life helps us to see the freedom of obedience, not just to God, but also to religious authorities above us. Monks and nuns across the world follow orders or rules that guide their daily existence. One of the most famous of these orders is the Order of St. Benedict. He writes about the virtue of obedience:
“not living according to their own choice nor obeying their own desires and pleasures but walking by another’s judgment and command, they dwell in monasteries and desire to have an Abbot over them. Assuredly such as these are living up to that maxim of the Lord in which He says, ‘I have come not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me’(John 6:38).”
These orders prescribe a pattern for daily life including the most mundane details like the clothes one wears. The order prescribes daily life in such detail, because obedience in small things trains the heart to obey God when temptation arises. Following the rule helps the faithful Christian obey God when it counts.
Thomas a Kempis wrote about this in his famous book, Imitation of Christ. “Go where you may, you will find no rest except in humble obedience to the rule of authority. Dreams of happiness expected from change and different places have deceived many.”
For people who are used to talk of freedom, obedience can seem scary. We imagine harsh dictators and cruel oppression.
In the Catholic Church, however, obedience is a great virtue. Obedience to Christ and to religious authorities opens the door to manifesting the image of God by submitting our wills to the will of another. In this way, we train ourselves to be obedient to God.
Megan Dahle is a Catholic Blogger who likes to emphasize in her writing both the life of prayer and how to live bravely as a Catholic in modern society. She is a devoted mother and wife and a Catholic business owner. Before this eCommerce adventure, she was an accountant. She enjoys coaching robotics for her daughters’ FLL teams and gardening.
God willing, three men who have been in formation to become Paulist priests will be ordained on Saturday.
In anticipation, the Paulist website been running some profile pieces and reflections by these three men. Here are some handy links:
- Stuart Wilson Smith — An Adventure in Service
- Matt Berrios — Last-Chance Mass Leads to Ordination
- Steve Petroff — Audio Interview
Please join us in praying for these men as they prepare for their ordination. May God bless them and their ministries!
— Kevin (Dad of Evan)
What Would You Say?
On a recent podcast episode of “The Busted Halo Radio Show“, Fr. Dave Dwyer offered some Fatherly Advice to a young caller who was struggling with discernment.
The young man said that he had turned down a great job and the woman he loved to go to a monastery. On the one hand he felt a strong call from God, on the other he had some negative emotion around the things he was giving up. He asked Fr. Dave to give him some insight into what he might do and how he might move forward.
If he had asked you, what would you say? Would you answer one way if he was your son and another if he was a friend or the child of a friend? In the moment — when the question is posed unexpectedly — it can be difficult to know what to say.
The USSCB vocations page has a ‘Frequently Asked Questions‘ section which touches on this:
How should I react if my son or daughter talks to me about becoming a priest, nun, or brother?
If this hasn’t happened yet, maybe you ought to ask yourself how you or your spouse might react. Would it be shock? Concern? Skepticism? Would this be a dream come true for you or your worst nightmare? Knowing and understanding your own feelings and your reasons for them is an important step in knowing how to respond to your son or daughter. The vast majority of teens today feel that if they told their parents they were even “just thinking” about priesthood or religious life, their parents would be completely opposed to the idea, laugh at them, or in some other way not take them seriously.
What you say in that moment may have a long-lasting impact on other’s decisions. Yours may be the voice which confirms someone’s belief or increases their doubts. What is important is to recognize that when someone discusses discernment with you, they are sharing something they’ve probably been wrestling with for a while. They are taking a risk by being vulnerable and sharing their struggle. How you react will influence not only their decision, but also the future of the relationship between the two of you.
If your child says they want to pursue religious life, you may have legitimate questions and concerns. You might believe your child isn’t suited for the life or you may simply be overwhelmed with the unknown. The same can be said of just about any major decision your child makes. Perhaps they intend to marry someone you believe to be unsuitable. Or they might want to pursue a career for the money, while you feel that the job will frustrate and demoralize them. On the other hand, they might be turning down what you believe to be a great opportunity.
No matter what decision they make, they will remember how you made them feel. If you were condescending or dismissive, they’ll remember. If you’re open and attentive — even if you disagree with them — they’ll remember that too. No matter what your personal feelings, it’s best to be thoughtful in how you communicate. The rest of your life is a long time and it’s important to think about the kind of relationship you want to have with your child.
Obviously, Fr. Dave didn’t have to worry as much about the future of his relationship with the caller. Odds are, Fr. Dave and that young may will never speak again. However, Fr. Dave does a great job of modeling how to have a conversation around the topic of discernment. If you’re struggling with how to talk to your child about their vocation, take a few minutes and listen to how Fr. Dave handles it.
Know Yourself – Know Your Vocation
“Do you want God’s dreams for your life or your dreams for your life?”
When a kindly priest asks you that question in the confines of a confessional, the “correct” answer is pretty obvious.
Except, how am I supposed to know God’s dreams for my life? What am I supposed to do with my life? What is my purpose?
To explore this question, I’d like to take a little side trip through popular culture.
In the live action science fiction film Ghost in the Shell, Mira Killian believes she understands her purpose. She and her parents drowned when their refugee boat was sunk by techno terrorists. Her parents’ deaths were final, but Mira is granted a second life through the miracle of robotic technology. Her brain—the only salvageable part of her original being—was implanted in a new robot body. Motivated by her own tragedy and a desire to stop future attacks, Mira works tirelessly for the anti-terrorist bureau called Section 9. Within a year, she’s promoted to the rank of major and responds more readily to her rank than her name. Her job is her identity.
Her world starts to shift when a terrorist hacker beings killing high-level employees of Hanka Robotics, the company that built her body. While working the case, she begins experiencing glitches—brief visual hallucinations—that leave her feeling uneasy.
Her creator, Dr. Ouelet, erases the glitches and assures Major that they are nothing to worry about. She also encourages Major to keep taking the medication that keeps her flesh brain from rejecting her robot body.
In a reflective moment in Dr. Ouelet’s lab, Major says, “Everyone around me, they feel connected to something… connected to something I’m not.”
It’s the first time that Major gives voice to the idea that she might be on the wrong path—that she might not be fulfilling her proper role. She might have benefitted from the insight of theologian and author Parker Palmer:
Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved, but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
So long as she doesn’t really know herself, Major can’t really understand what she is supposed to do. That lack of understanding lies at the root of her feelings of disconnectedness.
As the story unfolds, the glitches intensify and she begins experiencing repeated visions of a burning building. It pops up at the most inconvenient of times, like when she is closing in on the deadly terrorist Kuze.
A moment’s distraction leads to her capture. Kuze’s goal is not her torture or death, but rather her enlightenment. He knows what she is, where she came from, and understands the emptiness she feels. He has experienced it, too. He tells her that the medicine is intended to repress her real memories and that she will regain her true self if she stops taking it.
Which makes me wonder about my true self. What am I doing—or NOT doing—that is keeping me from who I should be? As a Christian, I want my intentions for my life to line up with God’s. Am I making myself busy to show God how “righteous” I am when I should spend more time worshiping? Am I substituting rules, regulations, and rubrics for living my true calling? Am I so busy judging people that I don’t make time to love and help them? Like Major’s medicine, my choices can seem to be positive when they’re actually a barrier to the life I should be living.
Troubled by what Kuze told her, Major sets out to find the truth. Her quest leads her back to Dr. Ouelet who tells her that most of what she “remembers” about her old life was implanted. She and her parents weren’t on a refugee boat, nor was she the only experimental subject. This knowledge sends Major off on a new path. She needs to know who she was and how she came to be the Major.
Major’s “knowing” of her true identity came at the cost of surrender. She had to give up her image of herself and accept that the truth might be different from what she had been told. In some ways, she might have been more comfortable taking the medicine and having her memory wiped. Learning the truth about ourselves can be unnerving, but it may be the best way to figure out our future.
The way forward, I think, is to cultivate a relationship of deep honesty and openness with God. That means being vulnerable and humble, and honestly asking “What did God make me to do?” It probably means finding an objective person – a counselor or spiritual director – to serve as a sounding board and give me candid feedback. Just like Major I’m going to have to surrender my illusions for the truth.
Tough stuff? Sure. Knowing myself deep down is no easy task. It’s scary. My illusions are comfortable and safe, but the lives of the great Biblical figures and generations of saints show me that God most often speaks to the people who are listening. Maybe if I start just by trying to listen, God will help me see beyond my imagined self to the true self I’m meant to be.
In the meantime, I think I’ll meditate on Thomas Merton’s famous prayer of abandonment:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
(A different version of this post first appeared at Area of Effect magazine. It also expands on an earlier post on this site.)
— Dad (of Evan)