Diaconate Ordination

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)

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Know Yourself – Know Your Vocation

Mira Killian“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)

 

Decisions, Decisions

© Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence 2.0 attribution and sharealikeTwo roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…

Robert Frost perfectly captured the agony of choice in his poem The Road Not Taken. Each choice we make closes off others, each represents a commitment of sorts … a path we have chosen to follow knowing that there may be regret for the path left unexplored.

This came up recently on the Word On Fire Show with Bishop Robert Barron. The particular episode was a discussion called Heroic Priesthood. After spending some time talking about what it means to be a priest and how the ordained priesthood differs from the priesthood of all believers, Bishop Barron spends a few minutes talking about discernment. He suggests several useful tools including listening to the voices of others and finding a spiritual director. At the end of that he says:

Realize that life is short. One thing I find with the millennials a lot is they have this thing about keeping every option open all the time. That I have all options open all the time. Well you don’t. Life is short. It goes by fast. And so you can’t just keep everything open, you’ve got to say, “Jump in.” Jump onto a path. It’s not going to be perfect. You will have some regrets, but everybody does.

(The whole episode is worth your time, so click on over to listen to it as it includes some advice for the parents of discerners as well.)

So, what’s the antidote to indecision? Decisiveness. Easier said than done, though. What do you do if all options seem equally valid?

There was a good answer in a profile piece that ran on the Washington Post. It explores the discernment journey of a seminarian in DC. Anthony Furgeson felt drawn to the life of an artist and only gradually heard the call to priesthood.

He describes his early sense of being called as “horrifying”. He talks about waffling between being thrilled and terrified by the idea of religious life. Eventually, just before Christmas of 2013, he arrived at a moment of clarity.

“I felt like there was a fork in the road,” he recalls. “I could either choose life with this really nice girl, or I could apply to seminary. I knew I had to decide, and I knew if I decided one way, it would kinda close off the other path.”

At a Sunday Mass he prayed for guidance. “The response that I really sensed back — and I’m not going to say it was a Charlton Heston voice — it was just very gentle, quiet, placed-on-the-soul interior realization that it didn’t really matter which way I chose. The Lord would be there either way.”

Knowing that made it easier for Ferguson to consider what he truly wanted. “And when I thought about going into the priesthood, I really did feel that there was a warm sense of peace,” he says.

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by a couple of priests — God is not going to be angry if you choose one good over another. Conversely, God will be with you no matter which path you choose. So, as Bishop Barron says, “Jump onto a path.”

For parents, this means being willing to give your child the space to discern and let them know that they have your support either way. No matter what, they will still be your child and you can be confident that God will be with them.

I don’t think Robert Frost was speaking of religious life, but he made a good point when he finished his poem with:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Dad (of Evan)

Insights from a Sister’s Father

There have been a couple of great vocations posts over at Aleteia in the last few months and I thought they were worth passing along. Both were written by Matt Wenke and they give insights into his journey as a parent who saw a child called to religious life.

The first is called When I prayed for vocations, I didn’t mean God could have my daughter! What I appreciate about the piece is that Matt is utterly candid when he talks about how he felt.

If other men’s daughters expressed an interest in the convent or the cloister, I wouldn’t have questioned it at all. I would have been respectful of their choice and genuinely happy for them. “What a noble and beautiful vocation!” or, “What a meaningful life with a holy purpose!” I no doubt would have thought.

When I heard of my own daughter’s interest in the cloister, my immediate thought was, “Oh, my gosh, I hope you get a vacation… how often can you come home to visit?”

Isn’t it sad that my first thought wasn’t about Nora’s vocational fulfillment and spiritual well-being? My initial thought was that I might be missing my daughter’s presence in my home, and her gentle, delightful company.

His honesty continues as he lays bare his struggles with giving his daughter up to God. Take a few moments and read the rest of his story.

Recently he published a companion piece called So your loved one has become a religious…now what? This is written from his new perspective a little further along the journey.

One of the consolations, he’s found, is that he has been able to experience his daughter’s community.

Best of all, the Sisters graciously welcome us at the monastery twice per year for three day visits — with very liberal visiting times. These visits are a joyful reunion, punctuated by her prayer times, to which we are invited and in which we love to participate. In the chapel, we have a chance to praise God together, and get a sense of Frances Marie’s everyday life.

Ironically, in “losing” our daughter to a cloister, our “family” has grown! It is an absolute pleasure to “touch base” with the entire community as part of our visit. The sisters have become true family to us. Our concerns and burdens are theirs and theirs are ours. In the parlor the sisters show themselves as joyful, even playful women of all ages; they are witty and funny, seriously prayerful, reflective and wise.

As with the first article, there is much more to Matt’s story. It, too, is worth the time to read.

–Dad (of Evan)