Holy Week is over and I am so tired, worn-out, bushed. It was wonderful, but I’m paying the price right now. Try staring at data on a computer screen all day – everything is in a fog and I keep loosing track of what I am doing.
Last night, I finally was able to watch a couple episodes of “God or the Girl” on A&E. The show follows four young guys as they work through discerning whether they are called by God to be Roman Catholic priests and celibate. I remember my fellow CPE’er, Noel, who was a Roman Catholic seminarian in Chicago and from the Philippines, when he would come up and say to me, “How’s live without a wife?” Joking with him, I told him that only Roman priests had such a problem – Anglican and Orthodox priests don’t. This TV program is well done and so poignant, at least for some of us.
I saw in the four participants the struggles I have experienced over the last six or seven years in my preparation for the priesthood. One guy, Steve, is so vulnerable as he struggles through the “giving-up” of so many personal things as he discerns his call. Here is his bio, “Steve Horvath, 25, shocked his friends and family back in Virginia by leaving his job as a high-paid consultant to become a campus missionary at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Now shaking off the comforts of the privileged life he once had (and could still return to at any time), Steve finds himself simultaneously drawn to and terrified of the level of sacrifice he must make in order to truly heed God’s call.” At 24, Steve was making eighty thousand dollars a year, etc.
In this particular episode, Steve relinquishes his hesitation and agrees to go to a mission in Guatemala to work for a short time with the poor – the real poor. His life is changed forever, and by the time he leaves he is in tears. I can see in him the process of giving up of self. It is so hard giving up all that could be in our lives for the incredible and tremendous privilege of serving the people of God, His creation, humanity.
My dean at Kent State wrote a letter of recommendation to General Theological Seminary as I was applying for admittance. He wrote something along the lines of “I believe Bob’s pursuit of the priesthood is a tremendous waste of his talent and ability, but he will do very well…” A bit blunt. I have a great deal of respect for my former boss, Dr. Terry Kuhn. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I do know that after the completion of his Ph.D. and during his first teaching position at a Roman Catholic college run by nuns, he was forever turned off to organized religion, although not to faith. He was truly a mentor of mine (and I use those words very sparingly).
There are so many different things I could have done. I was a very reluctant aspirant to Holy Orders. I started the discernment process really because a group of priests would not let me go, not because it was something I wanted to do. I am thankful, but the process has been so hard.
Lord willing, I will soon come to the end of all the preparation and will be ordained priest. It is then only the beginning. The dying to self and giving of oneself to God and His Church, to people, is the process of making oneself completely vulnerable to… what?… everything. The process of coming to the point where one willingly gives up one’s life for the work of God is arduous, but I can’t think of anything I would have rather done or anywhere I would rather be right now.
I thought a couple times this past week as I watched the people of St. Paul’s: how incredibly fortunate and privileged I am to be able to be with them, to serve them, to watch God work in their lives, and see them transformed into the very people of God. Having to work a full time job, especially as a data-analyst, in order to be able to be with these people is not what I want to do. In yesterday’s episode, as Steve was going to Guatemala he kept saying that he could go back to work, make lots of money, and give it away so that lots of other folks could go and do the hard work of caring for humanity. He was making excuses, hanging onto his previously prosperous life, in the midst of having that part of him ripped out, and facing his fears and anxieties. Steve could go back to his old life, but the place God has for him is probably not in the business world, but in the world of the Church. He has to give up self.
I don’t want to work a full-time job and then put in what is left of my time and energy for St. Paul’s, but this seems to be what God has for me now. The position at the Medical Trust is a good one, and I am thankful for God’s provision, but my most productive hours are spent not being about the cure and care of souls. I have to come to terms with the fact that this may well be, and is probably, what I am called to right now. I have to give up self.