Examiner.com: Pope2You: More of an invitation

27 05 2009

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In recent weeks, I have been searching for sources which provide updates about the Pope and the Vatican, but have been pretty unsuccessful. The closest which I have come to finding such updates may be found at the Vatican’s web site, but these require a little bit of mining through foreign languages in order to wiggle my way to an English translation. (Thanks be to God for the similarities of the Romance languages, otherwise I would be completely lost.) While browsing my selection of RSS feeds last week, I came across some articles which stated that through a new website, Pope2You, the Pope and the happenings of the Church were going to be made more easily accessible via Internet technologies such as YouTube, Wiki, Facebook and an iPhone app. I was enamoured by the idea: no more sifting through the (sometimes good) interpretations of various news agencies, but hearing things straight from the horse’s mouth.

But, unfortunately for me, the majority of the articles which I came across were premature in their conclusions (or, just inaccurate). The website was launched in conjunction with the 43rd World Communications Day, mainly in order to propagate the Pope’s message to all Catholics on this occasion, but also to open up some new avenues by which Catholics may remain in touch with the larger Church. The website is essentially a hub to four different locations: 

WikiCath. At this point, it doesn’t appear to be a Wiki. It is an exposition of the Pope’s message, as the page from Pope2You states, but, currently, it is just that. (I’m unsure if this is eventually going to become a “Catholic Wikipedia” or not. One can hope.)
Facebook App. A simple application which, as of now, provides about 20 different postcards (with a picture and a brief quote from the Pope) which one may send to his friends.
iPhone App. Since I don’t have an iPhone, I cannot directly comment. However, I had one of my iPhone-enabled friends check it out, and he tells me that it provides a video feed from H2Onews. 
YouTube: Vatican. A link to the Vatican’s YouTube channel, which now hosts just over 200 videos of the Pope’s messages and meetings, etc.
  1. WikiCath. At this point, it doesn’t appear to be a Wiki. It is an exposition of the Pope’s message, as the page from Pope2You states, but, currently, it is just that. (I’m unsure if this is eventually going to become a “Catholic Wikipedia” or not. One can hope.)
  2. Facebook App. A simple application which, as of now, provides about 20 different postcards (with a picture and a brief quote from the Pope) which one may send to his friends.
  3. iPhone App. Since I don’t have an iPhone, I cannot directly comment. However, I had one of my iPhone-enabled friends check it out, and he tells me that it provides a video feed from H2Onews
  4. YouTube: Vatican. A link to the Vatican’s YouTube channel, which now hosts just over 200 videos of the Pope’s messages and meetings, etc.
While these offerings are not quite what I was looking for and my little bubble of hope for straight- and easy-access to the statements of the Pope and happenings at the Vatican may have been burst, I am more inspired by the invitation which the Pope has extended to all Catholics: to use technology in order to pursue (and promote the pursuit of) truth, goodness, and beauty; to be engage in sincere and honest dialogue; to enable the marginalized to participate in these new forms of communication; to expand one’s friends and acquaintances, but not at the expense of those we know and meet in daily life; to bring the life and light of the Gospel to the “digital continent” through the means of communication which are surrounding us. Here’s a snippet to whet your appetite:
While the speed with which the new technologies have evolved in terms of their efficiency and reliability is rightly a source of wonder, their popularity with users should not surprise us, as they respond to a fundamental desire of people to communicate and to relate to each other. This desire for communication and friendship is rooted in our very nature as human beings and cannot be adequately understood as a response to technical innovations. In the light of the biblical message, it should be seen primarily as a reflection of our participation in the communicative and unifying Love of God, who desires to make of all humanity one family. When we find ourselves drawn towards other people, when we want to know more about them and make ourselves known to them, we are responding to God’s call – a call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the God of communication and communion.
 
The desire for connectedness and the instinct for communication that are so obvious in contemporary culture are best understood as modern manifestations of the basic and enduring propensity of humans to reach beyond themselves and to seek communion with others. In reality, when we open ourselves to others, we are fulfilling our deepest need and becoming more fully human. Loving is, in fact, what we are designed for by our Creator. Naturally, I am not talking about fleeting, shallow relationships, I am talking about the real love that is at the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “You must love your neighbour as yourself” (cf. Mk 12:30-31). In this light, reflecting on the significance of the new technologies, it is important to focus not just on their undoubted capacity to foster contact between people, but on the quality of the content that is put into circulation using these means. I would encourage all people of good will who are active in the emerging environment of digital communication to commit themselves to promoting a culture of respect, dialogue and friendship.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better message to come across in my pursuit. (But I’m still searching. Anyone have a clue?)
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Examiner.com: CatholicVote.org Pro-Life videos

14 05 2009

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Before the presidential election in 2008, Catholic Vote (a project of Fidelis Center for Law and Policy) released a well-made video which urged Catholics to consider the most important issues which are facing our culture: the recognition of the dignity of every human life (from conception to natural death) and the strengthening of the family (“the building block of society,” following the teaching of John Paul II). Although this video was well-made and moving, I was left a little dumbstruck at how the ending statement had seemingly deflated what had been built up in the previous three minutes. It is, after all, imperative to vote using one’s conscience; however, the ambiguity of the word “conscience” in our society and the consequent ease with which the phrase can be misconstrued left me wondering about its appropriateness in this particular video.

Since the release of this video, Catholic Vote has released two more: one shortly following Obama’s installation as President and the other within the last week. In contrast to the possible ambiguity of their first release, both of these videos have pro-life messages which are very well thought out and presented. They are able, I believe, to reach to people on both sides of the debate with presentations which are realistic and enlightening.

On many occasions, they tried to air their first video on national television, but were unsuccessful. They had hoped to present it during the last Super Bowl (on CBS) and during President Obama’s first State of the Union address (on CNN). It would have been a very compelling message to hear during the President’s address, but it was rejected because the networks did not want to entangle themselves in an issue as weighty as abortion. It’s an odd thing to hear from a TV network, as they seem all-too-comfortable presenting controversial material – including abortion – every day.*

The second video has no parallel event which would make it as apropos as the first, but it is also very beautifully made and very convincingly argued. They are, as far as I am aware, trying to have this one aired during the American Idol finale and are currently raising funds in order to make the ad go live.

Give ’em a peek and let me know what you think.

 

 


* I wouldn’t think it a far stretch of the imagination to say that the video didn’t align with the agenda of the networks. For example, according to mainstream sources (even Fox) there are about 50,000 people who participate in the annual March for Life in Washington D.C. (This is not to mention that there is next to no mainsteam media coverage of this event.) To nearly any source outside of the mainstream, there are approximately 400,000 to 500,000 people.





Examiner.com: Notre Dame and Obama: Why is this an issue?

12 05 2009

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Although this will be considered by some to be “old news,” there still seems to be a confusion amongst the general public as to why Notre Dame’s decision to give President Obama an honorary doctorate and allowing him to be the commencement speaker is an issue, much less newsworthy. After all, he is the President, right? For this, he could just as well be given an honorary doctorate at any university. So, why is this an issue at the nation’s best known Catholic university?

The mission of Catholic schools, first and foremost, is to spread the Gospel through its environment, its curriculum, its decisions (both public and private), etc. This does not mean that everyone who attends must be Catholic, nor that every class (in whatever subject) will be used as an opportunity for captive-audience-proselytization. Rather, it means that through its various classes and other works, it will retain (and be faithful to) its Catholic identity. That is, it should remain a faithful Catholic. This, I think, is to be expected of any institution, that it remain faithful to its identity and roots in order to continue to identify itself with said group. When a living thing dies, it is no longer “alive,” but “dead.” It no longer belongs to the “institution” of living things.

Unfortunately, as will be readily attested by many faithful Catholics, just because a university (or other institution) was begun as a Catholic institution, does not mean that it remains so. As a matter of fact, the list of “steadily” Catholic institutions of higher education (as compiled by the Cardinal Newman Society) is rather small. (There is the possibility that there should be more – or less – schools on that list, but that is besides the point.) The granting of an honorary doctorate and the opportunity to deliver the commencement speech at a university is, well, an honor. And this honor is bestowed on an individual in order to recognize some accomplishment(s) of the recipient. One would assume that the commencement speaker sought would not be found in contradiction to the school or its principles. For example, I cannot imagine that Auburn University (which has a strong agricultural program) would honor Pamela Anderson (a loyal and outspoken PETA supporter) with a degree, nor an opportunity to deliver the commencement speech. In a similar, but more serious way, the (Catholic) University of Notre Dame has invited a man, regardless of which office he holds, of whom it is well-known that he stands in direct opposition to fundamental teachings and beliefs which it should hold proudly and joyfully as a Catholic institution (and would certainly be justified in being humored by such a proposition). I mean, would a Jewish institution invite Mel Gibson’s father, who has denied that the Holocaust ever happened, to receive such an honor (or any honor, for that matter)? Would Islamic jihadistsinvite George Bush over to congratulate him for a “job well done”? Why would an institution whose name means “Our Lady” invite a man who has consistently promoted agendas which are in direct opposition to many of its most sincere and foundational beliefs to their ceremony to grant this honor to him? They (being Father Jenkins and the supporting staff) have honored a man who, in action, hates what they (should) hold most dearly.

The problem which arises from this is that this is a source of tremendous scandal, especially so amidst the confusion which already exists amongst both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. What message is this sending to the world? It would surely seem as if everyone knew that the Catholic Church is opposed to many of President Obama’s actions (an understanding ofwhy this is so is a different issue), yet here is a Catholic institution honoring him with a doctorate. This can be easily interpreted (especially for the estimated 50-plus percent of Catholics who voted for Obama), as a stamp of approval on a man who has continuously fought against beliefs which are (and should be) foundational for all Catholics. For whatever reason they have decided to honor him (more than likely because of some falsely perceived “social justice” platform), those responsible have simultaneously honored a man who has supported abortion at all stages of pregnancy (and, in Illinois, even for the killing of those babies who weren’t “successfully” aborted), sent millions of dollars to other countries in order to facilitate abortions in the middle of an economic crisis, intends to allow funding for the destruction of human embryos in order to harvest unstable stem cells which have never cured anything (while shunning adult stem cells which have already cured many), not to mention his apparent inclination to socialism (to which the Church is strongly opposed), and his general attitude of moral relativism (“I personally ‘believe’ this is wrong, but who am I to force my ‘beliefs’ on others?”, which Pope Benedict has repeatedly called “the major evil facing the church.“). This is not a man whom the Church (in any of her institutions) should honor because of his actions, thereby presenting the message that “This man is one whom we should uphold as a model to be followed,” because his actions are (intentionally or not) violent to the beliefs and teachings of Catholicism (especially those which are foundational to the teachings on social justice). I am not advocating that Catholics should write him off as intrinsically evil and condemn him outright, nor that the Church should close the possibility of open dialog with him, but I do not believe that providing an environment whereby his actions could be perceived as “acceptable” is in the realm of right judgment.

In closing, I would like to thank the 350,000-plus people who have petitioned Fr. Jenkins of Notre Dame to rescind his invitation to President Obama, as well as all of those who have protested, and the unfortunate few (including Dr. Alan Keyes) who have been arrested thus far because of their protest. Because of their actions, the murkiness of this event has been clarified some and the public was exposed to the dichotomy which has presented itself in light of the university’s decision.





Examiner.com

10 05 2009

I have recently taken a freelance position with Examiner.com as the Birmingham Catholic Examiner. As I will be writing on topics similar to those which I would write here, I am simply going to provide a link to my Examiner articles on here as I write them. I intend to continue with this blog as well, but we shall see where the writing takes me. Maybe I’ll be able to swing them both, maybe I’ll take less time to procrastinate, or maybe I shall be drowned in the ink of my pen. We shall see.





Retaining current conscience regulations

8 04 2009

Ever since the threat of rescission of the conscience regulations instituted by the Bush administration (which protect the rights of health care workers), many of the U.S. bishops (including my own) have spoken out in order to protect the regulations which are currently in place. (The call of Cardinal Francis George may be seen here and the USCCB’s page dedicated to this effort is here.) We, as U.S. citizens, and especially as Catholics, are being asked to speak out to our leaders in order to prevent the government from attempting to intrude an aspect of humans which should be revered as fundamental to individual and, consequently, societal flourishing: our consciences. Granted, our consciences as a society (often enough) aren’t properly formed, but to have the ability to say “no” (without a penalty) removed for those who would refrain from doing something which they consider to be inherently evil, is, frankly, scary. In order to attempt to protect those who are affected by these regulations, we have been asked to contact those in charge. This may be done in several ways (n.b.: a sample statement to send may be found below these options):

  1. e-mail proposedrescission@hhs.gov,
  2. sending your comments via NCHLA – sponsored by the USCCB (also, it has a generic message which you may edit before sending),
  3. visiting the U.S. Government Regulations website and enter “0991-AB49” in the search box (via Word, Wordperfect, or Excel),
  4. mailing one original and two copies via snail mail to: Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue SW, Room 716G, Washington, D.C. 20201.

Here is an argument against the proposed rescission, which you may use in contacting them, if you so choose:

I am writing today to ask those who are in charge to retain the conscience regulations which are in place to protect health care workers from providing services which they regard as morally offensive. I find that this destroys the freedom and autonomy of the individual to act according to his or her conscience, which I find, in itself, to be morally offensive. Removing this protection would prevent citizens from acting freely, according to their most deeply held convictions (which shape who we are), forcing them either to be penalized, resign, or act as “robots” of the State’s bidding, none of which respect the dignity and autonomy of the human person to act on his or her own free will according to the formation of their conscience. It would also seem that, were this regulation be eliminated, the problem would then be prepared to spread itself throughout the rest of the institutions of our country. And then, are we all to bow before the will of the State (read: those few who are in control and want their will obeyed through the power of the State), regardless of the things which we believe and especially those which believe to be duties higher than those of the State? The consequences of eliminating these regulations would be the beginning (continuing?) of the removal of the ability of the person to act according to his own mind and will, rendering him (for all practical purposes) less than human and nothing more than a blind instrument of the State: consequences which have nothing to do with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all citizens of the United States.

Sincerely,
Name, Address, etc.
Thanks in particular to my bishop, Robert Baker, and CatholicVote.org for raising awareness of this issue.




A reply to Mark Morford on the Pope, condoms, and AIDS

8 04 2009

Almost a week ago, I received an e-mail which I had initially assumed was related to the comment of Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project for the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, which said “the Pope is correct” about the use of condoms increasing the spread of HIV/AIDS, etc., rather than decreasing them, as its supporters would have us to believe (check below for links to articles of Mr. Green’s statement). However, the e-mail was only an article written by Mark Morford of the San Francisco Gate, which was simply a lengthy character attack of the Pope. I let the e-mail hang out in my inbox for a few days, until I finally decided to respond to it. What follows is the text (minus personal elements) of my response which I now offer as a response to Mr. Morford’s article.

I have read and skimmed through the article which you have sent me and have discovered that the clip in the e-mail would have been enough to suffice for what was to follow in the rest of the article. It is, from beginning to end, simply an attack on the character of a man with whom the author does not even seem to have any familiarity at all – else he would not lower himself to speak so superficially and dismissively about him. Nor would he have any reason to hold the Dalai Lama up on a pedestal (also a religious leader) while simultaneously attempting to attack a man who sticks to what he believes to be true – a characteristic in men, I think you would agree, that is lacking in our day in time (and is consequently a courageous thing, in my opinion). My question to him would be, how quickly would he remove the Dalai Lama from his pedestal were he to pronounce a statement against the same issue? The answer to me would appear to be that because the Dalai Lama has not pronounced anything against contraception, he is fair game to be used as an example to be followed – but, were he to do so, were he to pronounce something against what this author holds to be “good,” “right,” “just,” etc., he would write the same scathing article denouncing him. Now, the question then to ask is: who set him up as the dogmatic figure who may pronounce what is truly good, right, and just? He only supports the Dalai Lama because he supposes that the Dalai Lama falls in line with his beliefs – not because he actually cares what the Dalai Lama says. At the pinnacle of irony, who set him up as Pope? This, to me, is as “dogmatic” as it gets. But, this problem continues to multiply as you have multitude upon multitude of Mr. Morford’s running around declaring that what they think to be good, right, and just truly is, because they say so. And on what authority? With the Pope, there is only one figure who has been granted authority by Christ (who we, as Christians, believe to be God in the flesh) to sustain unity of belief (i.e., what God has revealed to us both through nature and through Scripture and Tradition) among His children.

Now, I know that we are coming from two different angles on the authority of the Pope and religion, etc., but I think that we can both agree that having millions of “popes” rather than one is a source of tremendous confusion and turmoil: if there are millions of different views of what is truly “good, right, and just,” then there’s not really unity – there’s just people doing what they want to do when they want to do it. How can any society (regardless of what its Constitution says) be expected to run something that is chaotic to the very core? I think that we can both see the manifestations of this at work right now. But, the thing that we have to come back to is that there’s only one truth, only one reality: the tree that you see is the same tree that I see; the Abita Amber that you drink is the same Abita Amber that I drink; the Mississippi River that you (hopefully ;) don’t swim in is the same Mississippi River that I don’t swim in. And this remains true even if one of us decides to deny the reality that is before us. If we were standing together in an open field with only one tree, and we go back to our friends and I (confused by the glare of the sun, but nonetheless fixed in my conviction), say “we stood by an elephant,” while you (unaffected by the sun because of your Ray Ban’s) said “no, we stood by a tree,” the truth remains (no matter how adamantly I believe and speak of my elephantile misperception) that I did, indeed, stand by a tree. The truth remains true regardless if one sees or believes it. And so it is with everything else in our universe – things seen and unseen – because truth is not created by us, it is received by us.

Now, back to the Pope and Mr. Morford: on what authority do they stand?

Mr. Morford: as far as I can perceive from his writing, a man with an axe to grind because a religious leader doesn’t conform to his beliefs. Where do his beliefs come from? I would surmise that his beliefs largely come from himself and what he “feels” to be “good, right, and just” by “his own” conscience, which could very well conflict with the respective consciences of his many fellow world-inhabitors. For, if there is no God (or we have killed Him, as Nietzsche wrote), what else has man left but himself to look to? Now, why would I want to follow my own, much less the beliefs of another man who stands by himself (i.e., on his own authority) in asserting what is objectively “good, right, and just,” regardless if it corresponds with what is actually true? Should one of our friends, visiting the field and seeing not an elephant, but a tree, stand with me who proclaims that the tree is an elephant because I say so? Or should, he, seeing the tree, stand by you, who stood by what is really true?

The Pope: a man who, on being elected, stated that he was but an unworthy laborer in the vineyard of the Lord, which says from the get-go that he is not laboring for himself (and even didn’t want to be elected, but wanted to retire and to finish his life writing books). Where do his beliefs come from? His beliefs are the beliefs which the Catholic Church has always taught, which, he believes were and are the teachings which Christ (God) Himself gave to the world in His time on earth. The authority on which he stands is the authority which Christ granted to the Apostle Peter, of whom he is a successor. Therefore, his responsibility is to hand on the objective truth about what God has willed for our universe and for our race. That is, God Himself, in human flesh, gave Peter (and his successors), whom He knew personally, authority to proclaim the one Truth, Himself, Who is found in everything which is true – seen and unseen. To end the contrast between the two, the Pope isn’t arbitrarily dogmatic, just because he believes it to be true, regardless as to whether it actually is, but proclaims that which God has entrusted to him to proclaim. He is “dogmatic” in the sense that the office which God has given him is to preserve those things which are always true, regardless of times and cultures. He stands by you, proclaiming that the tree is actually a tree, and not by me, who proclaims that the tree is an elephant, when it is only my misperception and adherence to it which I adhere to. A tree is a tree, regardless if I believe it or not. In the same way, murder is murder and is wrong, regardless of the time and culture it happens in.

Finally, from this to the complaint of the article: by not allowing the use of condoms (or, rather, not adhering to the dogma of Mr. Morford), the Pope is condemning millions to die. The fact is that, the Pope, by the authority with which he has been entrusted, is reaching to a deeper truth about man than simply a superficial “use of condoms.” From the way which I have argued thus far, he is saying that condoms engender an attitude, an inclination, in man which is contrary to the way in which God created us (and, I think, STD’s are an indication that “things aren’t supposed to happen this way”). Condoms are promoted as a way to have “safe sex,” but in reality, it promotes sex without consequence [and is even ineffective as a method of prevention – the safest condom in the world only offers an 85% chance of effectiveness, and none of them are tightly woven enough to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS through the condom] , i.e., it provides a way for man to not control his sexual inclinations – not controlling them by the gifts of reason and free will (which distinguish us from other animals), but submitting (and becoming enslaved) to them, thereby lowering us beneath the dignity which we have been given. It’s like putting an infectious band-aid on a wound that needs stitches: it’s only making the underlying problem worse. As the recent statement [here or here] (which I initially thought your e-mail was related to, as your article and this one came about around the same time) of Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project for the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, of the conclusions of their research shows, the promotion of condom usage is directly related to the increase and not the decrease of AIDS/HIV, etc. It is this way for the exact reasons which the Popes have always taught about contraception: using condoms promotes sexual promiscuity (a “disordering” of the way we have been created) and it is patently obvious that sexual promiscuity was and is the cause of STD’s. I mean, remove promiscuity, and there are no more STD problems. It is a matter of self-control, of mastering oneself (which the Greek philosophers understood even before Christ’s taking on flesh, i.e., through reason), which is further supported and enlightened by God’s revelation (i.e., through faith) about man.

I know that we’re coming from two different perspectives on this issue, but I think that the facts (as supported by Edward Green of Harvard) are confirming what the Popes have been saying ever since this has been a problem (which did not begin in the 60’s, though it has certainly been a prevalent issue since then). In this case, I think that Mr. Morford is crying “elephant,” all the while the Popes have been standing by the tree and calling us to look deeper than the surface and to heal the deeper wound of selfishness and self-gratification with self-gift and self-sacrifice – which must be present for authentic love – not by furthering the damage with a tool which only makes the wound become more infected and further from healing than it already is.





An (unexpected) change in course…

5 12 2008

After three and a half years of discerning my vocation to the priesthood, I have decided that this semester will be my last. This is not exactly the decision that I had thought I was going to make when I first entered the seminary. Upon entering (and for at least the first two years after that), I was pretty definite that after the 6 years of formation, I was going to be a Roman Catholic priest. But, that is not how things have ended up happening.

It has been an interesting road to travel down. I have learned many things, not only about myself, but also about God and philosophy and theology and other people. I have had the opportunity to make some good friends and to see a part of the Church that I had never known to exist before I entered. I can say, without a doubt, that I am excited about the future of our Church because of the quality of men whom I’ve had the privilege to meet in my time here. I am honored to have spent the past three and a half years with these guys and in this environment. God has really blessed me and revealed to me in a very awe-inspiring way the abundance of His intimate love and concern for me. He has always heard my prayers, and always answers them, even if I have no clue about how He is working in me. As I said, I thought I was going to be a priest – but God brought me here and taught me about His greatness and His complete mastery over creation; no matter the bigness of my problems, nor the problems that occur in the world – God is joyfully present and completely in control, even if we cannot see it. It’s both amazing and humbling to see how He works through our cooperation with Him – it stretches the heights of my imagination, and does not cease to inspire true fear (reverence) in me.

So, now, onto the reasons. Like I’ve already said a few times, if you’d asked me at least through my first two years whether I was going to be a priest, the answer would’ve been a “yes” without hesitation. But, there has often been a sense of not “fitting in,” even if I didn’t realize why this was so; and still I journeyed on to ordination in 2011. Before 2008, though, this began to be a continuing presence, to the point that I was often just not at peace with myself, others, nor God – but I still couldn’t put my finger on it. Some of it certainly stemmed from problems other than just discernment, but that has also been a part of my own growth here at the seminary (I, nor others, who are in seminary are perfect upon entrance, arrival, nor exit).

In January of 2008, while in Washington D.C., for the March for Life, one of my best friends at seminary disclosed that he was considering leaving the seminary at the end of the semester. I was completely shocked. He, of any person that I knew in the seminary, would have made a great priest (in my estimation). (As a side note, this same person was a great blessing in my growth in the seminary in many ways: very human, a clear thinker, well-balanced and -rounded, and apparently secure in who he was.) But, as he revealed his reasonings why he was considering leaving, I was simultaneously taken aback because I had been experiencing the same things, and even revealed that it may have been my last semester as well (simply just to take some time off). This put the bug in my ear: maybe you’re not called to be a priest. First time that that thought had really ever come into my mind. (If there’s anything I’d like to offer to those who are in discernment, it would be this: don’t close your ears, God may still be talking.)

And then discernment really began. I considered the possibility, brought it to my spiritual director, and just sort of let it stay in the background of my mind: “maybe you’re not.” As the semester came to a close, I began to feel as if I were called to the married life and the tension of “not fitting” began to ease; pieces were starting to come together. At the last Mass of the semester, after receiving the Eucharist, I was (a bit out of nowhere) at peace with the thought of that being my last semester, my last Mass at Notre Dame. But, not wanting to act rashly, and certainly not having talked to my spiritual director, I kept the path and went to Mexico for the summer as had been planned. I wanted to just put the whole “seminarian thing” out of my mind for the summer, and just be. Making this decision brought me to a peace which is hard to explain in words, but has been consistent in my conversations with people who I’ve talked to about it (and is the reason I have now decided to leave): life just flows … it fits me.

But the discernment didn’t stop there. Even though I intended to put it off for the summer, it got extremely intense, especially towards the end of the summer. I’d keep going back and forth with all of the questions; I’d answer questions that were pertinent to my discernment at the time, and then more would come. “What if?” and “I wonder what this meant?” and “I wonder what this means?” and “What is God trying to tell me?” “Am I the cause of this movement, or is God?” It was a very difficult situation to find myself in, especially when I was for so long sure that I was going to be a priest. It was because of this, I think, that guilt hit hard. “Maybe I’ve been slack, not trying hard enough, and that’s why things are going this way. Maybe you’re just focusing too much on what you want and not what God wants.” This is, I think, a bit of a dichotomy which I created (which I will deal with at the end of this post).

As the summer came to a close, I became more certain that my vocation was to the married life, but I kept going back and forth with my questioning: one part of the day I would have convinced myself about marriage, the next part I had convinced myself about priesthood. Back and forth and back and forth. It’s an extremely difficult place to find oneself in…you are constantly torn between a fundamental decision about who you are, and it just makes daily life that much more difficult when you don’t know which way to go. I’m 100% certain that Satan and his minions were having a good-old time helping me into this situation and doing their best to keep me in it, as well as try to convince me that it was just me involved in the confusion (i.e., that they had no hand in it, that they didn’t/don’t exist). But, from the beginning of my more intense questioning God was telling me to trust in Him through my difficulties, which lead me to the point in which I tried to stay for the whole of the fall semester: I have to get this off of my mind, and just live with God as His child, trusting that I will know eventually. Doing this (rather unsuccessfully many times), allowed me to come to a point of freedom and peace about the decision which was before me.

I think that it’s important to mention at this point (especially for those in discernment) that I think that it’s necessary to reevaluate the importance which we can be tempted to place on ourselves (especially in light of the culture in which we live and the shortage of priests). I do not say this simply as a projection, but in unison with observations in my years in seminary, as well as conversations which I have had over those years. I mean, it is definitely an important vocation, and the need for good and holy priests is certainly there, but I think that the temptation can sometimes be to a sort of implicit messiah-complex, where the seminarian or priest is the savior, and not Christ, Who is the Messiah and does the saving. I think that the role of the seminarian/priest can be taken out of its proper place and God is implicitly lost. It’s an issue of seeing one’s insignificance in relation to God, that He does not need us, that He chooses us and chooses to work through us. I do not at all think that it is the intention of any seminarian to replace God, but if he doesn’t keep himself in check then this could very well be the fruit. Now, I say all of that because of something which a professor told me last week: “It’s all too common that a person thinks that the decision to enter or leave the seminary is an irrevocable one,” which says a lot more than rests on the surface. The aspect of it which I want to emphasize is that it is necessary to see, as best and often as is possible, our littleness in the big scheme of things because of the vastness of God and His complete mastery over creation. In addition to this, I think it can also help us to reform our concept and living of “time,” which in this case (and especially in our culture), strives for efficiency, rather than a “wasting of time” with God. (For an excellent reflection of our littleness, I recommend Hilaire Belloc’s The Path to Rome – you will see what I mean when you get to the end.)

I went on this quasi-tangent because realizing my place before God was an important factor in my discernment, one which, when I began to incorporate it into my life, helped me to come to peace with my place and God’s ability to “get on without me,” if you will. From this realization (which I will always be in need of realizing) and the place of freedom and peace to which God has brought me, I have decided the way in which I have. The vocation to the priesthood is beautiful and is definitely worthy of aspiration – but, in my lived experience of my time in seminary (which is not limited solely to the seminary itself), I have come to discern that the vocation does not fit who I am, who God created me to be. And this is important. God wants me (quoting a priest who holds the highest of my admiration) to “be who I be,” for that’s why He created me – to “be who I be” and to allow Him to manifest Himself through “who I be,” for we all manifest a different aspect of God’s infinite-ness. (Realizing this helped me to deal with the “dichotomy” which I mentioned earlier.) In addition to this, something else popped into my head a few days ago (when I finally decided to stand by my decision), and that is something which I learned in philosophy which is crucial to Catholic thought. Grace builds on nature. In “being who I be” and not trying to “be who I don’t be,” God is most effectively able to work through me, because His grace builds on who He created me to be (for you more philosophical/theological folks: not that His grace wouldn’t be available if I were to become a priest, but that, normally, His grace builds up and brings to perfection what He intended through His creating it).

Being able to come to this position has been a long and arduous one (probably more so because of my own anxieties), but the results have been worth the struggle. I was able to grow closer to God and more aware of myself because of this increasing closeness. It is indeed a great gift to be able to “waste time” with God in discernment. Entering the seminary has been, thus far, one of the best (though not easiest) decisions of my life. Leaving it will be tough as well, but I believe it to be the right decision (despite my own fears and preoccupations). I am and will remain thankful for the rest of my life for this opportunity; like I said earlier, God does not forget a prayer, even if it doesn’t come about like you would want or imagine. He has taught me a lot in my time here (imagine the possibilities if I weren’t so hard-headed ;), and I now go back from whence I came to continue to “waste time” with God, and to see what lies in store for me in the future. In gratitude to Him, I will go about “being who I be” as His child, striving to live my life to its fullest in (and because of) Him Who loves me.

May we keep our focus on that Love which embraces us at all times as we strive to enter into that Kingdom which has no end.

Please pray for me during my transition, especially that I may be protected from the “snares of the devil.” If you would like to talk to me about any of this or would like me to pray for you, simply ask. I will pray for all of you.

God bless.