Thursday, January 10, 2013
On the Road of Discernment
In my last blog I spoke about the encounter with truth as mystery—something that is journeyed, something that is familiar, yet, something that is totally new. As one enters into the quest for the truth, they step outside of themselves and into the unknown. This is the great paradox of the journey: in order to find the truth, which is something that is known in a familiar way, we must step out into the unknown, into the unfamiliar. Perhaps we will never fully understand (but perhaps that is precisely the point).
Recently I made a decision that has changed my life completely (well, not completely, I am still the same person, with the same beliefs, emotions and thirst for the truth—more accurately this decision has changed the course of my life). For the past three and a half years I have been in formation to become a Roman Catholic priest. It has been a wonderful journey, and I am very thankful for all of my experiences. Most especially, all of the pastoral situations that have been placed before me and have allowed me to witness first-hand the work of God in the world. What a gift! I consider myself to be a reasonable person, and the decision to leave the seminary, at first glance, seemed very unreasonable. As a seminarian and eventually a priest, everything is provided for you: education, food, housing, work—everything. Furthermore, the path of your life is laid out for you: you have a schedule, you know what you will be doing at any given time, in fact, the rest of your life is planned out; you are told where to study, and for how long; you are told what parish you are to live at—literally everything is provided for you. For me, it was a very reasonable thing to stay in formation. But things became different, something changed.
As I studied philosophy and became more and more interested in it, philosophy began to change my discernment. Not in a negative way, philosophy did not lead me away from my beliefs and desire to be in a priest. If anything, it only led me closer to my beliefs and deepened my desire to be a priest. But, it also allowed me to ask the right questions about myself, reality, and the way I relate to the world: who am I? What kind of person should I be? What is the purpose of my life? These questions eventually began to keep me up at night. Something was missing. Although I was totally content in following the path before me, and doing the best I could to make sure I was following it well, I had a growing awareness that perhaps this was not the direction my ship should be sailing.
I recall taking ENC 1101 as a junior in high school. In my first major writing assignment I was asked to read The Loss of the Creature by Walker Percy, and write an essay on the sovereign knower. This assignment changed my whole outlook on life and my encounter with reality. I did not know it then, but this thirst for the truth that I encountered at age sixteen would be something that I would not be able to shake--no matter how hard I tried. I knew nothing about philosophy at the time, but I knew something was different. A light had been turned on, and for the first time I was authentically attempting to see. Of course, since reading Percy, all of my travels have been greatly affected and I often find myself wondering if I am able to encounter different sites before me in a way that I can actually encounter them. But, nonetheless, it has challenged me as a person to look past the ordinary, to step off the beaten path and take the one less traveled. Obviously, entering seminary was definitely a way of stepping off of the beaten path. After all, seminarians account for far less than one percent of the world’s population.
Who am I? What am I made for? What is the purpose of my life? What are my fears? What is happiness? What is love? Do I love well? These questions began to become somewhat of an annoyance to me. To save you from all of the periphrasis, and not to get too personal, these questions led me to the door of mystery. In fact, my hand was on the handle and I was ready to step into the unknown. This awareness, an awareness that I no longer belonged in the seminary was completely terrifying, and at the same time it was overwhelmingly exciting. That’s how I knew it was authentic; that’s how I knew it was the next step.
As I mentioned earlier, my life had a paved road, with a clear direction of where I was heading. Eventually, I stumbled upon a crossroad: one way kept going straight, paved, clear; the other broke off from the pavement and wound down into the woods. I decided to follow the path into the woods. The trail was clear and established for a while, it was not paved, but it was present. Eventually, this trail became lost and I have found myself making a new trail. It is not the same, yet, it is not completely different. I have great hopes and I take comfort in knowing that no matter what I do, it will have meaning. A meaning that I may not be able to understand right away, but when I look back at the road I’ve been on, I know that I can only become increasingly surprised at its profundity. I know this because as I look back now, I can see how much meaning every moment of my life has had, even the banal ones.
The encounter of truth as mystery, is an encounter that is fearful and exciting. We are afraid because we are stepping into the unknown. And yet, we are excited because we know at a deeper level, that if we are faithful, we will not be let down. In a similar way, St. Matthew tells us that after the encounter with the angel in the empty tomb of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary left there “fearful yet overjoyed.” They have encountered the Truth. After all that had happened in the days leading up to Easter, they were patient, they were faithful. Even when everything seemed lost: the Son of God was put to death in a very shameful way. Had the past three years of their life been for nothing? Was it all a dream? No. The tomb is empty. And this could only mean one thing: that Jesus had risen from the dead; he is the Messiah. This kind of realization left them feeling fearful, yet, overjoyed. The joy outweighs the fear, and sets us free to discover the person that we were made to be.
So, although things have changed, I still remain faithful. I don’t have all of the answers, and perhaps I never will. But I take comfort in knowing that one day I will discover what it is I am supposed to do with my life, even if I stumble upon it in an accidental way. The only reasonable thing to do is to remain faithful. And I’ll admit it, I am fearful. But I can never forget all of the wondrous events of my life which have led me here today, all of my family and friends, and of course the incomprehensible love of God—in all of this, I am overjoyed.