Prayer sustains my vocation
IT WAS A RAINY, cold winter morning. Once again I was running late for morning prayer. Once again I had been called to the head of the seminary's office for an explanation. I was greeted with Father Brown's usual warmth and kindness. The rector smiled and questioned me about why I was late that morning, "What seems to be the problem, Bob? Were you up late last night?"
No, I responded. In fact I had gotten up early that morning. He reminded me of the expectation of prayer in the life of the community. He also noted that perhaps I might be experiencing a problem with this and instructed me to speak to my spiritual director. He was cordial but firm.
Communal prayer had always been a struggle for me. Growing up, private devotional prayer seemed to come easier. Praying the rosary and spending time in quiet contemplation were opportune moments to encounter the sacred. Daily meditation and visits to the Blessed Sacrament were also part of my formation as a young boy. When I visited my grandmother, we would attend daily Mass. On special feast days we would offer the usual novena depending on the intention for that day.
When I entered the seminary, I thought I knew a lot about prayer. It was not until later after I began my theology studies, that I realized how superficial my prayer life had been.
On a beautiful spring morning in my second year of theology, I decided to take a walk before morning prayer. I took my breviary and began to pray the psalms. This had become my usual practice since the beginning of my first year of theology studies. This morning was different. The colors of the flowers and vegetation seemed unusually brilliant. It had been raining for several days and this morning felt different. As the sun beat down on my face, penetrating the broken clouds, I began to pray, "As the deer searches for running streams, so is my soul thirsting for the Living God." This morning I could feel the thirst in the deepest recesses of my heart and soul. I felt my own pining to know and see the face of God. Following this beautiful meditation, during which I also sang the psalms, I returned to our seminary's formal morning prayer. That day I felt the presence of God alive in the lives of my brother seminarians as I prayed with them. Our prayer was new--it was fresh!
How I had longed to enter the sanctuary and see the face of God. I saw God in the many faces of my classmates that day. At Eucharist, I carried with me the concerns and fears of those classmates I knew were struggling as I had. Each day we dealt with preparing for exams, hashing out pastoral placement issues and coping with other pastoral problems. Oftentimes, friendships or relationships formed in the seminary could cause problems. It's tough living in community with seminarians and faculty members who are from different ethnic, cultural, economic, and educational backgrounds. With the encouragement of late vocations, we might also encounter age differences that could also upset the balance of living within a particular class.
Friction like this, of course, is what everyday life is all about. Today parish life confronts me with a broad spectrum of concerns and conflicts touching on age, ethnicity, and relationships. I carry all these concerns in prayer as God has carried me. I also carry in prayer the many parishioners and friends who have asked me to pray for them and even the ones who have not asked me to pray for them. In my prayer I feel my own vocation to the priesthood renewed and refreshed.
At Mass I reflect throughout the Eucharist on those faces before me who are in pain for whatever reason. Some of the pain I saw in the faces of my seminary classmates is similar to the pain of those sitting in the pews today--the pain of loneliness, doubt, despair, or grief. Each day as I grow in my awareness of the community in which I live, I see health problems, relationship problems, and addictions. These problems, by the grace of God, I also bring to the eucharistic table.
Each day I "let go and let God." The difference today in my prayer life is that all my energy and motivation for ministry truly springs from God. The discerning heart that has taken me years to form, is now richly blessed through the whisper of God's Holy Spirit. My senses are clearer and more attuned to God's voice, which provides direction and support to my ministry. But I must nurture my ability to hear God speaking. Without a daily run or walk by the lake, I'm left quite empty and incapable of "tasting and seeing the goodness of the Lord."
The freedom to walk as a child of God brings me incredible joy. The interior joy of knowing God is reaffirmed in my daily encounters with the Risen One. I might en counter Christ while counseling a sick or lonely person, by giving a reassuring smile to a confused or lost teenager, or perhaps by giving an understanding ear to one who has no knowledge of God.
The joy I feel in these daily encounters allows me to transcend the fears, anxieties, and insecurities that all of us face in a world torn by strife. Living with war and hatred and injustice is horrifying, yet the joy of Christ in our lives can continue to lift us beyond our fears and doubts and pain and suffering.
Prayer is an essential element in my relationship with God, for it has brought me to the threshold of God's dwelling place. Today I know priesthood is right for me one day at a time. This is true because of my ongoing dialogue with God, a dialogue that began years ago in the seminary when the rector challenged me to a greater openness and trust in the Living One.
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