There are many beautiful things in and around the Catholic church. One of the things that most people may not get to see is the discernment process of men and women who are trying to decide on the next phase of their lives.
Over the passage of time, I have had the distinct honor of being on the periphery of several people who went through the discernment process. My involvement was, at best, to simply be a sounding board for them to be able to explore the call to a more intimate relationship with the Trinity.
As there may be one reader who is involved in a discernment at the moment, I wanted to share a couple of the calls to the priesthood in an effort to help their thought processes.
Leaving a Six-Figure Job
A few years ago, a young friend ( late 20’s to early thirties ) who had called in healthy at work ( rather than calling in sick, as that would have been a fib ) stopped by the office of the Society of St Vincent de Paul where my wife and I were working. The purpose of his visit was to provide him with some additional training on home visits, the software used to track the visits, and the administrivia which followed the visit, etc.
The normal office hours were going on during this time, so, we simply jumped in where needed if the number of clients got too large, etc. At one point, the pantry personnel called and asked for some additional help.
We then started to prepare bags of food, two boxes of this, 3 cans of that, 2 packages of the other, a couple of bags of something or other, and so forth. As the clients came by the pantry, we would help them carry the bags to their cars.
When our young friend, a fellow employed in a high tech, high-stress job, came back in after having helped a woman with her food, he pulled me aside and said something along the lines of, “You won’t believe this, but that woman told me that I will make a good priest.” He indicated that it had been an idea he had toyed with for some period of time, but, a couple of beers, some hunting with buddies and a couple of dates and the idea would fade out of his mind for some period of time. Finally, after a few cycles of thought, reaction, and avoidance he thought he would take a couple of years to tidy his finances and then perhaps explore a monastery for some chunk of time before exploring the priesthood if the prompting persisted.
I told him that, fairly often, we get reminders or prompting that is more in the order of a butterfly on the shoulder rather than a divine revelation accompanied by an angelic chorus or explosions of thunder. He then asked me what I meant by a butterfly on the shoulder. I responded that it was a simple short anonymous narrative about searching and I started:
The man whispered, “God, speak to me.”
And a meadowlark sang. But the man did not hear.
So, the man yelled, “God, speak to me!”
Thunder rolled across the sky. But the man did not listen.
The man looked around and said, “God, let me see you.”
A star shone brightly. But he noticed it not.
And the man shouted, “God, show me a miracle.”
And a life was born. But the man was unaware.
So, the man cried out in despair, “Touch me, God, and let me know that you are here!”
Whereupon God reached down and touched the man. But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.
Moral: Don’t miss out on a blessing because it isn’t packaged the way you expect.
I reminded him that the conversation with the SVdP client, his earlier considerations of the actions involved and the emptiness he felt when he returned to his behavior of avoidance was just his way to brush aside the butterfly that was always coming nearer to him. He agreed that from that perspective he may have been looking away to simply not see the butterfly.
A tiny bit of time passed, and I had heard that he had quit his job and was making plans to “follow his dream”.
As it turned out, his farewell party ( not the correct term, as it was more of a launching a new life phase party ) was held by the members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. He had sold everything that was not able to fit in two small suitcases in the back of his Jeep Wrangler and he was off to the monastery. Now, a few years later and he is a Transitional Deacon who will be ordained as a priest in his monastic order in a few months.
Did I have a hand in his decision?
Absolutely not. I simply pointed out what he had been exploring for years, I was simply there to point out the butterfly. This is not the only story of a fellow whom I was able to watch as he moved from avoidance to consideration, to discernment, and into the seminary.
A Small Business Owner Makes a Big Change
Another fellow, with whom I had developed a friendship, was an early-40’s aged, small business owner. He and I had been in several of the committees in church together, were involved in the Knights of Columbus and had each joined another organization in town.
At one of the civic meetings, I opened my paper planner, which I continued to carry well into the digital age, and he noticed a few holy cards that I had in a pocketed sleeve. These were cards which I had accumulated at various shrines, churches and religious goods store. He reached for his wallet and he pulled out several holy cards he was carrying.
We then became essentially a couple of kids trading baseball cards. People who were at the table were trying to decide if we were insane, high, or simply out of it. Most of the people at the meeting may have been either non-Catholic or worse yet, non-churched. We explained to them that is was not completely uncommon to find Catholics who would trade memories, thoughts and perhaps even these cards and use strange words such as “Magisterium” when they got together.
Over the passage of time, we shared many of our experiences with each other, and our stories were quite similar in the significant areas of our lives. Past errors, failings, habits, and so forth could easily be tossed into a common pile and we would have been able to draw related issues at random and feel that they were each our own.
He mentioned to me at one point that he had never been married as he did not feel that marriage was his particular calling. He then went on to say that so very much time had elapsed that he was certain that he was too old to pursue any other career, so, he would remain a single, successful, small business owner.
I suggested that he consider speaking with the vocations director of the diocese to see if there was a “delayed vocations” seminary or program which he could explore locally. I was aware that in the RCA Boston, at one time, there was a seminary expressly for delayed vocations. These were men who were widowers, left careers, spent years running from “The Hound of Heaven” or simply did not get or respond to the calling earlier in their lives.
He did his homework and found that he was “still young enough” to pursue the traditional seminary. My wife and I attended each of the major milestone celebrations on his path to the priesthood. Before we moved out of the area where he was stationed, he had been named pastor of a large parish after a very short period of time.
Are You Taking Credit?
No, not at all. I had essentially nothing to do with their vocations other than acting as a sounding board, or an alternative view. All I was doing was trying to put into practice a version of what was the prayer and practice of Fr. Mychal Judge, before I had heard of him ( he was perhaps the first, first responder killed on the ground in NYC on 911 ). As you meet people, meet them where they are, not where you expect them to be and then let “others” do the heavy lifting.
“Lord, take me
where you want me
Let me meet
who you want me
what you want me
to say, and
Keep me out
of your way.”
Mychal Judge, O.F.M., Chaplain
New York Fire Department