Some years ago Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas gave the retreat here at Mt Angel for the seminarians. It was one of the best retreats we have had here. In one of his talks Bishop Flores talked about discernment. He put it, roughly, like this “first you ask is it God’s will, then is it your will and then you beg God to be ordained”. This is a key insight into discernment. Many people would like to discernment is a simple question one asks God and He replies with an immediate and clear answer. Others think that it is a powerful movement, like St Paul when he encountered the Lord. God has given us free will and so discernment is neither of those.
Discernment is a movement between those two realities. It is really those two points from Bishop Flores is it God’s will and is it my will? In the mix of those is also the question “Do I want to conform my will to that of God’s? ” Do I want to lay aside my own hopes, dreams, plans, and desires to take up the mission God has given me?” Even more difficult is the actual doing of those things. Part of the discernment process here in the seminary is answering those questions and doing that work. A man doesn’t have to do any of these things, his free will allows him to say “no”. However if that is the case I would recommend he read the last discernment reflection “The Call”.
God, in His wisdom, (which is a pious way of saying “I have no clue why He does this”) depends on us and so when we reflect on what is God’s will and what is our will we have to take that into consideration. That in the plan of salvation God works with us. St Paul talks often of the will of God being accomplished in us through Christ Jesus. This doesn’t mitigate our will, rather, it fulfills it in ways that we cannot imagine. This reality also forces us to ask “why am I saying ‘no’ to God”. True discipleship is about following the Master, learning His ways, and sharing in His plan and mission.
So, in the end we are free to say no to God’s will for us and let our own will guide and direct us, but we also have to take into account, and trust, the will of the One who made us, who knows and loves better than most. When we respond fully to His will and make it our own He truly says to us ” I no longer call you servants but friends” (John 15:5).
This series called “Highlights from the Hill” is about life in the Church seen from the perspective of this seminarian from Mt Angel Seminary which I attend and sits on a butte which we call “the Hill”. There isn’t a particular focus but just things that were noticeable around here. This one is gonna be kinda random because among the goals is to let people know what life in the seminary looks like. Somethings have happened, others are being talked about or something just struck me and I feel moved to share. By the way, if you don’t know who I am click the tab “our seminarians” and look up Alex, that’s me.
So seminary has been in session for about 8 weeks now. We had this day called “community day” and it was a day of games and competitions to build community and break the ice here in seminary. We also had a symposium, an academic discussion on a topic. Every year we start with the Mass of the Holy Spirit, an inaugural address, and a talk from the rector. So it was a healthy balance of fun “stuff”, spiritual “stuff” and academic “sutff”.
Every Monday we have a conference in the seminary and last night was our spiritual conference, it was on the virtue of pride. It was really well done and I can say that because I wasn’t the presenter. We spent the rest of the night in silence to consider the material and our spiritual life. I enjoy this night very much because it is a breath of fresh air every month, no noise, no studies, no friends, just a man and his thoughts.
Saturday was a day of great joy here at the seminary, six men were ordained transitional deacons and in the spring and summer will be ordained priests. Two were from Sacramento, Rev Mr. Victor Gutierrez and Rev Mr. Michael Ritter. Two great friends of mine, you can meet them in the Our Seminarians section as well. This was an interesting experience for me, it was the last ordination I was going to witness before my own, God willing, and a wide variety of emotions as I watched these two men to whom I am close make those promises and be ordained.
As many of you know the Church is in the middle of a Synod and some of the information coming out seems to be making quite a splash. It’s definitely a conversation but a brief conversation here. You see, this synod is a preparatory for a greater synod next year and any conclusive teachings are still away out. Bold discussion has always been part of any synod and that is happening now. This is a good reminder that we always we need to read the original text and not just commentary.
Tomorrow (Thursday) our second year men at St Patrick’s Seminary will receive the ministry of Acolyte. While not a proper step to the priesthood it is part of the process and required for ordination. The acolyte assists the priest at the altar, distributes Holy Communion when the priest needs help, purifies the sacred vessels (with or in the absence of the deacon) and takes the Eucharist to the homebound. It is a significant step as we begin to identify with the liturgical role of the priest. So in your kindness please keep these men in your prayers as they make this step, that they may become true men of the Eucharist.
When I first started seminary I had no clue what personal holiness was really about. Prior to seminary I thought being good was enough, when I started seminary I realized I needed to work on holiness “because the people need and have a right to holy priests.” Well that was a good enough reason to start but holiness has to become personal if it is going to be real. So why am I writing about holiness when the title of this is called “The Call”? Bear with me and it might make sense.
Last night we had a Rector’s Conference during which our rector talked to us about priestly identity and one is a priest and from that does priestly things, not vice versa. The same reality applies to the vocation to which God calls each one of us. God does not call us to do but primarily to be. The expression “I do fatherhood for 3 children” is not a reality we express. Conversely, ” I am a doctor” while the correct way of communicating it in English is not a complete reality either. So when considering a call to the priesthood one needs to stop and remember it is a call, to a sacred duty yes, but a particular way of being in relationship with God. In perceiving a call to the priesthood we perceive an invitation to share in the eternal priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we have two important points in considering this idea of a call. 1) It is a call to a way of being and 2) it is a sacred calling.
It is important to remember that second point, that it is a sacred calling because we need to hold it in respect, in awe, and in wonder. We are free to accept and we are free to decline must we must do both with the proper consideration, correct disposition and attitude. If we say yes it is equally necessary to maintain this healthy attitude toward the call because we can fall into a false way of thinking and turn the call inward on ourselves distorting.
So to help further reflection a some questions to think about:
1) How is my current relationship with God?
2) How do I view the priesthood?
3) Do I recognize the great grace this call and time of discernment is?
Pray about these and then find someone whom you trust to discuss these with and then pray about them some more!
This painting, The Call of Matthew, reminds us that each vocation is a personal call, and only you can answer your call. God doesn’t call somebody else to be and do what He has planned for you to be and to do. Consider it! Consider Priesthood!
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