24 August 2009

The Holy Spirit Works in Mysterious Ways

Many of us have a story to tell when it comes to how we got to where we are today in our Catholic faith. My story has no big WOWS or miraculous healings or apparitions, nor was I blinded by the brilliance of Christ’s Light like Saint Paul. Okay -- maybe it was a miraculous healing – that of spirit, not of body. I’ll explain later.

Most of my education was in Catholic schools. I remember in grade school, waiting outside the school every morning, until the doors opened. Nearly every morning the pastor or the associate pastor would walk by us kids and say Good Morning. Priests really had a presence when I was a kid. They were like God on earth. Whenever they walked by or walked into the classroom to assign altar boys for the coming Sunday Masses, there was absolute silence; you could hear a pin drop. I think it was that intriguing presence that gave me the first tiny tugs, or interest in the priesthood. At that time I never even knew that one was “called” to the priesthood by Christ.

Much of that interest, however, diminished by my own will when I got into High School. My High School was also Catholic and it was a “boys only” school. In High School, girls and dating and driving a car were the topics in the forefront. But then, there was this day when our class took a sort of mini-retreat. I say “mini” because it was only one day and we walked to the location. Out the back door of the school we began walking, first down the outside steps of the school, and then to the walkway which gave you a good view of the football field and which also led to the living quarters of the Priests and Brothers who were employed by the school. They were Marians. When entering that building, you either went straight ahead and up the stairs to the individual living quarters, or you made a left and went into the chapel on the ground floor, which is what we did. During a period of silence in the chapel is when I once again felt that childhood fascination with the priesthood. This time, however, the reasons were a bit more mature. As I was sitting in that chapel in silence, quite satisfying to me was the thought of rolling out of bed in the morning and walking to a chapel or church for prayer; in other words, living under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament. But it all wore off again eventually.

After my education, a couple of jobs later, and having dated a few young ladies, I started thinking about the priesthood seriously. My pastor at that time, God rest his soul, arranged for me to take the psychological testing that was given in those days by the seminary psychiatrist; and after an interview with the Vocations Director, I spent some time with a priest/mentor. It was kind of a “day in the life” experience, but that changed me yet again. If I was to be a priest, I wasn’t going to be a diocesan priest because I felt it was too administrative. The next option for me to explore was the monastic priesthood. But before that ever got off the ground, I met the young lady who as of this coming October has been my wife of fifteen years. I’m not sure why, but there was a portion of my life early on in my marriage in which, I wouldn’t say I turned my back on the Catholic faith, but I was indifferent towards it. I went to Mass on Sundays but that was pretty much the extent of my practice.

But then I was given a gift by my relatively new bride. It was a coffee table book chockfull of photos of Pope John Paul II, taken by the papal photographer, Gianni Giansanti. For reasons which I cannot explain to this very day, the photo above, when I saw it in the book, set me on fire for the Catholic faith. Not only that, it turned me into a breviary addict, which I still am today. Even now, when I’m struggling spiritually or experiencing a consistency of dryness in prayer, that photo has the power to move me along.

Not long after my first “encounter” with this photo, I started reading about the different spiritualities that exist in the Church. What peaked my interest initially in Carthusian spirituality were the various liturgical Offices they pray: the full Canonical Office daily, the full Office of Our Lady daily, and the entire Office for the Dead once per week. This was perfect for a “breviary addict” to emulate. After dwelling into Carthusian spirituality more intensely, though, I began to learn more about the beauty of silence and deep prayer; and how our Lady can lead one to these great treasures. Saint Bruno, the Founder of the Order, also became a great friend and heavenly intercessor.

Today, my wife and I have three children, two sons, ages fourteen and seven, and a daughter who is twelve. The Lord sent me the right woman because my lifestyle, even as a husband and father, has elements in it that are monastic/eremitical; and she has always been understanding and supportive. The challenge in this unusual lifestyle is to find silence when you have three young children and two dogs. And, oh, by the way, that interest in the priesthood which began as a little tug is now a full-blown reeling in, as if Jesus was fishing and caught me in His vast ocean of souls. I have no idea why or what I’m supposed to do with it, but I keep waiting on the Lord, waiting for Him in His time to reveal what He is leading me to do. I should also mention that I have met priests along the way who gave me something of what I possess today. Marvelous examples of what the priesthood is!

I had mentioned the presence that priests had when I was a young boy. My wife and I went to a Wednesday General Audience in Rome with Pope John Paul II. When he rode by in the pope-mobile, my wife touched his hand and could not stop crying. The Holy Father definitely had a heavenly presence!

At the start of this post I wrote that maybe it was a miraculous healing of spirit because since my first sight of that photo of Pope John Paul II, returning to indifference has never been an option. The Holy Spirit can indeed be wherever He wishes – even in a photo of a coffee table book.