This past weekend, I was able to spend some time with one of my "nephews". For those of you who don't know me, I've been blessed to have two young men in my life that I love like they were my own children. Twin teenagers - just about to turn 18. They're actually not nephews - they are related by marriage through a cousin of mine. But "nephews" describes the relationship very well.
I realized about a year ago how blessed I was by having these fella's in my life. For a long time, what I thought was a call to the priesthood seemed to be conflicing information, and I couldn't figure out what God was saying - or why he was saying things to me that were so different. On the one hand, my heart's deepest desire forever has been to be a father. And, in the context of the Latin rite Church, that always seemed in direct contradiction to what I was hearing louder and clearer as a call to the Priesthood.
One day I was listening to a talk show on the local EWTN radio station - it was a call in show about vocations. The caller asked this very question about seemingly "conflicting" calls. I remember feeling as if God had "arranged" this "coincidence" of me hearing the show. The guest was a seminarian in his final year before ordination to the priesthood, and he shared that he'd felt exactly the same way early in his journey. I'll never forget his words.
'But, what I realized was, these weren't conflicting calls at all. All about me that yearns to be a father, all that God has given me and all that God is calling me forward into that points toward being a Father - they're all the same. All the things it takes to be a good father are precisely the things it takes to be a good Father.'
It was as if a gate opened up somewhere in my heart, and I began to see glimpses of understanding. God wasn't sending me mixed signals after all. My discernment journey took a turn at that point - it wasn't any longer so much about figuring out which of two conflicting messages was genuine. It became more about searching with God, and the Church, where this one unified call forward into f/Fatherhood was leading - a vocation to marriage and family, or to the ordained priesthood.
While I'm not the twins father, for many, many years I've loved them like they were my children - or at least that's the best way I (having had no children of my own) can describe it. With that love comes all the 'good' and the 'bad', the 'wonderful' and the 'difficult'. And there is both. The great times - with a fishin' pole and a catfish that got away, teaching them how to shave, taking them on their first real vacation, 'being there' as they try to navigate life's challenges. And there are difficult times as well - struggling with addiction and legal troubles, trying to set and maintain boundaries for teens who are unaccustomed to the concept, medical and other kinds of issues, teen pregnancy.
But, over the years I've come to see that all of it has been a blessing. As I move one day at a time closer to more deeply following the call to be a Father, I realize in many ways I've been given the gift of at least a glimpse into the gift of being a father. And that 'gift' is made up of it all - the good and the bad, the wonderful and the difficult.
God wasn't and isn't sending mixed signals. For today, it seems rather that He was offering a gift, and providing a very practical "school" in which to begin the process of formation for becoming a Father. On reflection today, one of the other things this 'practical school' has given me is the gift of humility, and a deep understanding that I don't have all the answers, that I'm imperfect, and that often the best I have to offer is to try, and to trust God above all and in all. Six years of seminary - today at least, I'm not struggling with whether its too much - I'm wondering if its enough! In addition to humility, and a realization of my own limitations and imperfections, this gift for me is beginning to help me see that the gift of my vocation - whether it be in matrimony or orders - will live and breathe in the totality of its daily experience, the good and the bad, the wonderful and the difficult.
To the twins: "Hi fella's. Chances are, you'll never see or read this. That's OK. I love you. And am intensely grateful for all that you have meant and will mean in my life. It's not possible for me to doubt that there is a God, or that He loves us, for many reasons - but one in particular. The love I feel for you could only have been a gift from a Father, THE Father.
Each day I pray that He will continue to teach me to love you as He does. And each day, along with all the other ways He reaches out to you, I pray that my reflection - imperfect as it may be at times - of a dad's love for his kids in some small way will lead you to the Source of that love."
Thank you, God, for the gifts......