Friday, October 26, 2007

Standing Under a Harvest Moon...

...so bright that I can see the shadow of my breath on the ground beneath me. The gentle rustle of water in a small fountain reminding me of the peace of the place. The four walls of the courtyard hugging me warmly and reminding me that I'm in the arms of Love itself. Midnight is not a scary, dreary place. God is there. I'm grateful I recognized it last night.

This week has been a bit crazy. A good kind of crazy. But crazy nonetheless.

We were out for a long weekend this past Friday and Monday. It was nice to be home for a visit. Nice to give and receive hugs from the family. Share Grammaw's special breakfast. (Mmmm.... scrambled eggs, sausage...and the highlight: Cinnamon Toast!!!). Nice to have a meal and catch up with mom and dad. Nice to visit with a true woman of God and His will for our lives - a spiritual guide I trust even as I work more routinely now with my assigned spiritual director at seminary. Nice to pray at the Cathedral - home also for me. Nice to make small talk with the cathedral's newest priest - a man walking the next bend in what seems to be this journey that I'm walking. Nice to see both of the twins - get to hug them, tell them in person I love them. It was nice to visit.

...and it was nice to be back. Something funny happens when I make that last turn in the road that leads from the highway to the Holy Hill at St. Meinrad. The twin spires of the Archabbey church peak through the landscape...and I know I'm returning home. And then, I plunge in - with a light heart, with joy at a good week's work.

Yep - there have been papers to write galore this week. There have been guests to host. There have been evenings that need to be shared with brother seminarians. Visits with the Vocations Director for our diocese. All in and through the tempo of prayer. There have been letters of gratitude to write for all whose back in the diocese who are praying for us, and who take a moment to encourage us with a card, or some cookies.

...and there have been impromptu encounters with the Harvest Moon, in a small courtyard, where if you're quiet enough, and you're looking, and you catch a stream of grace you can find a moment to be with the God who creates it all, who calls us all, and who sustains us through it all.

Pretty cool.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

So, Really, What's Going On?

A friend called the other night - a friend who reads this blog to keep up with what's happening with me. And she asked, "Um... I don't know anything at all about how your days unfold, what you're REALLY doing at seminary." Funny - she's right. Don't get be wrong, the important stuff that's happening on a deep level often finds its way here. But, that's often a result of the "tasks" at hand. It's a fair question - that I'll try to from time to time - reflect on.

What's a typical day? There are none. I mean, we have a "typical schedule" - but what I'm coming to find out is that what's even more normal than the typical schedule is some sort of adjustment to that schedule. It was frustrating a bit for me at first - but as I began to reflect on it, I realized it was good practice, good formation, for the life of a priest; whether the seminary does that on purpose or not is almost irrelevant.

Classes around here are four days a week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. The normal schedule for class days goes like this: Breakfast @ 7, Morning Prayer @ 8, Class @ 8:30, Class @ 10, Mass @ 11:30, lunch after mass. We don't have afternoon classes during our first year, but starting next year some of our classes may be in the afternoons.

Evenings are sorta' scheduled like that. Evening prayer is at 5 throughout the community for the most part, though we only pray with the whole community one night a week. There are meetings galore - not all of them optional - and they eat some time. And, of course, there is the studying that needs to be done.

Wednesdays aren't "Free Days", though it may appear so. Wednesdays are time reserved for pastoral formation, celibacy formation, rectors conferences, colloquies, and things like that. The schedule isn't usually as booked on Wednesdays as other days, but they're full nonetheless.

Gee - you're probably thinking - that's a pretty light schedule. How is it that seminarians always seem so busy (having a hard time staying current on correspondence, always talking about all the work they have to do, never seeming to have a moment's time at all)? It was a mystery for me, even in the first couple of weeks I was here. Gosh, I thought, this is going to be cake. Um.... I was wrong.

The only way I know to tell you how the time gets used is to list the things that I, for my formation, try to accomplish on top of the scheduled things above on a regular basis:

* Spiritual direction (1 hour every two weeks)
* Spiritual reading/reflection (1 hour each day)
* Work out at the Gym (1 hour twice each week) - I try, this doesn't always happen.
* Journal on "where I am" spiritually, in formation, and discernment (1 hour twice each week)
* Correspond with a priest of our diocese (1 each week)
* Correspond with a brother seminarian from the diocese (1 each week)
* Pray Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet (1 each day)
* Holy Hour (prayer before the blessed sacrament) (2 times each week)

OK, these are just the "seminarian" things I try to do. My list also includes things that are important to me, and that I feel I need to do so that I don't become too unbalanced or burned out of unable to focus. For example, I try to talk to my family/friends on the phone at least twice a week. I try to spend time in some creative enterprise at least a couple of hours each week - right now I'm trying out the prayerful painting of icons (called "writing"), I'm also trying to work with a brother seminarian here who has an interest and talent in making vestments to learn to do - and enjoy - that. And as strange as it sounds, I make a "plan" to spend at least two evenings a week just hanging out with my brother seminarians. If I don't plan that, it won't happen. A lot like planning to post on this blog, and even planning time in my week to - literally - do nothing.

Every day I look at what needs to be accomplished - for school, for my spiritual formation, for my sanity... and I pray, "Lord - my plate is full. Thank you for the amazing opportunity to be here, in this place, undergoing this formation. Please help me to remember that this is NOTHING without You, that I can't be a good seminarian - no less a good priest one day - apart from You and the relationship we share. I want to overflow with your love, not overflow with activity. Give me the grace of perspective I so desperately need." With varying degrees of success, driven by how much I surrender each moment to Him, it comes together nicely.

So...anyway... in case you were wondering, that's what's going on with my days and my time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Still Need the Light...

Being at seminary doesn't make one Holy. :-) I suppose I knew that coming in. I suppose I knew that seminarians aren't Holy. I suppose I knew that, even at the end of seminary formation, ordination does not itself make one Holy. I should clarify - what I really mean is perfectly holy. That's what I'm not. I'm grateful more and more each day for formation - for a process of identifying, sanding away (sometimes knocking off with a sledge hammer) those parts of me, of self, that aren't part of what a healthy, strong, Christ-centered man is. After all, first and foremost, before and a part of being "priest" MUST be being a healthy, strong, Christ-centered man. Thank GOD for formation. Thank GOD for the Church's acceptance of imperfect men as clay tossed on the wheel to be shaped and molded.

Most of all, Thank GOD for the Spirit which helps to make us (all of us, not just seminarians) moldable, formable. For His word and work in our lives that makes the clay more pliable. I read in a book on prayer when I first got here words that ring in my head every day, over and over. It's ALL grace. ALL of it. Not of me. Grace. Grace to be open. Grace to be convicted by the Spirit. Grace to be drawn to reconciliation. Grace to be accepting of - to love - to be challenged by and at the same time inspired by - the whole process. Grace to smile through it, even when there are difficulties. Grace.

But, I digress. What I really wanted to share was how powerful a song from my youth has been today. (Have I blogged about this Charlie Peacock song before? If so, I apologize.) When I was in high school Rich Jones was our Campus Life coach. He was the first person I ever heard start a prayer with "God - you are SO AWESOME!!!" His approach to life and following Christ literally - and I mean literally - rocked my world. Put me on a new footing with God, got be out from behind the little walls of loving God only through prescribed sentimentalities that I wasn't connecting with on a real level at all, and brought me to a place where I could walk and talk with God a little more authentically.

Anyway, one day I get in Rich's car - I think he was giving me a ride to work after school or something. And there's this SONG on the tape player. (Yep - I'm old - cassettes in the car were what we had. Didn't know what CDs were yet.) Anyway, this song comes on the tape. And it, too, rocked my world. About a year or 18 months ago, DC Talk re-recorded the song. I have it on my iPod. I'm in a habit now (don't fall off your chair, those of you who know me) of getting up around 5:30, and by 6 I'm outside somewhere with my iPod praying. Some of my prayer is rooted in listening to a handful of songs that really lift my heart to God, and help me pray to Him those things that words are insufficient to pray. This song is one of them.

Father - I want to be in the Light. I trust you to birth in me continually, every day, as I strive for continual conversion, a spirit that even more aptly struggles against that-which-is-not-of-You. Save me from the disease of self. I want to be in the Light. I'm still - and always will be - a man in need of a Savior!! Thank You for sending & being that Savior! Thank You for all the days and all the ways that You are molding and crafting me into the man You want me to be. Thank You for the grace of conversion. Thank you for the reminder of how MUCH I want to be in the Light, and how reliant on You for that I am. I truly am falling in love.

I've been trying to find a light
on my own, apart from You.
I am the king of excuses -
I've got one for every selfish thing I do.

The disease of self runs through my blood
It's a cancer fatal to my soul.
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
to keep this sickness under control.

What's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior.
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
that I'm still a man in need of a Savior.

I want to be in the Light, as You are in the Light.
I want to shine like the stars in the heavens.
Oh Lord - Be my Light, and Be my Salvation!
All I want is to be in the Light!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Family Meals...

It was the worst Thanksgiving ever - even worse than the year I stayed at college over Thanksgiving instead of coming home. It was horrible. For the past three or four years, the family had been coming to my house for Thanksgiving. That year - there was no way to get that to happen. Mom & Dad & Grammaw had all decided they didn't want to share Thanksgiving with others who had just as much right to be in my home. I couldn't force anyone's hand - that wouldn't make any sense. I couldn't mend any bridges - in fact, there was no mending that could be done. The reactions, the preferences, were not completely unjustified on either side - including mine. I cried. Cried hard. My heart was breaking. Those I loved most in the world couldn't be together at the same time around the same table in my home. I love them all - felt equally drawn to welcome them all at my table - saw imperfections on all sides - understood where everyone was coming from - and, honestly, even on some level saw that it just must be that way. I tried blaming mom... it didn't work, even in my own mind.

Nothing could bring my family united in heart and mind and spirit to the Thanksgiving celebration around a table in my home, a symbol of the place of deep love and devotion I hold them all in. That Thanksgiving, we all did the best we could...and my heart was broken. The tears still come when I remember it.

Today is Sunday... how long will be break the heart of God this way? God, who calls us to Himself - seeing that we cannot gather around one table? How long will Christ see all that was won in and through ultimate love and untimate sacrafice divided, unforgiving of one another, with only platitidues and "forced" respect and affection for the sake of appearances?

My heart breaks each time I bow before the altar, each time I kneel in God's presence to remember Who He is, What He Did, How He Loves Us Still. I don't know how to gather the whole family together...but I must believe God does. I don't have the theological answers, don't know how to address the cultural divide that today seems even more insurmountable than the theological divides, don't know what to do always but to be at the table myself as best I know how...

...but I know what it feels like to try to gather my family together in one place only to find that - my table set, my love offered, I must offer it fully and completely to my family gathered at different times and different places. Surely I don't paint God's experience of the divided human family only with my own experience... but it must be somewhat the same by analogy.

Will you pray with me? Can we, in this action, unite ourselves at least this way?

God - We are divided. But we love You. We are honest and authentic in what divides us - all trying our own way to love and serve and listen to You as best we can. Save us from being divided for the sake of being divided. Save us from being divided because we can't be bothered any longer to wrestle with that which divides us. Save us from being divided because after all this time it has become comfortable. Save us from being divided beacuse we are lazy.

To the extent that we break Your Heart in our division, we are sorry. We love You. We trust You. We follow You. And we're not perfect. We take the good from Your hand, and the bad - knowing that the bad isn't You or from You, but trusting You work all things - the good from Your hand and the bad - for our good. And so - give us the grace to walk with Love and Authenticity toward You, and draw us to Yourself. And, when it be Your will, join us in Your house around Your table, for a Thanksgiving fully together with You and one another.

Amen.

Peace be with you all.