Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ending the Summer... Beginning the Semester

A lot has happened since I last had a chance to blog. It's a shame that in my busiest times, with the MOST to share, I often don't have the opportunity to share it with others here. But perhaps it is good to take a moment to recap - even for myself.

Ending My Summer Assignment
The weekend after SEARCH was over was my last weekend in Pikeville where I spent my summer. It was a whirlwind - saying goodbye to the folks who had welcomed me so warmly into their community at the four weekend masses throughout Pike County. I remain very touched by the people and places of Pike County, and pray that one day I might be the kind of priest who can serve healthily and happily in the mountain areas of our diocese.

Vacation With Family
Sunday afternoon after ending the summer assignment I drove to Gatlinburg, TN for four days with my parents and grandmother. That time was well spent. Not only was it good to spend time with them, but it was also good to have a bit of a rest there in Gatlinburg. For those of you familiar with Pigeon Forge entertainment, I was treated to being a part of one of the skits at the "Comedy Barn". That was a real treat - I enjoyed it, I think my family enjoyed it too. (The qualifications they were seeking were (a)over 18, (b) good sense of humor, and (c) don't mind being the center of attention... I guess I was a shoe it.)

Rock the Collar
Each year our diocesan seminarians make a 10 day road trip around the diocese meeting the pastors who serve our Church, getting to know the people and ministries of our diocese, and getting to know one another. 1,100 miles across southern and eastern Kentucky in 10 days is a setting for some real faternal bonding. Everywhere we went, people were so very kind and encouraging. And our two new seminarians who joined us on the trip are incredible young men. I'm honored to be their brother in formation.

Back to School
Two days after returning from Rock the Collar it was time to return to the "Holy Hill" at St. Meinrad. After driving to St. Louis to pick up a man studying here as well, I returned to the Hill last Friday (I guess that makes it a week ago today). I was honored to be a part of the Orientation staff who welcomed almost 40 new men to the seminary community this year. As part of Orientation, I organized two receptions and a formal banquet as part of my service to the community as Banquet Coordinator this year. It's a real pleasure to server the broader community this way, and though it is sometimes extremely physically taxing, it genuinely is a pleasure.

Classes Starting
Today was our first day of classes for this semester. It's nice to be back with "the guys" I shared the first year of formation with. It's nice to be back in class. It's nice to be back on the Hill - even with so many changes. I was remarking to someone today that my aversion to change is itself what's typically at issue in my discomfort or lack of excitement about whatever the change itself is. Often, in fact, I like what has been changed, and just have to grow into seeing that through the discomfort of change itself.

Through it all, there are important things I realize more and more I must remember:

* It's not about me. Nope. Narcissism, self-centeredness, believing that I have all the right answers or some keen insight into how things could "best" be done is not only foolhardy, but more importantly it is contradictory to the image of a servant priest. Christ came to serve, not the be served. And if I am to be formed to live and serve in persona Christe I must pray to have every little bit of that inward focus transformed into something else.

* Things aren't always right, just, fair... or what they seem. And mine isn't always to be judging or evaluating those conditions. Bishop Gainer respects the formation offered at St. Meinrad. I love and respect the men entrusted with forming us here - and I love and respect the priests I know who have been formed here. Implicitly, then, my posture toward the entirety of seminary experience ought to be a posture of open-mindedness and trust.

* God is in control. Fr. Wil often said to me this summer, "Alan, don't forget the Holy Spirit is at work in it all." Whether we were talking about liturgy, theology, administration of the Church, or how to make an impossible situation workable for the good of the Church. And I must remember, and rest peacefully in the truth, that God through His Spirit is at the helm of my life, my journey, my formation, and my vocation. I continue to pray that my time here makes me more docile to that reality.

* It's about preaching Christ, and Him crucified. It's about sharing the good news that Christ came to give us life, and that more abundantly. It's about the salvation of souls (mine included). It's about falling in love with the martyr Messiah who laid down His life to rein triumphantly over death for all eternity. It's about so much more than what clutters and fills my mind and gets me all wound up on a daily basis sometimes. All the rest is nothingness.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Order my life to Your will. Nail me to that cross in whatever ways are important so that I may offer my life in service of Your Gospel. Though it burns as in a furnace sometimes, and though I tremble with fear or loathing or discomfort over the silliest of things sometimes... You love me enough to melt away the impurities ever revealing more and more of the precious metal within. Lord, if it be Your will, transform me to Your image, and make me Your priest.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

SEARCH... WOW!

A week ago today, I was at Cliffview (a retreat center in our diocese) helping out with SEARCH 6 - a retreat for 16-20 year olds in our diocese designed to help them transform their faith journey. In January when I agreed to help out with the retreat, I thought I was doing a favor for one of my brother seminarians. Little did I know what a favor he was doing for me to include me in this special weekend. I left much more touched by God than any help I offered. (As I'm learning in so many experiences along the way, when I am open to serving others - I ALWAYS seem to receive so much more than I give. It's very cool.)

I was a gopher on the Palanca team - a group of young people who've done the SEARCH retreat before and want to give of themselves to make the experience possible for others. Palance is the Spanish word for lever (I learned) - and these young people do all the "behind the scenes" stuff for the retreat. Planning and delivering skits with important messages, serving and cleaning up after meals, getting supplies gathered and organized for the weekend. Perhaps most important, the Palance folks pray for the retreat. Starting about two months before the retreat, they begin to pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer asking God to bless the retreatants. During each and every one of the presentations given (by young people) over the course of the weekend, one of the Palanca young people go into the Blessed Sacrament chapel and pray during the talk - they pray for the presenter and the retreatants - that God's message would get across, that the Spirit would plant seed that one day will flower. There's something amazing about seeing an 18 year old speak about the power of the Eucharist, while a 17 year old is praying before the Eucharist for that speaker. Cool, cool stuff.

(Some photos of the Palanca Team members...)


I was also the "token" seminarian for the retreat, which includes presentations from many different vocations as a way to help the retreatants begin to think seriously about where God is calling them. So, there is a token priest, a token single person, a token married couple, and a token priest. (I wonder if at some retreats they also have a token religious brother or sister...)

Here, below, is the basic sharing I gave about the vocation of a seminarian:

My name is Alan carter, and I'm a seminarian for the diocese. I've finished the first of six years at St. Meinrad where I'm searching for God's will in my life. That's what a seminarian really is - a professional SEARCHER for a time. Searching for God's call in our lives - for some of us, that will lead to priesthood, for others it will lead to marriage or single life or a religious vocation. But for all seminarians, searching and ebing formed into better people is what being a seminarian is all about.

Before seminaary, I walked a path very similar ot the one most of you are on. I graduated high school and then went off to college at Washington & Lee University. I've worked in DC for Senator McConnell, in the northeast at a large pharmaceutical company, and after returning to Lexington more than 10 years ago I worked as a web software developer.

My SEARCH began before I was born - I truly beleive that. God tells us in the Bible that He knit us together Himself in our mother's womb - but that He knew us even before that. I blieve all of our lives are spent coming to know the "US" that God knew before we were born. I wasn't raised Catholic, but definitely Christian. I was baptized one hot summer evening at a church camp where I knoew - I really knew that God was calling me toward Him. Through my High School years I remained active in different forms of ministry like some of you have - I spent a summer as a missionary in the Phillippines and began to think God might be calling me to full-time ministry then, but I wasn't ready. At college, I studied hard, enjoyed lots of good times with my friends, and continued to try to live my fiath - imperfectly though sometimes, I still tried. And that was important, I think, because it taught me that we don't have to be perfect to follow Christ - we just have to keep trying. I met and fell in love with a wonderful woman, and was certain we would be married - it just didn't work out the way I thought. (She is, by the way, an amazing woman who married and recently had her first child. I got a letter from her a couple of weeks ago saying how proud she was of me and how happy she was that I seemed to have found the path I was meant to be on. God is so good!)

My "Great Adventure" as I refer to the part of the journey I'm on right now, really started again about 4 years ago. I was driving down the road, on the way home from work, listening to the radio. I was happy in my career, dating another wonderful woman, helping to raise two teenagers. I had a house and a car - my family was close. Even in the midst of some struggles in my life, I was reasonably happy. And so, it was quite out of nowhere that I said out loud while stopped at a light, "I could go be a monk like Thomas Merton." That thought should have sounded crazy - but it didn't... and the fact that it didn't sound crazy was... well...CRAZY! I didn't tell anybody about it for six months, thinking the thought would just go away. But it didn't.

See I was afraid, I guess. Afraid that telling someone would commit me. I was afraid I'd say to someone, "Hey, I'm thinking about being a monk or a priest..." and before I knew it I'd be packed up and shipped off, and have no choices left. I think I was also afraid of whether or not I was Holy enough to be a priest. And - since we're being really honest here - the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if priests - without having a wife or children - ... well, I was scared that maybe the life of a priest was a lonely life.

I spent quite some time wrestling with these fears. I got some great advice though - go talk to a priest about it. And I did. You see, that's when I first learned that being a seminarian isn't what I thought it was - being a seminarian isn't being committed to the priesthood. There's no way to make that commitment without spending time as a seminarian really SEARCHING for God's will for my life. Being a seminarians - the commitment we make it to be OPEN to FINDING what God's will for our life is. We commit ourselves to prayer, to learning what it means to be a priest, and most of all to searching with all that we've got for whether or not that is God's will for us. And along the way, those old fears are slowly removed day by day. I see that real people are both priests and seminarians - real people who are fallible and imperfect - real people who just keep trying, and praying, and staying open. I see that priests and seminarians are far from lonely if they're paying attention. The bond and connection that we have with one another is important - and life giving. I don't know that I've felt really lonely even once since I started down this path.

I think the vocation to being a seminarian is a vocation to prayer, being formable clay in God's hands, and most of all to SEARCHing. The vocation of a seminarian is absolutely not the same thing as a vocation to the priesthood - one can lead to the other, but you don't have to become a priest to be a successful seminarian. But in some ways, the vocation of a seminarian is very much like what we ALL are called to as Christians: letting God be Lord of our life, surrendering to Him, accepting that He is the supreme lover of our lives and our souls, and accepting that what He has in store for us is best for us. And then, one day at a time putting what we've learned about all of that into practice.

So many times along my "Great Adventure" there have been voices that try to detract me from God. You know those voices. "But this other way is more FUN!" or "Can I live any kind of life at ALL if I'm all wrapped up in this God thing?" I can only tell you what I've found - take it or leave it. Those voices are a load of crap I'm having more fun than I've had in 15 years. Every day is an adventure. Even on the not so good days, I have a peace within that just makes it all OK. I wish I could communicate the power of that feeling in my life... When you find the path that God truly has in store for you, I believe you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

There are other voices sometimes, voices of doubt - can I do this, am I good enough for this, am I holy enough for this? There are voices of accusation - but look at what you just did, remember that other thing, you're not cut out for this - there are voices of temptation - but look how much more fun that is, think about how good that could be - you know voices like that probably. But, you know that song "The Voice of Truth"? That song gets me right back on track. It's what being a seminarian - actually, its what being a Christian of any vocation - is all about. Searching, trying, letting God love oyu the way only He can...setting all those other voices aside, and listening as best you can to the Voice of Truth that says, "Do not be afraid."


Thank you, SEARCH, for an AWESOME weekend!

Ain't Nobody Loves Me Better...

Some may say I'm wierd - and that's OK. (I guess I am sorta'.) Anyway - a "blast from the past" - I guess I'm old enough to call this song an "oldie" - has been running through my mind so much since I heard it on the radio the other day. Can anyone guess why? I'll leave that up to you...

(If you've never heard this song, check it out! It's an 80's hit I think, from Chaka Kahn.)

Ain't Nobody...
Captured effortlessly
That's the way it was
Happened so naturally
I did not know it was love
The next thing I felt was
You holding me close
What was I gonna do?
I let myself go

And now were flyin through the stars
I hope this night will last forever...

I've been waitin for you
It's been so long
I knew just what I would do
When I heard your song
Filled my heart with your bliss
Gave me freedom
You knew I could not resist
I needed someone

And now were flyin through the stars
I hope this night will last forever
Oh oh oh oh

Chorus:
Ain't nobody
Loves me better
Makes me happy
Makes me feel this way
Ain't nobody
Loves me better than you

I wait for night time to come
And bring you to me
Cant believe Im the one
I was so lonely
I feel like no one could feel
I must be dreamin
I want this dream to be real
I need this feelin

I make my wish upon a star
And hope this night will last forever

Ain't nobody
Loves me better
Makes me happy
Makes me feel this way
Ain't nobody
Loves me better than you


And first you put your arms around me
Then you put your charms around me
I can't resist this sweet surrender
Oh my nights are warm and tender
We stare into each others eyes
And what we see is no surprise
Got a feeling most with treasure
And a love so deep we cannot measure

Ain't nobody
Loves me better
Makes me happy
Makes me feel this way
Ain't nobody
Loves me better than you