Thoughts from a young theologian

Neutiquam erro: My life of discernment

The fork in the road

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Source: http://m.flickr.com/photos/abielskas/

I don’t know how many people are still out there reading these blog posts… Well regardless, I’ve decided today to resurrect my old blog! During a conference a few years ago, I remember meeting the popular Catholic blogger, Mark Shea and asking him some advice on how to run a blog. And his main words of wisdom were “publish or perish.” How wonderful it is then that as Catholics, we are a resurrection people and anything, including blogs can be brought back to life.

Lots has happened since my last post from the monastery. Last year, in particular, I took a year away from the seminary to discern the priesthood within a specific community called the “Emmanuel Community”. I’ll be posting more and more about this community as I learn more about it because, in spite of my few protestations, Jesus has made it quite clear during this year, and even more so in the weeks and months following it, that it is here that I am being called. This has then led me on a gigantic roller coaster ride of a summer that has seen me, among other things, parting ways with my beloved Vancouver diocese for the diocese of Quebec City. Yups… It looks like I’m officially a seminarian in French Canada! Heureusement, je peux parler fran├žais! (Thankfully, I speak French). This summer has also seen me flying to and fro as I’ve moved from Namur, where I spent my discernment year, to Quebec City in the parish of the Emmanuel Community, to Vancouver for a bit of a vacation and back to Quebec City, where I currently am. I cannot give that much information regarding the year I went through for the simple reason that I don’t want to spoil it for anyone considering taking a discernment year with the Community. Suffice it to say that though the year was perhaps the most difficult and challenging year I ever had, it was difficult and challenging only because I was placed face to face with both the real and true radicality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my insufficiency to live up to this Gospel on my own. It’s a year where I came face to face with myself with all my strengths and, most especially inadequacies and conquer and surpass them. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do it alone. If there’s one piece of advice I can give to anyone thinking of doing a discernment year with the Emmanuel Community or any other community or diocese, it’s to LIVE THAT YEAR WITH JESUS. Spend a lot of time in prayer, if possible, before the Blessed Sacrament! And remember that vocation, as mysterious as it is, is something God wants to disclose to you in the end… It won’t remain a mystery forever! But it’ll be revealed in His time, not yours… perhaps when He knows you’re ready for it. More on this abandon to the will of God later.
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Source: http://m.flickr.com/photos/paullew/

The biggest up and down journey of the summer though revolved around the question of where I would be continuing my studies. You see, all priests of the Emmanuel Community are, ultimately diocesan… not religious. That means that the person ultimately in charge of them is not a religious superior like in the Franciscans or Dominicans OR an abbot like the Cistercians or Benedictines but rather a bishop. At the end of the day, I still am looking at the diocesan priesthood… but one with a few more quirks. One of these is that, though it’ll always be the bishop with the final say as to my future, he does so in dialogue with the leadership of the Emmanuel Community… and the dialogue regarding my place of formation took place until yesterday, the day I left Vancouver. It’s been kinda funny in the days leading up to my flight telling people who asked that I had no idea where I was finally going. When we booked the return flight from Belgium to Quebec to Vancouver, we did so knowing fully well that I could end up in either of two places of formation – Quebec and Namur. So I was to have a short stopover in Quebec City, for at least a day to allow me to pick up all my luggage in case I wouldn’t be taking the next flight. Now, we all know (I hope) how mysterious and adventurous God is and how He always works in His own time, according to His schedule, not ours. Well, He had a bit of fun with me as throughout the entire summer, until the moment my plane touched down yesterday in Montreal, He didn’t tell me where I would be studying. It’s not easy packing one’s bags without knowing whether winter this year will be a chilly -5 degrees C or a frigid -40! But it’s a wonderful invitation to trust… An ultimately, that’s always how God works! Life with Him is an adventure, every step of the way… it’s a story waiting to unfold between us characters and the best story teller in the world – and one who cares deeply for each of His characters… one who, in the words of Pope Francis, loves to surprise us!

So I am going to Belgium. I don’t know for how much of my studies I’ll be there… the details are still being worked through but at least I now know the next step! I will be taking that next flight tomorrow and I will be blogging, with definitely greater regularity than the once every 2 years that I’ve done so far, from the beautiful city of Namur. Thanks once more for all the help, prayers and support you guys have given me throughout the year and God bless! I hope to post again soon!

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Flexes and Dragons

Each year, apparently, as your stay in the seminary gets longer and longer, your responsibilities grow more and more too… This year, I have added a couple of new, permanent jobs under my belt… Maybe because I’m a blogger, one of the first things given to me was official “diary taker,” which essentially entails writing up short little blurbs (significantly shorter than a blog post) about important days within the community for the Pax Regis, which is the monastery/seminary newsletter for its supporters… The other job I got this year is head waiter, one of two positions, which makes me directly responsible over all the waiters every other week. As I’ve mentioned in a post a while back, one of the more “interesting” jobs out here is the waitering position where, each day, you set the food on the table, serve your brother seminarians their food, clean up after them once they set their plates aside after eating, and eat after the entire community has eaten. This, I believe, is a monastic tradition passed on to us in the seminary… As head waiter, I get to make sure that everything is running smoothly, regardless of who the waiters are that week and that the head table, where the monk in charge of us sits, is well taken care of… It’s a lot of fun, actually… Hehehehehe

This past week also, we held our annual elections for our student council that basically takes care of ALL 25 of us… Hehehehehe… While last year, the elections were pretty straightforward with proclamations of “Habemus presidente, Habemus vice presidente, etc…” going on after pretty much every second vote, this year, we had tons and tons of black smoke before finally getting the white! For every position, there appeared to be a fierce battle and when the smoke cleared, I was elected to the vice president position. What does that mean? Not that much actually… hehehehe of all 4 positions (president, vice president, secretary, treasurer), the VP has the least amount of extra responsibilities… What it has meant for me though these days are extra nighttime meetings, such as the one we had last night for our Debt Meeting (at least that’s what I call it… It really is our Budget meeting). Hehehehehehe So that has taken up a little bit more time, but it’s still pretty fun…

One of the days this past week also marked one of my most stressful vespers ever…. Hehehehe… If you ever want to try and have an adreanaline rush during vespers, all you really need to do is come in as a cantor at the last minute on a feast day when all the familiar intonations to begin each psalm are gone and changed because of the feast… We celebrated on Wednesday last week was the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle, which meant that instead of doing the normal Wednesday Vesper psalms, we chanted the psalms from the common of Apostles… The problem was that I (and coincidentally, the cantor on the other side of the choir stalls) forgot that the psalm tones change with the feast until right when the bells were already ringing… That means you’ve got 5 minutes to figure out what you’ve got to do… The first psalm looked relatively straightforward to me and I was able to figure out how exactly I needed to sing it, however the second psalm had the much dreaded flex!!!!!! Flexes come up whenever there’s a longer psalm and it usually entails having to go down before going around, such as you can see in this picture… The problem was, with this particular flex, I had absolutely no clue where to start from and how low to go… Hehehehehe As the time for chanting that psalm drew nearer, I was frantically trying to figure out how to go about it while at the same time, trying to look composed and calm exteriorly… Hehehhehee that was fun… I did end up messing up on it at first, but thanks to the help of Fr. Basil, the organist, I recovered decently and came away from Vespers relatively unscathed… Sigh… flexes…

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The other thing I’d like to bug you guys about this week is the fact that spiritual direction started for me this week… I went over to see my spiritual director, Fr. Peter, with all the tough thoughts and vocational issues that had piled up with me over the summer… How far am I going with this? Is it really my calling? How do I know? All of these questions that had been building up inside me, and that I have been taking to prayer poured out… Ever wise, he gave me some really fantastic advice… He spoke of how the minors, over the past weekend, watched together the movie “How to train your dragon.” There’s a scene there where, monk-like, he drew tremendous insight… It’s the scene where Hiccup, the young, skinny, wimpy viking with a heroic, super buff, chief of the tribe father asks his friend and mentor, Gobber, why he’s not being allowed to fight dragons like all the other vikings… What’s wrong with him? The dialogue is worth quoting in its entirety, I think…

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Gobber: Don’t you… no, Hiccup! If you ever want to get out there to fight dragons, you need to stop all… this. [gestures to all of Hiccup]
Hiccup: But you just pointed to all of me!
Gobber: Yes! That’s it! Stop being all of you!

The problem isn’t one part of him, rather it’s all of him!!! In a similar vein, for vocations, we’re always trying to find that one event, that one experience, that one sign that’ll tell us immediately what we are supposed to do, sort of like Mary with her Annunciation, or St. Paul and his horse falling episode… But more often than not, that’s not how God works… It’s almost never ONE thing but rather, it’s a convergence of many things that make up all of us…. So to truly discover our vocation, we need to take our time (a lesson I still really need to learn lots of)… In trying to find that one answer so I can “move on with my life,” either in the direction of priesthood entirely or in the direction of marriage, I’m really trying to take huge leaps when I’m still trying to learn how to walk… Just like Hiccup had to train himself and Toothless, his dragon, everyday and spend hours on end learning how to fly before finally piercing the sky, so I too need to spend more time in prayer, what should be the foundation for the life of any and all Christians, learning how to walk with Christ… It’s really only then, little by little, that I’ll be able to find my vocation and place in this world… Vocation discernment is a long process because it’s not my work, but God’s work with all of me… Cool eh? Have a good day and God bless!!! c”,)

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Photos from the movie “How to train your dragon”


Packing and unpacking . . . again

So I’m back… After the last month of traveling and spending about a week at home to recover (which was just barely enough time), I’m back in the abbey!!! The return to the seminary this year was a little more reluctant and hesitant than last year after a summer where, after a long time, I once again took a good, hard look at my vocation but didn’t get any of the answers I was hoping to find… Wow, discernment is hard! I am hoping though that throughout this year back, I’ll find some of those answers that I’m seeking out…

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The beginning of a new school year is always marked by change and that was certainly the case this time… It’s interesting that in a place like a Benedictine monastery where, pretty much nothing changes for years, so much can happen in such a short time. The prior (second in command) stepped down from his position and he’s now our rector (meaning we get to call him now Fr. Matthew instead of Fr. Prior after his position). He’s replacing a legend here in the seminary, Fr. Nicholas who was our rector last year and has been the rector here for many many years. Then, in the vacated prior position, Fr. Benedict, one of the younger but super intelligent monks here, has started to take up just this year. New leadership almost always means changes, however minor they are because there’s still a sense of continuity that’s going on even while many of the rules are being looked at again and updated a little bit… It’s interesting being around this time and seeing all this happen because I have the reference point of last year to compare it with.

This year, in the seminary, I’ve changed my goals up quite a bit. Because of my reluctance and the tremendous uncertainty especially regarding what exactly it is God wants me to do, I’ve decided to dedicate much more time to prayer and I’m really, thus far, loving every minute of it… Last year, I would normally have a holy hour in the afternoon, just before vespers… I’d use up that time reading and (accidentally) falling asleep… There were always a few people (monks and seminarians) in the abbey church at the time too… Well, this year, because I feel I need more time alone (work on a little bit of that interior silence I should be cultivating… heheheeehhe), I decided to move that holy hour to the night, at the time when all the monks are off in recreation. It’s hauntingly beautiful being in that darkened corner of the abbey church where there’s no one else but you and Jesus and the only light is coming from the flickering candle of the tabernacle lamp… Sigh… It’s always the perfect way for me to end each and every single day…

Apart from everything slowly starting to get back to normal (hockey season is starting up once again this week and I was voluntold/drafted back into a team, and we even have our student government elections tomorrow night), the big event this week was easily a huge conference held at Regent College over the weekend between Catholic and Protestant theologians of extraordinary caliber… The theology students were all required to go but they gave permission (not to mention money to pay for the conference) to some of us interested arts students too. The conference was on the heated debate among primarily Protestant scholars about the role and usage of one of two different methods of scriptural interpretation. The historical/critical method or, what I often hear as the literal method is the taking of a specific text as it says it is, though also in consideration of the motives of the author, the cultural and religious circumstances he/she lived in and even the intended audience… It’s the method most accepted by Protestant theologians today. Some Protestant theologians though have started discovering in reading the Fathers of the Church (the people around during the late 1st century through to the 4th century and wrote about the church at the time) a different form of interpretation known as the spiritual/allegorical interpretation, which looks at the deeper meaning of the text often from a Christological perspective…. How does this text, for example, reflect certain truths about the arriving Messiah…. The Catholic Church beautifully integrates both methods in its teaching while the Protestants are still debating the validity of the allegorical method, fearing that it puts too much human influence into Sacred Scriptures…

It was a pretty head conference and most of us didn’t understand half the stuff being said… What kept us interested? Scott Hahn being there sure helped… Deacon Pablo’s respect for me (which isn’t that much) jumped up to 30% because I had a camera with me and managed to snap a nice little picture of our whole group with this prolific Catholic author… Scott Hahn was there alongside Mary Healy, a professor from Sacred Heart Major Seminary who gave a stirring talk on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, speaking of how, found in the Old Testament are “shadows” that point to Christ and that need to be interpreted allegorically/spiritually to get to that conclusion. We also had R.R. Reno, the editor of the scholarly journal First Things and Matthew Levering from the University of Dayton there with us. My favorite talk though didn’t come from one of these amazing Catholic theologians… My favorite talk was given by Jason Byasse, a pastor for a United Methodist church… He talked about the use of allegory in reading the book of Job by Pope St. Gregory the Great citing some examples given by St. Gregory that illustrated the absolute beauty of allegorical interpretations…

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It’ll be tougher for me this year to blog as much as I’d like to because of both the number and difficulty of my classes… Alongside my metaphysics class (ouch…), I’m also taking Greek, Latin, Liturgical history, sociology (studying different encyclicals and the compendium of the social doctrine of the Church), drama (debate class) and modern philosophy so I have a ton on my plate… In addition, I’ll also be spending significantly more time in the chapel trying to figure out where it really is I’m called to be so my blogging is going to take a slightly second seat… Hehehehe I hope you’ll be patient with me on this… It’s a critical year for me because next year, if I get as far as next year, will be the start of theology… That step between philosophy and theology is a massive one and really does require a lot of prayer and discernment before it’s made… c”,) God bless and thanks for all your prayers!!!