It caught him by surprise at dinner, on the last day of the Catholic Writer's Conference. Dinner is supposed to be a time for relaxation and fun,he reflected later. You are not supposed to drop spiritual and emotional bombs on your friends.
But that apparently never occurred to Susan, his new found friend sitting to the right of him at dinner. He had liked her the moment he met her -- friendly, talkative, and most assuredly Catholic. Very self-assuredly Catholic. He met her on Friday morning as they took part in a critique circle of their literary works. As the critique session moved on, he noticed that she had a lot to say, and most of it was very good information for the one receiving it. The leader of the critique session, himself a published and well known author, would later say that he was also quite impressed with her ability to see issues in the writings she critiqued.
The evening had been spent in the pleasant chit chat of good friends spending a warm last night together before returning home. He had been silent through much of the meal, trying to listen to two equally interesting conversations going on at the same time -- one to the right of him and one to the left.
During a lull in the conversation, he turned to Susan, spoke to her about how wonderful the week had been and how he had a lot of work to do upon his return home tomorrow. This work included revising manuscripts that publishers had encouraged him to submit and following up on paperwork he had filed to enter the diaconate program in the Church.
Her response floored him.
"Unh unh," she said, with her wonderfully friendly smile. "That's not you." Her voice had a firmness in the denial of his plans.
"What do you mean, that's not me?" he replied. Ever since his return from the monastery, where he had been in discernment of the consecrated life, he had been eager to take the next step. Fr. Abbot Leo had instructed him on his last day that he was not "monk material" and had encouraged him that he might make a good deacon.
He thought of the last year since his return from the monastery. It had been a real challenge. He had struggled at first to get over the disappointment of being turned down by the monastic community. Some days he seriously wondered if perhaps Fr. Leo had made a mistake. He had loved it out there and felt greatly at peace with the flow of the monastic routine. Yet, as he well knew, the life was not only about his sense that the monastic life fit him, but the monastery's sense that he fit them. And they had felt him to be more burdensome than blessing. Bluntly put, his activity level disrupted the quiet of a contemplative order, even though they had asked him to do all the work he plunged into while out there.
Once back home, he took that activity level and continued to do good with it. He had been actively working with the Knights of Columbus and had been elected to the office of Chancellor when the elections had been held. He also had become involved in service to a local apostolate which serves the poor and homeless.
"I'm already doing the work of a deacon -- serving the people of God" he thought "Why wouldn't I make a good deacon?"
"So why? he queried. "Why do you think that I am not fit to be a deacon?"
"It's not what you want." She smiled at him with that wonderful smile that just made a person want to hug her for the warmth and friendship it conveyed.
"It's all over your writings. You want to be a priest." She looked him dead in the eyes. "I know. It's in your heart, deep in there."
"God 'told' you this?" He was a little more pointed with the question than necessary, but he had spent most of his life listening to -- and sometimes following -- people who told him what God wanted him to do. Some of the resulting disasters had made him suspicious of those who seemed to always know God's will for others.
"I just know. Trust me. I can tell. Like I said, it's in your writings. It's in your heart of hearts, isn't it?" She gave him a look that seemed to say I know you and who you are.
He sighed and sat back, his hand fingering his fork absentmindedly. She was right. That was the truth that he couldn't deny. The whole idea of serving God by serving His people had appealed to him for a long time.
A priest! What a wonderful thing to be! He loved priests. Loved talking to them, kissing their hands in the Eastern Catholic fashion of greeting, and just being around them. In some ways, he was like a kid in the way he looked up to them and admired them. He hadn’t always felt that way. Raised outside the Church, the religious tradition he had gravitated to as a young adult had been virulently anti-Catholic. They taught him to look down on the Catholic Faith and especially priests. But on his 50th birthday, he was accosted in an Internet forum room by a group of apologists who happily endured his insults while speaking the Truth in love.
Two years later he entered the Church on April 14th, 2001. It was the happiest day of his life.
And now, at 60 years of age, here was this new found friend – this sister in the Lord with whom he enjoyed speaking – tugging at his heartstrings as she told him a truth he had pushed aside. He wanted to be a priest. His wife had passed on a few years before, his children were grown, and there was little to hold him back in that area.
"The fact is," he had told friends over the last eight years, "that if I knew -- I mean really knew -- that this is God's will for my life, I'd be in the seminary tomorrow. You wouldn't have to ask me twice!"
And he meant it. There would not be enough time to give all the details, but he had lived a full life, and like Solomon, found it a "vanity of vanities". That is not to say that he did not deeply enjoy life as he daily walked through it in the peace of Christ. It simply means that in terms of what is truly important, he knew that there is more to life than the next bauble or pleasure life dangles before us. It was that knowledge, learned at an early age, that had moved him seek true meaning. It was God's grace which had used that seeking to break through the prejudices and bring Him home to the Catholic Faith.
"I think you'd make a good priest," chimed another voice. He turned to face the table. The conversations had suddenly focused on him.
"C'mon." he almost snorted. "I'm 60 years old. And I don't even have a college degree."
Suddenly, everyone at the table had suggestions. There are seminaries which specialize in "older vocations". That's interesting. In some special cases, a degree may not be necessary. Really?
"Well, I can do this," he said, forming his hand in the traditional sign of blessing and waving it happily across the table. Everyone laughed.
"Okay. So I go become a priest. Can I be chaplain for the Catholic Writer's Guild?"
There was laughter and more jokes. The happy banter of friends -- no, brothers and sisters, in Christ -- having a joyous time. How he loved these people and loved being with them. It had been such a week of joy being with them at the conference. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a parish filled with such folk and to serve them? He thought of his own parish and how it felt so much like family to him.
After dinner, a few of them gathered around the pub at the hotel for drinks. Susan came and sat by him, giving him a squeeze of the hand as she sat next to him. She was a "hugger" and it was another thing he liked about her.
"So tell me," she asked quietly, "What kind of priestly things are you doing now? Do you pray the hours?
"I try. The biggest problem is that our Byzantine prayer book is so ..... eeeeeh.....so confusing." He grimaced. "What's worse is that there doesn't seem to be a program for teaching converts how to pray the darn thing. It's very frustrating."
"Well, what do you pray?"
"Hmmmmmm....well, I try to pray the Angelus in the morning, at noon, and at 6PM. And I try to remember to pray the Divine Mercy if I'm not tied up with some business deal. I do Matins in the morning and Vespers at night."
"No daily Rosary?"
He looked down, a little embarrassed. It was something that he had been trying to do and had really not put in a very good effort. He was sure that the constant promptings he had to pray the Rosary daily were the Holy Spirit nudging him. Or maybe his Queen.
His silence gave a clear answer.
"Oh, Ed," she sighed, "you have to pray the Rosary every day." She turned to him. "How about your Holy Hour?"
"You mean Adoration?" he asked.
"Yes, Adoration. You need to go at least once a week. I try to go every day, but.....you know....sometimes home and things I have to do. But I try to go."
He nodded. He knew in his heart that it probably took quite a lot to keep her from Adoration.
"Confession? How often do you go to Confession?"
"Every two months. Unless I have a mortal sin on my soul."
"No," she insisted. "No more than 2 weeks. You have to go to regular Confession."
He chuckled to himself, slightly amused at how this kind and generous woman was instructing him in the Faith. Boy, I better not let her down he thought. But of course, it wasn’t about Susan. It wasn’t about the table filled with his friends who had all given him different degrees of encouragement to “knock on the door and see if God opens it for you.”
“Yeah, why not? “ another offered. “What do you have to lose?”
That's what a couple of his friends had said at dinner. "It's not going to hurt to rattle the doorknob and see if God opens the door."
Yes, it was ultimately about God. What did God want of his life?
He decided on the way up to his room that he would offer a Rosary to his Queen, asking Her as the Queen of priests to guide him. Now he sat on his bed, staring at the brightly colored beads in his hands. Could it be? Deep in his heart he could sense that he would love nothing better. Just the possibility gave him such a sense of pleasure that he wanted to laugh out loud for the joy of it.
“In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit....”
He fell asleep praying the Rosary.
Last edited by Light of the East on Fri Aug 14, 2009 6:10 am, edited 1 time in total.