Putting on the new man
"What we do in life echoes in eternity."-Gladiator
I constantly ask the question: what do I want to do with my life? I tried many different things and had many different experiences. I did biology research in Wisconsin. I traveled around the world and went to every state in the continental US. I went to Montana via train and spent the week living in a snow cave at Glacier National Park. I started a business and wrote a book (three books actually, but only one is published). I became a blogger. I taught for five years. I coached several sports.
To some, it may seem like a random series of events. To me, it all is woven together in a single pattern, a definitive path that has lead me directly to the spot where I am at today.
Where am I at today? I am in my room, surrounded by my few remaining possessions, and tomorrow, at 2:55pm, I show up to Saint Meinrad Seminary to begin my training to become a Catholic Priest.
It really is a special moment right now. The room is quiet. Old notes from old friends are tucked in the top corner of my desk, reminding me of how many people have crossed my path. An unorganized pile of bank statements and deposit/withdrawl forms are to the side. My notepad has a few unchecked items remaining on the to-do list. But everything is still. Everything seems like it is just waiting. I don't feel like something is dying, though something in me is dying tonight. I feel more like something is going to be born. The only time my life has ever felt this still and calm is on Christmas Eve.
I am not sad. I don’t regret my former life. I know it has all lead up to this. And for that, I am thankful. I am thankful for the students and teachers who helped me to grow up. I am thankful for being born in the greatest country this world has ever known. I am thankful for my college education and my friends. I am thankful for my bike, with whom I have shared many amazing adventures. I am very thankful for my parents who have given me every good thing in my life, especially my siblings. I always have been, and I pray that I will continue to be, THANKFUL.
It is from this spirit of thanksgiving that my decision to join the priesthood has always been rooted. I have always felt, in the deepest regions of my heart, a profound thankfulness for all that I have been given. What do you do when someone continues to give you incredible gifts? You want to respond. You want to give back to the one who has bestowed you with so much.
So it is with me. I want to give to the one who has given me these gifts of my family, friends, this country, this beautiful day. The same indebted gratitude that made me want to become a teacher is now causing me to want to become a priest.
The greatest goal I could ever hope to accomplish in my life is to be able to utter the words, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” There is nothing else in this world for me to do. There is no other joy for me to obtain. My entire hope for this world, my ONLY hope for this world, is that at the end of my life, I may be able to look my best friends in the eye and say, “I have fought the good fight.”
I have come to the conclusion that I was born 500 years too late because I have a warrior’s heart but no earthly king to serve. Yet I have found my King. I have found the one for whom it is worth laying it all on the line. My life is forfeit. There is only one whom I now choose to serve.
Make no mistake about it: I WILL be different when I return from my journey in the seminary. I may look the same. I may sound the same. But I will be different. I will be molded, formed, changed into a true warrior. It is not enough to have a warrior’s heart. You have to use that heart to mold the body, mind, and soul into what the heart desires. The heart can only desire. It cannot act. I have to act. Thus, I am going to become a Catholic Priest.
In the movie “Avatar”, when the main character asks to be trained as a warrior for the tribe, his mentor says, “It is hard to fill a cup that is already full”. This is why I am shutting things down. This is why I’m deleting emails. This is why I am abandoning facebook. This is why I am not bringing any of the many books that I own and love. This is why I am not going to come home very often. This is why I will not answer my cell phone. How am I supposed to be formed if I am already full? How can I become something new if I am attached to something old? There is a reason why seminaries (the good seminaries) demand a degree of isolation. The NFL knows this (have you ever been to a team’s training camp?). The Marines know this (when is the last time you saw Facebook updates from candidates in training at Quantico?) And the Catholic Church knows this. To these demands, I say “bring it on.”
In closing, I would note that there is one other reason why I want to become a priest, but it is very difficult for me to describe this reason in words. I will try my best.
Imagine the following: I am sitting on a bench in the middle of a park at night. The moonlight comes softly through the trees, a light breeze blows through the air. It is a night cloaked in mystery, and I am just starring off into the distance. Then, to my side I notice someone walking lightly along the path, and as she gets closer, I realize that she is a beautiful woman. Her long hair covers her face, but I know she is beautiful. I want to see her face, I want to see what is behind the hair, but she doesn’t look up. She just stairs at the ground. I am so anxious and nervous, and she is getting closer and closer. Then, just as she walks by, she glances ever so slightly to the side, and I see her eyes. And in her eyes are all the fire and joy and beauty and gentle rage of the world.
And then she smiles at me.
For a moment, everything stops, but then she turns her head and keeps on walking. Stunned by what just happened, I stagger to catch my breath. The most beautiful woman in the world just walked by, and she SMILED at me?! Then, realizing that this person IS real and that she IS beautiful, I do what anyone should do: I leave everything behind at the bench and I get up and follow her.
This is how I feel: the source of all Joy that I have ever felt is contained in the One who I pursue. And I feel, in the depths of my heart, that this One is my God who has turned and smiled at me. He has called me by name. And I will follow. No, not just follow. I will pursue. I will seek. I will travel over vast wastelands and snow-capped mountains in my bare feet if I have to, because the one who I pursue has become my beloved.
If it sounds like a love story, that is because it is. If it sounds too sentimental, then you have never fallen in love. If you have never fallen in love, then fall to your knees. If you have never fallen to your knees, then you have yet to live.
The world is my classroom, but my God is my beloved. It is time to become the man I was born to be.