The wind blows where it wills, where it blows nobody knows, but we who are born of the Spirit, like the wind, we are free.
Pope Benedict XVI was once asked how many paths there are to God. His response was that there are as many paths to God as there are people. If there is anything I’ve learned since I wrote here last, especially over the course of my summer, it is that no one’s path is the same, nor is it predictable.
This is certainly the case in my own life. The Lord is always full of surprises. “If you want to make God laugh show Him your plans,“ they say. God is certainly laughing at the surprise he threw my way this summer. One of the biggest surprises in my life thus far would be that I left the seminary. I submitted my letter requesting withdrawal to Bishop Zubik July 11, and my withdrawal was accepted July 22. This was not an easy decision to make, nor did it come during a time when it was convenient. I began to think about leaving during my time working the conferences at Franciscan University. I say it was not convenient because working the summer conferences require many 16 hour days, and stretches of two weeks or more without a day off. However, these summer months have been filled with many talks that led me to see God more clearly, many hours of adoration where I allowed God to love me, and many conversations with wonderful people that helped me to continue down the path where I believe God is leading me.
Two huge factors that led my discernment were my identity and my heart. As I was trying to sift through what was going on in my life, I asked a bishop who has come to the conferences for many years to pray over me for my discernment. After he blessed me I said, “Bishop Sam, when I grow up I want to be just like you.“ His response was priceless, “You don’t want to be like me, just be yourself!“ And he’s right, we should all be who God made us to be, because everyone else is already taken.
Over these months I’ve been realizing who I am as a son of God in a new way. For such a long time, I put my identity in the Roman collar and the cassock. And I think all of us do something similar. Our identity is not found in the clothes that we wear; it’s not found in the things or people we’re interested in; it’s not found in the things people say about us at work or school; it’s not found in what we do, or how well it’s done; it’s not in our successes or failures; and it’s not in what we were in the past or who we might be in the future; but rather that God has chosen us to be His children, and adopted us as His sons and daughters. Even if we lose everything, even if the story we had been planning for so long suddenly changes, no one and no thing can take that identity away.
See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we can be called children of God. Yet so we are! – 1 John 3:1
For a long time I was crippled by a fear of what others thought about me. It affected the way I saw myself, the way I worked, the way I prayed, the way I played music, the way I interacted with people and really every aspect of my life. Through this summer the Lord began to take those fears away, and there were habitual sins that went by the wayside. I received freedom from my fears and sins (at adoration July 13), so that I could receive freedom for the love of God in my life in a new way. After renewing my consecration to Jesus through Mary on July 16 my life changed. I finally received Baptism in the Holy Spirit (which I thought I already had) and the gift of tongues (which I never thought I would receive). And now, every Scripture verse is new, every song or prayer of praise and supplication is new, the way I play and sing is new, the way I interact with people is new, and the way I go about the day is new. From July 16th on I have felt like a totally new person, and at the same time, I feel more myself now than I ever did before.
God never wants us to live in fear, anxiety, or distress. He wants us to live in peace always – no matter the battle or circumstances of this life. If we’re close to God the peace and joy and freedom that only He can give can NEVER be taken away. Ask the Father to help you see your fears, ask Jesus to help you find their roots, and ask the Holy Spirit to take them away. In His time, which is always perfect and never late, God will heal you if you ask. However, we need to be attentive to his words, and to the people he places around us. Most importantly, we have to stay close to Mama Mary, who accompanies us in this vale of tears.
Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.
Another fruit of this decision is that I finally have my whole heart back, and the reason for it is that I’m convicted more than ever before of God’s love for me. Romans 5:5 says, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.“ Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR gives the image of Niagara Falls to represent the Love of God, and a powerful image it is. His is an overwhelming love, a never-ending love, a love that is so far beyond what we are capable of receiving in its fullness. However, when we get closer to God, He can expand the capacity of our hearts to receive His love, to return that love to Him, and to give it to those around us. My heart has been expanded through this whole process. I’ve become more attentive to God’s presence in my life, which has led to deeper joy. For the first time, I truly see each day as a miracle, not that they weren’t before, but now my eyes have been opened to see God’s fingerprints in my life. At the same time, the sorrows that come in my life have become more bitter. Such is the problem of one like me who has an open heart. It’s vulnerable, it’s bruised, and there can be a temptation to close off my heart when I’ve been hurt, whether the pain comes from others who have hurt me, or if I’ve hurt others through my mistakes and faults. I’ve come to realize I can never cease to love those around me, nor should I shut anyone out of my heart. We can have hearts of flesh or hearts of stone; either way they’re going to be broken. I’d rather have a heart of flesh, because God can heal it with the Sacred Blood that comes from His Sacred Heart. Sometimes our hearts needs to be broken in order for God to heal them. That which comes from the healing, even though the process may be painful, will be far greater than if we keep our hearts locked up.
So what am I going to do now? Take things one day at a time, one step at a time, and do my best to be attentive to where the Lord leads… I’ll probably fail, and already have in many ways, but the Lord uses our brokenness in His plan too, thanks be to God. He paints straight with crooked lines and uses broken vessels to accomplish His will, and I am but one small example.
I end my rather long post with the reflection from the Magnificat for July 11, the day I submitted my letter to Bishop Zubik. (which I read as a message from God straight to me):
God loves you and He is preparing your future according to His love; give yourself up to Him without fear and without care...
Every good vocation has to be tested. But if you are faithful, our Lord will sustain you by His grace, and you will [experience] all the more joy in that you have endured trials for our Lord. I bless you from the bottom of my heart and I will pray that you may be courageous and faithful…
Keep all your heart for Jesus Christ. If you have the courage to content yourself with His love, He will give you later on the grace of loving without attaching yourself to creatures. Work hard and for Him…
I am not at all astonished at the opposition and difficulties that you are meeting at this moment. I was expecting them. God’s best graces must be purchased by suffering, and it is upon the cross that Jesus Christ founds his great works. -Blessed Columba Marmion