Sunday, April 30, 2006

Discernment in Disappointment

So, where have I been lately? Let's see:

  • incredibly busy (60-80 hour weeks) at work due to a special project — check;
  • working on a rather involved final paper for New Wine (I will post pieces of it later) — check;
  • Holy Week/Easter Week — check.
So, there seems to be quite adequate reasons for being a bit short of posts here, especially posts of a more personal nature. I simply have not had the time. But there is another reason:
  • needed some time to deal with disappointment from not being admitted to diaconate discernment program — yep, check.
In October, 2003, 30 of us in this deanery began the three year New Wine program -- the primary lay ministry training program in our diocese. (More on that program another day.) I was talked into it Saturday night at the 2003 LA Religious Education Congress, while waiting for dinner while shivering around the swimming pool at the Marriott. Not quite half of us are left now, and our last session is this Thursday. We have grown into a tight community, and are now considering what effect this time together will have on our life and ministry in the Church.

New Wine, in addition to being a general training program, is a prerequisite for entering the diaconate formation program here. I did not enter with that intention -- my concern was to fill in some holes and to become a better at detention ministry. In fact, I was fairly sure that I was not quite what the Church had in mind when the permanent diaconate was revived. But a year ago, several people started to bring up with me the idea of my entering into discernment for that role. This group included some people in New Wine, along with some involved in the diaconate program itself. To tell the truth, I found the idea attractive for a number of reasons, but held back on committing to this for one reason. At that point, I did not feel any specific call to diaconal ministry, as I understood it then, and I feared trying to get too far ahead of God on something like this. It would not be fun to try for the diaconate and be turned down, but it would be much worse to actually make it well into the program (or, God forbid, through ordination) when it was not what I needed to be doing. At the same time it became clear that if I did not clearly determine for myself whether I could be called to be a deacon, I would be haunted by the question for the rest of my life. When the application process opened (it only happens every 3-5 years here) I got the papers, handed my wife her set of forms and questions and started writing. Questionnaires, essays, letters of recommendation and FBI background checks later, we were asked to the diocesan offices for interviews.

I'm still not sure if we did well or badly -- as a friend, who also was interviewed, said, "I'm not used to trying to sell my spirituality." Well, my wife and I were not asked into the year of discernment before the formation process proper begins. You are not told why you were not asked in, although there were a variety of interesting factors this time -- a far larger group of applicants for a limited number of slots, and a larger than usual number of applicants from my town. But that may have had nothing to do with it either. You simply don't know, and strangely enough I think that may be a good idea, even though it is not comfortable at all. And it is important that you remember that you don't know, because the human mind abhors a vacuum. If we don't know a reason for something, our minds will manufacture one, often based on our fears. For example, sometimes we end up worrying the most when someone is not happy or angry, but withdrawn or detached. With the latter case, we don't know where we stand with this person, and we will try to figure it out, often getting it wrong. Sometimes you just don't know, and may never know on this side of the grave. I think you have to get to a particular point in your life, to have certain kind of experience, to be able to deal with that.

And of course, it hurts.

It has become a commonplace that one goes through a grieving process after something like this, including all the various stages. I cannot really say that — nothing nearly that clear is going on. The two things that I know for sure at this point are that I am called to ministry, and that this will continue to hurt from time to time over the next couple of years as my friends move through the process to ordination. To really explore whether you need to do something, you have to take it seriously, you have to contemplate what it would be like and evaluate that for yourself. In doing that you cannot help but build up some kind of expectation about the future. That is a risk, because God is not bound by your expectations. But it is a necessary risk, as I do not believe that we just wait passively for God to somehow insert instructions in our minds. We have to figure out things as well as we can, and our figuring will sometimes be imperfect because of our own separation from God, from sin itself. But we learn about this, and learn how and where to change by these experiences, and by trusting God through them. As Luke Timothy Johnson has said about discernment, you have to let God be God. That is sometimes a painful process. In this imperfect world, pain is something you have to get to know as a minister, both because those you work with are often in pain from various causes, and because you will be there yourself time and again. Want to live a pain free life, don't get started in Christian ministry.

For now, I am learning about my other options and opportunities, and getting on with what I know I should be doing. And I will be posting a bit more now.

Note: Spelling checkers are dangerous things. I was sure I had said "diaconate discernment process" instead of "discount discernment process". It even scans, but is a bit weird when you think of it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Quote: Rick McKinley

We tend to gravitate to people who are like us. People who look like us, talk like us, make about the same money as we do, believe what we believe, and enjoy the same entertainment as we do. Is that community? No, that's affinity. We're alike so we can be friends. What this really boils down to is self-worship. I like you because you are like me. We share the same tastes. I can hang out with you...

We may develop a circle of acquaintances this way, but we won't experience the deeper things that make belonging in community the beautiful, biblical thing that it is. Tragically, the church has bought into the culture's like of affinity. We go to churches that are full of people just like us. We don't go to this church because the members all belong to the same ethnicity or we listen to the same music or we vote the same or all of the above. We go to church because the people are just like us. It doesn't take an act of God to get people to like each other if they are all alike. You can find that in any subculture in America. To the world, the church looks like just another subculture.

from Jesus in the Margins: Finding God in the Places We Ignore
I think Rick is making a great porint here, that is, unfortunately, becoming more applicable to Catholics in this country as time goes by. Via brokenstainedglass.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
 It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
 It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
 And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
 And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, not can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
 There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
 Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
 World broods with warm beast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ
Why this? because it's Easter week, and it is finally looking like spring around here, that's why.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Quote: Thomas Merton

Sanctity does not consist in suffering. It is not even directly produced by suffering, for many have suffered and have be come devils rather than saints. What is more, there are some who gloat over the sufferings of the saints and are hideously sentimental about sufferings of their own, and cap it all by a voracious appetite for inflicting suffering on other people, sometimes in the name of sanctity. Of such were those who persecuted St. John of the Cross in his last days, and helped him to enter heaven with greater pain and greater heroism. These were not the "calced" who caught him at the beginning of his career, but the champion ascetics of his own family, the men of the second generation, those who unconsciously did their best to ruin the work of the founders, and who quite consciously did everything they could to remove St. John of the Cross from a position in which he would be able to defend what he knew to be the Teresian ideal.

Sanctity itself is a living solution of the problem of suffering. For the saint, suffering continues to be suffering, but it ceases to be an obstacle to his mission, or to his happiness, both of which are found positively and concretely in the will of God. The will of God is found by the saint less in manifestations of the divine good-pleasure than in God himself.

Suffering, on the natural level, is always opposed to natural joy. There is no opposition between natural suffering and supernatural joy. Joy, in the supernatural order, is simply an aspect of charity. It is inseparable from the love that is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. But when sanctity is not yet mature, its joy is not always recognizable. It can too easily be buried under pain. But true charity, far from being diminished by suffering, uses suffering as it uses everything else: for the increase of its own immanent vitality. Charity is the expression of a divine life within us, and this life, if we allow it to have its way, will grow and thrive most in the very presence of all that seems to destroy life and to quench its flame. A life that blazes with a hundredfold brilliance in the face of death is therefore invincible. Its joy cannot fail. It conquers everything. It knows no suffering. Like the Risen Christ, who is its Author and Principle, it knows no death.