Yesterday a friend texted me and asked “ How are you doing today after taking in all that happened this week?” My reply “ Taking a lot of deep breaths”. This past week I received my “Priestly Formation Application”. As I walked out of the Office I stopped, took and deep breath and continued walking. This is exactly what these weeks and months have been like since Holy Week. I have tried many times to sit down and write what it has been like, how this experience has been and each time I failed. Even to do a blog has been hard. I thought maybe the blogs time is done or maybe I needed this blog to get me to this point and it served its purpose. Yet, as I answered that text last night I realized that is the way to approach this, “Deep Breaths”.
Deep Breaths have marked each and everyone of those moments over the past weeks. The difference is not that I needed to take the deep breaths to calm down, to lower stress level or chill but to pause and take it all in nice and slow and then continue with the next step by physically taking that next step. For as long as I can remember I have always love pictures of and taking pictures of paths, roads, and steps. They have had impacts on me. For me they are significant to the life we have and especially our spiritual/faith journeys. Each step down the road or path brings us to new experiences and lessons to be learned. Along the side of this blog you see all kinds of paths/roads pictures that I have taken. Each shows all the kinds of paths/road we all have taken in our lives. Some of the paths are clear and easy. While others are rough and we have to climb. Yet others are smooth and paved. Then others are bumpy and we get dusty along the way. No matter what the path is before us we have to take each one the same way. One deep breath and one step at a time. To often we lose the importance of these experiences by rushing them and with taking that ‘deep breath’ and taking it in then that step starts us off on that journey. That life that is waiting for us. The life that God is laying out before us.
The first deep breath came at the Chrism mass as the Priests, from throughout the diocese, entered and processed into the church. That has always had an impact on me. It hits so deep inside of me. Maybe now I understand why it always has. As I took those deep breaths, I thought to myself that one day, God willing, I can be in that procession and take those steps with fellow Priests and the Bishop. This night had a few more deep breaths. Watching the Priests reaffirm their commitment is powerful. Seeing them all gather around the alter and say the prayers of consecration is awe inspiring. Then as the mass ended and seeing Priests and Seminarians I have met over this past year and them asking “how is it all going” was great and then hearing them say “Been praying for you and will continue” is very humbling. Then as my Vocation Director says “follow me” and a friend and I follow him to a door and he then says “ I want to introduce you to the Bishop”. That there was a long deep breath that seemed to last till we walked back out the door to be honest. It was funny because as I left the church right after mass, the Bishop was there by the doors and I shook his hand and said thank you, but now it was so different. That moment when the director brings us in and says “Bishop, I want you to meet the men who are discerning the Vocation to the Priesthood”, and for him to say “ What is there to discern, We need you”. It is something I will forever remember. When we left the room I think I finally exhaled that deep breath from when we entered. Somewhere during this night, things became very real and very clear for me. As I drove home that night, I smiled all the way home.
The Triduum mass was fast approaching and with that came me as the Master of Ceremonies for it. This is where I must admit there was some stress. Just a little.. well, maybe more then a little. On the night before I had tried on an alb to wear and as a friend said “ You look good, check it out in the mirror”.. I just could not do it. I said no no I will wait till tomorrow. I knew it would be a deep breath moment and honestly I was not ready just yet. As the time came for me to put it on for the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper, I said a prayer to myself as I put it over my head and then looked in the mirror and took that deep breath. It was real and I was ready for this reality. Then I turned and left the room with the Priests, Deacons and alter servers. As I walked with them it felt like a point on the journey that defined who I was and wanted to become. I was happy but yet sad at the same time. As I led us in procession into the church, I wished that I was able to see my mother’s face. I know she was with me, without a doubt I know it. This is when I needed to take that deep breath, Thank my mom for all she did for me, taught me and gave me the freedom to come to know God in my own time, and then took that step into the church. That first step that night started the next three days of many blessing, realities and deep breaths. From the Homily on the Priesthood, the Prayer Services each day, the Eucharist Adoration, Night Prayer, the Clergy laying prostrate on Good Friday, the Kissing of the Cross, the RCIA making their Sacraments, the music, the incense, the Readings and being able to serve each day all had moments of pause and deep breaths. I also knew that people may ask some questions about where my life is heading now after being MC. I must say I know I would be thinking that if I was in the pews. The difference is I don’t know if I would ask the person. It is funny in a way that people really do ask. People were so kind and all said they would be praying for me and for whatever my vocation was to be. After each conversation I must say, I did take a deep breath and said Thank You to them and to God for showing me I have people praying for His will in my life. Some of the people I knew and others never knew before. Still to today, people are asking me questions and offering prayers. It is beyond anything when you not only know people are praying for you but you feel those prayers in your life. It is like a whisper that you can hear but not make out the words. It is like a soft gentle breeze that refreshes and reminds you there is more then what can be seen.
After Easter I wanted to just sleep for days it seemed. A busy lent and even busier Holy Week took its toll. Yet, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I did not have to much time to fully relax since the Saturday after Easter was to be my meeting with the Vocations Panel. As the days counted down to Saturday I grew calmer each day. I was not nervous or stressed about it. As a friend said “ What is there to be stressed about. I mean if by now we don’t know our vocation story then we don’t belong going”. He was right. I woke that Saturday morning to a great sun filled morning. I took more of a scenic route so I would be able to pray and relax as I drove. Again was not feeling stressed and felt I was where I was to be. As I walked up to the door for my interview, I stopped just as I was to ring the bell and thought “ Well... Here I am God. Your Will not Mine”. Rang the bell and walked in to start the interviews. The panel consisted of 7 Priests, 2 Nuns and 2 Lay People. It was a round robin style where you met with groups of 2 and 3 people at a time and they fired questions at you for about 15 min each and then off to another group. The questions got me to think on what the priesthood meant to me? Why a priest? Why parish life? How will you handle this situation? When? Where? How? Why? It was over in what seemed like a blink of the eye. Next thing I was doing was saying my goodbyes and leaving. As I left my director said to me “that I did good and nothing to worry about”. As the door shut behind me, I took a deep breath and thought there is nothing I would have changed in there. Nothing I wished I said or even wished I didn’t say. Then took the first step and continued on. You have to understand that is not like me. I second guess way to often, but for once I felt it went exactly as it need to. I got in my car, took another deep breath and thanked God for this day.
Next step was to meet with Monsignor and get the application. As I walked up the steps of the Chancery Office I just smiled took that breath and said “ Here I am again God, I am ready for this”. Sitting across from Monsignor made it ever the more real. Seeing my name on the folder that contained both the applications for the diocese and the seminary was a moment that I longed for deep inside me. Left the office with my application in hand and headed out the door. I stood at the top of the steps, took a deep breath and thought “ I am right where I need to be and no place I would rather be then where I am right now and where I am heading”. All the way home I smiled and wanted to start to fill out what I wanted to for a long time. I have been working on the applications for a few days and I could not be happier.
Life happens between our breaths and its those deep breaths that change us in the most profound ways. I learned that as I took those “deep breaths” I was allowing God to penetrate my Soul. I was not just giving Him permission to enter me, but was actively pulling Him into me. When that happened He showed me just what I need to see. He spoke what I needed to hear. I accepted what was before me at His Will and not my own for a change. In confession the other day a priest said to me “ You know the expression from the bible “ A lamp unto my feet”? Think why your feet and not your head? On your head the lamp would shine more and you see more, but unto your feet it will only shine so far as the next steps ahead of you. You are asked to trust Jesus and move forward to see where the next step will be.” Again deep breath and realization that is where I am. Just one step at a time and life will come. God’s Will be done and not mine.
I hope and pray that you have many “deep breaths” moments in your life as you travel on whatever path you are on. No matter what kind of path that lies before you, stay the course and take it in as you let God come into you. It has been an amazing few weeks, filled with great blessings and realizations. I hope I have made it clear that my will is not it anymore. I just want His Will and wherever His will leads me I will follow. As I start to end this blog tonight, I take a “deep breath” and pray for each of you, your paths and vocations.
Until tomorrow, God Bless, and take it all in with each deep breath.