Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Faith Journey

It seems appropriate for me to tell my faith journey for this blog considering that I am posting insights to my relationship with Christ.  Therefore if one is to fully understand my relationship with Christ they should understand how God has brought me closer to himself and continues to bring me closer to Himself. 
I grew up as a cradle Catholic with a good Catholic mother and father.  My mother’s love for Our Lady inspired her to make us say a family rosary each day.  I remember many times I would be participating externally, but internally I was wandering off into something that I saw as more important or at least more interesting.  This was partially due to me boiling up with anger inside because I was being forced to pray the rosary; this only reflects the pride that I had.  I also remember times where we, my siblings and I, were watching a movie on television and it would always seem like when there was 15 minutes left my mom would sit down and say, “Okay its time to pray the rosary.”
We would respond, “But we been watching this whole movie and there is 15 minutes left.”
Mom said, “I don’t care, I’m tired!”
                Of course, most of the time the conversation took longer than that because of our resistance, but my mother always won.  Another important practice my mother started me on when I was younger, besides the expected Sunday Mass, was confession every two weeks.  I was not nearly as resistant to this because many times it meant that I got to play on a sweet jungle gym or go over to my cousin’s house and play. My mom always took a lot longer than me.  These are practices that I will forever be grateful for, despite my resistance and hardness of heart. 
                The town and community that I grew up in was a small German-Catholic town that loves its beer.  In the summer between my seventh and eighth grade year, one of my cousins, to whom I looked up to and admired, would come over to my house and shoot raccoons and possums that would get into my mother’s strawberry patch while we downloaded music from the internet.
 In the middle of that summer when my parents were out of town my cousin asked me if I wanted to drink some beer while we shot at some raccoons and possums.  I thought to myself, “Well, you already do and my dad does too so it must not be too bad because you guys are pretty cool.”  That night I had my first full beer and despite how bad I hated the taste, I had a distorted feeling of pride flow through me as if I had accomplished something; since I felt as though I had gained affection from my cousin.  After that I began to go out to parties and road tripping (Drinking in a vehicle as you and a packed car drive around in the country).  Of course, it was not as if I was getting drunk every weekend in the eighth grade but it started out as once every four to five months, only because of lack of opportunities.  As I got older, more and more opportunities arose so naturally I took advantage of them.  When my partying began to increase, so did my indifference toward other moral issues which was mainly girls and tobacco.
                I truly believe what kept me going to Mass on Sundays and realizing that the Catholic faith was the one true faith was guidance from Our Lady because of the rosary that my mother made our family say every night.  If I could make any recommendations for parents it would be to start saying a daily rosary every night or even a decade.  It does so much good for the family. 
                During high school I met a very influential person in my life named Fr. Daren Zehnle.  Our friendship grew with time and occasionally moral issues would come into conversation.  The main one that we would argue about was getting drunk and naturally I would lose because I was arguing from a false position.  Despite this, I would stick to my guns saying that I did not agree completely with him because I was in love with my own sin.  The appetite (for partying) blinded and darkened my soul (the intellect) because the appetite (for partying) as such is blind.  It is blind because, of itself, it has no intellect (St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel I.17).  Since this was my driving force because it was where I thought I found my happiness, I continued to get further and further into sin and indifference.  If one blind person leads another, both will fall into the ditch (Mt. 15:14).  I finally allowed myself to see that it was wrong intellectually but I still hardened my heart and did not allow myself to feel sorry for my sin.  From this perspective I asked Fr. Daren, “What should I say when I am going to confession and I need to confesses a sin but I’m not sorry for the sin?  If I don’t say the sin then I’m making a bad confession, but if I say I’m sorry for something that I’m not, then I’m lying.”
                Fr. Daren responded, “Say I’m sorry for not being sorry for…....  This way you are not lying but you’re still expressing sorrow, which is needed.”
                For Christmas my senior year of high school Fr. Daren gave me a book called Be a Man by Father Larry Richards.  This is an excellent book, despite its cheesy title, and I would recommend it to any man.  I eagerly read the first half of the book immediately and for whatever reason I set the book down until the week before I started my freshman year of college.  
During this week before my freshman year of college started, I was on the plan ride back from Montana and my i-Pod went dead.  Since I had nothing else to do I read the remainder of the book and at the end it asked me to pray for my vocation so I did.  The only thought that went through my head was, “Be a priest. Be a priest.”  Not exactly what I wanted to hear so I responded with, “That stinks.” 
I already had my whole life planed out, I was going to go to the University of Southern Illinois, extend my adolescence while getting my electrical engineering degree, move back to my home town, take part in my family’s electrical contracting business, build a house overlooking my pond where I would be close enough to take care of my parents when they got older, marry a beautiful wife, have a lot of kids, and bring them to little league with my friends.  On top of that, if I was to pursue the priesthood at this point in my life there would have to be some changes made in my lifestyle.  I brought up what happened on the plan ride to Father Daren one night when he was home so we talked about it for a little while and then dropped the subject.
 Later on that year, Father invited me to the Christmas gathering for priest and seminarians and possible future seminarians for the seminary and I accepted his invitation.  While at the gathering I felt rather uncomfortable; I mean, the people where nice and all, but I did not know very many people besides a few and did not have much in common with anyone else.  On the ride back to father’s rectory that night I told him that I did not think that the seminary was right for me and that I was supposed to get married.  A little bit later we arrived at the rectory and I decided to go to bed, but I couldn’t sleep.  I kept hearing a voice from within telling me to go check out the seminary and finally I said fine.  The next day I told father that I wanted to go check out the seminary sometime this spring.
                During this time in my life I was drinking and partying more than I ever had before because my heart was restless, searching for happiness but unable to find it since I was not searching for it in God who has made us for himself (St. Augustine, Confessions I.1).  However, I thought that I did have happiness because I was searching for it within pleasures that were not difficult for me to attain and gave me a happy sensation for a temporary moment.  I had everything that the world seemed like it could give to me, a well off family, the ability to get good grades, a lot of friends but I was who I was before God and that I was, nothing more (St. Francis of Assisi, Admonitions).  Also I was still always needy.  How can the needy man be happy if he is never satisfied?  What man is not needy?  Only a man who posses God would not be needy for he is infinite and eternal, because I was needy, since I was constantly filling myself with temporary pleasures that would only postpone emptiness.  I was restlessly filling myself but still unable to satisfy my appetite for parting which continued to increase.  Instead of being like a fire that dwindles after the wood is consumed, the intensity of the appetite does not diminish when the appetite is satisfied, even though the object is gone.  Instead of weakening like the fire after the wood is burned, the appetite faints with fatigue because its hunger has increased and its food diminished (St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel I.15).  I turned to the right and was hungry, and eat toward the left and was not filled (Is. 9:20).  Also if I experienced something that was pleasurable I would feel complete emptiness after I did it unless I was able to constantly immerse myself with pleasures or make a story out of it in order to try to fill myself through humor.  I was blind to these things, loving the very things that kept me from happiness, because I lacked Wisdom which is God and God cannot dwell in sin. 
                With my soul in this state I did not want to visit the seminary on a weekend because I would be depriving myself of what I was living for and centering my life around.  One day I took off from school and went with Father Daren to check out the seminary and I felt a joy and peace while I was there that I never remembered possessing before.  After that visit I knew that I was called to go to the seminary that following semester, but I was still struggling with the idea of letting go of what was my happiness even though it was not true happiness. 
                Shortly after my visit I met with my vocation director, Father House, and then scheduled an appointment for my psychological evaluation to make sure that I’m qualified mentally to study for the diocese.   While this was going on I was able to justify drinking because of my clouded vision and because most people I knew also drank.  I was also struggling with the idea of not being able to be married when I got older if I became a priest.  The only reason that I was able to continue to want to go to seminary was because it did not make sense for me not to go.  I would journal at night before I went to bed about marriage vs. priesthood and seminary vs. SIU-C.  Every time I would come to the same conclusion: if God is all powerful and all loving, then how would a life following Christ lead me to less happiness than following my own desires?  There was nothing that I wanted more than ignorance during these discussions with God because if I was ignorant of what I should do then I would be able to follow my will.
                Early that summer I got a letter from the diocese saying that I was not going to be accepted into seminary that coming semester and despite the fact that part of me did not want to go, I felt a terrible rejection when I read the letter and became full of anger.  The reason for my rejection was because of how much I was drinking.  I got a hold of Father Daren later that night and he told me that the rector at the seminary, Fr. Bob, felt like he could work with me and was able to talk my vocation director into accepting me.  Father told me the Diocese would reconsider my application if I met with Father Bob before the school year started and agreed to certain ground rules.  It was at this moment when I realized that I would have to sacrifice that desire for partying if I wanted to truly discern what God is calling me to do in life.
                Over the course of that summer there was a few times where I fell backwards into my old habits for a night and I had to learn not to be scandalized by my own sinfulness and weakness.  Thank God for the sacrament of reconciliation where He was able to express the mercy that he wishes to show to all men for He died for all men. 
                When I started seminary I was still confused at what I was doing there to some extent and was still fighting my enslavement to partying although I gained the freedom through God’s grace not to fall at the seminary in that particular fashion although there were still many other struggles.  With the grace from God I have been able to stay away from going out and drinking since seminary has started. 
                Over the course of the last year I have gained many graces and have more fully experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control which have increased the more that I sacrifice my own will for God’s will knowing that it will lead me to some crucifixion, but the resurrection is not possible without that crucifixion of the self (Gal 5:22-23).  The best way to receive the grace that allows for us to die to ourselves is by going to Mass as often as possible for it is in the Mass that we participate in the sacrifice of Christ's death and resurrection
The most noticeable gift that I can see in my life is that of peace.  I am no longer as restless as I used to be, but I am still restless because I have not fully given my will over to God.  It is a work in progress.
I encourage others to seek Christ first in their lives for this is where true joy and peace are found.  Do not be afraid; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?  It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.  Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well (Mt. 6:31-33).       

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