Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Mystery of Vocation

"Once again I am aware of the mystery of my vocation." Thomas Merton wrote that on February 22, 1953, on the 11th anniversary of his reception of the habit. I suppose many, many Religious priests, brothers, and sisters have thought thoughts similar to his - especially on such occasions. I too think such thoughts on such a day as this - 32 years into my Paulist journey that began, blandly but hopefully, at Oak Ridge, NJ, on Monday, August 24, 1981.

I had to open the Church very early today 7:00 a.m. to let in the workmen who are hopefully finally nearing the end of the ceiling work in the Church. So I had plenty of quiet time by myself in the early morning darkness and stillness between then and the 8:30 morning Mass - time enough not to let this modest anniversary pass too modestly!

It's amazing how clearly I can still today recall the ride from NY with my grad school friend Leonard, who drove me there, how I picked up the Ordo in the Chapel and told him what it was for, how one of my about-to-be fellow novices assumed Leonard was the novice and I his father! I remember the gradual unfolding of the year - experiencing the sequence of seasons so vividly in the (then) still semi-rural environment of northwestern New Jersey. I recall the good times - especially in the early part of the year, when we were all still trying to get along. And then when we didn't always get along - arguing and fighting over sometimes very silly things! (Sometimes the things themselves weren't so silly, but the quarreling was!)

I remember the eight of us - shivering in the cold in chapel , carpooling to wherever, being lectured to by so many guest speakers, being told novices should not have opinions, etc. We were an interesting group. I contributed my fair share to our group dysfunction. So I do not blame anyone for the troubled times. They were just part of who we all were. But the good times were real too. For what it is worth I still remember each of my classmates before the Lord in prayer.

In that same journal, just a couple of weeks later (March 3, 1950), Thomas Merton observed that the Christian life "is a continual discovery of Christ in new and unexpected places." I suppose I went to the novitiate expecting to discover Christ there, and I did, but I new and unexpected ways - and through people I had not known before, some of whom I still didn't yet know how to appreciate. I guess it's all part of the amazing mystery of grace! And what is vocation but a special experience of grace?

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