Growing up in this life I had the blessing of a pretty much determined plan: Elementary school, middle school, high school, college. I was fortunate to have free choice about where to go to college, but what I was choosing was mostly details; the general idea was a given. When I graduated, at age 22, it was the first time I had to lay out a path for myself entirely on my own. The pre-arranged linear road had come to end, and I had to decide what to do next. Certainly this was nothing unusual; I imagine that most of my classmates were in the identical existential situation.
I decided that I wanted to be a Franciscan friar. With a few twists, turns, and detours it has all been downhill from there, and I'm very grateful.
Coming to religious life sets one upon a similar linear path of growing up. There are the stages of religious formation: aspirancy, postulancy, novitiate, temporary vows, perpetual vows. Of course there are free choices to be made within this structure, the most critical of which for me was discerning whether or not to declare myself a candidate for sacred Orders. But even this wasn't much of a choice for me. I didn't come to Franciscan life with any clear thought about whether or not I would be a lay friar or a priest friar; all I knew at that point was that I wanted to be a Franciscan. When I did declare myself willing to be ordained if the Order and the Church thought it a good idea, it was more of a consent to what was emerging in my life than a choice.
Recently I feel as though I have arrived at the point in my relgious life parallel to my life in general when I was 22. Thus far my religious life has been arranged for me. The formation program was laid out for us. We were sent to a certain school. When I was done with school, I was assigned to the ministry and fraternal life I have now, no questions asked, no questions needed.
But now I've come to a point where the conversations about what comes next are starting to happen, and I realize that a lot of this is in my hands. All of a sudden I have a responsibility for my own destiny that I have experienced before, but not for a while. It drives me to prayer, signifiying that is a healthy challenge. So pray for me, that I seek and listen to the advice of the right brothers and sisters, and embrace the freedom the Holy Spirit seems to be trying to give me.