Today I am thinking about one of the most graced days in the whole of my vocation discernment, which was when I went for an interview with my home diocese in January 1999.
It had been three years since leaving my first experience of religious life on Christmas morning of 1995. In the course of a couple of weeks, both the DRE and the nun who coordinated lectors and EMoHC at my parish, as well as an old friend and a permanent deacon I met on retreat, had all mentioned the diocesan priesthood to me. Thinking that this might be a communication from the Holy Spirit, which it certainly was, I acted on it and made an appointment with the vocation director. In any case, whether it was going to be priesthood or religious life or something else, I had come to realize that I was not promotable in the company where I was working, and I knew I had to start thinking about what was going to come next for me.
I went to the seminary early so I could visit the chapel before my interview. It was a steamy, unseasonably warm day. I remember praying that the Spirit would use the interview to enlighten my discernment and guide me on my path. I think I went into the interview with the idea that I was a pretty good candidate, and that the vocation director ought to have been very glad to see me. After all, I was young, (26) had a perfect undergraduate transcript for entering the seminary, and was active in my parish. So I was very surprised when the meeting went very poorly! It was so bad, in fact, that I started to laugh as soon as I got away from the vocation director. He was very unimpressed with my answers and dismissed me with this advice, which I wrote in my journal as soon as I got back to my car: "Search your soul, try to make friends with some priests, and if you want you can call me again in a year."
My career in the secular clergy had ended before it started. What made my interview go so badly? For one thing, Fr. Vocation Director probably found me scandalously loose and informal. To that point, my only real experience of the clergy was through the college chaplaincy and the easy-going life of a Franciscan friary. I'm sure I didn't know how to act in the diocesan world. But on the other hand, in fairness, I didn't have real and discerned answers to his questions. I had not really reflected at all on the idea of priesthood; at that point in my life I had considered my vocation mostly in terms of religious life. (In fact, some years later when it came time--from within religious life--to decide whether or not to declare myself a candidate for ordination, I had to find a different means of discernment entirely.) In fact, my prayer in the chapel was answered in the sense that I arrived home from the seminary that day convinced that my place was in religious life.
I remember part of the response the priest gave me, which I also wrote down: "In all that you have said I have heard nothing about uniting yourself to the sacrifice of Christ or about the Eucharist." Fair enough, I realize now, but at the time I barely understood the critique.
All of this comes back to me now because I remember not really getting it at the time, but how now such language is a part of my interior life on a daily basis. It's like how I can remember being little and looking at text without being able to read, or how--this one really amuses me--I puzzled over the unknown word, 'contrition,' on the SAT, a word that would become a heavy-laden part of my daily reflection and vocabulary just a couple of years later.
I think of my diocesan vocation director's words sometimes when I receive Holy Communion. Of course I am grateful as I make the prayers, Corpus/Sanguis Christi custódiat me in vitam ætérnam, and receive, but often I am filled with a little bit of dread as well. This is the broken and sacrificed Body of Christ before me, and his Blood poured out in ratification of an eternal covenant. This is a God so sublimely humble that He abandons everything it ought to mean to be God (in human terms) and puts himself into the womb and hands of our Blessed Mother as a powerless and vulnerable infant. And so with Mary, as with us, except in reverse; he puts his Vulnerable Self into our hands that he may enter and live within our bodies. This is, in fact, the exitus and reditus of the Incarnation, drawing us into itself through the Eucharist.
Am I prepared for this? Am I ready to receive such a sacrifice and such a humility into my body? You are what you eat, after all. By putting the broken and sacrificed Body and Blood of Christ into my body, do I know what I am getting into? Have I really consented to have my life and flesh united to that Sacrifice?