A couple years ago, a priest shared an experience he once had whilst on a retreat:
“My years in seminary weren’t the easiest. There were lots of struggles. You see, I had an image of myself as being a really tough guy. I was going to be a warrior-priest, a tough as nails man of God, defeating false doctrines and confuting the enemies of the Church. In fact, a friend of mine in seminary once joked to me, ‘if you were ever to found a religious order, it would surely be called the Apostles of the Wrath of God.’ ”
“I began to realize that God doesn’t need priests who are apostles of his wrath, least of all in the days in which we live. I requested some time to pray, to find deeper roots for my vocation. I ended up doing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 30-day silent retreat. When I say thirty days, I mean thirty days. When I say silent, I mean silent. During this month with Jesus, in addition to daily Mass, Rosary and the Divine Office, one spends five one-hour prayer periods in mental prayer every day. It was intense.
During the retreat, it became clear to me that God was calling me to a new identity in Christ. No longer was I to be the Apostle of God’s wrath. God was calling me to be His love. I didn’t like this one bit. This vocation seemed too soft for me. I wanted something more rugged. I asked God for a different vocation. In the midst of my argument with God, I was praying in a parish church located in the city where I was staying and a man came up next to me in the empty Church and began to speak to me.”
” ‘How are you?’ He asked. I nodded and smiled. ‘Ok.’
‘What are you doing?’ He continued. ‘I’m praying. I am making a thirty day SILENT retreat.’ ”
‘Really?’ the man next to me continued. ‘Why are you doing that?’
Rather than continuing to try to keep silence, I realized that God had probably brought this man into my life for a reason.”
“I told him that I was preparing to be a priest. Then, I asked the man, whose name was Jack, how he was doing.”
” ‘To be honest, awful. I just lost my job for the third time this year. I don’t want to go home to my wife and daughter because I am so embarrassed.’ He continued to open up as I sat there listening. ‘I feel awful, like life isn’t even worth living. I am thinking of taking my own life tonight.’ ”
“The Holy Spirit moved in me powerfully at that moment. I took Jack’s hand and said to him, ‘You can’t do that Jack. You can’t do that because today God the Father looks at you, just like He looked at His Son in the Baptism in the Jordan, and says to you, ‘You are my beloved, on whom my favor rests.’ Jack, God is looking at you right now and loving you. He wants you to go home to your wife and daughter and to share that love with them.’ ”
“Jack and I prayed together in that church for nearly an hour. By the end, tears had streamed down both of our faces. Jack promised me that he would go straight home to see his wife and daughter. As I got up to leave the church that day, there was no doubt. I had already accepted my personal vocation to be God’s love.”
This particular priest has had his share of struggles and suffering in his ministry. Many of them have been beyond his control, some of his own making. My guess is that many of his parishioners would think that he is not terribly warm and effusive. In fact, I suspect that they would say that he comes off as being a little distant. In facing these struggles he has found that his best times have come when he called to mind this experience of God revealing Himself as unconditional Love. His worst have come when he has lost confidence that God loves him and tried to take care of his people and himself on his own.
Take some time today and think about a moment that God touched your life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you lived out of that recognized that grace every day like you did in the days and weeks after you first had the exerperience?