A meeting in New York

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

- Colossians 3:9-17

I’ve been thinking a lot about the book Priestly Virtues, which I quoted a while back. In it, Rev. O’Keefe talks a length about St. Thomas Aquinas and the ways in which we develop our sense of virtue and form ourselves into whom we want to be. We bring about change in ourselves through our own actions, and through the grace of God, but also through the relationships we have with our friends and family. In a very real sense this community is a part of us, and we of it.

There was a time when I didn’t see how my “community” could help me be the person I feel called to be. If I couldn’t see the values in them, how would they be reflected back in my own life? So I learned to emulate, or at least admire, the hermits who find their path to God through grace and faith alone, without the aid of other people. I wrapped myself up in my solitude and found it thrillingly conducive to prayer and growth.

As much as I love solitude, though, I’ve become aware that my lack of community with regard to my spiritual growth and discernment has its costs. There are the obvious problems. I tend to stagnate and remain fixed on one aspect of my discernment without noticing the graces moving past me. Sometimes I talk myself into behavior that I know is contrary to what I should be doing. I may walk the line too much, but these aren’t my only problems. It seems that without realizing it, I’ve become stir-crazy.

I met with the Vocation Director of the New York and Maryland Provinces of the Society of Jesus last weekend. I was so nervous while I took the train up to New York. My mind kept jumping back and forth between extremes. On the one hand, I was hoping that he would ask me to begin the application process, to begin writing my spiritual autobiography (which is the first step in the process), and give me some guidance on what to do next. On the other hand, I also had the irrational fears that he’d tell me I wasn’t right for the Society, that I wouldn’t make a good Jesuit and should do something else. It was a silly thought, but a fear that was present nonetheless. Moreover, there were the insidious middle-thoughts. Maybe he would tell me that I should wait another few years to apply. Maybe he would tell me that I should look more into the Dominicans. Maybe maybe maybe.

When we finally sat down to talk, my nervousness made me jumpy. I talked way too much, rambled, and before I knew it I was talking about all sorts of odd-ball theological topics. At one point I made the random exclamation that I didn’t like evangelical language because it seemed unnatural and creates a separation for me between faith and daily living. After-all, I’ve never used the word “rejoice” in normal conversation. Why would I use it in prayer or worship?

The Director was great, though. He laughed with me at my randomness and was in good spirits throughout our lunch-talk. In the end, he asked me to begin my autobiography after all. All my worries were for nothing, but the meeting revealed something important to me. I was so eager for someone to talk to about theology, philosophy and discernment that I jumped all over the poor man at any opening he gave me. My desire for community has been bottled up, corked, and fermented for too long. I need to let it air before my insides turn to vinegar.

So in the next few weeks, while I begin crafting my essay, I’ll also be trying to reach out more and talk about the topics that interest me. I’ll try to take more trips to St. Joe’s and meet with the Jesuits there. I’ll try to involve my friends and family more and talk about things.

The people in my life aren’t like they used to be. They’re good people and the virtue that can develop from living and sharing with them fits right in line with what Rev. O’Keefe was talking about in his book. Who knows, maybe next time I go to New York, I won’t horribly embarrass myself either.