I spoke with the vocation director of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus tonight. We planned the call a couple weeks ago because we’d been too busy to talk at length and I had some questions for him. After the hour on the phone I felt filled with excitement and energy. I couldn’t wait for this next year to fly by and to be jumping into the novitiate. Everything we talked about seemed so imminent and real, and every clarification or advice spoke so clearly to the place I am in my discernment. It was as if all these events in recent past had been forming up toward this goal and I was finally getting a glimpse of how it could play out.
In our talk, though, we also discussed things I felt were a hindrance to my discernment. Specifically, we talked about canon that would preclude me from religious life. Of course, my mind immediately went to the one sin I keep asking forgiveness for at every confession. It took some faith in that moment, but I told him about it, worried about what he might say. I tried my best to explain it in our brief talk and put things into perspective. I also tried to be as honest as I could be. In the end he made it clear that it wasn’t one of those situations I’d feared. It wouldn’t stop me from serving.
At first I couldn’t help but smile. It was, after all, the very event that brought me back to faith. If not directly or immediately, eventually by the way my life changed because of it. It seems an odd path that God would have me walk if it brought me to this faith and accepting this calling only to turn me away at the end. Luckily my fears were unnecessary. Things can still move forward despite my past.
But it didn’t end there. After the fleeting moment of joy, I felt like I had opened up an old wound. The guilt and shame and depression were still there beneath the surface with their familiar taint. Everything they touch turns cold and bitter. It took a vast life-changing decision to join the Navy to calm them down and put me back in control of myself. It took the physical pain and suffering to take me away from the emotional pain I felt.
I asked for it, you know. I wanted that pain and suffering. I prayed for it without knowing it. I asked Christ to give me the suffering I deserved, and it came. It came and it changed me. When I found myself in a position where all I knew was pain and there was no hope of anything else, I found the strength to push forward.
I remember that last run in Battle Stations, on the final night of training in boot camp. My broken legs were in searing pain. My feet covered in blisters. My lungs burned with a fire that said I had nothing left to give. My body was in shock from suffocating a few hours earlier in “mass casualties”. Still, with a sea-bag on my back and a mile between me and the end, I knew that there was absolutely nothing this world could bring against me that I couldn’t face and conquer. Not my body, not my mind, certainly not a few extra pounds on my back. In that moment when everything in my life was pulled down around me, there was nothing left but to finish. I was able to put it behind me then, just far enough to move forward. That’s what I still do today.
Still, no matter what I have done or what I will do, I will live with a mistake that scars across my past. I will never forget it, I will never feel release from the sadness it brings. But, as the Brother said to me tonight, I have to move on and do what I am called to do and not let the past rule my life.
I don’t talk about what happened. I feel the pain and live with it well enough on my own. Still, I will continue to confess it and continue to ask for the grace to move on, and when I feel that familiar pain in my knees, I thank the Lord.