As someone who spent less than a year in a religious community, I don’t have a very complex story to tell. But I suppose my story has in freshness what it lacks in depth. I joined the Companions of the Cross in August 2013. This is a fantastic community, one that I would whole-heartedly recommend to any man discerning the priesthood, especially if he happens to live in Canada. The Companions send their first-year applicants to Combermere, Ontario, for nine months of “in house” formation prior to entering seminary.
When I first arrived in Combermere, I was enthusiastic and optimistic about the months ahead. I would never have guessed that I would discern out of the community by Christmas. But that is exactly what happened. So the question is why. We were praying every day, receiving solid spiritual direction, and bonding as a group of men living for God. But despite this fertile soil, over the course of four months, my spiritual energy withered like grass in the Canadian winter. By the time I returned home, Jesus seemed so distant that I couldn’t even remember why I had discerned the priesthood in the first place. It was extremely disappointing, embarrassing, and frustrating to “fail” so quickly. To top it off, I was plenty angry at God.
After a couple of months of shaking my fist in Jesus’ face, I was getting absolutely nowhere. Searching for guidance, I talked to a friend of mine that has been working in ministry for close to 50 years. “How do you keep going?” I asked him. He responded that he prays the following prayer every day:
Lord, take me wherever you want me to go, and I’ll go there. And I’ll stay there until you take me somewhere else.
His prayer convicted me right then and there. It was a prayer of surrender, of total surrender to God. That was exactly what was missing from my life. I had slipped into giving God my conditional surrender. Though I might not have verbalized it, the prayer of my heart was, “God, I give you my life, so long as I can turn back at any time.”
Driving home that night, I prayed that prayer over and over. I experienced immediate relief in my spirit. As the months have passed since then, Jesus continues to heal me and invite me into even deeper relationship with Him. I realize now that total surrender – no turning back – is the key to knowing God’s peace in my heart.
As I reflect on my novitiate experience, I see that I wasn’t really surrendering completely to God. My stubbornness choked the life out of my relationship with God. When I say “No” to God, the Holy Spirit can’t breathe in me, or at least not very well. When I say “Yes” to God unconditionally, I allow the Holy Spirit to breathe the life of God in me and through me.
The great news is that God isn’t done with me or with you. “Behold, I make all things new,” He says. Is God still calling me to be a priest? I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea what direction He will take my life. And that’s ok. We don’t have to figure everything out, so long as we have totally surrendered our lives to our loving Father today, no turning back. That’s freedom in Christ. That’s the key to possessing the peace that surpasses all understanding.