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.
The Holy Spirit moves in mysterious ways. Whenever we are faced with a move, a change, it brings conflicting feelings.
This Pentecost I am in the middle of preparing for a move from my first assignment as a priest to a new assignment later this month. One of my brother priests called it “from one extreme to another” – from two slow-paced, rural parishes to a big suburban parish with a school in a major college town. I have lived here four years, five if you count the times I visited on the weekend as a transitional deacon. The people and the place have left a mark on my heart. Everywhere I look I find more things that belong to me and that I will need to pack and move. I also find things I’ve bought for the rectory with Church money and wonder if I’ll have these same amenities at the new place.
Moving is difficult, not just for me but for the staff and the parish. Each person has to deal with it in their own way. I am filled with conflicting emotions: excitement for the new and unknown and sadness for the places where I experienced God’s love. A part of me is happy to leave behind certain people and memories. In the mess of the move, the preparation, the packing, the schedule hassles, the new pastor moving in early, the waiting for the date of the move, it is easy to feel lost and forgotten. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is advancing while I stand still. Temptations multiply to fill oneself with snacks, TV, iced cappuccinos… and indeed some of those things do seem to take the edge off temporarily. It is hard to pray, to sit and be still in the heart even during prayer. Moving brings up emotions and memories from the past, insecurities and fears.
There is something else too, though, or rather someone. There is a presence, a deep peace, a person who is accompanying me, who gives thoughts such as “Be at peace, it will be all right,” “Be patient, it will work out,” “Keep praying your regular prayers,” “Stay quiet,” “Watch me work this out.” This is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the one we call the Holy Spirit. He is God just like the Father and the Son. He is a person just like the Father and the Son. And His presence is palpable in all those who have been baptized and believe.
The Holy Spirit is all-pervading, the Advocate, the Consoler, the one whom I can trust when all else seems to fail. The Holy Spirit has been there for me in the past and I am even more aware of Him now. The Holy Spirit wants me to be strong and calm:
By waiting and by calm you shall be saved. In quiet and in trust your strength lies.
The Holy Spirit wants me to be holy, to not freak out, not send a quick reply over email, not make a hasty comment, not indulge. The Holy Spirit wants me to enjoy this experience even amid the pain. The Holy Spirit wants me to have a holy transition and His way is indeed the better, wiser way.
Why be up in arms? Why fear, be anxious? Nothing has importance except my relationship with the Son and the Father in the Holy Spirit. Everything else is fluff. May God bless all our moves and transitions!
By Fr. Tom Wasilewski
Fr. Tom was born in Poland, raised in East Lansing, Michigan, and graduated from Central Michigan University. Since his ordination in 2010 he has been a priest in the Diocese of Lansing. In his spare time he likes to mountain bike and work on basic wood projects.