I’m spending this summer at the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University. I’m here with 175 seminarians from across the country (and Canada!), including 4 classmates from Austin. This summer program is dedicating to building up the spiritual lives of seminarians. I’ve only been here a week, but it’s already wonderfully evident that IPF exists for one reason – to teach me how to pray. The goals of the program speak for themselves:
1. To awaken and deepen relational prayer with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, effecting a participation in Christ’s own pastoral charity.
2. To foster the seminarian’s joy and delight as he is assisted to appropriate his identity as a “contemplative even in action” rooted in the call to be a beloved son, chaste spouse, spiritual physician, spiritual father, and good shepherd.
3. To guide the seminarian in a radical reorientation to Christ unleashing in him an affectively mature embrace of chaste celibacy leading to his sharing in Chriat’s own self-donation to His Bride, the Church.
4. To form future shepherds as teachers of prayer and discernment to serve the laity in their (own) call to holiness as transformers of culture
Dang. That’s good stuff. Two major objectives that we’ve been working on so far are:
1. The seminarian will be able to identify the interior voice of the Holy Spirit speaking in his heart.
2. The seminarian will identify the internal movements of his heart (thoughts, feelings, and desires) and learn to apply St. Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits to those movements.
What exactly does that look like on the ground? Well, the first week of the program was spent preparing us for an 8-day silent retreat in week 2. We met every day in classroom and large group lectures for a course titled “Christian Prayer and Virtue”. We were taught some basic frameworks and methods by which we can integrate the thoughts and feelings of our hearts into prayer (Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond). We also worked through the basic rules of Ignatian Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Tim Gallagher (He’s a legend… he wrote the book). This focused on how we can discern what is of God and how to properly respond. For any thought, I need to Be Aware of what I am experiencing, Understand where it is coming from, then Take Action to accept or reject it.
Essentially, everything we have done so far boils down simple but profound reality that God desires a relationship and is constantly speaking to each of us. But, we need to be aware that God’s communication is more at the heart level than the intellectual level. So, I need to learn a new way of “hearing” God speak. I need to cultivate a way of living and attitude of heart that makes me receptive to the graces God is desiring to pour out. At the beginning stage, it starts with recognizing that prayer is not about “doing” anything, but simply being aware of where I’m at, conveying that to God and receiving from God in the place (conversation is a two-way street). The rest of the summer will be spend growing in awareness of God’s constant internal movements.
So how is it going? It’s challenging, but so, so good. Much of the material I have heard before, and I thought I understood it. But this week has convinced me that while I get the concepts on a head level, I’m not living it out. I am much more comfortable operating at the level of intellect (and that’s ok – it has its place), but realized there are huge parts of my heart I’m totally unaware of. I have no capacity to become aware of them on my own, so I’m just sitting and surrendering that poverty to God. It’s somewhat frustrating, but mostly I’m joyful because the recognition of inability is grace enough. This is where God has me and it’s from there that he will continue to speak to me. I desire “intimate and unceasing union with the Father” and God wants it even more than I do, so for now I’m showing up and letting him act.
Finally a quote that sums up the goal of the summer:
“The spiritual training should be imparted in such a way that the students might learn to live in an intimate and unceasing union with the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Conformed to Christ the Priest through their sacred ordination they should be accustomed to adhere to Him as friends, in an intimate companionship, their whole life through.”
Pope Paul VI, Degree on Priestly Formation
The song of my heart right now.
Beginning tonight I will be participating in an 8-day silent retreat. I’ll be totally disconnected, praying 4 directed hours a day and creating a space in which God can speak to my heart. Your prayers would be much appreciated. I’m sure I’ll have lots to say when it’s finished.