This past weekend we had our end of semester retreat. I almost cannot believe that I just wrote those words. This year is absolutely flying by and I have been terrible at keeping up with the weekly happenings. The day by day is relatively constant. I pray, go to class, read, spend time with diocesan brothers, and keep up with world happenings. Larger projects pop up every so often. A few weeks ago I got my woodworking fix by building a Giant Jenga game. Recently I’ve been putting my MIS skills to work by leading a database revamp and spearheading a Salesforce CRM implementation (technical jargon for a software system that will allow us to track our contacts, manage donations, effectively contact friends of the seminary, and track volunteers). It’s been a good year.
Last Friday I traveled with the 14 pre-theologians to Cedarbrake Retreat Center in Belton. Our retreat was led by a joyful Dominican priest who lives and serves in Dallas. The weekend was divided up between times of group reflection and silent reflection. We would spend an hour together reflecting on scripture, then break apart and spend 2 hours in silent meditation. The structure was phenomenal. It provided a great balance of personal encounter with Christ and building up of community. This retreat was the most anti retreat-high weekend I’ve ever spent, and I say that with great joy. We moved slow and weren’t focused on super charged emotions or high powered talks.
On Sunday morning we were asked to take the scriptures we had been reflecting on and use them to preach to the particular situations that we as seminarians are experiencing. We got together in our small group and took turns preaching the word of God directly to each other. This was an incredibly powerful experience, to hear the encouragement and motivation coming from men who are going through the exact same things I am. Definitely a highlight of the semester so far.
Below are the words that I spoke. Good preaching should take into account the audience, so the words will not directly apply to your life. I’m sharing them with you because I believe they give good insight into the struggles and joys that I have been experiencing so far. My words were related with the first reading from Mass, Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17. I would recommend reading that passage before reading my words.
Brothers, this year has been one filled joys, but also with cloudiness and darkness. I came into the year expecting things to be perfect and quickly realized that this is not the case. I learned that brother seminarians are human and messed up. I learned how frustrating it can be to relate with younger, less mature men. I learned that the men here come from a wide variety are spiritual backgrounds and often times they won’t see eye-to-eye with me. I can speak for myself, and to the words that many of you spoke throughout the weekend, when I say that the future looks uncertain. I’m often frustrated by formation and question why I left the great situation I came from. I feel that God is calling me to the priesthood but don’t really know why he has me doing the things I am now doing.
In the midst of this, I want to remind you that we are not alone in the frustration. Throughout history people have felt confused and frustrated by the actions of the Lord. The entire Old Testament is a story of people running to and from the Lord. 2500 years ago our ancestors were wandering in a desert waiting for the land that had been promised. The prophet Ezekiel spoke to members of the tribe of Israel who were far from home, suffering under bad leaders, and separated from the temple where they worshiped The Lord. These people were lost, confused, and walking in darkness.
The joy of the story is that God did not abandon his people. Through Ezekiel, God spoke words of fidelity and compassion to his wandering people. He says “I myself will look after and tend my sheep” and “I will give them rest.” The Lord spoke directly to his nation and promised to meet them in their need.
Today I want to speak those same words to you and reiterate the truth the is ever ancient and ever new. “I myself will look after you.” Those words of promise and comfort are being spoken to each one of us individually.
You see, the problem with our problems is that we expect to find satisfaction, reassurance, and contentment in the external things. We want to find reassurance in the faculty, friends, and classwork, but those things are not enough. Today the Lord is telling us that he alone is will tend to our needs. He alone will seek us out, pick us up, heal us, and guide us forward. He is with us in our solitude, our darkness, and our frustration. We do not need to be overwhelmed by schoolwork or the seemingly never-ending journey that lies ahead. We don’t need to be worried about the next school we’ll be sent to or seminarians who don’t meet expectations. We don’t need to worry about those things because the Lord has promised that our rest is in Him alone.
So let’s do exactly that. As we go forth from here, let us be aware that it is the Lord who is shepherding us. He is the one calling us to toward our vocation and the one who will rescue us when we feel lost. Let’s make a point to be alert to God’s presence in the silence of our hearts. Classes, brother seminarians, formation meetings, assignments, and pastoral work are the things we see on a daily basis, but they are not why we are here. Let’s do those things and find joy in them when possible, but more so let’s strive to live with the knowledge and conviction that “The Lord is my shepherd, there’s nothing I shall want.”
Currently listening to: Audrey Assad