David Konderla – Priest, Bishop, Father

Last summer Father David Konderla, Priest of the Diocese of Austin and Pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Center in College Station, became Bishop David Konderla, Bishop of the Diocese of Tulsa. I had the pleasure to attend the ordination and it proved to be a profound experience in my own discernment journey. While It’s impossible to say with total certainty, I’m reasonably sure that I wouldn’t be in seminary if it weren’t for now Bishop David (speaking of the past I’ll refer to “Fr David”). Lots of other people have written eloquently about his impact. I’ll add another story to the collection.

Freshman Colby

I arrived as a freshman at Texas A&M coming off a couple summer experiences that left me convinced I was supposed to be a priest. I have a historical tendency to make situations much more difficult than they need to be, so my conviction became a driving force. It wasn’t that God was calling me to discern, pray, and peacefully enter. Rather, God wanted me NOW (regardless of how much I hated the idea), and I needed to stop everything, talk to the man in charge, and get this train rolling.

In the first week or two of school I sent Fr David a dramatic email explaining my situation. He responded with a simple, “why don’t we meet up and talk about that?” When we eventually met up, he listened to my tumult, and gave what came to be a classic response, “You know Colby, I think you’re making this way too difficult. It doesn’t sound like you’re in a peaceful place right now, so why don’t you calm down, wait on this, and give God some time to act. If he wants you to be a priest, he’ll make it happen. There’s no need to rush.” He gave me some info about discernment events and invited me to just be a student for a little while.

“You’re in a good place to discern. This is a new call for you. Try to slow it down and see where it goes.”

Fr David - Gig em

Who could say ‘no’?

I (reluctantly) took his advice to heart and gave myself the freedom to live a bit as a student. That initial meeting became somewhat prophetic, because for the next four years we had the exact same conversation multiple times. I’d come back from a retreat or semester break flustered, anxious and worried about discernment… ready to cut ties and run off into the wilderness. He’d calm me down, tell me it’s going to be ok, and advise that maybe I need to wait a bit longer. He recognized what I couldn’t at the time, that God likely was calling but I was not in a place to respond in a healthy way.

After persevering with me for years, explicitly encouraging me to date on two different occasions, enduring more bouts of anxious conviction, and ultimately saving me from impulsively running off to be a monk, his patient endurance paid off. Senior year I was significantly more at peace and able to able to enter seminary with some amount of belief that God was calling me for my own good. While that belief had to grow after entering (see more recent history), the guidance he offered was what I needed to get my foot in the door.

That’s a lot about me, but it also highlights how profoundly grateful I am for his priesthood.

It was his own love for the priesthood, commitment to prayer, relationship with a God who speaks in peace, and patient expectation in the Lord’s work that ultimately allowed him to guide a much more immature discerner (me) on the path to falling in love with the vocation he so dearly cared for himself.

Seminarian Colby

At IPF last summer we spent a lot of time learning about and meditating on the identities of a diocesan priest, namely Beloved Son, Chaste Spouse, Spiritual Father, Divine Physician, and Head/Shepherd. During the summer, I was struggling with the identity of spiritual father. I’ve always been drawn to helping others draw into a deeper relationship with Christ, but as a new seminarian I was very uncomfortable with the attention I received from people and parishes simply for showing up. Consequently, I was also uncomfortable with the trust people put in a priest solely because of his title. I suppose it’s the millennial in me that would rather minister as a peer than a boss. I was afraid of losing my identity. A common refrain was “I want to be ‘Colby, a Seminarian,’ not ‘Colby the Seminarian’ or ‘Seminarian Colby’.”

Bishop David’s ordination was a turning point for me. While there, I was overcome with gratitude for the love and guidance he had given to me over the years. I didn’t go to him initially looking for a friend or peer. I didn’t care about his past life, what podcasts he listens to, or his competency at running a sound board; I wanted a man who could speak from experience and personal transformation about the way that God moves. His identity as priest was something I could trust in; I knew his job was to take me to Christ. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I really wanted was a spiritual Father. God bless him, Fr David was exactly that for me. Now, his own example is key for me embracing that key pillar of diocesan priesthood.

Ordination Konderla

Joy

When I go back to visit College Station, Fr. David isn’t there anymore. Somewhere along the line, word of the humble, witty, calm, patient Shepherd and Father made its way up to Rome. That’s sad for me on a selfish level, but brings me so much joy for the greater Church. The people of Tulsa are a blessed bunch.

Beloved Son of God. Priest of Christ. Pastor of thousands. Father to hundreds. Bishop of the Diocese of Tulsa.

I thank God every day for the man named David Konderla. Can you join me in saying a prayer for him and all our Bishops and Priests?

Note: This isn’t the first time I’ve written about holy priests that have become holy bishops (See Bishop Kelly). What a crazy life.


Post-Thought:

One of the minor sufferings of seminary life is that after 16 straight years of school, I’m now in the middle of 6 more years. I love learning and particularly enjoy the current topics of study, but that’s a long time to do anything. So, I like to remember that one of the major joys of still being a student is that I get student breaks. My friends are out working 8-5 and not spending their weekends cranking out 10 page papers, but I get the luxury of long Christmas and Summer vacations. I also get a full week of spring break, which is why I’m spending every afternoon at the library working on long-delayed projects. It’s a good chance to play catch up and finish off some unfinished blog thoughts.

Discernment Update: Things Change

Here’s a general life update before I deactivate my facebook tonight. If you want to keep up with me going forward, I’ll still be periodically updating the blog. I (obviously) won’t be linking on facebook so you won’t get updates on there. Maybe friends will pick up the slack. Otherwise, if you enter your email address at the bottom of the page and you’ll automatically get updates when I post.


As of February 1, 2016, I’m in my third year of Seminary. I finished 2 years of philosophy studies at Holy Trinity Seminary/University of Dallas, then moved to St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston for theology studies (Pursuing an MDiv and MA in Theology). Barring an unforeseen circumstance, I’ll be ordained a deacon in May 2020 and a priest in June 2021. I say that with joy.

A lot has changed since I first entered and that’s a very good thing. My discernment has matured and my peace/conviction has continued to grow. When I first applied and was accepted by the diocese during my senior year of college, I was still very hesitant. If you asked me how I was doing at the time (and got an honest answer), it would have been something like this, “I’m convinced that God wants me to be in seminary, but I’m still really uncomfortable with that idea. So I’m entering, but I’ll probably be done at the end of the year.”

In The Beginning – Restless

My first semester was a continuation of that theme. I was there because God wanted me to be, but I was looking for reason to leave. “Hey God, I’m here… but I’m raising my hand and waiting for you to call on me to say that this was all a big joke. I’ll be out of here tomorrow if you let me.” Of course God was working in the process, but all my effort was spent “fighting” the very call I was attempting to follow. I was doing everything I needed to externally, but prayer was tumultuous and hardly receptive.

Sometime in the second semester of first year I realized that I was doing it all wrong. If I was called to priesthood, the best thing I could do would be dive fully into seminary life. Likewise, if I was not called to priesthood, the best thing I could do would be to dive fully into seminary life. The only way God can confirm or deny a call is by giving it your full will. In either case, God would speak in peace or discontentment (the signs of discernment). This principle can be called the “presumption of permanence”. I’m supposed to be here unless God calls me out, and the only way to find out I’m not supposed to be here is to live the life and discover I’m miserable (as some of my friends have along the way).

But as these things go, that’s not how it went down. Second semester and second year were major periods of growth. To the measure I allowed him in, God slowly began addressing the faults and lies in my belief and revealed my deeper desires. Over time, time in prayer began to heal my deep mistrust of God’s fatherly benevolence and I became more able to say “Maybe God is calling me to this not because he’s a tyrant who needs me to fill a role, but because it’s actually the best thing for me.”

Coming to major seminary has been a continuation of that growth. Priesthood became a lot more real when I started eating meals 3 times a day with deacons who will be ordained to full Holy Orders in less than year. It continues to grow more real as I petition for minor orders (steps along the way) and more deeply embrace the priest’s life of prayer. As I get further into formation, I become more aware of the endless ways I need to grow in holiness, dependence on God, and practical habits. Somehow, despite that (or perhaps precisely because of that), God keeps calling.

Sem brother at DCYC 2017

I came into Seminary praying, “Jesus, I want to do whatever you ask of me.” I meant that as truly as I could at the time, but the reality is that I didn’t trust Jesus; I was going to do what He asked, but I resented Him for it. After 2+ years of formation, spiritual guidance, and prayer, God has worked powerfully to purify my ability to receive his love and consolation. Today I’m praying the same prayer, “Jesus, I want to do whatever you ask of me,” but I poses a deeper trust that God is good and will only ask what is good for me. Never easy, but good.

Things Change – Peace, Joy, Desire

Two years ago I was afraid of the title “seminarian”. I remember telling friends the summer before I entered, “I’m not a seminarian till I talk in the door” (My vocation director would disagree). I avoided buying a cassock until a month after I moved into seminary; I figured I’d be gone before I needed it and I didn’t want the commitment of putting money down on something so officially Catholic. Today I’m awed and humbled by the love I receive from others and want as many men as God wills to join me in the beautiful, challenging, grace-filled, rewarding life. I love when I get to speak to groups about seminary and my own discernment (More).

Two years ago I was looking for a reason to leave. Today I would fight hard if were told I’m not called to Priesthood and need to leave seminary, “you don’t understand. This is what God is calling me to and I really desire it.” Of course I would also take that leap into unknown and obey is asked/told.

God keeps calling me. To sanctity, but a sanctity specifically lived out as seminarian and eventual as a priest. That’s affirmed in my superiors who speak as representative of the Church, my spiritual directors who guide my interior life of prayer, and the countless people I meet when I visit parishes to speak or serve. Simultaneously, my desire for ordination continues to grow.

My earlier discernment focused on the things I’d be giving up. “I won’t be with that girl. I won’t have a family. I won’t work in the tech industry. I won’t be able to take on the challenge of living sanctity in the lay life. Etc.” Today I’m much more aware of the things I would miss out on if I weren’t a priest. “I won’t be able to forgive those sins. I won’t reconcile that person to Jesus. I won’t physically make Christ present on that altar. I won’t be with that family as they suffer. I won’t be free to give myself entirely to the people of this parish. I won’t live the same dependent intimacy with the Lord. Etc.” There is so much goodness in the priesthood that I couldn’t even imagine earlier on (more).

So here I am. God keeps calling. My desire is continually affirmed in contended joy. We keep pressing on together.

Austin DCY 2017 Mural

You get enough pictures of me. Check out this beautiful mural commissioned for our diocese youth conference.

Seminarian as Symbol

One of the most difficult things for me to grow into as a seminarian has been the identity ‘Seminarian’. I remember in my first few months being very frustrated by what I saw as a shift from being “Colby who is a Seminarian” to “a Seminarian whose name is Colby.” That’s not just semantics. This shift is apparent in many situations. As a random 20-year old dude walking into a new parish, it’s pretty rare for me to be greeted or talked to by a stranger after Mass. But, put on a cassock and people line up to shake your hand, take you out to dinner, and ask your opinion on pressing life questions. As a regular dude talking to someone about life and faith at the doctor’s office or on an airplane, they usually ask a few questions and move on. But, tell them you’re a seminarian and get ready for a long conversation.

It doesn’t bother me that people want to talk to me, ask for advice, or have substantial conversations. I love talking to people, hearing about lives/fears/struggles/joys, and sharing life with them. These encounters are usually the highlight of my day. The difficulty is feeling that I’m being engaged not because of who I am but because of a title I have or clothes I wear. I want it to be normal for everyone at the parish to talk about prayer and faith struggles, and not just with the seminarian/priest because ‘that’s what you’re supposed to do’. I want to be asked questions because I’ve won people’s trust or given them a reason to listen to me, not because of a misperceived sense of clerical power.

Mockingjay?

Interestingly, I gained a great deal of peace and clarity on this issue while watching Hunger Games: Mockingjay (thanks sister!). Bear with me here; this could be good.

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Katniss – “Don’t film me in there. I can’t help them.”
Producer – “Just let them see your face.”
….
Rando 1 -“ Katniss? What are you doing here?”
Katniss –  “I came to see you.”
Rando 2 – “Are you here to fight with us?”
Katniss – “I am, I will.”
*Cue inspiring music, people filled with hope, and a hand gesture that means more than its simple, physical action*

The Mockingjay is a Symbol. When the people look at her, they don’t see a simple girl from a poor district who unintentionally became the center of a power struggle. Instead, they see a girl who fought against oppressive power and brings hope that the future will be better. She is in their midst and points to a movement. She hasn’t done anything for them individually. She’s broken, messed up, and not deserving of power. She isn’t a good fighter and has no idea how to lead a government. She can’t heal wounds and is in no place to offer strategic advice. She struggles the entire movie with being granted a following she doesn’t want.

But the people don’t care – They just see the Mockingjay.

Symbols Matter

People need symbols to express deeper realities, and this isn’t a weakness; it’s part of who we are as human beings. We are physical beings animated by a soul, and praise God that He gives us physical things to express the reality of grace in our lives. True Symbols aren’t just pointers; they embody the thing they signify. In this true sense, Sacraments are symbols, the Church is a symbol, Marriage is a symbol, and the Seminarian/Priest is a symbol. The priest doesn’t just represent holy things, he is truly tasked by God to convey grace and forgive sins.

I’ve come to see this identity as a good thing and am learning to more deeply internalize the reality that Seminarian IS who I am. It’s not just something I do. Rather, the life of a priest is one of taking on a new identity – Alter Christus – another Christ. The beauty of the priesthood is that people don’t have to ask, “can I trust this person?” They see a priest and know that man will treat them as Christ would. They know that the seminarian IS someone they can talk about prayer and faith struggles with. Yes, they can do it with others as well, but the Church has given people a symbol – a guarantee that this person, regardless of their personal failings, can be a bridge to God. And this isn’t just a front or a ruse, he spends years training for the task and is given the grace to fulfill it at ordination. The personal identity, Colby, isn’t diminished, it’s integrated and subsumed.

Somehow the same person

Maybe people should be more open to talking to strangers and not feel that clergy are the only arbiters of spiritual sharing, but that’s a tragic failing of Christian community rather than an issue of the priesthood as such. So I’m learning to stop questioning why the person in front of me wants to talk, overcoming bitterness that I’m singled out because of my collar and not my name, and growing into the identity that will be sealed in a few years at ordination. Now, I’m celebrating the fact that God is giving me these opportunities to enter into people’s lives so that I can learn to give them Jesus, and not just “Colby who is a Seminarian.”

Sit Down a Second

Mary Grotto

During Easter Triduum, the seminary sends us home to help at our home parishes. As a Diocese transplant I wasn’t able to go home to family, but I did return to my adopted home parish, St. Mary’s in College Station. Most of my friends are graduated by this point, so I got to spend more time with my brother and the few close friends I have left. It was a weekend of great joy, gratitude, and affirmation of my current path. One particular moment of affirmation is worth sharing.

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