So a regular reader of mine, a friend looking into the diaconate asked a great question today that I thought deserved more than a quick pat answer. Here is his question.
“Seriously – what resources did you find helpful during your discernment process prior to Aspirancy and what has helped you on your way through that phase as well as your current journey toward ordination?
Thanks SO MUCH! for all of the candid comments. This journey is both exciting and scary!” -Tom
This is a great question, and I’m not sure I really have the answer, but I’m willing to explore how this has played out for me personally.
I really already knew that I had to at least explore this option. This was not something I had ever really questioned. The real question has been regarding my worth. I had to deal with the fact that I am simply not a good enough man to deserve to be ordained. That I felt called wasn’t really the issue, it was more the issue of knowing that what I felt called to be, was and is more than I currently am.
There are a couple of big points here. One is the realization that I am lame. I don’t want to be lame, I want to be awesome. I want to be the hero, the knight in shining armor. When I actually look at myself in the mirror though, instead of a saint I see a quickly aging man who doesn’t really have much going for him. I am balding, I don’t pray enough. I am not very successful and I feel emasculated by my inability to have more children. My life is frankly still a work in progress on so many levels that the mirror image I see is just not the image I have of what a clerical man should be.
The second issue is of course all of your responses to the above paragraph. (As so many of you exceed me in holiness) God deals with the imperfect, and makes great things come from it. God takes losers like me and makes saints out of them. Just look at Peter, he is frankly a bit of a dolt, but his encounter with the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit changes him completely into a man of great articulation, a man who can stand before crowds and speak with them logically and persuasively. A man who can turn his tush around and follow Christ back into Rome to the cheers of the Colosseum. Maybe he can take this worthless dolt and fix him too.
So that’s what goes on in my head, and it is still going on. I’m not sure I can ever meet my own expectations, all I can do is continue to move forward in hope that Jesus is walking with me, and carrying me past the obstacles of my own idiocy.
The other thing I have to deal with constantly is fear. I’m really scared of becoming a deacon. I am terrified of standing up at the pulpit and telling all my friends and loved ones that the birth control (fill in any other hot issue here) they are using is evil. I just know how that is going to play out, and I know the cost is going to be ever so high for me and my family. To set myself with the Church is to set myself against the world, especially in my county where we have the only city in the nation with a Green Party majority. When I say I am setting myself up to be a soldier for Christ, I’m really not playing around. I’m really scared of the social ramifications, and I have an honest fear that at some point I will come home to find my tires slashed and windows broken in.
At the same time, all of these reasons are also reasons I continue to move forward. The truth MUST be preached, and I know that is something I am called to do. I just rue the day when they realize that I am calling the kettle black, and tear my glass house to the ground.
As for resources for helping you in your discernment, there are plenty of books out there, read them if you must, but to be honest they just confuse things. The process will bring plenty of words on its own for you to read.
Focus on the people who are calling you, most importantly if you are married, your wife. How does she feel about this? Does she know you need to follow this path more than you do? I’m willing to bet she is the one who truly knows, just trust her. Also look to other clergy you know, are they too suggestive that you should be in this process? Trust them. If it’s not right, you will find out in the process, I promise. Don’t forget other lay ministers in the parish you work with. Listen to their responses and feelings, they too have great wisdom and experience.
Don’t be afraid you won’t know, and will be moving in circles you do not belong. We have men who are called, but leave because the timing is not right for them, and others who realize they simply aren’t called. We have men who have come back after leaving the program years before. The process is so long, and your thoughts so overwhelming that you really can’t screw it up. If you aren’t meant to be there, you’ll just find out, really.
If you are ever worried you are overstepping your bounds, remember that a vocation goes two ways. The Church has to call you too, and you can’t fake that. If the Church says you are the man, and you still feel that way too, then you’ll know.