Before I entered my eight-day retreat on June 21, I wrote to a colleague:
“I’m leaning in the direction of taking a leave from the Jesuits and priestly ministry, but I know I can’t make a final decision until after I make a good retreat. And the thing about a retreat and the living God: I have no idea what will happen, and I feel open to seeing something, realizing something, that I can’t see right now.”
I’m reminded again: Such openness can be dangerous!
The first gift Jesus gave me on the retreat, which has been an unfolding grace over the last three months, is the grace to make a decision in freedom. It’s no easy grace. I had to overcome a lot of fear about what others would think and what would be on the other side.
Another important movement from the retreat: Jesus revealed his anger to me and invited me to share my anger with him.
He wept a lot. So did I.
At one point, I was pouring out everything I hated about being a priest. Jesus gently responded, “I’m not asking you to do any of these things.”
He received my pain. He felt my anguish. And he assured me that he’s not asking me to contort myself to fit into any pre-packaged Catholic priestly identity and ministry. He’s not asking me to sacrifice any part of who I am and who he has called me to be.
And then Jesus began to reveal his dream for the priestly ministry he is calling me to.
“The image of the God who weeps offers an interruption that allows new possibilities for hope to emerge.” -L. Juliana M. Claassens
It’s the dream he revealed earlier in the retreat and that I wrote about last week. Except now Jesus was showing me how this dream — life, joy, health and healing; experiments in building and disrupting — could unfold in the priestly ministry he is calling me to.
In the most unexpected way — in the span of just a few hours on the sixth day of my retreat! — Jesus turned the whole direction of my discernment on its head. And I felt truly free to say yes or no. And I said yes to his dreams with my whole heart.
I realize now that his gift of freedom to choose was not only the freedom required to choose to take a leave — but also to choose to stay in the Jesuits and in priestly ministry. And to stay in a different and deeper way, which could bring greater joy and greater hardship. (“Be careful what you ask for!”) I don’t need to work so hard to fit in, but to stay attentive to his dream and to follow that with great freedom.
For weeks, I was anticipating I would ask my provincial superior for a leave of absence, and he had recently assured me that he would grant it and send me with his blessing. When I met with him on Monday, I shared the graces of my retreat and my desire to return to Xavier University.
A final note: Jesus is showing me in powerful ways that he heals wounds.
On the last day of the retreat, I finally named a deep wound in my life: I was abused by another Jesuit, the pastor of the community in Rome where I served as a newly ordained priest. The abuse was not physical or sexual, but emotional. He bullied me, lied to me, shamed me, threatened me and sought to manipulate me. And my superior in Rome, who had the responsibility to care for me, enabled this abusive Jesuit. My anger toward both of them is deep. And just. Jesus is beginning to heal this wound.
There’s more flesh to the dream Jesus shared with me. I’m excited to share more about it — and, most of all, to live into it — in the upcoming weeks and months.
I give God thanks for the way you all have been an important part of my journey during these past five weeks.
With great joy and hope, I look forward to more conspiring and collaborating.