Be careful what you ask for! The graces of my retreat.

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.

8 thoughts on “Be careful what you ask for! The graces of my retreat.

  1. Dear Luke,

    I am so very happy for you that you have begun your healing (or rather Jesus has begun healing you!) and that you have found the freedom to say yes to the dream that Jesus has for you. May you continue to find deeper healing and strength to live your dream and Jesus’ dream for you.

    It’s amazing what crap Jesus can take and heal, no matter how deep the wounds may be. Jesus is God after all, and a big God that can take all the horrible stuff that happens to us and heal it with his gentleness. I pray that you may find deep gentleness in God’s touch and may become the priest that Jesus dream of.

    Thank you for inviting me to this workshop. I really appreciate your reaching out to me.

    You will be in my prayers as you continue to move forward in your healing and in your ministry to those that Jesus places in your path. I am grateful that I was placed in yours.

    Blessings and prayers,

  2. Such a beautiful witness to the deep openness and freedom that exists so many places: in your relationship with Jesus, in your relationship with your provincial, in your relationship with your own self. We are only free to say “yes” if we are also free to say “no,” and you have lived out that truth very powerfully over this most recent season of your life.

    Giving thanks for the healing that Jesus is has begun working around the wound of the abuse you experienced. It was wrong and it should never have happened. And it draws you into even deeper solidarity and union with so many who have experienced abuse by priests.

    I wonder how the ongoing healing of that wound that Jesus is doing shapes the vision of the new and deeper and truer “yesses” you are now saying: to the Jesuits, to priesthood, to Xavier University.

    I am so delighted there is more flesh to this dream of priesthood Jesus calls you to instead of the priesthood you have been trying to make work (as you shared on Wednesday). I share your excitement in knowing more about it. What will ground and hold and remind you of the dream of priesthood that you and Jesus shared on your retreat? How will you return to that dream in moments of boredom, disappointment, loneliness, or other desolation?

    May you continue to be radically open, stupefyingly free, and in deep intimate union with Jesus, Luke.

  3. Luke, thank you for sharing this with us. You are a gift to us and I know that you will share that gift as God wants you to. I hope to share in more of your journey as we move forward from the workshop.

  4. By our wounds Jesus knows us as we know him by his. So we are bound to one another. Mostly our wounds are invisible to others unless we choose to share them. When we do and they are received with reverence, there is grace and healing. Thank you, Luke, for entrusting to us your story, your just anger and your tears. These will bear fruit beyond your reckoning.

    For your consolation and encouragement:

    You encourage me be not careful, but daring in prayer, even as I take a deep breath.

    In hope of joyful (and subversive) conspiracy and collaboration,


  5. I’m so happy to hear this. We need people on the inside of the institution who have some voice and toe-hold to help speak and work for change on behalf of those of us who have been relegated to subhuman status and our voices deemed irrelevant in the eyes of the institution. Thank you for being an ally, and may Jesus richly bless you with healing, health, and joy.

  6. Dear Luke,
    Praise God!
    I am praying for you that you will be deeply happy in this next year!
    I received some scriptures for you:
    Ephesians 7:21
    Jeremiah 6:16
    Revelation 21:1-4
    Luke chapter 7 (whole chapter)
    Corinthians 4:17

    In your sharing you remind us that Jesus has things to say…you are reminding us to pray.

  7. Luke, I am so happy for you that you have received such powerful graces during your retreat. I am grateful that the graces include your own deeper healing for the abuses you have suffered. I appreciate your insight that the freedom to say a deeper yes comes from the freedom to consider saying no. Thank you for the risks you are choosing to take as a Jesuit priest with this deeper yes — the possibility of greater joy and greater hardship. You are not alone. I believe, especially in this historical moment in time, that there are other Jesuit men and women (myself included) on this road. Or they are packing a back pack ready to get on this road, especially as they see that you are on it walking.

  8. God is good all the time. All the time God is good. Praying with you as God calls you forward. Glad your heart can heal and be truly joyful.

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