April 19, 2010

Am I Willing to Be Free?

PART III of My Lenten Story

For years now I have felt like I was hobbling along in my faith, in my relationship with God.

It’s been like this despite the fact that, since graduation, I have worked in the Church full-time as a youth minister, a catechist and a Catholic high school teacher; despite the fact that I am consecrated, having professed vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (along with Char, my wife) in the Holy Family Institute.

Over the last four or five years my family has endured much suffering. It has been one situation after another. I have honestly felt like Job. But I have not handled our sufferings as well as Job handled his.

I have harbored anger, unforgiveness, and hatred in my heart. This totally crippled my relationship with God. The sad thing is that for a long while I didn’t even care. There was no prayer in my life. Sure, I went to Mass with my family on Sundays, but I was just a ghost, barely there.

A couple of months ago things began to change. Char and I formally renewed our vows in the Holy Family Institute. I put effort into preparing for that day. I started praying again. I went to confession beforehand.

A few weeks later, Sr. Patricia Shaules, FSP, a Daughter of St. Paul, conducted a retreat for members of the Holy Family Institute. Char and I attended. The theme was the mercy of God. The title: “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving.” The retreat was only a day long, but it was the most powerful retreat I have ever attended. And I have made many retreats over the last 24 years. I can’t begin to describe how beneficial that retreat was for me.Something happened that day.

After the retreat, I maintained a regular prayer life, even though most of my prayer was “on-the-go.” I started reading short passages from the bible every other day or so. But, I was still hobbling, still crippled by my own faults and failings. But God was back in my life. He was again important to me. And I wanted to grow in my relationship with him.

I began to realize that, in order to grow, I was going to have to give up some things. If Ireally wanted to be free – as I had prayed for years – then I had to be willing to be free, be willing to give up those thought patterns and behaviors that held me bound. And that scared the hell out of me.

I realized that I wanted to be free… but, like St. Augustine, I didn’t want to be free just yet. I was afraid. But, slowly I began to see that God was just asking me to be willing to be set free.

For a week or two, that thought – what my freedom would require – stayed with me. I would think about it frequently during the day. And every time I thought of it, it scared me all over again.

I remember praying over and over, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

You can find Part I of My Lenten Story (He is Risen and Has Given Me New Life) HERE, and Part II (From Seminary to Bartending and Back Again) is HERE.