What am I running for?
I have real life goals now, for the first time since, well, ever. That’s not true, of course: I have had dreams my whole life, and at various points they have even been realistic ones. And there have been various points where I felt that I could apply myself and work to make my dreams into reality. But it has been a while.
Now, after years of pondering and coping and waiting for life to happen to me in a good way (as distinct from the bad way it seemed far more likely to happen to me), I am on a path again, taking steps, heading toward something. The steps are erratic, often painful, and I have to continually struggle to keep lifting one foot and planting it a little in front of the other. But I am doing so.
But it is not to soon to revisit the why of my current efforts. Yes, I have pondered a life in canon law for years — off and on for over a decade now. I have felt it as a vocation, felt it as such in a way I never really felt a vocation to the priesthood, despite years of trying. I have felt myself drawn to what I understand to be the pastoral and ministerial work that I am now preparing myself to be a part of. And after years of stalling, of being afraid to take the first step, I have finally leapt. It is terrifying, but it is also deeply exhilarating.
Perhaps too exhilarating. For the thrill of being on track after so much longing (and more-than-occasional despair of ever getting started) has awakened an emotion I had forgotten I had any capacity for: ambition. For if I am going to do something, I wish to do it, not just well, or as well as I can, but as well as is possible. I want to be a rock star in my chosen field.
But I am not alone on this journey. I have dragged my young family along with me, uprooting them from what life and community we had built, taking them far from all our homes and loved ones. This has not been easy: in fact, it has been brutally difficult, threatening not only our physical lives but our shared life and our future as a family. This is, as my wife pointed out to me, possibly not too much to brave in the support and pursuit of my vocation, of my calling to serve the People of God in a particular, fulfilling way. But it is too much to ask of them to undergo these travails for the sake of human ambition and careerism on my part.
This, I think, is a fair and just distinction to make. I am asking much of those I love at this time, and the reasons for doing so can make a great difference in how intact we come through on the other end of this test. I want to do well, but I want to do so with integrity, both in myself and in my relationships. I want to have a enriching and fulfilling career in canon law and in the Church, but I want to do so with my focus on generous service and the gracious use of my God-given talents. This does not rule out academic and professional excellence, but it makes it contingent on personal and vocational integrity. I think I can live with that.