I am a Catholic

I am a Catholic.

As a Catholic in the 21st cen­tu­ry I feel an extra­or­di­nary pres­sure to have a well-defined iden­ti­ty, an iden­ti­ty that is easy to label so I can tell my fel­low Catholics exact­ly what sort of Catholic I am. I feel the bur­den of need­ing to know exact­ly where I stand on absolute­ly every issue before I go any­where near a debate.

I also feel the need to explain who I am, to chart my jour­ney to where I am today, and try to piece togeth­er why I am how I am. I feel the need to uncov­er my Catholic iden­ti­ty, to claim it as my unique per­son­al expe­ri­ence of Catholi­cism, to own it. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, this is the pur­pose of almost all the writ­ing I have done over the past decade.

On a bleak, blus­tery day in mid-Novem­ber, 1999, I sat in the rector’s office at Saint John Vian­ney Sem­i­nary and told him that I would not be return­ing for the final semes­ter of my senior year. It was a momen­tous deci­sion for me, and it end­ed one phase of my young life and sent me tum­bling into years of self-doubt and uncer­tain­ty; uncer­tain­ty not just about my voca­tion, but about every­thing I had thought was cer­tain in my life, from my rela­tion­ship with my fam­i­ly to my rela­tion­ship with God and the Church.

Three years lat­er, in the ear­ly months of our rela­tion­ship, my wife was fre­quent­ly frus­trat­ed by my unwill­ing­ness to talk about my sem­i­nary expe­ri­ence with peo­ple we would meet social­ly. She thought it was one of the most inter­est­ing things about me, and she want­ed every­one to see how inter­est­ing I was. I, how­ev­er, felt it like a painful wound that was not to be brought up in polite com­pa­ny. It was very dif­fi­cult for me to explain this to her, how­ev­er. How can I be simul­ta­ne­ous­ly ashamed, proud, wound­ed, and edi­fied by the same expe­ri­ence? This tan­gled con­tra­dic­tion was what I ran up against every time she tried to delve into it with me, how­ev­er, and I did not know how to explain it to her, since I was not yet sure how to explain it even to myself. On the out­side I was an enter­tain­ing and excit­ing indi­vid­ual full of amus­ing sto­ries, while inside I was secret­ly bro­ken — con­fused and shat­tered by the tem­pest of the past few years.

The jour­ney for­ward from that has been a long, yet I have not — could not — have walked it alone. I was remind­ed of this yet again yes­ter­day speak­ing with young man who is almost exact­ly the same place I was more than a decade ago: fresh “dis­cerned out” of sem­i­nary, unsure where in the world his God will lead him next. It was good for me to be able to assure him that yes, I felt lost and con­fused as well at that stage. I could tell him it had been a long process, was still a long process for me, but it was not with­out hope. I pray that he, and I, and the many “sem­i­nary refugees” all around us, will all find our way to hap­py, healthy ful­fill­ment in the Church we both love.

1 Comment

  1. This real­ly hits home for me, too. That feel­ing of bewil­der­ment upon being shucked back out into the world after the expe­ri­ence of liv­ing in for­ma­tion and hav­ing one’s iden­ti­ty shaped in such a par­tic­u­lar, focused direc­tion is quite dis­con­cert­ing.

    It is at times like these, when we know we have done the right thing, that we can only trust that God is indeed lead­ing us where He wants, indeed, needs us to go accord­ing to His lov­ing will.

    That does not, how­ev­er, mit­i­gate the short-term con­fu­sion. Thanks for shar­ing this. It is right there with my own expe­ri­ences of leav­ing both sem­i­nary and monastery.

    Prov­ing that He is indeed the arti­fi­cer of all gen­uine humour, the Lord called me to parochial min­istry any­way just when I was least expect­ing it!

    A prayer for trust­ful­ness:

    O Heav­en­ly Father, thou under­stand­est all thy chil­dren; through thy gift of faith we bring our per­plex­i­ties to the light of thy wis­dom, and receive the blessed encour­age­ment of thy sym­pa­thy, and a clear­er knowl­edge of thy will. Glo­ry be to thee for all thy gra­cious gifts. Amen.

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