Discernment is a word in the English language that does not get used much in our modern world. In a Christian context, it is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.
In 2013, I started discerning a call to the ordained ministry in the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church. Through prayer, spiritual direction and encouragement I applied and was accepted to the 2015-2019 Deacon Formation Class at St. Cyril & Methodius Seminary. And ever since that acceptance, I have been in a constant state of discernment.
One of my favorite prayers contains the words, “make straight our path, confirm us in the holy fear of you”…My path of study, formation and discernment was anything but straight. During the application phase, I was dealing with an aging mother diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer. As we all started to settle into a routine and I was about to leave for my first summer session at the seminary, Theresa was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. Everything I had in me told me to withdraw from the program and take care of things at home. However, I was made to promise that I would get on the airplane and make my first trip to Pittsburgh.
No one could have predicted that before I finished my first year of formation and distance learning I would encounter one of the largest bumps in the road: the death of my spouse and my child’s mother. Yet, through all of that, I got on the plane again, made my way to Pittsburgh and completed the second year of in-residence classes.
The second year of distance learning and formation was anything but straight. There were so many distractions and peaks/valleys, several that I brought on myself, others that just go with the job description of single parent to a special needs child. Through all of this, I managed to rock the academic portion of my formation. My grades in year 2 were better than year 1 and year 1 was pretty damn good. The other parts of formation: Spiritual, Human, Pastoral…not so much. Although I would argue that I have been through an aspect of pastoral formation that no celibate priest has ever been through and never will go through…walking yourself and your 10 year old child through the death of a spouse.
To be perfectly clear, there were mistakes that I made along the way. There were many missteps that I made along the way. We learn from those mistakes/missteps and we move on. And to be unequivocally clear, as Keith Urban says, “I’ve forgiven myself for the mistakes I’ve made”. If you want to question me, criticize me, you better have walked a similar path to me. You say that you have lost your parent(s)? Yep, me too in 2003, right before I made a giant career change and moved to Quantico, VA to begin training as an FBI agent. I can tell you, with zero hesitancy or uncertainty, that losing a parent is low in the stress department compared to losing your child’s mother. That statement is not to trivialize the loss of a parent, but until you have walked my path, you don’t know what you would do in the same situation. And speaking frankly, I don’t care what you think you would do. It’s all speculative on your part.
All of that background brings me where I am at today. When I went back to Pittsburgh, I thought that maybe I was over the hump and year 3 and 4 would be good to me. As it turns out, the discernment phase was about to hit a critical mass. Any candidate for holy orders, diaconate or presbyterate, live in a fishbowl. A big, giant, fishbowl that all people look in on. At any step of the process, anyone involved in formation, to include the candidate, can say this is not a good fit at this time. Truly I was at a fork in the road and needed to make a decision. I spent several hours, sitting in the seminary chapel, with only candlelight in front of the icons. My prayer, as it has been so many times, was simple….Lord, make straight my path and let me know if the path I’m on is the right one. I woke up the next morning with a feeling that my primary vocation was to family, and not the parish family at this time. I am called to be a husband and father first, and maybe an ordained deacon at some future time. This path was made clearer to me when I found out that my Eparchy would require me to wait approximately 5 years after remarriage to apply for formation. In order to make sure that no feelings are hurt or bridges are burned, I completely understand that decision and know that it is founded in the best interest of everyone involved.
I wanted to know what that meant for my intellectual formation. Much of year 3 and 4 is focused on the mechanics and specifics of being a deacon. If I continued with my studies, would my eparchy accept that when the time came or would I be dragging my sorry butt back to Pittsburgh to start anew. Sadly, no one seemed to know that answer and I made the decision to withdraw from the entire formation program at that time. There is a financial and time commitment that I don’t see a positive ROI at this time. The decision came to me driving to work and it came relatively easy. I am going to miss the 15 guys that remain in the program. They are good, holy men, and I am not sure I am at their level right now. I see some road trips in our future when they are ordained to the Diaconate. I won’t be surprised if there are a few presbyteral ordinations in their future as well. I can see my long bearded friend, AG, as my future spiritual director!
One thing I know is that Ryan needs a loving family more than he needs a Fr. Deacon Patrick. And I need a loving family more than I need a murmuring mass of humanity at this point in my journey. I have found that, and that vocation deserves my undivided attention. I can still be of service to my current parish, my new parish – wherever that may be- and to the people I will meet along the way. Life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride.
“ Lord, blessing those who bless you and sanctifying those who trust in you, save your people and bless your inheritance….Grant peace to yourd world, to your churches, to the priests, to our government, and to all your people. For all generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from you, the Father of Lights; and we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages.”