Above,  rector Rev. Gerald McBrearity presiding at the Wednesday Eucharistic Adoration Hour in the Caldwell Hall Chapel, hosted weekly by the  Basselin Scholars of Theological College. 



Grace in Navigating White Water

In the Spring 2019 issue of The Crossroads, I introduced Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Journey” and now, a year later, I would like to further unpack that reflection.

“One day you finally knew

What you had to do, and began,

Though the voices around you

Kept shouting

Their bad advice.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do.”

For over 46 years as a Sulpician, I have observed generations of seminarians evidence the determination and dedication suggested in Mary Oliver’s poem.  Despite the voices that shouted their bad advice, they did not stop, because they knew what they had to do.  Generations of seminarians have shown extraordinary courage and at the same time welcomed the needed accompaniment of spiritual directors, formation advisors, pastoral supervisors, parishioners, and classmates to assist them in their efforts to grapple with the voices within them and in the world around them that could undermine their deeply felt call to diocesan priesthood.  At Theological College, every dimension of the formation program supports priesthood candidates in their discernment, enabling seminarians to test out their vocational intuition, to become free of any interior or exterior “bad advice,” and, therefore, to witness to a readiness for ordination.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that the journey toward ordination is a journey that inevitably leads to change, changes that can throw a life into turmoil.  There is a spiritual writer who used three images to describe the spiritual life.  The spiritual life can be likened to sitting beside a still, placid pond, an experience of peace and tranquility.  The spiritual life can be likened to navigating  a gently flowing stream, moving with little difficulty with the deepest current of the stream leading with ease to the destination.  The spiritual life can also be likened to an experience of white water:  confusion, unexpected obstacles, and powerful forces seeming to war against one another, requiring preparation and practice if the white water is to be successfully traversed.  I do not know any seminarian who would use the image of a placid pond to describe their experience of formation.  Some have used the image of a gently flowing stream, but most find that white water more accurately describes their experience:  turmoil, being tossed about, finding it difficult at times to see where they are going.

My own experience of being in spiritual direction and serving as a spiritual director and formation advisor has taught me that turmoil is often a sign that the consequences of a call to conversion are beginning to be experienced in one’s life. This can be like an experience of white water in which there is little peace and tranquility and little that is gentle or easy.

The writer Kathleen Norris has written: “If grace is so wonderful, why do we have such difficulty recognizing and accepting it?  Maybe it is because grace is not gentle or made-to-order.  It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.”  Theological College is committed to accompanying each seminarian as he engages those aspects of priestly formation that evoke turmoil or unwelcome change, recognizing that grace is not always gentle or made-to-order.  At TC, seminarians are guided as they engage those inevitable white-water moments in their formation and discernment, knowing that by facing these unsettling moments they will grow in  self-knowledge, clarity about their vocation, and the wisdom needed to enter into the life of a parish priest — which can also be, at times, a white-water experience when there is little peace and tranquility and there is little that is gentle or easy.

Theological College gives thanks to God for the generations of seminarians who have shown integrity and courage in engaging the process of formation for the priesthood, especially at this challenging moment in our Church’s history, and in the history of the world so gravely affected by the coronavirus epidemic. Whether it was six years ago or just this past fall, TC’s committed seminarians “finally knew what they had to do and began,” and now they continue to open their hearts to God’s will in evolving circumstances. Join us in praying for them as they follow their bishops’ guidance during this dramatic semester of home study and prayerful discernment, as together we also pray for all afflicted with illness in the world.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Reverend Gerald McBrearity, P.S.S. (’73)