Your holy impatience to serve God does not displease him!—But it is sterile if it does not come accompanied by an effective improvement in your daily conduct.”
—St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way
Coming to Mt. Angel marked an enormous shift in my spiritual life. Where before I had been growing by inches, and often, like the proverbial iceberg, seeming to backslide hugely before making the slightest progress forward, I began to grow by leaps and bounds in all areas: spiritually, intellectually, and simply in human formation as a Christian man. I remember telling my formation director I felt like I was finally “planted in good soil.” I loved the Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass and adoration with my seminary brothers; I loved the structure of the life, the community living, growing in brotherhood with one another; I loved my classes (though some certainly more than others!), spiritual reading, and all the diocesan events I suddenly found myself involved with, mingling at seminarian benefit dinners, serving Masses at the cathedral.
After my first semester, I tried to impose greater structure on myself, coming up with an horarium of balanced times for prayer, study, classes and recreation, but I quickly became frustrated because I just didn’t have the self-discipline to follow it. When I told my formation director, he laughed and told me, in no uncertain terms, “balance is a fallacy” in the diocesan life! Still, I felt a great need for balance and a certain regularity of life, so I continued to try to impose different horaria on myself over that semester, my summer at home (during which I worked full time at a AAA service center and volunteered daily in my parish, including serving daily Mass), and into the next year, to greater or lesser degrees of success.
As I began my second year at Mt. Angel, a new priest on the hilltop, Fr. Thomas Koller, O.C.D., was assigned as my formation director. His example of great personal holiness, deep prayer, a true contemplative spirit and a joyful life was absolutely inspirational to me. He also proved to be extremely insightful and was able to help me make sense of many spiritual and personal issues I brought to him. (“When I told him that story,” I wrote in a blog post last October, referring to the story of my conversion, “Fr. Thomas immediately made a connection with Scripture which I had never remotely thought of, which is a very Carmelite thing for him to have done.”)
One of the great graces of that semester was that I began to really love to pray. I started making a daily holy hour, which I had intended to do in theory since the previous year but rarely did in practice, and found that my hour in the chapel was often lengthening into two, then two and a half, then three! I felt drawn to prayer, to silence and stillness before the Lord, like I couldn’t get enough of that blessed time there in the dark before the tabernacle, “alone with the Alone.”
At Christmas break, with the permission of my vocation director, I went on a personal discernment retreat with the Dominicans at St. Albert’s Priory in Oakland. I still felt a strong attraction to the Dominican Order which had been with me since the beginning, and I felt I had to explore it, if only to do my “due diligence,” so to speak, in discernment. In truth, what I really wanted was to visit St. Albert’s and experience loads of confirmations and signal graces, everything short of the heavens opening up and the voice of God booming out, “come, son of St. Dominic, don the white habit!”
What happened, however, was far short of that. My attraction to the Order diminished when I saw their life up close, particularly the community life. Many of the young student brothers told me that when they had visited St. Albert’s, they felt like they had “found their people” there and never really looked elsewhere; I emphatically did not feel that way, but I was disappointed not to! However, as I was working out my discernment in fear and trembling every night, I was sitting in a small library near my room in the guest wing of the priory, and on the last night I was there, I discovered I had been sitting every night under an icon of St. Teresa of Jesus, which read: “God denies himself to no one who perseveres.”
Header photo credit: Fr. Stephen Maria Lopez, O.P.