In 1989, when I was 12 years old, I began thinking I might be called to the priesthood. If I did so, I considered four options. One was, of course, to be a Diocesan priest and have some of the financial “perqs” that come from not taking a vow of poverty, as well as knowing I’d be close to my family (except that my parents eventually left SC, so if I had become a diocesan priest, I might have been on my own). Another option was to join the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the order that served my then-parish (although they had left that parish by the time I graduated from college). I really wanted to be either a Discalced Carmelite or a Dominican. Every day, I would pray for God to miraculously cure me of Marfan syndrome, and if He did, then I would go become a Carmelite or a Dominican and go live in some third world country and do missionary work (therein again was a dilemma: I really preferred the Carmelites, but if i was going to fulfill my dream of being a missionary, the Dominicans seemed more suited).
Anyway, around the age of 15, I discerned in prayer that my prayer for a miracle, and my desire to be a priest, were both forms of attachment. I was trying to force God to give me the life and vocation *I* wanted, not the ones *He* wanted. I figured *I* had to be a priest because the Church “needed” priests, and no one else in my family seemed to be doing it.
At the time, everyone was talking about “Medjugorje,” and I took for granted that it was ‘the next big thing’ in the Church. As I started reading more about Fatima, Lourdes, and the lives of the saints, I started realizing that some of the things out of Medjugorje seemed to be not “kosher” compared to other cases of apparitions and miracles.
In 1995, I was given copies of three key books–Wayne Weible’s _Medjugorje: the Message_, Michael Brown’s _The Final Hour_ and Ted & Mary Flynn’s _Thunder of Justice_ (which I did not actually read till 2002). Now, these books were extremely helpful, but I also see how, in retrospect, they stunted my spiritual growth. I developed an unhealthy attachment to praying the Rosary and to Sacramentals. I developed such an obsession with the need to say a mechanical, legalistic Rosary that I was stunting God’s attempts to give me contemplation. I became judgemental of those who did not accept the alleged apparitions or their dire warnings about an impending doom for the world if people didn’t turn to fasting and prayer.
It took me years to achieve these realizations. After I began to encounter very devout and knowledgeable Catholics, particularly Carmelites, who warned me against Medjugorje, I did more research and read sources on both sides of the debate. By the late 2000s, I came to the conclusion that the alleged apparitions were not only false but diabolical–which I’ve also documented many times on this blog. People ask, “Why would God allow all this ‘good fruit’?” “Why the conversions?” “Why the miracles?” “Why all the Masses and Confessions and Rosaries?” Well, for one thing, because it’s all about Attachment. I just read a story of a nun who had half a rosary “turn to gold” and wanted to go back to see if the other half would “turn to gold”–attachment. People insist there are “miracles” even though the Church has investigated those “miracles” and found “no evidence of the supernatural” (so they’re not “miracles”)–attachment (and credulity). Even when I was pro-Medjugorje, I was perplexed by people who insisted one had to go there. Why? I can read a book.
Even authentic apparitions or shrines can be unhealthy when people insist on spending a fortune travelling over and over again to go to visit them, for the sheer attachment of visiting the place, like the attachment to a particular vacation spot. It’s all about the feelings, and not about growth, which comes from self-denial. Mother Angelica used to joke about people coming to visit EWTN and complaining about the inconveniences of their trips, waiting in line, etc., and pointed out that the whole point of a pilgrimage is to make you miserable. Pilgrimages should be like the Irish island. Yes, they should involve spiritual refreshment, but they should also involve self-denial. Most people would be far better served by a trip to their local adoration chapel and their local soup kitchen by a trip to Medjugorje, or even Fatima, or even the Vatican or the Holy Land.
In 1997, I learned about third orders and found that that might be the avenue for living a deeper spirituality and adopting a more austere life while accepting the married vocation I had discerned God called me to (though I had another 3 years to go before I met and married my wife). Again, the Carmelites and Dominicans both attracted me, and there were both in Columbia, SC. Interestingly enough, if I had begun *then*, I might have ended up joining the Carmelite community I’m now a member of (Columbia, SC, has two communities, one TOCarm and one OCDS).
I was also going to start working on an MA in Religious studies.
My parents moved, and I moved with them–again, what *I* wanted for me wasn’t what God wanted. I ended up with an MA in English–my least favorite subject–but one that served me well for a variety of reasons (including preparing me for Carmel in that John of the Cross is a poet, and Carmelites seem to love writing poetry). Again, detachment.
I did join an OCDS “study group,” and there began a 14-year off-and-on journey of membership in the OCDS, which I believe I have recounted elsewhere on this blog, but again, one thing God was working on in me was attachment to the notion of “being a Carmelite.” I took the name John of the Little Way of St. Therese, because I try to live the Little Way as the basis of my spirituality, and I have a great devotion to the Little Flower. However, I’ve found that another consolation of having Therese as my patroness is that it’s 14 years, and I still haven’t made my final profession as a Carmelite, and I still may not–should my Community’s committee decide to hold me back for attendance reasons, or should my aorta dissect again, as it did a few week’s after my last temporary promises), but I take consolation in the fact that St. Therese never became a “fully professed” Carmelite in this lifetime.
It’s all about detachment. When we are detached from worldly goods, from selfish pride, from our own desires, we are truly free. People often tell me how “advanced” they think I am in prayer or spirituality because I know so much and pray so hard and make the sacrifices I do in regard to coping with Marfan syndrome, but I’m just a “beginner” in the eyes of Holy Mother Teresa and Holy Father John. After 23 years since I first got serious about prayer, first started considering the priesthood, I am just now teetering on the beginnings of what they consider “stage 2,” and I still have a long way to go. In John of the Cross’s schema, the last stage before the unitive way is the “passive night of the soul” (often confused with the “dark night of the soul”), which is when the person has become totally detached from worldly things, has accepted contemplation, and then Christ teaches that person what it was like for Him on the Cross–and extremely few people reach that stage, much less the unitive stage, simply because it’s too hard. It’s hard enough to voluntarily give up our worldly attachments, but then to move on to where Jesus infuses into us the complete desolation of the Cross?? Most of us back off and say, “I’m not ready for that!”
Yet we *must* be ready for that. We cannot get into Heaven without it. If we don’t achieve it in this life, then we will achieve it in Purgatory, and that will be a *lot* harder than crawling on rocks for 2 days without food or sleep.