Introductions: Mark of the Vineyard

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hello all!

I’ve been lurking around this blog for a while now and I’ve decided that it would only be fair if I contributed to it myself, seeing as how I’m also on a similar path as many here are.

I’m 26 years-old, and have been living in Portugal (my parents’ home country) for the past 14 years, originally hailing from the USA. I am currently finishing my studies in Civil Engineering, though truth be told I’m growing more and more aware that perhaps it isn’t the life for me. As for my spiritual journey, it has been a complicated one indeed.

I was born into a Roman Catholic family, but unfortunately they might best be described as “Cafeteria Catholics”. I was baptized, went to Sunday school and even did first communion, but apart from that my religious life was practically non-existent. I remember when I was little, about 3 or 4, that I’d pray with my grandmother when staying at her house and occasionally going to mass with my grandparents. In the many years to follow prayer to me would be synonymous with the vocal prayers I used to say with my grandmother. Did I have faith back then? Did I believe in God? Yes, inasmuch as a child might believe in the fantastic. I prayed because that’s what you were supposed to do, though I often wondered how God didn’t get bored of hearing people repeating the same prayers over and over. In a general sense though I had faith, but not Faith, and so my beliefs had hardly any impact on my life.

Adolescence set in and I fell away from the Church (even though I was studying in a Catholic school); the fact that my parents didn’t think to highly of the Church didn’t help much either. At school we were obligated to attend Mass 2 to 3 times a year and we had a “religious and moral education” class. It all seemed so pointless and hypocritical at the time. I know now the fault was mine for not seeing what could have been reaped from all those years in that class and that school; perhaps I was just too young to understand certain concepts that are only now just beginning to make sense, or maybe it was a faulty catechism. Still, there is a time and place for everything, and if the Lord understood that my path to Faith should have been a long a sinuous road, then who am I to question His ways?

I think it was somewhere around when I got into college that I stopped believing, by a series of faulty premises, in the Christian God – the one true God – and went down the path to paganism. As my beliefs degenerated (I thought I was refining them, coming upon ideas which no one had thought of!) I came to embrace a series of heresies unknown to me at the time. In no particular order, there was a time that I agreed with Unitarians, that I thought Jesus to be just a man, that all miracles could be explained scientifically and had nothing transcendental about them. From there it was just a hop, skip, and a jump away from throwing the baby out with the bathwater and sail into pagan waters. How confused I was back then, how superficial was my logic. And yet I must have known this, else I would not have been constantly searching, jumping from one set of beliefs to another (alas, had I only known of the St. Thomas Aquinas back then!). Pantheism, Deism and Buddhism were just a few of the systems I danced with. All this time I was taking bits and pieces from here and there, making a collage of sorts, believing that I was getting closer to the Truth. And yet it did not satisfy the yearning, the insatiable hunger within.

When I finally developed a love for philosophy in my early 20’s I discovered the Greeks. Here began the slow return home. For it was by this means that I first heard of the Logos. At the time I didn’t know that Christ was the Word made flesh, yet there was something in this pagan concept that partly satisfied the yearning within. And so, for a long time afterwards, I believed in the Logos. Yet even so the path was not fully tread. I did not pray, nor did this belief much affect my life; but still, the seed was sown. About a year ago some happy “coincidences” (does this word actually exist in a Christian’s lexicon?) set the pace ever so quicker. I had bought “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Fear and Trembling” at the same time, and I happened to start reading them just around the time that a good friend of mine started her journey back to faith with the Jesuits. We’d get to talking every once in a while about faith and a lot of what she said would resonate with what I was reading and which made some sense to me (she spoke of how Jesus was the Word, and when I went to look it up I found the Greek version of John 1:1 to be none other than Logos). Also, who would have thought that a Russian Orthodox and a Danish Protestant would have helped me to return to the Church! Such are the Lord’s ways! To make a long story short, a series of events led me to conclude that life could only make sense with God, and that there was no meaning to it outside of Him; that the only authority and truth is outside of man, and it is God. And so I came back to the Church, slowly, hesitantly (for I still had a suspicion of organized religion at the time): mass once a month, then twice, then every Sunday; I began to learn that prayer was not just what I had learnt at home; etc. I began to think my faith out, to truly understand it, and where I could not to simply believe and pray that He would give me His good grace to one day understand. But God is not without a sense of humor. When I came back to the Church, I was connected to the Jesuits. Their rational, down-to-earth, almost materialistic theology appealed to me - who had always been inclined to the “exact” sciences - greatly. And yet something inside began to feel discomforted by this kind of theology (which I would later come to discover was Modernist). Christ did not know He was the Son, and found that out as He went along; most miracles were not miracles; Hell is empty; the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are mostly psychological and that there are no “bad spirits”; that there are truths and no Truth; etc. Where had all the mystery gone? Where was the mystical part of religion? What about Tradition? Could nearly 2000 years of Tradition be wrong? This could not be the Truth, I thought, for the Truth is immutable, it is not subject to the fancy of men. So I set out to search for it on my own within the Church and was happy to see that it still exists, even though in a somewhat mangled state.

When did I begin to question if I have a vocation for the religious life? That would be after I did the three-day version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I had come away from them with a great sense of inner peace, having spent most of the exercises thanking God for accepting me back and begging for forgiveness for having abandoned Him. When I got home the question popped into my head: how about being a priest? At the time I dismissed it as a silly thought, as being nothing but the fruit of the week-end just finished. Why should I want to become a priest? After all, wasn’t my greatest wish in life to get married, have children and build a family? Becoming a priest would invalidate all that. And besides, priestly life had always seemed to me to be an awfully dreary affair. Yet the more I said "No", the more the question would impose itself. Where was this coming from? Certainly not from me, as it was the last thing on my mind. So I finally decided to stop fighting, to just let things lay and see where they'd go from there. As time went on the thought of becoming a priest, especially a Jesuit (their 4th vow and Ignatian Spirituality are very appealing), no longer seemed so dreary. I began to find solace in prayer, to be able to imagine myself serving God, spreading the joy of His Holy Word.

Though I ardently desire to officially start my discernment process, with a spiritual director and all, I'm a bit busy at the moment. Towards the end of the year I will hopefully be going on a humanitarian mission led by the Jesuits. Until then the group is being prepared and since there is a formidable part of the training connected with religion I'm still not in too much of a rush. I have put my life in His hands and trust Him to lead me where He will. When He decides that it is time for me to take the first steps I will know.

Sorry about the long introduction. I know I tend to go off on tangents, so please excuse the superfluous banter. Thank you for having me. I will pray for all of your vocations.

Deus tecum,
Mark of the Vineyard



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