Riding the Swells
Br Christopher Daniels, LC
Facing up to a priestly vocation can seem like what the apostles felt in the boat, during the storm at sea, when they cried out to Jesus sleeping in the back, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?!”
That feeling is much like what happened on a hazy winter day when I was out on a hike with two brothers from Cheshire. We were having lunch by an open fire, on a ridge covered in three feet of iced-over snow, with clouds looming over us. As we started the slow descent, one brother, tall, thin and energetic, suggested that we slide down, and the other brother, known for being a little more prudent, agreed, telling us that he had seen well known survival expert, Bear Grylls, use a stick to stop himself as he slid down snow and ice by stabbing it through the ice as he slid down. So, after arming ourselves with safety sticks, we started sliding down, seated one after another.
It was slow at first, so I lay back, switching to sliding down on my back instead of seated. My reasoning was, if penguins slide faster on their bellies, shouldn’t I go faster on my back? The only problem was it worked too well as I took off like a rocket, completely out of control, pin wheeling like a spinning top down the ridge. My safety stick broke on the first try and fear shot through me as I realized I could not stop or slow down. All I could think of was my head spinning into a tree as I flew down the forested ridge, passing trees in a blur. It was terrifying, that prospect of imminent death. But more than that, it was the terror of being completely out of control, of not knowing what would happen next that terrified me most.
That question seems to come up a lot in life, especially when we seem to be spinning out of control and afraid of what the future will hold; that age-old query of, “Why God? Why did you let this happen to me?” As Blessed John Paul the Second put it in Salvifici Doloris, “…man does not put this question to the world, even though it is from the world that suffering often comes to him, but he puts it to God as the Creator and Lord of the world.” He goes on to describe how this question can even get between us and God, or even be used to reject God.
During the Candidacy program, discerning whether or not God was calling me to join the Legion, this question came to my mind often. Coming to see if this was His will meant leaving behind people I loved, people I thought I could not live without. It seemed as though joining was certain death, losing all that had made me happy, forever. I constantly asked God why, confused, frustrated, and even angry that He had led me to this. But during the eight-day silent retreat that directly precedes getting your cassock, it finally hit me: I was at peace. I finally realized how much unrest had been in my soul before I had followed God’s urgent callings, unrest that I had tried to quell with people and things but had never succeeded. I realized God had a plan, a much bigger plan than I had thought up, and my happiness was woven deeply into this plan, if only I would trust Him in following His will, through the raging storms and the moments of calm.
Br Christopher studies humanities at the Legion’s novitiate and college of humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut.
Photo credit: by William Dalton on Flickr.