AS I WAS about to resume these notes today my heart recalled another story from the Fathers of the desert,
recounted in the tales about Abba Elias as a story told by him about another great desert dweller and spiritual warrior. This latter is not named, but must have been a man of extraordinary spiritual fortitude:
ABBA ELIAS …said, ‘ An old man was living in a temple and the demons came to say to him, “ Leave this place which belongs to us, “ and the old man said, “ No place belongs to you. “ Then they began to scatter his palm leaves about, one by one, and the old man went on gathering them together with perseverance. A little later the devil took his hand and pulled him to the door. When the old man reached the door, he seized the lintel with the other hand crying out, “Jesus, save me. “ Immediately the devil fled away. Then the old man began to weep. Then the Lord said to him, “ Why are you weeping? “ and the old man said, “ Because the devils have dared to seize a man and treat him like this. “ The Lord said to him, “You had been careless. As soon as You turned to me again, you see I was beside you. “
I say this, because it is necessary to take great pains, and anyone who does not do so, cannot come to his God. For He Himself was crucified for our sake.’ [cq]
Towards the end of the summer, after the meeting with my spiritual father where he had confirmed the call in my heart to priesthood, I became like the old man in that story, in the sense that I weakened in my faith, gave into interior thoughts that I was coming from too sinful and faithless a past to dare consider priesthood.
Once again in my life I also seemed incapable of truly foregoing my addictions, even though my companion had astounded me by recognizing I needed to try and answer the call in my heart and agreed we would end our relationship, which, frankly, by that juncture had virtually ended anyway.
Then one day as I was leaving my office my being was suddenly filled with a deep desire to settle the issue once and for all. Mind you my thought was that it would end with my being rejected, for the rejection wounds and fears were still great within me.
Basically what I challenged the Lord was, and given the lateness of the hour that Friday evening it seemed a ‘safe’ challenge, I’d go to the diocesan offices and if they were locked that would be a sign from Him priesthood was not my vocation.
It is, of course, a serious sin to deliberately test the Lord, as Jesus Himself remonstrated satan when he was attacking Christ through temptation in the desert. [ Mt.4:7]
However the Lord in His tenderness also understands when we are struggling, such as the old man when the demons were scattering his palms.
In such an instance the Lord is compassionate and uses our weakness and uncertainty to bring us to a point where we can, if we say yes to grace, receive the clarity our hearts yearn for.
I arrived at the diocesan offices and the place appeared to be in darkness, closed for the weekend, but when I tried the door, it opened.
I stepped into the foyer and noticed a corridor, at the end of which a soft light seemed to be coming from an office.
Venturing towards it when I got to the end of the corridor I startled a young priest, seated at a desk in the office from which the light came.
He asked how I had gotten in there and I explained the door was opened, which he indicated surprised him since the office was closed. Then he asked what I wanted, beckoning me to be seated once I told him I was struggling with the idea of becoming a priest.
It turned out he was the vocations director.
I explained my situation to him, gave a detailed, though brief sketch of my life and background, told him how new I was in return to the faith and a life of chastity.
By then I was pretty tense and was sure he would explain the impossibility of my being called to the priesthood.
Instead he excused himself and phoned someone, speaking too softly for me to be sure of what I heard.
Once he had hung up the phone he told me the admissions director at the seminary would see me later that evening.
I was stunned, as much by the turn of events as the great swelling of joy which was filling my heart!
Given the distance I’d have to travel that evening, I left that office immediately.
The priest having given me directions, I started the long subway and bus trip out to the seminary.
Dusk had fallen by the time I got there and was met outside the main doors by the dean of admissions, who suggested we walk and talk.
He asked very pointed questions, having obviously been well briefed by the vocations director I’d spoken to earlier.
After about a hour, during which he pressed why I wanted to be a priest, he said it was too late in the summer to accept me for that year. However if I would move out of my living situation, get some particular courses at the university, including philosophy, he would consider me for the following year.
I thanked him and headed back to the bus station, elated.
A brother questioned Abba Poeman, ‘What ought I to do about all the turmoil’s that trouble me? ‘The old man said to him, ‘ In all our afflictions let us weep in the presence of the goodness of God, until He shows mercy to us. [cr]