Prior to making my Solemn Profession of Vows on January 1, 2005, I went on a retreat in Los Altos, California. St. Ignatius of Loyola designed a process of discernment that helps any individual know and follow the will of God. This process is commonly known as the 30 day Exercises of St. Ignatius. Exercise is the correct word to use when one tries to determine a specific direction in life, whether it be marriage, employment, religious life, or the priesthood. Exercise is a word that indicates several meanings: to stay active, to keep busy, to remove restraint, and to guard. All these are correct meanings of the word exercise especially when we are trying to discover God’s direction in our life.
The retreat was in silence except for the one hour of spiritual direction we all received privately every day from our directors. The group consisted of thirty or so people of all different ages, men and women, and everyone had a different reason for being there. A Dominican nun was looking for God’s will whether or not to return to the missions in Brazil, a young woman wanted direction in her ministry, a young protestant seminarian wanted renewal in his prayer life, I wanted to know if God was calling me to be a priest. Even after seven years in Carmelite formation I was not certain. I had many reason to convince God why I should remain a Carmelite brother and not to be ordained a priest.
I do not remember how long I had been on retreat when it happened. Some time had passed; I was restless, feeling a strong urge to return to St. Joseph’s Monastery in San Jose. While the retreat was going well, I wanted to celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel with my brothers who were only 15 miles away across the Valley. My director knew of my restlessness and encouraged me to stay focused on the retreat. He asked me to spend some time meditating upon a verse from the Gospel of St. Mark.
Jesus was preaching in the Nazareth. The synagogue looked more like a small adobe house without furniture. There were many who came to hear our Lord speak. I too was there. I was pushed by the crowd but I did not budge. Despite the many people who were there, when Jesus spoke his words were clear and sharp: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” My heart was heavy when he spoke these words. I felt as though they were intended for me alone, all the times I did not accept his friendship or the times I preferred my own interest to his. I looked around to see the crowd mumbling and dispersing, angry, offended. Jesus stood staring at the men who have spent their entire lives preparing for this moment and they reject Him so quickly. I saw his mother who stood waiting for her Lord to give her leave. The room emptied and the gossip of another false prophet began to spread.
Suddenly, I was alone and the day was spent, I was spent, exhausted. I began to walk and eventually I heard the voices of men. As I approached, I saw that the voices belonged to some of the disciples who followed Jesus. There he was! Jesus was sitting alone watching the others as they struggled trying to prepare a fire for their camp. Jesus seemed amused by their efforts. I could feel his gaze now upon me even though I was watching the others. I turned to look at Jesus who was now resting quietly, his eyes were closed. I approached him and sat down. It is evening and the temperature is getting colder. Jesus was planning to take his disciple to Capernaum in the morning. I felt his rejection. “I will never reject you Lord.” I said.
“Come with me to Capernaum. Leave everything and follow me.” I looked back at the others who were still struggling to light the fire. I have followed Jesus to the Carmelite Order. I am committed and content in spending the rest of my life as Carmelite. Yet, he is asking me to “leave everything.” I knew something like this would happen! I was caught off guard and lost control of my meditation. Now I have to face a request that I did not plan nor expect. I did not prepare for this! I looked down, the fire began to crackle and I could smell spoke. There was a commotion among the disciples as they rejoiced in the success of their efforts. “Lord” I finally replied, “I cannot do what you are asking me to do.” I knew Jesus was asking me to follow him in his priesthood. The priesthood is final and eternal. It was too much to ask of me. Again, Jesus said, “Follow me.” I repeated myself as if the Lord did not understand the first time, “I cannot do what you are asking me to do.” “Your hesitations are not mine,” He said. Where did that statement come from? This is not how I intended this meditation to happen. “Follow me, Philip.” These words ignited my heart and changed my life.
I could not reject him as the others did in the synagogue. “I will follow you Lord.” Although I do not fully understand the priesthood, I know in my heart that our Lord called me to serve in this capacity. I can not explain why Jesus gave me this gift, but I believe it was a gift given at the moment of baptism. I believe my vocation to the Carmelite Order provided the safest environment for this seed to grow and to be nourished. I still have hesitations in my abilities to serve. I am still overwhelmed at times with the mystery of it all. However inadequate I may be for this job, it was Jesus who called me and it is Jesus who desires to feed and to forgive, to heal and to comfort his flock through His eternal priesthood. I am a priest forever.