Receive like a man

| Jonathan Liedl | May 22, 2018 | 0 Comments

A few years ago, I was on a discernment retreat with a religious community in Kansas. I came to the monastery in something of a vocational vertigo: I had previously experienced a call to pursue the priesthood, but I’d hesitated to respond. As a result, religious life, marriage and diocesan priesthood all swirled before me as possible options, leaving me disoriented and drained. Self-imposed pressure to “figure out” my vocation was preventing me from making any actual progress.

Joining the monks in lectio divina, several other young men and I prayerfully pondered John 21. In this part of the Gospel, the risen Lord encounters Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, asking him, “Do you love me?” before instructing him to “feed my sheep.” The vocational implications of this passage were clear. We invoked the Holy Spirit and let God’s living word speak to us.

I was profoundly moved during this experience — but not for the expected reason. What struck me was not the priestly mission given to Peter by Christ; instead, my heart was drawn to what Jesus said to him even before this call, in verse 12: “Come and have breakfast.”

Before Peter could receive his vocation, his great mission of love for the Lord, Jesus wanted him to draw close to him: to be strengthened by his meal, enlivened by his fire and inspired by his voice.

This insight from the Spirit spoke deeply into my struggles at the time. Christ was telling me to stop restlessly grasping at my future. Instead, he was asking me to be receptive to him in the present — not as means to an end, but as the most basic and necessary posture of my life as a Christian.

I took this to heart. “Come and have breakfast” became a spiritual mantra of sorts. I prioritized my relationship with Christ, and he made clear my next step. I’ve just finished my first year at the St. Paul Seminary, and I am excited to continue pursuing priesthood for our local Church.

I’m grateful for the wisdom God revealed at the monastery, because it came in stark contrast to the worldly logic by which I had been attempting to discern. This logic, which I think is especially problematic for us men, tells us that our life is a project we construct, not a gift from God to be received and unfolded. With enough exertion and the right technique, the logic goes, personal fulfillment is something we can manipulate and exploit, like biology, physics or any other area our technological society has mastered.

Moreover, to concede that our life’s purpose is given by Someone else threatens the only instrument our society says makes anything meaningful: our choice, the unrestrained imposition of our will.

And so we take things upon ourselves. Activity becomes our primary source of identity, not our relationship with God. And when we do go to prayer, we go with a list of demands instead of a heart open to receive and do God’s will. When we partake in the sacraments, we instrumentalize them as divine aids to our plans instead of transformative receptions of the living God. Even good Catholic men can fall prey to this logic, following a crude reduction of theology of the body that says receptivity is exclusive to women.

This logic is built upon a lie, a misunderstanding of who we are as adopted sons of God the Father. Though it comes under the banner of “freedom” and “control,” following this logic traps us in a cycle of self-seeking that never satisfies. Instead, it leaves us where it had left me at in my discernment before going to the monastery: frustrated and fruitless.

We are not our own. And we’re incapable of knowing who we are and what we’re made for apart from the One who made us. Whether you’re discerning your vocation or how best to live it, you cannot do so without the Lord. No amount of self-seeking activity will suffice.

This isn’t to say that we contribute nothing to our relationship with God. Just as Jesus asked Peter to bring his catch of fish to their seaside breakfast, the Lord invites us to bring our desires to prayer and our good works to the altar. But we must do so humbly, aware that we only have anything to offer the Lord because he has first given us all that we have, all that we are.

The reality is that even the manliest of men must be receptive before the Father, something Christ modeled for us during his earthly ministry. For we have a God who “has filled the hungry with good things,” while “the rich he has sent away empty.” We have a God who wishes to strengthen us through the sacraments, enliven us through prayer, and inspire us through his word.

Let’s stop grasping for scraps that never satisfy. Instead, let us humbly receive what the Lord gives us and taste the fulfillment only found in him.

Liedl is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Learn about the archdiocese’s Catholic Watchmen initiative online or facebook.com/thecatholicwatchmen.

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Category: Catholic Watchmen