Tag Archives: discernment

Finding Tranquility in the Midst of our Busy Lives


By Claire McGrath

I’ve written in some of my previous posts that my junior year of college was a difficult one for me. I felt very unbalanced, and I realized that I had to make a lot of changes. The summer was a rejuvenating time—I finally got the chance to take a step back, do some reflecting, and begin to feel balanced again. I felt more centered, peaceful, and tranquil than I had in a while. Now, a few months later, I’m in the midst of my senior year, and I’ve found, unsurprisingly, that it’s a lot harder to feel balanced when I’m juggling the competing responsibilities of my academics, my leadership responsibilities within the Office of Social Justice, my jobs, and my friendships. My challenge has been to hold onto that inner tranquility and centeredness that I found over the summer even in the midst of a busy schedule.

Continue reading Finding Tranquility in the Midst of our Busy Lives


I Don’t Want to Get Married: Confessions of a Celibate Priest


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Author’s Note: I wrote this last evening; folks don’t read blog posts at 11:00 pm on a Sunday night, so I saved it for today.

It’s 10:46 pm on a Sunday evening:  I just got off the phone with a parishioner who has no family. I gave the hospital my number as an emergency contact, just in case.  Somehow, they gave her my number.  And she called.  A few times.

A girlfriend from college got married today.  I saw the pictures on Facebook.  She looked so blessedly and beautifully happy, surrounded by family and friends, smiling in the arms of her husband.  I smiled.

I worked my way from one end of Yonkers this afternoon to the upper reaches of Westchester County on communion calls.

I’m tired, I’m worried about a Mass of the Holy Spirit at which I need to preside at a local high school tomorrow.  Somewhere around and between visiting the parishioner mentioned in the first paragraph, and celebrating the Mass in the previous sentence, I need to make sure my lessons for my freshman religion class are in order for the rest of the week.

Once I’m done with that, I’ll attend a CYO coaches’ meeting and start sketching out my homily for next Sunday.

At some point, I figure, it will be most appropriate for me to take care of the large stack of dirty laundry sitting in the corner of my room.

Continue reading I Don’t Want to Get Married: Confessions of a Celibate Priest

Discernment: Hurdling the Obstacles of Life


By Matt Keppel

What happens when your discernment doesn’t go as planned? Have you ever had that happen before? You’ve taken the high road, given God everything that you could, but despite everything you did or said things just have not turned out the way you had hoped. Yeah, I know that story. I have had that anthem echoing in my head. Somewhere along the way things become skewed. You discerned well, but your vision became blurred and your goal now seems farther than ever. Frankly, it hurts, and somewhere deep inside you feel betrayed.

For a long time I spent time discerning my vocation to be a priest. I went to college thinking it would be good to get some life experience, and oh, was it ever. Indeed, I went certain I would succeed, because, well, I had never really failed. But, my heart was lost. I was not sure who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do, and I was torn between the ordained life and the lay life. It was a struggle to say least. I failed at a lot of things those years: classes, relationships, friendship. Nothing seemed to go right. Except, in the midst of all the turmoil, and especially having come out on the other side: I know that I was growing.

Continue reading Discernment: Hurdling the Obstacles of Life

Of Domincans and the Word of God

kurt pritzl op

Kurt Pritzl, OP (1952-2011)

By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Before I entered the Capuchins, Father Kurt Pritzl, OP, Dean of the School of Philosophy, was my spiritual director.

Kurt died entirely too young from cancer, but the effect that he had upon me and countless students is, without any hesitation, incalculable.  The “Kurt” stories are endless, but today, as I presided at the 6:45 am mass (and then preached about Kurt’s witness with tears in my eyes and sand in my throat), two came to mind.

The first comes from the notebook of Catholic How contributor Katie Morroni, who shared this quip with me a few years ago:

On March 10, 2004, in Philosophy 201: The Modern Mind, Kurt said: “The most sublime idea you’ll ever have is the idea of God.” Continue reading Of Domincans and the Word of God

Put to the Test: A Tale of Three Weddings

three weddings

By Sara Knutson

As I wrote and published a blog post on how to plan a wedding, the irony that I’ve never planned one myself wasn’t lost on me. So I sent out the draft to three simplicity-oriented, intentionally-minded friends to get their take—and they wrote back mini-masterpieces about their own wedding experiences.

The stories of Erin (mentioned in the previous post), Sarah, and Eric follow, showcasing both the benefits of planning according to one’s values and the sometimes insurmountable obstacles to doing so. I hope you find their accounts as fascinating and helpful as I did.


Married: 2014

Peter and I began our wedding planning process by identifying some of the values that were important to us and that we hoped would be reflected in the events of our wedding day. A few examples of the ways we tried to honor these values: we held our reception at a non-profit venue, so the fees we paid would benefit their youth outreach programs; we ensured that as much of the waste from our event as possible was compostable; we invited guests to consider making a donation in our name to the organization in which we both volunteered in Honduras in lieu of a traditional gift; and we invited our community into the planning and preparation for the day.

As the months went on, one of the things we realized was that a given value can be “enacted” in many different ways. For example, “simple” was one of the characteristics we hoped our wedding would embody. We came to realize that in some cases, “simple” might mean having your friends and family set up and break down the reception, and in other cases it might mean hiring an event manager and waitstaff to coordinate and carry out these tasks. Originally, we had planned on the former option, but with the encouragement of family we ended up opting for the latter. Both choices, I think, could have been justified in the name of “simplicity” or even “hospitality” – it’s all a matter of how you view it.

I was surprised by how much the process of trying to plan a wedding in line with our values helped Peter and I articulate and even grow in these values.  Before planning the wedding, I think we both knew what we held to be important to us, but the process of actually writing these things down, wrestling with them as we made decisions, and articulating them over and over to the people who were celebrating with us actually helped them become even more important to us, which was a wonderful gift as we begin our life as a family.


Married: 2008

At our wedding reception, a co-worker of my husband Adam approached me and said, “I love this wedding! It’s focused on family and friends, instead of all that extra unimportant stuff.” At the time, I had no idea what she meant, but now I’ve thought more about that day and her comment.

I never sat down and deliberately established values for the big day. But some values were so engrained in me that they naturally led the process: frugality, creativity, and community. Frugality and creativity worked hand in hand while planning many of the details. “If I can do it myself, why pay for someone else to do it?” I thought, especially when doing it myself allowed me to use my creativity and eye for beauty.

As a result, I made my own invitations and programs, pieced together my centerpieces one sale-priced mirror at a time, and called up my college roommate for her hard-candy recipe to serve as favors for my guests. One of the benefits of doing so much on my own was that I couldn’t do it without the help of my mom, sisters, and fiancé. I’ll never forget seeing my mom’s kitchen counters covered in pink and orange candy at various stages of completion and laughing as we realized we STILL didn’t have enough!

I parted with traditions that seemed anti-community—for example, seating the bridal party shoulder to shoulder facing outward, while their dates sat awkwardly with strangers. Instead, we sat at one big, double-sided U-shaped table, and our parents, nieces and nephews sat with us as well! There were other traditions I kept BECAUSE of their emphasis on community; personally, I hate wedding cake, but I realized it was truly the easiest way to feed dessert to 200 people and was also symbolic of community, since we all ate a slice of the same thing.

I’m sure there’s a lot more we could have done to simplify our wedding. After all, I had the designer dress, matching bridesmaids, and a limo. But I believe the values I was brought up to believe in were a crucial part of the planning process, and the reason Adam’s co-worker knew something special was happening that day.


Married: 2009

The formula of establishing joint values, letting those guide all wedding-related decisions, and informing family of this criterion may work well for some couples. My wife and I found things much more complicated, however. We knew weddings are entrapped in consumerist and patriarchal webs and would have loved to evade them. Our path became morally murky, however, when doing so threatened to damage our family relationships. What to do, for example, if refusing to wear a tuxedo made in a sweatshop would cause serious strife with one’s future in-law?

We learned there are strong emotions attached to social roles and the honor code that goes along with “throwing a wedding.” The day was not just about us but also a chance for those funding the event to meet the expectations of their peers. If the dress or decorations were too modest or the food not fancy enough, would they be thought cheap, miserly, or poor? The proposition of funding the wedding ourselves would have triggered insult and undermined the foundations for a loving future with our family. Was throwing a wedding in keeping with our understanding of the gospels worth such a sacrifice?

We decided it was not. The wedding took place 3,000 miles away from where we hoped, was extravagant rather than modest, and the reception occurred in the one place we agreed we did not want it: a fancy hotel lobby. Five years on, we still regret many aspects of how it unfolded and discuss what we would have liked to do differently if left alone to plan it. But we do not wish to be alone, and our encounter with the gospels has thankfully not been through abstract maxims but human beings and all the messiness community generates.

Nuns on the Radio

Not Quite the Nuns Sara Is  Writing About
Not Quite the Nuns Sara Is Writing About

It feels superfluous to do any writing about religious life this week, given that the topic was covered in depth in yesterday’s broadcast of “American Women, American Nuns” on NPR.

The hour-long show discussed discernment and religious life with three young women who have committed to becoming sisters and are now in various stages of formation. Vocation stories, myths about religious life, the declining number of women religious, and the question of women in the church all got airtime.

The guest panel is fairly diverse, representing three different orders (including one where habits are worn) and a variety of backgrounds. The reading list below the story is also worth a look.

Noteworthy to me was that I knew one of the guests as well as one of the callers to the show, and the two guests in novitiate (the third is about to begin) knew each other.

In the same way, when I mention religious life in conversation and someone recommends a good young sister to talk with, I’ve often already met the woman or heard her name. I was reminded again today that religious life is a very small pond.

But the conversation in that pond is worthwhile, so consider dialing up the podcast for your next workout, commute, or contrived excuse for procrastination.

There’s Something About Marriage

Amy and Martice, My Most Favorite Recent Models for Marriage
Amy and Martice, My Most Favorite Recent Models for Marriage

I was paging semi-frantically through sheet music, scanning for the unity candle song, jostling my guitar, cursing my inability to be organized while playing at the wedding of my good friends—and was suddenly stopped short by the Gospel being proclaimed.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” began those famous words from the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed the mourning and the meek, the seekers of righteousness and clean of heart. Strange reading choice for a wedding, I thought. Where’s the lovey-dovey stuff?

And then, following the exchange of vows, came the intercessions—a full dozen, their length commanding my attention. Some were traditional wedding petitions: for the new bride and groom, their family and friends, and their dearly departed. But there were also prayers for those suffering from mental illness, for the poor and sick and lonely, for those who have been trafficked and abused.

Continue reading There’s Something About Marriage

Why I’d Even Be A Sister

It’s not because I’ve given up on finding a man, am secretly lesbian, or need to escape regular life. Promise.

I’m discerning because religious life aligns so well with my deepest desires—and I have a lot of desires.

I want to forward the mission of the Church, particularly its good news for the poor. I want to be like Tabitha in the Acts of the Apostles, a woman “completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving.” I want to be totally available to the Church, its needs, and its ministries.

Continue reading Why I’d Even Be A Sister

Hesitation, Silence, and “Huh.”

Photo by Drew Herron, used with Creative Commons License
Photo by Drew Herron, used with Creative Commons License

You know what’s confusing? When you might have a vocation to religious life and you’re the only one who’s excited about it.

Over the past year, I’ve told a lot of people that I’m considering religious life. Their response is, at best, measured.

They choose words carefully and hesitantly. “Wow, you’re doing a lot of thinking.” “Huh.” Maybe a follow-up question. Sometimes just silence.

There are plenty of good reasons for some restraint. People close to me don’t want to unduly influence my decision. People unfamiliar with religious life are unsure where to direct the conversation. Acquaintances feel it’s not their place to give feedback on such a deeply personal matter. I get it.

But the aggregate result is unnerving. When no one encourages you about a vocation, and then people hesitate to respond when you do say something, you start to think you’re a little crazy.

I’ve wondered if I’m a terrible fit for religious life and everyone sees it but me, or if everyone else knows that women’s religious life is dead and I’m just too naïve to realize it.

It’s like I’m dating someone and everyone thinks I could do better but is too polite to say so, discretion thinly covering their internal disapproval.

I didn’t realize how deeply this all had affected me until last November when I met up with Father Tim, who has known me since he was a young parish priest twenty years ago. Father Tim is a raging extrovert, a charismatic guy whose ideas, thoughts, and emotions bubble out with unrelenting enthusiasm, and he was in full force that day.

“You should do religious life!” he said excitedly. “Not because it’s better than everything else, but because I think it would make you really happy.” I almost cried with relief. No one had ever said that to me before, and I’d started to think it wasn’t true.

Since then, his unbridled and continuing delight at the idea of my going into religious life has given me the freedom to consider it as a legitimate, and legitimately cool, option.

Granted, this says something about my own discernment; if I were leaning strongly toward marriage, I might find Father Tim’s clear preference pushy or intimidating.

Something like that happened to a friend of mine. His family and parish priest pushed him toward priesthood from a young age and never let it go, even after he clearly said he wasn’t interested. Being saddled with the expectation of priesthood created a deep resentment toward the idea that remains firmly in place 20 years later.

So I don’t know what the “right” response is, exactly. I do know that I have appreciated when people have kept the conversation going, particularly when they have shared their own stories of discernment, stories which I increasingly crave.

And I hope that people won’t be afraid to say this simple sentence (judiciously and only if accurate), to me and other discerners:

“Religious life is a great option, and I think you’d be fantastic at it.”

Guest Post: Worth My Time – Reflections on Holy Thursday

Block print with hand coloring 1991 19.5 x 10.5

By: Brother Will Tarazza, OFM Cap.

Call me crazy, but I love when the Mass of the Lord’s Supper goes for 2 to 3 hours. Yes, I enjoy the high liturgy. Yes, the choirs and the musical accompaniment captivate me. However, these are not the reasons why I would want this liturgy to go that long. When I was visiting Rome a few years ago while studying abroad in Spain, I went to the Church of Santa Susanna for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This is a Paulist parish that is designated for English speaking Catholics in Rome. I hadn’t been to an English Mass in months, so I thought it would be a good time to participate fully in my native language. As we got to the washing of the feet, only one chair was brought forth in front of the altar. At first, I was confused. I thought, why would he only wash one person’s foot? As the priest divested his chasuble, the lector explained to the audience that all were invited to approach the center aisle to have their feet washed. Sigh. This is going to take forever, I thought. Only a few people stood immediately to get their feet washed, mostly kids. I did not plan to go.

Since there was some time, I started to reflect on my own discernment to be called to the ordained priesthood. I watched as the priest bent over to kiss each foot that passed through the washbowl. He probably didn’t know many of the people who’s feet he was kissing. He didn’t know the roads those feet had walked or the pains they have endured; yet, he washed and kissed each foot. This was a real witness to the love of Christ who laid down his life for us. It didn’t matter where the apostles had been or what they had done; yet Jesus loved them and washed their feet. They were given a task to love and serve unconditionally likewise. If this service is an unconditional task, I thought, why should foot washing be limited to a select few to save time? Shouldn’t we all recognize our need to be served no matter where we have been so that we too can serve? This really got me thinking about how I would want to live a life as an ordained minister. The ordained priest’s vocation is to lay down his life to be a representative of Christ. It is a life of service to anyone who comes to have his or her feet washed! But sometimes, we have to give the people the time to recognize their need to have their feet washed. Can we give them this time? The Church of Santa Susanna did! So a half hour into the washing of the feet, I got up and had the priest wash and kiss my feet as a response to my desire to serve Christ as an ordained priest. God allowed me to understand that if I am going to serve, I have to know how to be served by Christ himself.

It was only later that the people who jumped up immediately to have their feet washed moved me. In a sense, they were saying, “this life is tough, and I need someone to wash my feet to relieve some of my pain.” I’m not sure if any parish does this in the United States. All I know is that this affirmed the kind of priest I aspire to be. I don’t want to be selective in my love for God’s people. I want to wash the feet of anyone who sits in the chair. This may take a lot of time; however, if it brings people to Christ, isn’t it worth it? May you have a blessed Triduum.

Brother Will Tarraza, OFM Cap is a member of the Province of St. Mary of the Capuchin Order. A native Mainer, Br. Will met the Capuchins at the Catholic University of America. He enjoys liturgical theology and watching the New England Patriots. He currently resides at the province’s formation house in Jamaica Plain, MA as he studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.