My First Real Life Choice

I looked around during meditation that evening, especially at the priests and realized that in another ten or twenty years my life would probably resemble one of theirs. Was there anyone in the monastery I wanted to emulate? I respected several of the priests for their intelligence. Of the three priests I respected most, one seemed rather paranoid and fearful of expressing his own ideas. One I saw as selling out to the establishment and not sticking up for what he thought, much less what we thought. The third appeared broken and bereft of his dreams.

Most of the other priests I saw as unhappy in a variety of ways, or as having made compromises in their commitment to the religious life. After I had considered everyone, I realized there were no priests in the monastery I would like to turn into in the foreseeable future. I also realized that in another ten years I probably would be like one of them. None were willing to challenge the system and the few students who did want to see change were outnumbered and constantly under a cloud.

I reviewed my observations with God. I tried not to be judgmental about the priests I had just finished considering. It was up to them to decide whether they were living the life God wanted for them. It seemed clear that this was no longer the life for me. I didn’t know what God had in store for me next. It seemed that whatever it was, I had learned something about difficult times and felt ready for the next challenge.

I told Father Xavier I wanted to meet with my Uncle Bob who lived in the Union City monastery across the Hudson River from Manhattan. With his permission, I called my uncle who suggested we meet for dinner in a restaurant in Manhattan. He traveled by bus and I took the subway. Remarkably, we both arrived at the restaurant about the same time. After a few pleasantries, I told him that I was thinking of leaving the monastery. He was not surprised, based on our previous conversations and word which had filtered back to him through the Provincial.

He explained that he had always wanted to preach, but never had much of an opportunity to do so. He went to college to prepare himself to teach Physics at Holy Cross. Then he then became Rector of St. Mary’s Monastery, Rector in Scranton and eventually Provincial Consultor. I told him I thought this must have been quite frustrating. He saw it as his being willing to do the things that needed doing so others could do what they wanted.

I told him I admired his self sacrifice, but found it very difficult to let go of any dreams I had. I also found it hard to trust superiors who seemed to know so little about student development in a changing world. They seemed afraid of the changes which progress implied.

Despite our differences, he understood my position and agreed to respect whatever I decided to do. I told him I had thought about all the priests I lived with and did not want to turn out like any of them. I did not feel I had the self sacrifice to live as he did. I told him I thought it was time to leave the monastery. I felt sad on the way back to Jamaica, realizing how happy he had been when I joined the seminary and how disappointed he must be to see me leave, even thought he did not express it.

The reality of leaving seemed to come upon me fast, although I had been dissatisfied and frustrated for some time. I held out the hope that there would be a resolution to the concerns several of us had raised about the limitations and contradictions of our way of life. It became increasingly clear over time that the order was not about to budge and seemed fearful of change. The only possible resolutions seemed for me to give up my interest in change or to leave. I did not think the first choice would be possible for me without leaving me very embittered and resentful. This was not how I wanted to live. Leaving the monastery remained my only choice.

Excerpt from my memoir, Young Man of the Cloth. For a free sample, follow the link to the Amazon page and choose Look Inside. 

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