A little more information on the path of discernment. I want a challenge. I need a challenge. I want to go up against something that requires me to work and be able to come out the other side, scarred but not beaten. Before coming to Austin and The University, I never worked at anything. Sure, I put effort into activities and school but frankly, spending an hour a week outside of class studying for highly-advanced high school classes and making all A’s isn’t working for it.
I’ve never had to work before and that is something that, looking back, I was not prepared for when moving to Austin.
My first year I did decent. I never went to class and studied a couple of hours the night before a test. Made a couple of A’s, a few B’s and a couple of C’s. I couldn’t complain; I knew I didn’t put any time into it so I was happy with that.
My second year, this past year, I had many personal issues on the side that weren’t there before. The anniversary of my dad’s death hit me hard, I had a priority-skewed month in Quixtar, as well as nice set of roller-coster emotional rides. I had decided to screw chemistry and walk away from it to test whether or not I was driven towards it. I jumped into a couple of history classes and a couple of philosophy classes. And by jumping into, I mean buying the books, showing up to a few classes. The difference between chemistry and history/philosophy was I didn’t care about history or philosophy.
It made for a diasterous time. I was undergoing depression and my self-treatment was to fully throw myself into something that I could handle. The University Catholic Center was my pill. I was the important guy on campus in high school. Or so I thought with being very active with the administrators to help better the school and being in well with my teachers. I felt listened to and I felt like my voice did not fall on deaf ears.
The University of Texas is a great school but it is a large school. The largest fish in the largest high school has to take a moment to adjust at this campus. Compound that with the fact that my high school sends virtually no one to this campus, a handful in so many years. I had no one to teach me the inside ropes to learn the rules of this larger pond or, in other words, I had to learn how to swim with the big boys by immersion. However, the University Catholic Center was more like the parish that I was used to back home (at least compared to The University being like the school I was used to). I had already been elected Chaplain for the Lambdas– I already was given a microphone to speak into.
I took the ball and ran with it. I probably sent more e-mails to the Lambda or Little Sister mailing lists last year than anyone else. I organized a whole slew of events for the Lambdas while trying to find a balance with our Little Sisters while helping with logistics and visuals for Before The Throne while first, attending Awakening and then speaking at Awakening. I was close to the other leaders of the UCC and so I gave up much of my time discussing with them the issues that their organizations faced trying to help them. In all that, I was able to do quite a bit of stuff. The Lambdas have a regular dinner with the bishop every semester now. Two Lambdas have been hired by the diocese after the dinners to jobs that we were told about by His Excellency at the dinner. 125 students from the UCC were treated to dinner and a viewing of The Passion of The Christ with Bishop Aymond.
All in all, I felt important. I felt like there was a task and a position there where I was needed. That position, however, was not at school nor was it anywhere close to being related, except for it being an University Catholic Center. So while escaping from the depression, it also was an escape from the academic life. It did not heal or mend wounds but only turned my eye away from them.
So, while listening to the homily given by Bishop Aymond at the evening Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral just before dinner and The Passion, he said some words that struck me. “Change is always seen as a negative thing in our lives because it interferes with our level of comfortability. Might I suggest that we start to become comfortable with change.” It was a good homily for striking in the season of Lent, a season of change. I knew that change is what I needed and change is what I would have to do.
I have felt a calling towards the priesthood since I was 14. I first mentioned it to Amanda, a girl whose last name I couldn’t remember if I saw it, while on a high school youth group skiing trip. We were sitting around at a restaurant, just after I got back from my hospital trip to Taos and I mentioned something about how I felt like I was being called to be a priest. Now, I am not sure if you have ever experienced a “possible vocation rush” at a medium-sized city parish but let me let you in on how it works. She mentioned that to the rest of the youth group later that night (I didn’t mind, it wasn’t told in confidence or anything). Within a couple of weeks, I swear every man, woman and child knew I was thinking about it. I received much support, including some of the ladies calling me “Father Brandon” followed by “doesn’t that sound good?” Frankly, it didn’t. It sucked. I was a 14 year old kid who hadn’t finished a year of high school much less anything else. I digress. Everyone knew very quickly and that was overwhelming. After four years, right before calling Bishop Delaney and telling him to send me the application, I compromised with my mom and told her I would complete a degree in something unrelated. She wants me to have something to fall back on if I discern a different calling.
I applied to, was accepted and enrolled in The University of Texas at Austin. The calling was still there, I just never told anyone about it. I wanted to be accepted as Kraft, not as Kraft-the-guy-who-is-going-to-be-a-priest-some-day. And I was. I found a brotherhood in the Lambdas and some great friends outside of the Lambdas.
Back to the main plot line, when I heard Bishop Aymond’s “Change” statement on Ash Wednesday, I thought that perhaps that was the change I needed. I’ve felt the calling for sometime and while I don’t know if it is a calling to the priesthood or something else, it was something I needed to discern. I had already been meeting with the vocation director for the diocese and he was leading a virtue study series for the Lambdas. I had already been in close with the Bishop because of the Lambdas and unrelated matters. It was an easy thing to start.
The application is a tool of discernment. It is incredibly long. Three applications- to the Diocese, to Holy Trinity and to the University of Dallas. I think I collected seven letters of recommendation. I wrote a 20-page autobiography. I had to answer everything you could name about myself. What magazines did I read? Have I gone “steady”? Have I been in love? What are my biggest regrets? What are my biggest fears? Why do I think I could experience love outside of a marriage, having no children and no wife? I went through a three-hour psychological exam. Just the application made me look at parts of my life that I have never looked at.
Now, that line of argument is double-sided. One side, which from the way the conversation went, I believe the bishop is on from what I told him, would say that yes, that is what is supposed to do. Was that good for you? The seminary is more of that, come on down. You don’t have to know the path but just want to reach the goal. The other side is that you reflect upon everything. Those of you who know me thought I thought about stuff a lot before this process began- oh no, that was nothing.
How are my thoughts on marriage reflected in the way I treated this girl? Was this action reflective of what I say I believe in or what I actually believe in?
Through that, I know I made a lot of mistakes. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have thrown in the towel then. Perhaps we should have talked things out first. Perhaps this, perhaps that. I realize that I am capable of so much more than what I have allowed myself. Realizing and seeing that makes me want to go out and increase my life experience knowing what I know now. As Fr. David put in when I talked to him following my interview with the bishop, your life before seminary is the bank you withdraw from during your years of seminary. I am not happy with where I am at now in life. I want a positive balance to draw from.
A month and a half ago, I lost three people close to me. That pushed me towards the seminary more than any particular event all semester. It was for the wrong reasons though. The seminary would be easier. I could avoid this negative situation by removing my presence. That is not a good reason to go. I had a bad year. I am still drawn to chemistry- trying to look up at the University of Dallas website whether or not I could double-major with it while at seminary or wondering if I could finish a degree in it after finishing seminary. I would be more challenged by getting my act together here than trying to wipe the slate clean and start anew.
So now, I’m staying at The University of Texas at Austin. I am a normal college student again. Will I date? Yes. “But what does that mean for your discernment?” (as I’ve been asked). I am a young man trying to hear the ringing phone from God. At this point of my life, I am in a room full of telephones. Every place you look there are telephones. I hear ringing but I can’t tell from what phone. I know some phones are not ringing with a call from God but from a distraction. I know not to think about answering the phones that would say “Go down to 6th street every night for the rest of your life and party like there is no tomorrow.” However, there are many phones with legitimate callings that I can explore. The priesthood may be the calling for me, or maybe I just haven’t answered the right phone.
I very much feel the power of God in my life. While I may be saying no to him right now, I don’t believe that he would abandon me. We all have the desire to know God and become closer to him written on our hearts. I feel that desire and I will seek unity with God. I believe that I need to seek better unity within myself (note: not perfect unity in myself or seek simply unity within myself, just seek better unity) before this step.