One man’s letter to friends: “I have decided that I will be leaving the seminary…”

A friend posted the note below on his Facebook page four days ago.  With his permission, I reprint it here in its entirety, minus his name.  I found it moving, brave and more than a little bit wise.  Please keep this young man, and so many like him, in your prayers.  Dcn. G.

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Dear Friends and Family,

I am now at the point of completing my third year with the Augustinians.  Each year has provided me with an opportunity for deeper discernment, for continued growth in my relationship with God and a greater understanding of myself, and the opportunity to understand a bit more clearly where I see God calling me in life.  Throughout this time I have met consistently with wonderful spiritual directors and had tremendously helpful formators who have assisted me in this ongoing journey.  As these three years have come to a close, I have decided that I will not be returning next year, and that I will be leaving the Augustinians and the seminary.

As you can imagine, this is not a decision I have come to lightly.  It is the fruit of intense periods of prayer and reflection as well as wise counsel from important people in my life.  I do not wish now to go into every detail of my discernment and my decision to leave, but since I have in the past been so open with all of you about my life, my decisions, my struggles, etc., I think I at least owe you some of that same honesty now.

One thing that has become clear to me over these years is that I entered religious life and decided to become a priest mostly for all the wrong reasons.  When I came back to the Church in 2005, it was not simply a rediscovery of faith, but rather it represented an awakening to the understanding that for so long I had been living a truly miserable life, and for the longest time I found it so difficult to forgive myself.  Even though so many loved ones and spiritual guides insisted that I was too hard on myself, I did not accept it.  Not being able to forgive myself led me to lose sight of the good within me, and so I had to seek that goodness externally.  For me, that immediately became the priesthood.

What I really needed at that time was an opportunity to deal with all of the pain and shame that I was experiencing, and time to go through the process of healing.  But instead of dealing with any of that in a healthy way, I sought to suppress it by sprinting towards the priesthood. During that time I should have focused on getting right with myself again, reconciling with my past, and actively working through the process of healing.  Instead to a very great extent I just fell back into the past from which I was running.

By refusing to deal, by attempting to suppress, I set myself up for further falls, and even if this wasn’t as far of a drop, the shame that came with it was intensified, because it came at a time when on the outside people finally began to see me as good, even as admirable, and so I sprinted towards the priesthood.  Thankfully I had a vocations director who slowed me down and told me to take my time, that it would be several years before I could even apply to the Order since I needed my college degree first.

Many people have expressed such disbelief that I could ever have reached this point.  To those who know me I am always lighthearted, smiling, laughing, trying to make others laugh.  The idea that I was carrying around this sense of shame has been unthinkable to many who have heard me speak of it.  It’s a hard thing to understand, I know.  What I want to say is this:  there are things about my own past, both things that have happened to me and things I have done, that are my own, that I will keep to myself for reasons that are my own.  To a great degree these things hold the key to understanding so much of this, and to that extent I’m sorry that I can’t or won’t say more, but that’s just how it has to be, for my own health.

What I can say, however, is that during these three years, and especially during this past year, I have finally for the first time in my life dealt with all of this, and for the first time in my life have come to a truly healthy relationship with myself and with God, I have finally been liberated from the burden of shame that has for so long afflicted me, and I now for the first time live in the freedom to examine where God is calling me.  Working through these difficult issues has cleared away the many obstacles that have prevented me from seeing clearly.  It is with this newfound clarity of vision that I have been able to see that I am not called to this way of life, and why I am now ready to leave.

My spiritual director has said that many people join religious life for the wrong reasons; the key is trying to see if there is a right one hiding underneath.  And for me that answer very clearly became no. In order for a vocation to be authentic, to be true, no matter how hard it is it must come with a certain sense of freedom, an understanding that in this walk our gifts not only will be discovered but will grow to their full potential.  Despite the beauty and love of the men I live with and the friars throughout our Order, and despite all the good that they represent, I cannot help but feel stifled by this life.  It is in no way a judgment on the life – I can say from experience and from witnessing these wonderful men that this is a truly beautiful way of living – but rather it is an indication that this life simply is not for me.

I want to make clear one more thing.  Because I do not believe I am called to this life is not to say that I wasn’t called to be here.  I know that this was where I needed to be, and this is part of the path along which God has guided me.  It is precisely because the Augustinians are such a loving community that I have had the open space I needed to heal and to grow and to mature.  It is because of the profound and generous support of the community that I am now prepared to live my life in service to God as I would not have been able to do before.  So when I say that the wrong reasons led me to believe I was called to priesthood, that is not the same as saying it was a mistake to enter.  God works in mysterious ways, and He was very much at work in leading me to the Augustinians, just as He is now leading me in a different direction.

I suppose the obvious question now is what’s next?  I have some ideas, though nothing certain.  Right now I will focus on getting myself adjusted to a new way of living again, and prayerfully discerning the next step.  I always thought that if I ever left I would be filled with angst and worry.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  I am full of peace and very excited to see what is now in store.  I have informed my formation director of my decision, and during the next week I will inform the greater Augustinian community.  My director has been nothing but supportive during every step along the way, and to him I owe a special debt of gratitude.  I cannot thank all of you enough for your continued love and support through all of my ups and downs in life.  You all know me well enough by now – and simply know the facts of life well enough – to appreciate that there will be more ups and downs to come.  There is much more I could say about all of this, but this will have to suffice for now.  Thank you all again.


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