During the course of the year, my office has two separate silent retreats for men who are discerning the priesthood. The first of these is at the beginning of the Advent season and the second during the Easter Triduum. The Triduum retreat happens at St. Joseph’s Seminary, and the one during Advent typically has been at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, Long Island. Due to some logistical challenges, we were unable to use the facility at Huntington last year, so instead we went to the Spiritual Life Center at Graymoor here in the Archdiocese. Six of the men discerning attended, and it was a beautiful experience for me to facilitate the retreat and accompany them as they seek to better understand God’s will in their lives
The men arrived on Friday evening and departed Sunday afternoon. It was a silent retreat with conversation during meals. That seemed to be a good balance, allowing the retreatants an opportunity for silence and reflection while at the same time affording them an opportunity for fraternal sharing and to get to know one another better. I strongly encouraged them to turn off their phones and stay off social media while on retreat. Any work that they had to do would be waiting for them when they got home Sunday afternoon, so that was a time to be away with the Lord and allow Him to speak to them. We were blessed as well to have talks given by Father George Sears and Father Vincent Druding.
Father Sears, the rector of Cathedral Seminary House of Formation, spoke about what the men could expect if they enter the seminary in the fall and what they can best do right now to prepare for entering. At the same time, he addressed the four dimensions of formation: human, pastoral, intellectual, and spiritual. Later that evening, during the Holy Hour with Eucharistic adoration, Father Druding came to give a talk on spiritual warfare in the process of discernment. The next morning, following Mass for the First Sunday of Advent, there was a sharing of graces where the men spoke of the way in which the Lord had moved in their heart during this time away. More than one remarked how good it was to just be separated from the craziness of their daily life. In a more humorous comment, one of the men joked that he told his co-workers that if they called him while he was away on retreat he was going to throw his phone into the Hudson River.
One of the great blessings for me was on Saturday during the free time in the afternoon when I met with each man individually for almost an hour to speak about their discernment. I have been working with some for more than a year while others over the last several months. A few of them felt that the Lord has given them clear signs as they prayed about His will to request an application, while others knew that they were not ready yet to take any formal steps. With each man I met with on retreat and meet with in my office who is discerning, it is a great blessing to hear all the individual stories and experiences that have drawn someone to the possibility of priesthood as the vocation the Lord is calling them to consider. It is a beautiful reminder of how God knows us so intimately and uses the personality and gifts He has given to draw us to Himself and pursue the call He has placed in our heart. There is a will and a plan Jesus has for everyone. Just as the apostles he called in Galilee had their own gifts and talents that He used in founding the Church, so He uses the gifts and talents of those He calls today to continue His saving work in the world.