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home : features : people of faith

1/28/2016 9:00:00 AM
SEMINARIAN'S DIARY
Getting through the 'January experience'
BY MATTHEW HOULE


Everyone is on several journeys. There is the journey of a day, the journey of a year, the journey of life, the journey of a career, the journey of surviving something difficult and the journey of faith.

Though we may start out strong, inevitably we will experience a "January" in the journey. I call it "January" because this time of year seems to evoke this experience: The Christmas and New Year's holidays are over, the decorations put away; the parties are over. It is time to go back to the everyday routine.

Even nature is glum: The sky is gray, the trees are bare and the ground is frosted over. It seems that all that remains in front of us is work and winter.

Seminarians, myself included, experience this mood from time to time. It is a common and universal human experience that the devil uses to pull us away from God and His plan for our lives. It is called acedia, or "the noonday devil."

This is an ordinary experience that the devil uses in extraordinary ways to plant the seeds of doubt, derision and discouragement. You feel like you have come so far and yet still have so far to go. This happens in the seminary between the fall and spring semesters and, in the bigger picture, between studying philosophy for two years and facing another four years of theology.

The evil one raises discouraging questions, like, "Haven't you already done enough?" "You have been at this a long time; what good have you really done?" There are also doubts, which the devil amplifies: "Why are you doing this?" "Do you really think you can do this for the rest of your life?" "You can serve God in other ways; you don't have to be a seminarian."

Whatever the tactic, the message is the same: Quit the journey.

I think everyone can relate. Married couples, people pursuing careers, people surviving illnesses and all who are trying to be faithful Catholics have "January" experiences, hearing the devil telling them to quit.

Not everything in life is pure joy from start to finish. There is not always an emotional high in doing what God wants us to do. The great saints understood this. Even in our faith journey, the noonday devil can pitch us into a tailspin.

But God gives us the antidote: the virtue of constancy. Constancy is a type of courage that allows us to stick with something, even though it is difficult, boring or discouraging. Acedia does not mean that we are doing something wrong.

Friendship and generosity encourage me and help me to embrace the virtue of constancy. At seminary, I have met some truly great friends. All I have to do is step outside of my room and there they are. We are all on the same journey and we support each other.

It is because of this friendship that every complaint we have is heard, every discouraging situation is laughed about and every challenge survived. I am grateful for all of them.

The generosity I have witnessed is truly inspirational. The diocese, parishes, Knights of Columbus and especially parishioners have all been extremely generous to me, and I am extremely grateful. I am truly humbled when I think of all of the people who have made sacrifices and given their hard-earned money to support me.

I cannot even comprehend the fact that there are tens of thousands of people praying for me and supporting me on this journey. The kind words that people have expressed and the encouraging cards that people have sent mean so much and often bring a tear to my eyes. The fact that people thought of me and took the time to send me a letter expressing their thoughts is so encouraging.

In the end, knowing that this journey is not about me makes all the difference. I can't do it on my own. I can only rely on God's strength and remember what Jesus said on the cross: "Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit."

(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.)





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