Discernment – Should I Stay Or Should I Go

Discernment is a word in the English language that does not get used much in our modern world.  In a Christian context, it is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.

In 2013, I started discerning a call to the ordained ministry in the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church.  Through prayer, spiritual direction and encouragement I applied and was accepted to the 2015-2019 Deacon Formation Class at St. Cyril & Methodius Seminary.  And ever since that acceptance, I have been in a constant state of discernment.

One of my favorite prayers contains the words, “make straight our path, confirm us in the holy fear of you”…My path of study, formation and discernment was anything but straight.  During the application phase, I was dealing with an aging mother diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer.  As we all started to settle into a routine and I was about to leave for my first summer session at the seminary, Theresa was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer.  Everything I had in me told me to withdraw from the program and take care of things at home.  However, I was made to promise that I would get on the airplane and make my first trip to Pittsburgh.

No one could have predicted that before I finished my first year of formation and distance learning I would encounter one of the largest bumps in the road: the death of my spouse and my child’s mother.  Yet, through all of that, I got on the plane again, made my way to Pittsburgh and completed the second year of in-residence classes.

The second year of distance learning and formation was anything but straight.  There were so many distractions and peaks/valleys, several that I brought on myself, others that just go with the job description of single parent to a special needs child.  Through all of this, I managed to rock the academic portion of my formation.  My grades in year 2 were better than year 1 and year 1 was pretty damn good.  The other parts of formation: Spiritual, Human, Pastoral…not so much.  Although I would argue that I have been through an aspect of pastoral formation that no celibate priest has ever been through and never will go through…walking yourself and your 10 year old child through the death of a spouse.

To be perfectly clear, there were mistakes that I made along the way. There were many missteps that I made along the way.  We learn from those mistakes/missteps and we move on. And to be unequivocally clear, as Keith Urban says, “I’ve forgiven myself for the mistakes I’ve made”.  If you want to question me, criticize me, you better have walked a similar path to me.  You say that you have lost your parent(s)?  Yep, me too in 2003, right before I made a giant career change and moved to Quantico, VA to begin training as an FBI agent.  I can tell you, with zero hesitancy or uncertainty, that losing a parent is low in the stress department compared to losing your child’s mother.  That statement is not to trivialize the loss of a parent, but until you have walked my path, you don’t know what you would do in the same situation. And speaking  frankly, I don’t care what you think you would do.  It’s all speculative on your part.

All of that background brings me where I am at today.  When I went back to Pittsburgh, I thought that maybe I was over the hump and year 3 and 4 would be good to me. As it turns out, the discernment phase was about to hit a critical mass.  Any candidate for holy orders, diaconate or presbyterate, live in a fishbowl.  A big, giant, fishbowl that all people look in on.  At any step of the process, anyone involved in formation, to include the candidate, can say this is not a good fit at this time.  Truly I was at a fork in the road and needed to make a decision.  I spent several hours, sitting in the seminary chapel, with only candlelight in front of the icons.  My prayer, as it has been so many times, was simple….Lord, make straight my path and let me know if the path I’m on is the right one.  I woke up the next morning with a feeling that my primary vocation was to family, and not the parish family at this time.  I am called to be a husband and father first, and maybe an ordained deacon at some future time.  This path was made clearer to me when I found out that my Eparchy would require me to wait approximately 5 years after remarriage to apply for formation.  In order to make sure that no feelings are hurt or bridges are burned, I completely understand that decision and know that it is founded in the best interest of everyone involved.

I wanted to know what that meant for my intellectual formation. Much of year 3 and 4 is focused on the mechanics and specifics of being a deacon. If I continued with my studies, would my eparchy accept that when the time came or would I be dragging my sorry butt back to Pittsburgh to start anew. Sadly, no one seemed to know that answer and I made the decision to withdraw from the entire formation program at that time.  There is a financial and time commitment that I don’t see a positive ROI at this time.  The decision came to me driving to work and it came relatively easy. I am going to miss the 15 guys that remain in the program.  They are good, holy men, and I am not sure I am at their level right now.  I see some road trips in our future when they are ordained to the Diaconate.  I won’t be surprised if there are a few presbyteral ordinations in their future as well.  I can see my long bearded friend, AG, as my future spiritual director!

One thing I know is that Ryan needs a loving family more than he needs a Fr. Deacon Patrick.  And I need a loving family more than I need a murmuring mass of humanity at this point in my journey. I have found that, and that vocation deserves my undivided attention. I can still be of service to my current parish, my new parish – wherever that may be-  and to the people I will meet along the way.  Life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride.

“  Lord, blessing those who bless you and sanctifying those who trust in you, save your people and bless your inheritance….Grant peace to yourd world, to your churches, to the priests, to our government, and to all your people.  For all generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from you, the Father of Lights; and we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages.”



Welcome To The Big House…Big Glass House That Is


Welcome to the craziest, crappiest journey you may ever have to go through. Walking through loss, be it through divorce or death, is difficult. But I’m going to talk about what it is like to live in a big glass house; to live in a world where everyone has an opinion, even though most have never had to endure the journey you are on; To hear people, who one day claimed they would do anything for you, turn and be the ones doing anything to make themselves look better.

There are obvious issues at play: sadness, exhaustion, being a single parent with no one to fall back on. These are the things that most people talk about. But I want to talk about a very frustrating factor, that being the social norm and the expected.

I am going to talk about the least talked about part of losing a spouse to death. I’m here to let you know that you now live in a glass house of grief.
You will be judged for how you grieve, many times by people who days after your loss told you they would do anything for you. Regardless of your kind of loss, people are going to tell you that you are doing it wrong, that you should be doing it differently and that they know the way better than you. You will be inundated with useless comments, coming from some people who themselves are not competent to drive a car, let alone give advice. You will hear from people whose world falls apart at the death of a pet, that they know better than you.

You should not be judged on how you work your way through uncharted territory, but you will be. There are many things that people turn to in traumatic situations, things that people rely on to cope with trauma. In my defense, I didn’t do these things:

• I didn’t turn to drugs
• I didn’t turn to drinking
• I didn’t go out and party
• My son was well taken care of
• My home was safe
• Our routine was as normal as it could be under the circumstance

Now, with those things out of the way, I will tell you some of the nonsense that I have had to endure. Due to certain things going on in my life and that I had put myself into the public eye, I had to hold my tongue for most of these ridiculous comments. Most notable among these were:

I heard that I must not have loved my late wife because of how I was living. – This one is a personal favorite of mine. I have heard it from several people, none of whom knew of the conversations that we had in the days of her sickness. I don’t care to revisit this one as I have written about it before, but suffice it to say, she wanted nothing less than for Ryan and I to be happy in this life.

I was told that I should have spent more time lying in bed, caught up in grief – This is my second favorite. Some have said they would spend weeks lying in bed, unable to get up and function in the world and that in not doing this I was not being a good person. One of the constants in life is that the world still turns and life goes on. There are bills to pay and people to feed. Being a single parent of a 10 year old autistic child doesn’t give you the luxury of being a self-serving, narcissistic jack-ass. What good would that have served my son? Seeing his only remaining parent unable to function in life. What kind of example would that be to him?

I heard that I should talk more about her, less about her and just about every point on the continuum between those two extremes. – I didn’t write anything about my new journey until some 7 months of time had passed. I chose to continue blogging partly to give Ryan something tangible to read and remember his mom by when times got tough for him. I had one person, someone I have known for some time, pull me aside one Sunday and suggest that I not put things of such an emotional nature for the world to see. It was not appropriate for me, someone studying for religious studies, to be saying these things. Things that make you go hmm. I guess they would have been happier had I turned to drinking.

I’ve heard of people, quietly behind my back, making all sorts of judgements about me. – Those who know me know that I am an in your face, get it out and move forward kind of guy. I have zero use for people who like to, shall we say, murmur (a phrase I heard today) and not have the courage to say it directly to me. If you’re reading this and you have something to say to me, bring it to me. If I disagree I will tell you why you are wrong and that you can take your opinion and stuff it down your big mouth. If you persist, I may help you get it all the way down your throat first. If I learn of your quiet murmuring to other people, expect to be invited outside for a little talk.

There are other things I could write about, but quite frankly, they aren’t worth the effort it would take to type them out. Regardless of what you do and how you do it, you will be judged. You live in a great big glass house.
Every move you make will be questioned, analyzed and stones will be thrown. People don’t expect you to be well, people don’t expect you to be okay and they will look for any reason to say that you are not. Is this fair? No. Is this your reality? Yes. You will get this behavior from nearly everyone who has never walked your path. They are not you and they will never be able to understand how you can function in your life.

There is nothing you can to about the reality that you will be judged. It is very important to remember that people’s perception of you, and about you is not your reality. You do not have to accept their judgment and it does not have to make you bitter or angry at life. We are called to forgive others for the wrongs they have done to us, and we are called to do the same. I will freely admit that I struggle with this one.

However, trying to be forgiving does not mean that you need to accept their behavior. Up until today, I had put myself into the situation of having to hold my tongue, keep my thoughts to myself about these kinds of things. I made a decision today, with the help of others, to take myself out of the spotlight for a while and with that, the proverbial handcuffs have been removed. I’m going to keep a comfortable distance from people who have said things to me in the past, but in the likely event that people continue to murmur or judge me, they will see that my default position is to be on the offensive, not the defensive.

Judgement is a part of human nature and when you accept that often peoples own insecurities play a large roll in the judgement of others.
You define You. This was a road that I started to walk, alone and in a way that took me forward. There is no rulebook to fit all scenarios in life. There is no right or wrong direction for you. There is no correct time frame. You get to decide who you let in and who you kick out. If people don’t like the decisions you have made or make, they can Sod Off as the British would say.

Own your glass house. Reinforce your walls for the stones that will come your way. Do not let anyone’s opinion shape who you are, where you are going and how you are getting there.