In mid-February, after some intentional years of saving, I was able to make a down payment and take out a loan for a 2014 Toyota Prius. This marks the most expensive material expense (education aside) of my 28-plus years on this rock. The new set of wheels was crucial for traveling to my summer assignment: 10 weeks with the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
A consistent image throughout my summer experience happened to be that of a car. There were several times that automobile-related references made their way into my journal and while praying a Holy Hour after Mass on July 8, I began to weave together some connections that linked some common car occurrences with the mechanics of spiritual life.
Get in the back seat and let Jesus drive.
Perhaps the most significant “Jesus, take the wheel” experience of my life happened in the second week of the IPF program when I embarked on an eight-day silent retreat. I had completed two five-day retreats in the past, but this retreat, especially due to the accompaniment of daily spiritual direction, was a profoundly richer experience of God’s presence and love in my life. Eight days of complete silence (aside from spiritual direction and communal prayer) with four or more hours of contemplative prayer each day helped me commune with God in a powerful way.
While entering the retreat, my spiritual director gave me this advice about letting Jesus drive. Admittedly, this was not easy, but by the second day I was more consistently able to let go of my own plans and really let God be the architect and guide of my contemplative prayer.
How freeing it can be for us to take our hands off the wheel, hand over the keys, and receive the loving guidance of the Father.
God is always laboring to love us. He is never in neutral.
At the heart of IPF’s spiritual formation are the spiritual exercises and writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Our cohort of 175 seminarians learned from renowned author and teacher Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV (read his books, seriously) about applying St. Ignatius’ rules for discernment in our daily lives. Fr. Gallagher’s instruction has already made a significant impact in my day-to-day communication with God, the world and myself.
Perhaps the most eye-opening part of St. Ignatius’ rules of discernment is how clearly he identifies the human and spiritual experiences of consolation and desolation. His rules provide a practical framework so someone can be aware of and understand the spiritual and non-spiritual influences in their life so they might accept what is from God and reject what is not.
It is essential to recognize that even when we might think or feel we are not close to God, it is precisely in those moments when we must acknowledge his absolute closeness. In this intimacy, God gently drives us forward, removes roadblocks of sin and doubt, and accompanies us upon the best route to holiness.
We shift into park on retreat, check our mirrors, adjust our seat, and pause to be reminded of God’s providence.
One of the greatest convictions with which I left my summer experience is the absolute necessity of an annual retreat. Not all of us can commit to eight or more days, but one full day or even an entire weekend centered on silence, contemplative prayer, and reception of the sacraments can bring about great benefits in our journey of discipleship.
The most impactful passage of scripture during the summer was the 15th chapter of John’s gospel, in which Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches to encourage his disciples to live in deep, abiding communion with Him and the Father by the Holy Spirit. “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).
As we shift gears from job to family to school to work to leisure, let us always remember what really keeps us traveling in the proper lane of life is not the vehicle in our driveway but the vehicle of salvation that is a life in Jesus Christ.
Tracy is a seminarian for the Diocese of Superior. He can be reached at ude.s1571256529fs@yc1571256529artd1571256529.