This summer I was blessed to be sent by both the Diocese of Saginaw and Sacred Heart Major Seminary to experience the nine-week summer program of The Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF). A program wherein seminarians across the country are invited to Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska to learn how to grow in deeper love and communion with the Lord from the faithful priests gathered there. For me, a major blessing at IPF this summer was a deep personal encounter with the Risen Lord during the eight-day silent retreat, which takes place during the first stage of IPF after seminarians have been taught how to pray using the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was during this time of prayerful silence that I came to experience a profound conversion of heart.
Prior to coming to IPF I didn’t realize how truly broken my own heart was, and that in my own absence and neglect it had become like the “tomb” on Holy Saturday, which housed the resting Body of Christ awaiting the time and hour of His resurrection. Yet, it was during this time of prayerful silence on retreat that I felt the invitation from the Lord to be completely vulnerable toward Him and embrace for the first time the stark silence and poverty of my own “tomb.” It was then, in that moment of acceptance, that I was gently led by the Holy Spirit to return to the space of my own heart.
Moreover, it was in entering into and embracing this space of darkness and decay that I cried out from my own brokenness to the Lord, who responded so generously by manifesting Himself in all His Risen glory within the blessed silence of my heart. So overcome with joy was I that I felt my heart flooded with His light and be transfigured from a “tomb” bereft of life into a place of communion and discernment, becoming at that moment a Temple of the Holy Spirit. For the first time my heart was suddenly alive in Christ, and I began to sense and feel the loving presence of the Lord and experience so wonderfully the Mystery of His Resurrection that had redeemed my heart in a moment of loving encounter. However, this grace of receiving a transfigured heart did not end with the conclusion of the retreat but was further deepened so as to encompass even more of God’s love for me as a beloved son in the following weeks of IPF.
This “deepening” occurred most efficaciously when in the following class Prayer and Priestly Identity I learned about Monasticism of the Heart, which is the prayerful exercise of being alone in the quiet solitude of one’s heart with Jesus, who fills the heart with the presence of His love through the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, the experience of Monasticism of the Heart is anything but simple and is the way in which our hearts are constantly being purified and set aflame by the presence of God’s love within us like the flames of a gently burning hearth which scatter away our present darkness. Moreover, it is here beside these warm gently burning flames that I came to know more about myself through the light of the one who loves and understands me so fully.
Furthermore, what aided me in interiorizing this mystery of Monasticism of the Heart more deeply was performing the Nightly Examen Prayer. The Examen Prayer, taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola, is a way in which a person can review the events of his day in the Light of God’s love. Just like in its name the Examen Prayer is mainly about “examining,” with the Holy Spirit’s assistance, the way in which one’s own heart was moved throughout the day, and how one is either being led closer toward God or further away from Him. In this way a person becomes more aware of the deeper desires of his heart and comes to experience more intimately both the mystery of Monasticism of the Heart and a ready awareness of God’s love amidst all circumstances.
Like any habit, both Monasticism of the Heart and the Examen Prayer take constant practice so that one naturally cultivates within his own heart a ready disposition of receptivity toward Christ in prayerful silence. This is why the priests at IPF seek to cultivate the prayerful atmosphere of Nazareth. So that like Christ in His hidden life, a seminarian can experience in his own interior life an encounter with the risen Christ, within the intimacy of his own heart; he can come to know the unique, beautiful, and personal way that he is loved by the Trinity.
For me the holy place of Nazareth became a beautiful reality this summer, and like the hidden life of Jesus, the time spent cultivating the interior life of my heart with the Blessed Trinity is an experience that I will forever ponder and keep in my heart. In leaving this hidden life spent with Jesus in Nazareth I return to both my diocese and Sacred Heart Major Seminary, ready to continue formation to the priesthood in service to Christ and His people, in imitation of the Sacred Heart that I have come to fall more deeply in love with.