The refectory here at Sacred Heart serves french fries not infrequently. While this is hardly surprising, one thing about their french fry service does stand out as strange: They rarely serve standard french fries. There are steak fries, curly fries, crinkle-cut fries, sweet potato fries, potato wedges, even tater tots, (admittedly, not a french fry, but a close relative in the fried-spud family). Hardly ever, though, do I see the standard cut, fast-food style french fry, the fry I’m used to, the fry I would expect.
It occurs to me that this experience is a silly microcosm of my deeper, spiritual experience since coming to Sacred Heart. That is, just as my standard french fry expectations have been defied and met with a richer, more complex, and varied fried potato experience, so too have my spiritual expectations been defied and met with something more than I was expecting. I came to Sacred Heart feeling fairly confident and comfortable about where I was and where I was going. I already knew what seminary life looked like from the time my brother had spent here; I had already experienced high-level academics; I was already in the habit of daily Mass and prayer; and I had read lots of the books that good Catholics are supposed to read. I thought I had done the hard work in the process of discerning to enter seminary and that once I got there the going would be fairly smooth.
But when I started at Sacred Heart, it was different than I expected; they weren’t just serving the spiritual fare I was used to. Instead, Jesus had prepared something more complex for me, and it was served in the form of challenges. There was the challenge of being a student again after years off, the challenge of adjusting to the demands of community life and our program of formation, and especially, there was the challenge of looking more closely at myself than I ever had and becoming truly vulnerable before God in the deep openness of spiritual direction. Seminary, as it turns out, is hard, harder than I expected. And that’s a good thing. Through these challenges, Jesus has revealed to me in a new way the reality of my own weakness and my need to depend on him for everything. At the same time, by bringing me through these challenges, he has also brought me to a deeper awareness of his unfailing support and inexorable love. My new spiritual diet helped me to realize that I had been living all too often according to the lie that I could make myself enough if I did enough. The focus had been on me and my own ability, which led either to pride in success or despondency in failure and pressure the whole time. Jesus came mercifully into this admixture of pride and fear, gently breaking down my walls of self-reliance, and showing me that, while I am unable to be enough on my own, I do not need to be anything on my own. Rather, I can simply be his. And if I am his, I will be everything I desire to be, everything I was created to be, fully myself.
Thus, in the very realization of my frailty, I am finding freedom, freedom from the demand to establish myself, freedom from the fear that I won’t ever be enough. For the Lord has already established me, and by his love he establishes me anew every day, bringing me to “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). I am coming to know in reality that his grace is sufficient for me, and his strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
Sacred Heart hasn’t offered me what I expected, either in the refectory or in my spiritual life. Instead, it has given me much more, more to be nourished by and grow from, and I thank the Lord for it. After all, who doesn’t like a good curly fry?