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Into the unknown

The first and only movie I have ever watched while wearing a full suit and tie was, of all things, Disney’s “Frozen 2.” Five brother seminarians and I did not have time to change after an event, so there we were, six grown men decked out in black suits, watching what was then the latest Disney release.

Not long into the film, protagonist Elsa sings her (now very well-known) solo, “Into the Unknown.” I am sure the writers did not intend this —  and it was certainly not something I would have expected in that setting — but I was struck by how well the lyrics captured much of what I’d experienced in my own discernment, which eventually led me to seminary.

In the song, Elsa expresses a sense of longing that could not be ignored. She’s a queen who seems to have everything together and for whom life is going well. Yet something is off. She is experiencing a longing for something more that she cannot ignore. She sings, “There’s a thousand reasons I should go about my day and ignore your whispers which I wish would go away … I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you into the unknown … What do you want?” And she concludes by saying, “There’s part of me that longs to go into the unknown.”

Talk to anyone who is considering the priesthood or religious life and you will find these same sentiments echoed by them. In my discernment to enter seminary I had to struggle with a sense of fear at the risk before me. Who would leave familiar circumstances (which for me were graduate school and a clear career path) to pursue a call that had no guarantees?

And yet, I had a deep-down desire that longed for something more. It is always difficult to describe; I can only compare it to a powerful movement of the heart that draws you out of yourself. Despite all the risks and reasons not to, there was a part of me that really wanted to go. And it became apparent that only pursuing this desire would give me a shot at internal and lasting peace.

The only problem was that I had no idea how to “discern.” I had certainly heard the word, but how does one “do” discernment? I began simply by finding a priest (or it could be another trusted confidant) I could meet monthly (for lunch at Panera) and talk through my thoughts, prayers and the movements within my heart.

What I learned was this: Discernment is a slow process and we can’t enter expecting 100 percent certainty. I had determined that God was calling me to consider the priesthood, then began several months of more active discernment seeking clarity: moving from awareness that something is happening, to trying to understand that movement or feeling, then to acting on that understanding. I started asking God daily, “What small steps can I take today to get closer to that vision you have planted in my heart of who you want me to be?” I would take the small steps, then reassess.

I would like to have received a detailed plan and instructions of what God had in mind, but of course it doesn’t work that way. It was more about growing in trust and in love: The time spent in prayer led me to fall more in love with God and trust in the direction he was leading me (both of which are essential if you’re considering entrusting him with your life).

By the end of “Frozen 2,” Elsa has found her identity and her life’s new role. Our identity is found in the Lord, and we will find our role in this life only by courageously following him into the unknown.

Meyerhofer, from Our Lady of Hope parish in Potomac Falls, is in his first year of pre-theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020