In the past few weeks of my seminary life, I have experienced again what has become a relatively common experience – I’ve moved 5 times in the past 2 years – of packing all my stuff into a car and driving to a new place and moving into a new domicile. The process of relocating itself regularly can be exhausting, but as I discussed with another like-minded seminarian it’s the regular unpacking and repacking of all the stuff of life that seems to be another frustrating aspect of the slightly-nomadic lifestyle that seminarians (and to some extent priests) live. However, it’s the anticipation of the unknown which seems to be the most daunting and exciting part of the relocation. Questions such as “how will I fit in to this new place?” and “is this really what God is asking of me?” often surface.
It is a time of relative uncertainty into which, if one forgets that the Lord accompanies us everywhere, the Evil One can easily slip pernicious temptation and doubt. I imagine that there are both pedagogical (for the purpose of teaching) and practical reasons for the many moves in seminary. Beyond simply the practical realities of our education, which demands that we go to a seminary – often in a different diocese – the movement prepares us for a life of being ready and willing to go where we are asked in the future once we are ordained and to understand the natural resistance we may experience in these changes. It is therefore, both an exercise in obedience and a practical reality for seminarians. But, I think it’s also an opportunity for us to learn to rest in the Lord.
Though the car was different in this move – since I retired my beloved (and gas guzzling) Chevy Trailblazer and it replaced with a slightly-used, and slightly-smelling-of-smoke Chevy Aveo 2011 I bought this summer – this experience nevertheless, remained the same as prior changes. The same fears of unknowns, the same excited anticipation of what this new place would be like, what challenges and joys it would bring to me.This time however, the movement was used by the Lord remind me of certain restlessness that is in my, albeit limited, experience a constitutive part of the human condition in our world. In the days following the move I found myself tired, and wondering where I was going and what I was doing, in the existential sense.
As with the start of any new academic year there were a flurry of activities going on and in which I was a participant, orientations, communal prayer, meeting people, lectures, and conferences, but nothing was completely satisfactory. This should not be construed as a complaint, as all of this was necessary and helpful for the practical reality of my life here in the seminary, but I wanted, longed for something more. In this restlessness, questions began slowly to surface in my mind, about why I was here and, what I was doing began to present themselves to my mind. The best word which comes to mind to describe this feeling is “restless.”
This past summer, at the Institute for Priestly Formation, a nine week spiritual boot-camp for seminarians in Omaha, NE, one of the speakers, a priest, asked us the following questions: “When you are tired, worn-out, lonely, afraid, restless to where or to whom do you go? Do you lean into those emotions, feelings, or desires and take them to Jesus or do you bury them, by escaping to some idol?”
The passions (generally speaking feelings, emotions, and desires) that we experience each and every day are opportunities for communion with the Lord, who “loved with a human heart,” and therefore is capable of empathizing with us “in every way”.,  These passions, to be sure,are not always ordered correctly since sometimes, we love what we ought to hate, and hate what we ought to love and we can be easily misled by them since they are not perfectly under the control of the intellect as they were intended to be before the fall; nevertheless, they are natural and good things, created by God which can and should experience redemption. The Father showed his desire to enter into and redeem our restless passions when he sent his Son, who “has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.” The work of redeeming our passions, or of learning to become an integral, that is whole, person whose passions become an aid, rather than a hindrance to free, loving communion with the Lord and with others is something that cannot be done without grace.
As Gaudium et Spes reminds us, “since man’s freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God’s grace can he bring,” about the redemption of his passions. Nevertheless, God has ordained that man cooperate in his own salvation by making a free choice to receive and be docile to the sanctifying grace which God the Father desires to bestow upon his children. One way that we can do this is to give our passions over to the Lord and ask Him to redeem them.
We live in a culture which often seeks to do the exact opposite of this, a culture that is fraught with escapism where it is extremely common to escape into some idol or fantasy instead of seeking the true satisfaction which only the Lord can bring. This is not a new phenomenon; rather, is variation on the old heresy of Gnosticism which supposes that the material world is evil, and that the goal of our lives is to escape the material world and return to the spiritual. In other words, Gnosticism fails to see the human person as an integral whole and rather, sees him or her as a soul trapped in a body trying to escape; it is therefore, a form of dualism, in which the body is placed at odds with the soul (or the mind).
The French philosopher Rene Descartes, restated this idea of dualism, in more modern phrasing when he said, “I knew from this that I was a substance, the whole essence or nature of which was to think and which, in order exist, has no need of any place and does not depend on anything material.” His words have captured well the position that our society takes upon the relationship between the body and the soul. This relationship is primarily one of opposition or, at best, utility which makes the body a tool to be used by the soul but which may be disregarded when it no longer serves the soul’s purpose.
Escapism, whether that be to Netflix, relationships, texting, pornography, gossip, alcohol, partying, drugs, school, music, work, or any other idol, is the logical result of for this strand of philosophical thought which dominates much of our cultural landscape today. If the body – including its all-too-often inconvenient and disordered passions – is simply a tool for my use, instead of something essential to my being me, then it is reasonable that I should want to escape it when it causes my soul pain. This line of thinking leads both to the rampant disregard we see for the body in our culture today and to its exultation beyond its proper place in popular culture. The Christian, however, recognizes the truth that the human person is a unity of body and soul, and that, though the latter is more important than the former, the body, nevertheless, is essential to our humanity and therefore should not be escaped but redeemed, by the God-man Jesus Christ.
St. Irenaeus, who fought tirelessly against the Gnosticism of his time, says that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” Notice, that Irenaeus, nor any of the other of the church fathers ever says that the glory of God is man’s soul fully alive, but rather they implicitly understand that Christ came to redeem the whole man body and soul. In our neo-Gnostic dualism of mind and body, we forget that Christ came not only to redeem our minds but our bodies (Passions included) as well.
The Evil One, the father of lies, tries to distract us from our redemption by planting the seeds of doubt, questions, and twisting our already fallen passions and we all too easily fall prey to the his malicious machinations when we lose sight of Christ. Our response to the Evil One’s promptings should be a firm rejection, and an acceptance of the truth that Christ came to redeem even our passions. Such is our firm confession, when we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead” as we proclaim the Creed.
The words of Psalm 131 have especially been a great source of meditation for me in this quest to allow the Lord to redeem even my feelings:
“LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
Like a weaned child to its mother,
weaned is my soul.
Israel, hope in the LORD,
now and forever.”
Restlessness, then for me, in general has become a place of divine encounter, a place where I learn to sit with Jesus in the flurry of my many emotions. When I feel restless, I am reminded of my own need for Christ to come and give me His own peace – since nothing else will satisfy. I recognize my need, to become like a small child who allows his mother to comfort him. I learn to sit on the lap of Mary whose guiding hand and gaze points me toward Jesus.
I am reminded that I am still journeying, that I am still searching for the complete peace which will only be found in that full unmitigated communion with the Trinity in heaven, that this Earth will never satisfy me completely. Like Augustine of old, I recognize that my own heart is made for God, and it is restless until it rests in Him. Each time, I choose to deal with this restlessness by acknowledging it and giving the restlessness to Jesus, I grow closer to Him.
 Gaudium et Spes 22
 Hebrews 4:15
 GS 2
 GS 17
Descartes, Rene. Discourse on Method. Part IV. Translated by: Desmond Clarke. Penguin Books, (2003). p. 25