February 5th, 2018
Tom is gone. He wasn’t at morning prayer today. He won’t be there tomorrow either. Tom left the novitiate at St. Rita. He went back to his home in Michigan. Karin and I were friends with Tom. He told us last Thursday that he was leaving the Augustinians. We offered to take him out for dinner, but he had to be gone from the parish on Friday, and he had things yet to do.
Tom was one of six men assigned to St. Rita as part of their formation as priests and members of the Augustinian order. Novices spend a year at St. Rita, and then they get sent to schools in Chicago or San Diego. That is what happens, unless, like Tom, they decide that the religious life is not what they want. The other five novices are still at St. Rita. There is Spencer, from Oklahoma. There is Steve from Northern Ireland and Dave from England. Manny is from Pakistan and Ray is from New Mexico. I think that Tom was one of the youngest of the novices. Some of the men are older, with grey hair or no hair. Tom is athletic and solidly built. He always seemed to have a positive attitude, so it was a surprise to me that he decided to leave that path.
Tom told us that he was at peace with his decision to leave the novitiate. I was glad to hear that. It’s hard to leave that kind of a program. It reminded me a lot of when I was at West Point. “Christian formation” is sometimes defined as something that is “trans-formative not legalistic, and (it) requires attention to the interior life”. I think that the key word is “trans-formative”. A person going through a formation program to become a priest is being transformed. A person going through a program to become a military officer is also being transformed. In both instances the person is being trained intensively, and that individual acquires certain values. An Augustinian values God, love, and compassion. A West Pointer gets “duty, honor, country”. Some religious people would not necessarily describe my experience in the Army as “formation”, but that is actually what it was. I came out of the wormhole a very different person than how I went into it.
I told Tom that, whatever he decides to do, his time with the Augustinians will never be a waste. I mentioned to Tom that there is an author, Thomas Moore, who wrote Care of the Soul. Moore was in a monastic order as a young man, but then he left and he eventually became a Jungian analyst. Care of the Soul, along with his other books, are filled with ideas that Moore learned while living a religious life. Somebody once told Moore that he would always do the work of priest, even though he had never been ordained. I think that any formation experience leaves an indelible mark on the participant, regardless of how long the person went through the process.
Years ago, I went on a retreat at a Jesuit retreat center. A priest there told me that I would always be a soldier. I really didn’t want to hear that at the time. However, I think he was right. My time in the military is like a tattoo, or maybe a scar. It’s part of who I am, whether I like it or not. In some ways the experience makes me a better person. In some ways, not so much. I have spent decades trying to sort out the good from the bad. I am still trying to make peace with my history.
I wish Tom well. I did not get to know him for very long, but I am grateful for the little time we shared. He’s a good man.