By Daniel Beckham
After a somewhat lengthy hiatus, the following is a final installment of a three-part series on “things that help me discern.” In it, Daniel Beckham, who entered initial formation in Silver Spring, Md., in late August, reflects on some of the ways of “being” that have been helpful in his discernment.
In this reflection, Daniel describes the importance of being open to God’s call, as well as input from others regarding one’s gifts and talents. Future reflections will focus on honesty and joyfulness.
Buenos dias! About a month ago, I completed an eight-week Conversational Spanish class locally at St. Petersburg College. I took it as a “life-enhancement” course, meaning it didn’t count for credit, but it allowed me to brush up on my Spanish-language skills – something I’d wanted to do for a while.
Much of the class was a (sorely needed) review from my high-school days, but I definitely learned a few new things, too. And actually, I was pretty surprised at how certain things that I distinctly remember struggling with back in high school just sort of “clicked” this time around. I guess now that I’m a little older and in different circumstances, I’m a bit more open to learning the language.
Hmm … that’s an interesting thought: Being open helps me learn Spanish. You know something? Now that I think about it, being open helps me discern, too. I wonder what other ways of “being” help me discern? Oh, boy — I think part 3 of this blog series is finally here!
I’ve discussed once or twice how important it’s been for me to pray and listen. And, I’ve talked about some of the more practical stuff one has to do while discerning. But lately I’ve been thinking about certain ways of “being” that have helped a great deal. It seems when I allow myself to be a particular “way,” the prayerful listening and doing sort of come together and build on one another. They also tend to lead back into themselves, and the circle is complete, if you will. Among those ways of being, one of the most important is being open.
” … being open has made me more receptive to God’s call in my life.”
Just as being open allowed me to finally understand how to establish ownership of an object in Spanish (¿Este es uno de los breviarios del fraile? Is this one of the friars breviaries?), being open has made me more receptive to God’s call in my life. Openness is key, because a calling comes in many different ways, from many different (and, often, unlikely) sources.
For almost as far back as I can remember, I’ve felt a strong connection to the priesthood. And, it would seem, that’s a connection others have picked up on. I enjoyed serving at Mass as a kid, and I always especially enjoyed being the server who got to bring the water and wine to the altar, assist the priest in the ritualistic cleansing prior to the consecration, and ring the bells right after the words of institution. I always felt right at home while serving the altar, as well as when chatting with the priest before and after Mass in the sacristy. And while it’s difficult for me now to quantify just how much I may (or may not) have been open to the possibility of one day becoming a priest or religious back then, that option was certainly not lost on those around me.
“Openness is key, because a calling comes in many different ways, from many different (and, often, unlikely) sources.”
The other altar servers, for one, would occasionally get annoyed with me for hogging all the good parts during Mass. I’m sure some of them thought more than once that I was trying to “be a priest.” I can also remember countless adults in our parish remarking on how they thought I’d make a good priest one day, and even one of my Gramma’s friends saying to her, “Oh, he really looks like he should be a priest.” (Exactly how a 13-year-old “looks” like he should become a priest is beyond me, but, hey — I guess some people can just tell.)
For most of my first eighteen years there were a lot of other people who were open to the idea of my eventually becoming a priest. And for some of those years, I may have been, too. In fact, I do remember thinking at one point that I might go to a seminary after high school. But, I didn’t know exactly how one got into a seminary. Had I been a little more curious I probably would have asked our priest, who I’m sure would have referred me to the diocesan vocations office where that journey could’ve begun. Instead I shrugged it off and began another kind of journey in the Navy.
When other people consistently say that they think you should do a particular thing, it’s called “external validation.” It doesn’t mean for sure that you have a vocation, but it’s a strong indication that you at least exude some of the qualities that others perceive to be important in fulfilling that role. I wasn’t particularly open to external validation as a kid, but once I began thinking about religious life as an adult, it almost immediately kicked into high gear once again.
” … I was a bit surprised by the question and told her … I was thinking of potentially joining the Franciscans.”
The first — and, by far, most dramatic — instance was during a silent retreat I made at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, two years ago. There were about 25 or so retreatants — mostly Benedictine oblates of St. Vincent — and, as you might guess, we spent most of the weekend in silence, speaking only to ask questions during conferences or during Confession with the priest-monks who made themselves available to us.
The silence ended during lunch on Sunday, when everyone was finally allowed to sit together and chat about the weekend. As soon as the blessing over the food had been given by one of the monks, a woman made her way toward me and point-blank asked if I was becoming a monk.
I was a bit surprised by the question and told her I hadn’t considered it (even though I later would), but that I was thinking of potentially joining the Franciscans. Her face lit up and she exclaimed, “Oh, I just knew it!” She then began explaining to me that God had been after her all weekend to ask me that question, but she’d had to patiently explain to him that she couldn’t since we were on a silent retreat. The moment the silence ended, however, she wasted no time in doing so. She went on to tell me that God had granted her a special grace to recognize future priests, often years before they knew about it themselves. After speaking for quite some time, she crossed her arms and stated quite confidently that, yes, I was in fact to become a priest one day. She just knew it.
It’s pretty difficult not to be open to a sign like that.
Daniel Beckham, 31, grew up in Lewiston, Fla., and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. Prior to joining the friars, he worked as an editor at Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg and a personnel specialist in the Navy Reserve in Tampa. Drawn to helping others, especially people struggling with substance abuse and isolation, Daniel is interested in pursuing a master’s degree in social work. He came to know the friars by attending Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Tampa.
This reflection was posted on July 19, 2013 on Daniel’s blog, “Detour to Holiness: My Wayward Journey to the Religious Life … So Far.”