My life in a college house of discernment

By Jesús A. Santos  My advice to anyone considering a discernment house is: “Take advantage of it.” Be as much a part of the community as you possibly can. You won’t regret it.

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When I came to St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, I had a vague feeling I was called to the priesthood or religious life. I figured I would keep discerning through college and that majoring in religious studies and keeping a solid prayer life would bring me closer to a decision about my future. But I was too easily distracted from discernment by dorm life, partying, and even my studies. I soon forgot about the possibility of being a priest or religious.

Nonetheless, during the summer after my sophomore year, God reminded me I still needed to discern my vocation. So I decided to spend time with a monastic religious order. The order’s lifestyle attracted me, but living it was overwhelmingly difficult. After two and a half weeks I could no longer bear the silence required by this particular order. I may not have given it a real chance, but I did determine that monastic life—and perhaps even life as a priest or religious—was not for me at that point. So I decided to put off my discernment until I completed my undergraduate degree.

Soon enough I found myself in my final year of undergraduate work. I was looking at how my life was changing. I knew I’d have to get a job. I’d have to get life experience beyond being a student. I also wanted to get a master’s degree. But most of all I needed to find out—or maybe just admit to myself—what God wanted for me. To find the answer to this life-choice question, I knew I needed to bind myself to God in prayer and action.

Living in community
Over that summer I saw an opening to participate in the Moreau House Collegiate Program, a program open to college students who are interested in prayer, community, and service. Several of my friends had recommended the house to me, and now I saw this opening as the perfect opportunity to bind myself to God and shift gears toward serious prayer and discernment.

At Moreau House, I would have the opportunity to pray frequently in a structured manner and to experience the life of a religious community through an actual congregation (the Brothers of Holy Cross). Most important for me, I would live only about seven doors down from an open chapel with a tabernacle and Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament.

I did have some concerns. I was worried that people would expect me to be more than I am. I am a person with deeply rooted weaknesses who relies on the grace and mercy of God. When I saw the strength in faith and commitment to Christ other members of the collegiate program possessed, I was a bit intimidated. I didn’t know if I measured up.

I was also worried about how well I would fit into the community. Friends of mine had lived in this community before, and they all seemed to have developed close friendships with those who lived at Moreau House with them. Yet my life during the school year was usually consumed with reading and papers. I wasn’t sure I had time to be part of the community.

It also scared me a bit that moving into Moreau House meant another step toward more serious discernment. Despite these worries, I knew that if I were to study another year at St. Edward’s, Moreau House would be the best place for me to live.

The community was very welcoming from the start. Despite the fact I missed my ride to the opening retreat and arrived four hours late, I was warmly accepted. I didn’t know any of the other four college students in the program very well. Within a few weeks, however, I found myself up late at night sharing about my faith with a couple of the guys.

I soon began to experience the great comfort of living in a community. Not only did I have others with whom I could pray and share my faith, I didn’t have to feel weird about it. Nobody was going to look strangely at me for asking if anyone wanted to pray a rosary. So occasionally a few of us Moreau House guys plan a timeout for a rosary or other prayer as a study break.

In addition to prayer and faith-sharing, I recognized people here with whom I could discuss my vocation discernment.
What to expect at a House of Discernment
Here are the expectations at Moreau House, a college-based house of discernment sponsored by the Brothers of Holy Cross at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. Participants  
also pay for rent and food.
  • Participate in common prayer at least three times a week.
  • Participate in living and building community life.
  •  Participate in cooking (once or twice a month) and cleaning (weekly).
  • Give serious attention to academic studies.
  • Be present at evening meals (three times a week) and house meetings (once a month).
  • Participate in service to the poor.
  • Spend some time each day in private prayer.
 The two Brothers of Holy Cross who live with me are valuable sources of information about their congregation and about the nature of discernment and religious life. Some of the college students here have seriously considered the possibility of a religious vocation, including one who is now in formation (the beginning stages of joining the order). Talking to him and observing how he lives out his discernment and formation gave me perspective about the process of making a prayerful life choice.

Although I didn’t automatically experience this type of comfort all at once with each member of the household, we eventually became a community in which we were playing pranks on each other and waking each other up for our Wednesday 6:45 a.m. ministry and our Saturday morning “obedience” (religious sugarcoating for chores). I also developed some strong friendships in the house. In fact, one of my housemates is going to be my Confirmation sponsor.

Not all prayer and study
It’s important to realize that discernment houses like Moreau House are not cloisters where all we do is pray and study. Most of us at Moreau House are actually goofballs, and that makes our experience together a lot of fun. One day one of the guys dressed up in a monster mask, hid in a toilet stall, and scared our program director out of his melon.

There have been times when I’ve stayed up until 5 in the morning playing guitar with my housemates on our balcony. The fact that I’ve shared this type of experience with actual members of a religious community made me realize that being a priest or brother does not entail complete solitude and loneliness. These guys live in a loving community with lots of warmth, and they get to share their joys and sorrows in a lifestyle dedicated to the service of God and others.

Just as in any other community, some of us occasionally slip up on our obligations to one another, but we are generally very considerate of one another. We always have a small get-together if somebody has a birthday, and we make it special by cooking that person’s favorite food. Those parties are usually some of the best dinners at Moreau House.

In sharing my life with the other six members of the Moreau House community, I realized we all have weaknesses and struggles in our faith lives. I saw that their strength in faith was no reason to be intimidated. It is, on the contrary, something to benefit from. I’ve even had a chance to see and hear how others in the community have dealt with their own struggles. This has helped me with my own challenges. I’ve also realized that although my time was almost constantly taken up by my studies, the simple act of eating and praying several times a week with others helped forge relationships with them and literally integrated me into the community.

No regrets
All of this has had a huge effect on me. Not only have I benefited from the example of my housemates, but I’ve also been able to take some significant steps toward Christ. I have become more committed to my prayer life and have subsequently become more comfortable with and confident in the fact that God will bring me to whatever God intends for me, and that I will be happy living that out.

I do have one regret about my first semester at Moreau House: I didn’t fully follow the wisdom of one of my housemates. When asked what advice he could give to another Moreau House participant, he simply said, “Take advantage of it.” The more you give of yourself to the community, in prayer and sharing and time, the more you will receive from it. This is a really special place where you can grow, but you have to be disposed and committed to it in order to really “take advantage of it.”

Unfortunately, I spent much of my free time during my first semester at Moreau House hanging out with other friends outside the house or simply partying elsewhere. This is not discouraged or looked down upon, for the members of the Moreau House Collegiate Program are expected and encouraged to live a normal college life.

Yet, it seems to me that doing as much as I did away from Moreau House kept me from growing through prayer and sharing. So my advice to anyone considering a discernment house is “Take advantage of it.” Be as much a part of the community as you possibly can, and bring to the community as much of yourself as you can. You won’t regret it.
Jesús A. Santos is a student at St. Edward’s University, where he is studying English and religion studies. He is considering the possibility of a religious vocation and aspires to work with the poor and to teach theology at a high school or university.

2003 © TrueQuest Communications

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