Thursday, March 1, 2012

Flunked and Defrocked

Flunk: to fail

Defrock: to remove someone's rights to exercise the functions of ministry

When I was 15 years old, I failed out of my high school. By failing three subjects at the end of my freshman year, I could not return in September, and would have to find a new school and make new friends. It was an incredibly traumatizing experience. Not only would it mean a difficult transition, it would also mean I would be branded as a complete failure to everyone who knew me.

Sometimes God has a sense of humor.

Three years later, in the spring of 1993, I was called to the religious life. Though the process of thinking and praying over such a big decision had begun as early as my sophomore year in high school, it was in the last few months of my senior year that God really called me. That's another story though. The irony was that as "Brother Sean" I would now be living at the same high school I was thrown out of! The Brothers' house was attached to the high school because they taught there and ran the school.

Yet as we've already established, God has a sense of humor. And the other half of my title (and part of my blog's name too) gives the rest away.

Four years later, in the summer of 1997, I was, well I was getting my hair cut. Engaged in a friendly conversation with Brother Peter, my barber, I suddenly felt my pager buzzing. Because I recognized the number as the Provincial's office (the head of our community and Province) I called him right away during my haircut. He sounded serious and asked me to come right down once my haircut was finished.

Upon my eventual arrival, I saw that he wasn't alone. With him were the assistant Novice Master as well as the priest who had recruited me to the order. They told me that it was obvious I wasn't happy there (again, that's another story), that they had decided I should leave the religious life, and that I should leave right away that day.

In 7 years' time, I was thrown out of the same building twice. Sense of humor.

To say that my life has been "different" would be an understatement. The fact that I flunked out of high school and was later defrocked in that same building would be ironic if it wasn't just so sad. Both times, I was devastated and confused, tear drenched and lost. Though my life's story goes on, this story within does have a happy ending. My losses and failures have been dramatic and serious. They have wounded me to my core. But they have also changed me for the better, taught me and inspired me ever since.

After I failed out of my first high school, I pressed on and worked hard to be a better student. In 1997, I graduated cum laude from Manhattan College with a dual Bachelor's degree in both English Literature and Theology, making the Dean's List several times, and achieving membership in multiple honor societies.

Even though I was removed from ministry and dispensed from my vows that year too, I continue to pursue ministerial work today. I've been honored with a Humanitarian of the Year Award, have planned and written several Interfaith Services, and write and preach spirituality constantly.

So what is the moral to this tale? When you've been knocked down in life, when you're literally devastated by the reality you face, trust that the story isn't over yet. Have faith that the second part of a particular story in your life's book hasn't been written yet. Your happy endings won't erase the beginning of your story, but you wouldn't want them to anyway.