Fr. David Halm, C.S.C., reflects on his experience of the Post-Grad Discernment Retreat.
The rich young man who approaches Jesus in Matthew 19:16 asks “Teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life?” I’d bet most young professionals today wouldn’t ask the question in quite that way. Yet, it seems like the great angst that hits one’s life in the mid-twenties is similar: “What’s my real purpose?” or “Does what I’m doing really matter?” Like the fellow in the Gospel, those who graduate college today and enter the professional world are, by and large, good people who are generous and abide by the commandments. Like the rich young man they may also have plenty of possessions and material success. Yet there is something missing. And so the young person asks, “Is this all?”
In the midst of the great economic catastrophe of 2008-09 I asked myself the same question. I enjoyed my career at the bank, had obtained certain successes, and despite the huge stresses and precarious markets, thought the future bright. Yet for months I was obsessed with this question of how the sacrifices I was making for my career were helping anyone or serving a larger purpose. Maybe I was feeling this way because I was in the wrong vocation? Was I supposed to be a priest instead? Mass was helpful, and I had time to think about this question driving home at night, but I never had enough time to truly reflect.
About that time I received an email for the Holy Cross Post-College Retreat at Moreau Seminary. Though just a long weekend, it would be a few days away from email, office, and noise. I jumped at it. When I arrived I met eight other guys who seemed to be in a similar spot. Though from different industries and backgrounds, they were all successful and yet asking whether there was something more they were being called to do.
Fr. Jim gave us plenty of quiet time to pray and enjoy the beautiful scenery around Notre Dame. We had Mass each day and read excellent reflections on discernment. He also brought together various young Holy Cross priests and seminarians to chat with us about their vocation stories and answer some of the questions we had. I was struck by their frankness and the joyful tone they all seemed to have. On Saturday night we walked together around St. Mary’s Lake to the Grotto at ND to pray a rosary. Somewhere during that cool summer night’s walk it struck me that this was the first time in a very long time I had gone for a walk in nature and let my head clear. It was exactly what I needed to give my soul some rest and quiet to actually listen for the answers to the questions I had been asking.
I completed the application to enter the seminary a few months after the retreat and came for my formal visits and interviews. Now I am just a few weeks from making my final vows. Other men on that retreat entered the seminary a few years later. The others heard a calling to different vocations. But all of us benefitted from being away from the office and on retreat asking the Lord - in whichever words we found - “Teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life?”