Immanence and Light

Whenever I found out about this blog-thing that the seminarians at Bruté do every month, I thought it was neat. Now that I’m a seminarian myself though, I admit that it’s a little bit intimidating being on the authorial end of things. Most of the fellas here seem to have an inexhaustible arsenal of knowledge on various deep theological concepts, not to mention memories like steel traps. If I had a shiny nickel for every time I’ve heard “Oh, you mean like Descartes,” or “blah blah blah – David Hume” I’d probably have at least a whole dollar. With that being said, though I’ve probably discounted my own intelligence and ability in the last few sentences, I think that what I do have to contribute to the lives of all of you who’ve graciously continued reading even after seeing “Nick Rivelli” up near the heading, is some perspective I have gained from my first semester here at Bruté. Don’t worry – it’s December, I know, so I’ll be sure to link it back to Advent somehow.

For starters, this has been a transitionary semester for me in that, for all the fans at home who may not know, I completed my freshman and sophomore years of college at Marian before entering seminary. Being at Marian has allowed for a seamless transition, at least on paper – all I had to do before the onset of summer, outside of the seminarian application process, was switch my major and mentally prepare myself for moving a couple blocks away from campus…not an incredibly difficult feat, to say the least. Adjusting to seminary life, however, has proved difficult in some respects. While I’m the oldest of 6 boys, and thus am by no means unaccustomed to living in a frat-like household (God bless my mother), certain things have taken some getting used to. Though the community has been extremely welcoming, I continue to struggle with feeling like the odd-man-out. Many of the fellas have been in-house since freshman year and thus our relationships are only just forming. Meanwhile, the relationships I have established with my on-campus community are changing before my eyes, a good number weakening considerably as I “take the road less traveled by”.

This state of liminality I find myself in invokes feelings of loss, longing, pain, jealousy…really all in all, a chorus of voices trying to drown out He who speaks so clearly at 2500 Cold Spring Road! This cacophony has, at times and especially as the semester has ramped up here toward the end, made it difficult for me to stay focused in prayer. Oftentimes my mind will drift to my schedule or thoughts of past relationships – tearing me between the glossy past and the cloudy future. Yet this past week, in a moment that a friend of mine would refer to as a “Jesus hitting me with a brick” moment, I have found a steadying point – just in time for the changing of seasons. During confession, the priest suggested to me, “What if the reason you are so scattered is because of the scariness of being so intensely close to God, so vulnerable before Him?”

During the Advent and Christmas seasons, we are reminded powerfully of God’s love and immanence. As we celebrate the birth of Christ, very intentionally during the darkest time of the year, we recall that God is present to us, physically, particularly when it is darkest. He is the light that shines forth in the darkness of our hearts and our lives – not eliminating the darkness but illuminating life in graceful light. In my own life and experience in seminary this past semester, there has certainly been a lot of illuminative moments. Throughout the past months, and particularly as the semester’s close and Christmas approach, I have been struck more and more by Mary’s shining example of surrender to Christ’s illuminative light. These past few weeks I’ve been striving for deeper intentionality in prayer, examining the words that I’m saying and seeking to embrace them both in speech and in action. The prayer that particularly has impacted me as I strive for this wholehearted prayer is the Canticle of Mary – appropriate, I think, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

As I, and as all of you readers, reflect during this season of Advent, let us examine the areas that we want or need illuminated in our lives. “Lord, amidst this struggle that I’m facing, in my great need for you, please make your immanent, intimate presence known to me.” Only God knows what the next semester holds for myself and my brother seminarians, but one thing is for certain – God is here. He is present with and within the friends I have on campus and at Bruté, both those who are distant and those who are close. He is present with and within you. With spirits of joy and gratitude, amidst whatever darkness you and I may be experiencing, I hope and pray that we might wholeheartedly embody Mary, saying, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my savior, for He has looked with favor on his lowly servant…” In doing so, by the grace of Christ we can hope that “…from this day all generations will call us blessed.” Merry Christmas and may the joy and peace of Christ be with you and yours during this season and into the new year. This is Nick Rivelli, signing off.


Nick Rivelli

Nick Rivelli is a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Indiana and is a member of the Class of 2020.


Praying the Psalms

One of the things I am most grateful for in my life of prayer has been the praying of the psalms during the liturgy of the hours. Before I began to pray the liturgy of the hours, I had never had close contact with the psalms. There were a couple that I had read or heard that I loved, but outside of that, there were at least 145 psalms to which I had never truly paid attention.  However, after three years of praying the liturgy of the hours, though I am still a child in the practice, I have found much more depth in them than I ever thought I would.
One of the earliest ways the psalms were described to me was as the prayers that Christ prayed as a faithful Jew. Even now, when I pray them, I like to imagine a situation or a way in which Jesus would have prayed each one. For any given psalm, it has been helpful for me to picture him praying it from the cross. I know at least one psalm was on his mind when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I also picture him humming some melody unknown to me and thinking the words of the psalm in his mind after a time of prayer. I see him praying with his disciples, for his people, to his Father in secret, etc. Jesus knew the experiences of the psalms because he created the psalmist, but also because he lived them. In praying the psalms, I know I am getting to know Jesus.
I find that because of praying them as often as I do, I tend to have the words floating around in my head, much like song lyrics do when I’ve been listening to the radio. I remember one time, last year (my second year at Bruté), I was walking and talking to God. As I was telling God something, a line from one of the psalms we pray at night prayer became the next thing I said, and then the rest of the psalm followed. I knew I could sing it by heart because I had practiced it so many times in order to play the organ for our community to chant it. I was not, however, aware of how easily it could have become my own prayer to God. The psalm became personal because the words had become a part of me. That is one of the beauties, I think, of all scripture. With repetition, and over time, it sticks, and as the word of God, it leads me closer to Christ.
Nurturing this relationship with Jesus is the center of my life in seminary. As written in the Bishop Bruté Rule of Life, “The purpose of spiritual formation is to assist the seminarian in coming to know Jesus Christ in a personal and meaningful relationship.” Our daily schedule of prayer, I think, is one of the things for which I am most grateful to formation.  The liturgy of the hours is naturally spread out into designated times throughout the day, and our community prayer times along with encouragement to pray the other hours on my own give my prayer life a comfortable consistency. It is really like walking with God. We aren’t running here. Jesus is with me in the prayer, and steadily walking with Him strengthens our relationship.
A very gospel-based image for me at the seminary that I like to picture is that of a plant. Jesus has planted me here in the garden of the seminary. I grow and am nurtured through the food of prayer and formation – a slow process.  The psalms are a spiritual fertilizer – I take them in over and over again, and through the slow process of growth, I am transformed into the person God is calling me to be, and I become more like Christ.
I cannot force this transformation because I am not its cause. It is a great gift from God that I can pray or even understand the scripture at all. God has blessed me with the formation at Bruté, and with the liturgy of the hours that metes out scripture with constancy. With the psalms, I walk with God. With the psalms, I am spiritually fed and grow in prayer. With the psalms, I am more united to Christ, but I have a long way to go. I am still at the tip of an eternal iceberg, at the mouth of an endless, beautiful mine. I look forward to the rest of the journey and to seeing where Jesus will take me.

Daniel McGrath
Daniel McGrath is a seminarian studying for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and is a member of the Class of 2019.