“The Lord tells us: ‘the first task in life is this: prayer.’ But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer, the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord… This is what praying is: opening the door to the Lord, so that he can do something. If we close the door, God can do nothing!”
–Pope Francis, October 2013
As Director of Seton Teaching Fellows, I have the great privilege of seeing the development of each of the fellows as they experience their first year of teaching in the South Bronx, imbedded in an intentional faith community that pushes them and challenges them to continuously grow into the best versions of themselves. With a shared mission of college and heaven for their scholars, fellows grow in community and in a profoundly personal way, as well. Recently, this growth has been anchored in a deeper and more authentic prayer life and the subsequent fruits have been nothing short of incredible. Without a doubt, each of the fellows has surrendered their own lives to God, and in doing so have opened the door to Him—and he has done incredible things in turn. The development I’ve seen reminds me of a beautiful story the Sisters of Life often tell:
As an Admiral in the Navy, John O’Connor (future Cardinal Archbishop of New York and future Founder of the Sisters of Life) was flying in a small two-seater plane with a young pilot. What began as a routine flight quickly turned into a nightmare. Tremendous turbulence and terrible rains began to beat on the little plane. Fog and darkness enveloped the aircraft – only the glow of the instrument panel offered any light. With over an hour left to fly, the warning light began to flash on the instrument panel that fuel levels were low. Shortly thereafter, a second warning light flashed indicating there was virtually no fuel in the tank. Nearby airports were contacted. They hoped for an emergency landing. The same answers came back from all of the nearby airfields, “banked by fog.” Nothing could land. They radioed the international distress signal, hoping an airfield would take a chance. Cardinal O’Connor recounts the rest of the story in his own words…
“No sooner did he call the international S.O.S. that a voice came on the radio. “SX395, I hear you.” The voice was that of a chief warrant officer in the United States Navy…and he simply said, “Follow my voice.” And then minute by minute, “Lower your right wing. Lower your left wing… Just follow my voice.” So calm, so steady. Then he said “Don’t be afraid.” He knew he was dealing with a young pilot… “Just follow my voice.” “Just follow my voice.” Suddenly we looked down. We couldn’t have been more than a hundred feet off the ground when we saw the first lights, they were the landing lights of the field and we glided in to a perfect landing. I could never forget that voice, the quality of the voice, the kindness of the voice, the experience of the voice, the calmness of the voice. Follow my voice…that is what the Lord says. Follow me. Follow my voice. Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. I will bring you home…”
This story expresses such a reality in our lives: “we may feel that we are on a plane that is running out of gas, and just at the right moment the voice of God comes over the PA system,” Plans quickly change, stabilities once secure dissolve in an instant, a sure and steady direction suddenly cuts back, leaving life in a question. Who am I really? What is the best choice? How do I cut through all this confusion? How do I follow God’s voice?
Rooted in prayer, each and every one of our beautiful Seton Teaching Fellows have asked these questions as they seek to truly and authentically follow God’s voice in their lives, especially as they’ve faced the unbelievable task of being a first-year teacher. The challenges of this role far surpass most fresh-out-of-college-jobs, and the temptation to give up instead of following the voice of God is strong. Instead, however, our Seton Teaching Fellows have done the opposite; instead, they have listened with their very selves, knowing and trusting that the Lord speaks to them in the sacred place of their hearts. In listening with their very selves, they have cultivated and deepened their community in such a way that they have collectively become more attentive to the daily work of God in their lives, and have wholeheartedly responded to God’s invitation to enter into relationship with Him. In this, I have witnessed them become fully alive. And, perhaps of most incredible value, I have witnessed them share this with each other and the precious students they tirelessly serve. Thus, they have indeed followed God’s voice—through all the fog and tiredness and hopelessness that life has thrown their way.