ETHAN: Seminarian knows prayers, especially the rosary, quell spiritual battles
October 13, 2023
For archdiocese seminarian Ethan Menning, discerning a vocation has been a journey.
But it’s also a fight – a spiritual battle, he said.
“I never had problems with self-confidence in middle school or early high school,” Menning said. “But the minute I said ‘Oh, I could actually be a priest,’ the evil one introduced all these different difficulties, especially loneliness.”
Prayers of friends, family and even strangers have helped him overcome those fears of loneliness and fears of inadequacy, Menning said.
“I would say every day in the seminary, every day at home, every day that I’m choosing to follow the Lord, there are difficulties that follow, and the difficulties are way bigger than me. But I truly believe that it is the power of prayer by other people that sustains me through that.”
He’s found the rosary to be especially powerful.
“I remember crying out one day in prayer during a communal rosary, like, ‘Lord, why do You feel so far away right now?’
“And then I felt a gentle presence – a gentle presence that wasn’t some far away thing to be attained, but it was something deep within my own heart. … The image came of the person of Mary, and she took me by the hand in that prayer and just very slowly and very gently guided me to the person of Jesus.”
“I didn’t even feel like in that moment I was praying my rosary in this communal prayer with all my brothers” in the seminary, Menning said. “But it felt like she was mothering me.”
“She wanted to be not some far away mom, but close to me, helping me and guiding me through the many difficulties that I experienced in discerning.”
Catholics across the Archdiocese of Omaha can help young people like Menning, who often struggle as they discern calls to the priesthood or consecrated life, by joining the archdiocese’s October Rosary Rally for Vocations in partnership with Spirit Catholic Radio Network.
The faithful have been challenged to help pray 50,000 rosaries this month to encourage and uplift those who are discerning.
Currently, 22 men from the archdiocese are in seminaries and 24 men and women are in formation for consecrated life, said Father Scott Schilmoeller, the archdiocese’s vocations director.
“They’re trying to follow the Lord’s call, and it’s a spiritual battle,” Father Schilmoeller said in announcing the rally last month on the “Spirit Mornings” show on Spirit Catholic Radio Network.
They not only face external pressures in an increasingly distracted and faithless culture, but they also must weather the whispers of the enemy seeding doubt in their faith and future, he said.
“It’s very difficult for them in their own discernment.”
Menning said that when he started high school, he felt “the pull of the world.” But eventually he met more people in whom he could sense “there was something different about their life.”
“They lived this softer, calmer sense, not the hecticness of the world,” he said. “And that became super desirable for me, and I didn’t know what that meant.
“But being around them more and more, and especially once priests started getting introduced into my life, I felt more called out of myself … and I could see how they were living their life, how they were living with a sacrificial love for everyone that they were encountering. And I really felt the Lord was calling me into that.”
While the Lord’s call “seemed super apparent at the time,” it “was not easy at all.”
His heart was conflicted, Menning said. “Can I actually be a priest? A priest seems to have this super isolated life away from everyone else,” especially women.
“I mean, girls are awesome,” he said, “and I know so many awesome women in my life, and why would I not want to have that?”
But the more he talked with priests, Menning discovered “that I could still be loved and I could still love, even in this different way of life. I would just be loving more people, and more people would be loving me.”
After initially deciding to discern a call to the priesthood, though, “I felt more isolated from my friends, more isolated from even my family,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was living up to the expectations that people put on me.
“But as those difficulties set in, I felt the Lord’s gentle presence with me, saying … ‘Ethan, you don’t have to be listening to all these people around you for what you need to do. I’m not putting you into this box, but I’m inviting you into something more free. And in this particular way, I’m inviting you to be more particularly with Me.”
In the seminary, Menning said, he’s developed a deeper prayer life, met seminarian “brothers” who receive him openly and spiritual directors and others who guide him in prayer.
“It doesn’t stop being difficult,” he said. But the difficulties “have become easier to combat knowing that I can fall back on the Lord.”
Before “I would say that I had never truly believed in the power of prayer,” he said. “Before seminary, I always thought it was maybe throwing a dart at the wall. It wasn’t anything concrete.”
As a seminarian, though, Menning has deeply experienced how God moves because of prayers.
“I tell people that one of my favorite things about being a seminarian, and just discerning in general, is that I get letters from people all around the archdiocese telling me that they’re praying,” he said. “I can see that when I experience difficulties … Jesus is becoming more and more apparent in each of those scenarios.”
“I think when people pray for me, that suddenly the evil one doesn’t seem like this giant force looming over me. I’m not living out of fear, but I’m living out of a peace and an invitation.
“And I truly believe that the rosary is the most powerful tool for that.”
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