"That Undeniable Longing: My Road to and from the Priesthood" - a review

Feb 14, 2022 569

BY: Mark Spano

Dreaming of becoming a priest has snuck into the idealistic fantasies of many a prepubescent boy from a working-class Italian-American upbringing. It seems such heroic dreams of sanctity quickly fade for most of these aspirants to Holy Orders with the onset of puberty. Most, but not all. Some young men have stood firmly within their Roman Catholic faith artfully dodging the slings and arrows of adolescence to choose a vocation as a priest in the Church of Rome.

That Undeniable Longing: My Road to and from the Priesthood, by Mark Tedesco is the story of one of these young men who chose the arduous journey through seminary, novitiate, diaconate, and ordination. Mark Tedesco’s narrative is no romantic odyssey to sanctity along the lines of Three Story Mountain by Thomas Merton.

After completing his freshman year in college, young Tedesco commenced his seminary training in an Oblate seminary on the outskirts of Rome. His year by year narrative is one of revelation and candor as concerns the spiritual formation sought by an intelligent and energetic aspiring member of the clergy. His hopes and expectations for his spiritual formation stood in stark contrast to the guidance he, in fact, received. Yet, he persisted. This is a story full of heart, disappointments, and the various pranks of a group of young men quartered together.

From the outset, the author relates his discoveries. He describes the institutional activities that contributed to his energy for his chosen vocation, versus those activities that depleted that energy. This young man is living in Rome. He cannot avoid the sensuousness of the Italian way of life that stood in blatant conflict with a spiritual training which seemed to him to be bereft of any true humanity.

For many Italian-Americans and Italians in Italy, the sensual is the spiritual. We are a people of images, songs, stories, smells, tastes, and physical intimacy. Tedesco faces these instinctual conflicts with greater perseverance, than most of us might have, and with more determination than I had over my own youthful years of Roman Catholic upbringing.

Tedesco’s entire ordeal seems to have been rife with moral contradictions, that were blithely explained away by continual allusions to the will of God. This is a remarkably shallow and ubiquitous back-pedaling that has seemed to work for the Church for a couple millennia.

The triumph of this story is that Tedesco’s resolute spirit sustains him through many a conflict including coming out as a gay man. In this story, the author finds a path for himself, and that makes for the reader a journey worth taking along with the author. The story, though, is also tinged by a poignancy that cannot be evaded. The Roman Catholic Church, an institution whose professed mission is to spread a divine love to all humankind. At any number of junctures of this path, a young man of talent, intelligence, and uncommon commitment was disaffected by the process. Sadly, it is a familiar old song, we have simply heard it beautifully sung yet again.

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