As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Thursday, August 21, 2014

If Today You Hear God's Voice

It's funny how hearing something can completely take you back.  The gospel acclamation today was Psalm 95:8: "If today you hear God's voice, harden not your heart."  In an instant, I remember being at this same weekday Mass twelve years ago.  At that time I had been dating my boyfriend for three years, and like probably most young Catholic women in a dating relationship was desperate to be married.  Conversations in that time generally took on the tone of "WHEN???"  Even strangers were asking us when we would just hurry up and get married already.  We were 21 years old, and had been talking marriage pretty much since we first got together, at 18.  It seemed like it was in the cards.

I was talking to a friend this weekend, joking about how she stole her husband from the priesthood (since he was in seminary prior to their dating), and I said, "isn't it the secret fear of every Catholic dating girl that her boyfriend will become a priest?"  I realized after I said it though, that for me it really was true.  While many couples I know have husbands who were in the seminary before they got together, my husband discerned the priesthood while we were dating.  And as selfish as it sounds, it was terrifying for me.  I hated to see priests put their arms around my husband's shoulders and walk away, because I feared they were trying to take him away from me.  My heart sank every time we were at a conference and the speaker would ask any young man thinking about the priesthood to stand up, and I would watch my boyfriend stand.  So selfish and yet, when you're madly in love, so scary.

And so on this weekend in August of 2001, my husband and his family were blessed to welcome some seminarians from the Companions of the Cross into their home to stay for a few days.  They were such beautiful men of God, so young and so on fire for the Lord!  We spent much of the time they were here with them as they attended Prayer Group, Youth Group, and events at friends' houses with us.  We got to know them very well in the short time they were here.

One of the men staying with Jeff's family was Fernando.  I asked him when he knew God was calling him to be a priest, and he told me he didn't, that it was his girlfriend.  He was in a relationship with a girl he loved, and who he intended to marry, when the Lord revealed to her His plan for Fernando's life.  She was the one who said to him, "I think God wants you to become a priest," and she ended the relationship so that he could discern.  I remember thinking how completely selfless that was of her, and how strong in the Lord she must have been to trust Him so deeply.  I remember saying, "If God wants Jeff to be a priest, He'd better tell him Himself, because if He tells me I won't tell him!"  And I meant it.  I admired and respected Fernando's ex-girlfriend so much, but I felt like that wasn't me.  If God asked me, I didn't know if I could willingly give up the most important person in my life.

Throughout the course of their stay, I began to notice that something was up with Jeff.  We attended daily Mass one day with the seminarians and a group of friends, and the psalm was this verse "If today you hear God's voice, harden not your heart."  Jeff mentioned after Mass to the group of us how it touched him, and my heart sank, because in my heart I already feared that if Jeff listened closely, God would call him to priesthood.  He was a rarity in our city - a young, holy man of God.  Many people who met him said so.

He was spending a lot of downtime with the seminarians because they were staying at his home, and he had much opportunity to talk to them without me around because I would go back to my house for the evenings (which was probably a good thing).  One day he took me for a drive, and had the most difficult conversation of my life with me.  He told me that he really felt God calling him not to be closed to the priesthood, and that before he could really be certain that he wanted to marry me, he needed to properly discern the priesthood first.  I was devastated, but it didn't come as a complete surprise.  I tried to make sense of what that meant for us: were we splitting up?  Slowing down?  Taking a break?  He assured me that it didn't really change anything, just the openness on his heart to respond if he felt a call from the Lord (and indeed, the openness to pray about it, which maybe he had not been free to do since all we did was talk about marriage).  I spent an agonizing sleepless night the night following our conversation, just trying to sort out what it all meant for me.  What if God is calling him to the priesthood?  What about me?  It was the most painful night of my life.

Fr. Fernando (center), with all of us after Prayer Group
I remember talking to my mother-in-law the next day when I called for Jeff and he wasn't home, and just pouring my whole heart out to her.  She reminded me that God also had a plan for my life as well - that this wasn't about me waiting around to see what God wanted for Jeff.  At the time none of us knew what this meant, but for me it was a real turning point, the beginning of a deeper and active search for my own vocation.

When I saw Fernando the next day at the prayer meeting, he gave me a tearful hug and said, "I'm sorry."  (Evidently Jeff had told him of the conversation that followed their talk).  I just remember feeling so touched at his sorrow for me, it was so evident that he never wanted to come between us, and I was glad he had the courage to tell Jeff what he believed the Lord wanted to tell him even though that must have been so hard.  Though I assured him that it was a good thing he did, I had no idea at the time just how good it was, because I really was still trying to process all of it.  I was so, so very scared.  And yet there, in the presence of our community of friends, with this very dear seminarian who had nothing but sincerity, meekness and love towards all of us, there was peace.  I didn't know what I meant, but I knew one thing - I could steal him from any woman, but I wouldn't steal him from God.

Over the next few months I toned down my talk of marriage, and tried to focus my heart on what God was asking of me.  More than anything I still wanted to marry Jeff, but I knew that in order to do the Lord's will, I had to seek His heart for the sake of Him alone.  It was so difficult and painful in those days, and there were many ups and downs.  But I was on retreat near Christmas that year, a silent retreat, when all of a sudden I knew something had changed.  I remember being at the retreat house, in adoration, and saying to the Lord, "you know what?  If you want Jeff to be a priest, that's okay.  And if you want me to tell him, I'll do it."  I just felt so close with God in that moment, and over those many months he took away my deepest fear and replaced it with complete trust and indeed, a child-like love for me.  I felt such tender compassion with Him in that moment, that I had just given him the thing that made me most afraid, and He was scooping me into His hands and cradling me in His arms.  I remember such freedom at that point that even though I still had no idea what my life would look like, that I was His.  It was so much better than living the way I was before, which was with this great expectation that I already knew what I wanted in life (I want to be married), and wondering why it wasn't happening already.

Jeff's proposal to me, in front of the Nativity Scene at the Cathedral, after Midnight Mass in 2002.

We continued dating for another year before Jeff finally proposed to me, and it was such a complete and joyful surprise when he did.  God worked in that time to prepare my heart by making my gift a true gift of myself.  He brought me so much closer to Him and in so doing, praise the Lord, brought me closer to Jeff, which in the end was what I had desired for so long.  But most importantly, He taught me that I can trust Him with the deepest desires of my heart.  That I can surrender to Him, give everything to Him, and that He will not abandon me.  I have no doubt in my mind that if my vocation had been different, I would not be any less joyful or satisfied than I am today, because God so deeply united my heart with His that I would have followed Him anywhere.  And still, as I sat there in the Church today hearing those words again, and the memories of that time flooded back to me as if they were yesterday, I couldn't help but feel joy that I was sitting in that pew, surrounded by our six children, eleven beautiful married years later.  Have no fear, if the Lord asks you to surrender something.  Because no matter what, He is faithful.  He is dedicated to you.  He does not take away to deprive you of anything, but to fill you with greater joy than you ever could have imagined.

"If today you hear God's voice, harden not your heart."

God is faithful, and He loves us more than we could ever imagine!

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for the courage in sharing this beautiful testimony. I found it personally touching. Thanks again, Natasha.