During two summers in college, I was on a Totus Tuus team that traveled around my home diocese and ran catechesis for elementary through high school students. When I started, I knew I wanted to share the message of Jesus Christ with the youth of the diocese and I had encountered a zeal in teams from previous years that I desired for myself. By the end of the summer, I knew I had been thoroughly tricked. I wanted to share the Gospel and yet I found a deeper need within myself to encounter the Gospel personally. Returning to college, I told people that Totus Tuus is really about my own personal formation, not primarily about the youth I interacted with at the different parishes. It was a surprise, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Lord would change me despite my desire to be the one provoking change.
In college, I was active in praying outside an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh. After a couple of years passed, I felt called to start sidewalk counseling. This meant stepping away from the little prayer circle and instead approaching men and women, asking them to reconsider their decision to have an abortion. Those hours on the streets of Pittsburgh are among the most challenging in my entire life. It forced me to step out in trust, believing that God would heal my heart even if I was rejected or attacked. And I was rejected and I was verbally wounded. In spite of my desire to defend life and encourage parents to raise their children, I think the one who changed the most was me.
Even to this day, I count it as a great sign of God’s presence that my tender, easily pierced heart has no lingering pain from those cold encounters in Pittsburgh. I’ve searched my heart quite thoroughly and I can only point to a growth and stretching, an expansion of my heart in a way I never thought possible. I woke up early Saturday mornings in a desire to be a bearer of truth and instead found that the Lord shaped and formed my heart in a lasting way. Never again will I think of abortion or the wounded families (or doctors or escorts or nurses, etc.) in the manner I did before my time at the foot of cross on Highland Avenue in Pittsburgh.
Seven years ago, I started this strange and wonderful journey of teaching high school theology. I wanted to share the love I have for Christ and His Church with high school students. More than doctrine, I wanted to somehow impart an experience of the living God to my students. While I hope this happens, I have found that this stubborn heart is the one that continues to profit from these additional years in high school. So many times I must choose to be less stubborn than I want to be or choose to defend matters that I would rather passively let happen. In ways I did not expect, the Lord uses this mission field to change me. It is a slow process, surely, and many others in my position would be significantly more holy than I, but it is transformational in a day-by-day way. The students in their foibles reveal my heart to me in a new way and make me try again to submit to the yoke that is easy and the burden that is light. I went into this profession hoping to share the Good News and instead recognize that I still am in need of more profoundly encountering and living the Good News myself.
Day after day, the Lord uses whatever means necessary to shape us into the saints He calls us to be. The very places where we think we might be of service are the places that God will use to transform our little hearts. Though it is often humbling and frequently painful, the Lord keeps pushing, keeps calling, keeps desiring a deeper intimacy with me, with us. May His pursuit never cease!