Post #8! I can’t believe it! So many incredible women have offered their time & their stories to help shape this series and it’s been such a gift to me (and I hope that it is to you, too!). Every time I open my email to see the final draft, I’m brought to tears by how good the Lord is and how often He uses these women to remind me that He loves me and He’s holding my heart ever so carefully in His hands. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Sarah through parish community and involvement in the lay movement of Catholic Advance. It has been such a joy to get to know Sarah & to witness her authenticity and love of Christ in every day life. She loves the Lord so much and it never ceases to amaze me and inspire me! Sarah is speaking into a critical part of life that we are so quick to shove away or never talk about: changing seasons of life and how it impacts us. She writes so beautifully about her own experience and it completely touched into my own and my struggles with letting God work in my life – through the natural ebb & flow of changes. I hope that you are inspired & that you feel that extra hug on your heart, reminding you that you are not alone and God always has a plan for you.
Almost five years ago, I spent a semester in Rome with a rather ragtag group of people. College aged seminarians, “laymen” (as we called them), and women. I knew a handful of the women at the time, but most of my companions were strangers.
My study abroad experience was far from easy. I can’t honestly say I loved living in Rome. I longed for home often. I cried a lot. I felt anxious and out of place almost every day. And when it was all over, I came back somewhat confused about why God had called me to go in the first place. I felt in many ways like I had let myself be overcome by the challenges and wasted this great opportunity.
The great gift of my semester at Bernardi, however, was not Rome. It was not kneeling before the bones of St. Peter, it was not gazing upon Caravaggio’s original paintings with my own eyes, it was not seeing Pope Benedict from 10 feet away. These were tremendous experiences for which I am filled with gratitude, riches that were heaped undeservedly into my lap. The true gift, the greatest treasure of that semester, was that those 20-some-odd strangers became brothers and sisters. And that gift is one that I have been unpacking for the last five years.
This is an incredible year for our little Rome family. It is the year that two of the men among us are ordained transitional deacons, and six more are ordained priests of Jesus Christ. The fact that almost one third of our group was called to Orders is incredible in itself. But to witness men, not five or ten years older than I, but my own peers, my friends, lay prostrate on cathedral floors, throwing down their lives out of love at the feet of Christ… nothing could have prepared me for how profoundly moving that is.
In addition, ten from our group are married (some to each other!), one is newly engaged, and three have entered religious life. I mean, guys. Come on.
So, I’ll spare you the math. You can count on one hand how many of us are still like “Whaaaat?” and “Huhhh?” when it comes to God’s big-V-Vocation for us. But, don’t cry for me, Argentina. Truly, truly, for the first time in a loooooooong time I’m actually not wallowing in self-pity over it.
At least, I’m not wallowing over my own vocation. But I’m going to be real, I’ve done a good deal of wallowing over everyone else’s. It is so beautiful to witness beloved friends say “yes” to God’s call, don’t get me wrong. Like I said, it might be the most beautiful experience of my life. But it’s bittersweet. For anyone who has had a friend get married, you probably understand. The joy is always tinged with sorrow because the reality is, that person belongs to someone else now. It’s been definitively clarified that you have no claim to them. So while weddings, profession of vows, and ordinations are out-of-this-world joyful (literally), they are also occasions for grief.
What I mean to say is, the past several weeks have felt like this ridiculous emotional ricochet between profound joy and profound sorrow. This season of “I do”s represents new beginnings – the start of greater adventure than any of us could ever imagine–and yet it also represents the end of something else. The end of passing my friends as I walk across the quad. The end of pasta and limoncello at weekend Bernardi reunions. The end of things as I have known them, so carefree and comfortable.
So, my heart has been feeling heavy, and I’ve been wallowing.
Because I just want to keep my friends. I want them to be mine. But what does the Word of God say about what is really mine?
This is from Mark 12:
Jesus began to speak to the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and left on a journey. At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant. And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully. He sent yet another whom they killed. So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed. He had one other to send, a beloved son. He sent him to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come, put the tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others…
This morning, the Holy Spirit used this scripture to remind me of a very important truth: I am a tenant farmer in God’s vineyard. He has entrusted much to me, the produce of the land, and in the meantime He has also blessed me with much–with education, opportunities to serve Him, and beautiful friendships.
Sometimes, though, a sense of ownership starts to grow in my heart.
I start thinking that HIS vineyard is MINE.
I start thinking that HIS work is MINE.
I start thinking that HIS people are MINE.
And then He comes to collect on what is HIS. He calls HIS people into vocations. He asks me to yield up my enjoyment of their friendship so that He can commission them for something greater. And my response, so often, and shamefully, is to try to beat back the Lord. I try to chase Christ away so that I can continue in my pathetic delusion that anything, anything at all, truly belongs to me.
Oh, how in need I am of deeper conversion.
Dear friends, can you relate at all? Maybe not. But I have a feeling that I am not the only person who is struggling to let someone go. It’s so easy, especially when our loves are rooted in God, to believe either that we are owed them or that we can’t live without them. When God’s will calls someone away, it is beautiful, but it is painful. How are we to cope?
I won’t claim to know the answer, but I suggest two things as a place to start. I’m not going to pretend these are original thoughts. They are the fruit of recent conversations and wisdom that I have received from friends. I pass them along to you, for whatever it is worth.
I risked to love, and it hurt like hell
Love makes us vulnerable.
Love exposes us to loss.
But if we never took the risk to love, what would our lives be? They would be empty, shallow… my friends, they would be nothing.
When we open ourselves to love another person, we become more like Christ, the One with the pierced Heart. He was the first to be wounded by love. His Heart must be our refuge in moments when we experience sorrow because we have risked to love.
And behold, I am with you, even until the end of the age.
Christ’s promise to us. Has He promised us that things will always stay the same? Has He promised that we will never have to say goodbye? Has He promised that we will never weep, that we will never have sorrows, that our hearts will never break? No, this is not His promise. His promise is that He is always with us. His presence is His promise. It is the one thing that we can cling to with absolute, unwavering certainty. We can know that no matter what, our heart’s truest Friend, the One who loves us, the One who knows us because He created us, is with us always, nearer than our breath, attentive to every aching of our weak, fragile little souls.
And if He is with us, we know that we are never alone, because He is the vine. When we belong to Christ, we belong to one another. When we are united to Christ, we are united to one another in a way that goes deeper than physical presence. When we receive Christ in the Eucharist, we receive one another as members of His Body.
Our hope goes deeper still, for this love reaches beyond the grave. All of those lost loves will be gathered back up when we are Home, where we will all once again be together in one place and nothing will be able to separate us. We will all be His and all that is His will be ours.
Sarah is a native to Duluth, Minnesota and has the pale to prove it. She is currently working towards a Master’s degree in Theology at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.