Growing up, most of my touchstone religious experiences came during youth retreats or conferences. There was something special about stepping back from my typical routine to place my full energy into a heightened awareness of the divine. Not to mention, I got to meet cute boys.
Among the many defining moments that peppered those teen events, one that will resonate with me forever could be captured in a single look.
It happened when a priest by the name of Father Stan Fortuna gave the dreaded Vocations Call. I was about 15 years old. The moment to discuss “what is God calling you to do with your life” made my pulse race in fear.
I envisioned some little nun hopping out of the shadows to garb me in a habit for life. Oh, the terror in my tender teenage heart.
That particular morning, Father Stan took a new angle. One I couldn’t avoid.
He invited to the front anyone who had ever thought about a Religious Vocation (i.e. vowing your life to a community devoted to prayer and service). He then went even further to say we should come on down if we had ever even "thought about not becoming a priest or a sister.”
That last part got me. I felt certain every single one of the 1,000+ students would step forward.
Wrong! But Matt did.
I only saw Matt during weekend retreats, a couple times a year. He lived in a suburb of Grand Rapids, which (in the days before my driver's license) seemed very far away. With only a few words, he could cause a whole group of us to erupt in laughter. But he always seemed to use his powers for good rather than to tear anyone else down.
Plus, he was really cute.
Yet there he was, standing a few feet from me, while Father Stan instructed the small group of us to go home and investigate our openness to a Religious Vocation.
Father lifted his hands in a prayer. As we turned back to our seats, the sound of our peers’ applause thundering behind us, Matt looked over. When his eyes met mine, the smile on his face told my soul this was a moment to remember. It was as if Matt assured me, with that simple look, “Don’t be afraid!”
Over the next several years, I would wrestle with the question, “What does God want?” I would learn, over and over again, that trust in Divine Providence was the farthest thing from scary. It was emboldening.
I came to fully believe that the desires of my heart were put there by God to lead me into deep and abiding happiness. I even faced my fear of the nunnery, finding an openness to whatever way God might lead me to serve Him and His people.
And in the midst of it all, I fell in love.
I fell in love with the person of Jesus Christ. He captured my heart, and continues to call me back to him day in and day out. His love overflows in my spirit, my music, my life.
And then a man who shared this same love of Christ invited me to become his wife, so that we could be true to each other, accept children as a gift from God, and serve others together until death. It wasn’t a Religious Vocation, but at the heart of the matter, it still required fearlessness.
Meanwhile, Matt joined the seminary.
This weekend, he will make Final Profession to the Congregation of Holy Cross. For a while, we’ll call him, “Deacon Matt.” But in 2015, he will become Father Matt, an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church.
I can’t attend Matt's ordination at Notre Dame this weekend, because David and I are expecting our third baby any day. As Providence would have it, my commitment to marriage and family is filling up my entire being.
When Matt takes his vows, he will lay down his life in the face of our world’s instant gratification and self-serving nature. Though I won’t be there in person, I can almost hear the thundering applause of family, friends, and members of the community. I can almost see his smile. It’s the same one he wore in high school: unafraid.