by Maddie Sanders, The Catholic University of America
This past summer, Jesus surprised me. That in itself is not a surprise, as He delights in surprising us, but this past summer, He replaced my restrictive narrative, my perfectly put together life, with His plan. And He, freedom and joy Incarnate, had so much in store.
As Catholics, may we always remember that Jesus doesn’t want happiness for us. He instead wants us to know joy.
At a retreat I attended last year, one of the speakers gave a talk on vocation. Mass followed the talk, and, after receiving the Eucharist, I heard these words clearly in my heart: “Vocation is not meant to be comfortable”.
Those words have since stayed with me and I think that they apply to more than just a primary vocation (priesthood, marriage, religious life). For me, they applied to my summer job.
I went into college as a history and political science double major, confident that the summer following my freshman year I would have a glamorous job as a “Hilltern”, interning for one of my Congressmen, wearing preppy outfits every day. There was good in that plan no doubt, and to an extent, there was happiness and contentment. But it lacked joy. The biggest “problem” with it was that for me, it was comfortable; a direct contradiction to those words He had spoken in my heart at that retreat. And, as former Pope Benedict once said, “…you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
With His words in mind, In December of last year, I, on a whim, applied for a job with the Archdiocese of Denver. In January, I interviewed, and in March, heard back that I had been accepted. The job was a Totus Tuus Teacher. Totus Tuus, a seven-week catechetical program within the Archdiocese, is an opportunity to teach kids ages 1st-12th grade about the faith, share your personal journey in the faith, discuss the sacraments, pray the rosary, make Holy Hours, and answer questions about what it means to be a Catholic, on a team of four people. It’s a chance to reflect His joy, testify to His work and the promptings of the Holy Spirit in your life, while in turn, grow closer to Him. It’s a rich spiritual immersion no doubt and it’s a missionary experience that abounds in deep, deep joy.
And I, to my surprise, felt deeply called to pursue it. And so with some hesitation, I let the Lord take control. My hesitation about it didn’t come from the job itself – there was so much that I loved about it on paper: getting to teach, being around other Catholics, delving deeper into my own faith, and attending Daily Mass.
So it certainly wasn’t that the job in itself wasn’t attractive, it was just that I was confused as to how I could possibly be called to it. Did ministry “fit” my personality? In my mind, it didn’t. I had constructed this false idea of a “ministry Catholic” – that Chaco-wearing, daily Rosary praying, weekly Confession-attending person that I simply wasn’t yet. Not to mention, growing up, I never attended any youth groups or catholic camps, not to mention Totus Tuus. But there was work the Lord wanted to accomplish through my “yes” to this, that I was certain of.
The time between being accepted in March and officially starting in May, I prayed and prayed, often just asking the Lord why I felt so called to pursue this. I was nervous, feeling like my personality wasn’t really cut out for the community life that Totus Tuus undoubtedly had in store for me. As an introvert, wouldn’t this be exhausting? Yet still, the Lord persisted, drowning my doubts in His grace, and gradually, I began to turn that doubt into prayer.
What began as doubt and uncertainty in His plan, turned into joy and a valuable lesson in surrender. I, the girl who had been weighed down in doubt and uncertainty for months, chose instead to surrender. And in doing so, not only found myself standing on unfamiliar steps of host families’ homes for seven weeks, toting a pink flower-printed duffel and a backpack stuffed with prayer cards and rosaries, but found a new heart; a missionary heart delighted by the truth that only in His will is joy found. Each new family, each parish, every meal lovingly prepared, every highway traveled, every night spent driving with car windows down, taking in the crisp Colorado summer air, were pondered in that newfound missionary heart, and that missionary heart found great joy in the way fellow teachers, priests, and religious pursued holiness. That heart found a definition of “home” in every Catholic church, for that heart’s “home” was in every tabernacle and monstrance at every new parish.
Totus Tuus was a gift and one that came with the most valuable lesson we can learn: His plan for us is never confined to any narrative that we set for ourselves. Why? Because He is too good, too loving for that.
His plan is never confined to narratives we set because He is too good.
We want comfort, yet He knows our capacity for greatness. We want happiness, while He longs to share His joy. We cling to what we know, He wants to give us a new heart. How often do we settle for a weighed down and weary heart, when He wants to give us His spirit of freedom?
There is no personality, situation, circumstance, job, or season of life that He can’t work through. So let Him surprise you. Let Him lead you past your own expectations, through unknown doors, knowing that great joy lies on the other side of each one.