During my junior year of college, I was invited to join a Marian Consecration group with a handful of other students, led by one of the missionaries at Mizzou. Up to this point, I had a fairly consistent sacramental and prayer life. I attended mass on Sunday – and occasionally during the week when it fit into my schedule. I was a part of a Bible study and on the retreat team at the Newman Center. I would even stop by the chapel on my way to class and pray a decade of the rosary here and there.
Bible study? Check.
Or so I thought.
By the grace of God I never fell away from my faith or considered leaving the Church. For a while, I thought that made my testimony dull and boring – but that was before I really recognized and understood what a real relationship with Christ looked like and demanded of me.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have been identified as the rule-follower. My parents still jokingly tell stories of five-year-old Hannah trying her best to lay into the ‘big’ kids who disobeyed the rules on the playground. Maybe it’s an oldest child thing or has something to do with my temperament? Whatever it may be, this cautious, rule-follower nature and mentality was the exact mindset I took with me into my prayer and spiritual life.
I was doing everything a “good” Catholic was supposed to do – and it appeared I was doing even more “good” Catholic things when compared to many of my peers on a college campus. Yet, all it took was a few toxic friendships and a broken heart to shake the façade I had built up around me and reveal how little faith I actually had in the Lord to fulfill all my needs.
Anyways, as I began the preparation for consecrating myself to Jesus through Mary (following the book 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC), I began to recognize my own poverty and need for God. But the only thing was – I was mad at God.
I felt overlooked, used and unimportant to God.
See, my long-time boyfriend had just broken up with me to discern the priesthood. At that time, it seemed to me that everyone – including God – only cared about him and his vocation, and I felt alone in the mess and perceived emptiness of mine.
I took out my sadness, hurt and anger on God. He could take it, right?
Again, by the grace of God, I was invested (to at least some degree) in my Catholic faith and knew leaving the Church or shutting God out completely wasn’t the answer. I continued to come to the chapel – mostly to cry and scribble away in my journal about how mad I was that ‘of all the men in the word, God had to take my boyfriend away from me.’
One night, exhausted from continuously playing the victim, and wanting nothing else than to go home and curl up next to my mom and let her hold me, I looked to the left of where I was sitting in the adoration chapel and noticed a beautiful icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help – Mary holding the Child Jesus in her arms. I recalled times of praying the rosary with my family on road trips and during various retreats I had attended. Too upset to talk to Jesus any longer and seeking after some motherly comfort, I took a rosary from a nearby table and began to pray a continuous string of Our Fathers and Hail Marys. Not knowing any of the mysteries of the rosary, I put all my effort into concentrating on the words of the two rote prayers I memorized during second grade CCD class.
In that moment, the power and intensity of Our Lady’s intercession was almost tangible to me. I felt her presence – and that of her spouse, the Holy Spirit – and a sense of real peace washed over me. I felt seen.
I invited Mary (who of course brought her Son with her) into my wounded and disappointed heart and, for a time, my thirst to be seen, known and cherished was quenched.
Days, weeks and even months passed, and I continued to return to the chapel every day to pray a rosary and sit with my Mother. Eventually, I learned the mysteries of the rosary and was able to enter into the story of the Gospel more fully than ever before. The moments of Christ’s life came alive in my imagination, and I met not only Jesus Himself, but also his friends, family, disciples and the Christians of the early Church. Seriously – God is soooo good. And patient, too!
The Lord knew that I was not yet in a place to accept Him – or the cost of discipleship with Him – fully. He continued to send His Mother to me, and my relationship with Mary grew exponentially!
I marveled over Mary’s beautiful gift of receptivity at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38); her gratuitous offering to care for her cousin, Elizabeth, during the Visitation while being pregnant herself (Luke 1:39-56); her strength in giving birth in a small, dark cave without the support of her family and community (Luke 2:1-20); and her willingness to present and surrender her precious Son and very heart back to God, knowing her vocation would cost her everything so that the whole world would be saved (Luke 2:22-40).
The more I prayed with Mary, the more I desired to be like her.
She became my role model, my friend and ultimately, the hand that led me Home to her Son, Jesus Christ.
It is impossible to grow in a relationship with Mary without also growing in a relationship with Jesus. She won’t allow it. She can’t. While I thought I was putting some space between myself and the Lord to cool down and get over the beef I had had with Him, I was actually drawing closer to Jesus than I ever had before. One day, when the blinders finally came off, it was like Mary stepped aside to reveal her Son, who had been there with us the whole time!
The more I have grown and matured, and the more time and space that has passed from those months, I often reflect upon my own story – or testimony. I am incredibly grateful for the goodness and generosity of God and am learning to appreciate His timing and His way of doing things – well, at least I’m trying to!
I am grateful for Christ’s relentless pursuit of my whole heart.
I am grateful for a relationship with Mary and devotion to Our Lady that I recognize now as a pure gift.
I am grateful for the rich tradition and theology of the Catholic Church and Saints that zealously share their insights from prayer and real-life examples of holiness that help model for us the path toward Beatitude.
I am grateful for the ending of relationships that I had made into an idol and beginning to understand that only God will fully satisfy my desire to be seen, known and cherished.
I am grateful for the gift of the priesthood, especially lived out by the chaplains at the University of Illinois, and spiritual fatherhood.
I am grateful for virtuous male friendships that have taught me how to love and be loved as a sister.
I am grateful for girlfriends who receive me and allow me to be vulnerable in sharing my desires and sit with me in the restlessness and uncertainty that comes with waiting.
I am grateful for supportive parents that encourage me to pursue my dreams and embark on new adventures.
I am grateful for my degree, education and training that helps allow me to do what I love professionally.
I am grateful for cool mornings to sit on the back porch, drink tea and read while watching the sun rise.
What are you grateful for?
Exercise 2 of the Metanoia Daily Seven Journal is all about growing in gratitude and remembrance of the ways God is working in our lives!
If you need a little help getting started, Matt and Erin have created a short 5 minute video explaining how to get the gratitude muscle pumping over in the Academy!
I bet you will be surprised by the ways the Lord hears and answers prayers once you take a moment to settle down and reflect on the many things we all have to be grateful for. I know I was!
What was once the worst thing I thought that could have happened to my 21-year-old self became the means to me falling in love with Jesus Christ and His One, Holy, Apostolic Church! Saying ‘yes’ to the life of discipleship has been the most incredible adventure.
And I know the best is yet to come!
Seriously – I would love to hear your story and what it is you are grateful for today! Leave a comment or send me an email anytime! It is an honor to be here with you!
Until next week,
P.S. You can find the Exercise 2: Daily Gratitudes explanatory video in the Metanoia Catholic Academy by logging in (don’t forget to copy and paste your password for best results). Once you are at the Academy landing page, click on “Journaling 101” then “Explaining the Daily 7 Exercises” on the left-hand side of your screen.