When I tell people that I am spending a year doing volunteer service at an inner city high school, I get one of two reactions. I either get "that's so wonderful, we need more pepole like you" or I get "why are you taking a job where you aren't getting paid? You're crazy. I could never do that". Let me make something nice and clear for you. It's not about the money. I am rather enjoying living off of 200 dollars (for food and personal) a month. It really makes me understand what's important. A large part of this experience of being a Mercy Volunteer focuses on spiritual growth. Each of my community members and me has had discussions about this and all of us are looking to grow spiritually during the year. We have set aside a special night to discuss spirituality, and we also attend Mass with one another and are looking to start a Bible Study. Since I will be talking about my growth and knowledge this next year, I thought it may be a good idea to give a background on my faith life thus far.
I was born and raised Catholic and still actively practice Catholicism, although I could probably describe myself as a “liberal Catholic” because I disagree with some of the beliefs. For example, the Catholic Church is traditionally against gay marriage, while I fully support it and cannot grasp the concept of the inequality toward gay couples. Anyways, back to my roots. My family used to attend Mass every Sunday; I went to a Catholic elementary school where I had a “religion” class every year. I was baptized, received my First Communion, had my first Reconciliation, and was confirmed all from birth until I was thirteen. I can remember always being very interested in my religion classes, depending on the teacher that was usually my favorite class. I loved learning about Jesus and the Catholic faith. When those close to me passed away, I understood that they went to Heaven and were now looking out for us. I remember feeling it was unfair, but never questioned God’s love for me or my family. I know that I can thank my parents and teachers for this strong belief.
I understood the “textbook” aspect of faith; I knew that God loved me and that I could talk to him, and that we had to attend Mass every week. However, I don’t think I got a real grasp of spirituality and faith until the later part of high school.
During my first two years, I strived to get involved in athletics and clubs. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year when I discovered pastoral ministry. I knew some friends who were involved but had never thought of joining. While I felt I was close with God, I didn’t think I needed to be a part of retreats or planning the masses. I will never forget the day I was walking through the halls and Miss Buckley was standing outside the pastoral team door, recruiting students to come join. I’m not quite sure what made me walk in, but I did, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. There were a few other students in the room who were helping to plan an upcoming prayer service. I took a seat and joined them, within moments that room was my home at Mercy. The next year I became more involved, especially after attending my fall junior retreat. At the retreat we watched Simon Birch and then discussed God’s plan for us. I felt that I was needed in pastoral ministry and that I could help other girls find their faith, as I had. In the spring, I signed up for KAIROS, which is a senior retreat that happens four times a year with a different group of about 40-60 girls. The spring retreat is open for 10 juniors who think that they may be interested in leading a Kairos retreat for their class the next year. Each retreat has six leaders, so after the very first one in the fall, those retreatants can then apply to be a leader for one of the next retreats. Does that make sense? Anyways, I had always wanted to be a Kairos leader. You hear about Kairos and how “amazing” and “life changing” it is from the day you step foot at Mercy. Here’s the thing. It was amazing, I learned a lot, but when I attended as a junior, it was not life changing. I thought that there might be something wrong with me, until I had a chat with Mrs. Mac, who set me straight. She really encouraged me to apply to be a Kairos leader; she said that it would be an excellent way for me to be a servant of God. That concept was beautiful to me. I had never looked at faith that way. I wanted so badly to serve God, and thankfully, so did He. I was chosen to be a leader for the fall Kairos retreat, and guess what? It was life changing. I had to give a talk on my life (obstacles, accomplishments, people who inspire me) to my class, and I have never been so scared in my life. I remember sitting in the big room before everyone filed in, praying for the Holy Spirit to come through me during my talk. The Holy Spirit came, alright. I felt so moved and strong.
Throughout the year, many girls would write me letters or privately talk to me about how I brought faith into their lives. ME. Megan Carolin, student council VP, theatre dork, pastoral team member. I was friends with everyone in high school and always had a smile on my face and a hug to give out, but never did I think that I could change people. I was on a roll! I had a close relationship with God that was not defined by my knowledge of scripture or the workings of Mass, but by filling my heart with his love and then pouring that love to others.
Unfortunately, there was a time in my life where I lost all of that. As soon as I got to college, I found the Catholic Church on campus. I was excited and ready to get involved. Do you know how many times I attended mass during my first two and ½-three years? Not many. Prayer? Rarely. I only prayed when I needed something, not a loving relationship with God. Instead, I filled my life with my sorority, school, food, anxiety, and drinking. God was not on my list of priorities. Funny thing is, most of my friends still considered me the “religious one”. Little did they know I had put God so far back in my mind I wasn’t even sure He loved me, or if I loved Him? It was easy to say, but tough to act on. I know this happens to so many; I don’t feel bad about it nor am I ashamed. Those three years of my life taught me many lessons. I think one of the hardest parts was that I had very few friends who were Catholic, and those who were did not practice. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my faith, so I just forgot about it.
Most of you know what happened next. Melinda came around. You’ve probably heard the story so I’ll spark notes it. I had been very depressed my sophomore year of college and barely came out of my room. One time I was in class and my teacher said “sometimes all it takes is one person to bring you out of your darkest time of your life”. I think that was one of the darkest times I’ll ever go through (I’ll never quite know for sure). I came home and for the first time in years I just sat on my bed, crying and praying to God to bring me that person. Cue American Idol. Cue this woman who was singing “There Will Come a Day” so beautifully that she made me believe it and want to change. I know that happened for a reason, I know that Melinda is my person. After that things changed…they were not perfect, but I was a changed person. My faith opened back up (ha!); I was holding God highest in my heart and mind once again.
For the next year or so, I found myself slowly coming back to the person I once was, but I never felt completely fulfilled. There always seemed to be something missing. It turns out it was my high anxiety that was holding me back from many wonderful opportunities to grow in faith. I was determined to make my senior year different, to become more involved and to continue to grow. I saw Melinda the day before I started classes, and she hugged me so tight and told me to be myself, not be afraid, and go after every opportunity. That was quite a blessing and I know the Holy Spirit was working through her to share those words with me. During that fall I was able to connect with Mandisa and ask for her advice on faith and food addiction. Her words of wisdom have helped me in more ways than I could possibly imagine, she particularly encouraged me to attend a retreat for my local Church. Although I was terrified, I went to get over my anxiety. It was a big step for me and I had several people praying for me over the weekend, including Mandisa. The next few months I continued to foster a stronger, loving relationship with God by recognizing my struggles with anxiety and food. Once I could grasp that I had been filling holes in my life with items other than God, I could learn to grow from that.
Toward the end of my senior year, I was at a total loss of what I wanted to accomplish once I graduated from Western. I knew that it would be something where I could help people, as that has always been my passion. Mercy Volunteer Corps landed in my lap and it is the greatest decision- it is going to allow for me to grow spiritually and mentally while serving the poor and marginalized.
So that’s my faith story. A long and winding road that has lead me to be a stronger person who cares compassionately for others and loves God. I speak openly with God and thirst for more knowledge.
I know this is already long (let’s count how many times I’ve ever said that) but before I end I want to share some pieces of advice/words of wisdom I have received from others on faith.
“You are a result of God’s friendship. Affirm God’s presence in you by loving yourself!”- Monica
“You should be confident of your abilities, but a little afraid so that you want to learn. You should be independent, but not alone. You should have faith in God, but also faith in yourself that you can affect change. You should be cautious, but you should love”-Dad
“Open your heart to receive the tremendous blessings that the Lord would like to bestow on you, and right now at this moment think of one blessing that you offer the world”.- Miss Buckley
“Seek God in yourself and when you do, you can find Him in others”. - Kristin
“I think that God has paved a journey for us and we make the decision to follow it…but He’ll always steer us in the right direction”- Alicia
-Anything and everything that Mandisa and Melinda have ever told me about God. If I were to start quoting I would not stop.
Cookie if you read that :-)