So here is how God works in my life...
I'm at the Amazing Parish Conference, in Denver CO. It's really... amazing. Great information at a breakneck pace (plus minor jetlag)- really wonderful speakers, courageous ideas, inspiring stories, and space to discuss and work things out together. I'm here representing my Catholic Community, and blessedly, Scott is here representing his parish. There is a group from another Boston parish and then a handful of Archdiocesan folks. Tonight, after the longest, fullest day, we sat down to dinner with the AD people and had a really nice conversation. Somewhere in there, I found that one of them had made (lived?) a SEARCH retreat in high school, just like I had, and we agreed that it had been a life-changer for both of us.
Search changed my life and made me a minister. It was at Search that I heard my calling. It was at Search that I realized for the first time that God even had a calling for me- that such a thing could even be possible. It changed everything.
After dinner, I approached this fellow Search-er and asked, do you know what number your Search was? He said that in Providence, where he'd lived it, they didn't really do the number thing. I told him mine was Search 92, and the date was 3-16-86... a date that I think I will always remember (they gave us a little wooden cross with the date carved in, and I can't tell you how many times I traced those numbers with my fingertip... I remember that it was carved in straight lines, and that if I touched each vertical line of that date, it was 13 beats- in my head I'd sing along: "know-ing-that-I-love-and-serve-you-is-e-nough-re-ward").
Next we heard from a speaker who lead us in a little Lectio Divina about John 1:39, where the Gospel writer mentions the time of day that something happened. Long story short, the speaker said that the writer mentioned the time of day because for this writer, this was the moment- the moment that the Gospel writer really encountered Christ. It was the moment his life had changed because he had met Jesus.
He asked, "when was your 4:00?"
And I, tired and overwhelmed, started to cry- because, I know when my 4:00 was- it's a number and date that mean nothing to anyone but me (and maybe the people who lived Search that weekend with me). 3/16/1986, Search 92. Like the Gospel writer, I've had other encounters with Jesus, some even more mind-blowing and heart-wrenching. But it was there, in Alfred Maine in March, surrounded by melting snow and strangers who had become family, that was the Big One, the one that changed everything.
As if this wasn't enough affirmation for my soul, music followed the speaker- Matt Maher, a big deal Catholic musician. He has lots of Catholic hits, and is really really good. But woah- in between his songs, he launched into one that felt like a telegram from God to me. It was "Here I Am, Lord." This song- no one sings this song anymore, especially not hip young Catholic musicians. But this song- this song was sung at the closing Mass of my Search weekend. And in that song, in that Mass, on March 16th, I prayed that song with all my heart- sobbing like tonight- and it was in that song that I heard my calling, and in praying that song, that I said "Yes."
I speak to ministers about being called- I tell them that when we say yes to a calling, we are really saying yes to answering the Red Phone from Heaven over and over and over through our lifetimes (the ministry I'm doing now is not the ministry I thought I was saying "yes" to in 1986). But what I also know about saying "yes" to God is that it also gets us a lifetime of saying to God "is this it? Is this what you want me to be doing? Am I doing your will?" And sometimes, the answer comes through, clear as a bell. At least, that's how God works in my life.