(Continued from Part 1)
This priest’s pointed question made me stop and reflect on something that I have previously overlooked: the reality of spiritual fatherhood. I needed a spiritual father to love me in a way that would reflect the love of God the Father. Over the years in college, that is exactly what happened. This reflection of God’s love led me to get more involved in the campus ministry programs at UF, especially with retreat ministry. People told me I was a natural in working with people on these retreats, which then led me to continue my education at UF in the highly-ranked Counselor Education program.
Right before my graduate classes started, I finished reading the first spiritual book I ever read: Divine Mercy in my Soul by St. Faustina. That book helped me see Jesus in a completely different light and I even entertained the thought of religious life, but I quickly suppressed the thought and focused on my classes. Many of my classes had us write reflection papers and many of my reflection papers mentioned God. A friend of mine who was also in the same program as me strongly encouraged me to start going to daily Mass, something I was not accustomed to doing. I noticed that the days where I either did not pray or go to Mass, I would feel really “weird”. I was becoming different, yet, I felt like I was becoming more myself than I ever have been before.
My spiritual father also became my spiritual director after much prompting from a friend of mine. My spiritual father was one of the first people to notice the very rapid change that was taking place in me. I became defensive every time he alluded to religious life because I did not understand what religious life was about. I thought the women who became nuns could not get married and that was a backup plan. I would often use my new counselor skills against him as if we were in some wizard duel whenever he brought up things I did not want to talk about, especially the family “stuff” and religious life. It was very easy for me to love and to help my spiritual father, but it was extremely hard for me to let him love me and help me. Similarly, it was very hard for me to accept God’s love.
There were many walls surrounding my heart that I did not realize were there until my spiritual father asked me what the deepest desire of my heart was. I could not answer his question. I had no idea. No one has ever asked me a question like that before.
My classes were becoming intense and emotionally exhausting and I knew that the only thing that would keep me going was daily Mass. I also started doing holy hours without knowing I was doing holy hours! People would ask me how I could sit and “do nothing” for an hour in the church. For them, holy hours included journaling and reading. It was difficult to explain what was going on in me. All I knew was that I needed to be around the Eucharist in order to do anything. I also began to realize that the more I went to Mass and “sat” with Jesus, the more I wanted to love people. My spiritual father even said to me one day, “you love as easily as birds are put to wing.”
What my spiritual father said to me affected me greatly, but I still didn’t know what the deepest desire of my heart was! At least, I couldn’t put it into words. Let me share some insight from my friend, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented…Love grows through love. Love is “divine because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until the end when God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). (DC 14,18)
The summer after my first year of grad school, I was invited on a women’s weekend silent retreat (something I have never done before). I felt like I really needed to go, so I went. On Saturday night of this retreat there was a Eucharistic healing procession. I was reflecting on what the deepest desire of my heart could be and suddenly a question popped in my head: “What do you want?” I answered, “love.” Another question followed the first, “And WHO is love?” I replied, “God is love.” Something clicked within me, like a key unlocking a door. I suddenly realized the deepest desire of my heart was God because He IS love!
He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has “loved us first”, love can blossom as a response within us. (Benedict XVI, DC 17)
I was in shock. Then I felt someone put a blanket on me, but when I looked over my shoulder, there was no blanket. Then I heard a woman’s voice say, “Look at Him,” and I immediately looked at Jesus in the monstrance.
To be continued….