This week I'm running a series, For the Love of the Church, written by my friend Jacob Boddicker, SJ.
Jacob is a Jesuit scholastic originally from Iowa, and is currently studying at the Jesuit School of Theology in preparation for ordination. He has an academic background in archaeology, history, and philosophy, and his interests include music, science fiction/fantasy, and writing.
Make sure to check out:
In the fall of my first year at the University of Northern Iowa, my girlfriend broke up with me, the one who was occupying the heart the Church so wanted to move into. The ending of that relationship left a far bigger hole in my life than I ever realized, and it also awakened me to the realization that I really had no idea what to do with my life. Sure I was studying history; what was I going to do with it? Is history what I really wanted to give my life to? Who knows what I should do?
Well, I thought, God knows. I just gotta ask Him...and listen...but I don't know how. As I searched through the dusty archives of church-stuff there in the back of my mind's closet, I came on a small relic of a thought: the rosary. I'd never learned how to pray it, but I always carried one in my pocket because I'd joined the Knights of Columbus my freshman year out in Wyoming. I knew which beads were Our Fathers and which were Hail Marys and that was it, and I trusted that this would be good enough for God. So I prayed the rosary that way in every spare moment I had.
In the days to come my heart would grow more and more fond of another young lady who lived in my building, a young lady who loved Jesus and knew Him as I realized I did not, and my desire to love her and know Him intertwined. I saw the errors I'd made in my past relationship, and brought many a matter to confession for the first time in many months, and there the Church was to wipe the dirt from my face, wash my muddy feet, and put me in a clean suit. As a my love for this woman grew and as the Church went about her healing work in me, the Bride of Christ pulled a fast one on me--watch out! She's a wily one!--and knocked me right off my horse.
One afternoon while watching this young woman bake Christmas cookies, I was left to myself, guarding her cooking supplies in the dorm lounge while she went about delivering the latest batch. Having nothing else to do, I prayed my rosary, and it was during this that I first really "met" God. It was terrifying; I did not understand what was happening. When my friend returned she listened patiently as I tried to talk about what happened, but it was the priest at the Student Center the next day that provided the guidance I needed to to begin understanding. "Sounds to me like God is trying to get your attention; keep praying, and don't change everything except to tell Him that you are listening." So I did, and a month later I found myself in the basement of the church building sitting with an RCIA candidate, listening to a university professor give a one-hour lecture on the history of the Church. I can't imagine the Bride's excitement as this professor made his grandiose introduction of her to me, and how her eyes lit up when he mentioned--in the briefest detail--the Jesuits. It must have been her hand on my shoulder that send chills up my spine at the sound of my future order's name, because I knew in that instant I had to find out more. The more I read and the more I prayed, the more I realized that God was asking me to to trust Him and to take the next step.
To what? I honestly didn't know: my concept of religious life was limited to Friar Tuck and the Sound of Music. But every time I asked God what He wanted me to do I felt like He was constantly saying, "Jacob, do you trust Me?" And I would say, "Yes, Lord! I trust you; tell me what you want." "I want you to trust me." "Yes, Lord, I trust you! What do you want?" Over and over and over...I just didn't get it. My heart was torn between pursuing this amazing young woman, or pursuing the Jesuits; God just wanted me to make a choice. In my ignorance I saw it as a choice between marriage and family--something I fiercely desired and had since a very young age--and Jesuit priesthood, which was something I still knew little about save from what I had read.
As many who have heard my story know, events would unfold to clarify this cloudy situation, and it was again that cradle-robbing, stalker-esque, Bride of Christ that was just waiting for an inroad into my heart. While I languished in the pit of the greatest heartbreak I had ever known, it was the Church that brought me comfort in the counsel of my priest, the nourishment of the Eucharist and the rock-steady presence of Christ in the tabernacle. It was she who invited me to sing in the choir, in which I would be encouraged to audition for the university chorus, at which I met Dr.Nicole Lamartine who would, in her unforeseen way, be the one through whom God would assure me it was time to apply to the Order. The Church was so crafty about it all, knowing the delicacy of my heart at this time, knowing my desires and hopes and dreams and not wishing to tread upon a single one of them. She knew what she wanted: she wanted me, and come hell or high water--none of which concerned her one big, standing dry-shod on the indomitable Rock of Peter--she was going to get me.
I was accepted, said my goodbyes to possessions and people alike, and entered the novitiate, utterly clueless as to what God was going to make of all this. And there the Church continued to wait in the wings, along the walls, in the quiet, calling no attention to herself, with the patience of two millennia and the wisdom of ages as she and her Lord worked on my whole person. Did I want to be a priest? I wasn't sure; I only knew that I wanted to love with my whole life and I wanted to do God's will. But the Church knew what she wanted, and I couldn't possibly have foreseen how she'd go about getting it.
Check back tomorrow for Day Four: Both/And
If you missed the first installments, pop over to read: