My parents raised me and my sisters Catholic, so we went to Mass every Sunday and I went to CCD and received all my sacraments. I liked following rules and I was a “good Catholic”. I did everything I was supposed to do, but I didn’t have a relationship with God; I didn’t even know that was possible.
When I began my first semester of college, I wanted to live what I thought was a “normal college life”. I started going to parties every weekend, but I still went to Mass on Sunday, and I was also going to a weekly Christian Fellowship meeting. After a couple of months of living like this, I knew that I needed to make a choice in one direction or the other. I realized that my Christian friends had a joy and peace that I didn’t have and that my other friends didn’t have. I didn’t know where it came from but I knew that I wanted it.
They invited me to go on a mission trip with them for spring break, and it was during that week that I had my first encounter with Jesus. I heard the gospel for the first time in my life in a way that I understood, and I knew that Jesus died for me – not for “humanity”, but for me, personally. I knew that if He died for me, I wanted to live my life for Him. After that, the way I spent my time was different, my friends were different, even the way I dressed was different. After that encounter with Jesus I knew that I wanted to be a missionary. I didn’t actually know what a missionary was, but I could see all of the other students at my school who didn’t know God and who were living the same kind of life that I had been living. They were searching for happiness in the wrong places and coming up empty – and I wanted them to have what I had found.
A couple of years later I had the opportunity to go on a Life in the Spirit Seminar. It was there that I met other young Catholics who were alive in their faith and who had an authentic relationship with God. During adoration that weekend, I had an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist. After that retreat I knew that I wanted to be a missionary for the Catholic Church, which at the time I didn’t know existed.
The following year FOCUS – the Fellowship of Catholic University Students – came to my school. I knew right away that I was going to join FOCUS, and I served with them for 3 years after I graduated from college. Typically missionaries in FOCUS serve for a few years and then move on to their Vocation, but I wanted to be a FOCUS missionary forever – I wanted to live my whole life for God and to evangelize.
During my third year of FOCUS, I went on a mission trip to Mexico City to serve in a women’s shelter and I had a profound experience of seeing Jesus in another person – in someone who was totally helpless and who I couldn’t even communicate with. I experienced a joy that was different than anything I had before, in just being with the people that I was serving in Mexico.
I began to desire a more intense missionary life, which I thought meant going back to Mexico and leaving behind my family and everything about my life here in the US. Shortly after returning from Mexico, I left FOCUS and moved back home. My goal was to pay back my student loans as quickly as possible and find a missionary community in another country that lived with and served the poor.
The transition out of FOCUS was very difficult for me. I felt isolated and alone, not living with other missionaries, I didn’t want to be working in an office – I wanted to be living a radical missionary life in another country. Every missionary community that I found only offered an opportunity to go on a short-term mission – for two or three years – but nothing was forever, and I knew that being a missionary was my Vocation. I started to really question what I was doing with my life, why God would have brought me here, why He would have called me to leave my mission. I felt like I was never going to be able to pay back my student loans, and I hated getting up every day and going to work. Everything felt meaningless. I was so restless and I was searching everywhere for my place in the Church and wondering what the point of my life was. I felt so dissatisfied with every option I considered – nothing felt like it would be “enough”. I knew I needed to make a change, so I moved to Cambridge to be closer to the FOCUS missionaries who lived there, and to St Clement’s where I had met a lot of other young Catholics.
Just weeks after I moved to Cambridge I met the Shalom community. Through Shalom I have encountered Jesus in a new way. I am learning a new way of praying, and a new way of living missionary life. Now I am finding Jesus among the “pots and pans” of my daily life – my job, my time with my family and friends, and all of the things that I thought were ordinary and unexciting. On the outside everything might look the same, but for me everything is being made new because God is “resurrecting” every part of my life, and He is transforming me in the process.
I am learning that there are so many different ways to live missionary life and to live the Shalom charism. In Shalom there are missionaries who are doctors and lawyers and teachers, and also missionaries who work in ministry full-time. There are missionaries in all kinds of cultures, in different countries all over the world. There are missionaries who are married, who are consecrated singles (“celibates”) and who are priests.
Through Shalom I am discovering the way that God has chosen for me to offer my life to Him, and to live as a missionary. God “messed up” my plan to go to Mexico and to do something that I considered to be “radical” – but He’s filling my heart in a much deeper way by showing me that I can live the gospel radically in my daily life, and that it’s not about the external things. The adventure with Jesus is not “out there” somewhere, but it is in my relationship with Him, in saying “yes” to whatever He asks of me.