Seventh Sunday of Easter
"I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you gave me is from you..." (Jn. 17:1-11)
Today, we have a lot of ways to receive communication from loved ones, friends, employers, bill collectors, and just about anyone else who needs to reach us for something. People can send a snail mail letter, text, email, instant message us on social media, or even, dare I say, pick up the phone and call us. Now, I would be lying if I said I enjoy making or answering phone calls because I do not, but sometimes I just get a feeling when the phone rings that I have to pick up because the person on the other end needs to speak with me urgently. That is what happened to me last year, I finally answered God's call to join the Catholic church, and I could not be happier that I finally decided to pick up the proverbial phone.
Around five years ago, I started getting the feeling that there was something on the horizon, that a change was coming to my life, more specifically, my spiritual life. I thought my disillusionment with organized religion had finally taken its toll on my mental, emotional, and psychological health and that I would be parting ways with this institution where I had grown up. I had already long since stopped attending the church to which I belonged, not because there was anything wrong with the church, but because I felt as though I did not belong. But, around that time, there were a lot of instances of what psychiatrist Carl Jung would call synchronicities happening in my life. I now know that these were the work of the Holy Spirit, getting me ready to answer God's call. And as much as I tried interpreting my restlessness as a desire to part ways with Christianity (but not God), God had a different idea. Like we learn in Romans, "...for those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God..." (Rm: 8:14). God knew I was His child and wanted better for me than the path I was choosing and so the work of the Holy Spirit began.
So, what were these synchronicities? As far back as 2010, I began working for a local Catholic hospital as a speech-language pathologist. It was the first time I had ever worked in a religious institution. I would hear the morning prayers, see the priests and nuns walking around the halls praying with patients and their families, and see religious iconography scattered throughout the hospital. While, at the time, this did not mean much to me, I did take notice and began to think more about spirituality, faith, and religion in the presence of everyday life. Prior to that, religion was something that existed on Sundays and my faith was something that lived in a separate space in my mind from all my other activities.
Pan ahead a few years, I found myself working in a Jesuit Catholic university as a professor. And again, I was surrounded by Catholic images, people, and ways of being. I met a wonderful woman, Mary, who, even before I thought about becoming Catholic, I would look to as a symbol of God's love because of her grace, service-minded ways, empathy, and kindness. Little did I know that my friendship with Mary would become something much greater, as she would later be my RCIA sponsor and now my friend as we both are in the discernment process to become affiliates of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA), Sr. Thea Bowman (my confirmation name) order. I guess as we see in Romans 8: 28, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose," I was being called to be around people and places that would eventually help me answer God's call. It was also during this time that I found myself more compelled to participate in the services, opportunities for learning, and prayers.
Around 2017 I was tapped by both the president of our university and the director of mission and ministry at the time to participate in a program called the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP). ICP was meant to help people in Jesuit, Catholic higher education, regardless of faith background, learn more about Jesuit education and Ignatian spirituality so that they could continue the legacy of this educational tradition, especially as the number of Jesuits continued (and continues) to decline. I remember being very apprehensive about joining the program, thinking why me? Why now? But I, at the same time, had this strong draw to the program which included things like an immersion trip, participating in a community, a lot of reading, and a project. After wise counsel from my mother, who said, "Shatonda, they are giving you this opportunity for a reason," I decided to join the program. I feel like the experience was God dialing my phone number, so to speak. I was absolutely transformed. I remember a priest I regard as a soul friend, Fr. John Staudenmaier, saying to all the participants, "you will know you have arrived if you leave a bit sad." Well arrived, I did. I graduated from the program feeling like I was forever changed. I recognized God's presence in the ordinary in many new and different ways. I finally understood that spirituality and faith permeate every facet of our being. I also decided to enter into more focused prayer and initiate a period of reflection and discernment to decide what all of this meant in my life.
Deacon Lex Ferrauiola of The Catholic Community of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (2021) suggests that "coincidences that we experience as if God were winking at us, trying to get our attention, telling us that he is with us through all things, and pointing the way to wholeness." I kind of think that God, for years, has tried to contact me via proverbial snail mail, email, and text through the various contacts I have had with the Catholic church. I finally received the "phone" call in September 2022 when I discerned that it was time for me to join the church. I was initially nervous but found such a wonderful home with the people of my parish who have been with me every step of this journey. From my RCIA director Mariann's amazing lessons that challenged me, to my pastor Fr. Caime's encouragement, to my sponsor Mary's abundant support and love, to blessings and prayers from my family, to the smiles, hugs, and kudos from members of my parish, St. Francis Xavier Church in Kansas City, I could not have asked for a more filling experience. I have found my way back home thanks to God calling me.
Author: Shatonda S. Jones, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, CBIST