By Carolyn Shields, on her day off
It begins with an invitation, and all of the saints also probably once said, “Are you sure? Are you sure you want me?” Though St. Joan probably wasn't frustrated enough with Him to tag on, “Gosh, this is so stupid” as she fastened that sword for the first time.
But His answer to each and every one of them, His answer to us, is always the same: a resounding yes.
“Yes. I want you. I want all of your brokenness. I want the heart you threw away. I want your inefficiencies. I want your inadequacies. I want your doubts. Let me work miracles within you. I want all of you.”
And that moment in the chapel, or in your car, or on your bed at 4a.m, when you finally consent…it begins in that moment when you get over your littleness, your perplexed bafflement that your empty vessel of a body is going to harbor the Host, and that you will act as a channel for Him to work. It begins in that moment when you let go. Begrudgingly, fully, hesitatingly, bewilderingly…
Because you’re right: you are just you. So let Him use you, let Him fill you, and if you’re empty, all the better. The Blessed Mother was bewildered too, but it’s not about how you say yes, it’s that you do.
But then He will use you, and God will it hurt. The Blessed Mother’s life was simplistically beautiful before she offered her fiat, when her womb was empty, before she became full of grace. Saying yes wasn’t necessarily the hard part for her, it was carrying out her word, day by day. It was after she offered her yes that she was faced with trials: her engagement was threatened, a desperate flight to Egypt, and following her Son to a bloody fate.
He might even have to break you at first, and if you’re stubborn like me and hesitant to trust, He might have to break you several times. And you’ll begin to wonder if it’s worth it. You might look at the crucifix, question it and beg for a floodlight to illuminate the way instead of the lamplight He’s casting at your feet (Psalm 119:105).
So you stop walking, just five steps in.
And He will have to break you again.
But you choose to stand back up because you gave your word, and He beckons. “Use me,” you pray through gritted teeth. “Go ahead and break through me, even when you have to break me.”
You walk on, but now He’s given you a cross to drag behind you. Splinters splay from it and it’s too heavy to carry on your back. It slows you down and sometimes His presence seems to leave and all you can hear is the hauling of your cross. You may feel as if you’re addressing an empty void or even abandoned in some dark valleys, but you feel Him working within you, shifting and crafting and making new. You clutch at your heart and gasp because it’s changing, and because of that, you know you are not alone.
The farther along you go, the farther you lose yourself. The woman who was once a barista, the hipster, the blogger, the dance instructor, the procrastinating grad student…she’s in the past. You glance to your right and your left and see the martyrs have become your companions, those whose glory, whose legacies, have eclipsed their humble beginnings.
Rahab left her prostitute ways behind her, back where you deserted your old way of life as well. Her resurrection, as we know, was assisting the Israelites in capturing Jericho.
Joseph left his father behind and his spiteful brothers who sold him into slavery...and rose to become pharaoh.
Paul, the tent maker and murderer became the greatest apostle. Moses, the stuttering liberator. Mary Magdalen, prostitute turned saint. Mary, this fourteen year old virgin mother.
“We are the Messiah’s misfits,” claims 1 Corinthians 4:10, and He calls the ordinary to do great things. Our Holy uses the inadequate, the poor in spirit, those who are lacking, deficient, whose odds are against them. Get it? Those who are empty, just like the Blessed Mother. Those are the ones called to rise.
The average in you will recoil. So He breaks you again. He believes in you when you don’t. He sees something in you that you don’t. But so does the Fallen, and he’s always at your elbow, and his sirens make you collapse on your knees a third time.
You make coffee for a living? Who are you to address thousands about their worth when you know you are worthless? Who are you to walk where they’ve trodden? Who are you to deserve that man’s love? Who are you to take the risks? You are nothing. You are only you.
But His silence speaks louder. So you rise, stronger.
There’s a crucified love ahead and you can’t see past it. And it doesn’t even end at that because if you follow Him, that means all the way to the Resurrection, hiding somewhere behind the crucifixion. But first you’ll plunge to hell with Him…and you thought the dark valleys were hard?
Wipe the sweat from your brow. You're almost there, darling.
You’ve been following the others. They’ve gone before you. They’ve shown you the way. You can do this.
But the fear draws breath as you stand on the threshold of Golgotha. It would take divinity to ascend. You look up at Him. Always at your side. Through it all. You say one more time, “I’m just me.”
The first step. His hand on your shoulder stops you.
He takes your cross, heaves it across His shoulders and grunts. He adjusts the weight. He steps before you, sets His jaw and says, “I am.”