Weeks away from the start of my Senior year of college, I found myself on a two-week-long pilgrimage traveling throughout Poland with thirty-five other women, five Sisters of Life, and a chaplain. While everyone did their obligatory introduction of where they were from, what they study, what their occupation is, I expected to use my usual spiel from syllabus week—name, major, and year in school. However, this introduction had a follow-up question: Why are you on this pilgrimage?
Unbeknownst to me, this trip was much needed as it was wedged in the middle of a period of confusion and discouragement. That summer, my zeal that I had for my vocation to teach theology and work in ministry was riddled with thoughts of doubt and fear. I came up with a myriad of copouts and alternate career paths in an attempt to grasp at stability and comfort, convinced by the lies that ministry and teaching were not stable nor respectable.
As these thoughts consumed my prayer during our first few days in Warsaw, I vowed to put them on the back burner in an effort to enjoy my time on the trip. However, the Lord made it apparent that the conversation was not over.
The first #signofgrace was in Krakow at daily Mass in the Archbishop’s Palace where St. John Paul II celebrated mass and lived in for part of his life as a young seminarian and later as the Archbishop of Krakow. The gospel was from Matthew 10—the commissioning of the twelve and Jesus warnings of coming persecutions. While I sat and contemplated Jesus’ forewarning in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves,” I knew that the Lord was speaking this encouragement into my heart. I felt as if my fear and doubt were valid and I was not wrong for thinking that the world would reject me. Jesus himself said it: we are vulnerable sheep preyed on by wolves that delight in our failures and shortcomings.
What, or should I say, Who protects and guides us from these wolves? Our Good Shepherd.
The second #signofgrace came abruptly in the Universal Prayer, where we prayed for the usual intentions that we often hear at mass that are relevant to things that are going on in our world and in our Church. Oddly, those intentions were followed by one that I heard loud and clear—for theology teachers. Taken aback, I was confused as to why this intention was thrown in the list as I have never heard this intention prayed for in the Universal Prayer. Nonetheless, that was confirmation #2. I asked Father after mass why he mentioned that intention, and he attributed it to a prompting of the Spirit, not knowing why he felt the need to say it. It was as if the Lord took his elbow and nudged me, ensuring me that I am not in this mission alone—He is my Good Shepherd and I will be protected if I heed His voice.
Finally, as I touched my rosary to the original tombstone of St. John Paul II and a relic of his blood, recalled these two signs of grace, and thanked God for His gentle encouragement later the next day at the Be Not Afraid Shrine in Krakow, I felt the Lord open the floodgates of hope as He restored my conviction for my mission one hundred-fold. These powerful words by St. John Paul II resounded in my heart:
“I plead with you--never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”
Be not afraid, friends. The Lord will fight for us, we need only be still (Exodus 14:14). He is our Good Shepherd who has called us by name to do great things for his glory. Just as the Lord restored my hope in my calling through the intercession of St. John Paul II, He wants to do the same for you so you can be who He created you to be—a saint.
St. John Paul II, pray for us.