“I feel like I’m in hell.” During times of intense suffering, it is not uncommon…
I have lately been contemplating this concept of invitation. When I think back to my childhood… a childhood which was without any formal religion, any sort of prayer life or any familial teachings in the way of Christ, I am in almost disbelief that I am even here today, in this life that I lead with Jesus in the center. I believe that I am a walking, talking testimony to the blessings of a simple invitation. I know that the invitation was only the beginning and that there were a whole host of souls who prayed for me, for my conversion and for my salvation… and probably still are! However, it was that one simple invitation, offered to me at a young age, which was the grace-filled hinge which has brought me into the fullness of God’s love.
Growing up, I can honestly say that I was very loved. I was baptized in the Methodist Church at the age of three, but other than that, I did not have any other religious teaching or spiritual influence. When I was in middle school, I had a neighbor who had a lot of children – like 7 or 8…many more than my household of 2! Every Sunday, she would pile her children into her Volkswagen van and they would head to the non-denominational church in our town for Sunday School and worship. I used to go to her house after school sometimes while my mom worked and one day, she invited me to come along with them. So I courageously said yes! That Sunday, she pulled up to my mailbox, I jumped into the van and off we went. We arrived to a bustling church, filled with all different people – moms, babies, dads, kids, teenagers. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, so I just followed my friend and we headed downstairs to the Sunday School area. I remember learning about a book that God wrote which was big and had super small print. We sang songs about that book and I learned a catchy tune about the first five books… “First Genesis, second Exodus, third Leviticus, fourth Numbers and the fifth is Deuteronomy the last of them all…” To this day, I still sing that tune when I want to remember the Books of Moses. I had no idea that all these years later, I would be so in love with this book – God’s love letter to me!
I continued to attend those services off and on for a few years until it was no longer “cool” to attend things with your grown up chaperones, but I am convinced that the seed was planted. That invitation had served to help my little mustard seed sprout some loose roots. When I was in college, I met my first Catholic. I had never known a Catholic. I had no idea what that meant or what his invitation to me to “come to Mass with him” would eventually lead to, but again, I courageously said yes. I attended a Mass on campus, but I honestly do not remember much about it. What I do remember, was feeling confused, strangely out of place, but somehow very peaceful and calm. I watched the boy… stood when he stood, knelt when he knelt, and tried to follow in the book that I was given when I entered. I was completely lost, but I didn’t seem to care. I remember being lost in the beauty of the man at the front leading the people in prayer to God. I left and hoped to be invited again. That invitation served to heighten my desire for more of God.
After college, I enrolled in the Christian Initiation of Adults group. Sister Eleanor Cecilia invited me to join her weekly at Mass and she was patient, kind, giving and instructional and over the course of 9 months, I attended classes as well as Mass and came to know that God loved me as His child and that He was inviting me into a deeper relationship with Him. Through the sacraments of Reconciliation, Confirmation and First Holy Communion, I was invited to be in full communion with the Catholic Church. What a glorious day it was – a true gift from God! As I thought back to that first simple invitation to come and meet Jesus, I could never have imagined that I would be where I was, in the sanctuary of Nativity BVM Church, to receive Him in the Eucharist. Little did I know, the invitations had only just begun.
Since that wonderful day in 1992, Jesus has continued to invite me into deeper relationship with Him. Through the Sacrament of Marriage to my husband, He has invited me to be united to Him in a spousal union; through the blessing of motherhood in the birth of my four children, He has invited me to be selfless and totally giving of myself for the goodness and salvation of my family; in response to the call to grow in my education, He has invited me to profess more fervently His teachings and to pastorally educate those who are in need; in the vocation as daughter, He has strengthened me to invite my parents and family members to know Him more fully. Every day, He invites me to step out in faith and to be the Face of Christ to all those I encounter.
I trust that Jesus provides in His call to me. As the saying goes, He doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. I am totally UN-equipped for this mission, but I know and trust that He will grace me for what He has called me to do. “He has done great things for me and holy is His Name.” By a simple invitation, we all have the opportunity to walk hand-in-hand with one another as we grow in friendship and love of Christ. He desires that we are all at the Great Banquet and He has shown me over and over again that there is power in that invitation. Now, I must go out and boldly do for others what Christ has done for me. Pray God, I will continue to grow in the courage to follow that beautiful invitation.
Copyright 2023 – Nicky Verna