Sister M. Ignatia
"Be not afraid" ...to catch fire
What are you afraid of? You are only about to embark on the greatest, most life-giving, paradoxical journey you could ever imagine. Are you ready?
Ok, so maybe not quite yet, but you are thinking about it. What would happen if I really let go and let God lead me? Am I that brave? Do I have faith like that?
“Be not afraid, be not afraid to be the Saints of the New millennium!” These were the words of now Pope St. John Paul II, while he was still in the flesh. These were the words spoken to thousands, if not millions of my closest friends, in Rome at the festivities of World Youth Day during the great Jubilee Year—2000. (Yes, so now I am aging myself a little bit, but we were all young once and our story has to start somewhere.)
I was a very typical Midwestern kid, growing up in a small (pop. less than 1,000) town in southern Nebraska with my parents, 4 siblings, dog, cat, hamster, fish and various other critters that would meander around the house and garden. I didn’t have any inclination to become a religious as I was growing up. I attended a public school, was aware of religious sisters, mostly during one week in the summer when they would come to my parish and teach us summer CCD. I don’t remember thinking too much about them except they were a lot of fun and smiled a lot.
I was a very active kid, involved in sports, drama, 4H, music, camping, canoeing, and really anything that was outdoors. I dreamt of being a journalist or flight attendant when I grew up. I loved to write, create stories, participate in plays, travel and try new things. I also knew from a very young age that God was real and was with me. That doesn’t mean I did get in trouble and make bad choices at times, but looking back, I can see that He was protecting me and saving me for something great.
When I was 15 I learned about an opportunity to go to Italy for 2 weeks, touring multiple cities and having an experience of a lifetime, (my life thus far anyway). I told my parents and they, being the supportive and independent minded parents they are, said, “OK, but you need to work to make this happen.” So I worked and saved and a year later found myself crossing the great pond on an airplane full of other kids bound for Italy. I didn’t have any great expectations of that trip, I just knew I was traveling and was going to experience something AWESOME. Little did I know what God had in store for me.
If you have never been to a World Youth Day celebration I highly recommend it. You travel with a bunch of people, to a distance and sometimes exotic land, experiencing the culture of the country and most importantly the universality of our Catholic faith. It is truly One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, lived out in a multiplicity of ethnicities and languages, and yet we all understand this One thing—the Church.
So now back to the beginning, here I am in a large crowd, streaming from all over the globe waiting to hear this saint on earth speak to us—and he did. When JPII spoke these words, “Be not afraid to be the saints of the New Millennium,” it was as if he were speaking directly to me, directly to my own heart. He answered the questions, fears, concerns, and confusions that a 16-year-old carries around inside of them. What am I supposed to do with my life, how do I achieve this greatness that I long for, what really will fulfill the desires of my heart? And in that moment he lit the fire that had been kindling deep inside of me for a long time. I am called to greatness, I am called to love and be loved, I can set the world on fire—but not through my own power and not for the furtherance of my own ego. This greatness, love and fire is from a Great Loving Fire that will consume and purify everything, and when you really catch this fire, it is irresistible.
So are you ready now? Don’t be afraid, you are putting your life in the hands a good God. In the words of C.S. Lewis when speaking of Aslan, he isn’t tame and safe, but he is good. Our God isn’t tame and safe in the way that we think of control and predictability, but all that He does is good, it is very good. So don’t be afraid, our world needs you, be caught in this fire.