I am what many would call a “cradle Catholic,” which means I was born and raised in the Faith. (More specifically, I am Byzantine Catholic, worshipping in one of the 21 Eastern Churches in communion with Rome.) My parents took my brother and me to church from the time we were babies, taught us our prayers, and showed us what it means to love God – and to be loved by Him. Like many young adults, I experienced a time of questioning, rebellion, and just plain laziness. Over several years, having found nothing in the world (or within my own self-centeredness) that satisfied, I turned my attention once again to God: that loving Father and merciful Savior to whom my parents had first introduced me. He was always there, patiently waiting for me, and ready to embrace me when I finally shook off the burdens of self-reliance and sought Him once again. Thus began for me a period of slow, steady and powerful conversion, by which God broke open my heart and restored my memory of Him as the One who loves and understands me more than anyone ever could.
The road of conversion is not easy and I am fairly block-headed (I’m speaking in the present tense because conversion is never just an event in the past, but an on-going process). During that initial stirring in my heart, I went on my very first retreat. Every woman there testified to her relationship with God and how He “speaks” to her. Their eyes shone as they recounted stories of opening the Bible to the exact verse that was an answer to their prayers. Whoa. I shyly admitted that God doesn’t speak to me. Ever. But the women all laughed and assured me that He does. “No,” I said pleadingly. “Not a word, or a whisper or a peep. God doesn’t talk to me!” I remember how the women stumbled over their words as they said, “Don’t worry dear. I’m sure He will….” Their quiet comfort was equivalent to being chosen last for a dodge ball team on the playground, but only because the teacher told the other kids they had to take me.
I resigned myself to the fact that God just doesn’t want to talk to me; not because He doesn’t have anything interesting to say, but because I was of no real interest to Him. Several months after that retreat experience I began discerning whether to apply to grad school to study theology. Having never taken a philosophy or theology course in my life, I became convinced this thought was the product of my new-found “religious zeal,” some fantasy I’d dreamed up. God could not possibly be asking me to do this; after all, it’s not like He told me to do it! One day, driving on a winding country road, I came upon an old church with a sign board outside of it. It held the usual information: the pastor’s name and service times. But in the center of the sign was a simple, yet profound message: God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called. In that moment, I knew for sure that God was speaking to me! In the midst of my discernment and doubt, God had placed the words I needed to hear right in front of me. Now, I could see it.
All of this is ultimately not about me, or about the cleverness of Protestant pastors and their sign boards, or God’s sense of humor. Rather, it’s about noticing the signs in your life: the words, the subtle messages, and the stirring of God in your own soul. Those women were right. God did speak to me, all the time. I was either not listening or not open to receiving Him in the unexpected. It took a literal sign outside of an old Protestant church on a country road to wake me up.
Today in the Eastern Churches (Catholic and Orthodox) we celebrate the leave-taking of the Feast of Theophany – the Baptism of the Lord. Theophany, means a manifestation of God (a sign of His presence), and at the Jordan on that day God spoke loudly and clearly: After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Mt. 3:16-17. Sometimes God makes a big statement because what He has to say is too important to be subtle. Sometimes it’s because we’re too thick-headed to get it otherwise. Most of the time, though, God speaks to us in ways that are unexpected, and designed to take us out of our comfort zone, our laziness, and our self-centeredness. He speaks through other people (friends and enemies alike); through books, music, art, the Liturgy, and even church sign boards. The point is He is speaking to you. God loves you with an intense and enduring love, and He has powerful, important and loving words for you. Friends, family members, people who love each other speak to each other; but they also have to listen. TODAY, open your heart to the signs of your times, and receive the signs and wonders He desires to share with you.
“Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Sam 3:10
Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.