My “Testimony of Faith” – as delivered at the “Discovering Christ” series in Lent 2016 at St. Bonaventure Parish.
I am Maureen Kennedy Macel. I grew up in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and when I got married 6 years ago I moved here to Shaler. For the first 3 years that I lived here I continued to go across town to mass at St. Bernard’s, but after having my daughter Nora 2 ½ years ago I started to look to establish roots on this side of town. I’m not sure why it has been so tough for me to do that, but it has.
I have been coming to St. Bonaventure’s off and on for the past 3 years but consistently for the last 1 year. Last Fall I participated in Discovering Christ and this year I am participating again but this time as a volunteer. I am grateful to Discovering Christ because it helped me find that sense of community and connection that I had been searching for. And I am here today because I want to share with you some “highlights” from my faith journey…
I am the 3rd oldest of 9 kids – 4 girls, 5 boys. I grew up poor; on food stamps. Very dependent on the generosity of the church and others. My mom always made it clear that if we had anything it was because God provided it. Every night dinner was like the miracle of the loaves & the fish (…except it was white bread and spaghetti).
One day when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade – so that means there were 6 of us kids – my mom told us that she didn’t know how we’d be able to have milk that day. After school, walking home with my siblings, we cut thru the car dealership lot near our house and I received a gentle command to “Look under the car”. I did. And what was there was a $5 bill. That is a moment that I have often looked back on – (1) to be able to recognize the Holy Spirit when I hear it and (2) when I need to remind myself that God always provides.
I have been blessed to know Jesus my whole life. God has often made it clear to me that He is here, with me every day. But what I haven’t always done is recognize Him working in my life. Now I have gone to mass and tried to live as I think Jesus would want me to live, but I have definitely done it with varying degrees of success and failure.
Every day He gives me opportunities to say “Yes” to Him and every day He challenges me to grow closer to Him. In my best moments I give that “Yes”. But in my weakest moments though I say “No”.
I’ve come to realize that Faith is lived every day – I can draw strength from my past relationship with God and I can draw strength from my hope in Him – but every day I have to actively choose God.
Now I am a very introverted, introspective person. I’d rather listen than talk. I’d rather sit and reflect and write up a reflection about something than jump into a discussion. And I’d rather be invisible to everyone than be noticed.
That’s important to note because: Right after college I was in a café eating lunch and there was a WWII vet and the Holy Spirit told me “Buy him his lunch.” I knew I should give God my “yes”. It was as clear as day that God called me to give Him my “yes” in that moment. But I was very overwhelmed by even the thought of having to do that, so instead I just sat there frozen with fear. Even though now I can see that it was such a little thing asked of me I did not buy him his lunch. It was painful to know what God asked of me but then not do it. But that moment of saying “No” though has greatly affected my life and gave me a mantra to live by – which is: “Dear God, please do not let me get in the way of me doing what you want me to do.”
So for 10 years I went along thinking I was doing a good job of giving God my “yes”, but then right before Lent last year my sister Bridgette encouraged me to write up a “Living the Faith” testimony. As I thought about writing it I encountered a problem – “Am I living the faith?” I didn’t know. That probably should have been an easy question to answer – Yes. No. Kind of? But I honestly did not know the answer. …Probably because at that point I had an 18-month old crazy toddler who had derailed my entire sense of who I was and how life was…
That simple question was the first challenge God gave me in a while to engage with Him more fully. Actually, Correction – That was the first time in awhile that I recognized God trying to get my attention to get me to engage with Him more fully.
It seemed fitting to get that prompt on the cusp of Lent – because it snapped me out of my inattention. It made me commit myself to “Do Lent” – pray, fast, give alms, spend more time listening for ways in which God might be calling me, and to reflect on how I really was living my faith. As I started to “Do Lent” I discovered just how desperately I needed it.
It made me realize that perhaps I was only giving God the yeses within my comfort zone instead of all the yeses He was asking me to give.
We each have a “faith journey” and mine has been that during the last year I have been drawn deeper and deeper into my love for God. Realizing that I hadn’t been following Him as completely as He wanted me to helped me to step back, see where and how I was failing, and so one “yes” at a time He has drawn me back to Him.
Also last Lent I was at a place where I had been starting to despair because my husband Ryan and I had been trying to conceive for 6 months. Now, given, that isn’t a terribly long time, but it felt long.
Lunchtime mass at St. Mary of Mercy downtown ended one day and I just stayed to pray because I knew I needed it – and I discovered that Fr. Joe Freedy was hearing confessions. I knelt there praying for what felt like forever being prompted to “Go to confession” but struggling with actually saying “yes” and getting up to get in line. Because I didn’t think I could face going to confession given where I was mentally and spiritually — which in looking back now I see it was the perfect time to go since God wanted to heal me and heal my relationship with Him. I made it into the line with 2 people to spare. I didn’t know what to say other than just say that I was there because God wanted me to be. And that confession was such a beautiful confession – because Father Joe knew what to say to draw it all out of me as he prayed for me and over me.
That strong moment of surrender – (1) left me in tears, but more importantly (2) it greatly changed my focus in my prayers. It had been all about what I wanted, and “God, you know what my heart desires. So why am I not pregnant?” To letting go of that despair and finding hope in more faithfully trusting that it really is “not in my time, but God’s time”; “not my will, but God’s will”. So every month that I continue to not be pregnant it hurts and is hard – because my personal desire has not changed. But it no longer weakens me spiritually because I have that faith and trust in Him.
By the end of Lent two things were clear: (1) God has been calling me to give Him my “Yes” in so many more ways than I have been noticing. Because as I say “Yes” more I have started to see more opportunities to give Him that “Yes”. And (2) He has been building me up because He is calling me to turn my personal inward journey more into an outward one. He still wants my personal journey, but He also wants me to serve Him beyond the bounds of what has been my comfort zone.
And so when Bridgette asked me to sing the Responsorial Psalm at her wedding this past October after a few weeks of wrestling with it it just became clear that the answer needed to be “Yes”. It wouldn’t matter if it sounded terrible or if I forgot the words – I was just called to do it for her out of love. The moment I called and told her that I would do it -the feeling is hard to describe, but I felt my heart rip open and the Holy Spirit rush completely in.
Up until that “Yes” I could feel my heart opening more and more to God, but that one completely lit it on fire. So now when it comes to doing things for God I have been freed from anxiety and self-consciousness – and instead my heart is just calm with a confidence in Him.
While I feel like I am now on fire with the Holy Spirit, it definitely has been a long, slow, painful process to get to that point – of succumbing my will to God’s will -of working to make straight His paths instead of asking Him to bend the road over to where I was.
But God keeps showing me that if I keep saying “Yes” to Him it is going to work out the way it is meant to. God doesn’t require that I understand it. He doesn’t promise what will happen is what I want to have happen. But He asks me to trust and follow Him. I just have to give the “Yes” and God does the rest.
So what have I learned? I have learned that (1) if I happen stop recognizing God in my life, God will pursue me until I see Him clearly, (2) every day God gives me opportunities to say “Yes” to Him, no matter how many times I may have said “No” to Him in the past, and (3) choosing God each day will build me up, grow my faith, and give me a beautiful life with Him.
So my challenge to you is to start saying “Yes” to God and just start listening for how He might be calling you. Because He is looking for your “yes” even in the simplest ways and the tiniest places. He wants all the “yeses” you are willing and able to give. And one “yes” at a time He will draw you closer and closer to Him.