A Beacon of Light in the Darkness
I grew up in a family where any type of faith was not emphasized or taught to me. I never understood what it was like to have a deep relationship with God and a devout love of the Catholic faith. Like many sad pictures of the family in current society, my family was broken and had many bad memories of their Catholic upbringing. Similar to many families, the effect of both the brokenness of themselves and the view of the Church caused a luke-warm ideology of the Church. By the grace of God, I still received all my sacraments. Even though I received the grace and gifts from the sacraments; I followed the trajectory of my family causing me to distant myself more and more from the identity of being Catholic and drifting away from the Church. Eventually we all just stopped going to church all together, including Christmas and Easter, because we quite honestly did not care.
This was the story of my life until I was a junior in high school when I friend of mine dragged me to church and then the youth group afterwards. For the first time, I encountered people who loved God and the Catholic faith. They were not ashamed of their love of Christ and were not luke-warm, which was completely opposite of what I experienced growing up. The second I walked into the Ministry Center, I was warmly welcomed. I knew I was loved, which was a strange feeling for me. Somehow I was signed up for a retreat where I encountered Christ in a very real way. Before this retreat, I never knew how to pray or what prayer was, but once I saw the Blessed Sacrament in front me, I knew that I needed to say hello. I remember saying “hi Jesus”. Those two words halted my path and threw me onto one where I constantly yearned for the relationship with the Lord. During adoration, I felt the presence sweep through me. I continued to build this new found relationship until I went to a camp called Covecrest where I decided to change my life and completely chase the one that chased me for so many years.
After that camp, I was a different person. I became involved in my youth group and eventually began volunteering in the same youth group that once saved me. I fell in love with the Church and attempted to teach this love to the middle school or high school students I was hanging out with at youth night. God is awesome and has an interesting way of moving through our lives because eventually I became one of the youth ministers at the parish and youth group that brought me out of the darkness.
Back to the family
Although I have a deep love for the Catholic Church, my family continued to turn away from the faith. They seemed baffled as to why I became so close to the Church and in a way seemed to resent me for it. As I began to lead more retreats/events and then became youth minister, the family became more and more disappointed. I would always here “you are wasting your time”, “you are wasting your degree”, and “didn’t you already go to church”. I will tell you, that this is not an easy part of my life because the people that should be supporting me the most cannot accept what I love the most. This has been the ultimate test of my faith every day because I oftentimes find myself defending my faith to those closest to me, but has allowed me to deepen my knowledge of the Church teachings.
I’ve recently reflected on my current situation and realized that God truly has a purpose for everything. He is using me as the beacon of light for the people closest to me, just like there was a beacon for me when I was 16 years old. Some of you reading this may be in the same situation where your family does not understand your connection to Catholicism, but remember God is using you to bring more of His children to him. This might mean your parents, siblings, best friend, college roommate, etc. It is difficult, but remember your glory is not on this earth and you are bringing people home. Others may not connect with my story, but we all have crosses we must bear. Jesus told us “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). As believers, carrying our cross is an essential part of our relationship. Your cross may be the family dynamics like me or simply the pressures of college on your shoulders. Remember God uses the cross to teach us and we are never truly alone.
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven”
Nicole is the Middle School Youth Minister at St. Greg's Parish. In addition to working full-tim, she is currently a grad student at Canisius College. Just so you know, Nicole is super blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do. Contact Nicole anytime at Njanecek@stgregs.org.