When I was growing up, I somehow got it into my head that I really wanted to study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I didn’t know what I wanted to study or why I wanted to go there—I was just excited by the idea of it. My 8th-grade class at St. Kevin Catholic School in East Alton was nine students; at Marquette Catholic High School in Alton, my graduating class was 76. There was something about going to a university of over 40,000 students that made the extrovert in me leap for excitement.
But at a university that size, a person needs a place of belonging —a place of encounter. For me, that was St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. It was there that I found a sense of community which I had never experienced, and if I’m honest, I’ve probably never experienced since. In the midst of a bustling, secular university, the chapel and common spaces of the Newman Center became my haven not just for prayer (the ultimate communion!), but for fraternity and mutual enrichment in the spiritual life. The friendships which were made and fostered in t hose walls were centered on Christ, and they bore fruit in my life in a way that I had never anticipated.
It was in the common bond of discipleship, much like the apostles’, amidst the challenges and rigors of university life that we were forged together as one.
And it was there that my vocation was born. In that experience of community, I felt the Lord calling me to share that experience with others—to give them an experience of authentic encounter with the Church which I had longed for but never knew, and which He blessed me with in a way that I never expected. For me, community—the common bond of friendship and fraternity, forged in discipleship and rooted in Christ’s call to communion with Him and with each other—community became my “why.”
By that I mean that community is why I witness to Christ; it’s what convinced me of the truth of God’s goodness contained in the Word and Sacraments. In my ministry, it’s what I hope people would come to experience in the Church: communion with each other and, ultimately, communion with God.
Community was the incontrovertible push that I needed to experience true and lasting conversion, and then to become convinced of Jesus’ call to become a disciple for others, tasked with the mission of sharing the Gospel with everyone I encounter.
I hope to spend my life sharing that gift that I received so many years ago, and which I continue to experience in all the places I go.
Ask yourself: what is your “why?” What in your past made you unswervingly convinced of God’s love, of His Church, of His call to discipleship?
It’s that which Christ calls you to share with others in a way that no one else can. If all of us tapped into our why —that moment of extreme conviction— there would be no doubt that the Church and the world around us would be on fire with the blessings of the Spirit. The apostles — I’m convinced—had their why, each and every one. What else would enable them to suffer so much for Christ and His Church?
If you can’t answer the question immediately, take it to prayer. You may be surprised by the answer, but it will no doubt resonate with your passions and desires. The Lord has a way of fulfilling us, even when we have no idea what we want or why we want it. That was certainly my experience.
Father Michael Friedel is a Parochial Vicar at the Cathedral.