By Barbara Padolina
In hindsight, I have stumbled many times, gone astray, become distracted, and then forgotten what I was supposed to do. After a near half-century of being alive, I am both amazed and grateful for the life I have led. It humbles me to know I have made it this far and am still breathing. This is no real credit to me and for this, my gratitude to my heavenly Father is boundless.
I am especially grateful for the different people, who have brought into my life something, which has changed me profoundly. One, in particular, may not even realize how much her invitation to go with her to an activity helped me to get started on what would be a long road towards finding my true vocation.
After School Snack and Sanctification
It all began when a classmate in my all-girls Catholic school invited me to activity after school. I think she told me about going to a meditation and confession if I wanted to. I do not remember much about what she said, to be honest. She had me at the words “afternoon snack” at her house after school. My overly-conscious and definitely less than confident 11-year old self-figured that being in the company of someone who always looked so well-put-together and smelled good would only bring good things into my life. (I suppose it would be fair to say I may have been hungrier than usual when she invited me, seeing as my motivation was quite basal – proof positive that God works with whatever He has and just makes everything come together beautifully.)
The snack was nothing really special, but it was served on a pretty plate with a napkin and a fork. I was impressed and so glad I had said yes to her invitation. I was much happier after I had finally attended meditation. Up until that point, the visual imagery I connected with that word consisted on legs crossed while seated on the floor, eyes closed, and repeatedly saying “Ommmmm……” It was nothing like that, of course. In a small chapel, with the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, the meditation was a prayer which the priest led, directing our thoughts and reflection around a particular topic or point, always in conversation with God. With the lights dimmed, save for those which were at the tabernacle, our attention was focused on our Lord. I was flabbergasted and amazed: this was praying!
My Work as Prayer
Even before the meditation, my friend had given me a prayer card of then Blessed Josemaria Escriva. I read it with interest, encountering for the very first time in my life the words Opus Dei. What struck me then, and remains significant to me even after nearly 40 years, is what I read about Josemaria Escriva on the prayer card. Since I do not have a prayer card from 1982, I looked up what was on one and found what I believe to be a similar, if not the same, wording:
On October 2, 1928, in Madrid, by a divine inspiration he founded Opus Dei, which has opened up a new way for the faithful to sanctify themselves in the midst of the world, through the practice of their ordinary work and in fulfillment of their personal, family and social duties.
I had never heard of that before. How do you make yourself holy by doing all the regular stuff you have to do anyway? Who, on earth, even wanted to be holy? (Of course, turns out God Himself wants all of us to be holy!) Yet, even if I did not know and understand then what I do now, it sparked a small flame inside my soul to read and consider those words. Anything and everything I do, done well, and offered up to God, becomes a prayer. That is how I understood the basic message of Josemaria Escriva then – and to this day, this is how I would simply explain the spirit of Opus Dei.
A Heart Compelled to Restlessness
It feels like so many lifetimes ago since then, yet this is the same one and I am still going. I do not have an 11-year old, but a 12-year old son and a nine-year-old daughter provide me with insight into the curiosity of my much younger self back then and the yearning to understand what intrigued me then. It is similar, I believe, to the fascination and wonderment kids (mine included) experience in trying to comprehend expressions, such as “eating with your eyes” and “Many hands make light work.” The timing for me was just right, although it took many, many more years before the seed planted in those very early years grew strong and took firm root.
Married, with six children, 7-years old and below, entering our third year as immigrants in Canada, I found myself in a silent retreat in the middle of a wintry February. It was 2002, around twenty years since I first learned about Josemaria Escriva – his canonization was coming up in October. Since our youngest child then was only 9 months old, I brought her with me on the retreat. I have been on retreats with nursing infants, pregnant and not – and none of those times will ever compare to this retreat. That itty-bitty seed, planted twenty years previously when I grabbed the chance for an afterschool snack at my friend’s house and first “met” Josemaria Escriva through his prayer card, had grown into a plant whose roots reached deep into my soul and took firm root. All those years I had hemmed and hawed, sat on the fence, strayed as far as I could without falling off the face of the earth, pushed the envelope, dilly-dallied, and played footsy with various temptations finally brought me to a dizzying stop right at the foot of the Cross. My restless heart had found the reason for its discontent with the world at large and was beginning to understand what it meant to call God our Father.
All for the Good
It has now been nearly 18 years since that silent retreat and I have been trying to remember to thank God every day for the gift of my life and my vocation. I am a supernumerary faithful of Opus Dei, or the Work, as it is informally called by many. It feels a bit funny to see that in writing and say it out loud, even, because for so long it was never something you had to announce to people. It was and – I believe continues to be – a private matter involving my choice to live out my faith in a certain way.
To realize that one is called by God to live his or her life in a particular way or spirit does change something in oneself, but it is an interior thing. For me, I remained married and we went on to have 6 more children since then! Apart from the 12 kids we have, there are three who have gone ahead to be with their Father God. They are ours, nonetheless, by grace and through the mercy of God. If anything at all changed when I said yes to God’s particular call for me, it was how I saw the world and how I loved God and those around me. Maybe I walked with a bit more of a spring in my step, or perhaps I was ever so slightly happier and quicker to smile. I would liken it to being in love and just feeling the flush of that brand new, intoxicatingly fresh feeling of joy wash over you.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental shifts in my whole perspective is the realization that I am a daughter of God. With God, nothing is impossible – and I am His child.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:28-31).
Why did it take twenty years before I realized what God wanted of me? Was it all a waste of time? In truth, I am more grateful and appreciate what I am and have known full well where I have been and what I have done in the past. I struggle to do what our Lord wants of me because I know it is worth it. I am where I should be, doing what I ought to do when I do my Father’s will.
The test, I don’t deny it, proves to be very hard: you have to go uphill, “against the grain”.—What is my advice? That you must say: omnia in bonum, everything that happens, “everything that happens to me”, is for my own good… Therefore do accept what seems so hard to you, as a sweet and pleasant reality (St. Josemaria Escriva, “Furrow”, number 127).
God’s Call to Everyone
Have you ever looked back at your own life and tried to connect the dots, perhaps realizing how certain people or events led you to where you are right now? Have you ever felt discouraged by the mistakes you have made – do they seem insurmountable?
Every single one of us is called by God and meant to be with Him. He is ready to forgive if we ask for forgiveness – He will not impose Himself on us. He will not be outdone in generosity. However, we must want to be with Him and to love Him. In the world we live in, this is not always easy. It can be a struggle, a long and difficult one at times. We have not been left to our own defenses, though. The Holy Spirit only waits to be asked and does not hesitate to come to us when we call! Let us not hesitate but rush forward, calling on Love Himself to come to us every single time!
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
What is God asking of you? How is God calling you today – and are you willing to say yes to Him?