God is Saving Us from Things We Cannot See

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When I was the Director of Youth Activities for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, I was responsible for providing programs for high school students throughout our Diocese. We tried to provide the types of programs parishes could not easily do for themselves. We focused on gathering hundreds of teenagers several times a year to celebrate their faith in Christ, as well as provided service opportunities for students to love and serve individuals in our Diocese. We had a lot of fun, and I’d like to think a lot of faith was caught during those programs together. After serving in that capacity for about eight years, I heard that the campus ministry program at George Mason University was about to have an opening. I shared with our Diocesan leadership that I was interested in the position. Having been a parish youth minister and then the Diocesan director of youth ministry, I was excited to think that campus ministry might be the next step for me.

Our Diocesan Bishop had just gone to Rome for his Ad Limina visit to see Pope John Paul II. Diocesan Bishops visit the Pope every five years to make a report. Our Bishop loved those occasions to visit Rome and get caught up on all the happenings at the epicenter of the RC church. While in Rome the Bishop unexpectedly died and left us bishop-less. The RC church has a policy that in the absence of a Bishop, the leadership of a Diocese selects a priest administrator to make sure the church continues to run until a new Bishop can be named.

That Vow of Obedience

Our Diocese selected an Administrator named Msgr. Jim McMurtrie who, though a bit bombastic, was a good man and always treated me decently. One day Jim called and said, “Look Chuck, I know you’ve got your heart set on going to GMU as the next campus minister, but I need you to take another job in the Diocese.” My heart sank. Jim was right; I did have my heart set on campus ministry.

The Diocesan assignment Jim wanted me to take was the Executive Director of Catholic Charities. The last thing I wanted was another Diocesan job. The next-to-last thing I wanted was a Diocesan job I was clearly unqualified to take. But that’s just not the way the church works. I had taken a vow of obedience and in the Bishop’s absence, this Administrator had power over me, and I knew I had to seriously consider accepting this assignment. End of subject. Period.

I asked Jim to give me 24 hours to give him my answer. Jim acquiesced and gave me what he really didn’t have to give, namely: space and time to wrap my mind around this next assignment. I was grateful.

Seeking Peace

During that next 24 hours I had a pow-wow with God. God knew I was p***ed. God knew I wanted the campus ministry job. While wrestling with God over how to surrender my own desire I begged God to give me a sense of peace … to give me some indication I could do the job I had just been assigned.

Just that quickly God answered my prayer; but not in the manner I expected. I sensed God tell me, “Your Dad would be so proud.”

My Dad had died just two years before and Dad was always on my mind. God helped me see that in accepting the assignment, it would indeed make my father proud – to become the next Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Arlington, serving 40,000 individuals a year in the 21 most northern counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Indeed my Dad would be proud. God had me.

I began to warm to the idea of relinquishing a job I was never meant to have and accepting an assignment for which I felt wholly unqualified. From somewhere out of the darkness I sensed God tell me He was saving me from something I could not see. God didn’t want me at GMU. God wanted me at Catholic Charities.

I’ll never know what God saved me from, but knowing God saved me at all is what is most stunning. How often, I wondered then, and wonder now, does God save us from things we cannot see? Daily? Weekly? Hourly? Is danger around every turn and God is thwarting that danger and we just never know? Folks, I wish I had the answer to those questions, I just don’t.

But I do have the peace I begged God to give me. I didn’t continue to covet the job I was never meant to have. I ranted and raved for about 24 hours to anyone who would listen to me whine – and then I let it go. I never looked back. I had been given the answer I had asked for and received the peace I asked God to give. I just didn’t get the job I preferred and I’d like to think my life has been better for it.

Saving us For things …

For the five years I worked at Catholic Charities I loved the people I worked with and I loved the ministries we provided and the people we served. But, I hated the heavy administrative aspects of my job.  Thankfully I was surrounded by a wonderful core team of staff and amazing volunteers who freed me to be the cheerleader for the agency, while they willingly and brilliantly took on the heavy lifting of keeping that kind of highly accredited social service machine running smoothly. I learned far more at Catholic Charities than I gave. I was the beneficiary of on-the-job training I never would have received anywhere else. Catholic Charities was led by brilliant talented lay individuals who loved God and loved the people we served, and it was a gift to watch them in action! I’ll take the lessons I learned there with me where ever I minister in the future. Thank you Peter, Michael, Eliana, Pat, Beth, Ann, Bob, Mila, Marguerite, Dave, Seyoum, and so many others, for your fine example. I will never forget you. And, I am grateful to God for the invaluable lessons learned and the friendships made in those years.

Scripture tells us in Romans 8:38, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from the love of God.”

Thank You, God for saving us from things we cannot see … and saving us for things we cannot anticipate. That absolutely blows my mind. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

Peace friends,

Chuck

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6 Comments

  • Michael Evans says:

    I remember meeting with you while you were at Catholic Charities. At the time you viewed it as your time of penance and you were looking forward to your next assignment – even though it was still a couple of years off. I’m so glad that you are now able to reflect back and see all of the positives that came from your time with them.

    As Garth Brooks so aptly put it – Thank God for unanswered prayers.

  • Barbara C. says:

    This post has been on my mind for days now – just won’t go away. I onc had a job I loved and wanted nothing more than to keep on doing it. But I got forced out in a political wrangle. Because I was not working, I was able to care for my grandmother in her final months. I was given the opportunity to go and do the work I loved in places where it really mattered – where war and hatred had destroyed society. I found a path that gave my life new meaning after the death of my husband. Lately I’ve been trying to find that meaning in my present life. The message here seems to be “Patience – God is working his purpose out.” I will continue to wait.

  • Mary Margaret says:

    Chuck: I have no doubt that you would have been an excellent campus minister at GMU, but perhaps you would not have grown in in faith, skills and insight the way you did at Catholic Charities. So I think what God saved you from was staying in your comfort zone, which is always more inviting than taking on unfamiliar challenges. Thanks for the reminder to accept our disappointments and see the blessings in them.

  • Peg says:

    What a BEAUTIFUL way to honor those who you worked with so closely.

  • Liz Riegel says:

    Great reflection Chuck!

  • Rose says:

    Thanks for sharing this; indeed God does save us from many things and as you point out many times what we think we don’t want turns out to be the best thing for us.

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