Tragedy. Heartbreak. Divine Encounter. The stories vary, but the sense of calling is the same for prospective students.
As part of the admissions process, prospective commuter students are interviewed in the Admissions Office. Conducting these interviews is a great joy for me, one of the best parts of working in this department, because everyone has a story to tell.
During the interview, I always ask, “What brought you here?” The stories—they just tumble out. Some are straightforward and simple; others are fascinating or heart-breaking.
What is clear is that God is alive in our world.
When I ask, “Why do you want to study theology?” prospective students often look at me quizzically. They hesitate before answering as they try to determine how much to open up. I understand; I’m a stranger to them.
Many take me back to the beginning. They were cradle Catholics who attended Catholic school, but then they usually confess that, despite their Catholic upbringing, they really don’t understand their faith. Others grew up Protestant or having no faith at all.
Yet, somehow, all knew that God was calling them.
The more they talk, the more they share the moving details. Some have tales of falling away from the faith and into chemical abuse or promiscuous lifestyles, of serving time in jail, or just becoming self-focused.
Some share heart-breaking stories of losing faith after a loved one is taken from them. Still others say they got angry at God who seemed to abandon them when they suffered illness, poverty, loss of a job, or when life just seemed hard.
Of course, not all the stories are tough stories. Some grew up in strong Catholic families and have always remained faithful. Some found their faith grew ever stronger for the very same reasons that drove others away.
In virtually every case, people inquire about studying theology after an encounter with Christ, directly or indirectly. The encounter can be through another person, an event, or an answered prayer.
Seeing the amazing faith of those who are spiritually blessed though materially impoverished can cause a wealthy person to realize he is the one who is truly impoverished. Feeling peace in the midst of personal tragedy can make one realize there is a God who cares.
It is then that they come. They come to study so that they can give back to the God who never abandoned them; who continually called them; who gives them hope. They come to study so they can share with others what they have finally found—Jesus Christ who is their salvation, hope, and happiness.
What these stories tell me is that God is working in the lives of Christians everywhere. It doesn’t matter one’s background or history. What matters is that God is calling each one of us, sinners though we are, cradle Catholics, converts and reverts alike, to commit ourselves to him and to share the good news with joy.
By telling our stories, we can bring glory to God. So take a risk and tell someone your story, and then ask them to tell you theirs.