The Last Shall Be First Part II: The Hidden “Yes” of Julia Greeley

By LumenChristi.

When I was in college, a good friend told me that we don’t have to find the saints – they find us. God places them in our lives at pivotal moments, to shed light on our own following of him. Since she said this, I have found it to be true on multiple occasions.

After six adventurous years of serving as a missionary, youth director, and other such exciting positions, I now work as a secretary at a church.  I’ve realized God is calling me to a time of being still, and to use the advantages of a stable schedule to allow him to speak to me more deeply. While I am profoundly grateful for this position, and confident that God placed me here (through uniquely providential circumstances) I still feel that I am not doing enough. I miss my adventures. I am in tension between the peace that I am where He wants me, and yet a gnawing feeling of “not enough” that creeps in. I am happy to serve in the hidden tasks, yet can’t help noting the irony between the grandeur of what I did before (giving talks to teens, counseling others in their walk with Christ etc) and the exasperating minutiae of what I do now (fighting with the copier, spending hours on hold with Comcast!).

Underneath all this, is the ever-present tension that surfaces about what I am doing with my life in the long-term. I am at peace that I have given God all I can for now, but plagued by the same gnawing of “not enough.” I want to know the answer to the all-important question – what is my vocation, my purpose in life.  I want to know why God will still not reveal it despite my earnest and faithful seeking.

Recently, into all these tensions, across the years, through a powerful thing called the Communion of Saints, came the perfect heavenly friend for me. While on hold yet again on a call for the parish, I was sorting through piles of paper on my desk and stumbled across an article about the life of a woman named Julia Greeley. I learned that her cause for canonization was currently underway, and was instantly intrigued. (For what is more fascinating than a canonization process currently underway in your own country?)

Julia Greeley was a Catholic, African-American laywoman who lived a poor and humble life. Her path to holiness was the epitome of the “hidden yes.” Recently recognized as “Servant of God” by her archdiocese in Denver, Colorado, Julia Greeley’s life was lowly and uncelebrated. She was born into slavery sometime between 1833 and 1848, and finally freed in 1865 by the state of Missouri’s Emancipation Act. Little is known about the intervening years, except that when she was a young child, she lost her right eye to the whip of an angry slave owner. Once freed, Julia made a living cooking, cleaning, and caring for children as a nanny.

In 1880, she became Catholic and was received into the Church at Sacred Heart Church in Denver. The Sacred Heart then became the central mystery and mission of her life. She would walk for miles to share devotional Sacred Heart pamphlets and medals with as many people as she could. She was also a dedicated servant of the poor. Though she herself lived in poverty, she gave of what she had, and also went begging for the needs of others. Friendship was a central characteristic of her life, in which she transcended the racial and societal divides of her time. White and black,  Catholics and non catholic, rich and poor, old and young alike were numbered among her friends. Young children in particular were drawn to her and delighted in her presence.  Her funeral overwhelmed her tiny parish church as over 1,000 people from all walks of life came to pay their respects.

She attended daily Mass faithfully, and in fact, died on her way to Mass, on the feast of her beloved Sacred Heart in 1918.

Fast-forward to June 2017 – nearly 100 years later – her remains were recently transferred to the Cathedral in Denver. She is the very first person to be buried there. As the bishop, Jorge Rodriguez, who presided over the ceremony pointed out “[Julia Greeley] will be the first person buried in Denver’s cathedral. Not a bishop, not a priest – a laywoman, a former slave. Isn’t that something?”

The humble are exalted. The last shall be first. Even to this day, few people know about Julia Greeley. In her life, she served in the lowliest (and even despised) roles. She had no “status” in secular society. In the Church, she was never a religious, theologian, or leader. And yet, it is her, whom God has lifted up and placed before our eyes.

Her life intersected with mine at just the right moment, to teach me what truly matters. Not only are the hidden yesses more powerful than we realize, but they are enough to bring us to Heaven. Julia Greeley’s life was all about the hidden yes.

The “yes” to forgive the grave wrongs of slavery and physical abuse that she suffered. . .

The “yes” to lead a joyful and charitable life in the midst of an unjust and still-segregated society. . .

The courageous “yes” to enter a Church in a time when there were few to no Catholics of her culture and racial background. . .

The “yes” to literally walk across the societal divides of her time. . .

The “yes” to travel miles on her errands of mercy and evangelization despite painful arthritis . . .

(this particular “yes,” in fact, remained hidden until the very recent examination of her bones during the exhumation process for her canonization!).

And the overarching “yes” to be the love of the Sacred Heart to all whom she encountered.

She has given me a different perspective. Everything has value. Where I am now could, as I believe, just be yet another stop along the way to where God ultimately wants me. Yet even if eternity were tomorrow, it could be ENOUGH to make me a saint. If I but choose to respond.

So, I now try to make jokes, when I finally get through on the Comcast call. Their customer service agent is a person too, whom Julia would have seen as a friend. I win my fight with the copier, knowing that I’ve made the pace of life smoother for everyone else even if they never know about it.  And when anxiety about the future creeps in, I try to whisper, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in You!”

Servant of God, Julia Greeley, pray for us!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

 

Sources:

http://www.juliagreeleyhome.org/whyjulias-1-1/

Former slave Julia Greeley first to be buried at Denver’s Cathedral

Monday Memes #114

Monday Memes #113

Monday Memes #112

Fourth Anniversary

By Spiritu.

Four years ago today, I laid my bags out on the front steps of the convent and waited for my father to drive in and pick me up. Most of my memories of religious life are still vivid and immediate, but that day is broken up into fragments. I remember unfastening the cord that tied my postulant medal around my neck, and handing both to my superior. Checking and triple-checking the drawers in my cell in case I’d left anything behind. Getting in the car and seeing the sisters standing under the veranda to wave goodbye. That night, opening the farewell card they’d written for me, and wanting to frame it and tear it up all at the same time because it hurt to see their handwriting. It was a long time before I stopped expecting – hoping – to wake up in my cell in the morning and find that everything that had happened since then was a dream.

I once heard a line in a film: “When the past dies, there is mourning, but when the future dies, our imaginations are compelled to carry it on.” After I’d been out about two years, someone asked me whether I wished I’d stayed in the convent, and whether I would go back if I could. From memory, what I said out loud was something profound like, “Um… I don’t know.” What had actually shot across my mind without the need for thought was, In a heartbeat. My future in the convent had been cut off at the root, and my imagination couldn’t give up the idea of going back, trying to make it right, to finish what I’d started.

And now? A few days ago, the anniversary of the date on which I’d told my superior I needed to leave, I sat down and made a list of all the people I’d never have met if I’d stayed in the convent. Colleagues. Housemates. Mentors. Clients. Friends – people I knew both in person and online. The list went for nearly a page. Then I started on a second list, laying out in black and white the things I’d done in the last four years that would never have happened if I’d stayed in the convent. Publishing my writing online; preparing for a career; making a journey overseas and coming home feeling like an adult for the first time in my life. And a third list: the music I’d never have heard, the books I’d never have read, the foods I’d never have tasted, the conversations I’d never have had. Set out on paper like that, the richness of what God has given me in the last few years blew me away. I’d have loved to have been a sister, but to wish now that I had stayed in the convent would be to wish everything I have loved since then multiplied by zero. I couldn’t do it, in a heartbeat or otherwise.

Today is the first-class feast of Saint James the Apostle, which means I’ll need to make time, in between all the other things that have to be sandwiched into the next twelve hours or so, to sing the Te Deum. I want to make time to sing it properly: unhurried, and with real gratitude. In the Divine Office this morning, there was a reading from Saint John Chrysostom:

But nevertheless let us now look at how (the apostles) came unto Christ, and what they said. Master, they said, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And He said unto them: What would ye that I should do for you? Not, surely, that He knew not what their wish was, but that He would make them answer, and so uncover the wound, to lay a plaster on it.

 

That is what He has done in these last few days. I’ve spent far too long binding up the wound of regret and anger on my heart as though it were not serious, crying, “Peace! Peace!” when there was no peace (Jeremiah 8:11) and it must be time by now for Him to lay a proper dressing on it. I’ve felt a lot of grief in the time since I left religious life, but today I’m going to focus instead on the joys that have been given me throughout those years. The people I’ve known, the things I’ve done – everything God has given me to love. Four years to the day out of the convent in which I’d once hoped to spend the rest of my life, I am going to sing the Te Deum and mean it.

Monday Memes #111