An Undivided Heart — God or the Girl? Part III

Editor's Note: Father Jonathan will appear on "DaySide," Friday, April 7 at 1:45 p.m. ET to discuss the recently translated ancient text called the "Gospel of Judas."

If you haven’t read Wednesday’s and Thursday’s entries, take a minute to browse before you go on.

Ah, yes, much better. What follows will now make a bit more sense.

I was about to tell you about an invitation...

Having dragged my roommate to more than one seminary, we had scoped out the lay of the land of priestdom. Like in any grouping of humanity, there was a little bit of everything in the men we met: weakness and strength. But the ones who caught my attention were the talented and happy ones. The combination scared me. They had made the ultimate choice of selflessness, and still they smiled. Initially, I wondered what had possessed them to give up so much for such paltry return. So I asked them. No, I grilled them, as I would do now in a good interview, only not so nicely. I was determined to find out what made them different from me, hoping to discover some anomaly to put my heart at ease. Their stories were amazingly different from each other, but they were mended together by a single thread. They had received an invitation from God to live for others with an undivided heart.

And as I listened to their personal narratives, my desperation grew. The voice speaking to my soul was clear and kind. “And, Jonathan, why not you?” Well, for lots of reasons! I named them off to God, but mostly to myself. Why would he give me desires for so many good things only to ask me to give them up? Those desires, after all, were absolutely natural, wired into me by my maker. But quite honestly, I didn’t want answers to my quandary. I preferred escape routes. And I found them: more entrepreneurial enterprise, more cold beers on Friday nights with the guys, and yes, the girlfriend. Good things. But with every new pleasure, the question of fullness and perfection remained. What was I made for? Silently, cautiously, I had already assented to the only question that matters. If I were to know what God wanted from me, would I be willing to do it, no matter the cost?

The water was coming to a boil. The question persisted, “Jonathan, why not you?”

Maybe the question seems absurd. There are lots of ways to live for others. Being a good dad and a productive citizen is no small task. And many Protestant pastors and Jewish rabbis do great work, with marriage to boot. I don’t know why I was born into a Catholic family, and to this day I can’t explain the movements of my young heart to this type of total service. I just know it was all-or-nothing for me. The radical nature of it made so much sense — an undivided heart given to others out of love for God. I also knew the idea wasn’t mine. If I believed in a clockwork God, there would be no real explanation for such conflicting desires. But I had personally experienced, in prayer and in creation, a providential God who cared about me and intervened in human history. I didn’t have all the answers, but I knew he did. If it was he who was doing the calling, my trust was not in vain.

Running parallel to my quest to know God’s will for me was the issue of eternity. Life is short. Eternity isn’t. We only have one chance to get it right. It wasn’t the fear factor. I think it was practical faith. If God exists, his word is true. He says this life is preparation for the next. The best preparation is to do his will. I won’t settle for anything less.

That summer, roommate Rhett would take the plunge. He was to spend the summer in Connecticut at a “discernment program,” a trial run of sort. In between travels with my little business, I decided to visit my friend and make sure everything was ok. And the tables turned. Rhett left and I stayed.

I remember the moment I decided to sign up for good. Lasting peace and joy, then lots of tears. I had some explaining to do — to family, friends, and the friend. When I broke the news to her, there were more tears, but less peace and no joy. We both hurt. I explained the only way I knew how. God had invited me to set aside natural desires for supernatural ones. There were no strings attached, no divine threats or ultimatums. He had left it up to me. I could stay or I could leave, freely. And so could have the saints of old. Abraham set off for a land unknown. Moses led the chosen people. Saul became Paul. Theresa of Calcutta fed the poor. Billy Graham and John Paul II met the masses. And each of their decisions mattered.

She understood and she let me go. Now that is practical faith!

Mom and Dad were shocked, but fully supportive. I knew they would be. That’s the way they lived. Never say "no" to the invites of God.

Next on my shock list was Rhett. “You’ve got to watch out for her, man,” I told him, referring to my girlfriend. He promised me he would. And he did. Rhett and Tosha are now married with five children, and we remain the closest of friends.

That’s my story. Hope I didn’t waste your time. I know many of you live more nobly and heroically in your own “vocations” than I could ever hope to live in mine. Being a mom or a dad, a husband or a wife, and responsible citizen is not second-class service. The way I look at it, the same Sender remits varied invitations. I responded to the one I received. I’m sure that’s what you’re doing too.

And you too have probably noticed, the invites keep coming, in different forms and at different times. They aren’t all life-changing, just divine whispers to love more and to love more people.

On Monday we’ll be back with our regular analysis of the big news stories.

God bless, Father Jonathan

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