Life is Messy

January 5, 2024
Archdiocese of Baltimore

Soon after I arrived at my summer assignment, St. Andrew by the Bay parish, this past June and began taking stock of the parish’s upcoming events, the pastor mentioned that a team of young people from the parish was going to North Carolina in July to participate in Catholic Heart Work Camp – but he added quickly that I likely wouldn’t be joining them since the group did not need additional members. I’m ashamed to say that a part of me was relieved at the realization that I would probably miss the week’s events.

You can imagine my surprise a few weeks later when I was told that they were suddenly down a chaperone and were wondering if I might be able to fill in. But God’s providence was working overtime, despite my initial reluctance and apprehension – the entire week was a wonderful testament to this simple fact: life is messy. Life is messy, but it is so beautiful.

I think back often to an interaction I had with one of the campers that week. At an evening Q&A between the teens and adults, one camper started to bring up some heavy topics, and pretty soon I was thinking to myself, “I’m not prepared for this!” Eventually this person brought up a struggle to come to terms with the death of a very close friend. Some thoughts started to come to mind that I could share, but I still felt very unequipped to engage with this camper’s pain, and so, while I continued to listen, I offered a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit to give me some words of consolation. Immediately, my mind was drawn to a talk I gave for a retreat a few years ago when I was working in youth ministry at my home parish. The crux of the talk was about shifting our perspective on suffering to see it not just as random and meaningless, something somehow irreconcilable with the life of faith, but as something redemptive that God can and will draw good from. I stepped out in faith and shared my thoughts – and thanks be to God, these were the words this person needed to hear! It soon became clear to me that this camper was starting to see things in a new light.

One of the things that I have seen over and over again in general throughout my life, and especially since entering seminary last year, is that God uses our past experiences to accomplish His will in us and through us. That talk I gave at the retreat was years ago, but I believe it was written in large part for that specific interaction, so that I would be able to recall it. There’s such a joy and a freedom that comes with living in light of the fact that God uses all of our experiences, both bad and good, in order to be at work in the world. With it comes the realization that because God chooses to work at times through us, some good He has envisioned might only come about if we are willing to discern His will and carry it out whenever we can.

Over that week at Catholic Heart Work Camp, there were so many other mishaps and difficulties and problems that it would take a book just to cover it all, but the one thing I’m sure of is that in each of the mishaps, in each of the difficulties, and in each of the problems, in each of life’s little messes, God is so very close to us and is at work to bring all things to Himself.

Matthew is a seminarian at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD. His home parish is the Pastorate of St. Francis – St. Mary and Holy Family in Middletown. Please pray for Matthew!