By: Lindsey Harrison
Do you ever have “God moments”? Well, technically every moment is a God moment, because He is present all around us, and we could dedicate a whole other post to that. I’m talking about moments or experiences that fill your heart with the undeniable and overwhelming presence and love of God. They don’t have to be grand burning bush or Jesus-walking-on-water kind of experiences, but I think you know what I’m talking about.
If you’re lucky, you’ve been able to pinpoint moments like this in your life that totally changed your faith journey with Christ, and because of that, they are always fresh in your heart. Well, I like to think I’m really lucky (#blessed), because I had experiences like this over the summer in what was essentially “Catholic study abroad.”
In a combination of God moments, between prayer, action, the beauty of social media and a great lady you might know named Ashley Hemingway, this past March I found myself applying for some kind of summer program called the Catholic Worldview Fellowship.
(Sidenote: the FIRE retreat will make you do crazy but great things, AKA me in an eno hammock during free time that weekend, recording my application video with my cell phone and selfie stick).
But before we dive into the time of my life that was July 2017, let’s take a step back.
Freshman year, Sunday Mass was always in the picture, and my friends all knew me as “the Catholic one,” but I wasn’t plugged in with the community here in Gainesville. When sophomore year came, and I felt driven to get involved around St. Augustine’s for some reason. Looking back I know it was just God inviting me on a new adventure with Him.
One thing led to another and I joined a Bible study, started going to Newman dinners, attended daily Mass more, went on a few retreats, and basically just tried to see Christ in all the opportunities that came my way.
Even more importantly, I not only tried to see those opportunities, but take advantage of them and use everything as an invitation to grow in my relationship with Christ and those around me.
Then came this summer, and all the opportunities along with it.
In April, I received my acceptance and was basically on my way to Europe for part of the summer. Keep in mind, I didn’t really know what this program was about, whom I would meet, and all those other unknowns that can be scary at first. All I knew was that it was Catholic and I would be traveling to Germany for about three weeks, and then Rome on a pilgrimage for the final week. Not a bad combination if you ask me — so I decided to go for it.
And let me tell you: I’m smiling as I sit at my laptop writing this, because from the moment I stepped all alone onto that plane headed to Germany, I didn’t look back.
God was so present in everything that came my way, I felt silly for worrying in the first place. Without “talking” here about every single day and detail of the trip itself, I’ll try to give a general gist of what it was all about.
There were 16 of us “fellows” from all over the country and a staff of about eight that ranged from priests to brothers to leadership coaches, and everything in between. We lived in a 500-year-old German castle (yes, there was a moat).
Our day-to-day lecture and discussion-based conferences/classes all related to how we as young Catholic leaders can connect the dots between our faith and the culture we live in.
We sought to develop our God-given talents and be the world changers Christ calls us to be.
We had morning prayer, night prayer, lectures, free time, daily Mass, retreat days, spiritual talks, day trips, dance parties, very late nights, and many blessed encounters that, at least for me, taught me more than ever before about who I am, who God is, and how I can grow in that relationship with Him in order to become my most authentic and Christ-modeling self.
Sounds pretty cool, right? I think so. It was like nothing I’d ever done, and will probably never do again.
I still don’t know what I did to deserve an experience like this, but all these things are just a testament to how good our God is to us.
I had never had my own private neo-Gothic chapel in the German countryside before. I never thought I’d have spiritual direction, confession, Mass, and just great conversation with one of the priests behind the movie The Passion of the Christ.
I never had such quick and authentic friendships with so many beautiful and like-minded people whom I now consider some of my greatest blessings.
I never thought I would cry during the surreal experiences of Mass and adoration at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and touching Pope Francis (yeah, all that happened).
And I never thought Jesus would take my life, especially in this past year, turn it upside down in so many ways and then give me the grace to realize that with Him it’s truly right side up.
As a whole this program is one of the best things I’ve ever done and a summer I will never forget; but that’s not to say everything was sunshine and rainbows and the best thing ever 100 percent of the time.
There were some days where I just wasn’t feeling it, or wasn’t feeling good with myself, or just questioned what I was doing halfway across the world talking about how you can evangelize culture when I’m usually just trying to keep my life together as an average college student in Gainesville, FL!
But no matter what, I felt God’s presence and guiding hand, which is really all that matters. And as I wrap up, so I don’t keep talking about myself for too much longer, I’ve come up with some takeaways that can hopefully apply to all of us, whether you have been to northwest Germany and Rome or not.
First: Place your worries at the foot of the cross, because Jesus already has, and with all of His being wants to take your burdens away from you. This is such a gift of our faith, and I will be the first to tell you that through prayer it can change your life.
Second: Allow yourself to have the environment and opportunity to hear God’s voice in your life, because in order for relationships to grow and be genuine, both people need to do some talking. In that same regard, open your heart to be poured into by God and see yourself as He sees you, because that person is infinitely valued and loved.
Third: Quite possibly my corniest takeaway is to be a light in the world. We are all just souls destined for communion with God and each other, and something as simple as a smile stemming from the joy of the Lord in our hearts can help to proclaim that message.
So yeah, I had a cool Catholic summer experience. I’m still “unpacking the graces” from it. With each new day I miss my friends, the memories we shared, and the opportunities we had to invest in each other. I miss having everything I did for a month be Catholic-related. I miss the contentment I felt knowing I was exactly where God wanted me to be.
But what a joy it is to realize that I have really only gained from this whole journey! God moments are all around us; we don’t necessarily have to cross an ocean to have them (it’s a great opportunity if you can!), all we really have to do is take the step of saying yes to Him and allow ourselves to see them right in front of our eyes.
Photos Courtesy of Lindsey Harrison.