Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Risky business

By Sr. Laura Coughlin

A few years ago I went to Europe as a chaperone on a high school trip.  We had an engaging guide who was born in Quebec, lived in Belgium, and spent his time traveling all over the world.  Occasionally the adults would get together for a meal and a beer, and a little breathing space from the task of shepherding a really good group of students.  On one of these evenings the guide asked me, “Why did you become a sister?”

There are moments when we are asked this, and other deep questions, and the answers truly come from within – the place where the Holy Spirit prays with inexpressible groanings.  I recall that somehow it came out of my mouth that I was just an average person.  There was a time in my life when I would have struggled against admitting such a thing.  My resume is decent enough, and in spite of my math score on the GRE, my life appears to have been lived in a pretty alert state of mind over the years.  But as I’ve gotten older it has become clear to me that the American dream of being spectacular has kind of faded.  Such knowledge roughly corresponded with the realization that I was no longer a “young adult” and would never be a super-model, the President of the United States, or Aung San Suu Kyi.

Still, I admit that for several years after beginning my career as a sister-teacher in high school, I would have those moments of despair in which I found myself crying out, “I knew I should’ve been a super-model!”

Too late for that now…and there was never any genuine content in the comment anyway – just healthy stress relief.  And the students laughed (how dare they)!  If I couldn’t be tall and beautiful, at least I could be funny!  There must have been a lesson in that for them.

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I realized, I’m just never gonna be “all that."

And then I said to the tour guide… 

“You know it’s the community that makes me great.”  The community takes my gifts and asks how they can be used to serve the person of Christ, and somehow this service is rendered to the glory of God and redounds back to us as an awesome gift.

I wish I could find just the right words to answer that question young people have – “how did you know ?”  Right off the top of my head – which is not exactly the space of the Holy Spirit, but is a form of groaning – I’d say, “I didn’t.” 

But I’ve had some time, and some great teachers and materials here at Boston College to think about that question.  The word “risk” comes up a lot now that the Church is breathing the air of Pope Francis (don’t laugh – I know he only has one lung, but it seems like he breathes deeply with what he has).  Last week as I walked from the library to class I was pondering something I’d been reading and thought with some sadness, “when have I ever taken a risk?  a real risk?  WHEN?  WHEN?”  And then the argument in my head continued with, “well I entered religious life, and that was a risk, wasn’t it? It felt like it was at the time, didn’t it?”  And then it occurred to me that this kind of existential anguish is exactly what God has in mind when we take a risk in Him.  I’m not supposed to feel proud that I took a risk.  What I’m supposed to feel is awe-inspired that something so hard at the time has so greatly enriched my life, and hopefully, God willing, the lives of others.  God wants us to be grateful.  When the Holy Spirit teaches us in an interior way that we never really “merit” the grace we’ve received, that it’s all free gift, then we can say that those risks were all His – but gosh, weren’t they awfully exciting, and scary, and wonderful, and fresh?  And didn’t they seem to require such vigor from us? 

And can’t we keep right on taking them now that we know ? 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful sharing. The mystery of risk.


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