Mirjana relaxing with a cup of coffee

Why I Believe in God

by Mirjana Villeneuve, former MH working guest

It was hot, there were bugs, and I was painfully homesick. I knelt between two rows of raspberry bushes with a plastic basket tied to my waist, the garden shirt I wore stained with red, searching the plants for ripe berries.

A Madonna House staff worker knelt on the other side of the bush, and we talked through the curtain of leaves between us as we worked. Just before the morning tea bell rang, she asked, “Mirjana, why do you have faith in God?”

I hesitated, then said, “I was born into a Catholic family.”

She shook her head. “No, I mean, why do you have faith in God?”

Suddenly, I realized I didn’t have an answer. At that moment, I felt stupid, but as I thought about her question, I got scared. For my whole life I had done everything “a good Catholic girl” is “supposed” to do! How come I couldn’t answer this simple question?

I realized that I didn’t have faith in God. I had never needed it. I was an overachiever in high school and was about to begin university on a scholarship. I had a safe home life, and I had a group of friends I got along with.

On the other hand, nothing in my life felt peaceful.

But just as I had “succeeded” at everything else, I was determined to change this. I would make myself happy, dammit! I would be perfect!

I had a game plan, I had a to-do list. I knew how to get people to like me. I knew what people wanted from me, and I knew how to deliver. Nothing could stop me.

Except, maybe, God. Or death. It was going to be one or the other, because in my pursuit of perfection, I was unknowingly hurtling myself in the direction of the latter.

I had knotted myself into patterns of sin and self-destruction, but I hadn’t yet acknowledged the fact that I was trapped.

When God dropped me off on the doorstep of Madonna House, I didn’t realize how radically my life would change. Now I can barely recognize the pre-Madonna House girl who thought she had it all figured out.

There I met the Mother of God with her arms outstretched to embrace each of her beloved children.

She introduced me to people who were not afraid to be human and vulnerable. From them, I learned that turning a blind eye to my suffering was only making it worse. I had to face it. I had to acknowledge it and give it to God.

These men and women had suffered and had united their suffering to the crucified Christ. Through their own crosses and undying trust in God, they showed me that there is hope for my life and that I can rest in the fact that I am loved.

“I am loved.” For a long time, that statement felt like nothing but a cliché. Now, I know it is true.

Through this journey that began when I crossed the threshold of Madonna House, my life has been touched in a new way by healing, forgiveness, freedom, peace, hope—things God had always been trying to give me, but that I had turned away from, judging myself unworthy.

There I realized that God has never left my side. He was with me when I was blind to my human messiness, and after opening my eyes, he’s stuck close to me still.

He has placed people in my life who continue to challenge me and lead me closer to him. He put me where I needed to be to begin healing, and he catches me each time I fall.

Life is not painless, but I take solace in his presence and in the support of the people around me who take solace in him, too.

Catherine Doherty once said that, “There is no greater dialogue than that between two crucified people. But crucifixion is not the end. It is the beginning.”

This is what I found at Madonna House: a community of hope rooted in the promise of the resurrection.

By embracing our suffering, we are given the gift of deeper connection with others, through which we can help lead each other closer to Christ.

In the raspberry bushes of Madonna House, someone asked me why I believe in God. I didn’t have an answer then. Now that I have gone through some serious growing pains, if someone were to ask me the same question, I could answer with confidence.

I have faith in God, I would say, because he saved my life and continues to do so every single day.