I Can Serve As I Am

by Ryan Graves – Spiritual Formation Program 2020-2021

On October 17, 2020, I was in my Dad’s car headed for Madonna House, and I was having doubts. This was going to be my first time away from home for this long a time. Six months.

Would I be welcomed well? Would I make many friends and enjoy living there? Would I be able to love and serve as faithfully as the staff do? Was this really God’s will for me?

I’m no mystic, but I think I can confidently say that God wanted me to be here and led me to Madonna House. I’m sure these doubts were not from God.

After my time of quarantine, I was welcomed as I was into the community and challenged to live its spirituality through peeling potatoes, scrubbing toilets, chopping wood, serving at Mass, and whatever else I was called upon to do.

And I was supplied with the grace to do so, among many other things, through daily Mass, Lauds, and loving encouragement from staff and guests alike.

During this program, there were many moments of growth and many things that challenged how I live out my faith.

If someone were to ask me about Madonna House, I would tell them that Madonna House is not for Christian wimps, and if you’re going to live here, you will be challenged. As Fr. Denis Lemieux once said at one of our meetings: Madonna House is a spiritual boot camp.

You will be challenged spiritually: to increase how far you’re willing to go out of love of God; physically, to increase how much furnace wood you can stack in one day; and intellectually, to take in and remember at least most of what is said in all the great homilies and talks you hear.

This intellectual part I especially wanted because I have a passionate desire to know my faith well and to understand it so that I can share what I’ve learned with others.

My deeper desire, however, is that my soul be changed, that according to how the Holy Spirit inspires me, I put the things I’ve learned at Madonna House into practice. Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28).

For me, it was through the hospitality and welcoming arms that received me when I arrived, through the innumerable loving services done for me and others through each and every duty of the moment, as well as through the encouragement from many, that I was able to begin more sincerely to accept myself as I am now, not just knowing in my mind that Christ loves me as I am, but experiencing it more in my heart.

In knowing that the people of Madonna House are able to share the light of Christ as they are, I can be free to be myself, and Christ can reveal himself in me as well.

I know that I am naturally quiet and introverted, and I thought that if I couldn’t learn to speak intelligently about my faith in front of others while I was at Madonna House, then I was likely not called to the priesthood.

But some of the Madonna House staff and guests are talkative and passionate and others are more calm and reserved. In this God revealed to me that I am able to serve his Kingdom in my own unique way, as I am, as he wills me to be now.

And I learned that even my weaknesses are useful to him. If I don’t have the words to speak within myself, the Holy Spirit will give me his words to say.

Catherine Doherty taught of the greatness of the Incarnation and the importance of incarnating the Gospel into our lives.

This of course is our daily life at Madonna House, that just as Christ knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples, I myself had to learn to be obedient to what I was asked to do in the moment, knowing that God himself had brought me there.

I learned that if I do it the best I can for love of Christ, our Lord and the people there, despite the struggles I might go through within myself, it can be an offering to God sanctifying me and those around me.

This is the kind of Christian discipleship that Madonna House taught me.

Even in small matters, obedience could be difficult if I was having a bad day. But Madonna House life is a hidden life, so I had to be docile to the Holy Spirit in those small hidden acts rather than in large heroic ones.

But as I’ve learned, it’s only in our being willing to follow the Lord in small ways that he prepares our souls to follow him in big ways. I learned that, in this way, the Gospel can be applied to all aspects of our life.

So although I went there to discern whether or not I have a vocation to the priesthood, my daily lived experience was of being trained to live a more authentic spiritual life, to be a faithful disciple of Christ Jesus.

Moreover, I had the experience of living and working alongside the many priests there, and I turned to them for counsel and direction.

I believe it is in and through living as a Christian disciple in my daily life that I will come to an understanding of where God is calling me. So I’m certain that the formation I’ve received in this program will continue to bear fruit and lead me to my vocation, whether that is the priesthood or something else.

Thank you, Madonna House, for the Christian charity you showed me while I was with you. You are in my heart and my prayers, and I hope to take these lessons and live them in my future life as a Christian.