It started as a quiet stirring in my heart, this gentle, almost imperceptible whisper from the Lord: “Come and rest with Me awhile.”
I didn’t understand what it meant, but I prayed to God for the grace and receptivity to go wherever He called me.
The next morning, I received an email from Blessed is She announcing the 2019 Shine retreat. I got excited when I saw that a retreat was going to be held in Annapolis, MD, a mere two-hour commute from my hometown. However, as my gaze landed on the dates for the Dublin, Ireland retreat, I immediately felt the tug of grace telling me that’s where I was meant to go.
Calling Me Farther
Really, God? Dublin?
Questions and doubts swirled in my mind as I tried to process this divine calling. Was it doable? Yes. But the fear of actually leaving the country to make it happen was immediate and seemingly impassable.
For one, I didn’t have a passport. This would be my first plane ride. My first solo trip. My first time sleeping away from home for this long. And I wouldn’t know anyone else attending the retreat. A trip of this caliber wasn’t meant for homebodies like me. I needed to stay where it was safe and familiar.
Fortunately, God had other plans.
After Mass that Sunday, I opened my parish bulletin to find a story about a woman who had just returned from Dublin, along with a welcome message she had discovered on the walls of an old rural church.
Making a Way
I tried to shake this off as a coincidence, but over the course of the next few months, I continued to receive small signal graces, assuring me this was anything but. At my job at the library, a soundtrack of Irish folk songs somehow found its way to my desk. Strangers galore gushed over their recent stays in Dublin, and travel books from you guessed where flooded the book drop.
Convinced this was my intended path, I continued asking the Spirit for counsel and guidance. Moments after one such prayer, I opened my morning devotional to this passage, “There is an adventurous journey awaiting you… I will be watching over you constantly…and I will bring you safely back to this land.”
“OK, God,” I prayed in response. “I’ll go. But You have to orchestrate events so that I can’t say no.”
The final nudge came from my coworker, Olive, who informed me that she might be going home to Ireland the middle of November. She wasn’t sure if it would coincide with the retreat, but I was welcome to accompany her there and back. When she finally told me the dates of her upcoming trip, I nearly broke into tears: it was the exact same week as the Shine Retreat!
The Universal Church
Just shy of two months later, I found myself at the Emmaus Retreat Center in Dublin, Ireland. Shouldering my swag bag, I stepped into the retreat hall. Seeing nearly 200 strangers gathered in one place was intimidating at first, but I quickly discovered this was an oasis of sisterhood where everyone was welcome. Women from Scotland, Washington, Ohio, Texas, Michigan, and even Hawaii bared their souls and shared their stories, leaving space to reverence my own. It was so easy to connect with these women, because despite the differences in our lifestyles and geographic locations, we were all woven together by a common love of Christ.
Over the next 24 hours, friendships were made, prayers were prayed, and phone numbers were swapped. My identity as a daughter of God was restored, and I discovered the pure, unbridled joy of singing praise and worship music with an authentic community of fellow Catholic women.
Calling Me to More
For me, these blessings were enough. But I remember feeling like more was to come, like God was preparing my heart for something bigger.
For several months leading up to the retreat, I had been pondering the idea of perpetual virginity. It had surfaced in prayer off and on before, but I wasn’t sure if it was a prodding from God or my own zealous propensities. So when I began to feel this subtle suspicion of something more, I wondered if it would be the answer I needed.
Mid-way through the Saturday of the retreat, we were handed out slips of paper from a small wicker basket, on which were written random passages from Scripture. We were then asked to reflect on the passage and record any thoughts or prayers that came to mind in our journals.
Gingerly, I opened the folded slip of paper to reveal this familiar verse from John 10:10:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
At once, I interpreted the “thief” to mean anything that averts my gaze from God’s life-giving love, which He offers to each of us in extravagant abundance.
But my reflections were soon to be upended.
That evening, as I knelt down for Adoration, I asked God once and for all what He wanted of me. In His presence, I perceived my virginity as a tiny wrapped gift beside the monstrance. It was close enough for Christ to take, and my heart throbbed in holy expectation as I waited for Him to make the first move.
Then it struck me: Jesus is not a thief. Certainly, He wanted me to give Him the gift of myself. But He would never force me to give it away.
Because that’s not how our Savior works. He only asks, as we decide whether or not to accept.
The question He was asking me now was, would I accept?
The jarring urgency of His invitation surprised me, and yet Jesus, ever the gentlemen, spoke so tenderly to my heart, reminding me that He would never impose Himself upon me. That this was ultimately my choice.
Sisters, I will never forget what He said.
“My beloved, you are free to say no and I won’t love you any less. But consider this: have you ever regretted saying yes to Me?”
Instantly, I was unraveled. Christ’s words—so kind, so honest—were the only cue I needed. When the monstrance was carried from the altar and brought before me for a sacred, one-on-one encounter, I promised myself to Him forever.
And in that moment of total self-giving, I felt His peace flood my soul.
Fast forward nearly one year. I am now, with the help of my spiritual director, pursuing a life of full Consecrated Virginity within the Church.
Yes, sisters, this is my testimony. But, I want to be totally clear here. You may not ever be called to give your life to God in this way. And that’s ok!
The Lord paves a personal, distinct path for each of our lives as we pursue deeper intimacy with Him. But it’s possible that God is asking you to give more than you think you can manage. Maybe saying yes to Him will require boldness, uncertainty, and risk. Maybe answering those interior promptings will incite misunderstanding and backlash from others, including close friends and family.
Whatever barriers are keeping you hesitant or fearful, I want these words from Scripture—the very words that inspired the Shine retreat!—to embolden you:
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. -John 1:5
As St. John vividly points out, Jesus is the true and perfect light that swallows the darkness of all our doubts, our uncertainties, and our fears.
Give Your Own Yes
Truly, I had no idea how the Lord would transform me on this retreat. I’m still astounded by what He was able to do in a single weekend! And while I can’t say what Christ has in store for you, I promise that if you step into the unknown with a posture of openness and trust, His light will intersect the shadows and illuminate the way forward.
So, sisters, keep striving to become more docile to the movements of the Holy Spirit. Listen to Him. Let Him lead. And allow Him to coax your hearts into the radically uncomfortable places, because that is where you will encounter Him most deeply.
No matter where you are in your faith journey, your yes is a gift.
The swag bags are just a bonus.
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Cathy Webb is a full-time Library Assistant, an advocate of long skirts, and an ardent follower of the Little Way. In addition to performing small deeds with great love, she delights in good books, good conversation (mostly with Jesus), green tea, and Eucharistic Adoration. You can learn more about her here.