Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I Said “No” to God

Dr. Mathews with Sr. M. Joan & best bud, Fr. Giaccardo
After finishing my Monday morning rounds at Alexian Brothers Hospital, I genuflected toward the tabernacle and slid into the back pew of the otherwise empty hospital chapel. I thanked God for my new job with an established gastroenterology group in St. Louis, Missouri. Carolyn and I had a beautiful son and daughter at home, and we just learned that we were expecting our third baby.

In my gratitude, I sincerely asked God how I could give back for all the tremendous blessings in my life. I offered suggestions such as volunteering at the local Casa de Salud Free Clinic one day a week, helping out at our local food pantry, serving meals at the Missionaries of Charity Soup Kitchen, answering calls at our local Birthright crisis pregnancy center, or even traveling once a year on a medical mission to an underserved country.

In the silence, I heard the word, “Evangelize!” Startled, I looked behind me at the Stations of the Cross and the snow falling heavily behind the stained glass windows, but I felt certain the voice had come from the tabernacle. Scared, I blurted aloud, “No!”  I quickly tried to explain to God that I was in no way capable of evangelizing, but as a newly trained physician, he could feel free to use me in my comfort zones of medical care and public health.

Uncomfortable after this awkward encounter, I visited the chapel every morning for the rest of that week, hoping God would give me new and clear instructions to volunteer in some pro-life activity or at some medical clinic. The tabernacle was disappointingly silent.

The following weekend our family attended the children’s “Birthday Party for Jesus” at the Pauline Books & Media Center in Crestwood, a section of St. Louis. As the kids sat on the floor with the sisters’ postulants, eating cake and singing songs, I read through a pamphlet of the Daughters of St. Paul. Father James Alberione had begun ten branches of the Pauline Family, which included priests, brothers, sisters, and lay members, whose central mission was to use any and all means available to bring Jesus to the world – in other words, to evangelize!

The St. Louis (Crestwood) FSP sisters & postulants
I understood that priests and religious evangelized, but I was sure I would never be able to teach others the rich treasures of our Catholic faith. As I looked over at my three-year-old son tearing the Christmas wrapping off “A Coloring Book of the Saints” and my two-year-old daughter clutching her Holy Family wooden ornament, I realized that these beautiful blue nuns were sharing Christ’s love with my children seemingly without effort. In that moment I also realized that I had already been evangelizing, at least to my children, when I would take them to Mass and pray with them at bedtime.

Over the years, we visited the Daughters of St. Paul and their bookstore and chapel much more frequently. My wife and I attended many lectures, movie nights, and prayer events, and often stopped just to visit. We loved telling people about the sisters and sending them to the bookstore to discover for themselves the grace-filled riches we found there every time we visited. I began to think that supporting the sisters in their mission and letting them evangelize those we directed there was sufficiently fulfilling my role in evangelization.

But the Pauline spirituality was much more infectious than I had anticipated. Before I knew it, I found myself sharing my faith, especially my ever deepening love for Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life whom we all seek in our daily lives to bring us fulfillment, joy, and loving peace. I was surprised to find myself sharing with friends, co-workers, and patients the love that the Blessed Trinity wants us to know—and usually in normal conversation, not with a Master’s level explanation I would expect from a professional evangelist.

That, I believe, is the key. Evangelization is not about doctoral dissertations and Scripture memorization. It is all about relationships, primarily about the relationship that the God who created us and suffered and died for us wants to have with each of us. Often the most effective evangelization comes from those we encounter in our daily lives. Many people may never read the Bible, attend Mass, or even pray, so you may be the only version of the Gospel some people ever hear.

After learning all that I could about the Pauline Family, I decided to take back my original “No” to God. Like St. Paul (whose conversion we celebrate this coming Sunday), I gave him an unambiguous, emphatic, and loving “Yes” when I made my Promise as a Pauline Cooperator on October 11, 2009. As a Cooperator in St. Louis, I am able to assist the local Daughters of St. Paul in many ways, such as making our community aware of their awesome presence and offering daily prayers for the health, happiness, and success of the sisters as they carry out their mission. Most directly, though, I bring what they have shared with me into my ordinary life, attempting to give the gift I have received as a gift to my part of the world that is waiting for it (cf. Mt. 10:8).
“I wish to speak not only to consecrated persons, but also to the laity, who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission…. Live this Year for Consecrated Life as a grace which can make you more aware of the gift you yourselves have received. Celebrate it with your entire ‘family,’ so that you can grow and respond together to the promptings of the Spirit in society today” (Pope Francis, To All Consecrated People, III:1).
Click here for more information about the Pauline Cooperators.

Photos: Jeffrey E. Mathews, MD

Jeffrey E. Mathews, MD, has been a Pauline Cooperator since October 11, 2009. He and his wife, Carolyn, live in St. Louis, MO, and consider themselves blessed to have three sons and two daughters, two of whom still live at home. Dr. Mathews has a love for languages. He has studied French and Chinese in the past and he is currently studying to become more fluent in Spanish.


Alice said...

What an inspiring post!!

Maryann Toth said...

Thank you for sharing this story, Jeff. I second your comment about how we can evangelize in our everyday lives. Thank you also for saying "yes" and being a fellow Cooperator!

Unknown said...

You are always so inspring, be it article, video , photos or messages posted by you on Facebook. Indeed, we can all be connected in the Love of our Master, Way, Truth and Life through the mass media! Love from HK, Cheryl

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story in such an engaging way! I'll be linking to this on my spirituality of communication blog this week! God bless you, Jeff!
-_Sr. Marie Paul