Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

A reflection on the word “THEE”

By Jeff Young

“It ain’t about me.” 

I’ve been saying that for years. Doesn’t mean I’ve always lived it. But I have said it.

We live in a me-focused society. We are trained all our lives, without being consciously aware of it, to be the center of our own universe.

Even good people are infected with ME-itis. Even people striving to be holy.

Years ago, I was in the seminary. Twice. I spent two years in formation with the Missionaries of Charity FathersMother Teresa’s priests in Tijuana, Mexico. Then, later (after a stint of bar tending, believe it or not) I spent two more years in the seminary studying for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

I loved God… as best I could. I wanted to be holy. But, looking back, I can tell you that my “vocation” was all about me.

I endured a long, confusing and painful process before I came to know–in my bones, so to speak–that it is not about me.

“The Lord is with Thee.”

My last year in the seminary I fell head-over-heels in love with the most beautiful woman in the world.

Again. Yes, again.

She had been my best friend for a few years before I began studying for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. But we had drifted apart. An event took place my last year in the seminary that brought us back together again. Her younger brother died. Suddenly.

It’s always tragic when a young person dies. Anthony was only 21. It was his death that sparked lots of questions about faith and God in the heart of his sister. Since I had been her best friend… and since I was in the seminary (which means that I should know something about God, right?), she turned to me.

I did not expect to fall in love with her again. Falling in love was not part of my plan. You see, after years of drifting… years of trying to figure out who I was… I was finally there. I had purpose. I had direction. God was calling me to be a priest. Falling in love did not fit into that picture.

Yet, there I was. Helplessly in love. Feeling things I had never felt before. It made no sense to me. And as I tried to make sense of it all, as I tried to unravel what was happening to my heart, I suffered greatly. All this happened at the heart-level. Deep stuff. Identity.

All of a sudden, I found myself asking that question again: “Who am I?”

It’s really difficult to put that experience into words. Over the years I have distilled the experience into a few “expressions,” a few ways to explain that time in my life.

I’ve explained to people how, in retrospect, I seemed to be the one orchestrating my “vocation” to the priesthood. And that orchestration was exhausting. I was always on my toes, making sure I was playing the part right. I was always anxious. Thinking back now, I see that I desired the priesthood for me. It would validate my holiness. It would prove that God really did love me. It would prove that I was important.

Honestly, when I imagined what it would be like to be a priest, I imagined myself saying Mass or leading a Eucharistic procession or benediction. Sometimes I imagined myself hearing confessions. But the day-to-day stuff that a priest does in the parish? I couldn’t see myself doing that. Imagine the people that I would serve as I priest? That never entered into my mind!

“Who are YOU?”

It wasn’t until this young lady entered my life again that I started to think about somebody other than myself. God used her to show me that it ain’t about me. My healing from ME-itis began with her.

All of a sudden, I was not in control. I was not orchestrating my “vocation,” and I was not orchestrating this newfound relationship either. God was.

As my final year in the college seminary came to a close, I did not know what the future would hold. All I knew was that I had to take time off in order to see what this relationship was all about.

I graduated and got a job. A year and half later I married my best friend, Char. I did not know what love was until she entered my life. Through Char I discovered that the most important question is not “who am I?” but “who are you?”

The family has been called the “school of love.” It is in the family that we learn to love. It was before the altar in the beautiful gothic church of St. Patrick’s in New Orleans in November 1998 that I began work on the only degree worth obtaining: love.

Focus on THEE to be FREE

Love always focuses on the “other.” Whether that “other” is God, or spouse, or children, or friends and family, or even strangers… When others are the focus, we are free. Free from ME-itis. And free to love.

The angel assured Mary at the Annunciation (the feast that we celebrated yesterday!) that the Lord was with her. “The Lord is with Thee.” Mary was not focused on herself. She was focused on the Lord, and so she was free to say yes.

The world has not been the same ever since.

Mother Mary, help all of us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Help us all (single, married, widowed, young, old) to say yes to the Lord like you did, so that one day we will graduate with honors from the school of love in this life and wake up rejoicing in the freedom of LOVE in the next. Amen.

Jeff Young is the man behind the phenomenon known as the Catholic Foodie. He’s also a fabulous designer, copywriter, and consultant. Over the years, Jeff and his family have fed me, literally, and they’ve also ministered to me as friends. They are truly a blessing in my life, and it’s a pleasure to host him here!

image credit: MorgueFile