During the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, I strive to live with intentionality and creativity. At times, I have found myself struggling with a fear of the unknown that paralyzes me as I try to contemplate the many possibilities for what the future may hold. Ultimately, I trust in God as the One who created me out of love, who sent his Son into the world to die for me and to draw me into the life of the Trinity, and who sent the Holy Spirit to guide me. Yet, in the moments when my wonder turns to fear—about the health of those I love, what the fall semester will look like, or when I might next see and hug my family living out-of-state—I cling to a need for certainty and a desire to control.
During the Year of Mercy, I sought to deepen my own practice of mercy through my service as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. That summer during Notre Dame Vision, I encountered a young man profoundly moved by his reception of the Eucharist. As I prayed with this encounter, I experienced a profound renewal of my call to serve as an Extraordinary Minister, and I committed to serving regularly at my parish’s Sunday Mass.
I glanced up as the young man approached, next in line for Communion. He lifted his face, his eyes brimming with emotion as I held up the host and said, “The Body of Christ.” Looking into his eyes as I placed the host on his outstretched hand, he held my gaze with an intensity that took my breath away. He breathed out a soft “Amen” as he closed his hand around the host and lifted his clenched fist up to his chest. Grasping the Bread of Life, clinging to the source of love, he took a deep breath and with every fiber of his being uttered “Thank you!” as tears filled his eyes and flowed freely down his face. His response evoked something deep within me and I could only watch in awe as he consumed the host, a smile breaking across his face as he turned to make his way back to his seat. An encounter of no more than a few seconds, yet one in which God’s abundant mercy and love touched both his heart and mine.
To engage young people in reflection on their own gifts, the McGrath Institute developed Discerning Your Spiritual Gifts: A Toolkit for Faith Formation as an activity for the McGrath presence at the National Catholic Youth Conference in 2017. Through an interactive questionnaire, young people name the qualities that they identify with, then learn more about twelve saints who embodied these qualities. The resource also provides directions for a keychain activity where young people can create a tangible reminder of the insights gained through participating in this activity.
What does spiritual maturity look like? Instead of laying forth specific criteria, let us enter into an imaginative contemplation of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) as inspiration for creative consideration of the call to grow in authenticity and intimacy with Christ.