My words were a source of hope.
A few weeks after moving across the country, I did what anyone in search of a faith community might do, and I volunteered. The local Catholic church sought help for their annual pumpkin patch fundraiser in support of a homeless ministry. And so, I made plans to fill up one of many empty Saturdays outside, in a new, historic town, surrounded by the colors of Fall -- my favorite season.
It was there that I spoke with a fellow volunteer – an older gentleman who once fought in a war, lived many beautiful years with the love of his life, and identified as a Marylander with pride. He looked at me with sad eyes and told me about a deep concern: the lack of young people at church.
Without knowing what else to say, I told him about a place where there is no lack of young people. A place where the pews are packed for 9:09 PM mass each night of the school week. A place that sends hundreds of students to a conference with tens of thousands of other young people from across the nation. And how at this conference, faces are filled with tears, joy, and total transformation during an evening spent praising and adoring our Lord.
Oh, how the man responded with such gratitude. St. Isidore’s Catholic Student Center, a place thousands of miles away, gave him hope, he said.
Now, as I become further and further removed from my time at St. Isidore’s, I see what he sees. There are so few young people at church. I look around and see families, children, and older couples. I do not see a lot of people who look like me.
And oftentimes, I feel so alone. For the first time in my life, I am not immediately surrounded by a community centered on Christ. My planner is no longer marked for time with friends to discuss our dreams, worries, joys, and heartaches, all the while sipping on a cortado and encouraging each other to keep the faith. I can’t simply run up the stairs or down the street for a friend to give me consolation. What I can do, however, is run to a little place in my heart—a place where God dwells at every moment of the day.
This can be such an abstract thing to say, can’t it? I mean, how does someone actually run to God within their hearts, particularly in the face of hardship? Particularly in the face of a global pandemic when the physical dwelling places of God are no longer widely accessible? Let me tell you, it was amid this very pandemic that this abstract idea became my reality. Weeks passed without any physical human interaction. My mental health suffered, and my loved ones could do little but watch and pray. There were only so many words I could use to describe the isolation, and there were only so many times I could say those words to the same people over the phone. Begrudgingly, I slowly accepted that there was nothing I could do to change my situation. It was not within my power to stop the pandemic, and there was (quite literally) no one around to rely on but God.
In my lowest moments of 2020, I found refuge in the words of Dr. Greg Bottaro in The Mindful Catholic: “The path of acceptance is the one you walk with peace, but peace does not mean the alleviation of suffering. Peace is that deep, interior stillness that tells you that no matter what kind of catastrophe might be happening in your life or in the world, everything is going to be OK. It is the sense that there is a meaning to all of this, even if you can’t understand it. It is the sense that someone bigger than you is in charge, that the weight of the world is not on your shoulders, and that it is OK to break down and not be ‘strong enough’ (no one is strong enough).”
That deep, interior stillness is what I long for; that peace is what I seek to find and maintain. It is what I found within the people who awakened my desire for God at St. Isidore’s. For a while there, it was enough for me to live through them and their relationship with God. I saw how He filled them up, and I let their beautiful witness fill me up. Over time, God revealed that He does not simply want me to be friends with people close to Him, experiencing the aftereffects of His love; He wants me to be close to Him, so that I may experience His love all for myself.
Dear brothers and sisters, He wants this for each of us. He wants to fill us completely with everlasting peace, hope, and love. However, He can’t do this if we don’t make space for Him. If we don’t cultivate the grounds of our heart and remove the weeds that prevent God from entering in fully.
St. Isidore’s was a tangible place for me to be with God. It gave me the tools to tend to my heart, and I truly believe that these tools helped build the foundation that held me together when the “rain fell, the flood came, and the winds blew” in 2020 (Matthew 7:25). Yet, how beautiful is it that Kansas is not home to this foundation, nor the interior dwelling place that rests upon it. It is within me as I type each word, and it is within you as you read them. If ever God is not inside with you, know that He is right outside the door, waiting for you to let Him in.
And this interior place – a place only a moment away – gives me hope.
Kayla Mesh is a 2019 alumna from Kansas State University, where she studied mathematics and computer science. She's a coffee lover and an aspiring adventure cat owner, though her socially distanced cat is now a little too afraid of the world. You can read more about God's hand in her life at lovelytobehold.net.