Prophets of a Future Not Our Own: Serving SPO in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction

of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of

saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession

brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives include everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one

day will grow. We water the seeds already planted

knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects

far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of

liberation in realizing this.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,

a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's

grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the

difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not

messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

 WV Sign

It has almost been one year since I found out that I would be serving Saint Paul’s outreach as the male mission leader for its newest chapter at West Virginia University.  I approached the year like it was going to be some kind of epic adventure.  Nothing had yet been established down here and I would be laying the groundwork.  I recalled stories of great missionaries and saints like St. Xavier and the North American martyrs.  I wanted to have an opportunity to rise to the call of going out and preaching the gospel to those who have not heard it, and those who have not heard it fully.  As far as SPO goes, I was entering into uncharted territory. I had no idea what to expect from this year at the #1 party school in the country.  Anything was possible, and to put it as succinctly as possible, I was pumped!

I had no idea what to expect and began the year praying for God to give me vision.  I headed into darkness to see how God might use me to build his Kingdom.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I trusted that God would reveal His master plan about how I was to build His kingdom sometime soon.  At least I hoped so.

I started out meeting, talking to and building relationships with guys that I would meet in mass and around campus, and one young fella who told me his life story in the lobby of one of the freshman dorms.  I was inviting them to join men’s small groups and bible studies.  In both my small groups and in my one on one meetings with the men, I started to see the powerful desire that man has for God and God has for man be fulfilled in small communities and relationships.  In small, yet powerful, ways I was able to see how beautifully God was crashing my life, the lives of WVU students and the life of His Son Jesus together.  Whatever God’s plan was, it seemed to start making a lot of sense even though at times His tools didn’t seem like they would fit the task.  I even saw my personal weakness and struggles become strengths as God used me to heal young men who could relate to my story.

Over the year, I have seen God bring about magnificent fruit in the ministry down here at WVU.  I have had over 25 men attend one of my men’s groups at least once, and had 9 men committed to weekly Dangerous Men’s sessions this semester. I have been witnessing to gospel to many others in whatever way I can. The Dangerous Men’s sessions especially have shown themselves to be a very powerful vehicle for God to work on the men and their relationships.  The men who committed have responded in ways I never saw coming.

I have also seen fruit in the lives of men that I never expected to be involved in Saint Paul’s Outreach.  Ryan, a soccer player from New

 Matt (top left) with fellow WVU SPO students

Matt (top left) with fellow WVU SPO students

Zealand said of the men’s small group he is a part of : “It offers a strong sense of community and openness.  Every guy in that group is comfortable talking about his faith and the things that you can only say around those you trust.  Almost like a family.”  Even though this is his first experience of Catholicism, Ryan has had such a powerful experience of faith this year that he has shown interest in being baptized into the Catholic Church next year.  Of all the things I expected from God’s plan, I almost certainly didn’t see an unbaptized soccer player from New Zealand as a part of it.

In spite of some serious discernment about what it is that God has planned for my future I have decided to not stay for another year here at WVU.  God has put a strong call on my heart to pursue an even more epic adventure and to seek after him in a vocation to religious life.  I am currently waiting to hear back on my acceptance to the Society of Jesus and am planning on joining the Chicago-Detroit province of the Jesuits at their novitiate in St. Paul this upcoming August.  I have a strong sense of peace that God’s hand surrounds this path. (And it’s not just because our new pope is a Jesuit…although that doesn’t hurt!)

I also don’t know what to expect from SPO WVU.  I am leaving with a small pain in my heart.  Everything just seems so incomplete.  There seems to be so much unfinished business.  We have started both men’s and women’s Households. I have seen incredible leaps of faith from so many men.  I have seen men turn away from the sins and trappings that a party school provides. I have seen God perform miracles and cast out inner demons in the lives of students.  Why would I leave when things are just getting cooking down here?

But, isn’t that the nature of the work that we do as missionaries and as Christians? The one thing I have learned about providence and following God’s will this year is that God wants us to learn to trust Him before we begin to trust “The Plan”.  We have to be comfortable with mystery.  Jesus never said, “Come enact my formula for salvation,” he said, “Come follow me”.  I trust in God for my own life and for the lives of the men here at WVU, even though I don’t see the end product just yet.  I may be swept off to another adventure, but I know the seeds planted here this year will bear fruit because it is God Himself who will cultivate them.  I don’t need to see the kingdom to believe in it.