If you’re on the interweb, you’ve seen #YOLO unfold in a series of tweets or status updates of shenanigans involving late nights, red bull, and impulsive hair dye. I don’t find the choices in these updates all that inspiring.
When I think of life-changing choices that inspire, I think of my friends Cathleen, Mark, JD and Kate.
Cathleen was a pre-med student. The spring break of her senior year, she went on a medical mission trip to Ecuador. She spent a week taking canoes and hacking through rainforest to reach remote villages and administer life-saving immunizations. I remember her sitting cross-legged and sunburnt on the floor of my dorm room, as she told me that she was putting aside her medical school applications and impressive shoe collection to return to Central America to serve as a missionary.
She taught in a mission high school for two years and married the head of the school science department. Cathleen remains in Central America with her husband where her life is nothing like she imagined. She still wears great shoes.
Mark studied biochemistry at the University of Toronto where he also held the number one place on the tennis team, had a serious girlfriend, and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1995. He deferred a full graduate level scholarship to spend a year volunteering as a high school teacher in Belize, Central America. Although he had never given it previous thought, in his second year there he discerned a call to the priesthood and was ordained by Blessed John Paul II in 2003.
Now the pastor at the mission where he once volunteered, his days are filled with the stuff movies are made of — crossing bridges made of planks and rope to bring the sacraments to remote villages and trucking through the hills of Guatemala to celebrate Mass in chapels rarely visited by priests.
His latest adventure was bringing 20 youth from Belize to World Youth Day in Madrid. He said that sharing this journey with the youth,
“To walk beside them and stand invited into the intimate moments of God’s own revealing love to them . . . to admire the wonder of Christ’s love for them and His love in them has been quite possibly the greatest, most quiet of personal joys in my priesthood thus far.”
Kate & JD
In November, Kate and JD were licensed as adoptive parents, ready to receive whatever child God had in mind for them. Max was born a month later and placed in their family. When describing the handsome, smiling baby he cuddled in his new Facebook profile photo, JD explained that Max has Down Syndrome,
“Which means God has a few extra challenges ahead for him. We can’t know how Down’s Syndrome will affect Max’s life until he lives it . . . But we’re excited to face new challenges together with Max!”
Do You Only Live Once?
Cathleen, Father Mark, Kate and JD made decisions based not on the idea that you only live once, but that their lives are eternal and their actions have eternal consequences for themselves and those they encounter. To put aside the luxuries, rewards or the “easy path” on earth may seem crazy or ill-advised, but following Christ has always been about faith in Christ’s promise that “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
In choosing to lose their lives to the plan of God, they’ve discovered what Father Mark describes as, “The great life, the Catholic life, life to the full.”