“At the age of 21,” Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, shared with 3,000 people last Sunday afternoon, “I was already an alcoholic. I was very promiscuous. My life was broken by lust. It had been decimated by childhood sexual abuse that I never told anybody about.... But God didn’t abandon me.”
“Somebody loved me in my brokenness,” Sister Miriam continued, “and it changed my life. God sent a Catholic priest into my life who was authentically holy, and it rocked my world. He fathered me—loved me as a father—and I could not deny his witness.”
Sister Miriam’s story was moving and she touched many hearts. She was speaking at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, in Orlando, Fla., where 3,000 Catholics from around the country—bishops, priests, religious, and laity—gathered to talk together about the mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
“Love is an ongoing invitation,” Sister Miriam shared. “There’s always more room for love. We want to live vibrantly and freely, and the Lord can come and set us free.”
Sister Miriam shared her story during a panel discussion about the call of radical discipleship.
At the same panel, Bishop Frank Caggiano, of Bridgeport, Conn., said “anyone who wants to go out into the world must begin by going inward: a radical response to the call of missionary discipleship also involves a radical response to the call of holiness. We cannot give Him who we do not know.”
Their message has been a part of the message of encouragement and inspiration at the center of the Convocation for Catholic Leaders. And the truth is that Catholic leaders in the Church today need to be encouraged. We need to be inspired. And we need to remember that Jesus Christ is capable of loving, transforming, and healing hearts, and cultures, in ways we might never expect.
That reminder sounds simple. But very often, in the midst of our lives, it becomes easy to look at faith as only a set of obligations and rules. It becomes easy to allow the routines and rhythms of faith to make us complacent. It becomes easy to forget that at the center of our faith is a true and intimate relationship with a person—Jesus Christ—who loves us more than anyone ever has.
At the heart of the Christian mystery is the mystery of that love. Christ loves each one of us enough that he made a sacrifice of his life to atone for our sins. He gave us his body and blood so that we could become holy. And he suffered death itself so that death could be conquered, and so that we could live forever.
That love is powerful, and radical. And when we’ve truly experienced Christ’s love, we know that we need to share it. Love always begets more love.
Still, Catholics can be apprehensive about evangelization. We can be wary of seeming insincere or pushy. Or we can use that apprehension as an excuse for timidity or cowardice: fear of what the world might think if we appear zealous, or strange.
Most serious Catholics have those apprehensions. Most of us understand those fears. And for that reason, the Lord calls us to evangelize the world not as individuals, but as a community: as his Mystical Body. He calls us to work together as a Church, strengthened in solidarity, made courageous by our unity, to proclaim the Gospel, and to witness to his love. God calls the whole Church to love people in brokenness, so that, through us, his love can transform lives.
Sister Miriam James Heidland’s life was transformed when she was loved, by Jesus Christ, through the love of his Church. She found peace. She found freedom. She found mercy. And she found joy. That is the power of the Lord’s love. And the Lord calls us, his Church, to love with his love, in order to bring his mercy into the world. That is an awesome call, and an awesome responsibility. But he calls us to undertake it together—to go forth, together, as the Mystical Body of Christ, to make disciples of all nations.