Holiness in the ordinary
Chris Cammarata shares how he first encountered Christ in silence and how his desire to live a heroic life of virtue led to him finding his home in the Jesus Youth movement
Our world today is in love with superheroes and movie stars. I used to think that following God meant being the same way—polished, perfect, and clean, like a superhero. There’s something inspiring about those heroic stories and sacrifices! But if there is something I’ve learned on my journey, it’s that living a life for God is not anything like the world’s ideas of being a superhero.
When I was seventeen years old, I decided I would live for God… somehow. I simply said “yes, I will follow!” There was a problem, though: I was not whole. I knew I wasn’t, because I could hear an ache inside of me—an empty, lonely feeling. I was longing for God. I knew (intellectually) that when I felt sad, alone, or confused, God was there for me. But that didn’t mean I felt it. That didn’t mean I experienced God being there for me. At first, I tried to overcome that by doing more for God: studying harder, praying longer and disciplining myself more. But none of those things worked.
Then one summer, I went on an eight-day silent retreat… and I had my first, true, deep Christ encounter—several years after I decided to live for God! What’s more, I didn’t meet God in a “dramatic” circumstance: there was no music, no preacher, or someone praying over me. I met God in silence. There was something fitting about that. I had cluttered my life with so much knowledge about God and so many things to do for God… It took him removing me from all of that so that I could finally hear him.
About five days into the retreat, I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament and under an enormous crucifix. Somehow, in that moment, I became aware of how I had all this knowledge about God and all this desire to serve him… but I still didn’t have this deep experience of him. I began to pray, and in my mind, I imagined myself there at the Cross, kneeling before Jesus. I looked down at my hands and saw his Blood on my hands—and my first thought was, “I did this to you, Jesus. This is my fault.” And then, from the Cross, Jesus spoke: “No… Take and drink. Raise your hands to your mouth and drink. I did this for you.” What seemed to be my condemnation a moment beforehand, I suddenly realised was my salvation. He spilled his Blood on my hands—for me. And when I touched his wounds, not a single one said that he regretted his decision, that he was angry at me, or that he loved me less. He saved me, and that was his free gift to me—given out of love.
That first experience of Jesus’ love for me taught me to trust in the Lord and believe in his love for me. He believes in my goodness; I should too. And it taught me to let him be the Saviour! He’s the hero of my story. From that graced encounter, my life took a new direction.
Even still, I had a question in my heart: What does holiness look like day-to-day? I had learned to not try being the superhero and instead to let Jesus be the hero—but we’re still called to a heroic life of virtue. If it wasn’t “doing things” for God, then what did it look like?
I found an answer to that question in Jesus Youth. I didn’t meet the movement until after my Christ encounter and my baptism in the Holy Spirit. My first real exposure to Jesus Youth was very simple: someone invited me over to dinner. I still remember that evening, actually, because it made something in my heart say: Oh, that’s what holiness can look like!
Jesus Youth attracted me because for the first time I saw a community of people who wanted to live every part of their lives for Jesus Christ. But there was something different about it. I knew many heroic and extraordinary examples of holiness: stories of saints, incredible priests, holy mystics, dynamic and inspiring men and women. But in Jesus Youth, I saw holiness in the ordinary. Husbands, wives, parents, doctors, nurses, engineers, students, priests, consecrated people, families… Whatever the circumstances of their lives, they were people who had the same desire that was in my heart, to give all to Jesus—and above all, in their everyday lives. Jesus Youth showed me extraordinary holiness in ordinary life.
I’ve had many beautiful experiences of Jesus Youth in a rather short time. My experiences on the Haiti mission especially touched my heart. I participated in the Amoris Christi Institute’s one-year formation program. Most recently, I felt inspired to see the “roots” of the movement and visit Kerala, so I spent most of this past December spending time with different Jesus Youth families, college groups, leaders and full-timers. I wanted to see a different side of Jesus Youth—and it turned out to be a very blessed and adventurous experience!
The people I met were so generous and willing to go out of their way for me. At first I was almost embarrassed that I had nothing I could offer back. Eventually, though, an elder said to me that “this is just what it’s like among family.” And that’s exactly what Kerala felt like for me: a visit to family! We’re a family unlike any other. After all, what makes us Jesus Youth? Our culture, our language, our upbringing? No, we belong to Jesus—that’s why we’re Jesus Youth!
My first deep Christ encounter involved Jesus loving me for who I am. Everywhere I went, I found that same character in Jesus Youth: people trying to love one another for who they are. I used to think that living a life for God meant I had to be a superhero and have all the answers figured out. Through Jesus Youth, though, I’ve learned that God accepts us and uses us as we are. Whatever we bring him, he will use. He doesn’t want a finished, polished product. He wants our mess. My story is messy, imperfect, and unfinished—and that’s okay. Giving that mess to him, letting him save me day by day, and meeting him in every ordinary circumstance is actually more heroic than all the great and extraordinary feats I thought I would accomplish for him. Instead of doing it all for him, I do it all with him, following his lead! I am with him, and so all is well!
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