Learning to Believe in the Goodness of God
A Letter from Mary Grace Mangano
(Click on the letter to enlarge)
Only a few weeks ago, I sat in a beautiful cathedral surrounded by strangers in one of our country’s largest cities. It was a Saturday evening Mass after an unusually warm fall day. I was sticking to my seat a little bit, until the quiet, familiar church air cooled me. As I stayed in my pew after Mass, I heard a voice in my heart say, “God is good all the time.” I repeat this to my teenage students an exhausting amount of times each day. I know it in my head, but in that wooden pew, as I sat alone, my heart finally heard it. God is good all the time. But believe me when I say - I know it doesn’t always feel this way.
I had an Italian professor in college who told me time is a human construct. I remember sitting in class - the trees on the cusp of spring with their wet-black branches - poised with a cup of coffee steaming while I scribbled notes. Modernità, he said. Humans try to grab time (and our lives) back from God. On earth, we waste time, we kill time, we wait for the right time, we lose time, we schedule time.
And yet, existing with God happens -- somehow, inexplicably -- outside of time. Even in the hurt, broken, scary, confusing, frustrating seasons, days, and moments (Page 2) of our lives, He is still God. He still, sees us, loves us, and desires the best for us...and is a good God. Do you really believe that? No - I mean, really believe it?
After college, I chose a path out of fear that another path (that I wanted) wouldn’t open up for me. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, so I convinced myself that I didn’t really want it & it wasn’t right. But God gently, slowly, painfully guided me back and used that time. I felt lost and inept and defeated. When we let fear drive our decisions, we are led to doubt in ourselves and in God.
I decided, against all expectations and completely out of step with the path I had pursued, to try again even when I had no idea what would come of it. That year, I had Thomas Merton’s prayer pinned to my wall. I was still unsure, but no longer afraid because there was an undercurrent of peace and reckless hope in God flowing through me.
In that church pew with the fading early autumn light, again, I felt unsure of where I was and what I was doing. Loving God and trusting in His time, His plan, can be so frustrating. We want to ask why? Where are you? But instead, I’ve started saying, Be with me. He is with you, sister. All the time!
"We want to ask why? Where are you? But instead, I’ve started saying, Be with me. He is with you, sister. All the time!"
When trusting in His love is hard, say this with me: I have no idea where I’m going, but I know that You are here, Lord. He loves us in every moment.
Peace be with you!
Get to know Mary Grace
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m Mary Grace. I’m 26 years old and I teach English in a Catholic high school, though I formerly taught middle school ELA and religion. I’m the middle of three sisters and I’ve also been blessed with incredible, faith-filled female friends who feel like sisters. I’m a bookworm, a sometimes-poet, and a runner. I like to cook, to hike, to wander in a museum, to read a good book with good coffee, to write letters, to go thrift shopping, and to spend time with my family, among other things.
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
My faith is the center of my life, of who I am. It’s settled into my soul. I’m fortunate that I also get to live out my faith at work, being a teacher in a Catholic school. To me, teaching is a vocation. It calls me to die to myself a bit more each day, urging me to be holier with each student I serve. Each class begins with prayer and (it just so happens that) our school prayer focuses on Christ the Teacher. But more than that, my faith really is the core of my identity as a human on this planet, as a woman, a daughter, a sister, a friend. In Him, I live and move and have my being (Acts 17: 28).
"...my faith really is the core of my identity as a human on this planet, as a woman, a daughter, a sister, a friend. In Him, I live and move and have my being."
From one Catholic woman to another, how have you discovered your sense of belonging in the Church?
I’m a cradle Catholic and although I’ve always been faithful, having exceptional parents who raised me and my sisters to pray together each night and develop a relationship with God, I can also pinpoint a specific moment when I felt I belonged in the Church. A friend from class in college invited me to the culminating celebration of the Year of Faith in Philadelphia in November of 2013. We woke before dawn to ride in a van with a few other students to a full day of talks by Bishop Barron and several others, as well as Liturgy of the Hours, a candlelit procession through the streets, Adoration, and Mass at the Cathedral Basilica. People from all over the world had come to gather for this event. I can’t explain what happened on that day inside of me exactly. I think I was struck by the universality of the Church, of its ancient Beauty and deep Truth. The only way I can describe it is to say it was as though a light had switched on inside of me. It was lit from inside with the joy of being Catholic! I felt alive.
What’s the most empowering piece of advice you’ve been given as a Catholic woman?
I can’t offer one single, pithy piece of advice. Rather, the message I received from my parents all my life has empowered me as a woman, probably above all else. The family is the first church, after all. In everything they said and did for me, sacrificed for me, my parents taught me to listen to my intuition and to be active about discovering myself — the person God created me to be. They never pushed me one way or had their own agenda for my life, but encouraged and supported me as I discovered on my own how to be myself. I always knew I was their child, but first and foremost a daughter of God, given gifts that were meant to be shared with the world.
Tell us about a woman who inspires you. What lessons have you learned from her? How has she influenced your life?
There have been (and are) so many! My name is actually a combination of both my grandmothers’ names. I’ve always been honored to live up to them and to try to live as they did. Both of my grandmothers were strong, faithful women. One of them raised ten children, lived all over the country with my grandfather in the Navy, and was an incredibly talented painter. The other raised four children, was the first in her immigrant family to go to college, then get a Master’s, studied abroad in Cuba, and became a teacher. I’m inspired by their devotion, their humility, their gentleness, their courage, and their boundless love. Both of them also had a fierce love for Our Lady, which also makes me feel tied closely to them.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
I’m a writer and reader by nature, so those are some of my favorite ways to pray. It makes so much sense to me that God would speak to us in the ‘languages’ that are unique to us. Reading spiritual books or Scripture, I always find a new insight God reveals to me since I am a different person each time I read it. And when I journal as a form of prayer, I begin to see how God has truly responded to my prayers and been present throughout each joy and sorrow I’ve experienced. Running for me is also very spiritual. A professor in college once told me that the word ‘inspire’ literally means ‘in-spirited,’ and running or beautiful music, a gorgeous sunrise -- all these acts of Creation and God’s goodness inspire me, or fill me with the Spirit.
What aspect of your life right now do you find the most beautiful? The most challenging?
To be totally honest, it’s both beautiful and challenging to be present in my life right now and to learn to love the people placed in my life at this time. I really want to give God control and trust Him with everything, but I distract myself with busy-ness and worrying. I can get so caught up thinking about what will come and what the future might hold. This state of life, being single and new in a big city, can feel so transient and temporary. It can feel lonely. Yet, I’m also surrounded by people who I can love right now. God is inviting me to see them as He does and to use this time to know them better, to love better. I also have the freedom to choose (most of the time when I’m not lesson planning or grading) how to spend my time. This is also a lesson in loving God, for “The world promises [us] comfort, but [we] were not made for comfort. [We] were made for greatness” (Pope Benedict XVI).
What virtue do you find yourself valuing most right now?
I’m going to choose one virtue and one fruit of the Holy Spirit. My virtue is hope and my fruit is joy ! When I taught Confirmation prep, I loved explaining to my students that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are examples of His gifts being used, or bearing fruit, by those He has given them to. 1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us that the greatest ‘graces’ or virtues that remain are faith, hope, and love. Especially during the cold, winter months, I am valuing hope and joy because while happiness and pleasure are fleeting, hope and joy are deep-down virtues that permeate the soul. They endure. But we have to choose, daily, to act on them. I can choose to be joyful in my work and hopeful in my outlook even when things are difficult or do not go according to plan.
Fill in the blank
A typical day in my life looks like…
Waking up at 5:30 to eat a quick breakfast while reading the daily Mass readings from Give Us This Day , along with my Blessed is She devotional. I say my Morning Offering as I walk to school across Central Park, and then prepare for my classes. I teach during the day, then tutor after school and coach the girls’ basketball team. If I don’t have grading or other work to do and it’s still light out, I might go for a run before making dinner. Winding down for the day, I like to end with a quick Examen and short journal to express my gratitude for the day or the heaviness in my heart, and maybe even reading from a library book.
My favorite quote is...
I have so many! But this one always gets me: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (Mary Oliver)
I feel most inspired when…
I’m creating something or admiring someone else’s creation. Other people’s passion lights me up and reminds me to believe that with Christ, nothing is impossible.
The Catholic Church is…
My home. Quite simply, it’s where I grew up, shared meals, met friends, where I would go when I was hurting or confused, and it’s where most of life happens: Baptisms, weddings, funerals, and everything in between. It’s where I feel most sure of myself and who I am.