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THE FINAL WORD with Corynne Staresinic

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I could not sleep the night before I met a Catholic priest for the first time.

Until that year of my life, my knowledge of Catholicism had been informed by negative headlines, my Evangelical pastors’ condemnations of the Church, and an encounter I had on the playground in first grade. As I remember it, I was told by a girl that I couldn’t play with her and her friends because I was not Catholic and, resultingly, going to hell. This experience became emblematic of my
understanding of the Catholic Church. It was an exclusive club for the closed-off and cold-hearted that lacked any sort of understanding of the love of God. Years later, I was nervous that this meeting with the priest would be more of the same.

But I still wanted to give this a shot. I was becoming weary of the faith I grew up with and feared that I didn’t fit the mold of the Christian life that had been presented to me. Catholicism unexpectedly entered the picture through a new relationship, and I came to realize there was much more to the Church than I had known. After a few months of researching and praying, I decided to meet with a priest – a Dominican from a church down in Madeira.

On my drive to the meeting, I was tense. My heart pounded as snow flurries fell, and I rehearsed my questions for the priest aloud, to make sure I was articulating my thoughts correctly. I prayed for clear discernment, for God to be with me and to bring peace. At some point, “Flowers in Your Hair” by The Lumineers played in the background. It’s a song that is very much not about God, but there’s one line in it that felt applicable to the events at hand. It became my prayer, and it still gets stuck in my head whenever I kneel to pray in a church to this day.

Be in my eyes, be in my heart.

The meeting went better than I could have hoped. We talked through all my questions, from those on the sacraments to the history of the Church. He never attacked me for speaking plainly. He never questioned my intentions or knowledge. He just listened and responded, kindly and humbly. He even shared a little bit with me about his own conversion story. Over the following months, we continued to meet, and about a year and a half later, I came into the Church.

This priest was present to me, and I came to know Christ as a result. Unfortunately, I know this is not everyone’s experience of Catholicism. For many, I’m sure, it’s more akin to what I experienced on the playground as a first grader.

But these kinds of experiences don’t have to continue. Our faith is not an elite club only for a select few. Each of us is called to radiate Christ’s love to those around us, just like that priest did for me all those years ago.

How do we, as Catholics, better share Christ’s love with others? As I sit at my desk writing this, there’s a small replica of the Pieta next to me. When I look at the Pieta, I see the heart of the Christian life: that to love means to lay down our lives for others and keep our arms open to all. It is to see Christ in every person before us, and to find him in my own heart. It is to be present to every person we encounter.

Be in my eyes, be in my heart, Jesus.

CORYNNE STARESINIC is the founder and director of The Catholic Woman, a nonprofit multimedia platform illustrating the many faces and callings of women in the Church to inspire millennial Catholic women to live out their faith. She is a convert to Catholicism and a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains with
her husband, toddler and baby in utero.

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