Our Hearts Are Restless Until They Rest in Him - St. Bernard's

Our Hearts Are Restless Until They Rest in Him

Oct 30, 2023

Katie Van Damme

Growing up, my typical Sunday mornings would begin with waking to the smell of meat and eggs being prepared by my father, enjoying a hot breakfast while listening to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” radio countdown, fighting for the shower with my sister, and my father counting down the minutes until we needed to leave for Mass.

My father would start by calmly saying, “We have fifteen minutes until we leave.”

Becoming a little more rushed, he announced, “You have eight minutes to go.”

Then, knowing my sister and I were still working on our big bangs and bright make-up, he’d begin to yell, “You have two minutes to be in the car or I’m leaving without you!”

It almost always ended with him declaring, “I’m in the car and we should have left three minutes ago!”

Leaving five minutes after the scheduled departure time, my father would drive to 12:00pm Sunday Mass like we were being pursued by the police after a bank robbery, all in our 1978 brown Chevrolet Impala with tan pleather seats. My sister and I would be guessing which song would be number one on the music countdown while singing at the top of our lungs to the runners up, sliding from left to right as my father took his turns. Five minutes later he would park in our “quick getaway” spot in the church parking lot, while pulling in on two wheels just before Casey Kasem announced the number one song in the nation. Pleading to hear the song, my father would turn the car off and growl, “We’re late!”

Sulking, we would walk into Mass seconds before Fr. Mathis was about to process down the aisle. My parents, sister, and I would take our designated seats in the very last row on the right-hand side. During my teenage years we attended St. Joseph’s Church in Lee Center, New York. It was a beautiful, small church with around twenty-five pews on each side of the aisle. Many of the parishioners were farmers and most lived in the country. Almost every week, the ushers would ask my mother if our family would present the gifts at the offertory. And every week she graciously said, “No, thank you.” She did not like to draw attention to herself or our family. We were what others describe as “pew-sitters”. We did not sing, my father never took Communion, my mother received Communion on rare occasions after going to confession, and almost always, my father would fall asleep during Mass.

Conversely, throughout my entire childhood, we never missed a Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation. My family was not financially secure, yet my sister and I attended Catholic school from elementary school through high school; we were enrolled in all sacramental classes, and our faith was never put aside for societal pleasures. I continued to practice my faith and the liturgical habits in which I was raised throughout my college years. I went to Mass weekly, even without the support of my peers. I could not convey the reasons why I attended when regularly pressured by my friends to skip a week. I honestly did not know if it was obligation, guilt, desire to please my parents, fear of God, or something even greater. Deep within me, I desired to be there.

I did not plan to attend graduate school after receiving my bachelor’s degree in psychology. I had achieved my life goal of becoming the first in my family to obtain a college degree; yet, I lacked direction when it came to a career.

Fast-forward twenty-three years: the world was in the midst of a pandemic; I was working in another unfulfilling job and was pleading with God to help me uncover where I was meant to be career-wise. With much prayer and discernment, the answer became clear: I was being called to work in the Church. However, in order to respond to this call, it was necessary to continue my education at the graduate level.

During the discernment process, I considered all of the jobs and volunteer positions I had held, contemplating which positions brought me the greatest joy, peace, and pride. It was not working as a receptionist in a school or as a medical records technician. Nor was it leading meetings for those grappling with their weight, or working in a school with students struggling with behavioral issues. And it definitely was not waitressing; I lacked talent in that field. While I enjoyed some of these positions, none of them brought me the joy that I experienced while ministering in the Church.

My first job after college was as a Youth Ministry Coordinator. This position allowed me to form a deeply spiritual relationship with Christ and the Church. Five years into our marriage, my husband, Leo, and I began teaching Pre-Cana classes, which was a time of spiritual and emotional intimacy for our relationship. I was also involved in various other volunteer roles at our parish, in my children’s Catholic school, and within our community. My heart longed to be in the Church.

In 2021, I took a leap of faith. I quit my job, registered for the Graduate Certificate in Catechetical Leadership program and began searching for a position as a Pastoral Associate. I allowed God to be my yolk as I worked through the Master level classes, while continuing to focus on my family of five. Once I permitted God to take over, everything fell into place. I took pleasure in my classes at St. Bernard’s, my family did not implode, and within three months I was hired as the Adult Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Paul’s Church in Webster, NY. It is amazing what will happen when we allow God to pull the reins.

While attending classes at St. Bernards, I began to realize what little I actually knew about the faith. This revelation evoked an inexhaustible desire to absorb as much knowledge about the Church as time would allow. With the support of my family, my parish priest, and the faculty and staff at St. Bernard’s, I enrolled in the Masters of Arts in Theological Studies program. With a sense of relief, I discovered that the classes I took for the certification program all transferred into the Master’s program.

God is always calling us into a relationship with Him. Whether we are seated in the last pew at church, or lecturing from the ambo, each one of us has a role as part of the body of Christ. When we allow our hearts to be open to His will, we will discover a world of utter joy, goodness, and beauty. I challenge you to let go and allow God to take over in your life. Soon, you too might be driving into Mass on two wheels, happily turning off the radio, and sharing the heavenly banquet with your earthly mother and father.

Katie Van Damme is a current student in St. Bernard’s Master of Arts in Theological Studies program. Having received her Certificate in Catechetical Leadership in May 2023 reinvigorated her love of learning and ignited her desire to obtain a Master’s degree in theological studies. Today, Katie works at St. Paul’s Church in Webster, NY, as the Adult Faith Formation Coordinator. She is also a member of the Rochester Diocese Catholic School Board. Katie has been blissfully married to her husband, Leo, for 21 years. It is with his support that she is able to attend classes at St. Bernard’s. Katie and Leo have three Children, Avery (17), Annika (16), and Vaughn (11) who attend Catholic schools in the Diocese of Rochester, NY.