July 2021 Our Hearts Forever: Invitations
Elise Boratenski '15 reflects on her faith journey on campus and off, and the unexpected invitations to deepen her faith that she’s received since becoming a mother during the pandemic.
Our Hearts Forever: Invitations
By Elise Boratenski ’15
During my time at Notre Dame, I was always being invited to deepen my faith. My boyfriend invited me to Dillon Hall’s Milkshake Mass. Old College seminarians invited me to evening prayer. My friends invited me to attend Campus Ministry’s Sophomore Road Trip. My spiritual director invited me to try new prayer practices. My professors invited me to read and analyze the ‘great books’ of the Catholic world. The grotto invited me to recollect myself in prayer in the midst of a busy day. In such an environment, I hardly needed to make any effort to “put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4). I was plunged into the depths of my faith with every step I took around campus.
After I graduated, I completed a program similar to ACE, Operation TEACH, and taught at a succession of Catholic schools. In many ways, the invitations to deepen my faith continued to pour in. My boyfriend (later my husband) and I continued to attend Mass together. Retreats were a required part of my job. I continued to be a compulsive reader of Catholic ‘great books.’ I stopped in my school’s chapel during my planning periods. However, these invitations to explore the deep waters of my faith now competed with the financial, relational, and professional obligations of adult life. When I spent time in these waters, I found that I was continually looking back at the shore. Increasingly, I turned away from the deep and returned to the shores of the real world, too frightened about what would go wrong if I left them behind.
And then, the simultaneous life-changers of motherhood and the COVID-19 pandemic hit me. My son was born in December of 2019. Just a few months later, the lockdowns began. Invitations to deepen my faith in the Mass, in retreats, and through parish ministries ceased. Even when they began to return, whether virtually or in person, I felt bound to stay on the shores, constrained by the mental, emotional, and physical demands of motherhood.
Yet, it was through my son that Jesus found new ways to invite me to put out into the deep. Watching my son fold his hands for bedtime prayers, laughing at his unique interpretation of the sign of the cross, and smiling when he gave goodnight kisses to “Mama Mary,” I realized that Jesus didn’t want me to leave behind my cares and concerns on the shores. Rather, he wanted me to bring my burdens with me and immerse them in the life-giving waters of my faith. Immersed in these waters, they could be transformed. The loneliness and isolation of motherhood during COVID was transformed into a greater reliance on Christ’s friendship. Nursing sessions, diaper changes, and repetitive reading sessions became opportunities to love Christ in loving the “least” of his “little ones” (Mt 25:45, Mt 19:14).
I learned that the time had come in my life to be not only a receiver of invitations, but also a giver. If my son was to come to know, love, and serve God, it was I who needed to invite him to do so. I needed to take him into the deep waters with me and teach him to explore them with trustful joy. If I wanted my son to spend time in prayer, I needed to invite him to do so by taking him to our prayer corner and teaching him what to say. If I wanted my son to pay attention at Mass, I needed to do so myself. If I wanted my son to discover the treasury of Catholic literature, I needed to begin by sharing with him age-appropriate examples of Catholic texts. It was precisely for this most sacred of duties, of being an invitation giver, that God had prepared me during my time on campus. I had received invitations that I might learn to give them not only to my son, but also to all those God would bring into my life.