By Kathleen Mattone
“After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19:12 NIV
Why do we trust an earthquake and fire to get our attention, but not a gentle whisper? God has been whispering to me my entire life, and I have repeatedly paid attention to the other noises of the world. But not to the whisper.
I always wanted to be in healthcare. My mom was a nurse in World War II. As a woman of deep faith, she inspired me to empathy, deep listening, and a profound joy in living. When I prayed as a young person, I felt God calling me to healing. As in “healing the body of Christ.” All I heard was “healing the body,” and so nursing seemed the perfect career choice.
I worked for two years as a typical young adult, not too concerned with church. But I felt compelled to find new ways to bring healing outside the hospital. Joining in the work of a free clinic, I was so touched by the journeys of patients as they struggled physically, spiritually, and financially. While I enjoyed nursing, I was already being drawn into relational healing.
Fast forward to my four-year nursing degree, with an emphasis on public health. Again I was seeking meaning in prevention, wellness programming, and systemic planning to help people be/stay healthy. I was always drawn to the holistic aspect of body, mind, and spirit nursing.
It should have been more obvious.
A couple of children later, after renovating an old house into a bed and breakfast, more involvement in church through sacrament prep, catechist training, and eventually teaching religion in middle school, the whisper persisted. Funny that through the raucous challenge of middle schoolers, I discovered an invitation to study the deep beauty and mystery of theology.
On my graduate school campus tour, I looked through the chapel’s semi-circular wall of windows out into the world and the beautiful rolling hills around the seminary. I heard in my heart, “This is where you are supposed to be.”
Of course, I didn’t hear those exact words, but it was a deep feeling of divine communication. I was shaken by this rather abrupt voice and deeply moved by something I can only explain as the Holy Spirit. It was a pull, a warm embrace, a magnetic tug at my core. I returned to that chapel countless times in my four years of study, and never again felt that exact, deep loving embrace. And yet, the sense of it still lingers with me today.
By now the mother of four, I worked as a nursing clinical instructor to pay for my graduate school. I will never forget slipping down to the chapel at the Catholic hospital where I was working, and once again feeling this sense of peace, or pull, or what many would describe as call. Even though I loved teaching and sharing my reverence for nursing, I was being nudged towards something new. Not long after that chapel experience, a professor suggested that I explore chaplaincy. Honestly, I didn’t have any idea what being a chaplain was all about.
But it only took a few weeks of my CPE internship to realize that this was where God was calling me. I fell in love with the CPE process and continued to do a residency while raising four children and finishing my theology degree.
After graduation, there were no chaplain jobs nearby. While I waited and prayed, I took a hospice nursing position. God provided me with the chance to learn and practice extensive end-of-life care from a truly holistic perspective. I eventually landed a weekend chaplain position, and then a full-time day shift in a Catholic hospital. I then had the extraordinary honor to be a market director for spiritual care, for seven hospitals and managing 25 chaplain employees.
And once again, God was whispering. I received my certificate in spiritual direction and left corporate healthcare to try spiritual healing, one person at a time. Through a webinar advertised by NACC, I was introduced to a wonderful organization that is working to heal the world and animate Pope Francis’ call for a synodal church. It’s an invitation into new chaplain work that I have little knowledge of, but somehow have been preparing my whole life.
Listen for the whisper. And trust in God’s call. The journey is the adventure. I am praying for you!
Kathleen Mattone, BCC, is a spiritual director/companion and owner of Sacred Space LLC in Versailles, KY.