Today we are so fortunate to have a testimony from a former CCO staff, Marlena Loughheed. Marlena served a Vine year with CCO in 2008 and has since gone on to many new adventures including journalism school, an internship with the Holy See’s Mission to the United Nations and is currently working for the Office of Public Relations and Communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto.
I was 20 when I decided to take time off from my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa and apply for the Campus VINE program. I was accepted and assigned to work with a team of four missionaries at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
For many years, I had been living a very self-centered existence, working hard to achieve straight As in school, be highly regarded by the people around me and eventually land a successful career in media. In this pursuit of worldly success, I was constantly left feeling exhausted and empty. Although none of these goals were inherently bad, when pursued without involvement of the Lord, they had the potential to lead me down a swift path toward destruction and isolation.
During my undergrad, I became very involved as a student leader in CCO and served on a CCO summer mission project. These experiences made me feel alive in a way that pursuing worldly success could not achieve. That feeling of peace I had while sharing the Gospel was irresistible. I wanted to explore this life of missionary service and VINE seemed like a great way to do so.
VINE continued to teach me the joys of using my gifts for the service of others, rather than for myself. Being removed from academics for a year was a perfect opportunity to explore how the Lord could use the gifts He had given me to build the kingdom. Having left the distractions of my student life behind, I experienced freedom to truly discover the person God was calling me to be.
I’ve always been struck by the story of the feeding of the five thousand. In particular, I identify with the boy who offers Jesus a meager gift of a fish and some bread. Jesus takes this gift and transforms it into enough food to feed a massive crowd. Similarly, I have been given many gifts. On their own, these gifts are small, but when offered to Jesus, they are multiplied and used for the good of all, rather than for my own gain.
Early in my VINE year, my teammate Lorne Stang challenged our team to pray the words, “today I will do what love requires” every morning as soon as we woke up.
This simple prayer transformed the way I lived my life. I was no longer starting my day thinking of what I could achieve by myself. Instead, I was thinking about how I could better love God and others in every word and action that lay ahead that day. I was sharing my proverbial loaves and fishes, rather than hunkering down for a less satisfying solo lunch.
For many people, the VINE Program is an important part of discerning a long-term call to CCO staff. For me, VINE was integral in learning how I could more freely and fruitfully live my call to work in the world. Although I’m not working formally as a missionary, I am still called to be missionary in all that I do. Adopting the habit of doing what love requires was the push I needed to fully surrender my gifts to God and allow Him to use them in a much more significant way than I could achieve on my own.
Since serving on the VINE Program, you could say that I have experienced “worldly success.” I earned two degrees, participated in a prestigious internship in New York City and eventually landed a great job in my field. Having my ambition re-directed to the source of my gifts was an essential part of my journey as a young Catholic. These pursuits would be in vain, had I have continued to chase opportunity with selfish motives. It is only when I’m pursuing my ambitions with love as my motivation that I can truly say that my life is a success.
Let’s be honest: a banquet isn’t a banquet if you’re eating it alone. I look forward to one day dining at the Heavenly Banquet, knowing that sacrifices made in love are responsible for the large crowd at the table.