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Trust divine providence, authors say, even when God wrecks your romance
The whole time they went to high school together in the early 2000s, Matt Fase and Amanda Vernon were best friends with strong romantic feelings for one another. They just never told each other how they felt.
Vernon figured the right time would come after high school. Fase, who was an earnest but oblivious young man, never picked up on her interest. He just assumed dating Vernon was out of the question.
“He was so oblivious,” Vernon said with a laugh. She and Fase, who is now a Holy Cross priest, were both in Michigan recently visiting their families. During that visit, they agreed to discuss their unique love story that is the subject of a memoir they co-wrote and self-published, “When God Wrecks Your Romance” ($21.99).
Their story is not a typical “God or the girl” dilemma that some Catholic men face when deciding if they will enter the seminary. Their experiences show how God can lead someone to their vocation in unexpected ways. Through the missed opportunities, emotional turmoil and confusion of the young adult years, God prepared Vernon and Father Fase for their respective vocations while teaching them important lessons about trusting in divine providence.
Today, Vernon, a Catholic recording artist and lay evangelist, lives in Phoenix with her husband, David, and their four young children. Father Fase, who was ordained in 2015, is a campus minister at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. They are still best friends who give parish missions and talks together. In a recent interview with Our Sunday Visitor, they shared their story.
Our Sunday Visitor: Amanda, what was it about Father Matt — Matt back then — that you liked in high school?
Amanda Vernon: First of all, he was really funny. And I felt like he really wanted to get to know who I was as a person. At that time when I was 14, I noticed I received a lot of attention from people and from audiences I would sing for. I was really assertive, and I ended up in the spotlight very often, even at that age. So sometimes I had the sense that people were interested in what I appeared to be rather than who I actually was. But with Matt, I always from the start had the impression that he wanted to know who I was as a person, and I think that was so comforting for me from the very beginning.
Our Sunday Visitor: Father Matt, it sounds like you were pretty mature for a high school kid. What do you attribute that to?
Father Matt Fase: I would say any extra maturity I had was thanks to my family. There was certainly an important Christian value system that my family set forward and where we grew up in western Michigan, that was supported by a lot of my friends. There were certain ways where I was more mature, but I was also very oblivious as well. I would say that played to my advantage, as the Lord used that lack of perception and understanding to protect me.
Our Sunday Visitor: Amanda, when you were in high school, were you hoping that you and Matt would date?
Vernon: I was definitely hoping that Matt and I would become more than friends. Even deeper than my specific hopes for a relationship with him, I had this deep conviction that Matt needed to be part of my life always. So the fact that we never moved beyond friendship in high school, it wasn’t so much frustrating as it was a bit confusing, because it seemed to be at odds with the conviction that I felt in my heart. So even back in high school, I tried to trust God with that conviction. I believed God would bring that deep-seated desire to fulfillment somehow in his own way.
Our Sunday Visitor: Father Matt, what were your feelings like for Amanda at the time?
Father Fase: They were pretty strong. But at the end of high school, we had seen each other a lot less. I certainly had a lot of feelings for Amanda, but by then, [a relationship] seemed out of reach. And all throughout high school, I never presumed that a relationship with Amanda was actually feasible.
Our Sunday Visitor: At the same time, Father Matt, you were discerning the priesthood?
Father Fase: All throughout high school, I had this sense and this question that maybe God was calling me to the priesthood. I didn’t know how to answer that question. My preference then was to just ignore it and, when I was older, I would figure it out. But as I was looking at colleges, I had this question that maybe now was the time for me to start seeking an answer to if God might be calling me to the priesthood. I had heard about this undergraduate seminary program at Notre Dame, and that seemed like a place where I could start to actually ask those questions and get real answers about discernment. That’s eventually what I did.
Our Sunday Visitor: How did you two keep in touch after high school?
Vernon: I knew Matt was heading off to seminary, and I was praying for him every day. I felt very strongly that the Lord was asking me to give Matt space, to not speak about the feelings that I had for him, even though in high school my intention was, once we graduated, that I was going to tell him how I felt about him, then we’d [get] engaged, married and have 10 kids. I was somewhat heartbroken to realize that God was compelling me to stay silent when Matt was in seminary. Matt followed my blog on my music ministry website. We would sometimes exchange an email. I saw him at Notre Dame for a football game. We stayed in touch. We didn’t have heart-to-heart conversations during that time. That was very intentional on my part.
Our Sunday Visitor: How did the moment come when you decided to tell Matt how you felt about him?
Vernon: It was after I was already engaged to be married to my husband, David. That was the first time I really had peace in my heart when I prayed about Matt and asked the Lord, “Could I say something?” Thanks be to God I was invited to be in that kind of relationship with the Holy Spirit at such a young age. So, I felt this serenity in prayer that, yes, I could finally tell Matt how I felt about him all these years and just thank him for who he was in my life. I felt that Matt had set this standard for me for the kind of respect of being really loved for who I am as a person, which ultimately helped me prepare for my vocation to marriage with David. And I felt I finally needed to give voice to that.
Our Sunday Visitor: Father Matt, how did that affect your vocational discernment?
Father Fase: At that stage, I was in my fourth year of seminary, getting ready to go to the novitiate. When Amanda said all of that, for me it was way out of left field. I had no idea that she cared about me that much, that I meant that much to her and had been that much of a protecting figure in her life. I was happy to hear that, but surprised and taken aback by it. At the time, I might have said, “Hey, it’s not too late, is it?” Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to say, but I was so surprised. But she was very firm in saying, “No, it is too late. I’m getting married.”
I was able, thankfully, to bring all of that into my discernment as it continued. It was a great blessing for me, because I had had this big revelation of all these missed opportunities, but I was able to see the Lord in them so clearly — how, yes, I misunderstood these situations, but it was what the Lord was allowing me to see and it was how the Lord was guiding me. It led each of us to the place where we were, and that was a big and beautiful place.
Our Sunday Visitor: Telling this very human story requires vulnerability. Was that difficult?
Father Fase: Nah, it was super easy! [Laughter]. Just kidding. It was horrific. I don’t like talking about my feelings, so the idea of writing them down in a book for anyone to be able to read over and over again was mortifying, especially the sense of digging back to middle school feelings and the awkwardness that encompasses. It’s very embarrassing. I’m blushing about it right now actually, but despite the awkwardness and that uncomfortability, it was clear the Lord was inviting us into this project, even despite those little inconveniences.
Vernon: It seemed that each step of writing together and moving closer to publishing the book, we were so blessed. It seemed like the fruit that was coming from this endeavor was so evident, both in Father Matt’s vocation as a religious and in his priesthood, and in my vocation to marriage and family. Even though it was very emotional and very challenging, we had so much peace and joy about it. It was a blessed season and that was very comforting, not only in the challenges but that the Lord seemed to really be carrying us forward with each step of the way.
Our Sunday Visitor: Amanda, how important to you was your husband’s support for this project?
Vernon: I definitely would not have been able to write the book without David’s support, because it has been such an emotional project for me. I don’t think I would have been even free to write in such a manner from my heart without David’s complete blessing. And from a logistical standpoint, David is the publisher, so he made it happen from the business standpoint. That was really crucial, and I’m so grateful for the humility and the graciousness he has shown. This was not easy for him, either. David and I had a lot of really challenging conversations over the course of months, and yet through all of that, he encouraged me to keep praying, to keep being close friends with Father Matt, and to listen to the call that the Lord was placing on our hearts.
Our Sunday Visitor: On vocational discernment, what do you hope people will take away from reading your book?
Father Fase: One of the main things is trusting in divine providence — the sense that God is active in your life now, even or especially if you can’t recognize him. God is there with you. And if you’re open to his guidance and you’re trusting in that presence, then you will see, it might take awhile, how God’s love is active.
Vernon: Trust that God’s love is there for us in the small details of our lives, in the deepest desires of our hearts. It’s not only an option to ask God’s will for our big choices, but it’s in the day-to-day where the Lord is leading us. Then when those big questions come, I think we can have this comfort of knowing how to listen to God’s voice and having that relationship with the Lord to hear him all the more clearly when those crossroads come.
For more information, visit whengodwrecksyourromance.com.
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.