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September 09, 2003

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Steve M

Last night I watched the public TV "American Experience" segment on the rise and fall of the World Trade Center. There was little to lift my spirts, except: In describing the buliding of the Trade Center, a retired Port Authority official described how the ironworkers would look down each morning as the towers were going up. The workers would see the tiny figure of their employer, Mr. Koch (whose name viewers had previously seen in massive letters on huge cranes on the top of each tower), going to daily Mass. According to the Port Authority official, the workers would then turn to each other and say: "Well, we are good for another day." The official concluded by noting that no ironworker died in erecting the twin towers. I think God's hand was at work when this first occurred 30 years ago, and I think His hand was at work in bringing this report to millions watching TV last night (myself included). At the moment, reflecting on this brings me hope.

john

Weeping in the confessional during the general confession I made covering a long period of my life of sinful destruction and unbelief, and knowing that Christ's mercy, love and grace restored me once again to His Body. The good Father, in persona Christi, giving me absolution, and saying to me as I was leaving "it no longer matters who you were, but who you are. go and sin no more." My life began again.


marie

Your thoughtful blog is reason to hope. Thank you.


Peter Nixon

I was out at the jail on Sunday and we had an ethusiastic young man who could barely read a word of English who nevertheless said "yes" when a member of our team asked him if he would like to read the second reading. We more or less did it together, with me at his shoulder whispering some of the words into his ear. The six other men in attendance applauded when he finished. He was grinning from ear to ear. It was a good moment.

Caroline

My four year old grand nephew told me he had an angel. When I said this angel was called a Guardian Angel, he told me that yes, he knew that.

Dave P.

Working for the Church, as I have for four years now, I’ve seen some once-intense elements of my life in Christ become rather perfunctory. Here, as in any other job -- or relationship or situation or whatever -- familiarity breeds tedium. Inevitably and invariably, the passion and ideals of the honeymoon phase get papered over by the new station’s day-to-day duties.

And yet.

Fact is, I’m an erstwhile Doubting Thomas, an agnostically inclined individual who only slowly came to Christ, 20 years ago now, after an evangelical Protestant dared me: "Just give Jesus a chance in your life, even if you feel you can’t believe in him." (I couldn’t. Figured the Gospel was The Great Western Myth, the European-conqueror equivalent of the bear-wolf-eagle creation tales ginned up by the peyote-stoked Indians of the Southwest.) I took the evangelical up on the dare. Prayed the Doubter’s Prayer. Read the Bible. Worshipped. Not only did Christ prove his existence to my satisfaction in small ways and big, but he also gradually brought me back home to Rome, against even longer odds.

I remember waking up one day way back when and realizing that I had completely metamorphosed from skeptic to believer, from searcher to disciple, from ol' Mister "Yeah, Right" to a new creation in Christ. Hit me like a ton of bricks. Today, when I look at all the reasons people give not to believe in God, much less the Gospel of Jesus Christ and much, much less the apostolic authority of the Catholic Church -- and when I consider how convincing these arguments would have been to me if not for that dare –- I’m blown away. Why? Just because I believe. In spite of it all, I still believe.

My faith in Christ was a miracle then. A miracle and a gift. Today, it still is. All the scandal and failure and corruption and sickness in the world –- and in the Church -- can’t take it away from me. Nor can that junk rob me of the joy I have in knowing that God exists, the Gospel is true, and Jesus knows and loves me and everyone I care about.

I need no more reason to keep on keeping on as a Catholic (and as a worker in the proverbial vineyard) than I have in the hope that, by the grace of God, is already in me by that knowledge. Thanks for giving me a reason to remind myself of this today.

Thomas Hynes

In the spring of 1986 I was driving on a back road in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut. A man was limping along the side of the road. He was tall, skinny, black, and most surprising, wearing a full cut suit the color of orange sherbet. I picked him up and said I was driving to New Haven and would be happy to drop him along the way. He said, ‘Thank you brother, I’m trying to get back to New York City.’ I replied, ‘I’ll see what I can do’.

He bowed his head down to the dashboard and prayed ‘Thank you most gracious Father for sending this brother to take care of me and give me a ride. I know that you always take care of me and hold me in your hands’.

When he finished I said, ‘It sounds like you have a great trust in God.’ He said ‘Brother, it’s the same as Matthew 6, 25. My Father takes care of my every need and I have all my trust in him.’ (When I got home I looked up the Matthew reference, it’s the Lilies of the Field passages)

He said ‘You seem to know what I’m talking about, are you a preacher.’ I said ‘No, but my brother is a priest, so I may have a little more contact with Scripture than some people. Are you a preacher?’ He replied, ‘No, I’m not. I’m a Baptist and sometimes I have something to say at church, but I’m a dishwasher, not a preacher. I’m the best dishwasher in New York City, it’s an important job, a job that has to be done, and I know that my Father wants me to do it as well as possible, so I do it as well as I can.’

We continued on talking like this for thirty or forty minutes, as we came over a hill there was a building on a hill in the distance. He said, ‘Do you know that’s the house of the Lady of Light?’ I thought I knew what he meant but since he was a Baptist I drew it out.

‘What Lady of Light?’ I said. He insisted ‘You know, the Lady of Light who is the Mother of God’ When we drove by the entrance there was a sign: Monastery of Our Lady of ….

At that point I began to realize that this trip was more than a little bit unusual.

Our conversation continued on in the same vein for another thirty or forty minutes until we reached New Haven. I headed for the downtown. Just before we got there I turned to him at a red light and said ‘We’re never going to meet again, but when we get to heaven I want us to be able to call each other by name, my name is Tom Hynes.’

He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you know me brother? I am Jesus Winter.’

I nearly had a heart attack.

Two blocks later we reached the train station with the bus station across the street. I gave him money for the trip to New York and bade farewell.

That’s how I met Jesus on the road to New Haven.

Amanda

A reason to hope?

1. Although my husband and I haven't been blessed with children, it looks as if I'll be a Godmother for the first time within the next 12 hours.

2. My husband--a self-proclaimed atheist--has attend Mass twice with me in the past 6 weeks.

WRY

Hey, check this out: the Russian Orthodox have announced that they are wanting to enter into talks with the Vatican to end the disagreements between the churches and resume ecumenical dialogue. This is big stuff, people, if it pans out.

Claude Muncey

Sunday my wife and I worked our usual volunteer day at a detention facility. She worked with a prayer group and the Catholic Chapel choir while I led a Little Rock study on Acts -- the typical schedule for us. We knew something special was on the was as one of the inmates we have come to know was going home.

(Excuse the somewhat clumsy indirection and indefinite language -- there are both privacy and security issues involved.)

This inmate had recieved a long sentence that was generally considered unjust. Many more years were spent inside than expected largely due to bureaucracy and electoral politics. Avoiding the kind of anger and despair that will kill you quickly inside, this person became a regular at Mass and a friend to many other inmates while rather skillfully fighting their case through the court and parole systems.

Last week, to everyones delight and frank astonishment, word came down that this person now "had a date" -- for this week. The chapel was packed with all the usuals as well as the assorted set of roomies, workmates and friends that had been accumulated in a decade or so inside. While things were abuzz before Mass started they settled down during the service itself (a local priest had come in to celebrate this Sunday) but you could tell something was on the way. The gifts of the people included a box full of small gifts for the inmate, and after Mass was over we gave this person a chance to say goodbye. I don't remember too much, and I doubt that most of us do (there was a lot of joyful crying going on in that room -- heck, I'm crying now here at work) but I do remember hearing about how that person's faith and the support of the Church inside had carried them through the difficult acceptance that they were going to be inside for many years, quite possibly until death. And now home . . .

We sang some more and said individual goodbyes before everyone had to make their individual lockup times. With the regulations on parolee/parolee and parolee/volunteer contact we all knew that chances were that we would not meet again in this life.

There can be funny and sometimes extreme reactions to other inmates being released. It can be a reminder to some, especially some lifers, that they are not getting out and it can be very hard indeed. I have heard that it is not unusual for inmates to get in trouble and "lose their dates" due to their own eagerness and lack of care combined with other inmates picking fights or figuring out how to make trouble for them. But there was none of that Sunday, just a roomful of joy for someone going home where they belonged. And the hope that maybe, they might as well.

Yeah, I know the calendar says it's Ordinary Time, but it was Easter for us . . .

Ken

Last night it occurred to me that the Old Testament is largely one long recounting of human failings - it seems as though the bigger the character, the worse the stories get: think "David".

In the New Testament, the Chief Apostle's a coward and the whole bunch of apostles are dense. St. Paul's letters are, to a degree, tirades against abuses in local Churches. He would hardly meet the popular notion of a "pastoral" person.

The Bible is the corporate memory of God's peoples - it's our family stories, and we seem to preserve the really bad ones. But the Bible is the Word of God and the life of the Church is a continuation of that Word. Our American troubles are more of the same.

And thus, it is entirely reasonable to think that the failings of the Church at the time, and the failings in my own life, are not end of the story.

Nicole

Wow, thank you all for sharing these stories. I am sitting here in tears.

One cool recent story for me was when my very well-educated, very agnostic sister was visiting me. She was helping my 11yo with her homework and I could hear the scoffing tone creeping into her voice as she quizzed her on religion, which involved creation and the gift of faith and reason. Well, I guess my daughter noticed too because after a few more questions, she got out her dry erase board, drew a picture of some planets, and started lecturing on how it was impossible not to believe God had a hand in creation. I was sitting there thanking God that I had held my tongue and not interfered in the discussion. It really gave me hope for the future!!

Peace,
Nicole

Regina

I had an amazing moment of grace and peace at a funeral in August. It was a difficult funeral in that none of us were prepared for my friend's death; she had gone very quickly. She was a mainstay of the parish and our Cursillo community, and beloved by all. (Sounds trite, but she was one of those rare gems to whom it actually applies.)

During the funeral mass I was so filled with the spirit of Christ, I felt as one with God and the assembly, and, through them, with the world. Despite (or because of?) my grief, I was overwhelmed with that sense of joy, celebration and gratitude which should underpin every Mass.

And I realized something important. It wasn't just the extra care taken in the liturgy, or the unity of the congregation, that made the mass so meaningful. The biggest difference was in me. I had let down all my barriers, all my pretenses that I can handle things on my own, and just mentally wailed out to God in pure, unadulterated need.

Jesus is always reaching out, but He’s usually a gentleman; He waits for me to open the door and invite Him in. My challenge for the future is to always be that open, that clear about how much I need God, that receptive to His offer of grace and love.

Berni

I'm so grateful God called me back to His Church.

I'm so thankful to be a part of the Institute for Leadership in Ministry, learning all that I'm learning there.

I was so filled with joy when I led my first Eucharistic prayer service this summer.

I'm so happy to belong to a Church that is truly universal. My husband has lost his job and we will probably have to move to another part of the country when he gets another. I know that wherever we go, there will be a Catholic church there. And you all are here in cyberspace. And God is everywhere.

amy

Goosebumps, Claude. Thank you - and thank you all.

Jim

I study (and teach) at a Catholic university. In my four years here...

I have seen chapels overflowing into the hallways with over a hundred students gathered in Eucharistic adoration.

I have seen my roommate come into the Catholic Church after many hours of conversation.

I have seen have seen another student go from hardened materialism to agnosticism and to belief in God and now is a Christian.

I have seen another student go from Judaism to agnosticism and is now really thinking about Jesus.

I have seen a Catholic student apologetics group bear fruit in two vocations to the priesthood (with at least two more about to enter soon) and one woman entered religious life.

I have seen two of the students in the same group, now entering medical school, wake up to the dire need for a personal committment to pro-life medical practices.

I have seen some of my students go from agnosticism to faith.

I have seen...well, if all the things that Jesus has done were written down, all the books in the world could not contain it.

Dave P.

Interesting, and for my money more than a little disappointing, that so few responded to this post. Especially when you consider the scores of responses, including many lengthy and carefully constructed compositions, that pour in when the discussion is in the What's Wrong with the Church vein.

What is wrong with this picture, people?

"Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope ..." (1 Peter 3:15)

Jason

When I was in college, I went from being Lutheran to being agnostic -- mostly because of the problem of Christian authority (i.e. sola scriptura). While I was agnostic, I was dating a beautiful young woman, and she became pregnant. I wasn't ready for that, and in my desperation I pressured her to get an abortion. I even went to Planned Parenthood with her and made the appointment.

Before the appointment date came about, I had a dream. My grandfather had passed away a few years, before, and in my dream I found myself in his bedroom (you have to understand, there is no place on earth that is more "Grandpa" than that bedroom). It was incredibly vivid. There was sunlight coming through the blinds, and I could see motes in the beams. I started looking around the room: a gun rack on the wall, an old TV (the kind that makes a little dot of light in the middle of the screen when you turn it off), a radio and a pocketknife on top of the chest of drawers. As I was looking around, the door opened, and my grandpa walked in. He was smiling at me, and he was wearing jeans and a cowboy shirt. He didn't say anything, he just waited, and I quickly crossed the room and hugged him. I could feel him, and I could SMELL him.

It was the most intense, realistic, vivid dream I've ever experienced. I remember thinking "This has to be a dream..." and then thinking "heck, I don't care if it is a dream, it's wonderful and I'm going to just enjoy it".

Grandpa hugged me for a minute, and then he looked at my face and he said "Jason, be a good boy." Then I woke up. I woke up in tears.

The next morning I asked my wife to marry me. I didn't kill my son; instead I held him and cried with joy when he was born. Since then, I've been blessed with two more children -- both daughters, and my wife and I are open to more.

My wife was a non-practicing "cradle" Catholic, and my contact with her family eventually led me back to faith and us to full communion with the Catholic Church. After my conversion and the discussions and explanations which followed, both of my parents embraced Catholicism and entered the Church. Following that, my Grandma returned to the Church (her girlhood faith), and my aunt went through RCIA and was Confirmed, as well.

I see signs of the Holy Spirit working all over the place; I could go on and on. I'm tempted to relate what is going on in my parish right now, which gives me great hope, but this is too long, already.

Dominus vobiscum.

Rod Dreher

The experiences that led me into the Catholic Church, and confirmed me in it, relate directly to the ferocious drive I feel to do what I can to defend it.

There was my friendship with the late Fr. Mario Termini, an exorcist on the bayous. I was with him when he and his prayer team confronted demonic presences in a house near New Orleans. I saw things that were impossible to explain. And I saw the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the Eucharist and the ministry of this holy priest, drive the enemy away. Fr. Termini and his team also helped my own family, none of them Catholic, after my grandfather died in 1994, and his spirit would not move on until my father, whom he had wronged terribly in life, forgave him. There is for me no room for doubt about the reality of the spirit world, and the truth of Catholicism.

2. There was my graced friendship with the late Msgr. Carlos Sanchez, during the final years of his long life. He had lost his faith at Yale in 1917, and went on to become an architect. He helped plan the Empire State Building, and lived a very worldly and fruitful life. Then, on a visit back to his family in Guatemala, he told of kneeling to receive communion, even though he no longer believed, and suddenly being struck by a dazzling light emanating from the Host. He audibly heard the words, "I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED YOU." He was instantly reconverted. Years later, a similar experience at the same communion rail, in which the voice said aloud, "WHY DON'T YOU DO AS I ASK?" broke down the last bit of resistance to his entering seminary in his late 40s. The old man told me these things in his 90s, with tears rolling down his cheeks, as if they'd all happened the day before. I believed him. And I wanted what he had.

3. I have been personally graced with the aroma of roses on a handful of occasions, in response to prayer. I am particularly grateful to Our Lady of Fatima for her intercession that I would find my true love, if it was God's will. When I finally met the woman who would become my wife, what turned out to be our first date was a pilgrimage to a monastery to see a famous icon of the Virgin. By the end of that weekend, we were talking marriage, and indeed I proposed to her four months later, as we were on our knees praying in front of that same icon. We went to New Orleans to pick out a church in which to marry, and looked at many of them, before we walked into one in particular, and both "knew" that this would be the place.

Then it got strange. My fiancee, who was not Catholic at the time, and with whom I'd not shared my devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, called from Texas (where she was living, finishing college)to say her father's business associate had offered us use of his vacation cottage in Portugal for our honeymoon. Her dad's boss offered to pay for our plane tickets. Then I told her about Our Lady of Fatima, and what I'd been praying to her for a year, and how we should take the offer, and make a pilgrimage to Fatima in thanksgiving. She found this unsettling, but said okay.

Then it hit me: the day we fell in love was October 13, 1996 -- the anniversary of the last apparition at Fatima, and the miracle of the sun. It was on that day that the Virgin told the children "I am Our Lady of the Rosary." It so happened that the church we'd picked out in New Orleans for our wedding was Our Lady of the Rosary parish.

We made our pilgrimage to Fatima as a newly married couple, with my wife as a new Catholic. While we were visiting a church in Lisbon, my wife was overwhelmed by the aroma of roses. "Don't you smell that?!" she asked me and a young man to whom we were talking. We didn't. She knew it was for real.

These stories -- and I've got more of them -- are what keep me grounded and faithful despite it all.

Cheryl

This story seems very slight compared to the very moving stories told here, but it's a moment that has stayed with me. I am a cradle Catholic who has been relapsing in fits and starts over the past several years. During this period I've attended annual (Opus Dei-sponsored) weekend retreats. Last year I felt too pressured with work, school and family commitments to go on this retreat. I was too frazzled and too busy to take time out to do it, or I thought. I had basically decided not to go, when I got a voice mail out of the blue from a woman I had met for the first time, just briefly, weeks before. She said she knew the retreat was coming up, she thought of me, and just wanted to encourage me to go if I wasn't already planning to do so.

I never spoke to this person directly and haven't seen her since, but I decided to go on the retreat after I received that call. It proved to be a weekend that was deeply influential in my faith life.

Looking back I believe there have been many specific occasions when God was calling me. That particular time, it felt very tangible...literally on the phone! It was just a small moment in my very ordinary life, but it reminds me of how God works through each of us, through the people we come in comact with, and how we should NEVER minimize the potential impact of our daily words and actions.

John Farrell

I don't have anything very dramatic, I'm afraid.
Never heard God call me. Never had any dreams
that changed my life.

But I know he's there. I'm a book worm. And I
haunt book stores. And whenever
a question about life or faith has come up to me,
I've often just by chance (so it would seem)
stumbled across a passage or story pertinent to
my issue right when I needed to.

Almost as if the Good Lord up there said,
"Uh-oh, Farrell's going iffy again on immortality.
Next time he stops at Wordsworth, have him
stumble by the new edition of Gilson's
Being and Some Philosophers which has
just been re-issued after being years out
of print. He'll flip to the right passage. He always
does."

Mike Koenecke

These are inspiring stories, and I wish I had one to share. I'm going through a period where I have little hope, and little faith. I cannot think of a single instance in my life where I felt God's influence in my life, except in the abstract (e.g., I am most grateful for having found my wife, but there was not anything particularly eerie about how it happened). Prayer for me has always been like talking to a wall, whether recitation (Rosary), communal (Mass), freeform (in which I may write God a letter), or meditative.

I try to be a good Catholic, involved with the Church, and observant of her teachings, but it's difficult when one's faith is solely intellectual (i.e., it is more likely than not that the Catholic faith is true).

Sorry about the downer, but I've been going through a quite difficult period, and ask God daily for strength, hope, and courage, but it does not come, and I'm just barely functional.

Jo

On 9/11/2001, after a morning spent trying to locate my coworkers all over Manhattan (I mostly telecommute from my home on Long Island), I needed to escape the phone, the instant message windows, and the TV news and just go pray for the three young workers that we had not yet found. I raced over to the midday Mass at my parish, and felt thankful that we had been well provided for with a specially written liturgy for times of war. Holy Mother Church covers all our contingencies, it seems.

At the moment of elevation, my head reeled and my heart was pounding. I realized that the truth held up before my eyes was all I could cling to, that Real Presence of Christ who had transcended time to be with me in this terrible moment. I did not know if the attacks had ended, I did not know if family members would make it out of NYC, I did not know if the NY area would be further attacked. All I knew was that He was Lord and He was HERE.

I left Mass with my arm around an older woman who was somewhat in shock, telling me her son was NYPD and on duty today. In the parking lot, I flipped my phone on, grabbed my messages and was relieved to find that a young employee had been located and she was safe.

In the days that followed, I never once had to ask, "Where was God?"

A priest at our parish told us more than 90% of the slain firefighters and police personnel were Catholics.

Catherine

Mike,

Please don't despair. Remember that whenever possible, God works through the systems he's created. He's there, waiting for you, and it doesn't have to be eerie.

I used to feel the way you did about prayer, until I tried something in my Confirmation class. Our instructors said to find a calm place, at home or outside to sit and meditate. Then imagine yourself walking through a blank, nondescript place. Imagine you meet Jesus there, and he waits for you to say anything you wish.

I did this, and ended up in tears. What we talked about there is too private to relate to others, and after that day I understood that it doesn't need to be told, but can remain private. I don't know if you'll have the same kind of experience, but it really helped me to put a face to prayer.

My prayers are with you...

Catherine Lueckenotte

Gerard Serafin

More than once I received roses from Saint Therese. Last year on her feast, during a most difficult and painful period, I awoke and prayed: Lord, it would be so good to get a rose from Therese today on her feast as a "sign" of your abiding love, which I need emotionally.

Then I shrugged it off: sure! No way! Almost no one knows of this tradition to begin with so who can she use to get the rose to me anyway?

A half hour later a knock on my door: a delivery man with the most beautiful dozen red roses I had ever seen. A note was pinned on them: "from Therese."

I wept for about a half hour!

These roses are very special to me and I have them still - made by the lovely Carmelites of Ft Tobacco, MD, into the most beautiful rosary I have ever seen or used. Even today the fragrance fills me with gratitude and hope.

Saint Therese is my favorite saint of all: and she really does spend her heaven doing good on earth and showering us with "roses".

I know.

Anon

My high school classmates M was a Palestinian Catholic. Though we had mutual friends, we often clashed. I didn't like M's antiSemitism, for one thing. But my clashes with him were fueled by less noble emotions, too, and I regret that I was sometimes gratuitously mean to him.

One day after graduation we were playing basketball and almost came to blows - partly because of M's antiJewish remarks and partly because he was beating me on the court. Walking home, I was frustrated. It was my Christian duty to patch things up and apologize for my bad behavior. But I didn't know how to do this without condoning M's antiSemitism.

Suddenly a solution presented itself: Have a Mass said for the intentions of the Palestinians, and give M the Mass card! This would be a way to reach out to M without violating my conscience.

There was a special quality to this "idea" that is hard to describe. It was not laboriously arrived at through a process of deduction: it entered my mind instantly, completely, and immediately drove out the frustration I was feeling, replacing it with joy and peace.

I was 19. I had never had a Mass said before, and did not have much experience with Catholic devotional practices apart from attending Mass and Confession. I was a little apprehensive when I knocked on the parish office door to inquire how one goes about having a Mass said. But I figured out the process and sent off the Mass card, believing that I was responding to a divine inspiration.

I was surprised in coming days and weeks when M did not comment on the card. The tension between us, however, did seem to lessen, and I gratefully attributed this to my Mass.

A few years later I was a senior at college. Divine inspiration was less forthcoming then. I was still a believer. But experiencing sudden joy and peace as the result of prayer was rare. Actually, experiencing anything in prayer was rare.

One day I had a message that M had tried to call me long distance. That was strange; we'd been out of contact for years. I secretly hoped he wasn't traveling to my area and looking for a place to crash. I wasn't eager to return his call.

But before I could do so he called again. "I just wanted to thank you for the Mass you had said for the intentions of the Palestians several years ago!" M said excitedly. "Somehow, I never saw your card when you first sent it; my mother received it in the mail and filed it away."

"I only found it a few days ago. My Palestinian grandfather just died, and I was feeling very depressed. As I was looking through some old photos of him, I found your card. And I just wanted you to know how much it means to me!"

JACK

A lot of great stories. I'm definitely not one of those who walks around with a daily experience of knowing God's precise will or action in my life. Although there are definitely a few moments I can think of.

Like one time when I was flying home from law school in Boston. I got on the plane and went to my seat. There was a woman already sitting in it. As it turned out we had the same last name and the computer for some reason assumed we were the same person and issued us identical boarding passes. So I took a seat across the aisle in the middle of the row.

As the plane was filling up, I heard a young man (okay, probably only 4 or 5 years younger than me) ask if he could change seats. For some reason in that moment I knew that he would be sitting next to me and that he would talk to me about God. Sure enough, the attendant seated him to my right and a few minutes into the flight he started telling me about the book that he was reading, which was about being a Christian in politics. That quickly shifted into him telling me his conversion story and preaching me the Gospel. It turned out this guy was a young Catholic who just went through a conversion experience and he was still in that emotional "on fire" mode. It was something; this guy would have preached to the plane itself if he was the only one on board. We had a good conversation and talked a bit about how the journey of faith isn't always going to be filled with an "on fire" emotional high and not to be too thrown off if that experience diminishes over time. He said it best when he thanked me for the conversation and said it was like he was given a chance to talk to an older version of himself. I felt like I was talking to the me of three years earlier.

But the most hopeful thing I can probably say is that when I think of a strong, supportive Catholic community I think of Harvard Law School. Now how many of you think that those two would be linked in the same sentence?

Jim

Mike-
I am sorry you are struggling and am sympathetic with your circumstances. I am not going to offer you any solutions, because I don't know what would work. I would only suggest you keep trying to find the answer, because in the struggle you will probably have the answer come to you. Many others walk with you, carrying their own doubts and their fear of a lack of faith. I struggle with my current circumstances of being baptized Lutheran, attending a Catholic church, and not partaking of the body of CHrist because I am not a Catholic - even though I have attended Catholic church for 20 years or so. I feel the emptiness, but have been unable to reconcile my feelings to take that last step and officially join. And I don't wish to attend church without my family in the hopes of finding a Lutheran CHurch that still teaches the presence of Christ during communion (yes I realize the difference between the Lutheran and Catholic teachings on the Eucharist, and I have traveled more towards the Catholic version of late) So I travel in the wilderness - hoping and praying that I will somehow figure it all out. My battle is in keeping at it in the hope I will someday have an answer.

You are not alone - many of us walk with you. Don't stop, keep walking, each day - you will find peace. Best of luck and God Bless.

Jim

Kathleen

Wow! These are terrific posts!

I've never had any mystical type experiences like the ones I read about here but I did have one life altering experience similar to the one described by Regina above.

Not to go into detail but between the ages of 14 and 16 there were a number of devastating experiences in my family and in my life. The emotional pain was so bad that I truly was in despair. There was so much pain for my parents that I didn't want to burden them with how much I was hurting. I really felt as if there was no one to whom I could turn. I lay in bed one night sobbing. The kind of sobbing where you sob so hard you make no sound. We were a nominally Catholic family so the only thing I knew to do was pray. I told God that I simply could not handle everything that was going on. I didn't here a voice or see a sign but I knew deep inside my soul that God was carrying me through all of this. I mean, I KNEW! The sobbing ceased and for the first time in days I fell asleep and when I woke up the next day was convinced that I could make it through all of the pain of that time and I knew I was forever changed because of that moment of knowing.

I didn't become a serious Catholic until many years later, mostly out of ignorance. But through all of the tough things that life hands all of us, since that time I've never had a doubt about God loving me or helping me through this life.

On a less sad note, when I still lived in NYC I attended daily Mass in NYC at a downtown parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton just across from South Ferry. Each day there were about 15 or so of us there. On one particular day, during the Consecration, I silently prayed, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief" just at the moment Father raised the host. As the last silent words of my prayer were said, the loudest clap of thunder I've ever heard sounded just as Father had the Host at the height of his reach. All 15 of us gasped at the same time. Father paused for a moment and looked at us and raised his eyebrows with a slight smile. I looked at our Lord and said, "Thanks, I believe!"

Larry

Mike, like you I am afflicted--there is no other way to describe it--with an intellectual faith only. I look at the stories here of people who have been blessed with the presence of God, and feel happiness for them, while a whiff of envy is also present. I am a very poor pray-er also. Like you, I struggle with what seems to me is God's silence.

One of the things which actually "works" for me to bring me closer to God, to help me feel a little of His presence and His beauty, is great Christian art and literature. I don't seem to be able to experience Him firsthand (or even second of thirdhand!), but I can sense Him a little bit through great art. Here is a poem by the 17th century Anglican poet George Herbert, which speaks to our experience, and offers encouragement:

THE DAWNING
Awake, sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns;
Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth;
Unfold thy forehead, gathered into frowns;
Thy Saviour comes, and with Him mirth.

Awake, Awake, and with a thankful heart His comforts take;
But thou dost still lament, and pine, and cry,
And feel His death, but not His victory.

Arise, sad heart, if thou dost not withstand,
Christ's resurrection thine may be;
Do not by hanging down break from the hand Which, as it riseth, raiseth thee.

Arise, Arise, and with His burial linen drie thine eyes.
Christ left His grave-clothes, that we might, when grief draws tears of blood, not want a handkerchief.

Dave P.

Now this is more like it! What the Catholic world needs now is witness, sweet witness. It's not the only thing that there's just too little of, but it sure ranks high.

My hat's off to Amy for giving this thread a second shot. Well, OK, I'm not wearing a hat. But if I were, it would be in my hand right now.

"Exhort one another daily while it is called 'today' ..." (Hebrews 3:13)

Dave P.

Larry and Mike: If you'll commit to an hour a week in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, I guarantee that, within a year, you'll have a keener perception of the presence and love of God in the world and in your life. It doesn't matter whether the Eucharist is reserved or exposed; nor does it matter how you spend that weekly hour. Just go and get alone with Jesus in his physical presence. Bring a Bible and a rosary if you want to. He'll take it from there. Jim: You might want to give this a shot, too. All three of you: Be sure of my prayers.

Lee

I owe my life to Christ. Aside from His aid and intervention, I would not be here.

What I write - for now - is less dramatic ...

Two weeks after being Chrismated in the Russian Catholic Church in 1995, and receiving my First Communion as a Catholic, I was in Toronto on a business trip. I and a friend went to the Ukkrainian Catholic parish that was suggested by my local priest ... and we were overwhelmed by the hospitality that they showed, and the fervor of the prayer, and the beauty of the Liturgy. The parish was a new one, in a poor area of Toronot; it had just been restored -- with the aid and labor from many of the local indigents/homeless. Everyone was welcome there.

So within 2 weeks of entering the Church in San Francisco, I was worshipping in a foreign country, in a different one of the Eastern Churches in communion with the Holy See .... and was part of the family.

This was a hands-on taste of the universality of the Church.

A recurring joy is the trek through Great Lent, and then the glorious feast of Pascha. It would take real effort to doubt the Resurrection after such worship.

God is merciful, and I depend on His mercy.

Lee

Lee

Mike and Larry:

I will remember you, and your need to experience God's love and presence, when I pray today. I will offer your intentions as part of the Mercy Chaplet.

Sometimes, it seems that only grit and determination are what gets us throught the dry periods, the times when God seems silent. All I can say is, don't give up, and keep praying.

When I have had some of the more "dramatic" experiences of the presence of God, they have always been unexpected, and have come in the midst of tribulation.

Lee

Glenn Juday

A few years ago I began a professional collaboration with a post-doc who had the “ideal” profile, Harvard undergraduate degree, Stanford Ph.D. It was actually a spill-over from an outstanding faculty member in my institution who couldn’t effectively work with the post-doc because of lack of time. So I filled in to help and benefit. I just had the sense from the first moment I laid eyes on her that there was some larger purpose in our “accidental” collaboration. In addition to highly competent, she was pleasant, approachable, and secular, rationalist, materialist, and very atheist. She had zero religious background other than the twadle one would hear at the aforementioned institutions.

I prayed all along that she would be granted the grace to come to love the Catholic Church. The Church was an obvious part of my life, but I never pushed (nor avoided) religion except for one time. At the very beginning, after the introductions and the plans, sitting at a computer terminal at UC Berkley, when we were to have our first work session on the real meat of our collaboration, I expressed a desire to begin the collaboration in prayer. To all appearances my suggestion was a disaster. She stiffened, said no, became suspicious. I prayed out loud anyway. But after a few days, and with the intense focus on our project, the tension was gone.

Based on her hard work and brilliance she snagged a major research grant and a good position at a respected university. She and her husband moved with their young son from California to the new post. I always kept her and her family as a specific prayer intention. We barely stayed in touch.

One day, a couple of years later I got a call from her. It was just a request from a mentor for some advice about how to deal with a tough professional situation. Subtly, and almost hesitantly she mentioned that she had started to have some positive ideas about the Church. Another few months and another call or two later, and she let me know that she was attending Mass. Then a crisis. Her husband had previously developed some clear indications of mental illness, and not the kind that leads to gentility. He became obsessed with the idea that the Catholic Church must be bitterly opposed. He threatened to divorce her if she kept going down the path toward the Catholic Church.

So here was a stable, competent, thoroughly modern woman of completely atheist background who is highly motivated to keep her marriage intact and able to do so if she would just do one thing – drop the Catholic Church like a hot potato and, in effect, renounce Christ.

She was received into the Church this Easter season. Her husband divorced her. She has to share custody of her beloved very young son with a man who is not completely stable. She wants so much to have her son baptized, but given his tender age and the issues of safety that would arise, she cannot. And she has suffered all this because – because she came to love God and find Christ in His Church.

DON’T ever discount the power of God to move hearts.
DON’T ever think that there are environments that are immune to God.
DO pray for her and her family that they may one day be whole and healed.
Do pray that she continues to receive the strength and consolation she needs to bear the burden and remain faithful.
DO pick some hopeless case and make that person a specific, personal prayer intention. God is love.

Claude Muncey

Mike, here are some more ideas that may help you (there have been some good ones already).

Most people confuse strength, hope and courage with feeling strong, hopeful, and unafraid. It has been my experience that at the moment we have been given the greatest graces, we sometimes feel the most berift. We really are at the edge of what we can take, and we really don't know how we made it through this day, and don't know how we will make it through the next. Quite often we don't know how much courage and strength we have been given until well afterward, when we look back and marvel at what He did in and through us.

The things that have worked for me --

Concentrate on today, and find some way to be grateful to God for getting you through this particular day -- no matter how bad. You don't have to thank God for what happens, you don't have to be a Pollyanna while your life is really handing you crap (and sometimes that is what happens -- it isn't necessarily your fault). But you know, at least at an intellectual level, that it is God that is sustaining you, so thank Him for that. And if you can find something else to thank Him for -- do it. In recovery it's known as the "attitude of gratitude" and it is a necessity.

If you have a good Catholic friend or friends, make sure you keep in touch with them and find appropriate ways to spend time with them.

And often the best way to deal with times like these is to physically act out our faith by directly helping other people. If you are not already involved with helping other people read Matthew 25 a couple of times and pray about it -- if you can, talk with your wife about what you think reading it. Then work out some way of helping out God's little ones -- your parish will probably have some opportunities. Don't let yourself get drafted for another committee (not that committes are evil, but it isn't the point here) but find some small way to carry out one of the corporal works of mercy -- visit the sick or a prisoner, help out at a soup kitchen. If at all possible, do it together with your wife and if appropriate, kids. It will take you out of yourself, realign your perpective and priorities and remind you that you can do something that really matters to someone else.

You will remain in my prayers. (Larry too.)

Mike Koenecke

Thanks for all the kind thoughts. I wonder sometimes whether the trouble is I'm just *too* blasted involved with my parish/school: officer in K of C, in charge of stuff for the Fall Festival, soccer coach, and starting in with the Renew program shortly. There's little time for contemplation and growing closer to God when one's always down there for one meeting or another. And when I'm not doing that, there's the daily stuff with the family and children (if anyone's interested, there's a picture of us at the Web address given: I *am* quite blessed in that department). I do need to approach the issue systematically and consistently, but it's difficult when it seems so profitless. Pax vobiscum.

Andi

When I was a high school senior I was very torn about where I wanted to go to college. Money was tight and I was very close to my family and didn't really want to go far away. Every evening my mom and I would take a walk and say the rosary and pray that we would make the right decision for my college education.

I ended up selecting a school at sort of the last minute. I met several great people at school but two of my best friends were girls who had both lost their moms at a young age. Before I met them, I had never met anyone my age who had lost a parent since it's pretty rare at such a young age. A year later, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and died. I really do not know how I could have made it through without the support of my two friends.

Now everytime I doubt God and His plan for me, I remember how He lead me to a college where I met friends who provided such vital support to me during the worst period of my life.

Steve Bogner

Some of my reasons for hope...

I have two young boys, they each have a pet mouse, and we have two beagles. One beagle (Sam) broke open one mouse's cage (Smokey), had him in his mouth, and almost ate him. Smokey was in really bad shape, and my sons were very distraught. I heard them praying to God, asking Him to take care of Smokey. I thought Smokey was going to die in the dark that night, but over the next couple days Smokey recovered and did just fine. The prayers of a child give me hope.

When I sit in silence - in nature, in church, in an airplane while travelling - and contemplate God, letting God speak to me and within me, He gives me hope.

When I see my wife reassembling her 'self', after years of childhood sexual abuse, into a more whole 'self', I have hope. She's going through one of the most difficult things a person can do - and God is giving her the strength to do it.

When I experience and see the positive effects on people from the Habitat for Humanity homes we build for them, I have hope. The home - and the experience of helping build it - has a dramatic, positive effect on their lives, and the lives of their children.

There are reasons to hope all around us. We just need to slow down and pay mindful attention to those reasons.

Dave P.

A general observation for anyone who's still checking in on this thread: Isn't it intriguing how different Catholic testimonies are from evangelical-Protestant flavors?

Ask a rank-and-file "born again Christian" to give his witness and he'll almost always describe how, upon making a decision for Christ, his life changed from messed up, in all manner of ways, to well-ordered -- thanks to Bible study, prayer, fellowship and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The keyword is "regeneration" or "new life." Meanwhile our (Catholic) witness tends to emphasize gentle, occasionally supernatural, occurrences that reassure us of God's hand at work in our lives in more subtle ways. In a certain sense, it's as if they see God radically re-creating them in Christ, top to bottom -- while we see Him sort of fine-tuning us: changing us in ways not so easily noticeable even to our own selves.

The difference makes sense, given their understanding of conversion as a personally cataclysmic one-time event and our understanding, which sees conversion as a quiet, contemplative, lifelong project. It also helps explain why they so often consider Catholics "un-saved" -- they listen to our witness and hear no striking account of regeneration, of our encountering Jesus and then coming to see ourselves as new creations in Him. And it says something about why we often see their witness as rather shallow.

I'm not criticizing either witnessing style here. Just observing. Anyone have any other thoughts on this?

Timothy Young

Jim-
I too was a Lutheran for many years, and felt that something was missing.One day, I attended noon Mass at the local Cathedral.One of the readings was the conversion story of Paul.
During the prayers, the priest prayed for all those "who were on their way to Damascus, thought they were doing what was right, but were in need of a conversion." I immediately knew this was God's message to me.I have since joined the Catholic Church, and it has been a wonderful experience.
Keep attending and keep praying.God will answer your prayers.

Jennifer

I am fortunate, I have never been so far in doubt as to leave my faith, I have not had a life free from grief either. My marriage was rocky at the start, my first child was one of the 2 percent that needed an emergencey c-section, I lost almost 2 liters of blood, she has brain damage with unknown severity, my husband would go through up to 9 jobs in a year, and through it all I am still here, still kicking. My husband has finally found what's he's been looking for, we have always gone to liturgy on Sunday, but he was always searching for something it seems, we finally found a parish that my husband likes, probably because the priest is so obviously moved when he speaks.

there is another experience I would like to share. I take pictures, lots and lots of pictures, especially pictures of children, and have you seen an inexplicable gold streak through any of your pictures? I have, and in one picture I've seen, that gold streak was very defined, it was in the shape of an angel, and the child in the picture was looking right at it and smiling. I have heard many catholics say to mothers of newborns, when the newborn is looking over heads or over shoulders, that the child is looking and smiling at the angels. Look through your pictures, i think you'll find one with a message for you, we are loved, we are not alone, and we are taken care of.

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