|THE REAL PRESENCE||CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST|
While conducting the interviews for this book, I met Job.
Or what would you call someone who loses his entire family, one member at a time, over a six-year period and comes away with an even deeper love for God than he had when times were good?
Heres all the background you need to know: Mal, forty-one, a former U.S. Marine, works as a custodian. He converted to the Catholic faith six years ago after a lifetime of practical atheism and considerable debauchery. His scheduled hour for eucharistic adoration is midnight to one each Saturday but Jesus is there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, so I dont limit myself to my scheduled hour.
Mals eucharistic adoration witness is tightly intertwined with the story of his life, as youll see. I wish I had the space to run every word of our long conversation, because it was all astonishing but I've had to make substantial cuts to make sure I fit in the most important parts. This is one memorable testimony to Gods grace.
A mutual friend of ours told me bits and pieces of your story. I'm eager to hear the whole thing.
Well, my conversion came through suffering. And I've realized that people don't understand how God's love can come to us, if we let it, through suffering. The Catholic Church has always taught this, very deeply and beautifully, but sometimes we aren't ready to listen until we've actually done some suffering.
I guess it all started when my stepson was murdered. That was back in 1993. I had been in the Marine Corps and hadnt lived the most godly life. I'm a recovering alcoholic, and the anger that I felt when he was murdered let's put it this way: I actually thought of ways to murder the kid who did it. I used to lie in bed at night, unable to sleep because I was just so filled with thoughts of hate and vengeance.
How did the murder happen?
It was strange because it happened a few months after I got into a terrible car accident, which was the result of my drinking. My wife, Cathy, had told me while I was lying in my hospital bed, with no memory of how I had gotten there, that if I didn't give up drinking and change my ways, then that would be it for our marriage. She was the only person I had ever loved enough to sacrifice anything for, and I could see that she was serious. So that was it. I gave it all up, cold turkey, right then and there.
About four months later, Justin, who was then eighteen, was at a pool hall. He got into some kind of scrape with a kid who was from out of town. This other kid was from a big city hours away. I have no idea what brought him to our little town. Whatever the dispute was, this kid stabbed my stepson to death. He stabbed my boy in the heart.
Now, you have to realize that, when I fell in love with my wife, I fell in love with her two kids, too. Because of my promiscuity in my younger days, especially in the Marines, I could not get my wife pregnant. Yet God had given me these two beautiful stepchildren when he gave me my beautiful wife.
Even though at the time I had no faith in God at all, I was thinking of God the night of Justin's murder. It's really strange, thinking back. I was coming home late, after working second shift, and I was thinking about how good God had been to me, to give me a wonderful wife and two beautiful children even though I couldn't have children of my own. And so I pulled into the driveway with that exact thought running through my head.
Right away I knew something was wrong because there were no cars in the driveway. When I walked in the house, my in-laws were there. They said, "Get to the hospital immediately." Well, the minute I walked into the hospital, I heard the most blood-curdling scream I've ever heard in my life. It was Cathy. They had just pronounced Justin dead.
The whole thing was incredible. I look back on it now and I can see where God was saying to me, "You have got some serious stuff coming down the road. And your wife doesn't need another child to take care of. She needs a man. A real man, a sober man. Someone who can help her with what she's going to go through."
So it was as if God had used my accident to sober me up and prepare me for this moment, which itself would turn out to be more preparation for even more suffering to come for my wife and for me.
Along with grief, you were filled with rage.
I was filled with hate. I was angry enough to kill. Because here I was, the big, tough marine. Nothing could touch me; I take care of everything. I take care of my family, my friends, everything. And now all of a sudden I'm looking at my wife and she's just a complete mess and I want to fix it but I can't do a single thing about it. I can't do anything to bring Justin back and make everything OK for her again.
They wound up catching the kid who did it, and he did prison time. He was only sixteen at the time of the murder. But still, I was just filled with rage at this kid. Not only for robbing Justin of his life, but for what he had done to the whole fabric of our family. We immediately started coming apart at the seams.
Cathy was just a total mess. Justin's death came at a particularly bad time for her because her mother was dying of a terminal disease. And, after Justin's death, both of us became super-protective overprotective, really of Jill. We were so scared of anything happening to her.
Well, a year goes by and Jill, who's now sixteen, starts feeling lousy. We take her in and she's diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. And this was just unbearable. It was too much, coming just a year after we lose our son and we're still recovering from that. We couldn't believe it. We asked ourselves, "Why is God doing this to us?"
Jill was a beautiful girl. I mean, genuinely. A cheerleader, very smart, the kind of kid who would cheer everyone up. The irony of her getting this disease was that she wanted to become a pediatric oncologist.
And it was really with her that the conversions started for us. She had gone to Franciscan University of Steubenville for a conference, at the invitation of the pastor with the youth group at her parish. See, she
was the only one going to Sunday Mass. She went with her grandmother, and they never missed.
Before that trip, she had been the typical teenage girl. Always in front of the mirror, always worried about how she looked. She came back from that conference and I remember saying to my wife, "Cathy, there's something different about Jill." She said, "What?" I said, "I don't know. Something good."
Gradually, the change in Jill had an effect on my wife and me. One of the things that struck me, looking back, was the incredible love Jill and Cathy had for one another. It was a love that could not be contained. It spread to me. I think God showed me that so I could understand the Trinity a little better how the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between the Father and the Son. I didn't know that at the time, but I remember looking back at it later and having that realization. When I came to the faith, it was the first thing I thought of. I said, "That love was so powerful, it couldnt be contained." It spread to anyone who was around it. And I was around it a lot.
In fact, the conversions that ended up taking place in our area our extended family, our neighborhood, our parish community all because of Jill were remarkable.
Jill and Cathy would be reading the Bible at night together, lying in bed. I used to tease them. I'd say, "Would you please cut the umbilical cord?" Because they were constantly sitting close to each other, just being together so close. When Jill was in the hospital, Cathy never left her side. She quit her job so she could be there with Jill through it all. I think there may have been one hour when Cathy had to do something; except for that, she was there with Jill every second of every day.
Jill was keeping a diary as she went through this, and some of the things she wrote were saintly. I mean, really, really saintly. She wrote, I used to be the most vain person in the world. I used to sit in front of the mirror, looking at my hair, my clothes, my makeup, and think about how attractive I could be to the world, how much the boys would like me. Now I look in the mirror and I see a girl with no hair, with eyes bulging out of her head, with teeth yellowed from chemotherapy. And yet I see more beauty than I ever did when I was beautiful by the world's standards. Why? Because Jesus Christ loves me.
Well, that just blew me right out of the water. I thought, where is she finding this? I just can't fathom it.
I also remember saying to someone at work, "If anything happens to Jill, my wife will commit suicide. Because she's just so close to her, they're attached at the hip like Siamese twins."
Well, a year after the diagnosis, Jill died. It had only been two years since we lost Justin. I thought Cathy was going to be a suicide case at that point, but it was just the opposite. Jill had been witnessing Christ to her mother all the time she was dying. It was another case of God blowing my mind, showing me something in the people around me that I didn't know existed for real anywhere. A couple of months after Jill died, I said to a coworker, "Cathy and I are going to get divorced." She said, "What are you talking about?" I said, "She found a better man. She found Jesus, and I can't compete."
Cathy wasn't pushing me away. It's just that, as her faith was really deepening, and her personal relationship with Jesus was taking off, I couldn't fathom what was happening. She was spending a lot of time out of the house, going to Mass, youth group, all sorts of church-related activities. It didn't bother me, because I figured that's what she needed to do to survive this incredible pain. I just didn't think we were going to make it.
Right about now you've got to be questioning your own life, and the meaning of life, yourself.
Well, Cathy's mother had frequently said to me, "You need to get baptized." I would say, "Oh, that's a bunch of bull. If there's a God, I'm sure he loves me whether or not I have water sprinkled over my head." I had no understanding whatsoever about any of the sacraments. It seemed like a hodgepodge; it didn't make sense to me. If there is a God, and he created us and loves us, why do we have to go through these religious rituals?
For my wife's sake, I started attending the RCIA program at her parish. She had said, "I cannot go through life without receiving Jesus [in Communion]. And in order for me to do that, either you have to leave or we have to have our marriage blessed by the Church." She immediately started pursuing an annulment for her first marriage.
And I'm thinking, "I don't understand this Catholic Church; this stuff seems whacked out. They make these rules, and all they want is your money." So I went through the motions and said, "Yeah, right, I'll go through RCIA."
Well, one night Cathy says to me, "Mal, some friends of mine from Church are having some people over. Id really like it if youd come." I was coming around to God a little bit, but the faith still really wasn't there. And these people were, to me, religious fanatics. So I said, "Please, Cathy, don't make me! I'm not like those people." Well, she knew just what to say to that. She said, "Mal, you always say you don't have a prejudiced bone in your body. And yet you don't like religious people."
And she was right. She had me. I said, "OK, you win. I'll go with you." And she said, "And you'll go with an open heart." And, for some reason, I even agreed to that.
So we were there about an hour, and I'm saying to myself, "Well, they're nice enough people. They don't have cliques; they all respect each other and get along. Nice people." Pretty soon the host family's son, who was discerning a call to the priesthood at the time, walks through the door. And right behind him is this guy with a beard in a gray robe. He was a Franciscan friar, though I didn't know it at the time.
Somehow I started talking to this man, and he looked at me and it was as if his eyes pierced my soul. I mean, I looked him in the eye and he looked, with love, right into my soul. That was how it felt. Later I prayed, "God, I don't know what that man has, but whatever it is, I want it!"
Eventually, I found out what that man had. It was a long process, but I found out. He had Jesus. By now I know this man well. He's an incredible priest, a beautiful human being. He's spent a lot of time in prison for pro-life activities. He was, and may still be, the most in persona Christi priest I've ever met. It was just obvious to me at that moment that I had a gnawing emptiness; I was aware of it because it was just as obvious that this man was full to the brim with the theological virtues faith, hope and love.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I finally came to know Jesus Christ. I fell so in love with Jesus, I didn't know what to do with myself. And it all started with the simple witness of that friar's life at this little get-together I didn't even want to go to. This man had nothing that the world told me would make me happy. He didn't have sex, he didn't have money and he dressed like an idiot. He had taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. And yet he was happy with a deep happiness I couldn't even comprehend. His joy was so real, so palpable. And I was miserable even though I was surrounded by things, by all the things I had spent my life chasing after.
You can't fake what that friar has. If it was fake, believe me, I could have spotted it a mile away. I was very in the world and an ex-marine; I had a very finely tuned hot-air detector. The only way to describe it is, I felt filthy in his presence. Because I knew I was in the presence of holiness. It was very humbling and the most eye-opening experience of my entire life.
So Justin is dead two years, Jill is dead six months, Cathy is becoming very religious and here you are having the beginnings of a real conversion experience yourself.
It's a miracle, really, all the little things God did to "propose" to me, for lack of a better word. I've tried, and I can't explain it to myself any other way. I didn't enter into this; I didn't want it. I was reasonably happy where I was. I didn't think I needed more God in my life. But God put himself in front of me, I now realize, out of such love and mercy that I can't even fathom it. He loved me so much, and he wanted me to know his love, his peace.
Which brings me to eucharistic adoration, why it's so important to me.
First you have to tell me about your wife, what happened there.
Oh, my wife was top-notch. She was the best lady I've ever met in my life my best friend, ever. Ultimately we each helped the other draw closer to Christ, which is the point of a Christian marriage.
We were on vacation in 1998, three years after Jillian died. We were in Costa Rica, we and another couple, and we were driving out to see the rain forest. I was driving. We were coming down this hill, going very slowly. Maybe two miles an hour. It had rained, so the dirt road was muddy. And there was a little bridge at the bottom of this steep hill. It was only one lane, even though it was meant for two cars. So Im looking to make sure no cars are coming from the other direction. As I tapped the brake to edge forward, the wheels started sliding. And they kept sliding and sliding. Very slowly.
So we slid onto this narrow little bridge on this steep hill, and there was no guardrail on either side. It was a forty-foot drop off the side. And the front right tire slipped off the edge. So we were teetering there, rocking. Cathy was in the backseat on the passenger side. My friend was sitting next to me in front, and his wife was in the back behind me. I prayed, "Please, God, let us tilt to the left."
Just as I said the word "left," we fell over, to the right. The last words I heard my wife say were, "Oh, my God." It wasn't a frenzied, panicky voice. It was a beautiful, soft, almost peaceful voice. The Jeep fell forty feet and landed right on the roof. It didn't roll; it just sort of hit and stuck, upside-down.
I was pinned my foot was stuck somehow and there was water coming in. I thought I was going to drown. I'm thinking, "I've got to get to Cathy." I'm struggling as hard as I can to get myself free. I've got blood running down my face from a cut on my head; it's running into my eyes and my mouth. And all of a sudden, inexplicably, I stopped struggling. I knew she was gone. I don't know how I knew; I just knew. We two had really become one, and now there was just an emptiness there. I knew her soul had departed before I ever even got to her. Finally my foot popped out of my sneaker and I crawled out.
Apart from Cathy being the only one to die in that accident it seemed like a miracle that the other three of us walked away with only minor injuries the thing that was really amazing was, these friends of ours were Jewish. And yet Rich said to me later, "Mal, I felt the presence of Jesus Christ in that Jeep when Cathy died." I said, "But, Rich, you don't believe in Jesus." He said, "I know. I can't explain it myself."
So, looking back at losing my wife, on top of losing my two stepchildren whom I loved with all my heart, just like my own children, I can see how God was preparing me for the day when I would really need him. I had no way of knowing what that day would look like. But it came. And I was ready for it when it did. Just by being in Christ, by being so deeply grateful to him for forgiving me for the horrible life I had lived and so in love with him just for being there.
You were already in Christ when the accident happened?
I was very close to the Lord when I lost my wife. But losing Cathy, somehow, took me to an even higher level of love for Jesus.
I have no idea. It makes no sense. I loved my wife so much. And I miss her so much, to this day. And yet I'm sitting here talking to you, just like I talk to everyone, about Jesus. He's all I want to talk about anymore. I can't believe how much I love him. Me, an old, tough-guy marine with a sordid past of total sin and depravity. I love Jesus with all my heart, all my soul and all my strength. Believe me, I don't understand God any more than anyone else. I just know I love him.
You must have gone through a period of intense grief, though. Did you not.?
I went through a period of very intense grief. I walked around for about three months running on nothing but God's grace. He just carried me because I couldn't carry myself. And then it all hit, what had happened to me. The sense of loss was just overwhelming. I can't describe what it was like; it was just ... hard.
And yet not one minute did I suffer alone. He was always with me. Jesus was always with me.
I've had one dream about my wife. Only one. I don't put any stock in it as a vision or anything like that, but I'll tell you about it because it involves adoration. I had it on my birthday, almost a year after losing her. I left work early because I felt ill. My head was pounding. I went home and lay down and I was out like a light in minutes. About an hour later the phone rings, wakes me from a sound sleep. I get up, feeling just miserable. I answer the phone, and it's my sister calling from Florida to wish me a happy birthday. If not for that call, I probably wouldn't have remembered the dream so vividly. So I like to think it was the Blessed Mother who moved my sister to call me at that moment!
In my dream, Cathy was coming out of the adoration chapel. I looked at her and she was absolutely radiant. She was wearing clothes she normally wore. I said, "Cathy!" And she ignored me. I called her again. "Cath!" She walked out the door, toward the parking lot. And everything was exactly as it is in our adoration chapel. It wasn't dreamlike, where things are strange and mixed up. Everything was normal except that my deceased wife was there. She turned around and looked at me and said, with great love and compassion, I hear you every single day. And that was it. The phone rang and I woke up.
Like I say, I don't put a lot of stock in dreams. God can reach us that way; he reached a number of people in Scripture like that, but it's dangerous to assume that any particular dream is sent by God. But I do hold out a part of me that hopes God was behind that particular dream.
Either way, it built me up. Whether it was God or my subconscious psyche, it was a reminder of the Christian hope that we have in Christ: One day we will be reunited all of us, not couples per se because we know there is no marriage in heaven, but all of us in Christ.
Now back up a bit and tell me about how you got involved with Eucharistic adoration.
Oh, that's the kicker. I went to confession; my confessor was the Franciscan priest whose witness had moved me so much at the party. I was still young in the faith, still being fed milk, as they say. So my confession that first time was very superficial. Get in, get out. I wasn't recollected or anything, and I'm sure that came through. In any case, for my penance, he gave me an hour of Eucharistic adoration every week for several weeks.
Needless to say, as the weeks went by, my confessions got a lot more sincere. My life got a lot more sincere. And a lot better. In fact, gradually, everything got a lot better. When you go before the Lord of the universe failed, humbled, on your knees there's no way to explain what happens. I can't find the words for you because I really don't understand it myself. I just go in there and tell him how much I love him. Tell him how useless I am without him. Tell him that I have no virtue, that there is nothing good in me, that I have nothing to offer or give. But I am open to receiving whatever goodness he wants to give me. And he always gives it to me.
What does he give you?
Everything. Peace. Love. Himself. That's what he gives me. Jesus gives me himself. See, that's the thing about adoration: It's really preparation to receive Jesus in Communion. You adore him and then you get to receive him, and when you do, it's like, does it get any better than this? He transforms me into what I'm not, what I could never make of myself. He makes me into himself, a part of himself. I don't know what else to tell you about it. Nothing else can come close to receiving Jesus body and blood, soul and divinity. Nothing.
So this was the beginning of your really "giving God permission," as Blessed Mother Teresa used to say, to be first in your life.
Yes. Until that penance, I hadn't really experienced adoration as a personal, one-on-one visit with Jesus. I had been to a Youth 2000 event where they had overnight exposition, and lots of people were there praying before Jesus all through the night, but I had never been alone with him in that way until that penance. I had never gone and talked to Jesus like I do in adoration. I mean, I loved him and he had done wonderful things in my life, but I wasn't really in relationship with him. It was through adoration that I got into this deep youd have to call it intimate relationship.
After I got a taste of adoration by doing penance, I wanted to go back again and again. What started out as penance, something I had to do to atone for my sins, became something very sweet, something I wanted to do out of love. Something, in fact, I couldn't get enough of. So that was when I signed up for an hour every week at a parish across town that has perpetual adoration.
How long did that phase of the relationship last.? Others have told me the honeymoon phase doesn't last any more than it does in a marriage.
That's definitely true. See, God takes us right where we're at. And when I started with those first few adoration hours in penance, he gave me some spiritual candy, so to speak. Those good feelings, that warm glow of just being there with him so close. The problem was, of course, that I was more concerned with pursuing a feeling than performing an act of faith which, of course, is far more meritorious in God's sight if you don't have consolations and good feelings. Love, like the other theological virtues, faith and hope, is first an act of the will. If you're loving someone only because you're getting something from that person, then you aren't really loving him or her.
That was around six years ago, when you still had Jillian and Cathy. What is adoration like for you now?
These days, I just sometimes kneel there in awe. To be there in the presence of Christ the same Christ who walked on water, who stopped the woman's hemorrhage when she grabbed his cloak, the same Christ who did all those things in the Gospels. He is now right in front of my eyes, alone with me here. What an unbelievable privilege to be in there with him. It's just mind-boggling. You could sit there forever because the peace that radiates from the Lord you just know that that's truly "my Lord and my God," as St. Thomas said.
I mean, I don't bring anything. I go through my acts of adoration, contrition, supplication and thanksgiving. And I go through my usual routines, but it's really just the presence of Jesus that blows me away. I can tell God anything. I can just sit there and know that this person absolutely delights in me, exactly as I am. That the only thing he wants from me is my sin. It's the only thing about me that he doesn't own.
I sometimes find myself thinking of my relationship with Jesus in terms of the relationship I knew with my wife. You have to desire giving more than getting. If you go into any relationship only looking for what you can get, you've got a dead relationship on your hands. In the same way, if you were to approach Jesus like a cosmic moneybags you give him your prayer and devotion only as long as he pays you or rewards you for it you would not be in relationship with Jesus very long. Because the goodies are going to dry up; he's going to let that happen so you can really learn to love him. No, I love Jesus because he is truth.
And that's the key thing I really found out through Eucharistic adoration: He is exactly who he said he is. The way I am, a certain part of me approached Jesus saying, "If I can catch him in a lie, I don't have to believe." Well, it's been six years and I still haven't caught him in a lie. And believe me, it's not as if, on some subconscious level, I haven't been trying.
Eventually, a certain dryness started to seep into your prayer life, including in adoration?
So much dryness. I mean, there have been a lot of times when I felt as if I was going through the motions, but for nothing. In fact, the sweetness really only lasted about three months. It was three months of candy where I was constantly getting consolations, interior reinforcements and encouragements. That period was too short, but that's the way it went for me.
The thing is, when the dryness started, I stayed honest with Jesus. Id say, "Lord, I bring nothing to the table. I don't even want to be here tonight. I'm tired, I'm miserable. I don't even want to be with you." And he even accepted that! That was the thing that always amazed me. He accepted whatever I brought, no matter how halfheartedly I offered it.
Here's the God of the universe, and I know it's him, and I can be that open and honest with him. Why? Because he knows me better than I know myself. And as I look back, I realize that was when the real relationship began. It was no longer a child coming around for candy. There was a real depth developing as I came in and prayed, "No matter what, Lord, just to be in your presence even if I can't bring anything and I feel I'm not receiving anything, at least I'm with you."
Sometimes I would read from Scripture or the lives of the saints. Just hungry to get to know Jesus better today than I knew him yesterday.
What difference does Eucharistic adoration make in your life?
If Jesus didn't make himself available for me to be close to in this way, I think my faith would be much more superficial. He challenges me when I go in there. You can't very well sit in Jesus' presence hour after hour, week after week, and tell him how much you love him, how much you want to follow him and be close to him and change for him and then go and casually commit all kinds of little sins. You go and do what you told him you would do.
He might be telling me, "You need to work on your anger." Or this needs to be worked on or that needs to be worked on. And I see his tremendous humility and love, coming to me in such a humble way under the appearance of plain, man-made bread and know that he is calling me to the same kind of humility and love. And that's most especially what I've gotten through Eucharistic adoration: humility.
As a side benefit, I've also gotten a sense of spiritual progress. It's been slow but sure.
When opportunities present themselves for you to go and witness the Gospel, do you take them more than you did before you discovered adoration?
Absolutely. When I went to work at my old job, at a very wealthy hightech company where I was just as caught up as anyone else striving to get ahead, I used to get this all the time when my conversion first started taking hold: "Who are you trying to impress?" People didn't buy it. Gradually, though, as you accept what God has chosen to give you, your whole attitude changes. And that changes other people's attitudes toward you.
The bottom line that comes screaming through, so gentle yet so firm, as I walk out of adoration is: Live it. Don't preach it or argue it.
Just live it. That's what St. Francis told the brothers: "Go and tell the world about Jesus; only use words if you have to." And the greatest part about living the Gospel is that it's OK to fail. In fact, it's good to fail because it increases your humility and your reliance on God.
Before my conversion, I was ambitious in the worldly way, like everyone around me was. I loved things and used people. Now I love people and use things. Everything can be replaced except for people. Individual humans are the rarest and most valuable things of all, the only really valuable things, on the face of the earth. It's amazing the peace you can bring to others when you look at them and remain mindful of that truth.
This is why we love the sinner but hate the sin because of what sin does to that rare gem of God, that individual human soul.
I have a brother who is a homosexual. And I tell him: "I love you too much not to tell you that what you're doing has eternal consequences." And I also said that to a couple of homosexuals who worked for the same company as I did when I was in the secular world. Naturally, the response you get, at least initially, is not one of receptivity.
But you can't sell out the Gospel to be nice or well-liked. Love isn't about being nice; it's about genuinely caring for the state of others' souls. You can "nice" people all the way to hell by failing to tell them about Jesus and the forgiveness he offers for whatever sin they're living in.
I wouldn't have the inclination, let alone the guts, to even say anything to people stuck in that lifestyle or any sinful situation. But every week I go in front of whom I want to be like. And Jesus never, ever shied from calling sin what it was just not to ruffle someone's feathers. In fact, he seemed to have greater compassion for the sinners than the righteous. He called them out of their sin because he loved them too much to watch them die in their sin. Should those of us who want to be his disciples be doing something different?
What makes you so sure you're in the actual, physical presence of Jesus when you're before the Blessed Sacrament.?
The effect it has on me. I am becoming more like him whom I am adoring. If that's not Jesus under the appearance of bread, as my faith and two thousand years of Church teaching tell me, then why am I being transformed so radically? Is a piece of bread making me into something I'm not? If I go into a garage and meditate on the car, am I going to develop wheels and a chassis?
If that's not Jesus Christ up there, I can't explain how or why a person who was filled with selfish longing, anger, hate, rage, jealousy, envy you name a vice, I had it in spades is becoming the person you're talking to. Someone who doesn't have a whole lot of interest in talking about anything but Jesus. Someone who now knows what love and peace and tranquility are. If these changes could have come about by looking at the wall, I guess I'd sit and stare at the wall. My eyes are opened; my heart is new.
You'll have to trust me when I tell you, because you didn't know me before: What you see in me is radical transformation. And it's Jesus' doing, not mine.
I think what amazes me most about your devotion is that you don't look back at your terrible sufferings or your long list of sins. Nor are you terribly concerned about what tomorrow might bring, about earning a lot of money or that sort of thing. You're clearly oriented on the present moment.
Well, I think that's one of the best things about walking with Jesus. All we have is right now. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come.
I will never wallow in self-pity over the sufferings I have been through. If you want to have self-pity, go look at a crucifix. Then try to pity yourself. If you can pity yourself after looking at Jesus hanging on that cross, you're even more self-indulgent than I ever was; we need to get you some serious help. I don't know how anyone who's aware of what Jesus suffered for us could pity himself. I can't do it, and I've lost the three people I've been closest to in my whole life. But look at Jesus up on that cross for us selfish sinners. That's suffering. That's love.
To me, that image is such a stark, hard reality. It's not just a statue or a painting by some great Renaissance master. That's God up on that cross. It's not some fictional character thought up by an ancient storyteller. And Jesus could have stopped the whole thing at any time. I didn't have that choice I couldn't have stopped my sufferings if I wanted to. But I had Jesus up there on the cross to suffer with me. And that made it not only tolerable but, more importantly, meaningful.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say that there's a lot of wasted suffering, meaning that modern people don't see the opportunity to suffer as the tremendous grace the Church has always said it is. Every trial, every pain, is a chance to unite our suffering with Jesus', a means of building up the entire body of Christ, as St. Paul spelled out.
This is not to say that I look down on people who need to talk about their suffering, and some people need to talk about it a lot. I remember someone saying to me, "How can you sit there and listen to that woman complaining about all her little headaches?" I said, "Because her headaches are real. They are her cross. God didn't give her a big cross; he gave her one that he knew shed be able to carry." It's not for me to judge. For one person, a hangnail might seem like too much to bear. That might be all the cross that person can carry. But God gave me this cross, the cross of losing the people I loved, for whatever reason. He knows what cross I need to get me into heaven, to be by his side, for all eternity. And I'll gladly carry it for his glory.
Most of your life is oriented around the Church now.
True. I play a little golf. Maybe a little too much, sometimes! But it's true that I don't have a lot of outside interests. I am a very happy person and I don't knock people who fill their lives with what now seem to me like trivial pursuits. But when you have the best when you're in love with the best why would you want to spend a lot of time away from him?
I have found what makes me extremely joyful. Not so much happy but joyful. I teach CCD, and one of the things the kids always ask me when they see my passion for God is, "Don't you ever go out and party and have a good time?" I don't want to get caught up in telling them about just how much I used to party, or even all the good things I used to be very active in sports and so on so I just tell them: I used to be very competitive. I was into a lot of things the world encourages you to get into. And I really enjoyed them a lot. But now I'm in the greatest competition ever. And I'm having the most fun I've ever had. The competition is with myself to be more holy, more Christlike today than I was yesterday. And don't ask me why, but this competition is a blast. And you know what? I'm not exaggerating one bit.
I also tell them that they're receiving a lot of enticements from the world to explore this path and that, an endless string of suggestions that true happiness lies in using people and loving things. But if they'll also keep a channel open to hear God's voice along with all those voices on the TV, in the movies, in their music and magazines and all, then, when they do find the pearl of great price, they'll sell all that other stuff to get it. And the pearl, of course, will be Jesus.
How would you witness about Eucharistic adoration to a lukewarm Catholic who feels he or she doesn't have the time?
You hit the nail on the head when you talk about time. People are very protective of their time. They look at an hour a week commitment to something like adoration and all they can think is, I don't know if I can give that hour up every week. They look at their time as the most precious thing they have and, of course, they're right.
The thing is, you will never outdo God in generosity. Your time in adoration will never be wasted, and you'll never give up more than you get. If they only understood what you get through Eucharistic adoration, they'd want to be in adoration one hundred hours a week.
You just get so much in return for that one hour you give to God in this special way. You go in, you give him an hour and he takes care of your life. He fills in all the holes and gets you started building eternal mansions in heaven. Not a bad deal if you ask me.
If I could say one thing to anybody who's going to read this, it would be: "Love is sitting there, waiting for you." He is absolute love, and that's what you can become. By sitting in the presence of love, you will want to become love. And you will receive the graces to actually allow that to happen to yourself.
What a beautiful world we would live in if people only knew.
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