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Hebrews 11:6

When I cracked open my Bible this morning to today’s first Scripture passage I saw that it began with the familiar, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 1:1, NAB).  I immediately sensed I should pay attention because something profound was yet to come.  Five verses later, there it was, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him [God], for anyone who approaches God must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who seek Him.”   Those words evoked a beautiful memory of a life-changing event….

Midnight, Saturday, April 14, 2012 –  I had just spent one of the most uncomfortable days of my life – the first day of a two day Catholic spiritual retreat at which my attendance had nothing to do with my spiritual life.  Rather, I was there to get away from the stress of life, from the loneliness of spending countless time away from home due to work, the loneliness of having made no real friends since I’d moved to town six years prior, and to think about how I was going to dig myself out of the mire of depression into which I was falling.  After the first couple hours of the retreat, I felt like a fish out of water.  I had seen more praying than I’d seen my entire life.  Although I’d been married to my loving and devout Catholic wife for 30 years, I was a NONE, with no real convictions about God.  Jesus was not part of my life.  

I was getting ready to hit my bunk for the night when I fell into a conversation with a man that I had come to know fairly well.  We were friends although we’d never actually shared our lives with each other as I now know that true friends do.  Eric asked me how my day had been.  I opened up to say that I honestly didn’t know what to think.  I had never heard men talk like those whom I had heard that day, disclosing such personal and intimate experiences, and avowing how God had helped them through their struggles.  I allowed that this was new territory for me, that I tried to live my life as morally as I could and with kindness to others, but that I’d never felt called to fully believe in God.  Eric replied, “Brother, you’re doing the good things God wants you to do!  Just open your heart to the Holy Spirit like you heard today, and God will give you the gift of faith.”

2:00 a.m., Sunday, April 15, 2012 – After two hours of insomnia, thinking about the experience of the day, and going over Eric’s advice in my head a million times, I asked myself, “What would I pray for if I was to pray for something?”  Two things came to mind:  first, that I would get some affirmation that my wife and daughters knew how much I loved them, and that I would receive some reinforcement of their love for me; and, second, that I might develop some friendships with these men on the retreat who seemed to be taking an interest in me.  

Summoning up the courage to roll out of my cot, I found my way into the chapel.  I took a pew near the back on Joseph’s side and looked forwards.  Eric and a woman were up near the altar praying.  On the altar was what I had heard them call a monstrance, a cross-looking thing in which a consecrated host was on display.  Kneeling there, I wasn’t sure how to start my prayer so I said, “God, I don’t know how to pray.  I don’t know for sure if I believe you are real or not.  But, after what I’ve seen today, how these men can be so happy in spite of the difficult situations they’ve faced, I want to believe in you.”  And then, for the first time in my life I prayed.  I prayed for those two things:  love and friendship.

11:45 a.m., Sunday, April 15, 2012 – After a few more testimonials that morning I was given a large envelope stuffed with dozens of other smaller envelopes.  As I delved into them I found letters from the men who were giving the retreat thanking me for attending, praying for me, and offering to walk with me in faith.  There were cards from people I didn’t even know saying they had been praying for me all weekend that I might experience Christ’s love.  And, to my surprise, there were letters from my wife and daughters, parents, brother and sisters.  Each and every one was a love letter letting me know how much they loved me and that they knew my love for them.  That’s when I discovered I had what a friend later explained was the Gift of Tears.  

I found more than the love of my family in those letters.  And, I found more than new friendships that weekend.  I found the love of Christ, a love deeper and more profound than any love I’d ever known.  I realized all that i had been missing for fifty-five years.  I started life anew that weekend when I cracked open the door of my heart.  I found the source of happiness, and I wanted more of it.  I was given the gift of faith through the realization of things I had hoped for, because I had been given evidence of something i couldn’t see.  That weekend I became a Christian.  One year later, I became Catholic.

The scripture says we must believe God exists before He rewards those who seek Him.  But, I think He is a loving and merciful God, One Who bends His own rules, when He sees fit, and rewards those who seek Him because they want to believe.  

I imagine there are hundreds of people in every community, yours included, who fit that description, who want to believe, but have no one to show them the way; men, women and children who are waiting for someone to reach out to them in friendship and invest in them and encourage them to crack open the door of their heart to let the love of Jesus rush in.  Won’t you let that someone be you?  

Lent begins next Wednesday.  Perhaps a Lenten resolution would be to meet and strike up a conversation with a neighbor whom you don’t know well;  smile and introduce yourself to someone who looks sad, bewildered, or hurting; or honor the Sabbath by setting aside work and, instead, invite over for dinner someone who is alone.  God gave you an imagination.  I’m sure you can use it to come up with your own ideas of how you can be a disciple for Christ.

This week, almost eleven years after my conversion, I am helping a class of eighty men and women learn and grow in their faith, forming them to become Catholic Spiritual Mentors so that they may more effectively lead others closer to Jesus.  On April 13th, 2012, I’d have said you were crazy if you had suggested I would be where I am today!  I praise and thank God every day for this life to which he has brought me, for the men and women who have led me along the way, and for the desire to help others grow close to Jesus.

The Catholic Spiritual Mentor class of 2025 is forming now.  If you are interested in learning how to become a guide to another in his or her quest for friendship with Jesus, you can visit the School of Faith website for more information, or if you are interested in having a Spiritual Mentor of your own, you can find more information here.

“Dear Jesus, thank You for placing those undesirable and uncomfortable situations in my life that drew me to an environment in which I learned to seek You and receive Your gift of faith.  Thank You for loving me through good men who offered friendship to me, and thank You for a loving wife and children who supported me as I grew to love You more.  Thank You for giving me the desire to be a disciple-maker for Your Kingdom.  Amen.”

(Believe and be Rewarded was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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