Ever since I was a teenager I have always felt that I was meant to do something big, something important. Something that would be special and perhaps even inspire or change peoples’ lives. Maybe I would write a book that would be a New York Times Bestseller. Maybe I would be in the right place at the right time to help someone or a group of people that would gather viral attention, and I would get invited to be on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Was this just a typical young man’s desire for heroism? Was this a type of genuine knowledge given by the powers above? Over the past couple years, I’m coming to realize that this special, important thing probably is not of this world. Maybe, it’ll be something for a Kingdom that many people deny, aren’t aware of, or even take seriously…
Let me give you a short summary of who I am. I grew up without religion in the home, with one brother who is currently an atheist, and parents who divorced when I was about 10 years old. My mother was (and still is) a non-practicing Catholic and my father was (and still is) a non-practicing Mormon. They made the decision to keep religion out of the family and let my brother and me decide for ourselves when we were older what we believed. Back then I thought this was a good thing. Today, I realize I missed out on a relationship with God for the first 28 years of my life. Even if it was in a religion that did not have the fullness of Truth or even biblical theology. Don’t get me wrong, I was always a general believer in Jesus Christ and God, even though I never knew Jesus IS God, one person of the Holy Trinity. I knew little about Him and the Holy Bible I owned collected dust on my shelf. My belief in a higher power never truly waivered, but the relationship was non-existent. Even though I believed in God, I did not take my faith in Him seriously.
Growing up I attended many Mormon ‘sacrament meeting’ services. As a kid, this was so I could hang out with some of my Mormon friends. As an adult, it was to spend time with a girlfriend whose father was a Mormon bishop (similar to what a Catholic Priest is with a parish, however these men are “called” to these positions and rotate out after so long. They don’t “consecrate” their bread and water, for the sacrament Christ instructed to do in remembrance of Him is only symbolic in their faith). I grew to learn and experience a decent grasp on the Mormon faith; what they believe in regards to the founding of their church, their basic theological beliefs with the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, etc. None of it ever sunk in to me. I never took it seriously. I was also very good friends with one of the “born again” Christian types. He was a good guy, and I really enjoyed hanging out with him and our many discussions about God. I would say this dude actually got me to think a lot more about God and my relationship with Him than ever before in my life. His father was a pastor of a little start-up church that rented space from a daycare on Sundays. I attended his services a few times with him, but again, this was more so to see my buddy and it didn’t really feel right to me. In fact, I was quite uncomfortable with the manner in which they praised God. I respectfully told him I wasn’t interested in going anymore, and with time we stopped talking after his family moved a few years later out-of-state.
The few religious experiences I had growing up that I did feel really good about and enjoyed, were Christmas Eve midnight masses with my grandmother, mother, and uncle. I hardly knew anything at all about Catholicism. That fact that people confessed their sins to priests was the extent of my knowledge. I had no clue Jesus Christ’s Body Blood Soul and Divinity was truly present in the Eucharist in the very building I stood. All I knew was that I could not go up there with my grandmother to receive it. It was maybe a good thing at that time, because I wouldn’t have been able to grasp that reality at that time of my life and perhaps it would’ve scared me away from any future appearances at a Catholic Mass. I loved the beauty, the Liturgy, music, and there was something about priests that intrigued me. I remember telling myself on the inside that should there ever be a day that I decided to take my faith in God seriously, I would seek a Catholic Church. I felt drawn to it. My journey to stepping into a Catholic Church again however, was a little rocky—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
I became a police officer at the youngest age of 21 years old. I had no law enforcement experience, but a clean record and decent enough head on my shoulders landed me a job in 2009 when the economy was on the fritz. I would say looking back, that God certainly blessed me, being chosen for a position out of 350+ applicants, including men and women with police experience. I also got married at the same young age to that girlfriend whose father was a Mormon bishop. I remember him telling me before the wedding day that he expected me to sincerely seek the Mormon faith at some point in my marriage to his daughter. I nodded, but the true intention was not there. The civil marriage lasted only nine months after dating her two years prior. Both of us made many mistakes, mine the biggest of all. I made the grave mistake of getting myself involved with a short fling during the police academy with another cadet. It wasn’t an on-going relationship, and to tell you the truth I had no intimate feelings for the girl. I never told my then-girlfriend until long after, when we were married civilly. Cheating was the one thing in life I promised myself I could never, ever do to someone I loved. It was ingrained in my soul as an awful deed. I saw what it did to my parents’ marriage, finding out in my adulthood it ended as a result of infidelity. My mind was so focused and worried about my new career that I was so absent in that marriage. I became a coward and a liar for so long, carrying that burden of my mistake.
The following six months of my life were my lowest. I drank lots of alcohol every single weekend, slept with half a dozen women, and spent many nights on my bedroom floor, still drunk after a party ended, sobbing. Sobbing about my life—where it was at, and where it was going. I felt ashamed of who I was and the fact that I broke a lifelong promise to myself crushed me. What I saw in the mirror was a failure in so many ways. I didn’t grow up with any skills or hobbies. I wasn’t good at sports; I had a smaller frame. My character was the best thing I had going for me and I felt that I ruined it. I was a 22 year old divorced cop. How cliché, right? I never even thought to seek God in my hardships. I probably prayed a couple times in there, but clearly not significantly enough for me to remember. My emotional and spiritual life was at its lowest. Even though I never sought Him, He was still blessing me, because before too long I met Katie…
Katie and I met very uniquely and had a long distance relationship for the first six months, until I proposed to her after another two months later. Katie grew up Catholic, attending mass regularly with her family until she went off to college. The regular attendance at mass dropped naturally, as she was a very busy star athlete, pitching for a university softball team. Like many cradle Catholics, her knowledge of the Catholic faith wasn’t retained too well after her weekly catechism classes into her teens, and she never did any reading on the faith outside of that. Her sisters grew out of the faith as they became adults, as did their father. Nevertheless, Katie and her mother were the only two that held on to their Catholic faith to this day. As the birth of our second child was approaching, Katie told me that she wanted to get our children baptized Catholic and to attend mass on Sundays as a family. My early memories of midnight mass rolled in and I got very excited. I told her I would look into it. I now no longer believe in coincidences, but that I was blessed by God yet again as my local parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) was starting the following Monday evening, which also happened to be my regular day off work.
I dove in head first with no life preserver. I suppose that is a funny way to put it because the Catholic Church today IS my life preserver. From the very first day of RCIA, I haven’t been able to feed my soul fast enough. I was so involved and participated in every discussion. God lit my soul on fire with His Holy Spirit. I was Baptized, Confirmed, and received First Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil Mass on April 15, 2017.
The next morning on Easter Sunday, my wife and I celebrated the Sacrament of Matrimony and had our marriage blessed by our parish Deacon. Four Sacraments in 12 hours was… indescribable. To follow that up, our first two children were baptized a couple weeks later. The joy I felt was on par with the day I married Katie, my actual wife in the eyes of God, and the births of our children. I had an internal revelation from God that He allowed me to make the mistakes I made to prepare me for my sacramental marriage, so I wouldn’t destroy something as sacred as the domestic church I built with my wife. I was at peace with my mistakes, no longer regretting them. They are a piece of me that was necessary to learn and grow, and prepare myself for the vocation of being a real man, a husband and father.
I must continue to be real with you. My faith has had its struggles. High ‘ups’ and low ‘downs’. I’ve come to understand that a person’s faith in God isn’t always about the butterflies we all felt at our baptism or other special day. In order to grow into a deeper relationship with Christ, one must be allowed to undergo trials and temptations. Our fallen yet redeemed lives here on earth are a spiritual battle. I have fallen and lost many battles, but I refuse to lose the war because I know how it ends. I fall into sin and make mistakes, sometimes within a couple short days of confessing my sins and feeling very strong. I have been humbled one too many times that I am absolutely nothing without God’s graces that I need to seek daily to remain in a State of Sanctifying Grace. The devil seeks to ruin me and bring me down to that low I felt before I met my wife, every single day. I know that a person on fire for God is public enemy number one for the demonic. The people in this world who don’t believe in God or the demonic are already in Satan’s grasp. They are right where he wants them. He seeks to destroy the soldiers of Christ that we all become with our Sacrament of Confirmation.
I’ve experienced spiritual dry spells, entering my internal desert. They are awful—not feeling the presence of God or the Holy Spirit within you even though you want to. Having little or no desire to attend mass on Sundays even though you know it’s a grave sin to miss with exception to circumstances out of your control. Not wanting to read Holy Scripture or any spiritual book and even taking them all and putting them on the bookshelf in the basement out of sight. These are a few of the aspects that I experienced during this time. I wanted it all back again, but I couldn’t force that desire to get back to where I was. I had to ride it out and one time this took two full weeks. It was a deep struggle. I had to force myself to pray and ask God to help me through this. He did. I came back strong as ever, getting to confession, receiving the Eucharist, and got back into my prayer life. I learned from this that we need to have a good balance in our day. My “problem” was that I took on too many devotions and overloaded myself to the point of needing to take a step back and breathe. I now try to focus more on developing my relationship with Christ and His Mother in contemplative prayer. My daily Holy Rosary and praying the Liturgy of the Hours has changed my prayer life like you wouldn’t believe. I focus on reading one book at a time now, and stopped trying to juggle five at a time. I need to schedule my time for prayer. It needs to be a necessary part of my life like eating a meal or getting a glass of water, because prayer and Scripture is spiritual food, and Jesus tells the devil in Matthew 4:4 “Not on bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.”
I want to leave you with two miracles I experienced of God speaking to me that I remember to help keep me strong in my faith.
The first one is an unforgettable experience in a Eucharistic Adoration chapel. I am blessed enough to visit Christ in the Blessed Sacrament almost every day during my work week. I typically eat my lunch alone as quick as I can to zip over and spend time in a chapel not far from the office. Several months ago I was in there one afternoon alone on my knees praying the rosary. I had been previously praying to God, asking Him if I was doing His Will and if I was doing the right the thing as a Catholic husband and father. I had been asking Him for weeks and on this particular day, as I was on my last decade of prayer, a small Hispanic woman walked in and knelt down up front on the opposite side of the altar. I could tell from my peripheral vision that she began to pray the rosary as well. When I finished after a few more minutes, I tucked my rosary back in my pocket and took a seat. I like to do this in silence for about five or so minutes to conclude my visits. What happened next was a little odd: the woman put her rosary away right after me and also sat down in her seat. Anyone who prays the rosary knows it takes about 15-20 minutes to pray. Even if this woman only wanted to pray one decade, it hadn’t been enough time for her to even finish that. As I was intrigued about this, the woman stood up and walked over to me. I looked at her and she held out a small, simple wooden cross on a black string. As she did this, she pointed with her other hand up to the large crucifix on the wall and said the following words through her quiet, thick Spanish accent: “He says that He loves you”. The woman smiled and quietly walked out. I sat there for several minutes awestruck. It was as if this woman came to the chapel for the sole reason to give me this message, but did not want to interrupt my prayer and waited until I sat down. I know the regulars at this chapel. I had never seen that woman before and I haven’t seen her since. I argued with myself for days that this was simply just a kind gesture by a random woman. Or was it an angel? After a while I came to the conclusion that this was God’s message to me that he gave through this woman. The cross hangs on my nightstand to this day.
The second miracle I experienced came pretty recent a couple weeks ago. I was in a parking lot sitting in my vehicle ready to go inside to grab a burger for lunch. A woman who appeared homeless and a user of illicit drugs approached me. I was in plain clothes for work that day, so she was unaware I was a police officer. She asked me if I would buy her a burger. Now, I was very hesitant to buy this woman some food. This probably sounds rude, but in ten years of law enforcement, the vast majority of homeless people I deal with have money in their pockets to buy a burger. Many of them I run into even have prepaid cell phones. I judged (probably correctly) that this woman likely had at least five bucks to get herself some food, but was trying to save her little bit of cash to see if a good Samaritan would buy it for her. Whether I was right or wrong, I could hear the words of Jesus in my head “For I was hungry and you gave me to eat” (Mt 25:35). I looked at her and said “Yeah. Come on in with me.” When we ordered, she asked if I could buy her a whole combo meal. Again I thought to myself that she was trying to get as much out of me as she could, but I nodded, and purchased her about $10 worth of food. She thanked me, but it certainly wasn’t a very gratuitous thank you. It was okay. I shook it off and went on my way.
After my lunch I went over to the chapel I frequent. While I was in there doing some spiritual reading by myself, the parish priest walked in and approached the altar. He stopped whatever he was doing and turned to look back at me: “Have you had Holy Communion today?” I told him that I did not, that due to work I am unable to attend daily mass. He waved me over to the altar and unlocked the Tabernacle. Pulling out a consecrated host of our Lord, he gave me the Eucharist that I graciously received on the tongue and I thanked the priest very much. I finished my reading and prayer and as I walked back to my car, I heard the words of Christ say to me: “Thank you for feeding that woman. This is why I fed you”. I stopped in my tracks and just smiled, thanking the Lord.
Miracles happen all around us, every single day. Most aren’t angelic visions or bi-locating like St. Padre Pio, and many aren’t even as humbling as the ones I describe that happened to me. Miracles aren’t for those who don’t believe or have faith in God. Miracles are for those who do have faith, to strengthen it. My life is full of miracles. My three beautiful children are miracles. My baptism into the Catholic Church is a miracle. Meeting my wife was a miracle. She held onto her Catholic Faith long enough that led me to mine. I believe that special purpose I have always felt I’m here to do is now hopefully to help bring my wife and children deep into their faith, by the way I live and by my prayers, and lead them all to heaven.