“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40).
About a week after my “weekend” with Lisa and Father John, the honeymoon was over. The end probably manifested itself as some foul mouthed tantrum at work or at home. I probably got online and checked out the latest and greatest pornographic video or sat around the “water cooler” spreading rumors or gossiping about my neighbor. It could have been any number of garbage cans in my life. The desire to follow Him was wearing off. I was becoming selfish and self centered again. I was loosing that feeling of grace. Looking back, I know I was a giving man. I don’t think you could find a person who wouldn’t agree with the fact that I have always been giving. I do believe, however, that I never gave without getting first and I never gave if it was going to hurt me in any way. I did not know the meaning of being a Christian and I did not know the meaning of selfless love for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Especially those who were furthest away from Him.
I talked a great talk. I shared with others how important my faith was to me, yet, really had no basis for that statement other than what was becoming a fleeting memory of my one and only confession and feeling of oneness with Him. I picked up some catch phrases such as “putting my faith in action”. Unfortunately, I thought money was the best way to accomplish that. Giving to the Church, giving to the school. Giving to the needy. Donating money for this or for that. How blind I was. How blind I was to think that I could buy my way into God’s kingdom. For so long I had spent deceiving myself and others, I really had become unconscious to the effects it had on my life and those around me. I simply could not be honest with myself, my family, my friends, my wife, and my children or, worse yet, my God. I was the guy who looked like a million bucks on the outside but had no soul. An empty shell if you will. I felt helpless and worthless. I felt worn out and ashamed. I felt alone and dirty. I felt EMPTY, again. In addition to specific times in my life, these were the same feelings I had in Father John’s room during my confession. Looking back, I guess the good news was the fact that it was getting easier to identify now. It would be about a year before I decided to stop the madness. It would be about a years worth of floundering and debating with myself. Screaming “I’ll never do it again” right before, during or after I was “doing it”, whatever “it” might be. I was trying my best to manipulate God. I was trying to paint a different picture of myself to Him and everyone else in my life. I was trying my best to maintain the front of being holy, but was even farther away from Christ than before my confession.
Time went on. My anger, spite and sour outlook consumed me. My house was never clean enough. My kids never listened enough. My wife never did enough. My relationship with my father was non existent and I was certainly too prideful to bend one inch regarding our differences. I became presumptuous at work. Everything was going great and I didn’t have a care in the world. I talked a great talk but could never seem to walk the walk God certainly wanted me to walk. I went to Holy Mass because it was important to Lisa that we raise our children in the Church. I didn’t need to attend some service in order to worship God. I could do it “my own way”. I rarely if ever thought about that evening with Father John. Sure, I acknowledged it occurred and remembered the feeling I took from it, but that was a long time ago and so many other things took precedence in my life.
I do not seem to be very good with dates. I am off a little bit whenever I reminisce. Unless I write it down, it could very easily become non-existent in my mind. August 2005 was my “weekend”. Somewhere around October, 2006 I had what you will come to learn as an “epiphany”. What I plan to share with you in as much detail as I can is the time between. It was certainly one of the most impressionable times of my life and as you will see, very necessary in order for me walk along the path I try to travel today.
Some say God plans this and God plans that. Some disagree. Some need to qualify their position and others simply abstain. I was convinced that nothing in my life would happen without it being God’s plan for me. I took no time to contemplate free will, Satan, personal responsibility or the Church. I took no time to study scripture and apply the Word of God to my life. I took no time to recognize the importance of tradition and the intercession of the angels and Saints. What will be will be. I had no control over my destiny and would simply Carpe’ Diem, “seize the day”. I was kidding myself, dodging responsibility and continuing to spiral deeper and deeper into a dark, personal abyss.
How simple is it to speak the truth? Many would say it is one of the simplest things to do. If you know the truth, then you can certainly speak it. If you don’t, you should not speak at all. Novel idea isn’t it? Fair to say that honesty is the best policy and we as parents certainly pound that into our children’s head from the moment they begin to comprehend. To speak the truth is not always situationally easy. However, it is always for the best. “If you tell the truth, your punishment will not be as severe as if you lie to me.” Remember mom and dad telling you that? Remember your kindergarten teacher sharing a compassionate and patient moment with you during a one on one conversation about who spilled the finger paints. Knowing full well you were the only one near them, you still thought it wise to blame Billy? Telling the truth or telling a lie is a crossroad we each come upon hundreds of times each day. Think about it, the definition of “Lie” is: a. “to make a statement that one knows is false, especially with intent to deceive; b. to make such statements habitually; c. to give a false impression; deceive one. Using these definitions, along with many other identifiable ones as well, we have the opportunity to lie at times without even considering the ramifications. From what we consider “little white lies” to “protecting someone from pain and suffering, opportunities to lie surround our lives. If it is not the absolute truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, what is it? You got it, a lie!
I was the master at lying, although I don’t think I was ever really as good at it as I thought I was. How funny is that. How embarrassing and shameful too. To lie is one thing, but for others to know you’re lying as you do it is even more shattering. That was me. Actually, if you treat one as a compulsive or habitual liar as I was, it is probably safe to consider it a disease and thus, call myself now in remission, thank God. There were so many lies. So many deceitful comments and suggestions. Some out of spite, some out of boredom, some to protect myself from a butt whooping, some to “fit in” or to be liked or popular and some without any rationale at all. The reasons are almost as numerous as the lies themselves. It got so bad that I could not even help myself from lying. A simple conversation with another person regarding what I did the night before would ultimately turn into this grandiose tail of lions, tigers and bears. I could not tell the truth to save my life. I could not put together three or more sentences without at least embellishing upon something. All the while, those who are much smarter than I saw right through it. I shudder to think of how much pain, hurt, disappointment and shame they felt for me, let alone themselves
How sad I had become. How weak and careless. I was, looking back on it, not much different than a drug addict. I caused pain to myself and family. I hurt others who only wanted to love me. I manipulated the lives of those who were closest to me in order to get my way and I failed to recognize any of it because of those empty promises and sinful temptations I chose to allow into my life. Never think the evil one is MIA. He is always present, just as God is. He is always lurking for his next soul. He is always trying to separate us from God. He is always trying to turn us from God’s light with temptations of money, sex, drugs and power, to name a few. This is not to say that money, sex, drugs or power is all evil, however, as with just about anything in life, they carry a propensity to lead us away from the Lord through misuse, misguidance and abuse. All tricks of the trade for Satan. The evil one is a brilliant manipulator and liar. Although he cannot read our mind, he can manipulate our thoughts to reveal what we think is best for us versus what the Lord knows is best for us.
Lying brings on many other forms of personal pain. Without any clinical statistics, but having lived a large portion of my life as a liar, I know we tend to be unhappy, confused and tired. I think we try to skirt responsibility and pass off to others what we ourselves should take the lead on. I think we find fault in others to divert attention from us, however, speaking on behalf of myself, I have always loved attention. Low self esteem has an awful lot to do with this sickness, among many other mental deficiencies. As a little boy, my father had very high expectations of me. Today, as a father myself, I can certainly identify with his position much better than when I was ten years old. Nonetheless, to get myself out of trouble, or so I thought, I would often times defend my immaturity and childlike behavior with lies. For example, if my chore was to mow the lawn and I found something more attractive to do, such as play football with the guys or hit the pizza shop, I had to find a way to deter my dad’s wrath. I let him down. I failed to accomplish what he had placed before me for the betterment of the household. I was not being open to learning responsibility and I was in no way maintaining accountability. I was selfish. Concerned only with what I wanted to do. The way I tried to escape the inevitable lashing was to lie. “The mower wouldn’t start” I would state. However, after one pull of the cord by dad, you guessed it, started and ran like a champ. “Can’t find the gas can” I said. “You mean the one sitting on top of the mower?” Dad replied. This type of behavior went on and on and on through hundreds of situations. One could say, “hey, boys will be boys and sometimes they tell white lies to get out of trouble.” Sure. To an extent I guess. No matter how hard Lisa and I push “honesty being the best policy” with our girls, they still lie to us at times. We know this full well. In fact, each one at one point in their lives has shown up with pudding smeared around their lips while swearing they had not eaten a single thing all day! Cute? Funny? Sure, at times. We turn our heads to hide our laughter and return with a stern face to make our point. The problem with me was it took over thirty years to grow out of it, or as I stated above, enter into remission. Do I still tell a white lie every now and then? Unfortunately, yes I do. So am I actually in remission? Maybe not, but you can be the judge. Through it all, the biggest difference in my life today is that I am conscious of my words and the consequences of what comes out of my mouth. I am aware of God’s presence in my life and despise anything that separates us or causes conflict between Him and me.
For over thirty years I played the game. I ducked and weaved my way through trials and tribulations, many of which I brought upon myself. I called myself a Catholic if asked, however, was no more a Catholic than Gandhi. I had no idea who God was, Jesus, a Saint, angels, the concept of Church or the Holy Trinity. Holy Mass was a hassle but I knew if I was to remain in the good graces of my wife, I better show up. There was a time, in fact, that I used to say “I believe in Jesus. I believe there was a man who traveled around the dessert telling everyone to be good and follow these ten steps to holiness.” To me, however, he was no more holy than that spirit in the sky called God that supposedly created everything we have in six days. I did NOT believe. My faith was non existent. My soul was without shelter and I saw no guiding light in my life. To be honest with you, I didn’t even think twice about religion, other than to blaspheme or mock it.
By God’s grace, one thing I cannot fully explain today is that I can count on two hands the number of times I took the Lord’s name in vane. I just didn’t do it. I never thought about it nor did I reflect upon this fact as a young man. However, without a doubt, it was God’s presence in my life that deterred me from speaking those horrible words. I believe that that small bit of self control was God’s way of keeping the light on within me. Even if I couldn’t see it or feel it, He did. He knew me then as he does now. For, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Believe it or not there was a time in my life when the dishonesty subsided for a while. During my stint in the Navy, I seemed to do no wrong. I was respected within my division. I excelled in structure and consistency. I found nothing intrusive about the military and enjoyed the time spent serving my country immensely. It was the first time I was on my own, with my young, first wife, Kristy. We had it made. No children, very few responsibilities outside of work and more money than we had ever seen before in our lives. Some said it was the fact that I was out on my own that reduced my disordered need or desire to lie. Others would say lying was a crutch in my life that the military filled. I don’t know. All I can say is that before and after my military days I was despicable, however, during those brief four years in my life, I was a different person. I was never more of a man than during that period of time in my life. Spiritually however, I was still very, very far away from Him.
Dishonesty was not my only down fault. I was a blasphemer, manipulator and without a doubt, corruptible. I relied heavily on fast talking, again which I was not very good at, to get me out of many sticky situations such as underage drinking, smoking, small time vandalism and potential brawls. I was a smart mouth punk. I took pleasure in finding weakness in another and playing that against them, usually in a crowd or some other social event that would surely humiliate or embarrass them. This was my idea of being funny. I swore that I meant no harm; however, looking back on it, the pain I caused was immeasurable. Real pain that still exists. Real pain that has killed relationships. Real pain that I may never be able to mend. As horrible as it is to speak this way of myself, it is equally difficult to hear about from others as well. Believe me, I am not proud of my actions. I am no longer one that says it was God’s plan for me. I own it. It’s all on me.
God gave each one of us free will. The ability to choose the path in which we walk along. The ability to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. That said, and this is very important, I do not believe I would be the man I am today had I not gone through and continue to go through and experience my life as it plays out, all of the goods, bads and opportunities to learn. I will always be a broken man. I will always be a sinner. However, I now know what road to choose. I never allowed anything to come to me easily. If there was a wrong road to choose, chances are I chose it. But now, as a Catholic Christian, cognizant of my ongoing conversion, I can honestly say that having walked along those lonely, dark roads have made them much more recognizable to me today. For this reason, by the Grace of God, I know that I am more open to His Will, allowing Him to guide me in becoming a better father, husband, son and brother to those in my life. I just have to continue to pray for the strength to remain open to that will. To choose the right path, even when the wrong one is so much easier to walk along.
It’s funny when you take time to look back upon your life, some parts of it are unrecognizable while others are as fresh and clear as if they were yesterday. Much of my life today is spent trying to glorify God and the blessings He has bestowed upon me, albeit privately and without fanfare. Although through the inspiration of my spiritual advisor I am working hard to “internalize” my faith and fuse it to my entire being, I take great comfort in studying the word and exploring ways in which to serve others in the name of Jesus Christ. In my mind, the life I was blessed to lead became recognizable to me in October, 2006. The period of time between August, 2005 and then is what I refer to as my period of “labor pains” surrounding my spiritual rebirth. Many, many days were filled with pain and torment. Many days were let downs and uninspiring. However, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I was able to hang on to that feeling of freedom bestowed upon me the night of my very first confession. At times, the feeling was so faint, it was almost like a dream. Other times, I felt those same butterflies in my stomach by the Grace of God coursing through my body. I still had no idea what it meant to be filled with that Grace, but I did know that something within me was changing. Something within me was growing. I was slowly but surely beginning to recognize feelings of sadness and temptation in contrast to feelings of peace and love. I was very slowly able to recognize a destructive path in contrast to a path of righteousness. I was slowly building upon an urge to live my life not only for myself, but for each and every person I came into contact with.
My goal became to put my faith to work and do God’s Will, to share it via my thoughts, words and actions. I became alive with the Holy Spirit. A very good friend of mine named John described it as “getting smacked upside the head by God.” I was coming full circle with two of the most extreme places a person can come from and end up at. A life filled with lies and deceit to an undying desire to do the Will of God. I had so much to learn. What were these feelings that were growing inside me? Why, out of nowhere, would I feel an overwhelming desire to pray? How was I supposed to pray? What was I supposed to do with these feelings? Do I shout them out at the top of my lungs or do I hide away for fear of not being recognized as the man I had been for over thirty years? Who could I talk to? Who would be able to understand me? Although I was never more alive, I also felt scared and alone. Then I found God……………in the shower.
 Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary, Second College Edition, Prentice Hall Press.