“Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Pride kills! It kills hope, it kills faith, it kills relationships, it kills families, it kills friends and it separates us from God. Just as one can guarantee death and taxes, so too can this be guaranteed.
I was filled with pride. Rarely was it my fault. Rarely was I to blame for any disagreement or squabble. I demanded to be heard, but rarely listened to others. I wanted it done my way without discussion and if it was not, then I harbored anger, spite and hatred. I remember looking at those who were in disagreement with me and wanting to cause physical harm to them.. I was filled with pride and anger. Sure, I forgave from time to time, but never without revisiting my point and making sure all those involved new my opinion and agreed with it. I had to have the last word and I had to get my point across. Often times, I recall losing site on what the issue was, however, wanting desperately to make my voice heard.
I was in the shower praying to God for peace in my heart and my life. I had been taking my medication for a couple of days and although it was going to be a few weeks before the affects of my prescription would bring about noticeable changes, I was, for the first time in my life, looking forward to seeing things with much clearer eyes. I was longing to see everything as God’s creation instead of a tree, or a man walking down the street. I knew I could retrain my eyes, if only I could stop seeing the negative. I was consciously linking His wondrous gifts to the peace I was longing to feel within my soul. He had opened my heart to the idea of compassion, while simultaneously sharing scripture with me teaching me about the self destruction one faces when judging others. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
There were so many people in my life I wasted precious time judging and holding grudges against. I look back now and feel true sadness over all the days spent mocking them or of course, judging them. God was telling me very clearly that I needed to get away from this type of behavior. At that time, again October 2006, my prayer filled showers began to focus almost entirely on how to ask for and give forgiveness. There were numerous relationships in my life that called for this. Again, one of the first things I did was open myself up completely to the Word of God. I focused my time in prayer to listen very carefully to His soft, loving voice. At the same time, I kept praying for strength and humility. I continued to focus my prayers on those I had hurt in the past and those who I felt had hurt me. From an estranged relationship with my father to the neighbor who I felt compelled to judge for his actions of the past. During this time of reflection, my medication was certainly starting to work itself through my body and although I still judged and critiqued and seemed spiteful at times, those instances were becoming farther and farther apart. In addition, I was definitely more conscious of my thoughts, words and actions. For the first time in my life, I was becoming truly aware, honestly aware of my deplorable behavior. I was also looking over my shoulder for the face of Jesus, always walking with me and always watching me.
Each shower brought me a little bit closer to the peace of Christ. Each prayer healed my sinful heart a little bit more. For me, it will not happen overnight. It is a journey. A long, beautiful journey. At least that is the way I see it. A long, wonderful, exciting journey. Sprinting from point A to point B no longer takes precedence in my life. Instead, I try to savor every moment, every person, place or thing and find its relation to God. I think in the beginning of my “walk” a year and a half ago, I had to focus on these moments as an investigator focuses on his or her surroundings while studying the scene of a crime. Methodical and somewhat possessed. At times, I felt somewhat paranoid to think that I was missing an opportunity to serve Him or even lose sight of His presence in my life. I have come to learn through prayer and my dear Spiritual Director, Deacon Phillip, that what we as humans perceive as missteps in life are not necessarily what God perceives them to be. When we talk about temptation or a test of faith, we have a dictionary and life events to assimilate with. God on the other hand sees our life within His creation. Things are not always as direct and clear cut with Him as a dictionary makes it for us. We are His creation. He is loving and forgiving beyond our comprehension. Our minds cannot fathom what love is, in comparison to the love God has for each one of us. This lesson helped me “lighten up” a lot. This is not to say that I became lackadaisical in my faith journey. I can’t even imagine ever becoming lackadaisical again. The best way I can describe the journey I am on now is that I am the puppet and God is the puppet master. He is in complete control of me, however, I hold the scissors which can be used at any point in time to cut myself loose from Him. Free will. Yes I have free will. Yes I am the man He created and I am unique and important unto His creation. However, I choose Him to lead me. As days go by, I am becoming more and more in tune with his Will and open to his constant presence in my life. Again, letting go of pride and control and opening myself up to humility and the blessings of God has made all the difference in my life.
I prayed for my life to turn from a spite filled black hole to a freshly blossomed rose. I wanted so much to let go of the “filth” that had encompassed my life for so many years and open myself up full time to the Mercy of the Lord. My fears over this change were starting to diminish. I was beginning to feel less and less “cautious” or “embarrassed” about my reform and was gaining strength from God to profess my faith, even internally, feeling out of place. During Holy Mass, to this day, at times, I will weep silently as I gaze upon the Cross knowing just how much suffering Jesus had endured for my sake. How much humiliation and pain coursed through His body. All for me and for my salvation. Then I think about how wasteful I have been in my life even with all He has blessed me with.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation became a stepping stone in my journey. To open myself up to Christ was new to me, but exciting and cherished. Praying for and receiving strength to confess my sins showed me that I was not only committed to this journey but that I was willing to accept the humility God was filling me with in order to be open and honest with Him through my confessor. I began praying for individual people, outlining individual scenarios whereby I hurt them or they may have hurt me. I prayed to let go of my sins and temptations of the past, just as Father Jerry insisted I do. Let it go and move forward. Deacon Phillip put it beautifully when he said “You will never be able to love yourself or anyone else, including God, if you cannot let go of your past and forgive yourself as God forgives you.” I began asking for guidance in what I was to do to right the wrongs I had committed and open my heart to peace and compassion. Peace and compassion for myself first. Then it happened.
While showering, God suggested that I contact my dad. It was about Thanksgiving time and this would mark the third year in which Lisa and I and the girls would not be partaking in my parents Harvest Dinner at their home. After spending almost three years scoffing at the actions of my father and finding every chance I could to defame or dishonor his name, my heart was growing heavy and tired from the anger and spite. God knew this burden I carried with me. He carried it with me, each and every day as well. During prayer, the more I tried to ignore His voice, the louder it became. What happened next is yet another mystery of God’s wisdom and grace.
My father and I have a very loving, respectful, communicative relationship today, unlike anything we have shared before in our lives together. We are blessed to have been given a second chance and I know that I am a better man because of his presence in my life. The Grace of God was bestowed upon my father and I. We never talked or “hashed things out”. We never went round and round trying to determine who was right or who was wrong. We never went for a country drive to reflect upon the buffoonery we filled each others lives with. We just…………accepted God’s love for us, allowing us to fall in love with each other. Thanksgiving, 2006. Father and son, in the same room, sharing a meal along with laughter, some games and friendly conversation. It was odd and a little uncomfortable at first. I felt out of place as I am sure he did. But with Gods love and guidance, we persevered. We accepted His gift and embraced it together and from that moment on, we have become the buddies we should have always been. We call each other, sometimes for no other reason than to just say hello. We laugh at each others daily events and since he and my mother are retired snowbirds, we plan to visit them in Florida someday and let them show us around. I can’t tell you the specifics of God’s plan for me that day, but I can tell you He was with me every step of the way. I was never alone and I was never worried about the past. I was just a son returning home to enjoy a beautiful meal with his family. By God’s grace, my conversion path although just beginning to taking shape, was truly providing me with a wonderful sense of direction and hope. For the first time in my life, even as a married man and father, I was truly living for someone other than myself. I was living for God. I was not living for my needs, wants and desires while manipulating those around me, including my family, to conform to my ways. I was working hard to honor my Father in Heaven. I was doing my very best to walk with Him, keeping my mind, heart and body open to his presence in my life and searching for the parallels in my life that supported my relationship with Him.
My shower prayers became but one of many throughout the day. As I continued to study scripture, I began reading books and articles by some of the greatest Catholic scholars and theologians in history. Dr. Scott Hahn, Mother Angelica, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict the XVI, Saint Faustina, the Redemptorists from the Notre Dame Retreat House, numerous websites such as www.catholiccity.com; www.ewtn.com; and www.stjoes.com. Of course, mixed in were the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with the other books of the bible. My mind and my heart were opening wide to His Word and Will. I was starving for Him and His love. I could not get enough. His grace was like that of a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer on cold winter day. I was ready to devour anything in my path regarding Catholicism, the Church, the Saints or the Word of God.
I was feeling more alive than ever before in my life. I had woken up to His love and His guidance. The subconscious search for the missing link in my life was found, introduced to me much like a new friend, it was my Lord. I did not want this new life to end.