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Our parish is embarking on an intentional discipleship process.  On this journey we are inviting our parishioners into a (deeper) relationship with Jesus.  One of the first steps is we are sharing our stories of how we came to know Jesus or how we grew deeper in our relationship with Him.  The hope is that people will pause & reflect on how God is working in their lives offering them opportunities to grow closer to Him. Hopefully they will either (1) look back on their own similar story & rekindle the fire of that love or (2) they will realize that they do not have a personal relationship with the Lord and perhaps start to desire one. From hearing a variety of stories they will then have a guide for possible ways they can deepen their faith.

Therefore I’d now like to share my story, the same one I shared at mass last week, with you Dear Reader with the same goal:  that you would reflect on your life and grow closer to Jesus this Advent Season.

I grew up in a very Catholic family. We went to mass every Sunday and had family prayer time before meals and bed. My parents also attended a weekly prayer meeting that I looked forward to going to also during the summer & whenever we had Fridays off of school. Because we didn’t have family nearby, we celebrated all our birthdays and holidays with the families from this prayer community. My parents did a great job transmitting the faith to us kids. I looked forward to my first communion because I couldn’t wait to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Because our faith did touch every area of our life, I was often on a different page than the other kids in my class, even though I went to Catholic school. For example one day at lunch the girls at my table asked if I had the newest Madonna album. I replied “No but I have the newest Dana album.” Dana is the Irish Catholic singer/songwriter who wrote the song “We are One Body” for World Youth Day & has written other songs for Pope John Paul II. Because I didn’t fit in, I was often lonely. My mom taught me to turn to God with my problems & together we prayed that I would find friends.

As I got older I was tempted to abandon the faith and act “like everyone else” in an attempt to fill the loneliness. I wanted to experience all the things that it seemed everyone else was – partying, drinking, drugs, relationships, etc. But I knew that they weren’t what was best for me. One October while at the Camden Diocese Charismatic Conference in Wildwood NJ I was talking to Jesus during Eucharistic adoration. That is when the Eucharist is displayed in a special holder called a monstrance so that people can look at God and pray to Him in a special way. During this prayer I was sharing my struggle with Jesus, and I suddenly realized how deeply and intimately Jesus loved me. That He died on the cross for ME because He loves me and wants to be in a relationship with me. What was I going to do? Was I going to keep whining about what I didn’t have or was I going to accept this love that could fill the hole in my heart? That day I started “dating” Jesus. Instead of going out on dates, I would go to mass or to the youth group prayer meeting. I would dress up special as if I was going on a date. Just like dating couples talk on the phone, I would talk to Him in prayer & listen to Him by reading the Bible. Because I couldn’t actually give Jesus a present for his birthday & our anniversary or a holiday, I did acts of kindness for others as gifts.

At some point in everyone’s life they need to choose to make the faith their own & not go to church just because their parents make them. For me that happened around this time because I started driving. My parents were so excited that they didn’t have to drive me to ballet, work, and prayer meetings anymore. I drove myself. One day I realized that I could skip mass & the prayer meetings and go other places and no one would ever know; once again I was tempted to do things I knew were wrong in order to fit in. But I chose not to; I chose Jesus. I chose Mass. I chose the prayer meetings. I chose them because I enjoyed them. They weren’t things I was forced to do, they were things I wanted to do. Kinda like when I met Tom, now my husband, he was really into football & I didn’t know much about football. So I started watching it with him & learning about it. Not because Tom made me but because I wanted to because I wanted to share things with him. Now I watch football even when he’s not home. I chose to go to a Catholic college. I chose to get involved with youth ministry, religious education, and retreat ministry. I chose marry a Catholic man. I chose to have my kids baptized. I chose to be involved on our parish’s Evangelization Committee. I chose to attend the young adult Bible study and now choose to attend the St. Catherine of Siena woman’s prayer meeting that meets here on certain Monday nights. I choose all these things because of my relationship with Jesus, because LOVE is more than just a feeling, it’s a choice. Many times I feel great when I’m loving God & serving Him. But life hasn’t been a spiritual high since I committed my heart to Jesus in high school. There have still been days of loneliness. There have still been temptations to run away. There have been times of doubt. There have been times when I have chosen sin instead. But now I remember that experience at Wildwood and I know how much Jesus loves me and how faithful He has been to me. Therefore I run to him in prayer and cry out to Him, sometimes literally, for help. He has always answered me. I have prayer journals full of those prayers crying out to Him. I love to reread them to see how God has been faithful to me and how what seemed catastrophic at the time in retrospect wasn’t a big deal because He worked in my life. I have gone to confession to restore the relationship. I encourage you to look back on your life to see how God has been working in your life too, also calling you into a relationship with Him, how He’s been trying to show you His love.

So what about you, Dear Reader, how has God worked in your life?  How did you start a relationship with Him?  How are you different now that you know Him?  Please feel free to share your story in the comments section so that we can all give praise to God for the wonders He has done.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  ~1 Peter 3:15

Has the Lord redeemed you?  Then speak out!  Tell others he has saved you from your enemies.  ~Psalm 107:2

And I pray that as you share your faith with others it will grip their lives too, as they see the wealth of good things in you that come from Christ Jesus.  ~Philemon 1:6