A Very Long and Winding Road
You’ll have to forgive me as I write this. This post will be very personal, full of unexpected turns and events and new friends.
Last time, I left off with the idea of meeting God through the Holy Spirit. I felt the call to come back to the Church, yet that was initial contact. That’ was a start of a strange adventure.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
After going back to my home parish and making a confession, I had this very unsettled movement in my heart of hearts. Like I could be doing more. But, something was just wholly and utterly restless to the point it started to hurt.
I was looking for an adoration chapel. My church was open 24/7, but we had no adoration chapel. Nevertheless, I felt that call to be closely united with God, so I got online and started my search.
Thankfully, there was a parish relatively close to me. I remembered going there for my confirmation retreat. In excitement, I immediately got in my car and started to drive down.
It was an old, traditional church; the adoration chapel was actually on the bottom floor of the rectory. Taking a few steps in, I was immediately hit with this feeling… and dare I even say, the smell of a home. This place struck me. It felt like a home away from home. It was the peace that heart desperately desired.
Walking into the carpeted hallway, an elderly stopped and asked who I was. Not in an inquisitorial tone, mind you. He genuinely wanted to know who I was and greeted me.
I told him I was from Saint Bernard, and he instantly smiled, saying, “Ah, our sister parish! Welcome, Welcome!”
My heart nearly exploded with those kind and heartfelt words. I desperately wanted to drop to my knees in tears and thank the older man. I unfortunately never got his name, but I hope and pray he is doing well wherever he is.
After he showed me around to the adoration chapel and library, he went about his business. I was left alone in the adoration chapel and prayed like I never prayed before.
I had to bite my lip to stop myself from crying like a child who lost their parent. I was that orphan child who ran away; I was the lost lamb the Lord was carrying about. It was the most refreshing but most painful thing I ever experienced.
On my knees, before the Eucharistic Lord, I was able to collect myself and just sat there. I don’t know what was going through my mind. To be honest, the only thing I felt was that I was home. I was in a safe place.
Maybe an hour passed when I left the adoration chapel. At this point, I had a genuine desire in my heart, in fervor and delight, to give myself to the Lord. I felt a call to the priesthood or monastic life. That was when I came across two books that utterly changed my life.
I was looking for something on monastic life, anything really. That’s when my eyes came across a small, old, and I mean OLD book. It was about to fall apart.
Thomas Merton “The Sign of Jonas.”
I picked up this tiny little book, and something stuck out of it. It was a picture. It was a bookmark of an old Byzantine icon of Mary under the title of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” My eyes drifted towards the bottom of the bookmark to see a small sticker.
It had a happy face with it, saying, “Be happy.”
That’s when I realized that Mary was specifically watching over me. I don’t want to say I was looking for signs when there weren’t any. I’m not a superstitious type. But, naturally, I’m very inquisitive and analytical. You have to be when you’re a historian.
Yet this bookmarker stuck out to me. I couldn’t shake it. My mind couldn’t wrap itself around the why and how. Maybe it was a coincidence.
See when I came to the adoration chapel. I was so filled with fear. I was so terrified of what the future holds. Spending time in adoration helped a bit, but I was still filled with feelings of dread.
Yet Our Lady of Perpetual Help, of all titles, was there. It was like she was telling me, “Don’t Worry, My Son is with you. I am with you. We will never leave you.”
Just as any mother would hold a troubled child, Mary was holding me tightly, whispering, “It’s going to be all right. Be happy. You’re home now.”
I immediately went back to the adoration chapel, thank and praised God. That was a little sign that I needed to push myself back in the right direction.
The First Saint: Saint Agustine
I spent hours reading Thomas Merton and Sign of Jonas. I was so absorbed with the Trappist way of life. Their monasticism was something that appealed to me. Prayer and work, speaking only when necessary, the monks gave up ordinary comforts to be more engaged in prayers and thoughts.
I wanted that. I desperately hungered for that. I wanted to give up creature comforts all in thanks for God saving my life and soul. I wanted to return my thanks to the untold people who were actively praying for me.
I wanted to give up my life to pray for those other people. Yet, I realized I was nowhere ready. Mentally, intellectually, and spiritually.
That was when my priest recommended me to Saint Agustine’s Confessions. Pondering this, I ordered a copy and started to read at the adoration chapel.
I didn’t know Saint Agustine. Then, doing some research, I realized he was one of the most important Fathers that shaped the Catholic Church. His writings have influenced Christianity in ways I can’t even imagine, being illumined by the Holy Spirit.
And I thank him for that! It takes a tremendous amount of effort to pick up the keyboard, pen, or quill and start writing. Yet, that wasn’t what attracted me to this giant in the church.
It was his story that interested me the most.
Saint Agustine was not always the humble and pious priest. In fact, he lived a rather sinful life as a youth and young man, and that attracted me to this saint.
It was as if Saint Agustine was telling, “My friend, don’t worry. I was worse than you growing up. We fall prey to the distractions of this world. Yet the world will not have us if the Lord declares it so.”
I read how he and his friends would sneak out to his neighbor’s house and steal pears. He even noted that he didn’t even like the fruit. It was much more the thrill of stealing. Here, I was utterly amazed at Agustine admitting to his sin so publicly.
Later on, as he grew up, he became proud of his rhetoric, wit, and knowledge. He joined the Manichean cult, had a child outside of marriage, and engaged in other acts of the sort.
His mother, Saint Monica, prayed unceasingly for his conversion. Day and night, prayer after prayer, she almost gave in to despair when his son was about to leave for Rome. She pleaded with her son not to go, to which he reluctantly agreed.
However, later that night, Saint Agustine snuck out and boarded a ship to his mother’s heartbreak. Yet, it was that event that would lead to Agustine’s conversion.
It was in Milan where he met his spiritual Father, Saint Ambrose. At this point, Saint Augustine had no interest in being Christian. Until one day, he heard a boy cry out.
“Take up and read!”
It was St. Paul’s writing, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”
Augustine was so moved that he fell to his knees, crying in anguish as he converted on the spot and was later baptized and instructed by his friend and spiritual father, Saint Ambrose.
What Saint Augustine taught me
I honestly believe that Lord talks to us through the Saints. Sometimes, in our limited understanding and feeble minds, we need a human voice to listen to, when in reality, it is the Lord.
It was through Saint Agustine that I learned that often the greatest Saints start of as wretched sinners. We will have that desire to convert our hearts, but we still have to fight against our human nature.
We have sins committed in the past, whether that’s hurting a dear friend in an argument, not being a faithful child, falling away from God, the list is endless, and we will have to fight against these past memories.
Yet, it is in these past memories that we realize how loving God can be. Unfortunately, we often don’t see it until He pulls us out of the muck of our lives.
Holiness isn’t a one-done thing. It’s a process of denying yourself and saying “yes” to God. It might take months, years, an entire lifetime to undo all the denials we said to God.
However, I believe Saint Augustine taught me that which each yes to God, we start to love Him, each other, and ourselves more, little by little.
In Part 3, I will be looking at how I came to find God through Mary, and through Mary, I found St. Therese. I want to say a huge thank you to St. Patrick. You have helped bring a lost lamb back to the fold.
If anyone from that Parish is reading, I want you to know that you will always be in my heart and prayers.