Each person has a desire for God written on their heart. Is that desire growing stronger? Do you want to deepen your relationship with the Person of Jesus? The following personal stories are meant to encourage you to encounter Christ in a personal way.
Former Team director of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Theresa O’Loughlin said that her path to missionary work began with Christ slowly challenging her to embrace the true faith as her own. O’Loughlin said these challenges, “made me realize that my passive faith wouldn’t let me survive this environment, so I better start learning my faith and moving forward, building a support group to help me build my faith rather than let it crumble which happens to so many college students.” For the next two years, her faith slowly grew and while in eucharistic adoration on a missionary trip to help the poor in the poverty-stricken Bronx section of New York City, she realized God wanted nothing less than everything from her. “St. Irenaeus said that the glory of God is man fully alive,” she said. “I experienced this – by giving my heart over to God. It was in giving this to Him, in this newness of life that my heart was open to saying yes in ways I could never have imagined before.” Theresa married in 2015 and has recently given birth to a baby girl.
In her story, Mary Bruner, a retired school guidance counselor and sometime tour guide to the great cities of Europe, learned about the power of prayer and how it became both a consolation and confirmation of God’s presence in her life. Later in life, prayer also helped her decide paths to take in life – including her retirement from guidance counseling and return to an active life of travel which included an opportunity to be a travel guide. On one such pilgrimage in an airline ticket snafu, she related, “I told everyone to pray harder as a computer at the ticket counter would not work. ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now – right now and the computer came on for the amount of time it took to make a flight change and then it went dead again! The people standing in line were shocked at the power of prayer.’” Her heartfelt prayers answered on this occasion and others like it, Bruner said, were not only for her consolation, though. “I realized that prayer is not just for us when our prayers are answered, but for those who witness it, or hear or read about it,” she said, adding that “when I asked for Jesus to help, he always does. When I neglect to ask for help and stumble around with my own solutions, it’s much to my detriment.”
From going through the motions to catching fire.
As a father of six children, Bob Stefan said that he began to embrace God’s will in his life after witnessing an unusual answer to a prayer. When his third child, Colin James Stefan, came along, a special needs child which his wife had prayed for through what she perceived to be a special gift from God, he finally realized that he wasn’t calling the shots. “The day my son was born, proud Bob was not happy,” he said, “because this was my wife’s plan, not my plan.” But as he prayed in anger and frustration about his son, “proud Bob” soon saw that God’s plan was revealing a good beyond value – one which also liberated him from his own selfishness. “Thank God for unanswered prayers – because this kid is the light of our life,” Stefan said about his son Colin. “He is one of God’s clowns who bring smiles to faces every hour of every day and I would not change anything about his presence in my life.”
Knowing Christ in the Word, then encountering
A wife, a mother of three, and recent convert, Amanda Clark grew up in the Bible Belt in Mobile, Ala., and she and her husband, Captain Edward Clark of the U.S. Army, were both raised in the Protestant faith and both converted recently to Catholicism. In embracing the new faith, Clark said, she realized that the Catholic faith presented the truth in the flesh – literally – a component missing in her own Protestant spirituality. “Everything was figurative for me in my Protestant faith,” she said. “I had that personal relationship but only with a segment of who Jesus was.” When she was confirmed at Easter, taking the name Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake, Clark said that the tangible nature of the Catholic faith was made real to her in a way that, looking back, she saw as an example of God’s sense of humor. “We sit and we have candles we’re holding,” she said recalling her confirmation, “and I lean forward, my son’s candle hits mine, my hair goes up in flames, my husband is beating my head…. Then I realized how God has a sense of humor. ‘See how tangible my Church is?’ he seemed to be saying. He wasn’t going to let me say my faith was figurative anymore – it’s real and it’s there to experience right here and right now.”
How God writes straight with crooked lines.
In her story, Kourtney Kuba said that she saw the power of story acting on her own life, helping her turn from the partying life of a college student to a serious Catholic adult embracing her childhood faith as her own. Invited to a FOCUS conference in Texas during her second year of school at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kuba said that with her own interest in cross-country skiing she took to heart the story of cross country skier Rebecca Dussault who skied in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. According to Kuba, Dussault, a devout Catholic, had said that “she and her husband had discerned it was their time to have a baby … and she talked about how she was training with him [the baby on her back] and she wound up making the Olympic team, miraculously, and went to the Turin Olympics.” Pointing up the power of the story, Kuba said that the story of Dussault’s faith helped jumpstart her own. “Her story taught me that if this great Olympic skier can trust the Lord with her big life I can trust the Lord with my little life,” she said. “This joy I could have in this life in Christ could be much greater than the joy I was currently living.”
Bouncing from church to church, then returning Home.
A dairy veterinarian from Colby and candidate for the permanent diaconate who will, God willing, be ordained for the Diocese of La Crosse in October, Mike Schaeffer spoke about how he wandered from the Catholic faith of his youth and returned to it later in life, after making a detour by joining evangelical and other Protestant sects.
But as a Protestant, Schaeffer started having second thoughts about his newfound faith.
“If we have one Church and one Bible, why do we have 30,000 different denominations, and so many people arguing about … diametrically opposed doctrines?” he began to ask. “Shouldn’t there be one truth – one Church? And should I be the one who decides what that is?” Eventually, Schaeffer said, he found his way back to the true faith by reading the storied examples of the early Church and its holy human witnesses. “They were sharing their story with God through all those centuries through those books,” he said. “They were becoming a part of my life, and I noticed that they believed the holy Eucharist; they prayed the Mass; they believed in a hierarchical Church. It all started sounding kind of Catholic.” Mike was ordained a deacon in 2014 and serves St. Mary Help of Christian’s Parish in Colby.
Learn the three truths to deepen your
commitment to Jesus
So many people do not feel that they know Jesus. They do not sense His nearness. And even those who have experienced the touch of His grace may not understand that God calls them to share that experience with others. Maybe they don’t know how. Or maybe they think Catholics don’t do things like that – all this “personal relationship with Jesus” stuff is for Evangelical Protestants! But Pope Francis knows better, and tells us in The Joy of the Gospel:
“All of us are called to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord, who despite our imperfections offers us His closeness…. What you have come to realize, what has helped you to live and given you hope, is what you also need to communicate to others.” We need to deepen our awareness of, and commitment to, three truths:
- Nurture: I need to nurture a personal relationship with God in my life.
- Articulate: I need to be able to articulate, first of all to myself, my story with God – the times and ways that He has touched, awakened, converted, strengthened, challenged, and consoled me.
- Communicate: I need to learn to communicate “My Story with God” to another person.