Getting to Know Fr. Steven – Part 4

My dear friends,

For the sake of getting to know each other, I will continue from where I left off in last week’s bulletin, sharing with you more of the journey of my life—part 4 of the song I sing to God’s amazing, merciful love.

When I finally surrendered my life to Christ and committed myself to following Him I was 19 years old. In many ways it felt like a New Life, and it was. The happiness and joy I felt made all that I had, or thought I had before, seem like nothing. Like my brother with his conversion, I started to change rather quickly. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and through the wisdom I found in the Bible and in books like the Imitation of Christ. I learned from Jesus a new way to live. By the grace of God I started to exercise greater discipline and prudence in what I read and watched on TV. I got rid of all the music albums that promoted the sins and attitudes of the old life I left behind: like machoism, lust, rebellion against parents, and that ‘party spirit’ devoid of all godliness. I started to reach out to those I had formerly looked down upon in my pride, and to make amends with those I had hurt. Grace left nothing untouched; it even called me to a greater modesty in the way I dressed. Best of all, the Lord began to heal the hurts between me and members of my family. It was a very gradual process, but what a blessing! I was finally learning how to really love, how to receive love and how to give love: it was like having a new heart. How many are the miracles of Jesus that take place in the heart each day!

What also became clear with this new beginning was that I needed guidance and support, which God wonderfully provided. I started to attend meetings held by a small, predominantly Catholic, lay community that my brother was attending up in St. Paul. Even though no one in my family was Catholic, we had heard through some friends that the woman leading this community was very gifted in spiritual direction and counseling. This small group of about 40 people would meet in various homes 3 to 4 times per week, to share, discuss, and receive guidance on the Christian life. As I received much help and support from Catherine, the spiritual mother of this group, I also started to encounter the Catholic faith through the sharing and example of the other people who came. Out of curiosity I also started to attend Sunday Mass in various Catholic churches around the Twin Cities, and it was this experience of the Mass that quickly led to my decision to become Catholic.

It is never easy for me to put into words how the Mass tied the knot for me, but it was mainly this: In the lay community I was learning how, with Jesus, to clean up my way of loving, which meant dying each day to the movements of sin in my own heart and rising more with Christ in the way He thinks and loves. As I came to realize that the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, which I was trying to live each day, was the same mystery being celebrated and made present upon the altar at Mass, it was like my heart and the altar became melded together as one. The worship at Mass and my life were not two separate, unrelated things, but one single life. I was living the Mass, and the Mass was living in me.

God also enkindled in my heart a very simple, child-like faith that made it easy for me to believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. All I wanted then was to be close to Jesus, and if the Eucharist is Jesus, and it is, then the way forward became obvious: becoming Catholic would help me to be and remain closer to Jesus, for Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist. Within a year I was taking instructions to be confirmed Catholic. And, Praise God, in May of 1982, at the Cathedral of St. Paul, taking the confirmation name ‘Joseph,’ I was received into the Catholic Church. I felt many things that day, much too deep for words, but one sentiment that stood out is that it felt like I had come home.

As a new Catholic I was certainly very happy, but God, who is a God of wonderful surprises, was going to manifest many other proofs of his mercy and love for my family. One way God showed this was by bringing my whole family, one-by-one, into the Catholic Faith. My brother entered one year after I did, and then my father followed two years later. A few years after my father joined, my sister and her family also became Catholic. And then finally, after several years of deep soul-searching, my mother too made the step. When we look back, we all marvel at what God has done, and today we are so grateful to be united in the same faith.

 I remained with this Catholic lay community for 13 years. In many ways it was like a family to me: a necessary time of discipleship at the feet of Christ. But God had another surprise for me that would take me in a new direction: He placed in my heart the desire to be a priest. I’ll tell you about this in the next bulletin.

God love you

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