Before my conversion, like any other secular human being, my heart was filled with earthly things. God was an afterthought for me, if a thought at all. I always knew he existed, and I never doubted that something or someone had to create us, but it was always on the backburner.
My attention was turned to things I could see, and things that I thought made me happy. I got my first job almost immediately after I turned 16, and quickly was hooked on the concept that working long hours = more money to play with. I started budgeting and buying all kinds of sneakers and hockey equipment because I didn’t have any REAL bills yet.
17 brought me out of my awkward long hair emo phase, and led me into a relationship with a cute popular girl in high school. Again, my “happiness” was leaning more and more onto temporary things.
My car was a beast! It had 288,000 miles on it! My dad logged many of the miles on his commute to work in Atlantic City, and when I got my license he got himself a new car (much deserved) and let me have the Isuzu. I played my music LOUD, always used my turn signals, and spent way too much time keeping it clean.
Friendships were never lacking either. Rocco, Dan, and Ryan are my best pals. To this day, they are the type of friends that would take the shirt off their backs if I needed one. However, at age 20, EVERYTHING mentioned above was taken away.
Dan got into his faith, and I thought it was weird. Rocco woke up and his lung collapsed, almost leading to his death. Ryan went away to college, and was rarely around. The girlfriend split, work got weird, oh and my car broke down….this all happened in the same week.
Also…..I had a dream during this week. In my dream, I was in my room, at my parents house, and I looked towards my window, and I saw a picture of The Sacred Heart of Jesus. This scared me, and I remember in my dream I was hiding from it. I think this was super symbolic. Jesus was giving me a gentle invitation to follow Him, but I wasn’t ready.
Later, I was introduced to the pastor at my local church, and he BROKE every stereotype I ever constructed in my mind about holy people. He told jokes….I remember thinking “wait...priests are allowed to laugh??”
It was shortly after this that I broke down and said the first HONEST prayer of my entire life. I remember looking up at the night sky, and simply telling God “I get it.” This prayer filled me with a lot of peace in the midst of one of the biggest storms of my life. I knew I had to grow close to Him, I just didn’t know how.
A few weeks later, I got an invitation in the mailbox about a Catholic young adult group that was forming at my local church. The invitation said FREE DINNER, so naturally, I was sold. Weirdly enough, my friends said they were going too. We never did stuff like this, but for all of us we didn’t doubt going, something was compelling us to go, and today I believe that it was The Holy Spirit before we even knew it.
I went, ate dinner, and for the first time in my life willingly sat in a circle with people my age as we talked about God. I felt LOST, but hopeful at the same time. I was honest with everyone and told them I didn’t know much, and that was an understatement.
But I noticed something: I started needing less to make me happy. Before, I needed X, Y, and Z and then maybe I would be satisfied for a little, but now...all I needed was God. I realized that He is the only thing that can fill the void inside our hearts. He’s permanent, unchanging, and all-loving. My mood was improving. I was never super pessimistic, but I found myself becoming an optimist. I was laughing at everything, and even startled whistling most of the time (which my parents have always said is a sign that I’m happy). I even had a few mystical encounters and profound experiences that helped catapult the start of my journey, but more details on that might come in a future video!
God provided me with this joy that doesn’t run out! It’s a never ending wellspring of peace that can only come when you allow your heart to grow close to His. Now, this doesn’t mean I didn’t have bad days, or that I didn’t fall back into my old lifestyle from time to time, but this feeling was something I couldn’t ignore, more and more with time I let myself become enveloped in God’s ocean.
To this day, I am thankful for everything that transpired in that fateful month in my early 20’s. If it wasn’t for all of those events, I do not think I would be a co-founder of JMJ Missions. I want other people to experience the same joy God gave to me, and my friends.
St. Teresa of Avila always said “God alone suffices.” Now I know what she meant.
Jesus, I trust in you.