Dear Father Angelo,
I am writing this letter to tell you my story. I am a graduate boy, for many people I am the quintessential “nice boy”. For years I have drifted away from the Lord, completely forgetting Him and living in mortal sin all the time. I have made a lot of mistakes.
Like many young people, I searched in vain for happiness in so many ways, without realizing that they were all delusions. I felt a huge emptiness and did not understand why. Outwardly, everything was going very well. Last year, I fell into a depression from which I could no longer pull myself out; my life felt useless, meaningless. One day, while I was in total despair, a spark lit up in me: God reappeared in my mind like a lighthouse, freeing me as well from the pain of living.
I felt the need and the desire to get back in touch with him: after years of indifference I asked for forgiveness, I began to pray, to read the Gospel, to partake of the Holy Mass every Sunday, to receive the Eucharist after confessing. I was ignited by an immense desire to know everything about Jesus, to study, to understand, and to reach the Truth through reason and knowledge. I feel the strength and the profound truth of his words. I found a hope and a peace that I did not have, sometimes during Mass or when I listen to liturgical songs I am moved by joy. I am moved every time I think again about the mercy that the Lord had towards me, I am moved even now as I write. I never would have thought that such a thing would happen.
All this despite the strong influence of my family, that is very distant from the faith, not practicing, with communist and anticlerical ideas. I myself was suspicious of the Church. My family members consider the Catholic religion almost as a “deception” born to plagiarize people. However, these are taboo topics that we hardly ever talk about.
I often pray for their conversion, I am sorry to know what they are going towards. The thing that hurts me the most, however, is that I continually see in them how I was until a few months ago, anesthetized by sin, by wrong models and biased reporting that our society continually foists on us as normal and right things. Getting rid of God and living according to sin is the greatest deception of our times.
In the eyes of my parents and my brother, I am intolerant, naïve, and “old”. I love my family but I don’t share their way of thinking at all; I try to be patient but sometimes we fight and I feel guilty about it. Before I met the Lord, my relationship with my family and with the world was more peaceful, but my life was empty. I was very impressed by what Jesus said: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Sometimes I get caught up in doubts, anxieties, and temptations (maybe caused by the devil?) that I fight by asking the Lord for help. I know I still commit many sins, but I try to avoid the mortal ones.
How should I behave with my relatives in order not to offend the Lord and to live as He tells us? Has God called me to accomplish the conversion of my family members? How can I put into practice the teachings of the Gospel every day within a cynical and superficial society that wanted to get rid of Jesus as if he were a burden on our life, an obstacle to our happiness?
I thank you for your invaluable column and I send you my warmest wishes
Answer from the priest
1. I think several of our visitors recognized themselves in your story.
Many of our visitors, perhaps the vast majority, are converts, as can be seen not only from what is published, which is less than 5% of the mail that comes, but also from the private messages.
2. You tell me: “one day, while I was in total despair, a spark lit up in me: God reappeared in my mind like a lighthouse, freeing me as well from the pain of living.”.
It was necessary that you hit rock bottom and that you came to total despair.
Otherwise you would not have gone back up.
Maybe that is what your parents need as well.
Your words for now cannot be understood by them.
They need to hit rock bottom, like the prodigal son.
The first way, therefore, is exactly this. Pray that they can find it before it is too late, as you yourself say through the words of the Gospel.
3. After you understood, after you confessed, after you began to meet the Lord in his Word and in the Sacraments, you say: “I was ignited by an immense desire to know everything about Jesus, to study, to understand, and to reach the Truth through reason and knowledge. I feel the strength and the profound truth of his words. I found a hope and a peace that I did not have”.
It is the same experience that St. Augustine had after his conversion.
You too can say: “You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.”
4. You write: “I found a hope and a peace that I did not have, sometimes during Mass or when I listen to liturgical songs I am moved by joy. I am moved every time I think again about the mercy that the Lord had towards me, I am moved even now as I write. I never would have thought that such a thing would happen.”
You see, before when you were an atheist, you thought you knew everything. But you were like a blind man who had a marvelous show in front of him and you said there was nothing!
So are your relatives still, back at home.
They think that they know, that they see, but they are blind.
To you, who have finally entered the real world, they more or less say that you have gone insane.
5. Their condition is well illustrated by the Sacred Scripture.
And exactly when Jesus says: “For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17).
Those who do not believe are:
Wretched, because they are without God and without hope in this world (Eph 2:12).
Pitiable, because they do not possess the true wealth which is grace, through which God is kept within oneself as in a Temple.
Poor, because they lack the tools (the virtues and the sacraments) that allow them to possess the hidden treasure and to enjoy it as they wish.
Blind, because they are unaware of all these realities.
Naked, because they lack any supernatural merit before God, so that they expose only their shameful nakedness (Ap 3,18).
6. What do your parents need?
What can you do for them?
Jesus again says it in the same text of the Revelation: “I advise you to buy from me … ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see” (Rev 3:18).
They need eye ointment to regain their sight.
The eye ointment here is the image of that anointing of the Holy Spirit who teaches everything, as St. John says (1 Jn 2:27).
7. Only the Holy Spirit can perform that anointing.
It is an anointing that takes place within the person and only the Holy Spirit, only God, can penetrate within a person.
8. So there is nothing to be done? Do we just have to wait for the Lord to speak to our heart?
No, there is a lot to do. There is a lot we can do.
And it is similar to what those do who irrigate the garden to produce fruit.
Of course, it is not those who irrigate the garden who make the fruits grow and ripen.
It is the plant that does it from the inside, thanks to its vital dynamism.
But in the absence of rainwater, if there is no irrigation, the plant cannot produce anything from the inside.
9. Then, the words that Our Lord said to St. Catherine about St. Dominic and the work of his children are appropriate: “At what table does he make his children eat, brightened by the light of science? At the table of the cross, on which cross the table of holy desire is placed, where souls are partaken of in my honor. He does not want his children to attend to anything other than staying at this table enlightened by science, seeking only the glory and praise of my name and the health of the souls” (Dialogue, n. 158).
10. Therefore, what the Father Almighty calls the “light of science” is first of all necessary. That is, the appropriate words, persuasive reasoning, solidity and depth of doctrine are necessary.
But “the table of the cross” is also necessary, where “the table of holy desire is placed”.
Now, prayer, according to St. Thomas, is the interpreter of desire (Summa theologica, II-II, 83.1, ad 1).
Here, then, is the second necessary thing: prayer, indeed, intense prayer.
And beyond prayer, self-immolation is necessary, the offering of oneself and one’s actions in union with the spiritual sacrifice of Jesus.
11. These three things are indispensable: preaching (science), prayer, and offering of oneself and of one’s actions.
They are the indispensable work of the farmer so that the inner Master can play his own part.
However hot and powerful the sun is, to be able to ripen the fruits, if the field is not irrigated, the plants will not bear any fruit.
12. This is the work that, as a good farmer, you can do so that the Holy Spirit may have suitable soil to carry out his anointing, that is, to touch hearts.
13. St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who was a cloistered nun and could not preach, said: “Ah, prayer and sacrifice form all of my strength, they are the invincible weapons that Jesus gave me, they touch souls much more than speeches do, I have often experienced it” (Story of a soul 315).
For you, on the other hand, who are not cloistered, two things, prayer and sacrifice, are not enough.
Three are needed.
These are the three things that Dominicans teach you: science (argued doctrine), prayer, and sacrifice.
Perhaps this is why the Lord guided you to our website.
I thank you again for what you wrote to us, I remember you in prayer, and I bless you.