What are some of the turning points in our spiritual lives? Have you ever reflected on if any life events caused you to turn to God, and in some cases turn back to God? We all have those life events, those defining moments of turn, in our spiritual lives.
Read the second installment of our web series, OMC Web Stories, and find out about Deacon Jim’s defining moments, and his spiritual twists and turns.
The Spiritual Journey of Deacon Jim
I’ve always found it interesting that, even though our end destination – eternal salvation – is the same place for all those who are saved – that we take such diverse paths to come to Him – and MY path was anything but a straight line.
My Mom and Dad were both good practicing Catholics and I can still remember the sight of my Father getting on his knees at night for bedside prayer. I also remember my Mom and her Novenas and praying for special intentions. Her love was unconditional – and she was always willing to forgive – no matter WHAT we did. I was certainly blessed to have been born into such a wonderful, loving family.
I also had the great fortune of receiving a Catholic education – both grammar and high school and spent MANY hours memorizing the Baltimore Catechism. I served as an altar boy at the local parish and during my eighth grade year I attended a “Vocational Fair” sponsored by the Archdiocese of Newark and would later have a chance to spend a week at a local seminary. Even though I still had no real understanding of my religion, I began to give more thought to dedicating myself to sharing my faith with others.
But high school and college came next and – and I was soon active in sports and other school and social activities and would soon begin to drift away from my faith. I was very interested and involved in the social issues of the day, but was not an active participant in my faith. I was living a good life – but not a truly spiritual one. I used to think that I was not getting the answers to my questions – but I realize now – that I never asked the RIGHT questions.
I gave college a shot and worked five years for the local Boys Clubs, spent some time in the bar/restaurant business and tried my hand at sales and would eventually wind up on the west coast where I made a career in mortgage banking. During this time, I had married and now had 3 sons – but was still detached from my faith foundation. I believe the lack of connection to my faith would eventually contribute to the failure of my first marriage.
My career was soaring but I was still adrift – without a spiritual anchor. Yet, God still looked down on me and sent me an angel, my wife, Lisa, and we were wed on New Year’s Eve, 1991 at the First Church of Napa, a non-denominational Christian church in Napa, California.
Over the next few years we made several trips back to New Jersey to visit family and children as well as having the boys spend their summer vacations with us in California. However, by the end of 1995 we both decided that it was time for me to return to New Jersey – and be closer to our sons as they grew older. Lisa became a great step-mom and a good friend to Tim, Travis and Shamus. Lisa and I were now able to spend more time, not only with the boys but with my family, including my Dad and Mom.
Mom had been in a nursing home since 1995 and was not getting much better. It was December of 2000 when her health was taking a turn for the worse. I was visiting her that month when Father Noonan, a family friend, was called to the nursing home to give my Mom the Anointing of the Sick. She had been in extreme pain and had been given massive doses of morphine and was not coherent at all. Yet – when Father Noonan began to pray – she turned her head to him, made every effort to make the Sign of the Cross and fixing HER eyes on Father Noonan’s, she mouthed his words while he prayed.
When he had finished the prayer she turned away and never made any other gestures. I spent that night with her and had a chance to tell her how much I loved her and how much I appreciated all that she had done for me. I also promised her that I would strive to be a better father – a better husband – and a better person. After all, God had given me the very best examples to follow.
She passed away the following morning with me, my father and one of my sisters at her bed side. I realized that I NOW had a REASON to seek ETERNAL life. I wanted to someday be reunited with my mother – and eventually with my wife, my children and the rest of my family – and with God. I finally got it!
I received the sacrament of reconciliation at my Mom’s wake and the Holy Eucharist the next morning at her funeral Mass and have not missed Sunday Mass or the Eucharist since that day and decided that I was going to return to the Church. Lisa and I had attended Mass several times at the local parish, St. Matthew’s, but were hardly regulars. We finally gathered up the nerve to meet Father Dave McDonnel at the “new parishioner” night and formally enroll as parishioners. To my surprise, Father Dave welcomed us with open arms – no questions asked. We had indeed – come home.
We would become more involved in our church community serving as Eucharistic Ministers, facilitators for the RENEW program, and Caring Group Leaders for the Confirmation candidates as well as serving on the Social Committee. And during our first year at St. Matt’s Lisa enrolled in the RCIA program, with me as her sponsor. With Deacon Ed Keegan as our instructor we had the chance to relearn our forgotten faith. Readings that I had heard so many times growing up NOW had meaning and impact on me. I learned more in those 8 months than I had in 12 years of my Catholic schooling.
It was also during those RCIA classes – and getting to know Deacon Ed – that I had my first “feeling” about the diaconate program. Here was Ed, just a “regular guy” who was so devoted to teaching the Word of God to others. He had a wife, children, a J-O-B, hobbies and interests like all of us but still found the time and the devotion to bring God’s message to others.
Lisa was confirmed at the Easter Vigil at St. Matt’s in 2002 and for our tenth wedding anniversary, Lisa and I renewed our vows. Lisa and I were married – now in the eyes of the Church – at the 5 o’clock Mass on January 10, 2002 in front of our family and our fellow parishioners at St. Matthew’s. My father stood up for me as my best man – because HE was the BEST man that I knew – and I wanted him to know how important it was for us to have our marriage recognized and blessed by the Church.
The following year I met with Fr. Dave and Deacon Ed and we had our first serious discussion about the diaconate. After a year of prayer and spiritual conversation – and with the full support of Lisa – I decided to begin the formal process of discernment.
My Father, now 86 and suffering from congestive heart failure, had taken a fall at home and had been taken to the hospital by ambulance. I went up the next day and spent the day with him, along with my older brother and 2 of my sisters. He was in pain, but conscious and alert. We all had a good visit with and after a family dinner we all went back to the hospital that night. We prayed together and I took the Bible from his bedside and read him the 23rd Psalm – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me”.
My Father left us at about 4 AM the next morning surrounded by five of his children and 4 of his 13 grandchildren – and was taken into the waiting arms of a loving God.
Over the next 3 years I would continue my studies for the diaconate with courses in theology, social justice, homiletic and much more and was ordained at St. John’s Cathedral in Paterson, NJ on May 16, 2009 – surrounded by my wife, sons, family and friends and confident that my Mom and Dad were with me that day as well. I served for 6 years at St. Matthew’s in New Jersey before Lisa and returned to San Diego to care for Lisa’s Mom. And once again, the Holy Spirit was with me as we were guided to the doors of Our Mother of Confidence parish. Fr. Mark Campbell welcomed this “Jersey Boy” and his wife with open arms (literally) and we knew that we were “home” again. I was given the opportunity to work with a great bunch of faith-filled, loving and welcome people in the areas of adult faith formation, RCIA and Baptism prep and we have thoroughly enjoyed our time at OMC.
I am now into my 10th full year as a deacon. The word Deacon comes from the Greek word “Diakonos” meaning “servant” and I pray that God gives me many more years to be of service to His Church.