Life in the Spirit: My Personal Faith Experience
Joy of the Lord
I am half Mexican and half Italian. I am a little confused. I am the only person who tried to make a low rider out of a Ferrari. Its OK to laugh. Psalm 2-4 says, “He who sits on the throne sits laughing.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence.” I quote scripture and holy people because they are examples of spirituality. What is spirituality?
Spirituality: Some Questions for Reflection
Spirituality is directing our whole entire lives towards God. Is that possible? How can I live a life of grace? What do I need to do differently to obtain an intimate union with God? Have I surrendered to Him? Am I hanging onto some ideals that aren't the will of God? How do I get God at the center of my life?
I was born to two wonderful parents who raised me and my two younger brothers in the Catholic faith. They had us baptized, and sacrificed time and money to send us to Catholic schools. We prepared for and received the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist and Confirmation. These all contributed to a good start to my faith and prayer life.
God gives the gift of faith freely to everyone. Romans 12:3 says, “God has allotted to each of us a measure of faith.” You each have a measure of faith. Catechism says, “By faith man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his ascent to God the revealer." To put it simply, Grace is God’s response to us. Faith is our response to God. How do we respond? I suspect most of us respond in small steps of faith throughout our lives.
Faith of My Mother and Grandmother
My mother shared her measure of faith with me. She passed away on All Saints Day (November 1st) in 2004. I don’t find that a co-incidence. I find it a God incidence. We would always say prayers before bedtime. She gave me my first scapular, a blessed object intended to give me comfort and a sign of God’s presence. It is a sacramental, a reminder of the sacraments. My mother’s mom was also known for her spiritual devotions, especially to the saints and the rosary. Praying the rosary is probably viewed as a pious practice reserved for older ladies. I learned it is not. Devotion to Mary and the rosary is also a way we can draw closer to God. It is a way to ponder the Gospel. I recommend we wear or carry blessed objects so that we can battle against temptation. I also like to carry a rosary or wear a crucifix.
Catholic Schools were a source of faith formation. I attended Catholic grade school and high school. I graduated from Dowling Catholic High School in 1986. Catholic schools offered me opportunities for experiencing God’s grace through the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. I remember how I felt after making a good Confession. I would come out of the confessional with a new sense of self. There was a song in my heart: “I’m walking on sunshine, yeah!”
In My Teens and Twenties
You would think that these experiences of grace would have made me head over heels in love with Christ. Yet in my teens and twenties, I probably would describe myself as a floundering Catholic. I was on the fence, even lukewarm about my faith. I was not completely surrendered to God.
Such is the condition I entered college life at the University of Iowa. (Go Hawks!) I was lukewarm about my faith. I did, however, sponsor a fellow student to become Catholic through the Rite to Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and I joined the Newman Center, the Catholic student center on campus. I participated in playing the saxophone and singing. But I also joined in my share of partying, drinking and carousing. I had a mixed spirituality. I wasn’t always the same person inside of church as outside of church.
My First Full-Time Job
After two years at the University, I landed my first job with the city of Des Moines Wastewater treatment plant. Yes, I worked for the sewage treatment plant. Our motto was, “It may be poo to you but it is my bread and butter.”
It was a good starting salary for someone who hadn’t quite completed 4 years of college. The money allowed me to accomplish some of my ideals at the time: I moved into my own apartment, bought a car and started paying off student loans. It also allowed me to afford things that were less than ideal like drinking and watching adult movies on cable TV. We have to be on guard with that one, don’t we?
Distractions to Holiness
Let me tell you a story: Two bishops were walking down the street when they noticed a scantily-clad prostitute coming toward them. As she passed, one bishop turned his head and said to the other, "Brother Bishop, avert your eyes." The second, bishop, however, did not look away, but stared intently at the woman as she walked by. The first bishop asked the other, “Why didn't you turn away?" He responded with a tear in his eye, “What a pity that such beauty would be consumed by the lusts of men."Question, which of these men did the right thing? Answer: They both did. Question: Which one experienced the redemption of his sexuality? Answer: the one who responded what a pity that such beauty would be consumed by the lusts of men.
Lust was a part of my bachelor life. It was a distraction. It is still a distraction. It is an obstacle to our spiritual development. I know I am called to develop a better spiritual life especially in the area of purity. God always calls us and invites us to a more intimate relationship with Him. Thankfully, He gives us the grace to respond by developing virtues and avoiding vices. We can respond by praying in times of temptation or moving the computer to an open area with high visibility.
Would You Believe I Was a Stand-Up Comedian?
Another of the distractions at that time was my desire to become a comedian. I decided to try out a few jokes and impressions at local open mic nights at the Spaghetti Works and Funny Bone comedy clubs. I had mixed motives for doing so. My brother Mark was an extremely accomplished piano player, having played for the Governor of Iowa on a regular basis and winning various talent competitions. He got a lot of attention, praise and appreciation from friends and family, especially my father. I felt excited for him yet ignored. I too wanted a share of the limelight. Eventually I won a few local comedy competitions including the Jay Leno Comedy Challenge in 1991. My act was largely full of imitations-Scooby Doo, Pee Wee Herman, and President Clinton. Click here to find out more about my comedy career.
I once asked the Lord in prayer why he gave me the desire for doing imitations. I heard a small voice reply, “Because I want you to imitate ME.” Deep down, I knew I wanted to imitate Christ. I decided I would work on it. With God’s help and with the help of a partner, I would work on it.
My Fiancé and Wife
Soon I met my partner and helpmate Nancy, the woman who would become my wife for life. Nancy was visiting Des Moines with her roommate, from the University of Northern Iowa. Amy, her friend, also happened to be a former neighbor of mine and invited us both over to her boyfriend’s apartment for a party. There was music and guys and gals drinking and having a good time. I told jokes for 2 and a half straight hours-the good, the bad and the ugly. That night, I had narrowed my interest down to just THREE women. I selected Nancy. Or she would say she selected me. You see, I was reluctant about long distance relationships. After all, she was living in Cedar Falls and I in Des Moines. However, we dated for a year and a half and were married in the Catholic Church.
Grace in Marriage: Spiritual Nudges
Up to this point in my life, God had offered several opportunities for conversion. My conversion process, my response to God’s grace in faith, was one of moving from dark grey to a little less grey in my soul. Marriage is a response to God in faith. It involves a conversion of heart. It has been said that “To marry and embrace the fruits of marriage is to choose a particularly demanding way of salvation.” Marriage calls for spouses to lay down their lives for one another. It is truly choosing to die to self and living for another. There are a lot of demands.
It takes a lot of God’s grace to keep a marriage and family together. Early in our marriage, I had a significant spiritual experience that would help accelerate my mindfulness of God and His grace. It happened during our honeymoon. We vacationed in Hawaii, a very nice place. However, I dislocated my shoulder on my honeymoon. Yes, insert joke here. I dislocated my shoulder on my honeymoon. I could tell you what happened but right now I am sure your imaginations are far more entertaining than the truth.
Accident that Changed my Life
During our honeymoon, I was preparing to body surf at a place called Sandy Beach. I stood on the shoreline amazed at the towering waves. There was a guy next to me who remarked, “I am from San Diego and I have never seen waves like this before!” I felt like saying, “I am from Iowa, I’ve never seen waves!” Mind you I am in my mid 20s. I felt pretty daring. I intending on tackling those waves. So I waded out into the ocean. I carried a small Styrofoam surfboard tucked under my right arm. Then I reached the area where the waves were breaking. I saw a ginormous wave coming towards me. I knew it was too much for me to handle. I prepared by holding my breath and crouching. The next thing you know I was being tackled. It felt like I was being punched on my left side, right side, from the top, from the bottom. I was rolling and tumbling and being tossed about like a ragdoll. I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder. I washed up on shore where I shook my head and tried to regain a sense of where I was. I stood upright and looked for my surfboard but it was gone. Click here to read more about my near death experiences.
The Voice of God?
The next event that took place is forever etched in my mind. I took three steps onto the beach when I heard a voice say, “Today you were supposed to die but I have decided to save you.” At that moment, I felt a great sense of awe wash over me. I had a deep realization that I had just escaped death. And I was certain it was God who decided to save me. But why? What was the purpose of this event?
I slowly walked to where Nancy had been preparing to sunbathe. The lifeguard caught sight of me and walked towards me. He looked at my shoulder and said I needed medical attention. He told me where the nearest clinic was and we drove to it. When I arrived, the receptionist said, “Don’t tell me, you are on your honeymoon, you were at Sandy Beach and you just dislocated your shoulder!” She said it happens often and that it was the deadliest beach in all of Hawaii.
That entire event left me with a sense that God saved me for a purpose. What is that purpose? Why did He save me? Why did God save us? What is our purpose? That event spurred me to do more soul searching. Again, I was still a little lukewarm about my spirituality, on the fence about my faith but making some small steps. Do you know what it says in God’s word about being lukewarm? In Rev. 3:16 it says, Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. This is rather strong language. How many are familiar with Sr. Faustina and the Diary of Divine Mercy? Sr. Faustina records the words of our Lord regarding lukewarm souls. She writes, “These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: 'Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.' For them, the last hope of salvation is to run to My mercy." Notice it says “RUN” to my mercy. Not walk. Not jog. RUN. I didn’t realize at the time how serious God is about our salvation. He wants us to be on fire for Him. How do we get this fire? 2 Tim 1 says, “Fan into flames the spiritual gifts God gave you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. Perhaps deep down I knew that I needed to fan into flame the spiritual gifts I did have. Yet I was too distracted. Perhaps I was making excuses.
Diary of Divine Mercy-Saint Faustina
Pentecostals and the Charismatic Movement
I had heard about people who were “on fire for the Lord” and “born again.” I knew people who could speak in tongues. This was peculiar to me. Yet I was curious. Speaking in tongues can be found in Acts Chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. It was peculiar to the people at that time as well. Those who witnessed it thought the disciples were drunk. Verse 12 says, “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Prophetic dreams and visions and speaking in tongues are manifestations or signs of the Holy Spirit.
The Catholic Church has various Charismatic Communities where praying and speaking in tongues is a regular part of the worship style. In 1994, about a year after we were married, I paid a visit to the Catholic Charismatic Community. There is a “Life in the Spirit mass” every Thursday night at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines. When I visited, people were praising, singing and speaking in tongues. I sensed a Holy Presence. I sensed a movement of the Spirit. Although I was invited back, I felt I was not ready for that level of worship. However, I would be back. God would use other people and events to encourage, inspire, and invite me to a deeper spiritual relationship.
Being "Born Again", Release of the Holy Spirit
There was a lady who I worked with at the city of Des Moines who was a “Pentecostal” or “born again Christian.” In fact she described herself as a “Holy Roller.” As I said, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready for that kind of spirituality. But I asked her plenty of questions about her born again experiences. She told me that speaking in tongues is “heavenly language.” She invited me to a service at her church, an Assembly of God, an Evangelical church. I decided I wanted to go and observe. My thinking was that I didn’t have to participate, just observe. My wife Nancy and I went on a Sunday night. There was singing and spontaneous prayer and speaking in tongues. At the end of the service, the lady I worked with at the City, Sharon, asked me if Nancy and I would like to be, as they put it, “Baptized in the Holy Spirit!” I thought, well a little prayer couldn’t hurt. We gathered in the center aisle and the pastor and a few members of the congregation laid hands on us. The pastor said, “You have asked for gifts from God. Know that you will receive at least one of them.” He began praying and praising along with the other members, calling down the Holy Spirit and God’s blessings on us. The next thing you know, I felt this tingling. It started from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes. I began to sway. The tingling or electricity seemed particularly strong in my hands. I felt compelled to lift them upwards in what we might call the orans position, the prayer posture we do when we recite the Our Father.
I could hear Sharon, the lady who invited me say, “It’s just like baby talk. Speak your heavenly language!” She could sense that the gift of tongues must have been near. I had been stammering, sputtering and began to babble something. I could hear Nancy praying in tongues next to me. I experienced a joy, a peace and a relaxation as they laid me down on the carpet in the church aisle. I was what they call “slain in the Spirit.” Sharon said, “David, you look like you are sun tanning!” I replied, “It feels great!!!”
After that experience, colors were brighter, foods tasted better. It’s like how I feel after making a good confession. I had a renewed spirit. I had a deeper sense of sin and a desire to reconcile and repent. I had a desire to read scripture and pray more often. Catholics would call this experience a “Release of the Holy Spirit.” We receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, all of the Sacraments. Like a cork being pulled from a bottle of campaign, the Spirit was released more fully through this prayer experience. He further empowered my wife and me to live in union with God.
Do you consider yourself, "Born Again", "Charismatic", "Pentecostal" or "Spirit-Filled?"
Glad My Wife Was With Me
I am very thankful that my wife and I experienced this release of the Holy Spirit at the same time. I acknowledge that not all couples experience faith at the same level. It is something to pray for. I feel blessed that together Nancy and I studied our faith more and prayed for one another.
We studied apologetics by Scott Hahn. We had a new desire to surrender to church teaching regarding birth control and natural family planning. God taught us to be open to life. And so it is. We now have 8 wonderful children, and one in heaven. All the more reasons I need to surrender daily to the Holy Spirit.
Prayer Life and Distractions to Prayer
In order to make the marriage and family relationships, yes all of my relationships work, I need to start every day in prayer. I need to avoid temptation. There are many ways I can do that. I can go to Mass. I can pray a rosary. Or I can pray a simple Hail Mary or Our Father. Praying helps me to see all of the altars in my life. Besides the table at church, the kitchen table is an altar to the Lord where the family gathers for meals. Yes, even the kitchen sink, the washer and dryer, the diaper changing table, these are all altars to the Lord.
Earlier I mentioned lust as an obstacle to prayer. I find that the distraction of lust can intensify when we are trying to live more for God. I find that other distractions seem to intensify as well. We might struggle to forgive. Unforgiveness is an obstacle to prayer. Some of us might not have had the best fatherly relationship. It can be difficult to relate to Our Heavenly Father if our relationship with our earthly father is lacking. As for me, I was able to reconcile and forgive my father for the resentment I felt from being ignored and unappreciated. This clears the way so that we might pray with all of our mind all of our soul and all of our heart. So how do we pray from the heart? We have to start somewhere even if we don’t feel like it. My prayer can simply be, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” God loves me, God loves me, God loves me.
Many guys set daily physical exercise as a goal. Make your goal spiritual exercises as well. 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come." In this life, and in the life to come. You see, ultimately this answers those questions of (1) what is our purpose and (2)why did God save us? Answer, there is a life to come. He saved us so we can have eternal life. Catechism teaches: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. That is why he saved me that day in Hawaii, because I was afforded another chance to serve Him and love people more fully. He gave me another chance to amend my life before I entered into eternity. Are you ready to enter into eternity? God wants you. God loves you. God chose you.
Closing Prayers and Reflections
Allow yourself to be aware of God’s presence. Would you make this prayer your prayer? Heavenly Father, we thank you and praise you. Thank you for the many blessings you have given us. Remove from me all that is not of You. Remove from me all of my distractions. Cast my sins from me as far as the East is from the West. Renew in me the power of Your Holy Spirit. May it fill me from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes. Help me surrender. Allow me to allow You into all of the corners of my life. Release your Spirit in me. I run to Your Mercy. Please forgive me. Help me to reconcile with those I have hurt. Help me to forgive those who have hurt me. Help me to turn away from sin and turn towards the Gospel. I allow your ocean of mercy into my heart and mind and soul. Thank you Jesus. Mary Queen of Peace, pray for us.