Monday, August 1, 2011

My Early Retirement Story Part 2: How God Walked Me There

I used to be a rebel of the Catholic Church, into whose communion I was baptized in 1977, through the Basilian Campus Ministry at the University of Windsor. Influenced by the prevailing liberal and individualistic thinking of the sixties and seventies, I was at odd with many core Catholic values and beliefs, but was hopeful that such “out-dated” teachings of the Church would eventually blend in with the unrelenting winds of change. Looking back, I realize I had terribly underestimated the perseverance of the Church. My naïve thinking was the result of a lack of understanding of the Scriptures and Church history. I mistook the transient – vogue and secularism – as everlasting, and saw the immutable – the Church and the truth – as a sand castle.

Eventually God in His unfathomable mercy decided to set me straight. He granted me a profound and lengthy conversion that began in the early nineties and lasted a good 12 to 15 years. I won’t go into the details here since many people have already heard my story on many different occasions. In hindsight, I can see how God’s rescue plan was perfectly executed as a Trinitarian effort:

It was the Son, the Word of God, who put me through an in-depth study of the Scriptures and Catholicism. It was a “sweatshop program” with intensity comparable to the crash course the two disciples received on the road to Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13ff). When it was over, I was left stroking my heart in awe, wondering, “[Was] not [my] heart burning while he spoke to [me] on the way and opened the scriptures to [me]?" (Luke 24:32).

It was the Holy Spirit who gave me a complete heart transplant. Like a good surgeon, He wielded tenderly His scalpel through my heart; removing my heart of stone and giving me a heart of flesh (cf. Ezekiel 36:26).

Finally it was the Heavenly Father who granted me His forgiveness and grafted me, a dangling branch, to the tree – the Church, “the pillar and mainstay of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) – with renewed sturdiness, enabling me to grow again in the holiness of her sacramental economy.

O Father! You who went looking for Adam and Eve when they hid among the trees of the Garden after disobeying you also did not give up on me. “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) You called out at me, a lost soul mired deep in heaps of sins and entangled in the tentacles of death. Your voice, O Lord, was thundering; Your tone punishing; and Your word fear-striking. You found me and rescued me from the depth of a dark valley; You then prepared me well and commissioned me to pursue a meaningful mission. I don’t know, my dear Lord, what my future holds. But I know You who walked me out of the dark valley and brought me this far will not abandon me no matter what comes my way. Your grandeur, O God, is beyond understanding, and the splendor of Your majestic glory beyond human word! My mouth will speak Your praises forever! (cf. Psalm 145).

As my business career plateaued, my many-sided lay apostolate was just beginning to pick up steam: RCIA, family Bible groups, Catechism Revisited, Bible Study Program, family conferences, seminars and speaking engagements, spiritual counseling….It was a joy unspeakable to be able to share with people what I had experienced and in doing so help them learn from my mistakes, especially my mistake in refuting the Church. I felt like I was on a mission – a mission propelled by an ardent love for Christ and for his Church. I could feel the full force of the fire that consumed St. Paul when he said, “For the love of Christ impels us…” (2 Cor. 5:14). As I engaged in these evangelization activities joyfully like a duck wallowing in a pond, it became clearer and clearer to me that in all these years God had been patiently waiting for me to return to Him. He mysteriously knew how to right every wrong I did to somehow derive good from it (cf. CCC 311), preparing me well to work at the evangelization and salvation of men.

For about 2 to 3 years before my decision to retire early, raging through my head was a constant debate between two theologians, one arguing for the necessity for me to lead the normal life of a family man, the other beseeching me to accept God’s calling for me to exercise a special apostolate of evangelization and sanctification (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 6) before my still active and productive years fade into old age inertness. It’s not my plan to elaborate in here the details of my personal discernment, which deserves a more complete coverage in Part 4 of this series. Suffice to say that the latter theologian eventually got the better of me and convinced me that it was God’s will that I accept His calling for me to exercise a fully committed lay apostolate.

In the meantime, my working relationship with the company Board had gone from blunder to blunder ever since the company membership voted in a new Board in 2005. My working relationship with the company Treasurer and the Finance Committee was particularly uneasy. Even so, I could have hung in there for the sake of money to sort of “wait things out” until a new Board was formed. However, that would contradict the instruction I received from God in the fore-mentioned discernment. I was convinced that the time had come for me to turn a new chapter.

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