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“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

-John 8:12

Journeying Back to God and the Eucharist – Thomas’s Story

I grew up a little small farm town east of Pittsburgh. Faith was very important in our family, but I was a very intuitive kid. I always always asked “why” like most kids but maybe more than most kids. We did everything we were supposed to. We went to all the Masses. We received the Sacraments we were supposed to. But I never really figured out the the “why” behind any of it.

I just never got the answers I was looking for.

Leaving the Church and Seeking the World

So after high school, I went off to college and continued going to Mass and practicing the faith for a semester. Then I fell off completely for the rest of my college life.

After college, I continued living a life of consumption. Food. Alcohol. Sex. Falling far away from the Church against everything that I grew up, and I lived that lifestyle for years.

It was a fast, depressing, and lonely life. I remember being in Jonesboro, Arkansas on a work trip and I was in a hotel and was sitting there struggling with everything, especially depression and anxiety. In the secular life, I could never get enough of materialistic things. I could never eat enough or drink enough. I kept thinking I needed those things to fulfill me, yet the more I did, the further away I got, the more lonely I became, and the more depressed I was.

So I’m sitting there, staring at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep, and I had the most random thought. It was an old bit of advice from someone told me as a kid “say a few Hail Marys and that’ll help you fall asleep.”

So I started to recite the Hail Mary, but I couldn’t remember the words. Here I was, a cradle Catholic in my late 20s and I couldn’t even remember it! So I had to hop out of bed, get on the laptop, and Googled how to say the Hail Mary. It worked, and I was able to fall asleep!

I never thought much more after that, until a couple of weeks later. I was in Memphis, Tennessee, out at a bar late one night. For whatever reason, I was overcome with extreme anger, depression, and loneliness. I just got into it with God and started yelling at Him. I was yelling and screaming at Him, blaming Him for everything wrong that ever happened in my life. I did that to the point of exhaustion until I was so exhausted I lost my voice.

It was that moment where I turned around and I actually started walking towards God, instead away from him.

The Prodigal Son, by John Macallan Swan

Seeking God and Embracing the Struggle

My reversion to the faith didn’t happen overnight. I started asking some of the right questions — those “why’s” that I’d always had. I wanted to know what the Catholic Church taught. Why do I have to go to Confession? Why do I have to receive the Eucharist? Why this is so important to so many people, like my mother and father?

Being an investigator in law enforcement, it was in my nature to research and investigate. Through my research, I sort of taught myself back into faith that way. I remember one time someone said, “You can’t receive the Eucharist with mortal sin on your soul.” So I researched mortal sin, and was like “Oh okay wow I got a lot of that” and I realized that by receiving the Eucharist with mortal sin I was committing even more sin.

That’s where Confession came in and became a huge help. It’s crazy how the faith has worked on me. It wasn’t some “aha” moment, it was just a slow process of trusting God and learning my faith. My mother’s prayers I credit as well, as she never quit praying for me.

While I’ve come to have a stronger faith, my life as a Christian is a daily struggle. It’s constant to this day, but now that I have Jesus in the Eucharist, the Sacraments, the Mass, and a wonderful church community, I no longer have to fight that battle alone.

I have the tools to overcome the daily temptations. It’s so true that the more we know, the more we realize that our lives need conversion, and that’s the beauty of the Church. The Church guides us as a ship to Christ. People get caught up in how the Church has so many rules and laws that they have to follow.

I get where they’re coming from, but really like the Commandments are to free us. I’m more free to live the way God created me to be and live in the fullness of life when I know what boundaries are. Living the fullness of a holy life is not a list of things that we can’t do, it’s about what we can become in Christ. That’s the beautiful thing about the Sacraments and the Mass and the faith in itself.

Working in federal law enforcement, I’m familiar with dangerous struggles, battles, and fights. Yet the spiritual life is a harder battle than anything I’ve ever done in my life — physically, spiritually, and mentally. One thing I’ve learned is just how much we’ve watered down the faith, especially for men. When that happens, the culture takes over a man’s life. It’s a challenge to live the fullness of life that we’re made for. The spiritual battle is a non-stop attack for me, but Jesus in the Eucharist is a way of putting on armor, putting on the shield, to go attack the day.

The society that we live in right now values consumption and instant gratification. I lived that way and was part of that world, and understand just how much it can get a grip on you. We all have a God-shaped hole in our heart, and there’s only one way to cure that, and it’s God coming to fill our hearts — especially in the Eucharist.

Sometimes I find that when people walk away, they don’t even know why they walked away. It wasn’t intentional, but rather a kind of slipping away over time and living a secular life. Not believing in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist makes everything fall apart. If Jesus isn’t truly present in the Eucharist, then none of the Church’s teachings are real.

Deepening My Faith Amid Cancer

When I got cancer at 32, the reality of the Eucharist became especially powerful.

While preparing for a career move, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It came as a huge shock, as I was in great health. Cancer can wreck anyone’s world, and at that time, I was coming back to the faith. I was receiving the Sacraments, attending Mass more frequently, and receiving the Eucharist more than once a week.

I remember having this overwhelming feeling that I was gonna be okay. I even thanked God after I was diagnosed. A lot of people think that’s kind of strange, but I knew that God would give me the strength to overcome my illness. I was at peace with it. I didn’t know if I was going to survive it or not, but I knew no matter what that I was still going to be okay. It’s amazing because if that had happened a year before when I wasn’t quite strong in my faith, it could’ve been a very different outcome.

Through thick and thin, we know that Jesus is truly present to us in the Holy Eucharist. When we’re joyful, Jesus amplifies that through the Spirit. When we’re sorrowful and struggling, Jesus helps us through those times. When you look back to the early Church, lots of saints were persecuted for believing in Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. They gave their lives because they were so sure of it.

My Advice for Everyone

My hope for people today who might be lost or floundering in life is just to come home to the Church. You may not have the best homilies in the world. You may not have the best music every Sunday. But the most important thing is that you will receive Jesus. Not just in His Word in Scripture, but Himself in the Holy Eucharist. At your typical Sunday Mass, Jesus is waiting to offer you the priceless gift of Himself. It’s a gift that needs to be embraced by everybody.

For those of you who feel lost, you’re never too far gone, you’re never too far away from Jesus. The devil likes to play his tricks to make you not feel worthy or that you’re too screwed up, or you’ve done too much damage. He might even convince you that God’s not going to take you back.

The truth is that you’re never too far away. You’re one Confession, one Communion, one Mass away from from starting the journey back to God. When I made that decision to turn around towards the Light, the first person there to greet me was our Lord.

He wasn’t upset. He wasn’t prideful. He wasn’t vindictive. He was embracing and welcoming, and opened his arms out to me. God gave me a warm welcome back, and that’s the feeling I get every time I come the church. It’s a warm welcome back and it gives me the strength to keep going so I don’t ever feel like a lost cause.

I will tell you, it’s not going to happen immediately where all of a sudden everything’s okay. The battle doesn’t end until we take our last breath. However, knowing that you have Jesus in the Eucharist helps you fight the daily battles of sin, suffering, and sorrow. Don’t ever don’t ever feel like you can’t you can’t come back. I was about as far gone as someone could be, and here I am.

You can be, too.

Disclaimer: This is a revised and condensed version of the original podcast transcript for storytelling purposes. You can listen to the full podcast to hear the complete, unedited conversation and story here.