Chasing the Spirit: A Letter to the Catholic Exchange Community #3

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Dear Catholic Exchange Community:

Before I sent last week’s entry off into cyberspace, I thought, “Hmm, I wonder how many people will write me about their most intense experiences of God’s love?”  I expected fewer to respond to this invitation than the one about Lenten disciplines, because the task was much harder, and this proved accurate.

Experiencing the love of God is one of my favorite subjects, not because I’m that type of bubbly, religious enthusiast who speaks of Jesus as if He were a celebrity to whose entourage the fan belongs.  Like most who write, I’m fascinated by what I feel lacking and yet yearn after.  I grew up in a religious community that spoke of the Christian life as “sweeter as the days go by,” trumpeted “something good is going to happen to you,” and rarely told a story that couldn’t be seconded by a “Praise God!”

Of course, in the Catholic faith there’s St. Teresa of Avila and many other saints who have known illuminating encounters with the living flame of God’s love.  That’s far from the folksy hokum I grew up with and it’s something that intrigues me mightily.  I’ve even gone “saint prospecting,” so to speak, in my journalistic endeavors, and have met spiritually gifted people, visionaries, and contemplatives whose direct encounters with God’s love I could not doubt.  I remember pestering a monk one time to tell me about a direct encounter he had with God before the altar—a decisive moment in his decision to remain within the monastery.  He wouldn’t say much—spiritual privilege often brings with it an appropriate reticence.  I did get him to admit, “There was a lot of light; I’ll say that.”

The idea that we can know God in this life is the most interesting thing there could possibly be, if it’s true.  Yet “the just shall live by faith,” which indicates that a degree of blindness — of stumbling in the dark — belongs to each person’s spiritual journey.  My friend the monk had to continue on in the monastic life without ever knowing another grand epiphany, although he did experience repeated moments of contemplation.

Perhaps because I have spiritual ice in my blood, I treasure those moments when I actually do have religious affections, which come as lovely confirmations that my heart, like one of this season’s beleaguered spring flowers, has turned toward the light.   Generally, these moments come as quick and unexpected stabs of emotion.  I’ll hear a line from a familiar hymn and suddenly grow teary.   Or I’ll put my arms around my wife or one of my children and know how blessed I am and can only say, “Thank you, God.”

Today’s readings included Psalm 46, my father’s favorite, and I could hear his rumbling voice — “There is a river, whose springs will make glad the City of God (in the King James) — and knew how God had used him to speak the Word into my life and could barely go on to the Gospel.


I’m becoming more susceptible to the “comforts of religion” as I age.  When I was younger my heart was stony, and I wondered if my faith, as an intellectual commitment, would ever connect with my affections.

In the last few years I have known the love of God especially through friends.  Like many of those receiving this email, I suspect, I took it in the financial neck from the late fiscal unhappiness.  After having some good years as a free-lance writer, making a decent living, I witnessed my business connections with people in the publishing industry around the country suddenly go dead.  I mean, dead.  There seemed to be an economic power outage.  My family and I only survived that year-long period because of the kindness and generosity of friends.

Then I got a job running the communications department for a global evangelism ministry.  Saved!

That job ended, though, after only 4 months when I was summarily downsized.  At the moment when I heard the news, the world wobbled like a furiously thrown top and then skipped into an unknown galaxy.  I have never felt so lost.  I had moved my family to Georgia, had a house lease to pay, a house in Texas I couldn’t sell, and only my severance pay for a reserve.  We were in bad trouble.

The week after the job debacle, I had a lunch schedule with the one — I mean, the ONE — person with whom I was truly friends in Atlanta.  We grew up together in southern California, where as a teenager I loved riding around in his Triumph.

From my standpoint as an aspiring sinner-in-training, my friend has acquired the bad habit of righteousness.  He was a golden boy and good in the bargain.  This should have made him insufferable, but he was genuine — you couldn’t help but like him.  After law school, a stint at the Pentagon in the JAC corps, followed by a high-flying law practice, he went into commercial real estate because he loves building things.  You should see his eyes as he looks over the landscaping he’s designed around one of his buildings.  The golden boy with the bad habit of being good turned out to be an artist.

When I made the appointment with my friend, I thought I’d show up as his successful contemporary and we could puff out our chests and thumb our suspenders.

By the time of the lunch, my chest was stove in.

He said, “Do you have an office to go to?  If not, why don’t you camp out with us for a while?”


Through his generosity and kindness, I was able to resume my free-lance writing in one of the most picturesque buildings in Atlanta, a high-rise that looks out over the hill from which General Sherman first spied the city.  When the fog would roll in this winter, the scene outside resembled the lovely if brooding Scottish highlands.

Far more important than the surroundings, though, was his sheer act of love.  I was assured through my friend that God had not forgotten me and was carrying me on to something else.  This verse from St. Paul describes the role my friend played.  “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us: (2 Cor 5:2-0).

Before I share with you a couple of responses I got from readers about their experience of God’s love I want to share this great NEWS:

I want to introduce everyone to Margaret Monaghan Schay.  (See the accompanying picture.)  She’s my first new hire at Catholic Exchange and will play a key role in development and community outreach.  In fact, you may be getting a call from her, as for the first time — I believe — Catholic Exchange contacts our friends and expresses our thanks for your support in a personal way.

Margaret grew up in a Catholic family of 10, was home-schooled, and graduated last year from Southern Catholic College.  She already has a remarkable amount of experience, as a teacher, a Director of Educational Outreach for Choices Atlanta, Director of Youth Ministry at Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia, an administrative assistant at TriState Financial Network and the Director of Marketing at Triple Crown Academy in Louisville, Kentucky .

She grew up next to Thomas Merton’s Abbey of Gethsemani and used to sneak into the refectory as a child for snacks. As a result of her father’s role at the American Center for Law & Justice, she’s already traveled the world and is wise beyond her years.

Margaret is a gem!

With this letter, I am making a special plea to the Catholic Exchange community to support our growth — CLICK HERE — to give a generous donation today.  We are only able to hire outstanding people like Margaret through your generosity.  Without necessary staffing, we cannot possibly do the job of evangelization that needs to be done in our nation and our world.  So please be generous and CLICK HERE.  Here is what a couple of you so generously shared with me:

Harold, my experience of God’s will, His love, is a one of struggle and intermittent moments of joy.  Sometimes joy is over a honey bee escaping sure death pounding on a window that suddenly ‘listens’ to the dogs’ ‘move left’ barking.  I have not endured much spiritual dryness and the little I have was enough to realize Mother Teresa was a miracle breathing.  Sometimes the worst days are the best and the best days the most disappointing. — Michael E., Medellin, Colombia

My deepest desire was to find a loving husband, become a mom, live in a home in the country with a white picket fence and that raising our children would be our top priority.  At 36 years old that was asking God for a lot. A wonderful man came into my life when I had just turned 37.  He had never been married, had no children and during our year and a half courtship, we began talking about our dreams.  Just before I turned 39, we were blessed with a beautiful boy.  It was after the birth of our son that I realized how much God loved me.  It must be a lot, if it is more than we loved our little boy.  A little over four years later, we were blessed with twins, when I was almost 43.  We had a boy and a girl and the little girl has Down Syndrome.  Challenges, yes! Lots of love, yes!  Many times, even, today (they are all teenagers, now), I say to each of them before they go to sleep.  How was I so blessed to get you?  We live in a home in the country and my husband has recently purchased materials to build a white picket fence. — Marcia R.

I hope you will reflect on how God loves you! And don’t forget that Catholic Exchange is counting on you to CLICK HERE AND SUPPORT US. Thank you!

Every good and perfect gift,

Harold Fickett, President, Catholic Exchange

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