When discreet encounters with spiritual things get insinuated into your everyday life frequently over a few years, you don’t really notice that something is happening to direct your attention toward the transcendent, the divine. You only see that with perfect hindsight. Which happened to me on an otherwise ordinary day when something routine became an extraordinary catalyst that brought it all together, in the span of a few hours.
I was a journalist, mother of two young sons and lifelong Catholic who had no idea how much I had drifted from the faith and either forgot what I’d learned, or never learned in the first place through 12 years of Catholic schooling before college.
Having worked for a major secular newsweekly magazine for over a dozen years, I covered and researched news issues more than cultural trends, though they were converging more often. Somehow, I was unusually attracted to a new book sensation involving the story of a near death experience that recounted details of a great light, profound peace, indescribable joy, profound goodness and comfort and calm. I wondered why this attracted my attention so much.
Friends were attending group studies of spiritual enrichment in different forms and telling me about them. They weren’t for me, but stirred something I wanted. My sons attended Catholic school, I volunteered there, but something was lacking. There’s a reason I recall clearly the day my younger son came to the car after school with a damp, worn holy card of St. Jude he’d just found in a rain puddle in the parking lot, and I thought it something special, and hung onto it, especially since we didn’t have many holy cards around.
A new, young, newly ordained priest from Mexico was assigned to our parish who engaged students and befriended parents. Waiting for the bell to ring, I talked with him occasionally and learned about his call to a vocation. We talked over time and over coffee about religion, life, family, faith.
Around that time, I had a routine blood test done at my husband’s medical practice as part of an annual checkup. In the middle of the school day, the office manager called, her voice clearly shaken, and told me my blood results came back abnormal. So abnormal my husband called his hospital and arranged for a new blood test stat, and Allison asked how quickly I could get there. “I’ll go now” I told her. Heading upstairs to change clothes, I collapsed on the landing, fell to my knees unable to stand, and cried out to God.
I don’t believe in ‘making deals’ with God, but promised Him that if He spared my life long enough to raise my sons in the faith, I would devote the rest of my life to Him, every breath of it.
Right then, the phone rang.
The Mexican priest from the parish, who had never called our home before, was calling for some reason I never found out. I said I couldn’t talk because I had to get to the hospital quickly. “What’s wrong?!” he urgently asked. “I can’t talk right now,” I said. “Just please pray for me.” He promised to, asked me to let him know later, and I was off to the hospital.
I prayed and talked to God during that drive. By the time I arrived and approached the hospital door, I felt an utter calm. I reached for the door and kept saying “Not my will, Lord, but yours be done.” Over and over I repeated that, and meant it. Whatever came next, I was ready.
After getting repeat blood tests, I went home and soon got a call from the medical blood lab director himself, saying they had the results and my husband wanted him to call me personally. He did his best to explain. My results were perfectly normal. They had been far from normal in the first round, though I did not know that. These results revealed I was healthy and blood counts were in perfect range. The director was cordial and nervous, trying to make up for whatever worry the first test results caused by saying it’s possible that the first blood draw was ‘somehow contaminated, though that virtually never happens’. He apologized, and said “I can’t really explain this, I don’t know how or why this happened”.
I thought ‘I do’. With gratitude and relief, I thanked him for his call. Then I thanked God for His.
The Mexican priest anxiously asked later that day if I was okay, since I hadn’t called back. I told him what happened, and he said as soon as we hung up that afternoon, after I asked for prayers, he went right to Our Lady of Guadalupe and prayed for her intercession for me. “Do you have an Our Lady of Guadalupe in your home?” he insistently asked. “No,” I admitted, but said I would get her.
Truth was, I didn’t know her. In fact, I didn’t have any statues of Our Lady in our home, nor other religious statues or sacramentals. I was out of touch with most of what imbued my Catholic upbringing. That was about to change, and so was the rest of my life.
In what seems like a blur of time, I soaked up as much Scripture, authentic Catholic/Christian theology, apologetics, writing and broadcasting as I could, falling head over heels in love with the faith I discovered as if new, though I never knew I left. It was just as G.K. Chesterton describes in Orthodoxy as the man who set off on a boat and landed on what he believed was a newly discovered land only to realize he had miscalculated his course and the land he discovered was the very homeland he had just left. But he saw it anew, and with astonishment and fascination. That’s exactly what I did with Catholicism.
Things like this happened: Planning a family summer trip to Europe one year, starting in Portugal to see Fatima, we spread out a map to figure out the journey. My husband said we would need to stay over someplace between Fatima and Madrid. I traced my finger along the route and exclaimed “Avila!” Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were among my favorite writers and intercessors. We made a memorable visit.
Another year, 1998, I had a strong, overpowering pull to go back to Rome, although my husband didn’t like it the one time we had visited. It was a forceful call, so I told him ‘we have to go to Rome at the start of summer vacation’, and it was nearly a miracle that he said ‘okay’. It was booked based on convenience of dates and flights. And then I learned Pope John Paul II had called the ‘Ecclesial Movements’ to Rome for Pentecost that year, for a celebration at St. Peter’s in advance of the Great Jubilee of 2000. Our trip would put us squarely in Rome on that date. I had no idea in advance.
A Swiss Guard officer we knew placed us above the colonnades to look out over a sea of over half a million people on the Eve of Pentecost. Something powerful was happening. John Paul began his address with this: "Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:2-3)
Filled with the Holy Spirit. In “The Great Upper Room”, as John Paul called St. Peter’s Square that day. Perfect. What would it mean?
He went on to say “Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history”.
He certainly, radically changed us, and by extension countless others. My older son went through seminary, was ordained a priest, received his doctorate in theology, and now teaches, preaches, delivers the sacraments and spiritual direction. I’ve been a writer for decades, and broadcaster for over a dozen years, hosting a television network program, then one on the Relevant Radio network covering news, culture, politics, law, academia, science, medicine, media, faith and reason.
Our patrons, by the way, are Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. John Paul II.
Before every show, I pray ‘Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they will be created. And you will renew the face of the earth.” People are being renewed.
At the start of each day my first thoughts are a prayer: “Praise the Lord for this new day of life, thank you Jesus. Please help me to live it according to your will.”
Among my daily prayers, Liturgy of the Hours, Memorare, Rosary, spontaneous mental prayer, I often say ‘Here I am Lord, I’ve come to do your will.’
It’s amazing how it all comes full circle, back to that precipitous surrender and offering of submission from the depths of my heart: Not my will Lord, but yours be done.
Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy Award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. She currently hosts the daily radio program A Closer Look on Relevant Radio.