In recent time, a young adult that I have known from the past wrote to me a letter with many thoughtful questions. I responded to the person, and with the person’s permission, I am sharing with you our conversation because there are so many things in there that are thought-provoking and relatable to many of us, especially our young people.
Good morning, JPL.
Thank you for your letter. I am filled with much encouragement reading your thoughts and desires for love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. I am encouraged by your genuine desire to follow what is right and what God has put into your heart. Thank you for choosing Him and trying to love Him! Here are some thoughts on what you have asked:
1) On Prayer — You said, “I want to improve my prayer life, and maybe I’m stuck in a rut that will soon pass. But I’m ready to consistently be connected with God, who is love. I miss the times where He actually felt near.” — Prayer is oftentimes rightly called spiritual exercise. It takes a lot of discipline in order to truly form, stretch, and challenge one’s self to grow deeper, more intimate, and willing to love the Lord. You and I cannot have the strength and wisdom of spiritual masters in a short time, but we can always begin somewhere. Showing up is half of the battle, staying is a great gift that you can ever give to God! I remembered one young missionary who told me that she kept showing up to prayer and Mass, even at times she did not feel anything, and that kept her going even in the darkest time… because she shows up no matter what! Perhaps you can begin small with two 10-minute intervals in the beginning and closing of your day. Once in a while, make an assessment and add another five minutes on top until you reach your final goal of a holy hour with God. A grain of rice seems small and insignificant, but a grain of rice into a bowl each day will give you a full bowl of 365 grains of rice at the end of the year (366 if we are on a leap year). We can all begin small and with perseverance and slowly build up our endurance, consistency, and spiritual conditioning! Second, try to find a routine that works best for you. For example, I know that I pray better in the morning so I focus a lot more energy in the morning since I tend to get more tired and distracted in the evening. Also, I know that I need time to wake up so I do a jog and walk with the Rosary in the morning before I do my meditation. Lastly, I know that it takes about 18-22 minutes on a good day for me to calm and silent myself to be in the presence of God and receive from Him (more time if I get distracted, filled with worries, etc.). There are times that God will speak, other times, not so much, but I keep making it my first and foremost priority to come no matter what! Why? I know that I cannot give what I myself do not have. Therefore, I come to receive Him as I am able because I cannot truly give without His love.
2) On the Sacraments — You said, “During quarantine, I felt deprived of the sacraments and now, as we go back to Mass, it has been so much easier to pay attention and sit in awe of God’s beautiful gift He gives us. But what I’m worried about is that I’m going to go back to where I was, which was just going through the motions.” — We have those temptations, distractions, tendencies, and days. However, we can only try to be present as best as we are able! We have to condition and tell ourselves this time is the time to receive the Lord as I am best able. The other worries and problems will still be there when I am done, but this time is for Him! Whenever you get distracted at Mass, simply said, “Lord, you know my heart, please fix it to your heart!” When you get pulled away, do not be afraid to make a conscious, personal, and intimate decision to return as soon as you have recognized that you have strayed away. I always remember as a reminder in the sacristy when I was a young altar server at my home parish in Kansas, “Priest of God, offer this Mass as if it is your first Mass — your last Mass — your only Mass.” Even though I was not a priest at that time, I remembered the message and applied it to my current state of life so I try to give my best to the Lord at each and every Mass. If I get distracted, I simply tell the Lord that I am offering these things up to Him, even my imperfections, worries, and problems. I tell the Lord everything I have is His! Please remember not to be discouraged and just try your best to be present to Him just as you are present to others, for we can only give what we have and as we are in the present moment (no matter how imperfect we can be at times).
3) Public Speaking and Influence — You said, “As I go off to college, I don’t want to be ‘just another college kid.’ I want to make an impact on people’s lives. I want to be a good influence and make a difference.” — As you might have noticed or remember, I am a stutterer. I still stutter if my brain is moving faster than my speech; therefore, I just have to tell myself to slow down and think before I speak. Nevertheless, public speaking and being a positive influence is always a hard challenge for many people, myself including, and there is no way to beat it except trying to know your gifts and limitations, blessings, and restrictions. However, the greatest thing we can give to others is the gift of ourselves! St. Paul reminds us that we can preach with eloquent words and talents, but if we do not preach Christ, our words are simply like clashing cymbals and noising gongs. We move people when we speak from our hearts, our experiences, our blessings, and our struggles, so we can lead them to Christ and not ourselves! Before you speak to someone, simply pray to Christ to change your heart first, and open others’ hearts according to His will. Just be genuine and speak from the heart and you will bring more love to others than eloquent words. Second, the people that I truly respect, admire, and want to imitate and emulate are genuine, humble, loving, and down-to-earth people. They might not be the greatest speakers but they are so loving, able to be present, listen, care, and lead me to Christ. They might not always have the answers to everything but they were able to give me the gift of their time and compassion! These people speak louder with their love and actions more than their words. They brought me to Christ more than what they can pervade at the moment. Therefore, do not be afraid to be present as a good friend to those God will put in your life, accompanying them in their faith journey with the best that you can, and do not be afraid to send them to help and the Lord by accepting your limitations and gifts. The greatest gift we can give to others is the gift of our genuine self with all of our blessings and limitations, not trying to change others or attract them to ourselves, but lead them to the One who loves them more than you and I.
4) Personal Testimony of Faith in Diversity — You said, “I know that there will be lots of opinions and beliefs that I don’t even know much about much less understand.” — My mother’s faith is very basic. She converted to the Catholic faith when my father was imprisoned by the Communists. She would fail every catechism test that you give her. Her faith is simply based on the very foundational fact that God was there for her when she had no one else to turn to. Her faith is grounded on the faithfulness of God! Therefore, do not be afraid to show your personal faith in why you believe. You might not have all the answers (neither do I), but we can genuinely share with others how we know deep within our hearts that God is real and He is faithful to us. Second, please do not let yourself be frustrated with the people who try to prove themselves by bashing faith or excuse their actions. You cannot dialogue with someone who is trying to prove themselves right or you wrong! Dialogue can only come from genuine respect, care, and respect. If someone is willing to listen, then share what you believe from the heart and allow God to do the rest of the work. You can attend bible study, faith sharing, or enrichment sessions and programs offered by the Catholic Campus Center but it all boils down to personal testimony and living of the faith. Do not be afraid of your verbal limitations, knowledge, or inability to formulate the faith, for your personal witness and testimony of that faith will speak louder than anything else. Please remember that no one in this world has the power to force you to compromise your values and deny your faith if you do not permit them! You and I can stand firm by being humble and meek, for the ones who are humble and meek like Jesus do not have to prove themselves for they already know who they are deep from within. The Lord did not have to prove Himself, He allowed His actions and love to point to the truth and genuine love.
5) Chastity and Intimacy — You said, “What’s some advice you can give me to help me stay pure and chaste? It’s a goal I have, but I know that will be difficult. Any and all advice is greatly appreciated.” — Thank you for choosing chastity, for this is the personal and intimate gift of yourself that you can offer to others, especially your significant other! Modesty and chastity reveal the true, personal, intimate, and heartfelt beauty and gift of one’s self. On the other hand, typicality (according to what the world wants with revealing stuff) only reveals what others want, do, desire, and see. Revealing matters only please the eyes for a moment but never reveal the soul! Therefore, the gift of chastity in love reveals the real intimacy that comes from the heart instead of the physical, sexual, momentary, and shallow attractions. People easily give up in an intimate relationship because they often gauge sexual and physical intimacy as love, and they separate when they no longer feel that attraction, pleasure, or desire anymore. I have seen so many of those in my priestly ministry! Therefore, to be intimate, loving, and heartfelt in love requires an intimacy that is genuine, transparent, respectful, and reveals the true beauties of the soul. Know yourself, your limitations, weaknesses, temptations, and set good boundaries! Keep yourself and your significant other in line by setting limits so you can truly keep each other from falling and truly love each other from the heart. What you are choosing to preserve until marriage will be the best gift you can give to one another on your wedding day and throughout your marriage so that you can totally say to one another and the Lord, “I am giving you my everything.” I know this is hard and it takes a lot of self-will, so try your best, pray for yourself and significant other, offer up your relationship to the Lord and ask Him to be in it, to sanctify it, and transform it with His love.
Again, thank you for your letter! I am very encouraged by your commitment and desire of loving faith. Please be assured of my prayers for you, and please pray for me if you can. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask and I will try my best to help.
Sincerely in Christ,
Rev. Fr. Khoi V. Tran