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Institute Writers’ Corner: “A Heart’s Journey to Trust”

May 17, 2023


The Word on Fire Institute contains numerous groups in which members can discuss courses, read and explore literature, comment on videos, expand their efforts toward evangelization and discipleship, and develop their writing skills.

Within the Emmaus Writing Groups, members craft original written works, and under the guidance of Institute Fellow Holly Ordway, the writers learn how to hone their work and build upon their skills. The following is a piece by St. Clare of Assisi Emmaus Writing Group member Carolyn Thanel.

“I am never going back!” was a declaration that resounded from deep within me. I am not referring to a location, as you may be thinking, but I am referring to a state of being, a realization of a happening that would change my life’s direction forever. This transformation, through an outpouring of grace of the Holy Spirit, was truly a Pentecostal experience!

My journey began four decades ago, when I was a young mother of two sons, ages five and three. We were surprised to learn that I was pregnant with our third child. My husband and I rejoiced when Matthew was born. However, nothing could have prepared us for what would happen next. As I waited for the nurse to bring me my son, a doctor appeared instead with a grim look on his face. He told me our son was sick, and they were transporting him to St. Christopher’s Hospital. Shortly after hearing this shocking news, a nurse brought me my son to hold. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I immediately thought I should baptize him. So I reached for the water pitcher on the nightstand, dipped my fingers and sprinkled him on the forehead as I prayed the words of Baptism. My husband arrived soon after, and we both left the hospital together where we were reunited with our dying son. We soon learned he had an inoperable heart defect. I prayed holding him in my arms as he slipped away. We returned home to our two sons, shocked and grieving. I wondered where God was in all this. I had been a faithful Catholic. Surely, God heard my desperate pleas for healing. 

My husband dealt with his grief differently from me. So painful was his loss, he felt we shouldn’t have any more children. However, my obstetrician informed me that I could get pregnant right away. I was conflicted and hurting. I busied myself, put on a happy face, all while aching inside. I questioned myself on what I did early on to cause this. Then I recalled the words of a compassionate nurse, who took my hands in hers, looked into my eyes, and said, “This is not your fault.” Later on, when I again struggled to make sense of all this, I remembered her kind words. That helped ease the pain somewhat.

I found myself in yet another crisis—a crisis of faith.

A few months later, our family decided to move into a newly constructed home in the suburbs. We hoped for a fresh start, but I still was haunted as to how God would allow this to happen. I began obsessively watching over our two boys because I couldn’t bear if anything should happen to them. I lacked trust that God was watching over them.

One morning, shortly after the move, I took my boys outside to play with their construction vehicle toys in our ungraded front lawn. There I saw a woman coming down the street, pulling a red wagon with two small boys aboard. She was outgoing, friendly, and there was something different about her. She had an aura of peace, confidence, and joy about her. We greeted each other, and in our short conversation, I learned she was Catholic too. We soon became friends. It wasn’t long before I shared my grief and loss with her. In turn, she shared her faith with me, hugged me, and surprisingly, returned the following day placing a Bible in my hand. I was moved by her kind gesture. I couldn’t wait to retreat to a quiet room after putting my boys to bed to read. That is when I began encountering Jesus in a most powerful way. His words seemed to penetrate my soul, healing me on some level. Although his words were familiar to me, they seemed to be “flying off the pages.” I was awakening to the immense beauty and goodness of my faith for what seemed to be the very first time.

At the same time I was experiencing a renewed faith, my new friend was struggling with questions about the Catholic faith. She sought the advice of our pastor. As a result, she discussed moving out of our parish to another denomination. Admittedly, she was a person full of the Holy Spirit who boldly shared the Good News. Our conversations about her move to a Pentecostal church, along with my experiences reading the Scriptures, made me question if I was in the wrong church. How would I tell my husband we should consider another denomination? Now I found myself in yet another crisis—a crisis of faith.

One Sunday morning at Mass, I experienced in a powerful way the same Scriptures touching me deeply within my soul. The words were spoken by a visiting Franciscan priest while he read the Gospel and gave his homily. Smiling and feeling exuberant, I rushed over to priest after Mass, much to the embarrassment of my husband, who stood ten feet away with the boys. Excitedly, I struggled to find the words to explain to the priest what I heard at Mass and how his words touched my heart. Aside from these lofty feelings, and best of all, God was revealed to me and reassured me that the Holy Spirit was indeed in my Catholic Church. After patiently listening, Father hugged me, and motioned to my husband to come over. Father assured him I was not crazy and directed him to read certain Scriptures from the Bible on Pentecost. I returned home, overflowing with feelings of love and joy as if I was on a honeymoon. This gift, an explosion of grace, grew my faith at a time of greatest need.

It wasn’t long after when my husband too had a change of heart. Soon afterward, we had a third child, a healthy baby girl. She could never replace the son we lost, but I felt reassured that Matthew was in a heavenly place where one day we will embrace again.

I remember the words that echoed through my heart that day in church. “I am never going back!”—never going back to feelings of doubt, fear, and loneliness again. Despite the painful trials, I realized God was present and alive, especially through the compassionate nurse, my new friend, the faithful priest, and my loving husband. I emerged from all of this with a stronger faith and a sure knowledge of being truly loved. Over the years, I was able to share my renewed faith and joy with many others through another gift from God, a new vocation: teaching.

May God be praised for all his blessings!

All members of the Word on Fire Institute have access to the writing groups and the other discussion groups, along with the growing video course catalog, quarterly Evangelization & Culture journalWord on Fire Digital access, and more. Learn more and become a member today.