Stories of Three Fruitful Conversions

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Leah Darrow grew up in a strong Catholic family, but she recalls that in high school her Catholicism started to get “fuzzy.” By the time she was in college, Leah says she had become a “Catholic But,” as in, “I’m Catholic but I don’t agree with the Church’s teaching on cohabitation… I’m Catholic but I don’t see the problem with a couple who love each other sleeping together before their marriage… I think the Church is behind the times.”

One evening at college Leah watched a reality show called “America’s Next Top Model.” She thought to herself, “I’m pretty cute, maybe I could be on that show.” Leah tried out, got accepted, and competed on national television against other gorgeous women. Even though she didn’t win the competition this exposure and fame jump-started her modeling career. She still recalls her excitement at receiving her first modeling paycheck featuring a number with a comma in it. Leah’s chosen path eventually led her to an experience in a New York City skyscraper which forever changed her life.

She came to pose for a risqué, international, men’s magazine. They brought out a number of itsy-bitsy outfits for her, she put one on, and the photoshoot began. Yet while Leah was posing, a vision flashed into her mind: three images in the span of perhaps a second or two. First, she saw herself standing in a large white space wearing that immodest outfit. She felt no pain in that moment, but had a sense that she had died. In the second image, Leah was looking up, holding out her open hands at her waist with the knowledge that she was in God’s presence. In her third and final scene, Leah saw herself holding her hands all the way up, offering God all that she had, but she saw that she was offering him nothing. She realized that with all of the blessings, talents, and gifts God gave her she had wasted them on herself. She saw that if she had died at that moment she would have nothing to offer Christ.

Leah abruptly abandoned the photo session, changed back into her own clothes, and ran down 5th Avenue balling. She called home saying, “Dad, if you don’t come get me I am going to lose my soul.” So her father drove across the country from Oklahoma to New York City. When her dad arrived, though Leah wanted to leave for home immediately, her father insisted upon seeing the sights. “But first,” he said, “we go to confession.” Leah made a good confession through tears, and came out of the confessional healed, like a new woman. In the years since, Leah Darrow has been bearing good fruit as a national Catholic speaker.

I was reminded of Leah’s story by a young man’s testimony this week. My spiritual retreat house in Illinois was a short distance from the Mundelein Seminary, which allowed me to take in a portion of the Courage International conference being held there now. Courage is a fellowship helping men and women who experience same-sex attractions to live chastely — faithful to Jesus Christ and Catholic teaching on sexuality.

Part of the training day for clergy was hearing a Courage member share his story. He grew up Catholic with faithful, loving parents, but like the Prodigal Son went off on his own way. He says his lifestyle had many pleasures but there remained an unsatisfied sadness. He knew what he was doing wasn’t right. One night, awakening from sleep, he also had a life-changing vision. He saw his heart of flesh descending over a dark ocean, dropping deeper and deeper down into the depths. And then he heard the Lord say two things to him (if I recall the phrasing precisely): “My son, come home,” and “Time is running out.” This experience helped him see he was God’s beloved but needed to change his life. He was called by Christ to something greater, and now his joyful life is bearing good fruit.

A different speaker at the conference shared another great story. It was an anecdote about a husband and father who had an addiction to viewing indecent images. Through renewed devotion and the help of God’s grace, this man began to experience victory and freedom from this sin. One day, as he was driving down the road chit-chatting with his four-year-old daughter in the backseat, she remarked, “I like new daddy more than old daddy.” (To be clear, both “old daddy” and “new daddy” were references to him.) This man’s four-year-old daughter did not know why things were now different, but she delighted in how much more present, attentive, and open her dad had become for her by valuing pure love more than sin.

As St. Paul urges us in today’s second reading, “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” Your old self and its practices must give way to the new. “Think of what is above,” Paul writes, “not of what is on earth.” Be renewed in God to share in his delight and great rewards.

The rich man in today’s parable gathered earthly wealth, planning and preparing for himself pleasures in this life. He thought he still had many years ahead of him to enjoy, but his time was running out. God calls him a fool since he is soon to appear before the Lord with empty hands, poor “in what matters to God.” “Vanity of vanities,” our first reading says; this world is full of vanities! Stop chasing after and clinging to worthless things. Remember that you are loved, that you were made for great things, and that the joy and freedom Jesus Christ has given to others he can also give to you.

One Response to “Stories of Three Fruitful Conversions”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    Beautiful! God loves to change lives–to fill them to overflowing!

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