My heart

Here is a letter I recently sent out to all of my mission partners.  I wanted all of you to be able to read it.

Peace be with you!

God is love.  God is good.  God continues to move in such beautiful and amazing ways in my life each and every day here at Covecrest.  He continues to show me the Sacred Heart of His Son Jesus, and He continues to form my heart into a heart like the Sacred Heart.  Praise God!

It’s now been five months since seven missionaries moved to Covecrest to begin this journey.  I’m blessed to live in community with these amazing brothers and sisters along with other missionaries who have lived at Covecrest for longer than this year.  I am so blessed to be a missionary!  It really is such a beautiful life.

I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you for your love, your support, and your prayers.  It means so much to me, more than you can imagine!  God’s providence is so great, and He is using each of you as instruments to show His providence to me.  I’ve sent you e-mails and updates throughout this year, and I continue to pray for each of you.  You are a huge part of this amazing journey!  Through receiving the letter and e-mails from me, you may be wondering how all of this even started.  You may be wondering how a guy who was on this path of being a successful golf professional decided to all of a sudden become a missionary for Christ.  My heart really desires to share my full story with you – to share with you how Christ led me to mission.  Since you are part of my life, I want you to know the journey God has led me on.  I desire for you to know what He has placed on my heart.

I went to a Catholic school in Roanoke, VA from kindergarten through senior year of high school, and was raised by two amazing parents, solid in their Catholic faith.  Praise God!   I graduated from Florida State University in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Administration, majoring in Professional Golf Management and minoring in Psychology.  Growing up, I loved to play golf all through high school, and decided that I wanted to make a career out of this game I love to play.  I earned my membership in the PGA of America after graduating from college and began my career as a golf professional at a resort in the north Georgia mountains.  This is what I wanted all through college – for my life to revolve around golf.  My life was completely centered around golf – playing the game, my job as a golf professional, and constantly talking about golf.

My college experience can very much be compared to that of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32).  This so-called “freedom” in college hit me like a ton of bricks, and I took serious advantage of it.  I no longer had to ask permission to do anything.  Is that true freedom?  Whatever everyone around me did, I did.  I had no sense of right vs. wrong.  I was “free” to make my own choices.  I was “free” to do whatever I wanted without asking permission.  I was “free” to control my own life like I knew what was best for me.  But in reality, I slowly became enslaved to a life of sin, thinking I was making free choices.  Satan took hold of me and enticed me with all sorts of worldly things – alcohol, lust, laziness, greed, pride, envy, power, etc.  In my mind, I felt I had the freedom to do all of these things, but in actuality, I was being chained up in slavery to sin.  I wanted power, status, money, to be the center of attention, to do whatever I wanted – I wanted the world and all its temporary pleasures.  I wanted what society today defines as success – success based on having lots and lots of money and stuff, fitting in to be cool, to have a job where I could be in charge and tell people what to do, and to have high status to impress others.  I wanted everything to be about me.

Now I grew up Catholic, went to a Catholic school, have always had solid Catholic parents.  This life I decided to live in college drew me very far away from the Lord.  But the funny thing is that all through college, I never stopped going to Mass on Sundays.  Outside of Sunday Mass, I had absolutely no sense of faith.  I wanted to party real hard and be popular.  God kept drawing me to Mass because He never gave up on me.  I can attribute a lot of my going to Mass in college to my parents – thank you Mom and Dad for always making Sunday Mass a priority!  My parents and I went to Mass on Sunday my whole life.

God never let go of me.  In the story of the prodigal son, the father is waiting for his son to return to him – he is waiting with open arms full of love and mercy.  God was waiting for me to return to Him – His arms were open, filled with His perfect love and mercy that He wanted me to know.  God is love!  It was in a far, distant land where the prodigal son realized that he was lost and that he needed to go back to his father.  In moving to a small town in the north Georgia mountains, plus feeling lost and alone, I realized that I needed to turn back to my Father (that’s the short version of my conversion story).  It took a break-up with a girl I had been dating for 2.5 years to spark my thoughts about where my life was going.  She asked me if I knew what my identity was, and I didn’t know.  I realized that my life had been centered around stuff – material goods, money, status, and my own plans for how I could get more stuff.  I realized that I had abandoned my Father in Heaven – I had been wasting the gifts He had given me.  I decided that I needed to go back to Him.  I wanted to know my true identity.  I found my Father waiting with open arms full of infinite love and mercy.  He never abandoned me!  In the beautiful sacrament of Confession after my conversion, I experienced the great mercy and love of God.  I turned my life back over to Him.  I was lost, but now I am found.  I was no longer enslaved by sin.  My chains had been broken.

I continued my work at the resort, but at the same time I was introduced to a place called Covecrest about 45 minutes away from where I was living.  I started making weekly visits to Covecrest to help with work projects, and I got to know the missionaries really well.  At the same time, I started getting involved with youth ministry at my parish.  I joined the Core team at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, and my heart was filled with such joy through my involvement with the Life Teen group there.

Through my conversion, spending time at Covecrest and getting to know the missionaries, being involved in youth ministry, and starting to feel empty and without joy in my job, I realized that the Lord was calling me into something more.  I didn’t want to settle for a career that made me feel empty.  I wanted to be part of something where I was around the Church all of the time.  I felt drawn to ministry, and I realized that He was calling me to serve him full-time in ministry.  I needed to be formed, and I needed to be part of a community.  So I applied to the mission program at Covecrest, and shortly after in June 2009, I was laid off from my job and accepted to the mission program.  God definitely opens doors and makes things happen!  Praise Him!  I felt that I could now fully give my life to the Lord and let Him form my heart.  That is exactly what is happening this year.

This is what God has called me to.  This is His plan for me, and he opened the doors for it to happen.  I am so blessed!  I love being missionary.  I love living in community.  I love ministry.  I love the Lord.  He has blessed me with a year completely centered on Him – a year full of prayer and very little distractions.  It has been a time to really dive into my relationship with God.  I know that wherever God leads me after this mission year, my heart will be formed and ready to serve Him in whatever way He calls me.  God is showing me His love, His Father Heart, and His mercy.  He is showing me how to follow the Gospel call of loving Him and loving others.

“Man, through a life of fidelity to the one God, comes to experience himself as loved by God, and discovers joy in truth and in righteousness – a joy in God which becomes his essential happiness.”

~Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

He is showing me how to die to myself (humility, Philippians 2: 5-18) – giving myself fully out of love to serve Him and my brothers and sisters.  He is showing me what true freedom is – it is a life of striving for holiness.  He is showing me how to be truly authentic.  We are all created in God’s image.  To live a life of authenticity is to conform to who we are created in the image of – it is to live into my true identity that I am a beloved son of God.  It was in this mission year that I realized my identity – that I am a son of the Father in Heaven.

He has filled my heart with such joy – true joy.  I’ve learned that joy is a disposition of the heart.  I’ve given my life completely to Christ; therefore I will be joyful in all things because the Lord is my strength and my guide.  “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”  ~Nehemiah 8:10.  Living my life completely centered on Christ brings out true joy in my heart.

At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples.  At Mass, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus – Jesus in the Eucharist is taken, blessed, broken, and given to all.  In the same way, the Father takes me, blesses me, breaks me, and gives me to each of you.  We are all called to be imitators of Jesus.  The Father continuously breaks me of myself that I may become more and more like Him.  He gives me to you to love and serve you – to lead you to Christ.  My vocation, our vocation, is to LOVE!!  I know that I am created in the image of a God who calls Himself love, and I am His servant, His soldier.  I have given my life to Christ.  I fight for Him.  I defend Him.  I serve Him.  I am obedient to Him.  I love Him.

I have given my life completely to the Lord, and He continues to show me His love each and every day.  The Sacraments are so amazing!  I desire so much to receive Jesus in the Eucharist as much as possible.  It is through this communion with Christ that we continue to become more like Him.  He fills us with His love, and He desires to come and dwell in the heaven of our souls – the Eucharist.  He has called me to be missionary – leading others to Christ, and living a life completely centered on the Gospel.  There is nothing more joyful and more awesome than living my life for the Lord.  I can totally relate to the prodigal son.  I abandoned my Father to seek out pleasure elsewhere in worldly things.  But I found my Father waiting with loving arms wide open when I realized how much I needed Him – when I realized that my life needed to turn around.  God is so big!  He is bigger than any keg party.  He is bigger than lust.  He is bigger than money, status, and material things.  He is bigger than all of the temptations Satan throws at us.  God is so great!  I’ve given my life to Him completely, and now I am truly free!  In detaching myself from the world, I am attaching myself to the Father.  He is all I need.  He supplies anything I need.  He has a plan for me that is just awesome!  He is faithful.  This Lenten season, be assured of my prayers for you.  I pray that you may experience the love of God as I have.  Conversion is a daily journey, and I’m realizing this by how I stumble each and every day, but I keep going with my eyes fixed on Jesus.  I answer His call when He says, “Come, follow me.”  I pray that all of us may strive to detach ourselves of the things of this world and attach to God alone.  I pray that all of us may answer His call.

Love you all!  Be missionary!  God bless!

Your brother in Christ,

Mark

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