I retired about fourteen years ago. My husband, Orlando and I had great plans for our retirement. We wanted to travel, to relax, to have fun! But that wasn’t to be. God had other plans for us! Orlando’s parents in Florida got very ill and we were needed there. We became snowbirds , 6 months here and 6 months in Florida. Around that same time Orlando and I baptized our fourth grandchild, Isabel in a church if Florida. The day of the baptism our son and his wife had a surprise for us. After the baptism we were able to renew our marriage vows in front of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us that was very special because we had not gotten married in the church, we had been married about 25 years but at the court. It didn’t matter to us back then. We had spent over 40 years without God, at that time a church wedding hadn’t been important to us. Neither one of us had come from a religious family. When the priest started blessing us and our rings something happened to us in that ceremony. We were crying and laughing both at the same time. Grace was being poured on us from above!
After that experience Orlando started convincing me to go to church on Sundays. He had been caught by the fever! Jesus had gotten his hands on him. Not so for me! Going to mass was a burden. Many times I would leave the church worse than how I had gone in. It was boring and ritualistic. But yet I wanted to make Orlando happy, so I would go. For some reason around that time I started having the urge to get married in front of God. I loved Orlando so much that I felt that maybe this would make our marriage even stronger.
I had never been confirmed. My parents weren’t very religious. In Cuba, where I come from, I got baptized and had my First Communion but after that church did not come back into my life. Here in the U. S. life was hard. We were refugees . The Catholic Church was a great help but it didn’t inspire us to go back to it.
Well you can see what my problem was. I tried to marry Orlando in the Catholic Church but then I found out I needed to be confirmed. Was it worth it? Did I really need to marry Orlando in front of God? How was I going to work it out? I was here in NY for 6 months and in Florida the next 6 months. How would it work out with RCIA? You know now I realize that God had a plan for us as a married couple. Things worked out between our local parish here, American Martyrs Church in Bayside. NY, and the local church in Hallandale Beach, FL where we were renting.
In 2011 I was finishing my RCIA in St Matthew’s Church in Florida. We were told there was going to be a four day Mission at the church. We weren’t sure what that was but yet we were intrigued by what it might be. The first day we were there a priest all dressed in black with a giant heart on the left side of his chest, a giant rosary hanging from this thick belt, and a giant crucifix in his hand came to the pulpit and introduced himself, ” I am Fr. Vincent Youngberg and I am an alcoholic. ” That was a great way to start! He was a sinner just like me! During the next few days with his story and his preaching he slowly brought me closer to understanding why I was doing what I was doing. He led me to believe that Jesus, that God, wanted a relationship with me. He helped me to believe that he did exist!
The last day of the Mission Fr Vincent led us in a meditation. He said:
“Everyone please close your eyes. Now imagine yourself sitting on the sand. You’re watching the ocean, relaxing under the warm sun. From the corner of your eye you notice a person walking towards you. You can’t see him well yet, but he looks like he might be walking straight for you. He is getting closer and closer and your heart is beating faster and faster because you can’t believe your eyes. Suddenly you realize that the person you saw in the distance that now is so close to you is no other than our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes close to you extends his hand towards you and gets you to stand up…..”
Fr. Vincent continued but I was no longer listening. I was face to face with Jesus! I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I was crying and laughing. I couldn’t find words to say, but I didn’t have to. He took me in his arms and said, ” Berta, you have no idea how much I love you. I have been wanting you to open the door to me for a long time. I am so happy that you are in my arms now. I will never let you go!” I had melted into his body. The hug he was giving me was delicious! Life was perfect. But then I became aware of Fr. Youngberg’s voice again bringing us back. I didn’t want to leave my Jesus, now that I had met him. But it was time and we had to part. I was back in the church crying like a little girl. They weren’t tears of sadness,no , they were tears of joy! Now I understood! I had been looking for him all my life, but didn’t know it. I knew for many years that there was something missing in my life and on that beautiful Lenten day I found it . God put Fr. Vincent Youngberg in my path. He was the one that led me through the whole process. My husband, my son and his wife, Isabel my granddaughter, the RCIA teachers and volunteers, the priests with their homilies, the new friends I had met in church, they all had a hand in leading me to meet Him!It was all designed by Him!
In 2011 I became confirmed during the Easter Vigil at American Martyrs Church. That summer Orlando and I convalidated our marriage on August 7, 2011 in front of our dear God, our family and our friends. In September 2011 I had my first retreat at Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Jamaica, Queens. I had found out that Fr. Vincent was a Passionist priest and his order had a Monastery and a Retreat House 15 minutes from my house! Orlando and I felt the need to go to the Holy Land and in November 2011 we joined a group from Texas and ended up with a Franciscan guide and our beautiful Lord Jesus leading us !
All I can say about my new life is ” Thank You Jesus for your Love, and the blessings and grace you have brought into our lives! ” “Thank you for the beautiful Passionist priests that are now our friends, thank uou for the prayer group we are part of, thank you for my new friends, thank you for knowing that I am never alone! I love you my Triune God, without you I am nothing!!!!!”