My wife, Christine, and I, were both raised in very Catholic families. We met in college in the 1970s and drifted from the faith quite a lot, since we had an abortion that would scar us for the rest of our lives. We still married in the Catholic Church, with my uncle, a Franciscan priest, presiding.
A few years into our marriage, Christine started going back to church regularly. It was obvious that she enjoyed it. She read and prayed by herself and with the children. She was more at peace.
Little did I know that for over two years, she prayed the Rosary daily just for me, asking the Lord to open my heart so that I would come back to Him.
That’s what it took for me to realize that, even though everything was going very well, I was not fully satisfied. So I looked back to when I was a kid and truly enjoyed the beautiful Masses, full churches, the processions of the Blessed Sacrament and for Mary’s Feast days, and the bells and smells. But now I was a grown man — hey, 31 or 32 years old — and I thought I didn’t need the Church. I thought I could speak directly to God, like I would to a good friend. For me, the Catholic Church was too hard to get. The Mass was complicated and I wasn’t sure about the Sacraments or the Saints. Then there was the Virgin Mary. I really didn’t understand what She was all about. We didn’t have any religious friends and I didn’t try to look for answers.
To make it short, I finally agreed to go on a weeklong retreat with Christine.
I told God, “OK, I’ll give you my one-week vacation, and you do whatever I should expect you to do.” The second evening I felt something was happening through my whole body. I thought, like Zacchaeus, “Not me, I just came to look.”
Then somebody came to me in a vision. It wasn’t God, it was the Virgin Mary, the one I didn’t understand. I could see her blue eyes, her lips and her dark hair; she was very young, very petite and so beautiful. Saint Pio used to call her, “Abyss of Grace, Incomparable Masterpiece, and Woman Clothed in Light. The Light of God flows into her and she — reflecting like a mirror — sends it back out onto humanity.”
She had a very sad smile; she didn’t say a word, just looked at me. I felt like I had to do something, so I presented to her all my family and friends. This is when she really smiled. Without noticing any changes, I sensed that she was leading me to a spot on my right side. And there I was, in front of a great light, nothing I can begin to describe. It was as Pope Benedict XVI once said, “When one has the grace to sense a strong experience of God, it is as though seeing something similar to what the disciples experienced during the Transfiguration: for a moment, they experienced ahead of time something that will constitute the happiness of Paradise. In general, it is brief experiences that God grants on occasions, especially in anticipation of harsh trials.”
Yes, it was beautiful! I knew I was in The Presence of the Source of Light and Love. I was in the presence of God. It felt so good, I was so happy. This was where I belonged; this was where I wanted to spend my eternity. I stayed there in awe. Everything of this world around me had disappeared and I was crying of happiness, but then, I had to go back!
A few years later, we did what Jesus told the young man to do in Mark 10:21, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” We joined the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes and spent the next 15 years in France and later in Denver, where we founded the first house of the Community in the United States. Today we remain in Colorado and help engaged couples from around the world prepare to exchange the Sacrament of Matrimony.
The seed was there, my wife’s prayer watered it, God did the rest.
• Christian and Christine Meert are French-born U.S. citizens. They are the directors of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colorado, led by Bishop Michael J. Sheridan. In 2004, after 15 years as a missionary family, they founded the first and only online, mentor-led, one-on-one Catholic Marriage Preparation program (catholicmarriageprep.com). They have five daughters and 12 grandchildren.