James CONVERSION STORY
Sweet Fruit of Medjugorje
"He Was Lost and Has Been Found"
by Rev. James A. Wiley
How does one put into words the immeasurable love, mercy, orgiveness of our Heavenly Father toward His prodigal children? We can never probe the depths in this life. My purpose in writing this article is to show how His love, mercy, and forgiveness led me back to the Church and to the priesthood.
In June of 1974, I turned my back on God, the Church, and the priesthood. The decision to walk away from everything I had once valued did not come overnight. It was several years in the making, and I vowed never to return to the Church or the priesthood.
The seventeen years that followed my departure from active ministry were difficult and trying for me. But once I made up my mind, there was no turning back. A priest friend of mine once asked if I ever thought of returning. While I appreciated his concern for me, I told him it was impossible because I had stopped believing. Was God real? Was He a force in the universe? Was He a personal God? . I wasn't sure any more. Spiritually I had hit bottom. I guess there was nowhere to go but up.
In August of 1988, a friend of mine had just returned from Medjugorje. He told me about six children who said they had seen the Blessed Virgin. She had special messages for the children and the world. In a nice way I told him I didn't believe in apparitions or miracles. We left it at that.
Several weeks later, I was watching a program called "Pittsburgh Today." The afternoon segment was devoted to the strange happenings in a little village in Yugoslavia called Medjugorje. Four individuals were going to share their experiences regarding the apparitions. One man was a journalist from KDKA T.V. in Pittsburgh, PA. There were two attorneys, husband and wife, from Pittsburgh, and a woman who claimed she had been cured of multiple sclerosis through the intercession of Our Lady of Medjugorje. For some unknown reason, I decided to tape the show for later viewing. That evening I played the tape, not once, not twice, but three times. I just couldn't get enough. I wanted to know more, and I wrote to the station asking for more information.
Slowly but surely my life began to change. Up to this point, any theology I professed was almost totally opposed to the teaching of the church. At one point, I had denied the whole sacramental system, especially the Church's teaching on the Eucharist. What happened next was difficult to explain because it didn't happen in any sequence. I suddenly realized I believed again. There were no more doubts, no more questioning. I believed. Thank God, I believed.
I hadn't been to Confession for 18 years and I felt the need to tell it all to a priest. I sought out a Franciscan at Our Lady of the Point Church in Pittsburgh. When I walked out of the church, I was spiritually clean for the first time in many years.
The thought of returning to active ministry and priesthood had not entered my mind. I was happy and content with my new found faith - what more could I ask for? And then it happened. It was Saturday morning, September 24, 1988, the former feast of Our Lady of Ransom. I woke up about 5:30 AM. The first thing that came into my mind was that I should return to the priesthood. I had to be dreaming, but the thought would not go away. The thought of returning to priesthood haunted me the entire week-end.
I sought out my pastor and told him what was happening with me. He listened and then told me he would make some inquiries for me. Presuming this whole incident would all be forgotten in a few days, I told him to take his time. My job as a counselor at a mental health center was satisfying and I wanted to keep it that way. We are talking about a major job change, and I wasn't sure if I could handle that. I was anxious, to say the least.
The pastor told me it was possible to return to active ministry, but I would have to update my theology, Sacred Scripture, and Canon Law. Once this was satisfied, my case would be reviewed, and a decision would be made. So I quit my job, took up residence at a parish in Erie, and updated for the next 11 months.
One day I received a call from the bishop. He had good news. Rome had responded in my favor, and I had been returned to active ministry and priesthood. I was so overjoyed, I thought I would cry. It was like receiving the news of my ordination, April 25, 1958. I should add here that once a priest, always a priest. I never lost my priesthood, just the license to practice, so to speak.
In June of 1993, I made a pilgrimage to Medjugorje to give thanks to God and Our Lady for the many blessings and graces I've received. The high point of the trip was the climb up Cross Mountain, where I got on my knees to give thanks.
Concelebrating Mass each day in St. James Church was an experience I shall always remember. What happiness - what tears of joy!
November 6, 2003, will mark 13 years of active ministry. They've been among the happiest years of my life. My priorities have changed. God is now first in my life. I have a deeper appreciation of the Church and the priesthood. I attribute my return first to God, second, to Our Lady, and third, to the prayers of my mother, who prayed for seventeen years. I asked her if she ever thought I would return to the priesthood. She said she didn't know if it were possible- She just prayed. She lived to help me celebrate my "second first Mass." She died in 1995.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is my favorite, for obvious reasons. The father said to the elder son, "Now we must celebrate and rejoice because your brother was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and has been found." Amen.
"By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. So by their fruits you will know them." (Mt 7:16-18,20)