By John Chomistek
In the past, I’ve had fleeting times and moments of contemplating if there was a God. Was there really this Jesus Man-God that walked the earth some 2000 years ago? I was always able, though, to see those moments of uncertainty as just a passing thought and again concluded that God and Jesus were in fact real.
Sometimes it took hard lessons learned to regain my faith in Jesus. For example, in the winter of my sophomore year at college, I stopped going to church. It was scary. Those three months turned out to be the worst, most lonely, and darkest time in my life as the glitter of the world displaced God. It was not until I rediscovered the gift of the Mass and Eucharist that spring that the joy again replaced the darkness.
But, it took a life-changing event twenty years ago, however, to truly cement my belief in Jesus as my God and Savior, from the point of general faith into a point of absolute fact.
It is true that God has a purpose and a reason for everyone. I didn’t know what that purpose was or even that God had a purpose in mind for me until I was 40 years old. I will never forget the year 1996. It was the year that God visited me personally, and I was not the same afterward.
In the 50s and 60s, Archbishop Fulton Sheen had an Emmy award-winning TV show where he evangelized Americans to spread Jesus’ good news. In one show, he talked about the Magi’s visit to the Holy Family that first Christmas. He commented about the part in the story where the Magi went home by another route. He said, “Of course the Magi took another route home. When one encounters Jesus, one can never go back the same way one came.”
The presence of the Holy Spirit
In 1996 I was involved with the Christ Renews His Parish (CHRP} program at my parish in Indianapolis, IN, like the program we have at my parish in Texas, Our Lady of Angels. I was in my formation period, after my first retreat, and working with my fellow CRHP brothers preparing to put on the next retreat. We had homework to study between each weekly meeting. One evening, while engrossed in my studies, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I suddenly had to stop what I was doing to address this feeling that I had just encountered.
The call was similar to God’s calling of the Old Testament Prophet Samuel from his deep sleep in 1 Samuel:3. I said, “Yes Lord, I am listening.” In this first encounter, I received one sole message: he loved me.
In the weeks to follow, the same phenomenon happened. I would feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I would stop what I was studying and listen. These next four weeks, though, I received a very different message. This message stated, “Something very bad will happen to you and your family.” The ending to each message always contained a flowing, total peace that I seemed just to inhale. A peace that I had never received or felt before.
Conversing with Jesus
In later visitation sessions, I began to ask, “What would this bad thing be?” “Would someone from my family be hurt or lost?”
Jesus answered this question with, “No all would be safe and unhurt.”
Now, how great is it, to not only hear God speaking to me but actually hold a conversation with him? Thoughts of authenticity raged through my mind. Was this real? Was I just making this up? Was this really coming from God and not from some other spirit trying to bring harm to me?
The key evidence that this was coming from God was that total feeling of peace. I knew I could not make something like that up. I knew that the Devil could not produce peace, only anger and confusion. Secondly, I probably received at least ten different visitations, so this was more than just a passing thought or daydream.
About four months after these visitations finally ended, and just as God had laid it out, the bad thing happened. Early in the morning of July 5, 1996, our home caught fire and burned down. We lost everything we owned.
First, the miracle: God promised that we would all make it out safely. All the elaborate pieces God put together, the sequence of events, to make this all happen were amazing. First, the family went out for a cookout the day before, on the Fourth of July. The barbecued food gave my wife heartburn, and she slept restlessly that night. About 2:00 a.m., my oldest son, then nine years old, woke up to use the bathroom. Something that he had never done before. His clattering around in the bathroom woke up my lightly sleeping wife. She then smelled a faint burning odor and woke me up.
I then walked the house hoping to confirm all was okay so could we could go back to bed. When I checked the garage, the ceiling was all bright orange, on fire. I ran upstairs, woke up my wife and three children. We all exited the house, completely unhurt and no one saw even a single flame on the way out, completing God’s promise to me. Everyone was okay.
After the firemen came, I was standing with the fire captain watching the fire fight when it finally hit me like a 2×4 to the back of the head: This Was It! This was the bad thing foretold! First, I realized that the fire was the final piece to prove those visits earlier in the year were in fact from God. The thing foretold really happened, and just as predicted in those visitation sessions.
After that, my knees became weak. I felt like Moses and the burning bush, except my house was definitely being consumed. I felt as if I were standing on holy ground, on a holy quest. I knew, then, that losing all my possessions in this fire was one part of God’s plan. He had done so much to prepare me for this. I knew that there had to be more.
That something more began to happen the next morning. People started coming out of the woodwork to donate things to my family that we lost and needed: clothes, shoes, toys for the children, sheets, towels. Our neighbors took us in and housed and fed us. Our parish took up a second collection for us at all the Masses the next weekend.
God’s plan? Through my family and me, through our house fire, the Holy Spirit was sent to energize the love and charity of our communities surrounding my family.
The most awesome gift I received was seeing Jesus in each person that came to generously fill our needs. I saw their eyes light up. Their faces seemed to get brighter with each step taken from their car to the house where we stayed. We always heard in our religious education classes that Jesus resides in each of us. Well, I am telling you it is true. I saw it!
I tell you, God is real! Jesus is real! I do not have to expound some grand quest of science to prove that God is real. He is real. I interacted with him. He loves me. He told me that. The bad thing he predicted really happened. My family was completely unhurt just as he promised. I saw Jesus in each person that visited us over that year to give us support. I watched Jesus explode out from their eyes. They looked like angels. I have never questioned the reality of God again. How could I?
The best thing is, of the billions of people on this earth, God knew me. He knew all about me. He knew how weak I was. He knew I would need to be strengthened to bear his cross to energize my community.
The even better thing, Jesus knows each one of you. He loves each one of you infinitely. He wants all of us to be with him for all eternity. All we need to do is say, “Yes.” It doesn’t get any better than that! Amen.
John Chomistek is a first-time self-published author living in Plano, TX, and is a member of Our Lady of Angels parish in Allen, TX, where he is active in the Knights of Columbus, as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, High School Religious Ed Catechist, RCIA, Christ Renews His Parish, Right to Life, and forming/leading a parish Men’s Fellowship group, That Man Is You. John is a founding member of Boy Scout troop 1914, and is a 24-gallon blood donor. The Chomistek family survived a horrible house fire in 1996, and this event then becomes the backdrop and the defining moment in John’s book, I Have Come to Set the Earth on Fire. The book chronicles the walk with God he and his family shared, especially during the fire story, the journey that reshaped his worldview and his relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He blogs at HOFpublications.org anda guest blogs on JOYAlive.net beginning with A Ray of Hope in Harvey’s Storm.