Share this story

 | By Mary D. Dillard

From rebellion to relationship

“The Holy Eucharist transforms brokenness,” says 24-year-old Maria Anguiano, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Ensley and graduate of Holy Family Cristo Rey High School. She is able to make that statement based on firsthand experience.

Even though Anguiano grew up in a devout Catholic family, her faith journey has been troubled and complex. At the age of three, her parents traveled to America, leaving her behind in Mexico with her grandparents. Eventually, she would reunite with her parents in America, but the separation left its mark. Anguiano insists that the childhood experience distorted her view of God’s love. “I had this idea that I had messed up,” she explains, “and that I couldn’t be loved by the Lord.”

The feelings of unworthiness lurked in her subconscious, creating a barrier between her and God’s redeeming power. The separation worsened as she reached her teenage years. Her parents’ dedication to their family translated into much more than the normal 40-hour work week. The relentless work schedule of her parents sparked a fire of rebellion. “I wanted their attention,” Anguiano says, “and it didn’t matter if it was positive or negative.”

The easiest avenue for rebellion came courtesy of Anguiano’s Catholic faith. After all, it was her “parents’ faith,” and the fact that she had kept her distance from God’s love made the target easy.

“At the time, Mass didn’t have any significance because I didn’t truly believe Christ was present,” Anguiano says. The lack of a relationship with God allowed Anguiano to be convinced based purely on emotion. She was working at her job and inadvertently walked in on her supervisor and his assistant praying prostrate on their prayer rugs. “I saw them,” she remembers, “and I wanted to have that very intimate relationship with God.”

After barraging her co-workers with questions about Islam, at the age of 18, Anguiano recited the shahadah, the Muslim profession of faith. For the next year, she practiced Islam, but she says she “felt as if God was out of reach.” The spiritual void created a profound emptiness, which made the secular world irresistibly enticing. She threw herself headfirst into the party scene, getting lost in “worldly desires.”

As can be imagined, the constant pursuit of “worldly pleasures” created an even bigger void. Anguiano equated herself to a failure and began to concede to an overpowering sentiment that “there was really no meaning to life.” Her despair did not go unnoticed. Her family saw her struggling. Knowing the redemptive power of the Truth, her mother insisted that her daughter attend Mass and go on retreats.

The hurting teenager listened to her mother and started attending youth retreats. “On a youth retreat during adoration,” she recalls, “I had an encounter with the truest form of love, Jesus sacramentado (in the Blessed Sacrament). That evening, I chose to stay by His side regardless of the noise of the world, and I asked Him for help to persevere in the faith.”

That retreat was Auguiano’s first step on her journey of building a relationship with God, finally opening her heart to His unconditional love. However, her heart was not completely open. Months would go by before she completely surrendered.

“One specific evening, muting the feelings in my heart, I remained seated during Communion,” she recounts. “I will never forget that after Mass ended, a friend asked the priest to allow me to receive. As soon as Father lifted Jesus in the Eucharist, I feel to my knees, feeling His true, redeeming, presential love, which I perceived as a hug.”

In that moment, she finally realized that her strength came from the Lord in the form of going to reconciliation and receiving the Holy Eucharist.

When asked about her peers who have severed their relationship with the Lord, she clearly states: “We are invited to testify to the sacrificial love, and obviously, the whole point [of our lives] is to get to Heaven. … I invite those struggling to go to Mass or adoration. Simply sit because sometimes we’re so worried about how to do things or what to do, but the Lord never asks us to do anything. He just wants us to allow ourselves to be there, so He can pour His love into us. I would say that the youth need to give themselves a chance to be present in God’s presence. Your past doesn’t define you. You are made in the image and likeness of God and He’s constantly calling you to follow Him. Speak to Him like He is a friend and tell Him that you do want to believe in Him. Nothing in this world can fulfill you but the love of God.”