I wasn’t looking to do business with God on that October evening. I was on a business trip for the Fortune 500 company I’d been with for twenty years. Having moved up quickly through the ranks, I held a regional executive position, and my family lived comfortably. Life was good—except for the emptiness I felt from time to time.
So there I was, in the lounge of a Chicago hotel after a long day of meetings, having drinks with two colleagues. Both were committed Christians—one a Protestant and one a Catholic—and when the conversation turned to birth control and divorce, they vigorously took opposing views. I listened and acted as mediator, unsure of where I stood on these issues. Although I had been raised Catholic and still made a point of going to Mass on Christmas and Easter, I had not thought much about my faith for many years.
My friends ended their discussion cordially, agreeing to disagree, and we said good night. As I headed to my room, though, my Catholic colleague took me aside and said, “Hey, I make a practice of praying the Rosary before going to bed. Would you be interested in joining me?” To my surprise, I agreed immediately. Did I just say yes? I thought. Where did that come from? I didn’t understand it then, but the Holy Spirit was at work.
Looking for a Lobbyist. In some way, praying that Rosary affected my reaction to the unpleasant news I received shortly after returning home: my company was downsizing, and my position might be terminated. I don’t know why, but I knew I needed to get to a church. It wasn’t out of a desire to save my soul, though. I wanted to save my job! I wanted to enlist God as my lobbyist.
In the vestibule of the church, where many prayer cards were displayed, I found what I was seeking: a novena to the Holy Spirit. Looking through the yellow pamphlet, I learned that a novena involves nine days of focused prayer for a special intention. That appealed to me. Discipline and structure were part of my life in the business world. As I saw it, a novena was like a business agreement: you keep your side of the bargain, and the other party does the same. Satisfied with my selection, I exited the church with a renewed sense of hope.
I took the novena very seriously. It was my insurance policy! Devoting myself to it 100 percent was imperative if I was to get God on my side and avoid being downsized. It did worry me that I would have to go to Confession on the final day—the pamphlet made that very clear. But I was desperate enough to accept even that unpleasant task.
And so starting on October 23, not only did I faithfully say the novena prayers, but I even took time to go pray in a nearby church, St. Gertrude. Wrestling with fears about my future, I bargained with God: “Look, I’ve done well at this company. Convince them not to let me go. Get me through this, and I’ll come back to church.”
I Confess. Strangely enough, toward the end of those nine days, my focus began to shift. Especially as I prepared for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I sensed that it wasn’t only about the job any more.
On the evening of the eighth day, I sat down with a spiral notebook and listed as many sins as I could recall. Since I hadn’t made a good confession in two decades, I filled several pages. The next morning, nervous but determined to get the job done, I headed for St. Gertrude.
A kindly priest greeted me in the confessional, encouraging me with a smile as I sat down and brought out my notebook. I coursed through the list, but then the Holy Spirit seemed to take over. I was filled with a desire to lay everything before God, so I stopped reading and just spoke from the heart. I paused to glance at Fr. Stephen. He had tears in his eyes, and I could feel the humility and love radiating from him. In that moment I knew Christ was gazing at me.
Mass was underway as I stepped out of the confessional, so I was able to receive Christ in the Eucharist for the first time in years. It was November 1, the feast of All Saints—the day of my personal Pentecost, when I began a new life.
More Than I Bargained For. Ten days later, my boss told me that my position was being eliminated. The news left me devastated, numb, and fearful. But already, something in me had changed: not once did I feel angry with God for not having saved my job. The thought never entered my head. Instead, I found myself turning to Christ—going to daily Mass, praying the Rosary, attending a weekly Holy Hour of Adoration.
Not that this was an easy time. I worried about finding another job and struggled at the thought of having to start all over and maybe relocate. Past sins popped up, tempting me to doubt that I was really forgiven. Or I’d find myself worrying that if I continued praying, I’d be handed heavier crosses to carry.
It took time, but as I learned to trust Jesus and push through those thoughts, the fear went away. I did find a job. Led by the Spirit, I also found opportunities to grow as a Christian. I got involved in a parish—St. Gertrude’s—for the first time in my adult life and discovered the Catholic Men’s Fellowship that meets there. Their support was a special blessing as I learned to recalibrate my life.
The Spirit’s Surprises. Other blessings followed—real surprises of the Holy Spirit. One day, about eighteen months after my return to the Lord, my wife announced that she planned to start attending Sunday Mass with me. “And,” she continued, “I’m going to check out RCIA.” That blew me away. She had grown up in a Protestant church, but in our twenty-two years of married life, we had not practiced any faith or even had our daughter baptized.
Shortly after that conversation, my wife was received into the Catholic Church. The following year, she and I had the great joy of seeing our daughter make the same decision.
Today, almost twelve years into this new life, I’m no less surprised at the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I see it at work in other people. And sometimes the surprise is on me. While preparing to share my story at a men’s meeting, for instance, I reread my novena pamphlet. To my astonishment, nowhere could I find any mention of going to Confession on the ninth day!
I still pray that Holy Spirit novena, but now I turn to the Lord as my true love rather than my lobbyist. Though I sometimes resist the Spirit’s pull and have to start all over, I know his plan is best.
The journey that began with a Rosary, a novena, and confession has filled my emptiness and led me into a totally different life. It’s joyful, peaceful, and never boring, for the Holy Spirit is endlessly surprising.
Lowell Laycock and his family belong to St. Gertrude Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio. For information on the National Fellowship of Catholic Men, visit their website at nfcmusa.org.