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‘He cracked open all the doors’

October 28, 2020

Editor’s note: The following is an installment of an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff Writer

MALONE – “Faith is important to me because my entire life rests in it,” says Megan Stark. “It’s why I am here, and where I am going. At one time it was not so important, but now I could not go a day without turning to the practices of my faith. At one point in my life, though, I forgot where I was going and what I was created for. Then what I learned in childhood became real for me once again: I am created by God to know, love, and serve him. Most of all, I began to know how much God loves me!”

This realization grew out of a decade-long struggle for Stark. Now a parishioner at St. André Bessette Parish, she was born and raised Catholic, with Mass every Sunday, the Rosary, and religious education. Later there were youth groups, retreats, community service. Then she went off to college.

“I went to Mass a few times in the beginning,” she recalls. “But then I took Jesus out of my heart because I had places to go, things to do, people to see. Then I stopped talking with God and lost my prayer life and my relationship with him. I completely lost my footing.”

“Even after taking Jesus out of my heart,” the young woman relates, “I did attend Mass sporadically when I was at home, because that was obligatory in our family. All through my twenties, I sat there , not participating. I was not ready to change those choices which kept me from God. Finding myself in a place of worship, I could not move towards God, because I felt out of place and not worthy to receive his love because of all the bad choices I was making. I always sat in the back because I knew I didn’t deserve to be there.”

“I was in a box,” Stark recalls, “because sin and earthly things held me, and I couldn’t make the jump towards God. At that point I was not ready or willing to change. I doubted that I could ever get that relationship back and thought that I could never talk to God again.”

Yet God’s grace was very much at work: by age 26, Stark was “going to Church consistently, though not living in a way that I could receive Jesus. But I wanted to be there. I was in a relationship and we were talking about marriage. That made me think a lot about children, and how I would want to raise them the way I had been raised. So, I went to Church more.”

Then it happened: “The Holy Spirit told me it was time to leave that relationship. He was a good man, and ready to marry me, but it was time to go. To this day leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done. Sometimes God asks you to give up good things for even better things. But when it is not meant for you, you do have to set it down.”

So, two months shy of her 29th birthday, Stark was back at home with her parents.

“My heart was shattered, and all my plans were dashed,” she remembers. “In that moment, I was broken, angry, hurt and sure my life was going nowhere. I didn’t know if my heart would recover, but God mended it and put it back together better than before. Really my life was all coming together because God wanted to be at the heart of my life! I received the sacrament of reconciliation, which brought mercy and forgiveness. Then, just as I was returning to the sacraments, all these people started walking into my life and all the light happened.”

For Stark, the sacraments are very much sources of life.

“Confession became, and remains, important to fix what is wrong in my heart and life, and because sin causes imbalances. Letting God forgive me, and learning to forgive myself, opens me to receive his grace and mercy. That allows me to experience his love in the Eucharist and in the quiet of his presence.”

Stark discovered this unexpected gift when she went on a silent retreat at age 30: “I thrived on being quiet all weekend! I returned home, shut off the TV and the background music, and re-discovered that sitting in the Lord’s presence is, after the sacraments, the greatest gift. He is there, as in the sacraments, loving and delighting in me. The more I sit silent in his presence, the more I hear his voice, even at home. In the silence he can finally get through and inspire my thoughts.”

Among the things God communicated to her in the silence was that she would meet “people who would be the gateway to Me.”

Soon after, the young woman started meeting people who were invested in God. Her new friends introduced her to others of their friends – including the saints. St. Teresa of Avila was an instant hit.

“She was so feisty! I just love that because I needed to know that feisty people could be saints,” Stark said. “And St. Therese reminds me to be God’s child and let him take care of me, to set aside my agenda and let him do what he wills to do. And St. Bernadette – what a brave and beautiful young woman. Also, St. Augustine really spoke to me because of all his struggles and his fighting with God. The great thing is that God calls everyone to sainthood!”

When one of Stark’s new friends invited her to join a group pilgrimage to France in 2015, she was elated but could not commit to it because of substantial student debt. When a federal loan-forgiveness program for teachers in low-income districts cancelled $17,000 of her debt, Stark got the last ticket on that plane to France. As well as bringing new friends into her life, the trip afforded visits to the shrines of many saints, including her beloved Therese and Bernadette.

“Sometimes,” she explains, “it is hard to believe that God delights in you, that he is so gracious and generous because he just wants to see you smile, to see you leap for joy! God made this trip happen so he could see me leap for joy!”

This joy impels Stark to share her faith with others, and to witness to all that God has done in her life. Acknowledging that it is not always easy to do this, she has discovered a non-threatening conversational approach.

“When someone shares a problem or sadness with me, I offer to pray for them,” she said. “Sometimes people get offended, but often not. I am always glad to tell my God-related story, how he drew me back into his life and love, how he cracked open all the doors.”

More formal opportunities to share her faith and her story have included confirmation classes and giving witness talks to teenagers, as she did during the five years she served on the staff of Catholic Heart Work Camp.

“I appreciated the young people’s energy and enthusiasm, and their burning questions about God,” she said. “They asked questions about my life and sharing with them helped change me!”

“I think that people just don’t understand how much God loves us,” concludes Stark. “You think you can fill your empty spaces with the things of this world, but that never fulfills. Most people are doing all the things the world offers, but something essential is still missing: God himself. Your heart craves God and has to open for him so he can fill it. I know this because I have experienced it, and I know that it is all him. I am just along for the ride.”


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