Fr. David Gunter, who celebrated Mass in St. James Church on October 5, 2009, is a newly ordained priest in the parish of St. Monica in Methuen, Massachusetts. Like many young people of our day, he fell into the world of drugs and it was only through the grace of God that he was able to finally disconnect himself from it after 16 years. But it wasn’t until he came to Medjugorje that he received the healing of his heart that led him towards the priesthood.
I feel like this is my first Mass. I was trying to prepare a homily on the Gospel, and Our Lord, however, wanted it to be on Jonah. Jonah? I was surprised. So if you’ll bear with me for 30 or 40 seconds I’ll just give you a brief salvation history lesson so we can put Jonah into context and understand what’s going on. I think we’re all familiar with King Solomon, son of King David, the wisdom of Solomon, a fairly familiar name to most of us. And he was indeed, a very wise King. He may have been very wise, but he wasn’t necessarily very full of love, not love for his people. By the end of his reign, he was actually pretty tough on them, very high taxes. The people were fed up. So when he died and his son Rehoboam came to the throne they came to him and said, well how’s it going to be? Are you going to ease up on us? But he promised to be even tougher than his father.
So the people, under the leadership of Jeroboam, separated ten of the tribes and they formed the kingdom of Israel in the north. So now the Hebrew people were in two nations; the kingdom of Judah in the south with the little tribe of Benjamin, and the kingdom of Israel in the north. Jeroboam liked this, the people liked this but there was one problem. The Temple was in the south in Jerusalem. And Jeroboam did not want his people to go down there and worship because he was afraid that he would lose their alliance and he didn’t want that. So he had two temples built, one in Dan and one in Bethel, had a couple of golden calves made and put them in the temples and said that this is the god that brought you out of Egypt. Idolatry. Immediately they fell into idolatry.
This was in 931 BC. And Jonah was raised up in the kingdom of Israel. These were his people. But God did not ask Jonah to preach repentance to them. He said go to Nineveh to the Assyrians in the north, a pagan country. Not only were they a pagan country but they were very wealthy and powerful and had a strong military and Jonah knew that the day would come that this would be the instrument that God would use to punish Israel. In 721 they overran the nation and the 10 tribes were lost. Jonah didn’t want to go up there to preach repentance. He wanted them to be destroyed and have the wrath of God come on them so he said no to the will of God. He turned his back and that’s why he took off. I don’t know where he thought he was going to go. God is everywhere. But spiritually there was a great divide and so it’s not surprising that he ran into storms and troubles. We do this too when we turn our backs on God. Life gets very difficult.
So there’s Jonah on the boat and he didn’t even realize that because of his sin the people all around him were suffering. All those poor pagan sailors were throwing their cargo overboard trying to save themselves. They suffered too because of Jonah’s sin. In fact, when we sin, often people suffer around us as well. But God is very good. He kept an eye on Jonah. The rest of the story comes tomorrow but we see how God intervenes and saves Jonah when Jonah does His will. This is the way God works. Jonah may have separated himself from God but God was right there all the time.
And I know this from personal experience as well. When I was 13 in the 8th grade I went to three different schools in one year. And it was very turbulent for me and I was really quite unhappy and miserable and the summer before I was to start 9th grade, I turned 14 and I said what am I going to do? I want to be popular. I want to have friends. And I decided that smoking marijuana was the way to go because then people would like me. Well, that would be my way of life for the next 16 years. I tried any drug that came along, marijuana, hashish, speed, mushrooms, cocaine, and my favorite, LSD. I lost two friends to drug related deaths. One was killed in a car that he lost control of, killed instantly, he never even hit the brakes. I don’t think he knew what was going on. And another friend with a bullet through his head. It was an accident.
It never occurred to me with these examples that maybe my lifestyle was unhealthy. Until one day, I smoked a joint, and dropped a couple of hits of acid and went out to do some gardening. And I was as high as a kite and I suddenly realized that I couldn’t see or hear anything. I was blind, deaf and very scared. I found out, later on, that sometimes people don’t come back from that. They just stay in that state. I had to concentrate very hard to get back to reality. And I heard the birds singing, my hearing came back first. And then a few minutes later my vision came back. And I just stood up went back into the house and lay down because I was still very scared. I didn’t know what had happened to me. The next day was Saturday. I went to the 5:00 Mass in the afternoon and before Mass I knelt down and said to God, “I don’t know if you are there, but I need help. I have to get off the drugs but I’m obsessed with them. Please help me.” That was it, just a very simple prayer, but certainly prayed with the heart. And then I found myself talking to my pastor and he recommended AA. I never had a problem with alcohol, it just didn’t do it for me, but I went to the meetings because I knew I had to do something and I felt that God was taking me there. And within two months I was off the drugs. In fact, next week I’ll celebrate 20 years free of drugs.
A few months went by and I was going to Mass regularly, paying attention, I even threw money in the collection. And I knew that God was in my life but things didn’t really change much. I was still the same person, I just wasn’t doing drugs. And so one night I was lying in bed and I thought, “What am I going to do?” I expected more. I had thought once the drugs were done, I’d be fine, everything would fall into place, life would be Rosary, I mean rosy. A slip of the tongue. Funny how God works! So I decided to pray to Our Lady. I remember when I was in summer school when I was a boy, hearing a cute story about how Our Lady helps people get into Heaven, sneaking them in the back door, that sort of thing. So I prayed the Hail Mary. I prayed it very slowly. I said it from the heart, wondering what all the words meant. I said it three times. In the middle of the night, I heard a crash. The mirror that had been hanging on my wall had fallen to the floor and in the moonlight I could see that it hadn’t broken, so I just rolled over and fell back to sleep. But when I woke up in the morning, there was the mirror on the floor and hanging on the nail where the mirror had been were my rosary beads. Believe it or not, I did not get the connection. Two days later I met two women and they told me about Medjugorje. I went and grabbed my rosary beads and showed it to them and said, “How does this work?” because I had never prayed a Rosary in my life. And they gave me a little pamphlet on how to pray the Rosary and a booklet on the messages of Medjugorje. And I knew Our Lady had answered my prayer. And I was determined to get here.
I started praying the Rosary everyday. I went to confession for the first time in I don’t know, 10 or 12 years. I started to live the messages. I came to Medjugorje for the first time in 1990. I came wanting to give myself to God, “What do you want me to do God? Do you want me to be a priest?” It wasn’t at that time (that He answered that question). That was still a couple of months away. But what Our Lord did for me was to heal me. Because really, that’s so much what Medjugorje is about. For the first time in my life I began to like myself. And that’s when my life started turning around.
Now I know that there is someone here today, like Jonah, who said no to God, and like Jonah separated themselves from God and life became very turbulent, awful, really miserable, mistake after mistake after mistake. And like Jonah this person thought death was the solution, suicide an option. I don’t know who you are but Our Lord Jesus, with His grace, saved your life. His mercy preserved your soul. Our Lady brought you here to help you turn back to Christ. All you have to do is to open up your heart just a little bit and He will fill your soul with love, with mercy. He will heal all the pain, all the troubled past, because He wants a new life for you, a new life with Him. He wants to look after you, to watch over you, and to raise you up. He loves you so much and this is what Medjugorje is about. The coming triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is really about mercy and love. Through Our Lady’s intercession Divine Mercy is coming into the world like never before. Through Our Lady’s intercession, I believe, Medjugorje is the beginning of a process leading to the triumph of the Immaculate Heart. This is what we are experiencing here in Medjugorje. And it is healing and it is mercy. So I tell you all now, be not afraid. There is so much more to come. So much more healing, so much more grace. Our Lord wants you all to have peace, peace.
“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”