I recently read a fascinating conversion story over the internet. Joe Eszterhas, Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter, wrote the story of his spiritual conversion from a party-lifestyle to one devoted to Christ and his family in his book, Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith published on September 2 by St. Martin’s Press. As an author he wrote the scripts like Basic Instincts, Jagged Edge and Showgirls and practically invented “erotic thrillers.” At 56 after a wild living with a deeply ingrained habit of smoking and drinking, his life got a turn around. During the summer of 2001, Joe was diagnosed with throat cancer. His doctors removed 80 percent of his larynx and told him to immediately quit drinking and smoking.

Such a recommendation gave him a “hellish” experience. Walking one day through a tree-lined neighborhood, he realized he had hit rock-bottom. He thought he was going crazy. He felt jittery and restless while his whole frame trembled and twisted. He recounts that “every single nerve ending was demanding a drink and a cigarette.” He sat down on the curb and began to cry like a child. Then he heard himself uttering “please God help me.” He had not prayed since he was a child. God had been irrelevant to him all his life. He was also surprise and shocked that he said it. He claimed he had never said it before.

That simple plea had a considerable effect. Immediately, he was overwhelmed with peace. His impatience and restlessness stopped. He no longer trembled. At that moment he saw a “shimmering, dazzling, nearly blinding brightness that made me cover my eyes with my hands.” Joe had seen the light of Christ and he would describe the experience as “absolutely overwhelming.” Like Saul on his way to Damascus, Joe would walk back home a new man. Since his Damascus-like experience in 2001, he and his wife attend mass regularly at a local Catholic Church. Furthermore, his doctors confirmed that he was “miraculously cured” from his throat cancer. His tissues have regenerated to the point that there is no trace of cancer anymore.

He wrote his book as a “thank you to God” for the wonderful blessings of cure and conversion. Through it he would like to tell the world what He “has done for me.” Today, Joe continues to receive large offers for movies with dark, sinister themes. He says he does not want to go there anymore. “Frankly my life changed from the moment God entered my heart.”

This remarkable conversion story reminded me of a similar episode that happened to St. Augustine whose feast was celebrated last August 28. Born to a pagan father and a deeply Catholic mother, he grew up in a largely pagan society where education was dominated by men who opposed the teachings of Christ. His vices led him astray and his profound intellect steered him to error. One day a deep inner turmoil agitated his soul. Such a turbulent spiritual conflict drove him to an insatiable restlessness. His soul yearned for peace and serenity. And in this state of restive fury while in his garden at Milan, he heard a disquieting voice of an unseen child instructing him: “take and read!” In his perplexity he grabbed the nearest text on had and read Paul’s epistle to the Romans 13:13-14 “Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”

A flash of realization settled in his soul. He returned home a changed man. He would relate this transforming experience in his famous autobiography “Confessions” which is both a classic in spirituality and literature. “Our hearts are restless” writes Augustine, “until they rest in Thee!”

St. Augustine truly captured in words the common sentiment of the human heart. The symptoms of conflict, tension, war and meaninglessness outside us are all rooted in the inner emptiness of the soul. We seek God in wrong places. Until He fills us up our hearts remain restless.

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