Struggling to break that cycle of sin in your life? Gabriel Castillo was into all things the world said were good — sex, drugs, rock and roll–until he decided to give up sin and confront the biggest battle of his life.
I was raised in a single parent household with practically no religious education. My mother is an amazing woman and she did the best she could to provide for me, but it wasn’t enough. While she was out working, I was home alone in front of cable television. I was raised by television networks such as MTV. I valued what MTV told me to value: popularity, pleasure, music, and all things ungodly. My mother did the best she could to steer me in the right direction, but without God I just went from sin to sin. From bad to worse. This is the story of more than half the people in this Country. Children are being raised by the media and the media is leading people to misery in this life and in the next.
My life began to dramatically change when I went to the University of Saint Thomas in Houston, Texas. At UST I took theology and philosophy courses that opened my mind to objective truth. I saw that the Catholic faith made sense. In my mind I came to believe that Catholicism was objectively true, but there was just one problem… I was a slave to the world, the flesh, and the devil.
I was becoming known as one of the best of the bad kids and one of the worst of the good kids. Amongst my bad friends, a lot of them were going through the RCIA program to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and I thought “Hey I’m a bad Catholic…I should be able to get confirmed too”. On the required Confirmation Retreat we made a holy hour, I had no idea what a holy hour was, so I asked a professor who advised me to simply look at the Eucharist and repeat the Holy Name of Jesus. After about 10 minutes of this practice God stuck His finger into my soul and overwhelmed me with His love, and my heart of stone melted. For the rest of the hour, I cried. I knew Catholicism was true not just in my head, but also in my heart. I had to change.
One Lent, I resolved to go all in and give up mortal sin. Just 2 hours after my resolution, I realized how messed up I was when I had already committed a mortal sin. I realized I was a slave. That night God gave me true contrition for my sins and I cried to Him for mercy. That is when a demon spoke up. His voice was audible and scary. In a high pitched growl, he repeated my words mockingly, “God forgive me. I am so sorry!” Immediately I called upon Saint John Vianney. The second I made that invocation, the voice went away. The next night I was too terrified to sleep in my room because I feared hearing that voice again.
So I pulled out a Rosary, which had been blessed by John Paul II. I opened a Rosary pamphlet, because I didn’t know how to pray the Rosary. When I said the word, “I believe…” a force grabbed me by the throat, pinned me down and began choking me. I tried calling my mother, but I couldn’t speak. Then a little voice in my head said, “Pray…Hail Mary.” I tried, but couldn’t. The voice in my head said “Say them in your mind.” So in my mind I said “Hail Mary”. Then I gasped the words aloud, “Hail Mary!” Immediately everything went back to normal. I was totally freaked out and realized that this demon had been with me throughout my entire life. At the same time I realized that Mary was the answer. Even just calling upon her name liberated me from the literal grips of a demon. After a little research, I identified several reasons why I was infested with demons. My mother had New Age books, I had sinful music, I had rated R movies, I had been living in mortal sin my entire life. I had belonged to the devil, but Our Lady crushes his head. I now belong to her.
I started to pray the Rosary every single day. I found a good priest and began going to Confession frequently, almost daily. I couldn’t keep that up, so I had to start taking little steps with Mary to break all of my addictions. Mary helped free me from slavery and inspired the desire to be an apostle. When I prayed the Rosary, she helped me break my addictions and purified my mind. I ended up getting a degree in theology and a minor in philosophy because of my radical change and hunger for righteousness. I recited many Rosaries a day and saw Mary everywhere and the devil nowhere. After college, I entered the Catholic school system as a Religion teacher; I began to teach the young people everything I knew. Although they were in a Catholic school they had even greater struggles than I did. With the advent of smartphones they had new opportunities to have hidden habits and hidden lives. I was a great teacher and trying my best to win their hearts for God, but failing.
Two years in, I went on a retreat by a VERY holy priest known for having spiritual gifts of discernment of spirits and reading souls. We were encouraged to make a general confession. Looking back on the sins of a lifetime, I wept when I saw how horrible I had been in spite of God’s goodness and mercy. The priest asked, “Why are you crying?” and I sobbed, “because I’ve hurt so many people and led so many astray by my bad example.” He replied, “Do you want to make effective reparation for the damage you have done? Resolve to pray all the mysteries of the Rosary every day for an entire year, asking Our Lady to bring good out of every one of your bad actions and for every person you hurt. After that, never look back. Consider your debt paid and move on.”
I had prayed many daily Rosaries before, but never as a rule of life. When I made the entire Rosary part of my daily routine, everything changed. God’s power was with me all the time. Mary was winning through me. I was reaching souls, and my students were changing dramatically. They were begging me to put videos on YouTube. Those were early days and I lacked confidence, so I uploaded other people’s talks with pictures.
Mary led me to work at a neighboring parish that better aligned with my zeal for souls. The pastor really encouraged me to stir the pot, so with his support, I did. I began making videos on touchy topics. I entered a film contest and won a free trip to World Youth Day and $4,000 worth of video equipment. I am telling you, Our Lady is a winner. At World Youth Day in Spain, I went to Holy Mass at Saint Dominic’s Church. I was praying before a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary when I felt an overwhelming sense of Saint Dominic’s presence. It was so strong that I almost felt that I was standing before a statue of Dominic and not Our Lady. I can’t describe the exact words, it was more of a deep interior understanding that I had a mission to promote the Rosary because that has answers to the world’s problems.
I resolved to do that with the help of tools he didn’t have. I began to research everything about the Rosary—its history, its composition, its elements, the saints who prayed it. The more I studied it, the more I realized how much it provided answers. Conversions and victory in the spiritual life were fruits of the Rosary. The more I promoted it, the more I succeeded.
As part of this mission, I developed a YouTube channel, Gabi After Hours, which also has content on raising children in the faith, fasting and deliverance. The Rosary is the fuel for my apostolic work. When we pray The Rosary, we can clearly hear Our Lady. The Rosary is like a sword that severs the shackles with which the devil has bound us. It is a perfect prayer.
I currently work full-time in youth ministry with kids just like myself. The majority of them come from underprivileged families, many with only a single parent in the household. Since most of these children are fatherless, with mothers working two jobs, some fall into bad habits behind their parents’ backs, like smoking marijuana or drinking. However, when they are introduced to the Virgin Mary, the scapular, the miraculous medal and the Rosary, in particular, their lives radically change. They go from sinners to saints. From slaves of the devil to servants of Mary. They don’t just become followers of Jesus, they become apostles.
Go all in with Mary. Go all in with the Rosary. All of the great Saints agree that following Mary leads you on the fastest, most secure, and efficacious path to the heart of Jesus Christ. According to Saint Maximilian Kolbe, it is the goal and the role of the Holy Spirit to form Christ in the womb of Mary perpetually. If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, you must become like Mary. The Holy Spirit flies to Marian souls. This is the model for victory that Our Lord desires. We give ourselves to Mary, just like Jesus did. We cling to her, like baby Jesus did. We remain small so that she can live in us and bring Christ to others. If you want to win the battle go with Our Lady. She brings us to Christ and helps us to become like Christ.
Gabriel Castillo is the Coordinator of Youth Ministry and Faith Formation at St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. This article is based on his testimony in the Shalom World program “Mary My Mother”. To watch the episode visit: shalomworld.org/episode/the-rosary-guy-gabriel-castillo
A few months ago, during a conversation about a “difficult” colleague, my immediate superior remarked: “If I am not able to be a source of solace to such people in my team, then all my spirituality is in vain.” It was a wake-up-call; I had often been in the habit of judging this colleague, so this left me in shame. I realized how badly I had failed to be a true witness to my faith, at my workplace. All of us are surrounded by difficult people, maybe in the form of a nagging spouse, an envious neighbor, an irritating colleague, or a domineering boss. In fact, Jesus dealt with difficult people on a daily basis, giving us the perfect example of compassion. This Lent, let’s be thankful to God for all these difficult people in our lives. Instead of judging and avoiding them, let’s try to be like Jesus. Let’s do to them what Jesus would have done for them if He was in our place. And let’s not forget that it’s not the good people but the difficult people who purify us.
There is a regrettable interpretation of the Cross that has, unfortunately, infected the minds of many Christians. This is the view that the bloody sacrifice of the Son on the cross was “satisfying” to the Father, an appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity. In this reading, the crucified Jesus is like a child hurled into the fiery mouth of a pagan divinity in order to assuage its wrath. But what ultimately refutes this twisted theology is the well-known passage from John’s Gospel: “God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that all who believe in him might have eternal life.”(3:16) John reveals that it is not out of anger or vengeance or in a desire for retribution that the Father sends the Son, but precisely out of love. God the Father is not some pathetic divinity whose bruised personal honor needs to be restored; rather, God is a parent who burns with compassion for His children who have wandered into danger. Does the Father hate sinners? No, but he hates sin. Does God harbor indignation at the unjust? No, but God despises injustice. Thus, God sends his Son, not gleefully to see him suffer, but compassionately to set things right. Saint Anselm, the great medieval theologian who is often unfairly blamed for the cruel theology of satisfaction, was eminently clear on this score. We sinners are like diamonds that have fallen into the muck. Made in the image of God, we have soiled ourselves through violence and hatred. God, claimed Anselm, could have simply pronounced a word of forgiveness from heaven, but this would not have solved the problem. It would not have restored the diamonds to their original brilliance. Instead, in his passion to reestablish the beauty of creation, God came down into the muck of sin and death, brought the diamonds up, and then polished them off. In so doing, of course, God had to get dirty. This sinking into the dirt—this divine solidarity with the lost—is the “sacrifice” which the Son makes to the infinite pleasure of the Father. It is the sacrifice expressive, not of anger or vengeance, but of compassion. Jesus said that any disciple of His must be willing to take up his cross and follow the Master. If God is self-forgetting love even to the point of death, then we must be such love. If God is willing to break open his own heart, then we must be willing to break open our hearts for others. The cross, in short, must become the very structure of the Christian life.
Q: My Protestant friends say that Catholics believe we need to earn our salvation. They say that salvation is by faith alone and that we can’t add to anything that Jesus already did for us on the Cross. But don’t we have to do good works to make it to Heaven? A: This is a pretty big misunderstanding for both Protestants and Catholics. It may seem to be theological minutiae, but it actually has a huge consequence in our spiritual life. The truth is this: We are saved by living faith—our belief in Jesus Christ that is lived out in our words and actions. We must be clear—we do not need to earn our salvation, as if salvation was a prize if we reach a certain level of good deeds. Consider this: who was the first one to be saved? According to Jesus, it was the Good Thief. While he was being rightly crucified for his evil deeds, he cried out to Jesus for mercy, and the Lord promised him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) So, salvation consists in that radical faith, trust, and surrender to what Jesus did on the Cross to purchase mercy. Why is this important? Because many Catholics think that all we have to do to be saved is ‘be a good person’—even if the person doesn’t actually have a living relationship with the Lord. I can’t begin to tell you how many people tell me something like: “Oh, my uncle never went to Mass or prayed, but he was a nice man who did many good things in his life, so I know he’s in Heaven.” While we certainly hope that the uncle is saved by God’s mercy, it isn’t our kindness or good works that save us, but the saving death of Jesus on the Cross. What would happen if a criminal was put on trial for a crime, but he said to the judge, “Your Honor, I did commit the crime, but look at all the other good things I did in my life!” Would the judge let him off? No—he would still have to pay for the crime he committed. Likewise, our sins had a cost—and Jesus Christ had to pay for them. This payment of the debt of sin is applied to our souls through faith. But, faith is not just an intellectual exercise. It must be lived out. As Saint James writes: “Faith without works is dead” (2:24). It’s not enough just to say: “Well, I believe in Jesus, so I can now sin as much as I want.” On the contrary, precisely because we have been forgiven and become heirs to the Kingdom, we must then act like Kingdom-heirs, like sons and daughters of the King. This is very different than trying to earn our salvation. We don’t do good works because we hope to be forgiven—we do good works because we are already forgiven. Our good deeds are a sign that His forgiveness is alive and active in our lives. After all, Jesus tells us: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) If a husband loves his wife, he will seek concrete ways to bless her—giving her flowers, doing the dishes, writing her a love note. He would never say: “Well, we’re married, and she knows I love her, so I can now do whatever I want.” Likewise, a soul that has known the merciful love of Jesus will naturally want to please Him. So, to answer your question, Catholics and Protestants are actually much closer on this issue than they know! We both believe that we are saved by faith—by a living faith, which is expressed in a life of good works as a sign of thanksgiving for the lavish, free gift of salvation that Christ won for us on the Cross.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) Do you remember hearing these words as a child? They seemed simple enough—just go to your room, close the door, and pray. I remember hearing them and being confused. Simple words, yes, but it just didn’t make sense that we could only say prayers, in our room, by ourselves. But my child-like faith told me to believe these words. As I grew, so did my faith and understanding of this Scripture. I came to realize these beautiful, profound words meant I could go into my room, turn my heart to the Lord, anytime, anywhere. My prayer life blossomed. How wonderful to spend quiet time with our Father and receive His love. Every time I hear these words from Matthew’s Gospel, I appreciate the Lenten season even more. It’s a reminder of God’s love and how much He desires our friendship. Love heals. For me, that’s the reward when I go into my room and pray.
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