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Pray, hope, blog and don't worry

First slide

 When Naj Qureshi logged on to his computer Nov. 4, 2016, he could not believe what he was about to do. Just a couple of months earlier he would have used the internet to look up tee times, Steelers rankings or organize outings with his drinking buddies — anything to escape spending time with family and definitely nothing to do with God. Yet there he was, about to share the series of events that was putting God and his family at the center of his life.

The invisible man in the sky

I have learned that it is selfish to assume what God’s plan is

Naj grew up in Vienna with his parents Shoukat and Mary Anne and his two sisters. His father was a Muslim in name only who came to the U. S. from Pakistan, while his mother was a nonpracticing Catholic from a devoutly Italian and Polish family.

“My dad, although he believed in God, stressed that you didn’t have go to church or stand behind a priest or mullah to have a relationship with God,” said Naj.

As a result, Naj drifted into spiritual indifference in high school, which continued into his college days as a music major at Shenandoah University. It was there that he met his wife, Erin, who was from a Catholic family. To appease her and his new in-laws, they got married in the church, but it was just going through the motions, according to Naj.

After graduation, his apathy toward the “invisible man in the sky” turned into an unquenchable pursuit of worldly pleasures. Looking back, he can see that his life was spinning out of control, but no one would have known. To the outside world, he was living the dream. He had gotten a lucrative job in corporate America out of college and over the next 10 years had moved quickly to an upper management sales position. It required him to travel and he enjoyed business trips to “entertain clients.”

This decade of self-indulgence took its toll on Naj’s body and soul. He gained 100 pounds and suffered extreme anxiety and depression. 

Sick of all the traveling, he quit his job and accepted a position in his father’s business. He was home more but it did little to change his lifestyle. 

“The fun stuff was always much more important to me than my wife and kids,” said Naj. “God forbid I should miss a tee time on Sunday morning rather than go to Sunday Mass. I didn’t have time for God. I probably broke the entire Ten Commandments except ‘thou shall not kill,’” he said. “But honestly, I bet I wished death on people every day.”

His sense of humor, which had always made him a hit at parties, started to become the outlet for his frustrations. He remembers going to work and looking for an opportunity to ruin someone’s day by starting an argument. 

“I thought it was the funniest thing ever,” he said.

When his daughter Katelyn started religious education classes, he started going to Mass again with his family, but it was only to set an example. He never listened to what the priest was saying and indulged every immoral thought that came to him during that hour. 

From the mouth of babes

In the fall of 2015, his wife texted him to pick up his daughter from her religious education class at St. Theresa Church in Ashburn. During the walk back to the car he made a half-hearted attempt to engage with his daughter while actually being absorbed with his phone.

 “What did you learn in school today, sweetheart?” he asked.

“Dad, Jesus died for us,” the six-year-old responded.

For whatever reason, this answer shocked him out of his phone and planted him firmly on the side walk outside of church, where his daughter stood looking up at him. 

“What was that?” he asked. 

“Jesus died for us, Daddy, for you and me. Jesus died for all of us so that we could go to heaven.” 

Naj felt like someone had kicked him.

“It just kind of shocked me that a six-year-old would say that,” said Naj.

He decided to listen to the priest the following Sunday and heard Katelyn’s message repeated from the pulpit.

“It wasn’t preachy, it wasn’t condemning us. It was love. It was purely about God’s love for us.”

Naj started listening more each Sunday. After a few weeks, instead of watching “Spartacus” or the “Sopranos” he found himself watching documentaries about St. John Paul II and St. Padre Pio. When that wasn’t enough, he started reading their works.

Changes came quickly after that, and he decided to go to confession for the first time in six years. 

“I had a confession app and it had everything laid out, but I dropped my phone and everything went away,” said Naj. The priest took pity on him and instructed him to just speak from the heart. “It was one of the best confessions I had ever had.”

By Christmas, Naj was praying a lot more, and had less time for his golf and drinking buddies who were baffled by his new interests. He started to keep journals during his prayers and was surprised to be interrupted by a word frequently during prayer — deacon.

While Naj and Erin were helping out with the Paul VI Catholic High School spring musical, he had an opportunity to speak with Deacon Richard C. Caporiccio, a theology teacher at Paul VI. Despite Naj being only a couple of months into his transformation, Deacon Caporiccio encouraged him to contact the diocese about the permanent diaconate program, which he did. 

In March 2016, he spoke with Father Paul Scalia, excited at the prospect of starting the program. He was surprised however when an application wasn’t offered. Instead Father Scalia asked him to go home and meditate with his family about the diaconate for a year and then come back to see him. 

Going from 0 to 100

“I’m not going to lie, I was a bit disappointed by that because I was so gung-ho. I thought he would give me an application and we could start that rolling,” Naj said.

But things did start rolling. Naj joined the men’s group, That Man is You, at St. Theresa and struck up a friendship with Father James C. Hinkle, parochial vicar. Naj started going to more Thursday Holy Hours and less “thirsty Thursdays” with his buddies. 

On Easter Monday 2016, he made the decision to start going to daily Mass with a break on Saturdays. When his church added an adoration chapel, he began to attend daily adoration as well.

“I went from 0 to 100 miles an hour,” said Naj. In just a few months, he had joined the Knights of Columbus and went all the way to the 4th degree. He and Erin took a trip to Rome for their 10th anniversary that was spiritually awakening for both of them. He helped plan a pilgrimage to the Padre Pio shrine in Pennsylvania a couple of months later and was joined on the trip by his mother.

“They bring out the relic of Padre Pio and I start crying. I look over at my mom and she is crying, looking at me, and she is so happy.”

He has gotten incredible support from his family who had been praying for his conversion for the past 10 years. He has also received support from his Muslim relatives who are happy to see the positive change in him.

He started the blog, “Naj the Convert,” in November, witnessing the positive impact sharing his story has on others who are suffering as he had. 

“The purpose of the blog is to help people who are kind of on the fence or think they are so far gone,” said Naj. “If that is how God wants me to have an impact — if I can be there to help one person — it is an unmitigated success.”

Naj has been posting every Friday for more than 20 weeks now and hopes to continue. Most recently he blogged about his follow-up visit with Father Scalia discussing his call to the diaconate.

Before the meeting Naj said, “I have learned that it is selfish to assume what God’s plan is. If it turns out that the program does not work out for me, I am going to go with God in the other directions that He is calling me.”

Find out more

Go to najtheconvert.wordpress.com to read his blog every Friday.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017