Life’s Goal: Put God First
Author Anthony DeStefano talks about living well.
Anthony DeStefano’s first book, A Travel Guide to Heaven, immediately catapulted him into the ranks of bestselling authors.
Since then, he has written four more Catholic-Christian books for adults and several bestselling children’s books, including This Little Prayer of Mine and A Travel Guide to Heaven for Kids.
His most recent bestseller, A Travel Guide to Life: Transforming Yourself From Head to Soul (Faith Words, 2014), has also been adapted as a television series hosted by DeStefano and shown on the Eternal Word Television Network.
As the television series began its second showing on EWTN in September [remaining airings are Sept. 26 (11 pm), Oct. 1 (2:30 pm), Oct. 3 (11 pm), Oct. 8 (2:30 pm) and Oct 10 (11 pm)], DeStefano chatted with the Register about his latest book and its goals.
Why did you write this book?
I look around me and see all these suffering people who are really experiencing pain in their lives. More than ever, they don’t know how to turn things around. I was always a fan of personal development, but for a long time, I recognized a shortcoming from that self-help, personal-development industry — too much reliance on self-help and very little reliance on any of God’s help. They fail to take God into account and his plan for us.
So this is not just a self-help book like others. I wanted to help people in the same style and use the same approach as the personal-development industry uses, but I wanted to combine it with orthodox Christian and Catholic theology.
The purpose of my other books is to impart a Christian vision to certain theological realities. The purpose of this book is to get people to act to turn things around.
What are some dead-ends people often get trapped by, that you help them avoid or escape?
They are unaware of what their priorities should be. Dead-ends mean all that the world tells you to pursue to make you happy: riches, success, fame.
Psalm 127:1 says, “If the Lord does not build the house, they labor in vain who build it.” That’s the key to this book. Unless the Lord builds the house, whatever you pursue is going to be a dead-end, no matter how glittery and wonderful it may appear at first.
Today, many accept or live by the idea of whatever the individual believes is the truth. How do you counter that?
That’s relativism. The fact is: Evil exists, and it is real. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it is real or not. So in order to objectively fight against evil, you can’t fight a spiritual war with worldly weapons. You have to realize there is a spiritual war going on in the world. In the Catholic Church, we have ample weapons for the battle: prayer, Mass, the Rosary, fasting. It’s an absolute necessity of putting God first.
You have very practical and easy starting tips — like saying a prayer right when you wake up, even before you open your eyes, and daily reading of sacred Scripture in the morning and evening. What can people do to start moving in the right direction?
There are five things they can do to immediately turn their lives around.
You have to put God first. That is the most important. Chronologically, first thing in the morning, say a short prayer, even before you open your eyes, because the first conscious moment of your day should be given to God. Say, “Thank you for giving me another day, and help me to do your will.” Just doing that first makes you a winner the rest of the day.
Second, move physically. People have to move physically. We have motion and emotion, and they are intimately connected. Many people living sedentary lives are unhappy. Even just walking every day or doing some light aerobic exercise gets you moving physically. And Christianity is a religion of great motion. From the start, it has been moving, marching and spreading.
Third, utilize the power of momentum. People do not have to change overnight. They haven’t gotten into their problems overnight. Start to take small, positive actions, and take them consistently over three to four weeks. If you do that, you’ll start to accelerate all on your own — and you’ll be harnessing the power of momentum.
Fourth, get goals that motivate you. Most people today don’t have goals. How are you going to hit a target if you have no bull’s-eye to aim at? The goals should be goals following God’s will, goals that line up with what God wants for you.
Fifth, you have to exercise true love — meaning sacrificial, self-giving love that was taught by Jesus Christ in the Gospels. Go out and find some people who are suffering more than you and help them.
Do those five things, and do those consistently over five weeks, and you are going to turn your life around.
What has been the response to this approach?
Overwhelmingly, the reaction is always positive, from a whole range of people, from orthodox Catholics and others who take faith seriously and love the personal-development tools in the book to the other side of the spectrum, from people who have very little faith but who have become revitalized and recommitted to their faith because of the Christian-Catholic elements of the book.
Once they acted on this approach, they experienced a change and are very happy about it.
You put truths into simple, easy-to-understand ways and also do not water them down — for instance, you don’t use “shortcomings, faults, weaknesses” but the word “sin” and the need to own up to them, confess them and be forgiven. What have been the reactions to this approach?
There are some negative comments from people who get offended by any kind of straight talk. But, overwhelmingly, people embrace that kind of straight talk and thank me for it.
You can preach as hard as you like as long as you preach the other end too. Working for Priests for Life, I constantly see that when priests go out and preach the message of abortion.
It’s very hard for priests to preach about abortion, because some women in the pews have had abortions or were a party to them, and the priests don’t want to hurt them or have them experience despair, so they wind up not preaching about it at all. That is not the truth and does not help.
They [Priests for Life] speak about the true nature of abortion — that it is murder; it is killing a child. But they also preach about God’s willingness to forgive any sinner, any sin. Then they have the two parts of the equation. The way out is not through denial or repression, but a real way out through repentance and reconciliation. The only way for the person to break out of denial is the recognition there has been a break, an offense.
Someone presenting the Church’s message about sin can be as clear and strong and tough as he likes as long as, at the same time, he presents the accompanying message of God’s great mercy and the willingness and desire of God to forgive all those who repent.
As long as you preach God’s mercy, you can be as tough as you like when you talk about the nature of sin. You don’t have to mince words about sin as long as you are giving the accompany message on repentance and forgiveness. People will accept and embrace it because they know instinctively it is true.
How has working with Father Frank Pavone — and as a longtime member of Priests for Life’s board of directors — influenced your writing?
I’ve been working with Father Pavone practically every day for 25 years. He’s a very brilliant man and speaker. Having him in the same building is really a blessing, like having Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis right down the hall. When he’s here and says Mass, over the years, his homilies have given me many tips for books or parts of books.
Travel Guide to Heaven, my first book, came from a regular homily he gave in 1989. He was talking about how heaven would be physical as well as spiritual. I said to myself, “This would be a wonderful book!” Many years later, I wrote that book. That happens all the time.
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.
A Travel Guide to Life in both book and DVD format is available through EWTNReligiousCatalogue.com.