An Unquenchable Thirst for God

Photography © by Randy Hain

Photography © by Randy Hain

“ ‘Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.’ Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, ‘an upright heart,’ as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶30)

Manny Garcia-Tunon came across my radar in 2012 when a mutual friend introduced us and told me about the great work Manny was doing with the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL). It’s a national organization founded by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles that exists to work with the Church for the common good in the service of Hispanic communities throughout the United States. Manny, a founding board member of CALL, serves as secretary, as well as president of the Miami chapter. He is also very committed to working with the Archdiocese of Miami in helping the Catholic Church in Cuba, where the political situation is quite serious. Manny is working with others to help fellow Catholics on the island know that they are not alone and they are not forgotten.

When speaking with Manny, you are immediately struck by his great humility and warmth. He downplays his involvement in the various ministries he leads and his impressive contributions to the work of the Church, always giving credit to others. He cares more about others than himself, and that comes across very clearly. In addition to the various ministries he leads and his other Church work, Manny is the president of an international design-build firm headquartered in Miami, Florida. He is a business columnist for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, and his motivational business column appears weekly in various papers across the country in both English and Spanish. Manny is also a business columnist for VOXXI.com, a leading news, business and entertainment website targeting English-speaking Hispanics. Additionally, Manny has also been a contributor on Univision’s Miami small-business segment, Unos Minutos Con Manny, as well as on Univision’s national morning show, Despierta America.

He grew up in Miami, Florida, in a very devout Catholic home. His family is from Cuba, having settled there several generations ago from Spain. After Castro’s revolution, his family left Cuba in 1960 and many of them settled in Miami. The family didn’t have much growing up, but they certainly had what they needed. This former altar boy recalls his early formation as a Catholic with fond and grateful memories:

The quality of our education was phenomenal all around, but our spiritual formation in particular and our preparation for the sacraments was spectacular. I owe so much of my faith to those days and the true “partnership” that existed between the faith I was truly living at home, and the faith I was learning in school… I still believe that that’s the formula that works best. My faith has always been with me, and in me, and a part of me.

Manny says he has always had an unquenchable thirst for God. He describes it as a desire to know him more intimately on a deeply personal level and to serve him in any way possible. He credits this to the fact that he was blessed to experience God through his family, community, and parish life, but Manny has always felt an “extra” call to do more for God. In his youth, this manifested itself in his service as an altar boy, then as an usher, and eventually as an assistant retreat leader. Manny has used his lifelong love of music to serve God, becoming a cantor at age fifteen and later forming a band called Rejoice. This talented group performed before St. John Paul II during World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 and still performs today, with Manny, his wife, and his sister-in-law providing vocals.

Today, Manny and his family are very involved in their parish, where they lead Emmaus retreats focused on bringing others to an encounter with Christ, as well as marriage preparation retreats for couples. As Manny reflected on his ministry work, he had this to share: “Looking back I realize that service—putting yourself out there and serving God when and where you are at any given moment—goes a long way in nurturing our own relationship with him.

So how does someone like Manny, involved so heavily in ministry work, stay on track with his Catholic faith? What sustains him during challenging periods in his life? He says it’s his devotion to the sacraments, a consistent prayer life, strong fellowship with other Catholics in his community, and a love for the Blessed Mother. In an effort to avoid the tumultuous “mid-life” crisis he observed in those around him who were experiencing personal, professional, spiritual, and emotional conflicts so typical during these years, he began to focus more intently on his spiritual life. In addition to monthly spiritual direction and confession, he tries to attend a silent, three-night retreat based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius once a year.

With all of these activities and spiritual disciplines, Manny began to realize something: The Lord didn’t want more “from” him, he wanted more “of” him. When a friend invited him to attend a retreat focusing on total personal consecration to the Blessed Mother, Manny knew this was inspired by the Holy Spirit. There he made the commitment to the Blessed Mother, a consecration that has made a significant difference in his life:

I have come to realize that everything I lack, everything I strive for, Our Blessed Mother has in abundance: Humility. Patience. Selflessness. Complete trust in the Lord. Brave faith. Tenderness. Generosity. Indifference to those things that keep me from God…all of these things and more Mary has in abundance. She is the perfect path to her Son, our best example of what it means to be a true follower of Christ. In the short time since my consecration, I can see my path to Jesus more clearly than ever before as the Blessed Mother leads me by her example to love abundantly, sacrifice willingly, give generously, and live joyfully.

One of the areas I have written about extensively is the importance of leading an integrated Catholic life, with Christ at the center of our faith, family, and work. Manny has a clear focus regarding having the right priorities and how he lives his faith every day. Here is his take on the idea of an integrated Catholic life:

I simply am who I am 24/7. Manny Garcia-Tunon is a Christian first and foremost. I am a husband and a father. Then, and only after the above, am I a business owner, a writer and columnist, etc… I believe it is so important that we not divorce our faith from our work—on the contrary, I want people to encounter Jesus every chance I get—and I spend most of time at work. I expect my business to be run ethically and morally. I expect that my employees and clients are treated fairly and that as a company we deal with others’ needs with compassion and generosity. It doesn’t always work out—you can’t please everyone—but it’s what we strive for.

Faith has had, and continues to have, a tremendous impact on my family, my friends, and my business because it guides all of those relationships. My faith guides the way I interact with others, and that has an effect on the way they interact with me. For me, my faith is out there, front and center. I’m not “showy” about it; I don’t force my beliefs on others, but I’m always ready to share my faith. If I am going to be true to who I am as a person, then I have to surrender myself to the fact that my life is the Lord’s. That ‘belonging’ to the Lord means that I must strive to discern God’s will for my life and live my life for him. That means that Every decision I make, every action I take—whether it be as a husband and father, as a friend, or as president of my design-build firm—must be made with discernment. It doesn’t always work that way, not even close, but it’s what I strive for every time.

With all of the inspiring things you have read about Manny Garcia-Tunon’s life and the way he lives his Catholic faith, there is something else that makes him one of the “joyful witnesses” the world so desperately needs: He radiates joy and the light of Christ to everyone he encounters. Joy is attractive and Manny believes that, in order to be effective evangelizers, we must let people see our Christ-inspired joy. This is a choice and a commitment; it will be strengthened by prayer and living an authentic Catholic life with our eyes on Christ and our heavenly home, not by getting stuck in the mud of the secular world. Manny points to the example of Pope Francis:

If Pope Francis is teaching us anything it’s that we are all called to live joyfully, humbly, and be light of Christ to the world – and he is teaching the world this by his example. Pope Francis doesn’t concern himself with the frivolity we have attached to our Church. He wants to make the Church a Mission Church once again. He wants his priests and pastors to smell like their sheep. He wants all the faithful to live joyfully and bring others to Christ. The joy of the Lord is our strength!

Four Actions to Help Us Live an Integrated Catholic Life 24/7

At the root of Manny’s life and activities is a deep love and desire for God, an “unquenchable thirst” as he describes it. How do we develop such a deep desire for God and lead more integrated Catholic lives? There are four key lessons to glean from Manny’s example.

1. Prayer and Discernment.

We have an opportunity every single day to seek out God in prayer and ask for his help. Instead of asking God to validate our decisions, we should ask him to lead and guide us where we need to go.

2. Family, Community, and Fellowship.

Our spiritual life isn’t mean to be lived in isolation. Being connected in tangible ways with our family, neighbors, work colleagues, and members of our parish are all vital parts of our spiritual journey as Catholics. We should see the people God has placed in our lives as sources of strength to keep us focused and grounded.

3. Seek Out the Blessed Mother.

Mary possesses everything we lack, everything we desire. She is always there for us, willing to teach us and intercede for us if we will only ask her for help. Most importantly, our Blessed Mother will lead us to a closer relationship with her son, Jesus.

4. Joy, Humility, and the Light of Christ.

Pope Francis is a wonderful role model for us all as one who lives joyfully and humbly as a light of Christ to the world. We can learn from his example and shed our attachments to what the world offers, thus discovering what a life dedicated to Christ can offer. If we live this way, we make the way to Christ and the Church infinitely more attractive to others, and we, too, can play an important part in the New Evangelization.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Manny is well-grounded in his Catholic faith, and it seems to inform his every thought and action. What are the obstacles keeping me from having the same grounded faith? Am I properly formed as a Catholic? Do I need to study and rededicate myself to a stronger practice of my Catholic faith?
  2. What are my sources of strength when it comes to my Catholic faith? Do I see my family, neighbors, and Catholic brothers and sisters as sources of encouragement and strength for my spiritual life? In what way?
  3. How can you become more aware of where you are in terms of your spiritual and personal development? What might you do to develop more awareness and growth in this area?
  4. In what ways do I make Christ and the Church look more attractive to others through the way I live my Catholic faith?

Adapted with permission of the publisher and author from Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic.


Editor’s Note:  Would you like to learn more about “regular Catholic heroes” and the joyful witness they give for Christ and the Catholic faith?  Randy Hain’s exciting sixth book, Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic (Servant Books) is now available through Amazon and all Catholic bookstores!

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