California Deacon: Forgiveness is Key to Effective Evangelization

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When Deacon Steve Greco of the Diocese of Orange, California delivers a talk, he regularly asks participants if they’ve experienced miracles in their lives. Most will raise their hands. But when he goes on to suggest that one of the greatest miracles they can experience is to heal themselves from a lack of forgiveness in their hearts, he finds it a concept few have considered. When he launched his Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry in 2014, its key theme was unleashing the power of the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to work through us to evangelize; in recent years, he’s stressed the corollary idea that forgiveness must play a vital role in our lives lest we block the actions of the Spirit and render ineffective our efforts to evangelize.

He opined, “Forgiveness is a state of being. It is a desire to want to have a heart of forgiveness.” Echoing sentiments he presented in his 2019 book Miracles Through Forgiveness, he added, “To have a forgiving heart is to have the heart of Jesus. If we let it, it transforms us into warriors for Christ.”

Since retiring from his work as a pharmaceutical industry executive in 2016, the deacon has devoted himself full-time to a ministry of preaching and healing, encouraging the faithful to expect and experience miracles and to make forgiveness a central theme of their spiritual lives.

Catholic Home

Deacon Greco grew up in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles, in a Catholic home which included regular Sunday Mass and an Italian grandmother who regularly prayed her rosary. From an early age, he said, he has had an awareness of God’s love. At age 5, “I recalled looking up at the sky and seeing rays of the sun going through the clouds and feeling overwhelming intense love and the presence of Love. I felt that I had been with my Father in heaven and He had sent me on a special mission of love, forgiveness and mercy.”

He graduated from what is today Loyola Marymount University and began his business career. In 1971, he married wife Mary Anne, with whom he had three children.

While much of his focus in his early 20s was being a success in business, he had a series of experiences which led him closer to Christ and gave him a passion to share the Gospel. At one time in his life, Mary Anne recalled, “Steve would spend every free moment he had reading Scripture; we’re talking six or eight hours a day.”

The couple became active in their parish, leading prayer groups, marriage preparation classes, Bible studies and pilgrimages. Deacon would share his faith with anyone who would listen. His mother worried he had joined a cult, and got him to go and see a priest. One of his favorite stories of this period was a time when he was at a Super Bowl party standing with a man by the chip dip. He asked the man if he had a personal relationship with Jesus. Deacon joked, “I’ve haven’t been invited to a Super Bowl party since.”

Permanent Diaconate

In the early 2000s, the pastor at his parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Irvine, California, thought Greco’s zeal combined with his professional management skills would make him an excellent candidate for the permanent diaconate. He reluctantly agreed to enter the formation program for the Diocese of Orange, but quickly found the demands of family and career made taking diaconate classes a challenge. His work required him to spend time in meetings on the East Coast, he recalled, “so I’d often have to take a red-eye flight cross country after attending classes.”

But, he soon had no doubts about his vocation, as he had a heart for both evangelization and service to the poor. He was ordained a deacon by Bishop Tod Brown in 2007. Ordination was a busy day, Mary Anne recalled, and “I was proud of Steve for completing the five years of formation.”

The diaconate was a new role for Deacon Greco, but he threw himself into service at the altar and to the poor. As he neared professional retirement, he decided to use his talents to launch Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry, through which today he devotes himself full time to delivering talks, participating in conferences, leading pilgrimages and overseas mission trips and hosting a weekly Relevant Radio program, Empowered by the Spirit. Deacon said, “What I’ve seen God accomplish through this ministry has far exceeded my expectations. We’ve been able to directly touch at least 100,000 people, and many more times that through radio and social media.”

He’s currently looking to the next phase of the ministry, a Million Souls for Christ campaign, which he hopes will expand its outreach to many more people.

Lack of Forgiveness

While many high profile Catholic speakers focus on problems within the Church, Deacon sees addressing the negative as beyond the purview of Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry. His message accentuates the positive: God loves you, don’t worry about your unworthiness. Unleashing the power of the Holy Spirit will have a transformative effect in your life. And, we need to forgive in all aspects of our lives.

He likes to relate a story about his time serving in detention ministry. He once led a Communion service at a jail that housed female inmates. After speaking to them about forgiveness, one inmate came to see him afterwards.

He recalled, “She asked me how she could possibly forgive her husband, who got her involved in prostitution.”

That’s a lot to forgive, admitted the deacon, “but I told her that is why we must turn over our lives and surrender to Jesus. He will give you the grace to forgive.”

The woman’s smile and nodding head suggested to him that she was receptive to the message.

Deacon Greco noted that there have been many times in his own life when it has been a challenge for him to forgive. He recalled his difficult relationship with his father. He said, “At a young age, I had difficulty with my speech. He would make fun of me in front of other people. They would laugh at me. I had deep wounds and emotional scars.”

The pair had a “distant” relationship, and when his mother got upset at him, “she would call my father and he would come storming home from work and head to my room and beat me. To say that was emotionally scarring is an understatement.”

Over time, however, Deacon learned to forgive him and consoled him by his bedside as he lay dying. He said, “It was not easy, but turning to God and asking Him for the grace to forgive my father was the miracle that changed me forever.”

He has many examples from his years in the rough and tumble business world as well. Once, for example, he was senior vice president of sales at a Fortune 25 company, responsible for 4,000 employees and $7 billion in sales. He received many professional honors for his success, but that changed when a new CEO took over the reins of the company. His boss called him into his office and fired him.

“I was in shock. Sales were great. I was beloved by nearly everyone. I couldn’t understand it,” he said.

He looked to Scripture for consolation, but his eyes could only focus on Deuteronomy 32:35: “Vengeance is mine.” He said, “I remember thinking and praying, ‘I turn them over to you for your vengeance for what happened to me.’ Pathetic, but that is where I was emotionally.”

But he came to realize that he was hurting himself with his bitterness and resentment and blocking the grace that God was offering to him. He prayed for the ability to forgive, and “the Lord told me I had to love them with His love.”

He continued, “I closed my eyes and felt the pain and resentment melting away. It wasn’t easy, but it must be part of running the race toward heaven and the crown of life.”

Tools to Help in Forgiveness

For Catholics, prayer and the sacraments play a vital role in learning to forgive, particularly regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Deacon noted, “Often we are under spiritual attack with a spirit of lack of forgiveness. We have a hardened heart that prevents us from seeing another person as a child of God.”

Reconciliation provides the opportunity to confess grudges, hatred, animosity or ill will towards others, he said, and those with hardened hearts will benefit the sacrament’s grace.

He also offered some other thoughts:

Hate the Sin and Love the Sinner. While we can never accept others’ bad behavior, Deacon said, “you must love the person and let him know he is loved by you.”

In John 8, Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery to sin no more, “but doesn’t condemn her. Neither should you condemn the person who has harmed you.”

Loving Someone is Different from Liking Someone. While all are called to love others with the love of Christ, there is no obligation to be friends with those who harm us. Deacon explained, “To like a person involves an emotional connection. That is not necessary. What is necessary is to understand that Jesus died for that person and he is made in the image of God.”

We must love others unconditionally and sincerely desire what is good for them, he continued, because “your desire must be that the person be saved and be with God forever. You pray for the person to find a deeper relationship with Jesus.”

Remove Resentment from Your Life. Pray to let go of past hurts, he added, “getting even must have no place in the life of a Christian.”

Many have benefited from the Deacon’s message of forgiveness. Virginia Jones, for example, forgave those she believed hurt her and experienced a dramatic spiritual healing at a Spirit-Filled Hearts Ministry Life in the Spirit seminar. The deacon had just prayed over her and moved on to the next person, she related, and “I heard God’s voice say, ‘My child, I’ve healed you. You’re healed of all in the past that was done to you.’ I heard His voice. It was awesome.”

Silvia Vasquez, another Life in the Spirit seminar attendee, forgave family members and also experienced relief after Deacon prayed over her. Deacon Greco’s teaching, she said, has helped her to “joyfully accept the Lord’s will in my life.”

She is grateful for the work of the ministry, and added, “Deacon Steve is on fire with the Lord, and is a beautiful vessel of God.”

A Message of Divine Mercy

Once we have been forgiven by others, we open ourselves up to the mercy and forgiveness of God, the deacon noted. Therefore, it seemed a natural extension of the ministry to launch an ongoing series of Divine Mercy conferences, which began after Deacon received three dreams in which he believed God spoke to him. He said, “God told me the most important thing I and Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry could do is spread the message of Divine Mercy. In so doing, there would be a countless number of souls saved, entering into the kingdom of God.”

The conferences include prayer, praise and presentations by Deacon and priests, religious and laity who have made Divine Mercy a focus of their ministries. He said, “I feel very strongly that understanding God’s mercy is the key to understanding His love.”

God’s love has a transformative effect on recipients, who will then be empowered to share their faith with others. He added, “When that occurs we’ll have more peace, knowing that we’re not alone, but that God is helping and guiding us.”

Deacon Greco is excited about the blessings Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry has brought to many and looks forward to growing the ministry. He said, “Many lives have been changed and healings experienced as people learn about their Faith and are touched by God’s love. I’ve been amazed by all we’ve experienced, and I look forward to more good things to come.”

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