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Story by Reagan Scott
LINCOLN (SNR) - Sacred Heart missionary Matt Simmons recalls encountering Christ in a poor man he was holding while spending a day helping the Missionaries of Charity in India during his journey to Catholicism.
It was this experience that would be the basis of his work for years to come.
Simmons has been spiritually accompanying people across Nebraska for many years, but two years ago, he decided to make that role official by forming a new ministry organization.
Simmons formed Sacred Heart Ministries, a lay-led apostolic project, whose work Bishop James Conley has encouraged in the Diocese of Lincoln. Sacred Heart Ministries works one-on-one with people in prayer, and offers to help deepen faith in God through prayer.
“A lot of times people have encounters with God, they get a taste of this love and empathy but don’t know how to deepen it,” Simmons said. “When Jesus gets a hold of us we are transformed. I help facilitate that.”
For many who Simmons prays with, these encounters with God occur through their involvement with Unbound, a diocesan program that allows participants to overcome hurts in their lives that spirits make almost impossible to overcome. In addition to his Sacred Heart Ministries, Simmons serves in an official capacity as diocesan coordinator of the Unbound ministry.
“The influence of evil spirits is really basic and every day our sins, wounds, hurts and pains become soft spots [for them],” Simmons said.
While evil spirits do their best to prevent people from becoming truly free of their past hurts, he said, Unbound may give them the leg-up they need to move forward and truly have an encounter with God.
Simmons said, “After Unbound, people need accompaniment and one-on-one accompaniment is really hard to come by.”
While the Diocese of Lincoln is blessed with a large number of priests to serve the Catholic population, and diocesan priests do all that they can to serve their parishes, it would be extremely difficult for them to meet with every single member of a parish on an individual basis. This is where Simmons feels called service to individuals.
“Pope Francis has called us to accompany one another,” Simmons said. “We can’t just sit in a classroom and talk in formation; we need somebody who knows us.”
Simmons currently serves 20 individuals, who he meets with on a one-to-one basis either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
While he received a lot of referrals at the start of his ministry, many people now come to Simmons on their own. He has also partnered with Father Lyle Johnson of St. John the Apostle Parish in Lincoln in order to reach out to more individuals.
Simmons previously served as a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionary at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln while also running a tattoo studio, Sacred Heart Tattoo.
It was these experiences that helped to put Simmons on his current path.
“FOCUS was my entry to apostolate in the Catholic Church,” Simmons said. “It helped me to learn how to be in a relationship with good, solid people and facilitate my own healing. My work was influenced by FOCUS; it helped open a lot of doors for me.”
While running his tattoo studio, Simmons had the opportunity to answer the question, “How would God run a business?”
“I wanted to evangelize people,” Simmons said. “I wanted to combine religion and business and take care of my employees. You don’t really see that in American business today.”
It was these experiences that would ultimately lead Simmons to start Sacred Heart Ministries. As a missionary for his organization, Simmons has seen a great deal of impact on those who participate.
Simmons noted that many people are finding a deeper intimacy and peace in their lives, as well as becoming more service-oriented.
“We’re meeting people where they’re at and making them more effective, more able to follow God and seek his will,” Simmons said.
One of the greatest impacts of Sacred Heart Ministries that Simmons has seen is participants beginning to accompany others.
Through accompaniment and prayer it is Simmons’ hope that people will truly encounter Christ.
“When we truly encounter Jesus, that’s when we want to follow Him,” Simmons said. “We experience His love and want to love Him back.”
The process isn’t easy however.
Simmons said, “There are a lot of people who have cerebral faith. It’s in their heads, not their hearts.”
According to Simmons, it’s through encounters with Christ when people can truly feel the love of God in their hearts and it’s this love that can strengthen those who may be struggling.
“We don’t realize how many people feel lonely, unloved and isolated,” Simmons said. “It cuts across all vocation lines and not just [in the diocese] but in America as a whole.”
Through his work, Simmons does his best to combat spiritual poverty, always looking to St. Teresa of Calcutta as his inspiration.
Simmons said, “I look to [Saint Teresa] and try to embody her love for others. That’s at the heart of both my ministries.”