By virtue of our baptism we are called to be missionary disciples. The risen Christ commissioned His followers to carry out His mission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). To do that, we need to be empowered, formed in Christ. What does that mean?
A good place to start is John 15: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15:1-2). To be transformed, we need to be pruned by prayer and suffering. While prayer is necessary to participate in the divine life, it is suffering that can break down boundaries separating us from God. At certain points in life—such as during profound loss, rejection or failure—we lose control. Sooner or later, we all find ourselves in a place of pain.
At these moments, the Lord is with you in your pain. He has suffered it all and He loves and sustains you in being, every moment of your existence. Collapsing into His arms, uniting yourself with Him, you can do the impossible. If you have been betrayed, rejected or harmed, you will be able to forgive through His grace.
Forgiveness is such a key component for transformation. When we do not forgive, we stay stuck in the painful experience. Our relationships with God, others and ourselves are stifled. When you allow Christ to take over, forgiveness happens and the pain is released. It almost happens in spite of you. It happens when you say “Yes” to God’s will, just as our Blessed Mother did at the Annunciation: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done according to Your Word” (Luke 1:38).
Ironically, for some Catholics, this invitation seems strange. Many Catholics have a hard time even saying the name Jesus, let alone saying “I love Jesus” because it seems so Protestant or evangelical. You are made in the image and likeness of God. He is love, so you are made to love and be loved by God. As a beloved child of God, how can you be afraid of God, whom Jesus invites us to call Abba or Daddy? That is why Jesus says further along in John 15, “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” This is the friendship model of genuine religion.
As Saint Catherine of Genoa said, “My deepest me is God.” A thousand years prior to Saint Catherine, Saint Athanasius, who did so much to fight against Arianism and contribute to the Nicene Creed, said “The Son of God became Man so that man could become God.” To participate in this reality is transformation. That is why Christian ministry re-grafts the true self into the experience of the Triune God. That is why suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to you, because it seems it is the most effective way to die to the false self.
The cross leads to resurrection. That is the Paschal Mystery, which we are called to live every day. What happens to Christ Jesus is meant to happen to us, because we are members of His mystical body, the Church. Saint Ignatius of Antioch put the necessity of suffering in this way:
As the Body of Christ, the Church, we are meant to go through the same process of transformation that is brought about by suffering. The important thing is to find God in the midst of your afflictions. Once you can find God in all things, you become indestructible because God is working in and through you.
Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He serves in adult faith formation, baptismal preparation, spiritual direction, and prison ministry.
Life throws hard punches at everyone, but have you ever wondered how some people are never defeated? For every expatriate working in Saudi Arabia–the annual vacation is the highlight of the year. I too was looking forward to my trip back to India, which always took place around Christmas. There were just a few weeks left for the trip when I received an email from my family. Nancy, a close friend of ours, had called them to say that Jesus was asking for special prayers for my vacation. Of course, I added it to my daily prayer list. Nothing eventful happened during most of my stay. The weeks at home went by quickly. Christmas came and was celebrated with the usual gusto. After a month and a half of fun-filled days, my vacation days were almost over. Nothing extraordinary occurred, and the message was slowly forgotten. A Hard Punch Two days before my return trip, I decided to start packing my bags. The first item on the list was my passport, and I could not locate it anywhere! Then came a numbing realization: I had taken it to the travel agent that morning to confirm my flight, and it was still in the pocket of the jeans I had worn. However, I had earlier thrown these jeans in the laundry basket without checking the pockets! I ran to the washing machine and opened the lid. The jeans were whirling around. I pulled them out as fast as I could and pushed my hand into the front pocket. A feeling of dread spread over me as I pulled out the wet passport. The official seals on most of the inside pages were damaged. Some of the travel stamps were displaced and, most distressingly, the ink on the Saudi entry visa was smudged too. I had no idea what to do. The only other option was to apply for a new passport and try to get a new entry visa upon arrival in the capital city. However, I didn’t have enough time left for this. My job was on the line. My Battalion to the Rescue I laid the passport open on my bed and turned on the ceiling fan, hoping to dry it out. I told the rest of my family what had happened. As usual, we joined together in prayer, entrusted the situation to Jesus, and asked Him for guidance. I also called Nancy to tell her about the mishap. She started praying for us too; there was nothing more that we could do. Later that night, Nancy called me to say that Jesus had told her His angel would see me through to Riyadh! Two days later, finding strength in prayer, I said goodbye to my family, checked in my luggage, and boarded my first flight. At the Mumbai airport where I changed flights, I joined the line for the immigration clearance at the international terminal. Feeling a bit anxious, I waited with my passport open. Thankfully, the officer barely glanced down before absent-mindedly stamping the page and sending me off! Filled with divine grace, I felt at peace. After the flight landed in Saudi Arabia, I continued to pray as I collected my baggage and joined one of the long lines at the immigration checkpoint. The line moved slowly as the officer carefully examined each passport before stamping it with an entry visa. Finally, it was my turn. With my passport opened to the proper page, I walked toward him. At that very moment, another officer walked up and started a conversation with him. As he was immersed in the discussion, the immigration officer stamped my passport with the entry visa, barely even glancing down at the pages. I was back in Riyadh, thanks to my guardian angel, who had “led me through the fire” at just the right moment. Guardian—Now, Then, and Always Undoubtedly, the trip boosted my relationship with my guardian angel. However, Jesus underlined yet another lesson for me: I am being led by a living God who foresees every puddle in my path. Walking hand in hand with Him, listening to His directions and obeying them, I can handle any obstacle. “When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it”’ (Isaiah 30:21). If Nancy had not been listening to God’s voice, and if we had not been praying as instructed, my life might have swerved off track. Every Christmas since then, every trip back to my home country serves as a fond reminder of God’s leading providence and protective embrace.
As a little girl, I wanted to become a Superhero but eventually I accepted that it was a child’s silly dream, until… When I was a kid, I woke up early on Saturday mornings to watch Super-friends, a cartoon about a group of superheroes who saved the world. I wanted to be a superhero when I grew up. I would imagine getting a signal that someone needed help and quickly flying to their aid. All the superheroes I saw on TV remained incognito. To the world, they seemed like regular folks with boring lives. However, in times of trouble, they quickly mobilized and worked together to save humanity from the bad guys. Once I grew up, I recognized that the superheroes in cartoons were imaginary characters. I gave up on my silly notions...until, one day, when I met a true superhero who opened my eyes. I would occasionally drop in to pray at the perpetual adoration chapel in a local church. Since someone has to be present at all times during Eucharistic adoration, volunteers sign up for short intervals. On many of my visits, I noticed an older man in a wheelchair who sat and prayed for hours at the chapel. He looked to be about 90 years old. Every so often, he would pull out different items from a bag—a Bible, a rosary, or a piece of paper that I assume was a prayer list. I wondered what kind of job he did when he was younger and physically healthy. Whatever he did before was probably not as significant as what he was doing now. I realized that this gentleman in a wheelchair was doing something far more important than most of us who were busy running around. Incognito superheroes were hiding in plain sight! This meant I, too, could be a superhero...of prayer. Responding to SOS I decided to join the church prayer chain, a group of people who have committed to intercede for others privately. Many of these prayer warriors are elderly. Some are people with disabilities. Some are in seasons of life where they are homebound for various reasons. We get email notifications of names of people who have requested prayers. Just like the superheroes in the cartoons I watched long ago, we get a signal when someone needs help. The prayer requests come in at all times of the day: Mr. X fell off a ladder and is being taken to the hospital. Mrs. Y has been diagnosed with cancer. A grandchild has been involved in a car crash. A man’s brother has been kidnapped in Nigeria. A family has lost their home in a tornado. The needs are many. We take our responsibility as intercessors seriously. We stop whatever we are doing and pray. We are an army of prayer warriors. We are fighting invisible forces of darkness. Thus, we put on the full armor of God and fight with spiritual weapons. We pray on behalf of others who are in need. With perseverance and dedication, we continually submit our petitions to God. The Hero Effect Does prayer make a difference? Every so often, we get feedback from the people who have requested prayer. The kidnapped man in Nigeria was released within a week. Many experience miraculous healing. Most of all, people are strengthened and comforted during times of suffering. Jesus prayed, and He revolutionized the world! Prayer was part of His ministry of healing, deliverance, and providing for those in need. Jesus was in constant communication with the Father. He taught His disciples to pray as well. Prayer allows us to understand God’s perspective and align our will to His Divine nature. And when we intercede for others, we become partners with Christ in His ministry of love. When we share our concerns with the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, there is a shift in the atmosphere. Our faithful prayer, united with God’s will, can move mountains. “We beg you, Lord, to help and defend us. Deliver the oppressed. Pity the insignificant. Raise the fallen. Show yourself to the needy. Heal the sick. Bring back those of your people who have gone astray. Feed the hungry. Lift up the weak. Take off the prisoners’ chains. May every nation come to know that you alone are God, that Jesus is your Child, that we are your people, the sheep that you pasture. Amen.” (Saint Clement)
It was a stormy night. Sister Faustina bowed her face to the ground and prayed the Litany of the Saints. Toward the end of the Litany, such drowsiness overcame her that she couldn’t finish the prayer. She immediately got up and prayed, “Jesus, calm the storm, for Your child is unable to pray any longer, and I am heavy with sleep.” With these words, she threw the window open, not even securing it with hooks. Sister Fabiola said to her, “Sister, what are you doing!? The wind will surely tear the window loose!” But Sister Faustina asked her to sleep in peace. At once, the storm completely subsided. The next day, the sisters were talking about the sudden calming of the storm, not knowing what had really happened. And Sister Faustina thought to herself: “Only Jesus and Faustina know what it means…” Such was the trust Saint Faustina had in Jesus. No wonder He appeared to her and gave her the mission of Divine Mercy for the whole world, with the instruction to inscribe the words: “JESUS I TRUST IN YOU.” She abandoned herself to Him completely, just like a child. Once, during Holy Mass, she had a miraculous vision. Jesus appeared as a one-year-old child and asked her to take Him in her arms. When she had taken Him in her arms, Infant Jesus cuddled up close to her bosom and said, “It is good for Me to be close to your heart…because I want to teach you spiritual childhood. I want you to be very little because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart, just as you are holding Me close to your heart right now." Spiritual childhood is often misunderstood as naïveté or excessive sentimentality. However, it involves a total surrender to our heavenly Father's providential care—total abandonment of our own plans, opinions, and self-will—and a radical trust in God. Can we, too, ask God to give us the grace to accept—like a little child—all that He asks of us in this life? As we do, can we trust, like Saint Faustina, that the Lord will not abandon us, even for a moment?
She was diagnosed with chronic OCD, and put on meds for a lifetime. Then, something unexpected happened. In the 1990s, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The doctor prescribed me medication and told me I would have to take them for the rest of my life. Some people think that mental health issues happen because you lack faith, but there was nothing wrong with my faith. I had always deeply loved God and relied on Him in all things, but I also felt an abiding disabling guilt. I had not been able to shake off the belief that everything that was wrong with the world was my fault. I had a Law degree, but my heart had never been there. I had taken up law to impress my mother, who thought my choice of teaching as a profession wasn’t good enough. But I had married and given birth to my first child just before I finished it, then gone on to have seven beautiful children, so I had spent more time learning to be a mother than working in law. When we moved to Australia, the law was different, so, I went back to university to finally study my first love, Teaching. But even when I got a job doing what I loved, I felt that I was trying to justify my existence by earning money. Somehow, I didn’t feel that looking after my family and nurturing the people entrusted to me was good enough. In fact, with my crippling guilt and feeling of inadequacy, nothing ever felt enough. Totally Unexpected Because of our family size, it wasn’t always easy to get away on a holiday, so we were excited when we heard about the Carry Home in Pemberton where payment was a donation of what you could afford. It had a beautiful country setting close to forests. We planned to go for a weekend family retreat. They also had a prayer and worship group in Perth. When I joined, I was made to feel very welcome. There, at one of the retreats, something totally unexpected and overwhelming happened. I had just received prayer when I suddenly fell to the ground. Rolled up on the floor in a fetal position, I screamed and screamed and screamed. They carried me out onto this rickety old wooden verandah outside and continued to pray until eventually, I stopped screaming. This was totally unsought and unexpected. But I knew that it was deliverance. I just felt empty as if something had left me. After the retreat, my friends continued to check up on me and come to pray over me, asking for Mary’s intercession that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would become manifest in me. I felt so much better that after a week or two, I decided to reduce my dose of medication. Within three months, I had stopped taking the medication and felt better than I ever had. Melting Away I no longer felt the need to prove myself or pretend that I was better than I was. I didn’t feel that I had to excel in all things. I felt grateful for the gift of life, my family, my prayerful community and this tremendous connection with God. Freed of the need to justify my existence, I realized I could not justify my existence. It’s a gift–life, family, prayer, connection with God–these are all gifts, not something you are ever going to earn. You accept it and you thank God. I became a better person. I didn’t have to show off, compete, or arrogantly insist that my way was the best. I realized I didn’t have to be better than the other person because it didn’t matter. God loves me, God cares for me. Out of the grip of my disabling guilt, I have since realized that “If God didn’t want me, He would have made someone else.” My relationship with my mother had always been ambivalent. Even after becoming a mother, I was still struggling with these feelings of ambivalence. But this experience changed that for me. As God chose Mary to bring Jesus into the world, He had chosen Mary to help me on my way. My issues in the relationship with my mother, and subsequently with the Holy Mother, slowly melted away. I felt like John at the foot of the Cross when Jesus told him: “Behold your Mother.” I have come to know Mary as the perfect mother. Now, when my mind fails, the Rosary kicks in to rescue me! I never realized how much I needed her until I made her an indispensable part of my life. Now, I couldn’t imagine stepping away.
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