Last Christmas SEAN BOOTH received an unexpected gift that’s etched in his memory forever!
I have received many blessings in my life, but the most memorable Christmas gift I received in my life involved paying a prostitute.
Around three years ago, I was helping at a homeless centre in Manchester, England, where we shared the Gospel with people who came each Sunday for a meal. One of the men that came was a Muslim man. He was not homeless, but joined us for fellowship. Over the course of a few months, we struck up a close bond, sharing about our respective faiths. Often our conversations would last for hours. As Christmas drew nearer, I explained how special Christmas time was for us as Christians and asked if he would like to join me at Midnight Mass. He gladly accepted the invitation, since he had never been in a Catholic Church, let alone attended a service.
At the same time, I was also volunteering with a city centre, Catholic Church, who worked with a charity providing meals and a bed for homeless asylum seekers. Many of these men were also Muslim. By the grace of God, I was on the rota to sleep over on Christmas Eve. It was all hands to the pump since the priests were busy preparing for the celebration of Mass. As we shared a meal that night, I invited the men to come to Holy Mass and five of them accepted the invitation. I explained I had to pick up a friend but would be back before Mass started.
After picking up my Muslim friend, we drove into the city centre. Along the way, we noticed a distressed lady waving her hands at us. Although I thought she was a prostitute, I turned the car around to make sure she was okay. When I wound the window down, she begged me for a lift to the pharmacy because there were no buses running and it closed at midnight. I agreed and as we drove, she leaned forward from the back seat and asked if I would ‘like some business’. I declined her offer, explaining that we believed in God and were on the way to attend a church service. Then, I invited her to join us.
She apologised if she had offended us and said she could not come because she had to ‘earn some money’ on the streets. We reached the pharmacy in time and she went inside. I felt inspired to follow her inside to ask if I could pray with her. While her prescription was being prepared, she closed her eyes and held out both of her hands. We prayed, standing at the counter, holding hands. It was beautiful. She was so open.
After we came out, I asked her once more to join us, but again she explained that her need for money prevented her from coming. In that moment, I had a thought. I’d brought money for the collection during Mass, but if I spent it bringing her to God’s house, that was still giving it to the Church. Potentially, that could open her heart to encounter Jesus in the Mass, where Heaven meets earth, whilst also keeping her from potential evil. I offered her the money, explaining that it would only be an hour long and, at the very least, would be warmer than standing on the street. She deliberated and eventually agreed. My heart skipped a beat as I thanked God. When we arrived at the church at two minutes to midnight, the asylum seekers were waiting for us on the steps. I was in absolute awe of God. Before we all went inside, I asked everyone if we could pray together. I asked for The Lord’s blessing on each one of these beautiful people, that they would each feel welcome and for the Christ’s peace to rest upon them all. The lady asked if I was a priest and looked surprised when I laughed and said “No.”
As we walked in, if felt so surreal, I thought that I should pinch myself, I felt so blessed. Only God could have arranged this. I stood with tears in my eyes, thanking God, in absolute awe of His goodness, thanking Him for allowing me to be in His presence with my new group of friends. The gratitude and love in my heart exploded. There was nowhere else in the world, I would rather have been.
During reception of Holy Communion, I explained how they could receive a personal blessing from Christ through the priest. The lady said, ‘Look at me. Look at what I am wearing. People will look at me. I can’t go up there’. I told her that if they were truly Christians, they would not judge her, because Jesus exhorted us not to judge, lest we be judged for the sins we are ashamed of. I explained how Jesus came for the sinners, those on the edge of society, the outcasts. He even came to the defence of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He often ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes, assuring her that she was both worthy and welcome.
The Muslim man heard our every word and agreed. I told her that the Lord’s eyes were the only eyes that she needed to be conscious of. She went up, sobbing like a baby. If only every person went for a blessing or Holy Communion aware of their own unworthiness and brokenness like this beautiful child of God, we would have a very different church.
A priest once told me in Confession; ‘The Church is not an exclusive club for saints, but a hospital for sinners’. Saint Paul also reminds us that ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). ALL of us!
As we came back to our seats, she cried again. The asylum seekers and Muslim man also went up to receive Christ’s blessing, through the priest. As I contemplated the reality of Jesus being truly present within me through Holy Communion, I was able to pray with even more love for my companions.
As The Mass concluded, the priest wished everybody a happy Christmas before the final blessing. In typical, reserved Catholic style, there was not much of a response, apart from one person—my lady friend, who replied, “And a very merry Christmas to you too Father.” Instantly, I beamed with a massive smile and my insides lit up. The priest, almost shocked, smiled and thanked her. As people turned to see who had spoken, she said ‘Well, he said it to us!’. Nobody could deny saying Amen to that.
I mentioned in the beginning that this was the most memorable Christmas gift I had received and what an absolute honor, privilege and blessing it was to be with these beautiful human beings that night. Nothing can compare, though, to the very first and greatest gift the whole world received over 2000 years ago, at that very first Christmas—when God Himself took on human flesh to become a helpless baby; when the Light was born into our darkness and the world was changed forever.
This is the true message of Christmas; welcoming Jesus into our lives—for the first time or once again. This is the real giving and receiving. Allowing Him to be born inside us, welcoming Him with joy, love, awe, and wonder. He gives Himself to us every moment of every single day. We must hear and respond like the shepherds, who were invited to come and see. After they encountered Jesus, they went away ‘glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard’ (Luke 2:20). We must also be like the angels, God’s messengers, inviting and leading people to discover Jesus for themselves.
‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2). This Christmas, will you witness to this Light, to those in the darkest of places? The lonely, the depressed, the oppressed, the rejected, the dejected, the forgotten, the lost, the abandoned, the sick, the homeless, the prisoners, the elderly, the orphans and the widows? You may not have to look far. These could be members of your own household or family. It could be as simple as remembering them in your prayers. Or will you put yourself out this Christmas to personally share the greatest gift that anybody could ever wish to receive—the gift of Jesus Christ? Make this your most memorable Christmas for other people, as well as yourself.
“We must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35
Let us remind the world that Christmas is about Christ.
©Sean Booth is a Lay Missionary of Charity and has just begun studying a Bachelor of Divinity theology degree at Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England, UK. He shares his incredible encounter with Jesus through the Shalom World TV program “Jesus My Savior”. To watch the amazing story. visit: https://shalomworld.org/episode/a-prisoner-finds-jesus-seanbooth.
Feeling lonely can be detrimental. Here’s 5 ways to overcome loneliness. The Covid19 Pandemic that surged throughout 2020 took everyone out of their comfort zone—rich or poor, young or old, healthy or non-healthy, well-educated or less-educated from every race, culture and religion. The pandemic made people feel isolated—from the outside world, from their loved ones, from their kids, from their spouses, from their houses of worship, from their priests, pastors and rabbis, from their counselors and therapists, from their friends and co-workers, from their parents and grandparents and from building human connections. The pandemic has increased the feeling of loneliness in many people, leading some to desperate measures. Feeling lonely creates a void in our hearts; we long to find someone to help us, to hug us, to care for us and pay attention to us. No one wants to feel lonely! But people can feel lonely even when in a relationship or among friends. Loneliness can come at any moment in our lives and at any age. Loneliness can be triggered by a major event like a break-up or divorce and by lesser events like feeling overwhelmed or feeling out of place. Thinking of a particular event or tragedy can also trigger feelings of loneliness. But with every struggle, God can provide hope, comfort, and strength to anyone who seeks him. Overcoming loneliness is not easy. It is a process that requires constant practice. The best way I have found to overcome loneliness is to place my trust in God. But we know that grace builds on nature and so we must also seek out the many practical strategies that also can help. Here are five positive steps I believe can help you cope with and overcome loneliness. 1.Ask for help when feeling lonely and feeling overwhelmed! Reach out to people who are reliable and trustworthy. 2.Identify and engage in activities that bring you joy, that make you smile and keep you positive mentally, emotionally, and physically. 3.Fill your soul with spirituality—read the Bible, enroll in a Bible study or social weekly fellowship, pray privately or in groups and with family, pray online or on the phone. 4.Practice almsgiving by giving to a cause dear to your heart. Make a positive difference in other people’s lives by volunteering your time and talents. Giving yourself to others will lessen your feelings of loneliness. 5.Distance yourself from negative social media platforms and negative followers. Create a positive public forum to promote healthy spiritual conversations. See a Pastor or Counselor if your loneliness persists despite your efforts to deal with it. Try these steps to deal with your loneliness. Taking action will almost always result in a better mood. But remember that in challenging and uncertain times, trust in God is our best strategy.
Have you experienced the real joy of Christmas? I’ll bet you, it makes your life worth living! It began at Mass that morning. I walked toward the front of the Church where most Catholic Masses still have room. But that Christmas day everyone was packed in. As I squeezed directly in front of a former eighth-grade religious education class student his mouth flew open in wordless surprise. On our way out, he started with, “Mr. Manicone, seeing you made my day!” I said sincerely, “Rob, you made mine!” As I prayed silently after receiving the Eucharist, a man squeezed my shoulder as he passed by with his child. I recognized him, an old friend whose dad died the week before. After mass, I found him outside. “I’m really sorry to hear about your dad—such a great guy. But he must be happy celebrating Christmas with Jesus face to face.” He smiled. Walking down the steps, I saw another former student. He spoke with a glow, “Ya know, Mr. Manicone, I chose visiting nursing homes as part of my Confirmation service project. That’s ‘cause of joining you for Christmas caroling last year.” I felt so proud of him: “That’s super, Gary. Just hearing that makes my Christmas happier.” I headed out to the Care Center to meet this year’s carolers. The residents called out my name and ran to embrace me. Some didn’t want to let me go and hugged me without letting up. They said “Thanks” so wholeheartedly. They kept saying, “I love you,” and I did too. These poor and sick under-loved discarded people have nothing to give except their love. And they so much appreciate us allowing them to love us. As prep in the entryway, I tell my companions, “I encourage you to listen to love a little more—unconditional pure giving love. Value your time spent with a person who has no one but you. That time is priceless, and its treasure is in heaven.” My friend Zeke and I received an instant lesson in love when we happened on two men in their room. One in a wheelchair spoke for the other who could not speak. He gazed at the bedridden man, and asserted, “That one is the most important person in the whole building.” That’s love. Afflictions only seem to heighten love. Down the hallway, we sang. One woman, Millie, could only grunt. She seemed to know and sing every line, glowing as though singing from the mouth of her heart. Singers came and left through the day, and the last part in the evening became more intense. A resident named Terry said his long-time roommate had a stroke and didn’t speak or move. As he lay immobile, we sang four songs around his bed. On the way out, I felt compelled to take the man’s hand and bless him, “Andy, I pray that Jesus will let you know how much He loves you—you’re His special friend. Merry Christmas!” His whole body came to life as he lifted himself up, grasped my hand, and exclaimed loudly, “God bless you! I love you.” Wow—the Christmas spirit brings forth life! Louise at 95 was in excruciating pain when we entered her room. She smiled peacefully as we sang and prayed over her. Mary has lain in her bed staring at the ceiling for years, with no TV or radio--she’s so content. When I asked her what she did with her time, she smiled, “I think.” It made me wonder: If she can be so peaceful, appreciate our singing, and take in our love, could I? What a day filled with the awe and wonder of Christmas—Jesus came to me, and I was privileged to bring Him to others.
Where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid world? Find it today! Covid Chronicles The word “lockdown” still takes my breath away. Fear is enemy number one. To prepare the battlefield, I placed Divine Mercy images on all my doors. I prayed that the Angel of Death of our times—Covid—would pass over this house. Inside my house, my statues of Jesus and His Mother faced out to protect the whole neighborhood and world. Then I began a notebook journal, my own “Covid Chronicles”. Anxiety, isolation, boredom and depression are relentless stalkers on this battlefield as well. Rereading my journal now, I see how the Lord is continuously helping his little ones to fight them. The Kingdom moments are in plain sight now. Do you recognize them? Your Daily Kingdom Moments Start your day with Power. Raise your heart and mind to the God who waits to hear our prayer. We have a God who, on His redeeming cross, said, “I thirst.” Do you know anyone else who died for you and still wants to help you more? Put all your fears right there at the foot of the cross. Because He is God, He knows them anyway and delights in banishing them. In return for your trust in Him, He gives you peace. Fair warning though: this is not a once and done deal. Every time fear sneaks back, have a battle cry ready. It could be simply, “Jesus, I trust in you.” That is the Divine Mercy prayer. When fear becomes too great for you to stand, kneel. I found that the moments on my knees were profound teaching moments. Humility is so necessary to authentic prayer. The rosary to our Blessed Mother, our great intercessor, is the greatest weapon for our time, according to Padre Pio. Pray it every day for soothing peace. Take in Wisdom. Read from daily devotionals, and religious magazines. The short meditations and scripture readings will say exactly what you need to hear at that time on that day. They will verify God’s presence with you and that is a Kingdom moment. Make Mass the mainstay of your day. I felt so grateful to our priests and to our technology which live streamed the Mass every day. The Word of God and spiritual communion were Kingdom moments delivered right to me. I knew I wasn’t alone. Mass was still a communal meal. Plug into Prayer Groups. I learned to Zoom and connected with an out of state prayer group. I attended many virtual conferences on healing and gifts of the Holy Spirit. My own local Charismatic prayer group conducted weekly meetings through both email and group telephone meetings. Scripture, personal witnessing, petitions for healings, and music were shared. Faith communities nourish the soul and we see that we are a united force connected to a mighty Power who blesses us because we worship and praise Him. Get outside. Life is for the birds, literally. There they were living their uninterrupted lives. They sang their songs, built their nests, fed their young etc. Nature is a Kingdom gift of beauty itself. Talk to positive people. I have smart and grace-filled friends. Connecting with them brings me laughter, and prayer reaffirming visits of the heart. We sympathize, support, and, most importantly, just listen to each other. They are life support during Covid days. If you don’t get a call, make a call. Someone is waiting for a Kingdom moment which you can supply. Set goals each day. At the beginning of Covid-19, I attacked boxes that I had promised myself I would go through years ago. Every day I still set a goal and accomplishing it makes me feel content. A pat on the backwards off depression. Indulge in “me” moments. It sounds contradictory, or even selfish, but doing what you love makes you a happier person. If you live with someone else, they will appreciate that a lot, I suspect. So sing, paint, write, exercise or create by crafting and kingdom moments will be given to others as well as yourself. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11) Always put yourself in the presence of God. Continually look and listen for Him. You will forget, but He will remind you. He is there; your Forever Friend, Savior, and Supplier of all you need. Yes, Covid-19 is a formidable foe, but if we put on the Armor of God we have the best defense. And if God is for us, and He is, the battle is already won. So where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid World? Where it always is—in our innermost being, our spirit.
Are you worried about the future? Feeling doubtful? Then this inspiring testimony is for you! A Tough Day Sheets of rain pelted the bedroom window like a rhythmic bass drum. I rolled over and peered at the clock. It was 8 in the morning, but the sky was dark as night. Five more minutes, I told myself as I nestled back under my blanket. My 19 year old son would be heading out the door to class in less than thirty minutes. He’d been feeling down and I was worried. Our conversation from the night before played over in my mind. “What’s bothering you? You’ve been moping around for a while now,” I asked. “Everything is bothering me. I wish I’d gone to a different university. This school is not helping me get where I want to go. It’s a waste of time. I botched my high school grades and there’s nothing I can do about it. I should just quit school, go to L.A. and get some real film experience,” he complained. My chest tightened. We’d had similar conversations before. “What happened to the days of apprentices? I need to be an apprentice,” he insisted. He made a lot of sense. Although I was intent on him getting a college degree, I knew that his future was between him and God. Ultimately, he needed to figure it out for himself. My job wasn’t to conform himself to my plans, but to help him to flesh it out for himself. “So, what do you think you should do?” I tentatively enquired, fearing his answer. “I don’t know,” he muttered. I took a deep breath. “You’ll figure it out,” I asserted. My alarm went off. As my son clattered down the stairs, I rose to join him. Hopefully, he was feeling better. “Breakfast?” I offered cheerfully. “No, I’ll pick something up on my way,” he murmured, hardly looking up. “Ugh”, I thought, he’s still down. “Be careful, it’s raining and the roads are slick,” I warned. “I will,” he promised. “Have a good day,” I called after him as he walked out the back door. What Kind of a Christian Am I? I slumped into my comfortable easy chair. The dark sky mirrored my mood. With my heart heavy, my morning prayers were rote. I felt the weight of his angst. His doubt about his future became my doubt. I felt guilty. The struggles of life, marriage and children felt overwhelming. I was down and, on top of that, I felt shame for being down. What kind of a Christian was I really? I should be happy, positive and grateful, but I wasn’t. “Jesus, I am so down, full of doubt and full of shame for my doubt. Forgive me, but this is the truth of how I am feeling,” I whispered. I picked up my devotional and read it. The words penetrated my heart. “Set your standard very high. Aim at conquering the world, the world around you. Just say, ‘Jesus conquers, Jesus saves”—in the face of every doubt, every sin, every evil, every fear. No evil can stand against that for there is ‘No other name under Heaven given among men, whereby men can be saved.’ To every fear of want or lack, ‘Jesus saves from poverty’, to every fear, ‘Jesus saves from fear.’ Do this to every ill and it will vanish, as night when sun rises.” How had I allowed my son’s misery and doubt to become my misery and doubt? I prayed, “Jesus, you know what my son needs, who he is and what you have in store for him. It’s okay that I don’t. You know that although I want to fix it all and make it all better, I can’t. I don’t know anyone in the film industry, but you do. If you want this for him then bring the right people to him. If not, I know you will bring something better about for him. Thank you for using my son’s rough patch for his good and your glory. Forgive me for my unbelief and for doubting your plan and love for him.” With my prayer came my surrender and it lifted my spirits. When Unbelievable Happens That afternoon, as I arrived home and pulled into the driveway, I realized I had inadvertently left the garage door open. Inside the garage, attached to the door into the house was a piece of paper reading, “The Suncoast Film Company is filming a movie on your street tomorrow morning. The street will be blocked off at different times during the day. We will be back in your neighborhood late this afternoon to discuss the details.” I could not believe my eyes! A film company was coming to our street tomorrow! The film company representative rang our doorbell a few hours later and, during our chat, agreed to offer my son a job as an intern. As soon as my son walked in the door, I rushed to give him the news. I recounted the day’s events, including the reading in the devotional and my prayer to Jesus on his behalf. Looking into his eyes, I told him, “Never doubt that Jesus is with you through everything. Praise Him through everything, no matter what. You were made for Him and for His glory. You are part of His plan and He loves you. Every breath you take is proof of that. Tell him everything you feel and everything you want. Then trust in Him to see you through. ” “I will, Mom. I just can’t believe this. It’s incredible! I’m going to be an intern for a movie right here in our street. I’m so excited and stunned by it all,” he exclaimed as he beamed from ear to ear. That internship opened the door for him to freelance throughout college as a production assistant in film and in television. However, the real gift of that experience came before the miracle of the film company’s arrival at my door. It was the words of truth, “To every fear or lack or want, “Jesus saves,” shifting my heart from self-focus, doubt and fear to peace and freedom in Christ. Dear Jesus, I surrender all my anxieties, fears and doubts into your hands. Trusting in your love and mercy I live every moment and look up to you. Reign in my heart O Lord that I may walk in your light and find true freedom and peace. Amen.
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