Father Tao Pham shares his breathtaking journey through the storm, in spite of his crippling disability
To fulfill my dream of becoming a priest, I had to overcome a lot of challenges and difficulties. Many times, when the pain seemed unbearable, I prayed that my sufferings would be united with Jesus in His Passion. I knew that He could do anything, so if He wanted me to become a priest, then one day I would be a priest.
I was born in the north of Vietnam, the 7th of 8 children. We grew up in a very poor village where schooling ended at Year 9, but I felt that Christ was calling me to the priesthood. This was only possible if I received tertiary education. When I was 14, my brother and I sorrowfully bid farewell to our family so we could attend high school.
At that time, the Communist government in North Vietnam had closed all the seminaries, so after high school graduation, I spent 4 years assisting our parish priest full-time, 4 years at university and 4 years teaching before I finally began seminary training in the south. My dream was finally coming true, but this was just the beginning. When I’d finished 3 years of Philosophy, I was invited to complete my study for the priesthood in Australia.
After 3 more years studying Theology and a year of pastoral placement, I finally received the happy news that the bishop had chosen the date for my ordination as a deacon. A few days before the big day, I had a little mishap when the car boot fell and squashed my fingers as I was removing my luggage. The other seminarians cleaned me up, but the fingers became so swollen and painful that after 3 days, I finally went to the hospital. To my surprise, the doctors told me that I had less than 50% of normal blood volume because I was bleeding internally. They discovered a stomach ulcer which needed an emergency operation.
When I woke up, I was astonished to find myself tied to the bed. The doctor said I had been shaking so much that they had to tie me down so that I could receive a blood transfusion. They told me that I had tetanus, but after 40 days treatment, I was well enough to go back to the seminary to begin the intensive study prior to ordination. After several weeks, the Bishop asked me to come and stay with him. It was wonderful to be attending him at Mass, but I suddenly collapsed in the Cathedral and had to be rushed back to hospital.
They put me into intensive care because I had developed a catastrophic blood infection and was not expected to live. I stopped breathing and had to be put on life support. Since the doctors were certain I would die, they sent for my family and my brother came from Vietnam. After receiving the Last Rites, life support was turned off, but I didn’t die. After a couple of hours, they turned on the machines again. A couple of weeks later, they turned the machines off again, but I still survived. I ended up being in a coma for 74 days and was operated on 18 times.
When I woke up from the coma, I was still in a lot of pain. I could not talk because there was a tube in my throat. Even after the tubes were removed, I could not speak. It took months to slowly and painfully learn to talk again. My condition was still critical so the doctors prepared me for another surgery, which my brother had already consented to, but when I read that they were planning to cut my leg off, I refused. The doctor told me that I would die if it was not amputated, but I did not want this to prevent me from being ordained as a priest. I would not give up my dream of becoming a priest even though my family and many good friends were telling me that it was hopeless, to just go home to Vietnam and get married. It was very challenging, mentally and physically, but I put my hope and trust in God.
After a month on “Nil by Mouth”, I was desperately longing to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. If I could receive even a drop of the Precious Blood, I knew that I would be healed. The next day Father Peter brought the Precious Blood to me in Holy Communion. As he trickled a few drops into my mouth, I visualized it moving into my body and touching the infection. The following day, I felt much better. Tests were done and the infection was gone.
After more than a year in hospital, we had a meeting with the staff of the hospital to discuss my future. The bishop attended on my family’s behalf. The doctor reported that I would never be able to walk again and would need high level care 24 hours a day for the rest of my life. They said that I would not be able to look after myself, shower myself or even get in or out of bed without help. It was devastating to hear this and even more devastating to hear the bishop’s decision that he would not ordain me as a deacon or priest. After all the years of study and waiting, my dream seemed to be over.
It was very difficult for me, however I kept praying. I was determined to walk again, so I worked hard at all the painful exercises I was given, offering up my suffering in union with Christ for all the people who needed my prayers. The rehabilitation took years. Often I felt like giving up, but I held onto my dream and that gave me the courage to go on.
Despite all these challenges and obstacles, I still felt Christ calling me to become a priest to serve His people, even in my weakness. So, one day I sent a letter to the Archbishop of Melbourne asking him to accept me for ordination. To my surprise, he arranged to see me straight away and discuss what he needed me to do. He agreed to ordain me, even if I had to lie in a bed or sit in a wheelchair, but he told me that I would get better and better, and I would be walking. At that stage I was still in a wheelchair, but I continued to work at my exercises while I finished my study, so when ordination day came I was able to join the others walking in procession. The Cathedral was filled with the jubilant faces of friends. Many of them had met me when I needed their care in hospital so they knew how astonishing it was that I had lived to see this day. Tears of joy filled my eyes and I could see their eyes glistening too. I could not believe that this day had finally come, 30 years after I set out from my village in pursuit of my dream.
Now, I work with 2 other priests in a busy community with 4 churches, several schools and 6 nursing homes. Every day when I walk in to say Mass is like a fresh miracle. I do not think that I will ever tire of it. Then, strengthened by the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, I go out to visit the children in the schools and the elderly in the nursing homes. I feel blessed to bring His presence to them. The long wait to share in Christ’s priesthood is over and I can share with them the fruits of my suffering in union with Him.
Persisting through all my difficulties has enabled me to understand and help people in their adversities. I have learned that thinking about the needs of others and putting on a smiling face for them diverts me from my own afflictions and transforms my suffering into joy. When people come to me for assistance, I can draw on the strength I gained from my ailments to encourage them to persevere through their trials. Because they can see that I suffer a disability, it is easier for them to relate to me in times of trouble so that they can receive the Church’s support to maintain hope in the darkest times.
Father Tao Pham is a priest in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, assisting in the Greensborough North, Greensborough and Diamond Creek parishes. This article is based on his testimony and the Shalom World program “Triumph”. To watch the episode visit: www.shalomworld.org/show/triumph
When I realized I had done the same thing to my son that my mom had done to me... “You are like the Samaritan woman,” my spiritual director said as he prayed over me. His words shook me. “I’m like the Samaritan woman,” I asked. He nodded. His words stung but his wise brown eyes were pools of compassion. He was no ordinary priest. I had been meeting with him for years and had had difficult and extraordinary experiences of God through him. Every time I met with him, the waiting room outside his office was filled with people from different parts of the world, who had heard of him and were waiting to see him for healing or encouragement. This quiet, humble and holy man had been God’s instrument for years and I had brought countless people to see him. On the way home, I wrestled with his comparison. The Samaritan Woman? I didn’t have five husbands and the man I was living with was my husband. And then it occurred to me that maybe I was like the Samaritan Woman, because after her encounter with Christ, she ran into town to tell everyone that she had met the Messiah. Maybe that is what he meant. Little did I know that his comparison would be prophetic… Retaliation Over the years, conflicts and problems in the home escalated and I ended up in therapy. For all my knowledge of the Catholic faith, I had very little self-awareness. I believed that I was holy because I was a devout Catholic who lived the sacramental life and was generous with my time and attention. Yet in Confession after Confession, I continued to admit committing the same sins over and over again. Much of my Confession time was focused on the sins of those closest to me and how they needed to change. Even while I listened to homilies at Mass, I thought more of the people that were not present, but needed to hear what I was hearing. I was certain that I was righteous, and that God was on my side. . . Therapy began a journey of personal unveiling. I had been living in a House of Shame instead of a House of Grace and I had hurt the people closest to me and damaged our relationships. Each day brought opportunities for change, but it was not easy. “Can you watch your sister for me for an hour or two? I need to run errands,” I asked my high school son who had just walked in from school and was headed up the stairs. In a nasty tone he said, “No.” It was not what I had expected, and I was mad. I wanted to put him in his place and to level accusations like, ‘How dare you talk to me like that! You are a disrespectful and ungrateful brat. You’ve been away all weekend with your friends, and you can’t sit with your sister for an hour or two? How selfish of you.’ The battle with my ego was in full swing. Help me Jesus, I prayed. I remembered one of my first therapy sessions. “Ignore your first inclinations.” I took a breath and shifted my focus away from myself and onto my son. I could see that his reaction was not equal to my request. He was mad. There was more behind his indignant refusal, and I wanted to know what it was. “You are really mad. This isn’t like you. What’s going on,” I asked sincerely. “It’s always me. You never ask my brothers,” he snapped. The voice in my head retaliated, ‘He’s wrong! His brothers watch her when he isn’t around. He’s accusing you of being unfair, it’s not true.’ Jesus, help me stomp my pride and my ego. My cheeks flushed. I felt exposed and ashamed. Do I want to be right, or do I want to understand him and connect with him, I asked myself? Deep down I knew he was right. He was the one I always asked, because I believed he was the most responsible. “You’re right, I always ask you,” I admitted. His face softened. “Well, it’s not fair.” His voice trailed off and his emotions intensified. “You left me to take care of her when she was a tiny baby, and I was a wreck the whole time you were away because I didn’t feel like I was capable,” he said. My mind flashed back to a memory. I was very young and home alone with my two brothers who were babies. I remembered the panic I had felt. I stood there looking up at him shocked by the realization that I had done the same thing to him that my mom had done to me. “Tell me about it,” I murmured gently. With deep emotion he recounted what he remembered. I moved closer to him. “That’s awful. I should never have put you in that situation. My mom did the same thing to me. She thought I was more capable than my siblings, and she leaned heavily on me, depending on me for things I should never have been responsible for. I’m really sorry,” I admitted shakily. Full of regret and pain from the hurt I had caused him, I resolved to make a change. True Adorers Remembering how I had felt as a child, and acknowledging my own anger and resentment toward my mom and siblings had helped me see the subtle ways I had unfairly leaned on him and avoided giving his brothers an opportunity to grow in responsibility. Worse, I began to see and accept that some of the tasks I had enlisted his help for were burdens meant for me or my husband to carry. I made a concerted effort to split the responsibilities more fairly. Our relationship improved, and as the pressure of responsibility was relieved, he felt less resentment towards his brothers. Although conflicts continued to present opportunities for self-awareness, improved relationships increased my desire to squash my ego, extinguish the voice of accusations in my head, and accept and grow from my imperfections and mistakes. One morning after Mass my sister-in-law approached me. “I found a quote from a priest. I think it sums up what you mean when you say you are learning to move from a House of Shame to a House of Grace,” she said as she scrolled through her phone. “Here, I found it,” she said. “When the amount of your spirituality is equal to the amount of truth you can endure about yourself without escaping it, this is a sign of deep spirituality. That’s how transformation of the heart happens. Only Truth can set us free. And then we’ll be true adorers of the Lord. We will adore the Lord in spirit and in truth,” she said. “Yes! That’s it," I declared. "For so many years I thought all I needed was to know the truth of the Church. But there’s another truth I need. It’s a truth I can’t easily see or admit to in myself. It’s the battle within my heart and soul to live in a House of Grace rather than a House of Shame. And I can’t do it without Jesus.” On the way home, I wondered where I had heard ‘Adore the Lord in spirit and in truth?’ As soon as I got home, I grabbed the Bible and found those exact words at the end of the Samaritan woman story. Chills ran down my spine. When Jesus exposed a personal truth about her to her, she acknowledged it instead of denying it, opening the floodgates of grace. “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?” (John 4:29) My spiritual director was right. I am like the Samaritan woman.
What happens when a Protestant Pastor finds a great treasure in the Catholic Church? Becoming a Catholic was not easy for me. Like many converts, I had my share of misconceptions, and obstacles. My biggest obstacle was that my faith/ church perspective was also my career. At 20, I entered into full-time ministry as a Youth Pastor. Throughout my 22 year career in ministry, I have performed many roles—Senior Pastor, Teaching Pastor, Worship Leader, Missions Coordinator etc. My faith was my life, and the idea of leaving it all behind to become a Catholic was something that I wrestled with. I never would have thought it could happen. I had no Catholics in my family. Growing up as the son of a United Methodist pastor, my only exposure to the Catholic faith was from people who hated the Catholic faith. When I met my wife, I asked her if she went to church. She replied, “I’m a Catholic but I don’t go to church”, so I took her to my church and she loved it! We were married in the United Methodist church where I worked; and never looked back. Until… Caught Unawares Like many others who ultimately convert, my first experience with a Catholic who actually practiced his faith proved to be life changing. His name is Devin Schadt. He was a graphic designer. I hired him to create a logo for our youth ministry which led to some interesting conversations about faith, church and eventually his Catholic faith. My first impression of him was that he loved Jesus and had a vibrant faith. This seemed very strange to me, because as I sat in his dining room, I was intrigued by the icons, paintings and other “Catholic looking” stuff he had in his house. Who does that? I had to press him on this. I had never heard a Catholic talk about Jesus in the way Devin did. I had assumed that he just hadn't read the Bible enough to see that his Catholic faith contradicted the Scriptures. I was licking my chops at the idea of sharing some verses with him and explaining the Gospel. I was certain that after a few minutes of this, he would be ready to become a “real” Christian, pray the sinner’s prayer, and become a Protestant like me. I asked him, “Devin, when were you saved?” I wanted to see how a Catholic would answer this question. I did not expect much. I was so wrong. Not only did Devin have an answer to that question, but he had his own questions for me. Questions that I was not at all prepared for. For example, “Keith, where did your Bible come from?” “Why are there so many Protestant denominations?” “How do we know who is accurately teaching the truth of Christianity when there are so many differences between Protestant denominations?” And so many more! I had never heard any of these ideas before, but although I was intrigued, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility that the Catholic Church could be the one true Church founded by Christ. Even the idea that there was one true Church founded by Christ was a new idea to me. I had always believed that what mattered was a person’s faith and belief in the scriptures, not any connection to an institution. Devin was helping me to see that the Bible itself shows that Jesus not only founded a Church, but that it still existed today through the authority of the apostles as they had handed down the faith. However, this was not something I could easily accept. When God Called Me Devin and I would go on to have many conversations over the years. We would take a pilgrimage to Rome and Medjugorje together. We would argue passionately. During this time, my ministry and my family were growing. I loved my role in my church. God was moving and things were great. Although there were many things Devin had showed me that challenged my Protestant thinking, I was still too afraid to seriously entertain the idea of converting. However, there was one night in particular where God called me out. I was at a church camp and one of my friends was leading the youth in a communion service. It was nothing new to me, but as he worked his way through the service and held up the bread and juice and said “this represents Jesus”, I knew that this was not what Jesus said, and I also knew this was not what the Christian Church believed for 1500 years. It was as if God was calling to me “Come home and I’ll show you more...” I broke down and left the room. I called Devin and confessed to him that I was feeling called to become a Catholic. I was terrified that he would rub it in my face that he was right (only because that is what I would have done), but he did not. He simply said he was there to help. I wish that this was the part of my story where I converted, but it is not. I was too afraid. I bailed because I could not wrap my mind around how this could work. What would I do for a job? What would my family think? How could I explain this? All of these questions overpowered the leading I felt and I put this whole Catholic thing behind me for many years. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life. More than 10 years later, eventually God’s call home would become something I could no longer ignore. I had been the “Pastor to Youth and Mission” at a United Methodist Church for a couple years when a good friend of mine named Greg invited my wife and me to attend a screening of “Apparition Hill”. This movie was a documentary that followed seven strangers on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. I had not thought about that trip in quite a while, but when Greg called I thought I’d better go, since he was the one who originally took me on that trip all those years ago. The movie brought so many things back into my mind and had me in tears a few times. This film was clearly used by our Blessed Mother to reach out to me. Worst Part I had been in a bit of a storm in my church. Although my local church was great, our denomination was a mess. It had become clear to me that without an authoritative voice to not only interpret Scripture, but even history, chaos and schism were inevitable. For the United Methodists, the cultural issues of the day surrounding Marriage and Scripture were unraveling what was once a strong denomination. I found myself at odds with many people who wanted the church to change with the times. It did not seem to bother them that the scriptures clearly defined things like marriage and human sexuality. “That’s just one interpretation”. “The church has had it wrong all these years and we will fix it”. “God doesn’t hate. He/she loves everybody so you can’t judge anyone”. These were just some of statements I wrestled against all the while knowing that I really did not have a leg to stand on without some kind of external God-given authority to tell me otherwise. During one of my conversations with a very liberal pastor friend, she said to me, “Keith if you believe all that Church authority stuff, why aren’t you a Catholic?” Great question! I had begun to reopen that idea. It seemed that the more I thought about everything Devin and I had argued about, the more it made perfect sense. I was in a different place. I had learned that not listening to God is the worst thing you can do. I still had objections. I still had issues, but I had begun to feel a new sense of calling and a new presence in my life. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but it all became clear to me as I was preparing to preach a sermon on the Annunciation. (It was Advent—so we could talk about Mary.) As I worked on this message in my office, I became overcome with emotion. The more I thought about Mary, the more I became aware of not only how amazing she was, but how connected to the Holy Spirit she continues to be. I felt her presence. When I preached that sermon, I could feel the Holy Spirit moving. I talked about how Mary was the “New Eve” and the “New Ark of the Covenant.” I talked about how amazing she must have been for the angel, Gabriel to greet her “Hail, full of grace”. The people were so intrigued by this. One man came forward afterwards in tears, saying he had never heard anything like that before. There is so much more I could say about this, but the bottom line is: My doctrinal objections were solved not by arguments, but by The Blessed Mother capturing my heart. However, I still had the issue of what my life would look like if I converted. My dad had told me once, “Keith you can’t just quit your job and become Catholic, there needs to be a way”. He meant that I needed to know how I would feed my family. What would I do for a job? What about my ministry? A Step of Faith The answers to those questions would not be revealed to me for some time, but one night as I prayed before a crucifix, I said to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to become Catholic, but I need you to make a way.” With as much clarity as I have ever had from God, Jesus spoke to me from the crucifix. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. You don’t need Me to make a way, you just need ME”. I knew what this meant. I had just received my blessing during the Mass (because I could not receive the Eucharist). Jesus was showing me that He was not only truly present in the Eucharist, but also that my primary need was not for God to make things easy or fully revealed, but rather to take a step of faith like I had never taken before. He was showing me that what I truly needed was not control, or assurance. What I needed was Him. I was realizing that even if I lost everything I have in this world, but gained Jesus, I had won! I had to get to the place where I did not need it all to work out perfectly in order to convert. I had to be willing to sacrifice it all for Jesus. Once I was able to take that step, it all became clear. There was no looking back. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) After all these years, I was finally ready to buy the field. I am so happy I did. Since becoming a Catholic, things have not been easy. I have lost friends, money, security, stability and more. But what I have gained has been more valuable than I could ever have asked for. The blessings I have received are incomparable with what I sacrificed. God has been true to his word. I know that no matter what happens in this life, I will never leave the Church. When you follow the call of God, it does not mean life will become easy, but it does become more meaningful. I am so grateful for the grace he has given to me, and I can only dream, about where this journey will take me from here.
Are Angels real? Get to know the truth here... We often come across Angels as messengers of God in the Scripture. The Catholic Church recognizes the names of only three Angels, all of whom belong to the Choir of Archangels. Each year the Church celebrates the feast of these Archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael on September 29th. Saint Michael the Archangel means, “Who is like God.” He is the patron of soldiers, police officers and firefighters. Traditionally, Michael has been referred to as the Guardian Angel of the people of Israel and he is now revered as the Guardian Angel of the Church. In the Book of Revelation, Michael is the angel who led the forces of Heaven to defeat Lucifer/Satan when he rebelled against God. We learn from Scripture and Tradition that Saint Michael has four main responsibilities: to combat Satan; to escort the faithful to Heaven at their hour of death; to be a champion of all Christians and the Church; and to call men and women from life on Earth to their Heavenly judgment. Saint Gabriel the Archangel means, “God is My Strength”. Gabriel is God’s Holy Messenger. He appeared to the Prophet Daniel to explain a vision from God. He appeared to the priest Zacharias to announce that he would have a son, John the Baptist, and he appeared to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. Catholic tradition indicates that Gabriel was the angel who appeared to Saint Joseph in his dreams. God entrusted Gabriel with delivering the most important message of our Catholic faith to the Virgin Mary. He is the patron saint of messengers, telecommunications workers and postal workers. Saint Raphael the Archangel means, “God heals.” In the Old Testament book of Tobit, Raphael is credited with driving the evil spirit from Sarah and restoring Tobit’s vision, allowing him to see the light of Heaven and for receiving all good things through His intercession. Raphael is the patron saint of travelers, the blind, bodily ills, happy meetings, nurses, physicians and medical workers. Angels all around us “Make yourself familiar with the angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you.” Saint Francis de Sales. Have you experienced angels protecting you from apparent dangers? Sometimes a person knows deep down that Someone had come to their aid. Many of us have probably realized that angels have protected and helped them at times. One of my experiences of angels assisting me is etched forever in my memory. When my mom was being treated for cancer, we had to make a 240 miles round trip to the nearest cancer treatment center. On the way home one day, as we drove along a secondary highway, my car began to lose power while the engine started to bang and make all kinds of noise indicating that the car was about to die on the spot. My mom was exhausted and feeling ill, so I knew that it could be disastrous if we stalled on the side of the road in the heat of the summer. I began to pray desperately, asking the holy angels to come to our assistance, to keep the engine going until we arrived home. After chugging disjointedly along for about a mile or two, all of a sudden the engine started to smooth out, gain power and ran smoothly all the way home. We were thanking God for sending us angels to assist us. The next day, I brought my car into the mechanic shop to have it checked out. To my pleasant surprise the mechanic could not find a single issue with the engine. I felt thankful and amazed that our very own angel mechanic had fixed the car so that it ran even better than before. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.” Psalm 35:7 From the moment God created me, He assigned me a guardian angel. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” (CCC 336) Our human lives are surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Our guardian angel’s task is to get us to Heaven. We will never know, this side of Heaven, how many times we were protected from dangers by angels or how often they helped us avoid a fall into serious sin. “The angels work together for the benefit of us all.”— Saint Thomas Aquinas. No wonder the Catholic Church has set apart October 2nd as a feast day to remember the Guardian Angels. Many Saints were privileged to see their angel. Saint Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was a young woman who was called by Saint Michael the Archangel and other saints to lead and inspire the French forces in numerous military battles against the English during the Hundred Year War. God used this courageous woman to do battle on His behalf. Pope Leo XIII who reigned during the latter half of the 19th Century, had a vision of Satan and composed the following Prayer to Saint Michael which is recited after Mass in many Churches today: “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the hour of battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.” When we sing praises to God we are singing with the Angels. At every Mass, we are swept right up into Heaven. "The Mass as Heaven on earth …is a mysterious participation in the Heavenly liturgy. We do go to Heaven when we go to Mass, and this is true of every Mass we attend.” Dr. Scott Hahn. Heavenly King, You have given us archangels to assist us during our pilgrimage on earth. Saint Michael is our protector; I ask him to come to my aid, fight for all my loved ones, and protect us from danger. Saint Gabriel is a messenger of the Good News; I ask him to help me clearly hear Your voice and to teach me the truth. Saint Raphael is the healing angel; I ask him to take my need for healing and that of everyone I know, lift it up to Your throne of grace and deliver us back to the gift of recovery. Help us, O Lord, to realize more fully the reality of archangels and their desire to serve us. Holy angels, pray for us. Amen.
Every moment of searching is a moment of encounter. Look out…for those life-changing moments Pope Francis opens his first encyclical with this line: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Then he boldly invites “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter them. . .” “Encounter,” a keyword of Pope Francis, came to me as the Lord’s answer to a theme for my upcoming retreat. I realized that I needed to develop this quality in my own life—striving to really listen deeply to Jesus in my prayer, and then to the people He sends. Carried Away Our society does not cultivate real encounter. Absorption in screen-based activities and trivial conversations and activities impedes our interactions. We often judge by externals without taking time to see the person within. During my five-day retreat, I chose a Joyful Mystery as the focus of each day. While I took my morning jog, I contemplated each mystery and renamed them: 1. The Encounter of the Archangel Gabriel with Mary. 2. The Encounter of Mary with Elizabeth, and of Jesus and John. 3. The First Face-to-Face Encounter of Jesus with Mary and Joseph. 4. The Encounter of Simeon, then Anna, with Jesus when He was Presented in the Temple. 5. Mary and Joseph’s Encounter after Losing and Finding Jesus. When my mind roamed, I would draw my attention back to the key encounter. Within My Soul Occasionally, when I catch myself praying the psalms, prayers and readings from the breviary without fully engaging, I try to re-frame it as an encounter with the Father, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with Mary, or with the saints. Sometimes, a strong distraction carries me away. For example, if I think about a person who has hurt me, and let that resentment intrude, I need to encounter the Lord’s healing. Often enough what bothers us about someone else is actually reflecting something about ourselves. So we are to ask ourselves: “What does my anger or resentment about this person tell me about myself? Relishing Friendship In my perpetual efforts to clean up and get organized, I have found it helpful to ask: “Is this book, paper, CD, photo, really something very helpful, or have I just carried it around without using it beneficially? If I have not had an encounter with it, can I give it up, throw it out, or do something better with it?” My daily prayer is to really encounter Jesus deeply, then to go out to encounter others in whom he truly is present. As Pope Francis says, we must “be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of relishing Christ’s friendship and His message, . . .convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known Him. . . We pray that Our Lady will help us do as she did: “Mary, help us to say our own ‘Yes’ to proclaiming the Good News, and to encountering God in service of others.”
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