• Latest articles
Dec 11, 2018
Encounter Dec 11, 2018

What has now been coined “Black Friday” usually marks the official beginning of the season called “Christmas Shopping.” This year I began getting online shopping notices a few days before Thanksgiving, then discovered that Black Friday was followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. For many of us, I am afraid the weeks before Christmas are reduced to parties and hectic shopping.

It does not have to be that way. It should not be that way. In my family we have taken a different approach—we have rediscovered the season of Advent. The final weeks of ordinary time leading up to the Feast of Christ the King and the beginning of the Church’s New Year in the season of Advent can be a time of spiritual renewal. The readings and symbols of the liturgy point us toward those last things, those things of ultimate and eternal significance. It is the season where our prayer is, “Come, Lord Jesus. As You came in history, so come more fully into my life now and prepare for when You will come again at the end—at the end of my life—at the end of history.”

Hope: A Theological Virtue

Meditating on the coming of Christ should stir up hope within us. I am not thinking so much of the hope that is simply wishful thinking: I hope I do well on that test. I hope it does not rain on my fishing trip. I hope my sick mother gets better. I hope I get an iPhone for Christmas. No, the hope we are invited to grow in during Advent is the theological virtue of hope. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” defines hope this way:

“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and await from God eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit to merit it and to persevere to the end of our earthly life.”

Hope is a virtue, which means it is a habit or disposition. It is the habit of trusting in God and having confidence in God and His promises no matter what we see with our physical sight. As a theological virtue it concerns our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is founded in, lived in and expressed in hope. We relate to God in hope. Why? Because we cannot see God. We cannot see eternal life and we do not YET experience the fulfillment and happiness that awaits us with God.

Saint Paul says, “Though we do not see Him, we believe in Him, we trust in Him, and we are confident— hopeful—that He will guard what we have entrusted to Him until that day.”

Longing for Fulfillment

Christian hope concerns our longing for and expectation of fulfillment. We can all relate to the experience of feeling unfulfilled. In our personal lives we are not the people we hope to be. We wish we were more patient, more disciplined, more pure, more self-controlled, more disciplined, more faithful, more generous and more bold and courageous. In our relationships we long for more. We experience disappointment in our relationships, we feel let down, we wish there was there more unity, less strife. We wish our relationships were more selfless, less competitive. We long to be known completely and loved unconditionally.

Hope is the steadfast turning toward our true fulfillment, which is supernatural happiness in God. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” If we set our hope on anyone or anything other than God—even the best things in life, i.e., family, marriage, friendship—we will be disappointed, unsatisfied and unfulfilled. We will never in this life, on this side of death, on this side of heaven, find the fulfillment for which we long. This is why we need hope. If we understand that only in union with God will we find the happiness and fulfillment for which we were made and that we long for, we will pray ever more earnestly in this advent season: “Maranantha, Come Lord Jesus.”

'

By: Gordy DeMarais

More
Nov 30, 2018
Encounter Nov 30, 2018

Hardship is not pleasant. It creates discomfort in our lives. It inconveniences our plans. It discourages us, causing hesitation and inaction. Yet, properly understood, hardship is one of the most valuable opportunities in the Christian life. It helps us grow in faith, personal maturity and intimacy with God. The opening verses of the gospel of Luke Chapter 5 capture almost every important insight for understanding the value of hardship, if we are willing to allow it to form us:

“[Jesus] saw two boats … the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats … he asked [Peter] to put out a short distance from the shore … After he had finished speaking [to the crowd], he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing … They… filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish … seized him and all those with him … “(Luke 5:1-8).

Comfort

If your experience of boats is limited to luxury cruise liners, you might be under the impression that boats are comfortable. They are not. Especially if the boat is a firstcentury fishing boat. A long night of fishing consisted of bending over, hauling nets and sitting on narrow wooden seats, all while wearing wet clothes.

By the time Jesus gets around to speaking to Peter, the fishing is over and done. Peter is ashore, mending nets and cleaning up. Peter has had some time to stretch his sore muscles a bit, and he is certainly ready for some sleep after a long night on the water. Fishing is hard work and he is tired. Jesus, apparently unfazed by Peter’s fatigue and lack of a catch, looks at him and says, “Let’s go.”

This is the first of Peter’s three important decisions. He must choose between the comfort of his bed and the discomfort of the boat. Peter chooses discomfort. Peter references Jesus as “master,” implying that he does not yet have the revelation of Jesus as the Christ. The term “master” would apply to any wise teacher. Still, Peter chooses discomfort.

Convenience

It is one thing for Peter to let the rabbi teach from his boat. After all, Peter ends up with a front-row seat to listen to this master, to rub shoulders with the local “celebrity.” Jesus, though, is about to “up the ante” with Peter.

After teaching, Jesus basically says to Peter, “Hey, let’s go farther out and fish.” Peter, knowing that fishermen fish at night for a reason, may well have thought to himself, dismissively, “Carpenter’s son!” Jesus is proposing that Peter hit the reset button on the entire fishing operation. It takes time to row out to deep water, drop the nets, haul the nets back in, return to shore and mend the nets (again). If he is lucky, he might get an hour or two of sleep before he comes back to fish in the evening.

This is the second of Peter’s three important decisions. Jesus has interrupted the rhythm of Peter’s life. At first, the cost to Peter is small, maybe an hour or two of inconvenience. But, Jesus seems almost intent on making things downright difficult for him. Peter knows that his workday begins when the sun goes down and Jesus is asking for most of the daylight hours until then.

Peter chooses the harder path—again. He trusts a carpenter against his own knowledge and expertise and heads out to deep water. The payoff for Peter appears to be nothing more than a long day in the hot sun. Yet, he chooses inconvenience.

Cowardice

Peter drops his nets into the water and is confronted by a completely unforeseen issue that appears to threaten everything! As he hauls them in, they are so full of fish that he needs help from another boat. Luke tells us that both boats “were in danger of sinking.”

This seems perplexing. Peter’s obedience has brought a super-abundant, astonishing bounty. It is so abundant that the boats are in danger of sinking. Losing his boat would spell the end of his livelihood and maybe the end of his life. Peter must choose again.

He can start tossing fish out of the boat to lighten the load or even cut his own nets. Or, he can muster the courage to hang onto the full weight of God’s blessing. Peter chooses correctly for the third time. He risks everything for the fullness of the catch. Later in his ministry, Peter would need to know this lesson—increase comes at a price.

The Astonishing Nature of God

Luke recounts Peter’s response to the catch, which can be captured with a single word. Once again, Peter speaks directly to Jesus. Instead of calling Jesus “master,” Peter calls Him “Lord.” He glimpses the very divinity of Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God.

It should not be lost on us that, even to seasoned, experienced fishermen, this catch of fish was astonishing. The catch was so bountiful that the minds of the fishermen could not explain it rationally. It appears that the catch was not abundant, but actually “superabundant”; that is, defying logic, reason, knowledge and natural wisdom.

Understanding Hardship

The Christian understanding of hardship and suffering is intimately tied to evil and redemption. Hardship exists in the world because evil exists in the world. Sin, death, disease and trauma make life hard. These things do not originate from God. Because of His redemptive love, God is able to transform hardship into bounty. He is able to turn “less” into “more.”

Chapter 15 of John’s Gospel compares us to grape vines. Jesus tells the disciples in a pointed way that He prunes those who bear fruit (believers) so that they bear more fruit. Pruning, by definition, is the cutting away of that which is not necessary in order to promote new growth that produces more! And it is painful.

Leaning Into Hardship

In many circumstances in life, hardship is the very path to what we desire. If we listen in the way Peter did, Jesus will lead us through hardship to some kind of breakthrough, the greatest of which is a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him.

Hardship has the ability to push us beyond ourselves. It helps to forge the dimensions of our character that can only emerge through difficulty. Comfort, convenience and cowardice keep us from a life that is fully alive in Christ. Discomfort, inconvenience and courage form the real substance of our “yes” to Christ. They allow us to see Jesus for who He is and—like Peter—to say “Lord.”

'

By: Ken Kniepmann

More
Nov 25, 2018
Encounter Nov 25, 2018

“I stopped reading fiction when I became Catholic.” The woman talking to me was obviously serious, but I could not believe my ears. What a crime! What a shame! What a sad state of affairs! Yet, I did not express my sorrow. After all, we were at a conference about honoring God with your sexuality and there was no need to ask why she had stopped reading fiction. She had obviously figured out that chastity has to do with purity of mind— not just purity of body—and she was trying to cleanse her mind of “any worthless, evil or distracting thoughts,” as an old prayer phrased it.

Maybe she had a point. Novels and stories fill our minds and affect the way we think and act. A good novel inspires things like bravery, courage and self-sacrifice. A bad novel inspires lust and violence because that is what sells. Books do not have a rating system like movies, but words can paint pictures. Some books tell our hearts that loving someone means about the same thing as craving a chocolate brownie smothered in ice cream and drowning in hot fudge.

There are good reasons to be careful about what you read, but does that mean mysteries, adventures and romances are out because they are all bad for you? Fortunately, the answer is no. As with movies, you just have to be selective. Reading a book should be enjoyable but it will shape how you think, so pick novels that will help you envision who you want to be. Living vicariously through a character can train your heart, in reality, to react like the character. Listening to a character’s struggles can allow your mind to sort through an issue. Learning from a character’s mistakes can help you avoid disaster in your personal life. Looking carefully at a character’s life can help you see more clearly what leads to chastity and what does not. As much as some novels can create a lot of impure thoughts, others can fill your mind with thoughts of noble love.

I recently heard from a man in his early 30s who also had not read much fiction since he became a Christian. He wrote, “I have so much to write about how your book relates to my life and my relationship … Your story has helped me see suffering in a different way and helped remind me that Christ made the ultimate sacrifice … I thought a lot about life. I also find myself saying more, little random prayers throughout the day, which I never really did before.” Was he reading the Bible? No, a novel. As with all good novels, “I felt happy, then sad, then nervous and then happy again … [At one point] I felt so much anger inside and then I remembered, ‘It’s only a book.’”

Do not give up on fiction. Ask friends for suggestions. Search the web for Christian publishing companies and suggested reading lists. Look for old classics on the library shelf. A good book can help you reset your vision and your life. An inspiring novel will guide your mind and your heart toward goodness, beauty and, yes, chastity. Plus, getting lost in a story is a lot more fun than staring at the walls!

'

By: Suzanne Macdonald

More
Nov 18, 2018
Encounter Nov 18, 2018

A frail, sick, elderly woman lay on her bed. Deep lines of pain and sorrow were etched on her thin face. Her dark wavy hair glistened in the evening sunlight, highlighting the odd strands of grey weaved through her tangled and tossed strands. She moaned and spoke in hushed tones, barely able to annunciate her words. Her left arm was discolored, swollen and bore an open ulcer that rested on urine-soaked sheets and her shoulder was dislocated. A stale smell of urine permeated the heavy and oppressive air. Her specialneeds son lay on the living room couch asleep and intoxicated, unable to care for his mother.

Shocked to see the condition this unfortunate woman was in, my helper, Mario, and I set out to alleviate her distress as we gasped for fresh air. We slowly moved her to a chair, changed and washed her and discarded the soggy, stained bedclothes and mattress. Mila and her son Kruno had been living in the new house a mere three months when she suffered a stroke. “Dearest Mother, what are we going to do with this poor soul?” I implored. Her pitiably and miserable state had permeated the deepest part of my heart and I was filled with sorrow for her. With several years of humanitarian work behind me at this point, I had adjusted to the harsh reality of suffering. I had struggled to find the presence of God in the mass ethnic cleansing, sickness, pain and poverty of those living on the margins of society, those who had once lived in comfortable homes dotted across scenic and idyllic parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I was spoon feeding Mila, encouraging her to eat some scrambled egg. Disinterested in eating she turned the food around in her mouth several times and swallowed hard. The scene reminded me of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I had everything in life, a beautiful home, youth and health to my advantage, a monthly salary; I began to thank the Lord for all that I was blessed to have. I caressed Mila’s wrinkled face and lifted her hand to my lips to kiss it. She raised her head, made eye contact with me and gave a little smile. My heart melted and tears flowed down my face as a burning feeling rose up in my heart. I had never experienced this feeling before. My heart filled with tender love for this poor soul. I wanted her to know that she was loved and cared for, albeit by two strangers, one who spoke in a foreign language and the other, a tall Croatian man who sang love songs to her in her native language. Her sunken eyes grew a little brighter as we placed her back in a clean, dry bed and propped her up with pillows, assuring her we would be back the next day.

We kept our promise and arrived properly equipped this time with food, medicines, extra bedclothes and disposables. We found Mila in the same position and in a similar condition as the previous evening. Repeating the process, we tried to convince her to let us take her to the hospital, but she refused point blank. It was an unnegotiable position. Her hands and feet had not been cared for or cleaned in a long time. Her nails were long, with dirt gouged under them, and her skin was dry and hard. Mario agreed to clean her hands and I began cleaning her feet and nails as we waited for the doctor to arrive.

I had grown up on a farm and had fed and looked after the small animals for many years. My siblings and I had chased each other with long worms that we pulled from the soil as my father cultivated the vegetable garden. I had prepared the cow barns, cleaned out the hen house and was well accustomed to farmyard odors. I had since discovered that my ability to deal with dirt, foul smells and impoverished circumstances was no longer there. My stomach wrenched and I tended to pull away. This time, though, I could not as I held Mila’s wrinkled foot in my hand. “Oh Holy Mother, give me the strength to do this work,” I invoked as I prayed silent Hail Marys. I cleaned underneath her toenails and pulled out dead bed bugs. I took deep breaths and continued to pray and then the burning sensation of fire filled my heart, purifying it. “Bless the Lord,” I prayed “Bless His Holy Name.” The flame continued until I finished my work. I kissed my “Lady Lazarus” on her forehead and cheeks and we left Mila to sleep in comfort.

I never saw Mila again. She died in her sleep after I returned to Ireland, having left her in better, reliable care. One morning while going back after the Holy mass, I received the news from Mario that Mila had passed away. The Gospel of the day was the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. I smiled knowing that God, through his tender love and mercy, had allowed me the gift of knowing Mila, and through it had freed me from my irrational fears. He had opened my heart to love and care for His poor the way He would want me to do. From that day forward I was given the grace to embrace the most profound physically and mentally disabled people with a love that could only have come from God.

Praise be to Jesus and Mary.

'

By: Patricia Keane

More
Oct 27, 2018
Encounter Oct 27, 2018

Most of us are regular church attendees and we participate in church-related and spiritual activities. Nevertheless, how well do we know the Lord whom we worship? We say with our tongue that He is almighty, powerful, gracious, loving, caring and so forth. But when we face an adverse situation in life, how do we react? Do we get anxious? Do we feel like God does not care? Do we get angry and frustrated towards God? Does it feel like He has abandoned us?

I believe the reaction we generate when we face a difficult situation will help us realize exactly how much we trust Him. In any relationship, how much we trust a person depends on how well we know that person. The more time we spend with that individual, the more we begin to learn about that individual’s character, including his or her strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and so on. Our understanding of that person’s character helps us to determine how much we can trust that individual.

Just like that, how well we know our Savior can play a significant role in evaluating how much we trust Him. In order to understand our Lord’s character, we need to spend more and more time with Him. It is crucial for us to meditate on the things that He had to give up in order to come down to earth and become like one of His creations. Think about it: the God who created heaven and earth, the God who is full of glory and honor decided to shrink into our likeness so that He can endure all the trials and difficulties of the earthly life that His sons and daughters experience. Furthermore, we need to contemplate the painful and most humiliating punishment He had taken upon Himself so that we would be saved from the eternal punishment we deserve.

If we are measuring God’s love based on the materialistic blessings He has given us in this world, we will be disappointed and angry at God when we do not receive those things or when we lose them. On the other hand, if we realize the value of our soul and learn to understand His love based on the great sacrifice He has made for us to redeem our souls, then we begin to understand how much He loves us. Dear readers, Jesus loved you so much that He was willing to leave everything behind and come down to this earth and accept a painful death for our salvation. He shed even the last drop of His blood to redeem us. Because of that sacrifice, you and I have been granted access into Heaven.

It is also important to remember that God is our Creator and He loves us more than anyone else in this world. We do not like anything bad happening to our loved ones. We will not deliberately do or allow something to happen in our loved ones’ lives that would harm or destroy them. Considering that we—weak and sinful beings—would not want anything awful to happen to our dear ones, do you think our heavenly Father, the God who created us, would allow something to happen in our lives that would harm us? He will not. It is not in His character to do anything to hurt His children. He is love in its fullness. If God has allowed an unpleasant situation to happen in our lives, He has a great and good purpose behind it.

Many of us likely have heard this analogy: if one of our children has to go through a painful medical procedure in order to recover from a life-threatening illness, we would allow them to go through that process— no matter how painful it is to see our child suffering. That child may be crying and begging you not to let him go through that process. However, since you know that it is necessary in order to sustain his life, you would allow him to go through it with a heavy heart. Just like that, our heavenly Father is not rejoicing when we are going through hardships. His heart is heavy and sad when He sees His children suffer. But sometimes, He has let us go through certain sufferings in life to sustain our precious soul. He knows that if He does not allow us to experience certain adversities that our soul will forever be lost.

As an individual who lost her sight in a car accident, I truly believe this suffering that He allowed has been the greatest blessing in my life. In spite of the difficulties and challenges I face as a blind person, I am able to see this physical impairment as a blessing because this blindness has become a great eye-opener for me. Because of this condition, God gave me the grace not only to realize the value of my soul, but also to see how much I am loved by Him. When you come to realize these truths, it will become easier to carry the crosses that God has allowed in your own life.

In 2 Corinthians 4:17, Saint Paul says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Like Paul reminds us, make every effort to concentrate on that eternal glory that is waiting for us in Heaven. Let us shift our focus away from our trials and tribulations which are temporary and, instead, put our focus and trust in a loving God who is much, much bigger than any storms we face in our lives. Always remember that our God can turn any tragedy into a great victory when we put our hope and trust in Him.

'

By: Susan Uthup

More
Oct 14, 2018
Encounter Oct 14, 2018

My conversion to the Catholic Church took about three seconds. I was an arrogant fool sitting in on my very first Mass and watching it like I had watched a National Geographic nature film. I was analyzing away—“Those pews are so phallic, who are they kidding that this isn’t all about a patriarchy?”—when I heard something Jewish. A cantor sang the Psalm. It caught my attention and stopped the haughty drift of my thoughts. I began to be interested. What else might they have stolen from the Jews?

This led to other discoveries, like the parading of the Gospels. “Well, if Jesus does claim to be the Jewish Messiah, I guess there should be Jewish elements in the worship,” I thought dismissively until it occurred to me I had never seen Jewish elements in the Protestant churches I had attended as a girl. Why not? I puzzled that one for a while.

About the time for the consecration (I had no idea what it was called at the time), I had come all the way around to the skeptical thought, actually accompanied by a quiet sarcasm-laden snort, “What if all this were true?”

Then I was hit in the head with a 2 x 4—that process took all of three seconds. I say that comically but wave upon wave of revelation breaking over my stunned mind was actually very painful. It was also beautiful, exquisite and utterly horrifying. I saw things, felt things, all in quick succession with the complete clarity of the words, “It is all true,” ringing like a bell.

Then an actual bell rang signaling the consecration. Jesus Himself was upon that altar and I was done. I had a choice to make and it was my very last chance. It was true. I could never again deny the truth of it but I could still deny Him. A ‘yes’ would cost me every friend I had, the community I had built, my reputation. Everything. Was I willing to give it all up? Oh, God, yes!

Then I came back from that heady place to reality where the Mass continued before me. I was Catholic now but that priest up there on the dais was the first one I had ever been in the same room with. I was Catholic now, but my husband was not. What now? I was Catholic, but I had no idea what that meant. I decided to start with the little pamphlet my husband had given me on a whim as we walked past a display on the way into the church. It was on the rosary. As I read through the mysteries all I remembered of the life of Jesus came back to me. Then I came upon the Assumption.

“The Assumption?” I thought, “What the hell is that?” (The conversion of my heart was won; my conversion of behavior was incremental).

The Mass ended. It was a daily Mass so there was not a crowd. The priest was at the back of the church talking with a woman. They both greeted my husband and me warmly, the priest asking a few questions of the new people. He quickly discovered my husband was an ex- Catholic and I was not anything I was willing to own up to publicly yet. I said I wanted to join the Catholic Church and shot a guilty look at my husband. I knew it was not nice to tell him like this, but I did not have the guts to face him all at once. Maybe he could get over the initial reaction and be polite by the time we got to the car.

Then I blurted out my question before I lost my nerve and before the polite chit chat wound down. “What’s an Assumption?” “The Assumption?” the priest looked surprised. He gave an answer too small to satisfy my hunger, “It was when Our Lady was taken to heaven to reign as Queen Mother.”

I pressed for more information and he asked me to make an appointment. I was there the next day and in RCIA by the end of the week. I was a thorn in that program’s side. I read book after book and, completely ignorant, each question generated more questions. I took to carrying a notebook to jot them in. People would actually groan when at the end of the RCIA class my hand would go up when they asked, “Are there any questions?” I had pages full.

Somebody in heaven took pity on my classmates and drew my attention to a bumper sticker with the local Catholic radio station on it. I tuned in my dial and there I found the depth and breadth I craved.

My husband was kinder than I knew. He had been uncomfortable with the direction our spiritual life had taken us and was relieved to come home to the faith. He joined a Landings Group and began his own Catechesis. Meanwhile, my conversion was a big secret from my family and friends. There were two reasons for this: my family and my friends.

My family was Church of Christ. While it was never spoken of from the pulpit, growing up the handouts available on the tables in the vestibule often held tracts that spouted things like the Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon and the Pope was the Anti-Christ. A few people in the church had family members convert to Catholicism. This news was greeted in the same manner as people whose family members had come down with cancer: with condolences, disbelief, and shocked horror. Although my mother and father made it clear they did not approve of the tracts, neither did they approve of Catholics and their beliefs. I grew up with the impression that they were a strange cult, like the Moonies.

My friends were an entirely different matter. They loathed Christians, especially Catholics. One had told the story of her son accompanying her to visit her mother at a senior facility. Some little old ladies in the lobby had made semi-rude gossipy comments about them as they walked past. The little boy got on the elevator, rolled his eyes and said, “Probably Christians.” His mother laughed as she told that story, as did everyone present; I did not. As far from Christianity as I was, I thought she was training a bigot and that is never funny.

I told one friend what was happening with me. She was pretty neutral except that she was worried how it would change the dynamics of our relationship. We still loosely keep in touch. The others were a different story. I announced my conversion and endured tears, anger and, finally, a scathing acceptance of my truth. I had lost all credibility and, in their eyes, any claim to intelligence. After a few abortive attempts, all contact with that group of friends was lost. No one would return my calls or even my Seasons Greetings cards. Finally, after a few years I just started sending Christmas cards thinking what could lose? One responded and now we exchange biannual letters. The others dumped me because they could not be friends with someone like me—an “intolerant Catholic.”

Hard to believe an average bunch of gals could be so anti-Catholic in this day and age? Not in the New Age. We were actually a group of goddess-worshiping pagans and I was a priestess. I was a leader in the community. I taught classes, wrote songs, and led rituals, the whole shebang. For those of you who do not believe in these sorts of things, I was able to do all sorts of unbelievable things, like mild prognostication and other creepy stuff. The allure of these “gifts” is such that I will not go into details. Suffice it to say, my group was astonished that anyone would be willing to give up such power.

Now that I am free, it amazes me how enslaved I was to it all. I did not see myself as worshiping the devil or demons, I just thought I had found a legitimate power source. I was amazed at the “miracles” I could perform. I was heady with it. The power is the bait. It hooks you and then turns on you. The people involved stagnate and become trapped into continually cycling through personal issues. It is similar to the stagnation of the personality caused by alcohol and drug abuse and the experience is very much like an addiction. With this much personal dysfunction, the groups can get ugly. One of the most chilling comments during my confession to my group was from the group leader, “There’s a reason we used to kill oath breakers.” She did not mean our group in particular but the groups in the largely recreated neopagan past. Her reference was historically dubious but I was so glad to dust myself off and move on in my life.

I found myself filling my days not with the chatter of friends but the chatter of Catholic radio. It was a lonely but wonderful time. I was discovering things and growing as a person in ways I never could have imagined. My husband was also undergoing a transformation. Our marriage had never been better. Incrementally, I was learning just how self-centered and sinful I was. I was also learning how much I was loved. All my life I had yearned for something unknown. Now I knew what that was, and I had that something.

In the midst of this, I told my parents. They were not pleased but they were not condemning either. They said they would tell the rest of the family for me, meaning aunts and uncles. It was their way to spare everyone any unkindness or awkwardness stemming from the initial shock. Then my parents said something that surprised me: “This will be good for your family.”

That they found some good in my conversion was an incredible surprise at the time. Of the two groups, family versus friends, I had expected the opposite reactions. I had feared that my family would disown me and expected my friends to work out a new relationship with me. Exactly the opposite occurred. I was disowned by my friends, but my family and I have worked things out.

Why did I visit that church that day? Like any convert, I was looking for something and found more than I bargained for. I was considering attending the Catholic Church because I wanted a community large enough to hide myself in. I wanted respectability without having to actually be respectable. In a sense, cafeteria Catholics evangelized me. I walked in that door thinking I would go to the cafeteria to pick and choose what I wanted from the table and I would remain unchanged. God had other plans.

'

By: Christie Martin

More
Sep 08, 2018
Encounter Sep 08, 2018

Most of us are regular church attendees and we participate in church-related and spiritual activities. Nevertheless, how well do we know the Lord whom we worship? We say with our tongue that He is almighty, powerful, gracious, loving, caring and so forth. But when we face an adverse situation in life, how do we react? Do we get anxious? Do we feel like God does not care? Do we get angry and frustrated towards God? Does it feel like He has abandoned us?

I believe the reaction we generate when we face a difficult situation will help us realize exactly how much we trust Him. In any relationship, how much we trust a person depends on how well we know that person. The more time we spend with that individual, the more we begin to learn about that individual’s character, including his or her strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and so on. Our understanding of that person’s character helps us to determine how much we can trust that individual.

Just like that, how well we know our Savior can play a significant role in evaluating how much we trust Him. In order to understand our Lord’s character, we need to spend more and more time with Him. It is crucial for us to meditate on the things that He had to give up in order to come down to earth and become like one of His creations. Think about it: the God who created heaven and earth, the God who is full of glory and honor decided to shrink into our likeness so that He can endure all the trials and difficulties of the earthly life that His sons and daughters experience. Furthermore, we need to contemplate the painful and most humiliating punishment He had taken upon Himself so that we would be saved from the eternal punishment we deserve.

If we are measuring God’s love based on the materialistic blessings He has given us in this world, we will be disappointed and angry at God when we do not receive those things or when we lose them. On the other hand, if we realize the value of our soul and learn to understand His love based on the great sacrifice He has made for us to redeem our souls, then we begin to understand how much He loves us. Dear readers, Jesus loved you so much that He was willing to leave everything behind and come down to this earth and accept a painful death for our salvation. He shed even the last drop of His blood to redeem us. Because of that sacrifice, you and I have been granted access into Heaven.

It is also important to remember that God is our Creator and He loves us more than anyone else in this world. We do not like anything bad happening to our loved ones. We will not deliberately do or allow something to happen in our loved ones’ lives that would harm or destroy them. Considering that we—weak and sinful beings—would not want anything awful to happen to our dear ones, do you think our heavenly Father, the God who created us, would allow something to happen in our lives that would harm us? He will not. It is not in His character to do anything to hurt His children. He is love in its fullness. If God has allowed an unpleasant situation to happen in our lives, He has a great and good purpose behind it.

Many of us likely have heard this analogy: if one of our children has to go through a painful medical procedure in order to recover from a life-threatening illness, we would allow them to go through that process— no matter how painful it is to see our child suffering. That child may be crying and begging you not to let him go through that process. However, since you know that it is necessary in order to sustain his life, you would allow him to go through it with a heavy heart. Just like that, our heavenly Father is not rejoicing when we are going through hardships. His heart is heavy and sad when He sees His children suffer. But sometimes, He has let us go through certain sufferings in life to sustain our precious soul. He knows that if He does not allow us to experience certain adversities that our soul will forever be lost.

As an individual who lost her sight in a car accident, I truly believe this suffering that He allowed has been the greatest blessing in my life. In spite of the difficulties and challenges I face as a blind person, I am able to see this physical impairment as a blessing because this blindness has become a great eye-opener for me. Because of this condition, God gave me the grace not only to realize the value of my soul, but also to see how much I am loved by Him. When you come to realize these truths, it will become easier to carry the crosses that God has allowed in your own life.

In 2 Corinthians 4:17, Saint Paul says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Like Paul reminds us, make every effort to concentrate on that eternal glory that is waiting for us in Heaven. Let us shift our focus away from our trials and tribulations which are temporary and, instead, put our focus and trust in a loving God who is much, much bigger than any storms we face in our lives. Always remember that our God can turn any tragedy into a great victory when we put our hope and trust in Him.

'

By: Susan Uthup

More
Aug 21, 2018
Encounter Aug 21, 2018

I have had several recent conversations with friends and professional acquaintances on the subject of openly sharing our Catholic faith. I was a little surprised at how many of them expressed strong reluctance to being open about their beliefs. The reasons given included “We are not allowed to do that at work,” “I don’t want to offend anyone” and “I don’t like to discuss that outside of my parish.” There was a central theme running through their responses which has been the catalyst for a lot of my reflection and prayer over the last few days:

Do we ever stop to consider how often our public actions and thinking involving our Catholic faith are influenced by a misguided concern for what others think of us?

During the day, how many times do we have missed opportunities to stand up for Christ or share our faith? Is it the conversation we avoid with a troubled co-worker? Is it our refusal to publicly make the Sign of the Cross and say a blessing over our meals? Is it standing up to someone who is attacking the Church? How about the person who is quietly curious about the Catholic faith and is only waiting on an invitation to attend Mass with us? Too often a misplaced concern for the opinion of those around us keeps us from embracing our responsibilities. However, it is crystal clear that Jesus expects us to openly share our faith and acknowledge Him before others if we read the Gospel of Matthew 10:32-33, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.

But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

Christ was our greatest example on how to not be concerned about the respect of others. He always taught the truth, regardless of the audience or His surroundings. His enemies recognized this aspect of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 22:16, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men.”

Francis Fernandez, author of “In Conversation with God,” makes this observation (about sharing the truth): “Christ asks His disciples to imitate Him in this practice. Christians should foster and defend their well-earned professional, moral and social prestige, since it belongs to the essence of human dignity. The prestige is also an important component of our personal apostolate. Yet we should not forget that our conduct will meet with opposition from those who openly oppose Christian morality and those who practice a watered-down version of the Faith. It is possible that the Lord will ask of us the sacrifice of our good name, and even of life itself. With the help of His grace we will struggle to do His will. Everything we have belongs to the Lord.”

He goes on to write, “In such difficult circumstances the Christian ought not to wonder which path is the most opportune to follow, but rather, which path is the most faithful to Christ. Certainly, our desire for popularity is the direct consequence of self-love. Our behavior will be the proving-ground of our deepest convictions. This firmness in the Faith is often an excellent testimony to the beliefs of the Christian. In some cases it can cause people to begin their return to the House of the Father.” I would suggest that not taking a stand for Christ and openly sharing our true beliefs may be one of the biggest obstacles for many of us to grow in our faith…and possibly for those around us who are watching our example.

If you are a business person, in career transition, a stay at home mom, a student or a senior citizen, chances are that you have faced this struggle with worrying about what others think of you. It is a natural human tendency that affects me and everyone I know. We all want to be liked, respected and included. But, here is the catch…we cannot separate our spiritual selves from our physical being. The faith we profess is part of who. This prestige is also we are and cannot be hidden away. “One of the gravest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives… The Christian who shirks his temporal duties shirks his duties towards his neighbor, neglects God himself, and endangers his eternal salvation” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes).

Can we all agree that being “Stealth Catholics” is not the answer? If so, here are five thoughts on how to overcome our fear of what others may think of us when publicly sharing our faith:

1. Show me that in the policy manual. I have heard many times that expressing our faith in the workplace is “against company policy.” Have you actually seen a written policy addressing making the Sign of the Cross and praying at meals, praying quietly at your desk, going to Mass at lunch or wearing ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday? I know there may be exceptions, but let me challenge all of us to consider the possibility that much of our fear may be based on a false perception of possible persecution and not reality.

2.“Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” Please reflect on these words of wisdom often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. It rarely occurs to us to think about our own faith journeys, the example we set for others and the Christ-inspired joy we should radiate as the most effective ways to share our faith. Letting others see Jesus Christ at work in us is a powerful form of witness that will attract others who want what we have in our lives. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-14 and 16).

3. Start the conversation with a little sharing of our own. Transparency invites transparency! We cannot expect someone to open up to us unless we are willing to do the same. Our faith journey is a blessing, meant to be shared, and the witness we give may have a profound influence on someone. As we read in 1 Peter 3:15-16: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”

4. Reality Check: Pursuing Heaven vs. Being Popular. Heaven is our ultimate destination and not this place called Earth. Will our critics help us get to Heaven? Will they stand up for us during tough times? No, they will pull us into a secular way of life which has little room for God and where materialism and popularity are the fashionable idols of the day. Francis Fernandez wrote that overcoming human respect is part of the virtue of fortitude. He describes the challenges a Christian may endure as “…rumors and calumnies, mockery, discrimination at work, the loss of economic opportunities or superficial friendships. In these uncomfortable circumstances it may be tempting to take the easy way out and ‘give in.’ By such means we could avoid rejection, misunderstanding and ridicule. We could become concerned at the thought of losing friends, of ‘closing doors’ which we will later be unable to re-open. This is the temptation to be influenced by human respect, hiding one’s true identity and forsaking our commitment to live as Disciples of Christ.

5. Be consistent and lead an Integrated Catholic Life. Do we take our faith with us to work, meals with friends, the kid’s soccer games and neighborhood swim meets? Or, do we only practice our Catholic faith at Mass on Sunday? It is easy to conform to secular expectations, but difficult to publicly show our love of Jesus, live out the Beatitudes, evangelize and lead a fully integrated life. I have always found inspiration on this topic from the wisdom of Saint John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, “Christifideles Laici”: “The unity of life of the lay faithful is of the greatest importance: indeed they must be sanctified in everyday professional and social life. Therefore, to respond to their vocation, the lay faithful must see their daily activities as an occasion to join themselves to God, fulfill His will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ.”

We cannot do this alone and we must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In my own experience, this is a daily work in progress and it is never easy. But, we should all recognize that there are people looking at us to see our example. They want to learn from and be inspired by our courage, if we are only willing to take a stand for Christ. Think about how fortunate we are to live in a Christian country (although our religious liberties are under attack) where all we risk is a little disapproval or alienation from others. In the early Church, to be openly Christian was to risk a martyr’s death. Christians are being persecuted in Indonesia, the Middle East and other parts of the world even as you read this article.

I know this is difficult, but a sacrifice on our part is required. The sacrifice is simply to love Christ more than the opinions of those around us. We should realize how little is being asked of us compared to what Jesus endured for us on the Cross. As I stated earlier, the desire to be liked, respected and popular is normal and I struggle with this as do many of you. But, let us pray for one another and continue to ask Jesus for courage, strength and the discernment to know and follow His will and not be concerned about the opinions of others. Besides, I do not see the merits of being the most popular person in hell. Do you?

'

By: Randy Hain

More
Aug 15, 2018
Encounter Aug 15, 2018

From our childhood days, most of us can remember a daily prayer to our Guardian Angel. The prayer of my youth went: “O angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide.”

Angels are a consistent feature of the Jewish and Christian understanding of our spirit-world. They have a high profile in Christian tradition, regularly referred to by Jesus Himself. Modern portrayals of angels in pictures and statuettes tend to take them less seriously, indeed a new angel-culture has become popular commercially which does not reflect the angels of Scripture and tradition.

Angels are to be found in the Bible from its opening pages. We find an angel guarding the gate of Eden in the book of Genesis. In the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelations, it is the angel who announces the Day of Judgement. Jesus is strengthened by an angel in the garden of Gethsemane.

Angels appear in the Bible as messengers from God to His people. Only three angels are given specific names–Raphael, who accompanies Tobias on his travels and protects him, Gabriel who comes to Mary and asks her to be the mother of Jesus, and Michael, who is named in the Book of Revelations as the angel who leads the angelic forces against the devil. Angels are also referred to in the Bible under different groupings such as Cherubim, Seraphim, and Powers. There are nine groupings in all. In some places in the Bible, angels seem to represent God Himself. The visit of God to Abraham in Genesis 18: 1-2 is one such example.

Angels are taken for granted in the writings of Saint Paul. They are constantly referred to as part of the believer’s landscape. To the Christians at Rome, Paul writes: “for I am certain of this. Neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38). To the Christians at Corinth he writes: “If I have all the eloquence of men and of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing” (1 Corinthians 13:1). To the Christians at Thessalonica he speaks of the end time: “At the trumpet of God, the voice of the Archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

The prayer of the Church is also very rich in the understanding of angels, and prayer is always an expression of the Church’s belief. In the Eucharist, we include angels in our vision of worship. At the very beginning of each Mass we ask the prayers of “all the angels and saints” for forgiveness of our sins. At the Preface to the Eucharist Prayer we join with the “choirs of angels in heaven” in their unending hymn of praise. In the first Eucharistic Prayer we pray, “We ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy angels to your altar on high, in the sight of your divine majesty ..” The angels are part of our dialogue with God.

Devotion to the angels has been very rich in popular piety. Surely one of the most beautiful awareness’s is that God has given us a personal angel to guard us through life. Yes, we each have a personal friend at God’s throne – our Guardian Angel. Jesus refers to this in Matthew 18:10: “See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven.”

Saint Michael the Archangel is often venerated on mountains. One can think of Mont San Michel in Normandy; Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry; or St Michael’s Mount, a small tidal island in Mount’s Bay, Cornwall, England. There has been a recent revival of devotion to the Archangel Michael, recalling the practice of reciting, in public, a prayer to Saint Michael after each Mass in the liturgy prior to Vatical II. Many of an older generation will remember it by heart:

“Blessed Michael the Archangel, defend us in the hour of darkness. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God restrain him we humbly pray and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust Satan down to hell and with him all those wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (328 & 336) tells us:

“The existence of spiritual beings, that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. The witness of scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition…. From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading them to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men and women united in God.”

'

By: Father Gerard Casey

More
Jul 31, 2018
Encounter Jul 31, 2018

Ruth Knutson is the wife to Dr. Ron Knutson, an anesthesiologist in Bismarck, North Dakota. Together they have five children. No one would suspect such a poised and joyful person to have had a childhood full of extreme abuse and neglect. But Ruth points out, “It’s what we do with the rest of it that is our story.”

Growing up in Williston, Ruth’s bad-tempered, alcoholic mother was not married to the father she never knew. There were four half-siblings; an older brother and younger sister and two younger brothers. “My house was a disaster,” she said. “If I put stuff in the laundry, I never saw it again.”

One of Ruth’s earliest memories was at five-years-old, pleading with her mother not to leave her with the abusive stepfather. Her mother would not protect her. Two of their houses burned down; one from electrical problems and the other because her three- and four-year-old little brothers were home alone playing with matches.

THE LIGHT OF CHRIST

Amid the chaos, there was her grandmother. Her grandmother had eleven kids and her grandfather had died of cirrhosis of the liver from alcoholism in his late forties. “My grandmother always made me feel safe,” Ruth explained. Her relationship with Jesus began at Mass with her grandmother. “I thought: Jesus suffered and made it through, so I can make it through too.” Years later, when Ruth married Ron, she joined him in the Lutheran church.

As a third grader, Ruth recalled telling God that she had enough. “I told him I didn’t want this life and that I wanted to die and be done,” she said. “I felt God tell me clearly: This is not your life.” It gave Ruth awareness that she had a future to live for and that her terrible home life had nothing to do with her.

A WAY OUT

Years of looking out for her siblings and trying to keep the home in order were overwhelming. By sixth grade, Ruth walked to her social worker’s office and asked to leave. She and her sister, who was eighteen months younger, were placed with different relatives for what became the first of Ruth’s four foster homes.

When her sister was sixteen, she ran away to Wyoming and eventually had two children; one she gave up for adoption, the other was raised by the father. Her sister died five years ago at forty-nine of cirrhosis of the liver. Ruth’s three brothers have also struggled with addictions.

She reached out to them to help, but they made other choices. Ruth does not judge, however. Much their life was beyond their control, such as getting drunk for the first time at two-years-old or being drinking buddies with their mom in junior high. Ruth attributes her own happiness and fulfillment with God and family but said there is a lot of randomness we cannot control.

While in high school, Ruth met her future husband who was two years older. “He knew my mom was a character and that I was in foster care, but he didn’t run away,” she said. By the time she was a senior in high school and he was a pre-med major in college, they married.

“I can’t emphasize enough the love and support that Ron has had for me and how blessed I feel to be a wife, mother, and grandmother,” she said. Ruth stayed home to care for her family until the youngest went to school. Then she earned degrees in addiction counseling and social work and was an addiction counselor for seven years. “I loved working with patients and realized we are more alike than we are different,” she said. “I really think the 12-steps [to sobriety] is a spiritual journey; one that we can all take by surrendering to God.”

REUNITED WITH HER MOTHER

Ruth believed that she had overcome her past, but then learned twenty years ago that her mother had lung cancer. She felt that if she really had forgiven her mother, she needed to go visit. Ruth drove to Minot and brought her mother back to Bismarck. “God’s grace filled me with peace,” Ruth said. “I felt so sorry for her. She never experienced how much love children give you and you give them.”

Her mother had been sober for ten years, earned a math degree, and worked as a tutor. “I wanted her to say she was sorry, but I had a light bulb moment and suddenly understood that she never saw me as a child,” Ruth said. “She was never able to be my mother, but I realized I had a small window of time to be her daughter.”

During the six months they had left, Ruth visited frequently, often telling her mother: “I love you.” It was something Ruth had only heard once from her mother from behind a door.

Soon, her mother started saying it back. When her mother died in October 1995, it seemed both mother and daughter were at peace. “That time was a gift,” Ruth said.

There is one more part to the story, however. “The story would not be complete without forgiving yourself,” Ruth said. She had to forgive herself for not being there for her sisters and brothers and for not trying to start a relationship earlier with her mother.

In the end, Ruth said that her past has given her a heart full of gratitude. Even the bad things are part of the blessings of her life today. For instance, while raising her children, she taught them compassion in a meaningful way. “If you make fun of someone for dirty hair or messy clothes, know that you would have made fun of me when I was a little girl,” she taught them.

“I always ask God what I’m supposed to see,” she said. “I’ve come to understand that there is something to learn in every circumstance. My prayer has always been, ‘Dear God, give me eyes to see, a mind that is open and a heart filled with compassion.’

'

By: Patti Maguire Armstrong

More
Jul 10, 2018
Encounter Jul 10, 2018

One of the Five Hard Truths that will set us free is this one: “You are not in control. “This unnerves us, even terrifies us at times. We like to be in control, but control is an illusion; things you think you control are resting on things you cannot control such as the next beat of your heart or even the continued existence of the cosmos! No, we are not in control.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).

This is just another way of saying that we are not in control. The paradox is that accepting this hard, even terrifying truth is what frees us from many fears and anxieties. Uncertainty is not the deepest source of our anxiety, rather it is our desperate clinging to control and our insistence on our own preferred outcomes. We do not always (or even usually) know what is best for us. Abandoning ourselves to God’s wisdom and leadership is the only path to true peace.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “What are we to make of Christ? … [Rather] it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us …. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved …. Whatever is keeping you from God … whatever it is, throw it away …. And do not be afraid. I have overcome the whole universe” (The Business of Heaven, p. 33).

The only solution is to trust God. Now trusting does not mean assuming God will eventually give what you want. No, trusting is believing that you will be just fine with whatever the Lord wants. Notice that trusting does not necessarily mean jumping for joy at what God decides. What He decides may not turn out to align with our preferred outcome. Most of us prefer health to sickness and wealth to poverty. We want God to say “yes” to our requests, not “no” or “later. “Trusting means being serene and “OK” with what God decides. In this is our path to peace.

All of this is easy to say but hard to do. We need to accept our poverty, our inability to relinquish our illusion of control and trust God. We need to beg for greater trust. Say with the ancient disciple, “I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Say with the apostles, “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).

'

By: Monsignor Charles Pope

More