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I was born and raised in a Maronite Catholic family. Both my parents have Lebanese ancestry so I learned to pray the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” in Arabic as well as Spanish and English. I attended a Catholic primary school but was one of only two Maronite Catholics there. Life was very different then because we went to Mass regularly and prayed the Rosary together as a family. However, by the time I was midway through primary school we had lost the habit of praying together and were only going to the Church at Christmas and Easter.
The Odd One Out
Once I finished primary school I began my secondary education at a public school, where I was the odd one out. Belmore Boys’ High School was known as the epicenter for juvenile crime and ethnic gangs. It was the worst public school in South Wales. Among other violent incidents, I remember the burning of the principal’s office and a teacher having their hair lit on fire. I had an innocent upbringing but now many in my circle of friends were trouble makers. However, that did not hinder us from getting along well; I respected them and they gave me the same respect.
The school had a high percentage of Muslim students so all my friends were Islamic. With my Middle Eastern appearance I fit in very well and many thought I was a Muslim. Some used to point at the crucifix I wore around my neck and ask questions about my faith. I would say, “That’s a reminder of how Jesus died on the Cross.” The spontaneous response was, “Hey! Jesus didn’t die on the Cross. There is no evidence for that!” This caused me a lot of confusion. I was struggling to find my identity. Being the only Christian in the public school, and having no other Middle Eastern-looking Christian friends, I struggled to uphold my faith.
In 1999, I entered my final year of high school. During that Lent, Sheik Hammed, from Jordan, visited our school. We were invited to a presentation at the Lakemba Mosque during school time. Who would not want to skip class? I went along to hear his talk. The Sheik looked impressive with his white gown and beard. I saw him pointing to my friends and telling them what crime each one had committed. I was really amazed to see my criminal friends sitting down and listening to him.
Over lunch following his talk I was introduced to the Sheik as the only Christian at the school. I was eating salad, no meat, because my mother had trained me to fast during Lent. My high school nickname was Charlie. I still remember the Sheik addressing me as such: “Charlie, why aren’t you eating the meat? That’s not fasting. In Islam we fast from sunrise to sunset.
So, which is better: the Christian or the Muslim fast?”
Then I was asked, “How do you pray?” I recited the “Our Father.” The Sheik then asked, “Why are you calling God ‘Father’? You already have an earthly father. Why are you giving God human attributes? Aren’t you insulting and degrading God?” I was puzzled. Till then, I had never thought of it that way.
“So who taught you that prayer?” he asked. I said, “Jesus.”
“Who is Jesus?” I simply said, “He is God.”
“So God is speaking to God?” I said that Jesus is the Son of God.
“Make up your mind! Is He God or Son of God? Then who is the Holy Spirit? You believe in three Gods right—Father, Son and the Spirit?”
I felt harassed by the rapid succession of questions. It is difficult to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. I was only 18 and did not realize what a lukewarm Christian I was! I had thought of myself as a very enthusiastic Christian but here I was, struggling with the basics of my own faith!
He derisively proclaimed, “You Christians are so confused!”
Conversion into Islam
The Sheik now calmly enquired, “Who does Jesus resemble in appearance? We Muslims wear robes and beards. Jesus had the same. How about Mary, His mother? Muslim women wear the same robe as her, don’t they?”
My mind was already muddled and he could see that I had no answers. He asked me to close my eyes and say in Arabic “There’s only one God and his prophet is Mohammed.” It was the Shahada prayer. Once a person recited the Shahada prayer three times in front of witnesses, he is said to be converted to Islam. Without realizing that it was an initiation into Islam, I recited it three times in Arabic and opened my eyes.
The Sheik now looked at me intently and said, “I can see a light coming from you now. Welcome brother.” I was bewildered, thinking, “What do you mean?” He gave me a towel and a robe and asked me to wash away the old life and put on the new life of a Muslim. I really did not intend to do any of this and felt overwhelmed. I thought “Maybe this is the true religion.”
At the same time, I felt a deep urge to pray. As I walked toward the shower, I recited in my mind one “Our Father” and 10 “Hail Marys.” Those were the only prayers I knew. On the tenth “Hail Mary” I heard a distinct soft voice saying, “Not yet.” I immediately took off the robe. I believe it was Mother Mary’s voice.
When I walked out without the robe, the Sheik looked astounded. I simply said, “I don’t know my faith and I want to discern the right way for me to go. Please pray for me to make the right decision about whether to be a Muslim or not.” The Sheik bade me well. Upon reaching home I told my mother all about it. She slapped my face and insisted I go straight to the Church and ask Jesus if He wanted me to be a Christian or a Muslim. “You can embrace whatever He says.” I felt that was good advice.
Question That Jesus Asked
As I walked to the local church in the twilight, it felt like I was carrying a heavy weight upon my shoulders. The question of whether to be a Muslim or a Christian was tormenting me. As I entered Saint Michael’s Church in Belfield, I saw the red light next to the tabernacle. I knew that signified the presence of Jesus. The teachers at my Catholic primary school had taught me so.
My prayer was simple to the core: “Jesus, do you want me to be a Muslim or a Christian? Whatever You show me now … I will do.” When I looked back at the tabernacle, I saw a face. I can still see the image in my mind. The face of Jesus appeared on the tabernacle. I thought I was seeing things. I looked away and looked back at the tabernacle. It was still there. Later, I discovered it was the same as the face in the image on the Shroud of Turin.
I also heard a voice within myself speak, “Charbel, are you going to give up after all that I have done for you?” He called me Charbel, my real name, and it touched the deepest chords of my heart. I remembered the miracles Jesus performed on Earth, which still continue to this day. The miraculous cure of my grandpa’s blindness, my mother’s epilepsy and so many other stories crowded into my mind. There was my answer. I knew that the voice was of Jesus and He was talking about my Catholic faith.
I was asked a direct question and I needed to answer Him. I said “No, Lord. I am not going to give up.” At that moment I felt the huge weight lift from my shoulders. I recovered my identity as part of the body of Christ—the universal Catholic Church. I am a child of God. I fervently asked Jesus to help me pray. From then on, I was on fire.
Discerning My Vocation
I was enjoying prayer much more than I ever had. Some would even ask if I was praying too much; I would reply, “It is my food!” My Muslim friends from school were wonderstruck at how Christ had transformed me and the depth of my conviction. They joked, “Now you have to thank us for becoming a religious Catholic.” Then I would invite them to discover the truth. There was a general suggestion that I should become a priest so I entered the seminary. It was a beautiful time of prayer and study. I simply loved it, especially praying the Psalms in the Divine Office. Despite almost failing HSC, I acquired a master’s in theology, by the grace of God. Those years spent in solitude and prayer helped me appreciate the Church in a deeper way but, ultimately, I discerned that marriage was my vocation. After leaving the seminary, I felt inspired to get in touch with a girl I knew. On July 1, 2005, Christine and I got engaged and the same year I founded Parousia Media.
Dawn of Parousia
You may be wondering how Parousia Media came into existence. I wanted to learn more about faith and was fascinated by the talks of Scott Hahn. I contacted Saint Joseph’s communication for his CDs. I was appalled by the huge shipping costs but unfortunately they had no Australian distributor. They told me all I needed to become a distributor was a website and a business name and then I could get a master copy and use it to make copies for sale.
I really wanted to do this, not just boost my own faith but to share these inspiring, faith-filled talks with others in Australia who were at a crossroads or perplexed with questions on faith-related matters. God makes the impossible into possible. It all happened in an instant. I met my friend Anthony, who was quadriplegic. He was very good at coding with his mouth piece so he helped create a website. The next question was what to call it. I wanted it to be connected to the second coming of Christ. Searching through Latin, Hebrew and Greek I got “Parousia,” an ancient Greek word meaning “Presence or coming.” The Greeks understand the word to particularly refer to Christ’s second coming. Thus, Parousia Media came into being. We grew rapidly in a short time. To date, we have reached more than 200,000 people and more than a quarter of a million resources have been distributed.
In 2006, Christine and I were married and, thanks be to God, we have been blessed with seven children. My only desire is to spread the good news of the gospel. This is God’s work and I know for sure that God is doing this one hundred percent. I request your prayers for our ministry. I also challenge you to carry the light of Christ into the world. That is what the Church desperately needs to fulfil its mission to all the nations and people of the world!'
Time Waits for No One
“Jesus!” I prayed through tears. “Where in this Bible is a word to comfort my soul?” Kneeling before our chapel’s wooden tabernacle, I grasped the Bible my mother had given me and held it close to my heart. It was just one month since her beautiful but sorrowful funeral Mass. I still felt burdened by my failure to adequately demonstrate my love in the week before that tragic car accident.
During my last visit home, Dad revealed how sick my mom had been that month. Mother did not like “interrupting” me in my busy parish ministry and I had neglected to call her. “I’m sorry I didn’t know how sick you were. If I don’t call you, please call me,” I implored her.
Over the dishes, she told me about a fellow parishioner, “Such a good man—he died suddenly. I hope when my time comes, I can go quickly.”
“I hope your time doesn’t come for a long time,” I replied fervently. But when I took her shopping, her response to my suggestion that we look in the animal shelter for a new dog shocked me. “O, Honey, another dog would be too much for me.” Her passion for dogs had been legendary.
On Saturday morning, she stayed home instead of joining my brothers and their children for an outing and slipped me some money to treat them. I still regret that I did not think of arranging a “Thank you” card to show our appreciation.
All those thoughtless omissions to demonstrate my gratitude kept running through my mind. I will never again have the opportunity to hug her when I find the little gifts she prepared for me, like my favorite chocolate, or thank her for thoughtful acts of service, like pulling my laundry out of the dryer. To ease my aching spirit, I poured my heart into a letter of praise to be read at her funeral.
The Unexpected Departure
Her last day is forever branded into my memory. After Mass, Dad and I stayed to pray and perform some errands in the Church and school before picking my plane ticket up on the way home for lunch. Surprisingly, Mother’s car was missing, but she had left a note: “Gone to get my blood pressure checked.
” Suddenly, the phone rang. It was the police. “I’m afraid I have bad news for you. Your mother’s been in a terrible accident and was taken to Parkland Hospital.”
I was stunned. “How bad is it?” I gasped. “Very bad,” was his stark reply. After I contacted my brother to tell him that Dad and I were going to the hospital, the policeman called again, with news about the gravity of Mother’s condition. “Well, she’s not dead, is she?” I replied, but he regretfully murmured, “Yes.”
As I sobbed into Dad’s chest, we could barely hear the policeman telling us how an unregistered vehicle, speeding down the street, had bulldozed her car all the way up a driveway. Although the police caught them, the damage was devastating. Paramedics rushed to the scene and spent 20 minutes trying to save Mother but the violent impact of her head hitting the door jamb probably killed her instantly.
Crying Out to God
By the time we reached Mother her swollen body was already cold. Squeezed into a tiny, dark room, I helplessly held Mother’s hand while grief engulfed Dad and me.
Now in my convent chapel, I prayed earnestly, “Holy Spirit, please help me.” Despondently, I randomly flicked open my Bible and read the words beneath my finger: “Mary was standing outside the tomb, weeping” (John 20:11). As I contemplated these words, I felt a weight lift off my chest. Merciful Jesus had tenderly provided the right passage to accompany me in my anguish.
Mary Magdalene wept because she could not find Jesus’ body to carefully wash away the marks of His terrible crucifixion and anoint it with fragrant oil. As she stood sobbing by the empty tomb, she was addressed by angels. “Woman, why are you weeping?” Then Jesus Himself came to her inquiring, “Why are you weeping?”
I felt that Jesus was asking me to trust that His plan for my mother had not been sabotaged by the criminal carelessness of the man who had run into her. In His mercy, she would be safe in His care as He gathered her to Himself.
Jesus loved Mary Magdalene enough to engage with her desolation as she mourned the “One” she so loved. Jesus loved me enough to encounter me in my great sorrow over the loss of my dearest friend and mother.
Jesus tenderly spoke Magdalene’s name, “Mary.” In the same way I heard Him call me, “Janie.”
My Sorrows Into Joy
Jesus never referred to Magdalene’s past and He was not referring to my failures either. At that moment, Jesus began to bring some joy into my sorrow as people shared recent happy memories with me. After Mother confided a premonition of death to her friend, Bianca, they prayed together and Bianca had been holding her in prayer throughout a weekend retreat. The nurse who had taken her blood pressure told me how Mother had warmly hugged her twice just minutes before the tragic car crash.
I even imagined Mother dancing like Snoopy under the banner where I had photographed her the previous Sunday —“Happiness is knowing Jesus.” After she complimented the musicians at the Youth Mass, another parishioner remarked, “We’re the young at heart.” Our family chose those musicians for her uplifting funeral liturgy.
Every day of my week’s visit, Mother had never missed an opportunity to hug me tightly and whisper in my ear, “Janie, I love you so much.”
“I love you too,” I had responded. I still felt enfolded in that unconditional love.
Each Easter, when I hear the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, I remember my amazing encounter with Jesus when He entered into my darkness and His Word poured oil over my wounds. Now I could hear Mother speaking: “Janie, don’t cry! I’m happy here with Jesus. I love you so much.”
Over and over, I said, “Mother, I love you so much, too. Thank You, Lord, for letting me find joy again. Mother is happy with You. Hug her for me. Someday, I will embrace her again, too.”'
Broken Pieces of Our Heart
“One year of treatment.” Glancing up, I saw the pity in the eyes of my husband’s neurosurgeon as he quietly said those words. “One year to live.”
“Be strong,” I told myself. I trembled as I tried to process those devastating words. Dear Chris—my best friend since we were teenagers. After 21 years of marriage and four beautiful children, I could not even begin to fathom my life without him. I could physically feel my heart breaking as my world began to crumble.
Incurable cancer. That sounds so hopeless and concrete, yet I know nothing is beyond hope. I would faithfully cling to this notion, keeping it pressed close to my heart. In two days, we returned for surgery, attempting to remove the massive, cancerous tumor lurking inside his brain. Surgery was followed by a year of agonizing treatment, and I was forced to watch him helplessly wither away. This strong man, who had spent his life helping others and had even saved lives by risking his own, was becoming a shadow of himself. That painful image was almost too much for my shattered heart to bear.
Our precious, faith-filled children wept, overwhelmed with the news. They were full of heartache and anxiety for the future, yet between those quiet sobs—as they faced their father’s approaching death—our children reassured us that miracles happen. With complete faith and trust in God’s will, they prayed Mary Therese Emmons JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020 SHALOM TIDINGS | 11 for a miracle, without ceasing. Not once did these sweet children express anger, either at the situation or the eternal Father Himself for allowing it. Again and again they reminded me of the words I had spoken to them so many times: We must live for the next life. If God willed this cross for our family then we would put our trust in His plan even if we might not understand it. Gathering the pieces of our broken hearts, still overflowing with love for our heavenly Father, we offered up our anguish, keeping in mind that this life is short, and Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.
A Miracle Before Our Eyes!
Prayer truly works miracles and touches the divine heart of God. Prayer, which had always been a large part of our life, now became our life. Total trust, total faith and total hope. We begged God to help us carry this agonizing cross with grace so that, if a miracle was not in His plans, we could set an example for others by our unwavering faith and unshakeable trust in His love for us.
After six weeks of standard treatment, the new MRI showed another tumor. This one was inoperable. The news was crushing, defeating. A new treatment was started but we were not given much hope. Chris would jokingly say that if he was going to be a miracle, he was going to be a BIG one.
Hundreds of people were storming heaven with prayers and their prayers were truly palpable. In hopes of healing and strength during his grueling treatment, Chris had been blessed and anointed with everything that was offered to him—special oils, holy water from around the world and relics, including a special purificator stained with the precious blood. This holy cloth had been bequeathed to our parish priest by a beloved priest named Father Stu.
Weeks into the new treatment our priest offered to bless Chris with Father Stu’s purificator a second time. While explaining that he had been asking for Father Stu’s intercession, our priest showed us the holy cloth, now encased in a plastic sleeve. Puzzled, we looked closer and saw something truly miraculous: the precious blood stains that were under the appearance of dried wine had started to visibly change. These sacred stains now amazingly looked like fresh blood—a eucharistic miracle right before our eyes! What a humbling, unexpected gift from our tender heavenly Father. I knew in my heart we were being given a sign that miracles do happen in answer to prayer.
Dear Saint Therese of Lisieux so trusting and lovingly stated that prayerful confidence works miracles. How comforting her words have been on this painful, extraordinary and heartbreakingly beautiful journey. Today, Chris has surpassed his prognosis and his inoperable tumor has miraculously disappeared—he is living, breathing proof of the power of prayer and our loving God’s abundant mercy to his little, trusting souls.'
At the beginning of Holy Mass, Catholics address a prayer that is profound in its implication: “Create in us a generous and steadfast heart, so that we may always serve you with fidelity and purity of spirit”.
This prayer cuts to the quick. We cannot give ourselves “a generous and steadfast heart” so we ask God to give it to us as His “creation.” Prayer undergirds our relationship with God and our neighbor. Without a generous and steadfast heart, we cannot do our Father’s will as His beloved children.
Constant prayer is displayed so well in Moses, who was above all a man of prayer. Indeed, the great liberator of Israel was always talking with God. In the Battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:8- 14), Moses stood atop the hill with his hands raised, imploring the Lord for assistance. The battle, a metaphor for the spiritual struggle, continued for a long time—sound familiar?! Moses’ arms got tired and began to fall to his side. However, if he stopped praying the tide of the struggle would go against his people. Notice what happened: his brother Aaron and his friend Hur perceived that Moses was in difficulty and the effect this was having on the battle. They seated Moses on a stone and held up his arms until the final victory was won.
This passage highlights the truth that spiritual struggle is too hard and demanding to be managed alone. We need each other. Commitment to prayer demands that we support one another. Journeying through life is a hard slog. Weariness is inevitable as the years unfold. We will get tired and will be tempted to throw in the towel, especially in the face of intimidating obstacles. But, with the support of our brothers and sisters, we can persevere in prayer until the Lord completes his work.
In the New Testament, Saint Paul echoed this truth. Writing to Timothy, his disciple and coworker, he urged him to hold fast to what he had learned and believed (2 Timothy 3:14). However, Timothy could not simply do this with a “stiff-upper-lip” resolve. The battle of perseverance cannot be won without prayer. Not sporadic or hesitant prayer but regularly keeping the channel between God and us open. If we pray when we feel like it, in sporadic spurts, then we lose that connection with God. Instead, we should pray just as Jesus tells us in the Gospel according to Luke: “Pray always, without ever losing heart” (Luke 18:1). Remaining steadfast in prayer, to remain steadfast in faith and testimony is central to life as a Christian.
A negative voice may arise within us: “But, Lord, how can we not grow weary? We are human … just look at all the problems that face us personally and as a community. It’s just too much!” Each of us tires of the struggle at times. Yet, we are not alone. We are part of a body: the mystical Body of Christ, the Church, whose arms are raised day and night to heaven, sustained by the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The prophet Ezekiel reminds us that “What the Lord promises, He does” (cf. Ezekiel 12:25, 28) and Jesus promises us, “God will grant justice to his chosen ones, who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7).
This is the mystery of prayer: to keep crying out, not to lose heart, and if we should grow tired asking for help to keep our hands raised. Praying is not taking refuge in a utopia (which means “nowhere” in Greek), nor escaping to a spiritualized zone where we curl up with a false, selfish sense of calm. On the contrary, to pray is to struggle.
The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray. He guides us in prayer and enables us to pray as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. By submitting to the guidance of the Holy Spirit we become conduits of divine power which can transform and renew the world.'
Is There a Permanent Cure?
Fifty years of medical experience opened my eyes to the sad reality that chronically sick patients may never be cured completely, despite modern treatments and sophisticated investigations. Patients still suffer from conditions like bronchial asthma, rheumatism, hypertension, diabetes and allergic disorders in spite of long-term medical care. I questioned my inability to effect total healing. The busy hospital environment constrained me to follow the routine medical regimen. Although I understood that total and permanent recovery required healing of the mind and the soul, as well as the body, I could not spend enough time exploring patient problems more deeply to accomplish this.
Then I realized that the Bible had the answer. In every healing miracle, Jesus restored the whole person. Their inner cores were unlocked by His tender touch, which probed into their souls.
A New Life
“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
I had to find a way to integrate this compassionate love into the treatment of my patient. One evening, as I prayed about this in our convent chapel, I saw a spark of light inside the Eucharist. I felt immersed inside the host, like an unborn child sheltered within the womb. From that time onward, I have sensed the Eucharistic presence of Jesus within me, not only during prayer but also during the busy moments of hospital duty. Tremendous improvements in the health of the clients in my medical practice became commonplace. Some patients’ ailments were immediately relieved when they had taken only a single dose of medicine.
One day, a patient arrived at my outpatient department with severe chest pain. Because it was so crowded, he was not seen right away. As he sat there waiting for the appointment, he experienced a cooling sensation all over his chest and the pain disappeared. When he told me about this, I became convinced that Christ was pouring out a stream of living water in answer to my prayer.
Whenever I place my stethoscope on a patient’s chest I imagine that healing love from Christ within me is flowing through the tubes of the stethoscope to the internal organs of the patient. I picture the same love flowing back to me from the patients, creating a mutual bond between us. I never forget a patient who has come to me, even just once, and I always feel a strong relationship with patients after meeting. I believe this is the secret to sharing in Christ’s miraculous power.
The Hollow Space
In the year 2000, I had an opportunity to go to the United States to visit institutions of holistic healing. In Boston, I visited a reputable hospital where they conducted a forgiveness clinic for promoting reconciliation and spiritual healing. Several patients I interviewed had been cured of cancer, arthritis and other diseases after granting and receiving forgiveness. This prompted the insight that forgiving love could also generate immunity to prevent disease.
At a cancer hospital in New York, I heard a female doctor claim there is a hollow space deep in the chest where body, mind, and spirit merge. She referred to this as the core of one’s being that can fill with positive energy—love. The more intimate we become with this point of power, the more kindness and compassion we can bestow. I believe this is the power of the Holy Trinity, which can transform us by prayer and meditation when we invite God to dwell within us.
Toward Divine Healing
Courage, commitment and compassion are channels that enable God’s healing power to reach the sick and suffering through us. We are His hands at work in the world.
Courage supports us in performing dangerous and unpleasant duties when human health is threatened. The working environment of Mother Teresa when she was engaged in removing maggots from a body was a perfect example of this. The Sisters of my congregation do the same, committing themselves to act with tenderness, as toward Christ Himself. Commitment is required to meticulously follow procedures that foster patient health during a long day when many people require care given with love. Compassion unites us with people who feel miserable about their suffering, which distorts their mental status. Compassionate love can prompt us to perform great works of mercy.
“As long as you did it to the least brothers of Mine, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). When we see Christ in our fellow men the behavior of nurses or doctors toward their patients will be more gentle and kind. In turn, Christ becomes visible in the looks, gestures, speech and actions of a healer who is centered on Him.
Struggle with Pride
Humble and menial actions performed for helpless patients with compassionate love can make us more joyful. Let me narrate one incident where I perceived this. I was working at a small village hospital in Kerala situated in southeast India. One Sunday, I visited the female orthopedic ward where I met a young woman whose whole body was encased in a plaster cast. She was an orphan who had spent her entire life begging. One day, she met with an accident that fractured her thoracic spine. As she was narrating her painful story, another woman who was visiting a patient nearby told me to tell this young woman not to speak vulgar words.
I inquired about the matter and learned the problem involved her bedpan. Since the young patient did not have any visitors, somebody had to volunteer to help her. Due to the poor conditions prevalent in the hospital, and because few staff were available most of the time, the dirty bedpan stayed under her cot. It frustrated her very much when somebody showed dismay and so she responded in vulgar language. I felt very sorry for her in this dilemma.
I heard an inner voice telling me to take the bedpan and wash it for her. However, my proud self was keeping me from doing so. I had never done such menial work. After a lot of inner struggle, I succumbed to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, took the disgusting bedpan and washed it. I felt like I was going to vomit, but I persisted until I could master that feeling. The patient was much happier. I advised her not to use vulgar words and prayed over her for some time. That night as I prayed alone in the chapel, I understood that in overcoming my pride to wash that filthy bed pan I had eased the suffering of the Lord Himself. At that moment, I felt heavenly joy as I welcomed the embrace of the crucified Lord.
Saint James encourages us to “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers” (James 1:22). We must try to be humble. Let us be ready to serve others, regardless of our positions and roles, in the same manner we would serve Jesus Himself.
Life in Abundance
Let me conclude with a message of a famous evangelist: a man on a sinking ship needs more than a tranquilizer to calm him down. He is going down already. When Jesus comes to a man on a shipwreck, He does not throw him a Valium pill and say, “Perish in peace.” He reaches down. His nail-scarred hands grip him and lift him as He says, “Because I live, you will live” (John:14:19). Jesus is the Saviour of the world who says “I have come to give you life, life in abundance” (John:10:10). When His message is lived out, it brings life, peace and healing for body, mind and spirit.'
Just a Piece of Junk?
“Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times. And Peter went outside and wept bitterly.” —Luke 22:61
Peter was heartbroken. He was filled with grief because his beloved friend Jesus had been arrested and condemned to death on the cross. There was nothing Peter could do to stop it and, on top of that, he had denied he even knew Jesus—not once, not twice, but three times. He felt tormented by shame and guilt.
You can almost hear Peter lament: “Lord, I failed You. I was sure that I would stand by You through thick and thin but instead I denied that I ever knew You. Now it’s too late. Oh Jesus, there was never anyone like You and now You’re gone forever. I’m rotten through and through. I’m just a piece of junk that you should have left by the lakeside.”
Peter wept bitterly. In his sorrow, Peter must have begged the Lord’s forgiveness over and over again. I can relate to Peter because I have denied knowing Jesus because I feared what people would think. I remained silent when I knew in my heart that I needed to speak the truth to someone about the faith. I wimp out at times, just like Peter. I, also, have been filled with sorrow, shame and guilt because of my sinful actions or inactions.
However, that is not the end of Peter’s story and it need not end there for us either. Jesus continues to beckon us to come to Him so we can be cleansed by His divine mercy. He restores our soul and heals our broken hearts. Little by little, Jesus infuses us with the graces to live in His love and share our love for Him with others. “Let the house of Israel say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’ Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His mercy endures forever’” (Psalm 118:1-4).
God does not make junk. I may fall from grace and fill my heart with all kinds of junk but the good news is that Jesus is the junk collector. Each time I go to the sacrament of reconciliation Jesus cleans out the clutter in my heart. When I sin and acknowledge my wrongdoing I go to Jesus and say “Guilty as charged.” Yet, instead of punishment Jesus tenderly showers me with His endless mercy. “The Lord remembered us in our low estate, for His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:23).
After the Resurrection Peter and his disciples went fishing. Peter’s heart was filled with sorrow and remorse. That all changed when Peter saw Jesus on the shore. Peter got so excited that he jumped into the water and swam ashore to greet Jesus, his beloved friend. Imagine how Peter felt. He had thought his friend was gone forever and that he had forfeited all rights to His friendship. Suddenly, there was his Lord and God beckoning him to come. What joy Peter felt at being back in the presence of the Lord, receiving His forgiveness.. It just does not get any better than that!
God is love and mercy itself. Jesus does not care how far you have moved away from Him. He continues to call you back to His most sacred heart, to receive His mercy and love. He is waiting for you with open arms, ready to shower you with His loving mercy. Will you not turn to Him now? Run to Jesus, just as Saint Peter did, to be restored, refreshed and healed. Allow Jesus to transform your heart. “Thus, says the Lord, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).'
In June 2013 I was accused of a crime I did not commit. I was arrested, charged, taken to court and remanded in H.M.P. Manchester (Strangeways prison) for six and a half months to await trial.
Roots of Faith
I was born in Manchester, England, UK. I was baptized into the Catholic Church at six weeks of age. As a child, I was very active and loved sports. I took part in amateur boxing and even had trials for Manchester City F.C. Growing up I attended Catholic mass often with my mother. As the priest lifted the Eucharistic host and said, “This is My body” (Luke 22:19), I believed something mystical and supernatural was happening. I just did not quite understand what it was. Afterward, while walking out of mass I would think of the readings from the gospel and have lots of questions about Jesus floating around in my head. I can remember that I also loved to watch old religious films.
Sadly, as with many young adults growing up in the west I was introduced to the party lifestyle at a young age. By 13 or 14 I was drinking alcohol on the streets, had smoked cannabis and had lost my virginity. I left school at 16 and, following in my father’s footsteps, went into the construction industry, eventually becoming a bricklayer. At this time I was introduced to harder drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy, and I even tried crack cocaine a few times.
On a Trip to Hell
I was living for the weekend, drinking in pubs and getting into fights. I was arrested a few times. Even through these times I attended Mass now and again, often hungover from drinking and drugs the preceding night. I felt drawn to attend. If somebody had asked me about my faith back then I would surely have said I was a good Catholic and probably would have believed I was going to heaven. In reality, I was on a one-way trip to hell. I remember a night out, drinking a pint of Guinness, looking into the pint glass and saying to myself “There has to be more to life than this!!!”
Instead of putting the beer down and trying to find out what that “more” was I continued drinking with my friends and thought nothing else of it. However, this came to a crashing end in 2012. My best friend from childhood shot and killed four people. Two of the four bodies were blown to pieces by hand grenades, the first time on British soil these weapons had been used in a civilian crime. Two of the victims were police women. My friend had gone so far to the dark side that he was overcome with evil. Sin blinds us. An investigation got under way for the capture of my friend, which led to two others and me being arrested—innocent of the crime of which we were accused.
Prison was a place I never thought I would find myself. The truth was I was a prisoner before I entered—a prisoner to sin, to the world, to my own selfishness, to the enemy, to the devil.
After about six days in prison I was spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and even physically finished. I collected my food tray from the bottom landing and climbed the stairs. I have no idea how I made it up those stairs but as I made it into the cell the guard slammed the big metal door shut behind me! BANG! He locked the door with the keys and I dropped to my knees. I looked back at everything I had been blessed with in my life—so many blessings! I then looked at my many, many sins—cheating, fighting, stealing, telling lies and taking drugs.
A flash of Blinding Light
As I went through the sins of my life, they seemed to play out one by one in my mind, like a movie. I came to see that I had broken every one of the Ten Commandments, including murder as I had taken part in an abortion. In this moment—crying, broken and alone on my knees in prison—I said internally “I can’t be forgiven.” Instantly a flash of blinding light came into my eyes and, clearer than I have ever seen, I saw Jesus Christ on the cross. I could see the sky lit behind Him, filled with magnificent colors, like electricity. I could see the crown of thorns dug into His bleeding head. He then turned to me and I could see the pain, the bruising, the bleeding, the sweat, the tears, but I could also see His eyes, so beautiful and so full of love. Jesus spoke the words directly to me: “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). A tsunami of grace engulfed me. I was overcome with a complete sense of love, mercy, forgiveness, joy, peace, wonder, awe, strength and power.
I knew Jesus was forgiving the sins of the entire world (past, present and future) but in that moment I knew instantly that Jesus had died for me and forgave me personally! He died to save me! I knew Him then and there as my Savior. I had no idea where this had come from but I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I truly understand Saint Paul when he says, “God’s love has been poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit who has been given to me” (Romans 5:5). I had been totally set free; “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). For the first time the Cross made sense and so many things clicked for me—the good thief (Luke 23:39-43), the Resurrection and so much more. I knew then that my life had been changed forever. My eyes and heart had been truly opened. As I continued kneeling, I became aware again of the presence of Jesus in my cell. He was no longer on the cross; He was risen. He was there in dazzling white, leaning over me. I knew the message He was saying to me was “I am here, I have always been here and always will be.”
Within six months of this encounter all three of us were found unanimously “not guilty” in the trial. Within six months of that verdict I was volunteering in India, serving the “poorest of the poor” in Calcutta with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. I was helping care for physically and mentally disabled children and sick and dying men.
I have encountered Jesus so many times, in so many different ways. My life now makes sense. I knowingly walk with Jesus every single second of every single day and He fulfills my every desire and need. I have somebody who fights my battles. I can say now with confidence like Saint Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I that lives but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Only with Jesus does my life make sense. There was always something missing. I was looking in all the wrong places. There was always something lacking without knowing Jesus. He tells us He came so that we may “have life and have it in all its fullness” (John 10:10)—the abundant life. This free gift is an offer for every person ever born. We have a God who walked as one of us, who can relate to us in every way and promises to be with us “always, even until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20). He is “Emmanuel”—”God with us.” Jesus is “The Good Shepherd” who does not rest until He brings home “the lost sheep” (Luke 15:1-7). In my case it was only when I realized that I was so lost that I could be truly found and brought back into the loving arms of the Father, like the “Prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-32). I am now on the road that leads to experiencing life to the fullest.
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not be lost but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Have you experienced the love of God?
Have you encountered Jesus Christ personally?
Jesus tells us to “Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). To repent we must recognize ourselves as sinners then ask for the grace to turn away from our sinful ways. In turning away we can be open to receive the free gift of faith—belief in Jesus. Jesus promises us He will come to us. He will come into every one of our lives if we allow Him to. He says, “I stand at the door and knock; If you hear my voice and open the door, I will eat with you and you will eat with Me” (Revelation 3:20). The door where He is knocking is your heart. He will not force His way in though. It is an invitation.
Have you let Jesus in?
If not, will you?
He is waiting …
Prayer: Lord, I am sorry for all the times I chose to go my own way and turned my back on You and what I know is right. I am sorry for my many sins (mention them if you can). I ask you to please forgive me of these sins and help me to turn away from them now. I ask You, Jesus, to come into my life and be with me forever. Please fill me with Your Holy Spirit.
I pray this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.'
Very early one morning, I was in pain. I collected Marija my translator in Mostar and one look told her that I had been awake all night and was still suffering from the aftermath of a high-speed rear ending the previous year. I felt burdened and cranky about the work overload scheduled for the day—the meeting with the obstinate builder who loved to take shortcuts with the construction work and, therefore, every detail had to be painstakingly scrutinized.
His loud voice overshadowed Marija’s in the swanky office and I struggled to hear her translation as to why he was looking for another 25,000 pounds for the one million current projects. Bosnia-Herzegovina had brought out a toughness in me which I thought I was incapable of.
As I sat at the table I was furiously defending Rebuild for Bosnia donors’ money, more stubborn than the builder, telling him the amount was not specified in
the contract and he had to take responsibility for his mistake. He continued to argue and pushed me as far as he could. I refused to give in, telling him the cost of his mistake was one house less for the homeless and that he could consider his mistake a contribution toward helping his fellow displaced Catholic people.
It was an exhausting start to the day and the heated exchange drained me of resources even further. I took a walk around the block, drew a deep breath and focused my thoughts on our next appointment in city hall. It was almost mid-day and after the morning in the city, I was ready to leave and have lunch somewhere more relaxing.
“Why don’t we call to see Mara?” Marija asked. She knew if anything were to cheer me up that day it would be a visit to our dear old friend, Mara, whose eyes would light upon seeing her unannounced visitors at the door.
We stopped at the local store and picked up some ham, cheese, eggs and cakes. Mara had been dispossessed of her two-story home, set in the idyllic alpine mountains on the outskirts of Konijc, cleansed of 10,000 of its 11,500 Catholic population during the 1992–1995 conflict. She was now living in her new home, once that Rebuild for Bosnia had built for her, and was happy in her peaceful surroundings.
The door opened and she saw Marija and me standing there. A radiant light filled her soft brown eyes as she raised them to heaven, praising God for our visit. She sat down beside me, pushed her weary body as close as she could and slipped her arm through mine. “I wasn’t expecting you,” she said. “I told you I’d be back on my next visit,” I replied.
A month earlier I had paid her a visit and tried to see her as often as possible since she had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and had a colostomy. That day I sensed a bad odour coming from her colostomy bag. After a little gentle probing, she explained that the hard plastic rim on the bag, which sits next to her skin, irritated her so much that she could not use the bag and she was substituting it with pieces of cloth. I was shocked to discover her predicament and promised I would be back with a supply of bags.
Soon after, I called my friend Delores and she donated 200 of the finest and best colostomy bags on the market. I brought them with me on the next visit. “I’ve got something for you, Mara,” I said, reaching for a large bag at my side. Opening a box, I took one bag out and placed it in the palm of her hand. “What do you think of that?” I asked. She ran her hand over the velvety exterior finish and replied “Luxurious.” Resting both hands in her lap, she raised her head and turned her gaze to the Lord. Her lips moved in prayer thanking God for the magnificent gift. I looked at Marija and could see tears in her eyes. It was a deeply humbling moment. “I’m sorry, Lord, for all my grumblings today. Here is a beautiful soul who thanks you for colostomy bags while most other people would be angry with you because of their sickness and would be unable to see the gift.”
An Eye Opener
I apologised to God for my lack of gratitude and recognized the times I had failed to see the gift because an expectation of more had blinded me. An excess of material commodities in life and a surplus lifestyle had blurred my vision and muted the words “Thank you, Jesus, for all you have provided for me in this life.”
I felt ashamed when I contemplated how miserable I had been in my thanksgiving to Jesus. I had hurt him so many times by my lack of heartfelt gratitude. “Do you have a right to more?” I asked myself. I realized I had entertained the spirit of disappointment far too many times and that changes to my thinking were needed. I made a promise to the Lord that no matter what I prayed for, from then on, and regardless of what I received, I would never be disappointed.
I thank God for that precious moment with Mara when my eyes were opened to my gloom toward the Lord. My life was filled with an abundance of good things and I lacked nothing.
Thank you Lord
Working with the poor, displaced and disabled people of Bosnia-Herzegovina greatly enriched my spiritual life and brought me closer to allowing God my father to provide for my needs. In moments of pain, sorrow, anxiety, humiliation and the many negative emotions I experience at times, I make a point of praising Jesus. When I wake at night and I feel anxious, I pray the rosary and praise and thank the Lord. It is a peaceful way to live, bringing joy and contentment, and I enjoy the beautiful peace in my heart to which Our Lady constantly refers.
May the Lord bless you as you read this article and allow you to see the greatness of God through His goodness to you. May your heart sing a song of thanksgiving all day long.
My dear Jesus, I am truly sorry for hurting you with my ungratefulness for the countless graces and blessings you have bestowed throughout my life. I deeply regret the times I failed to express my heartfelt gratitude. You are my Lord and I love you. In you and through you, I have my life. Praise be Jesus.'
The Circle of Life
It was a Thursday morning. I was sitting at my mother’s bedside, finishing the “Our Father,” when her breathing stopped. The other members of my family were in the hospital or nearby, so everyone reached her room within minutes. They say when the breathing stops there is still a little time before the actual moment of death. It was a moment when life came full circle for my mother. Each of us, her children, had entered the world through her. Now, together with her husband, son-in-law and grandchildren, we were at her side as she left it.
God spoke to me in several ways through her life and her death. The first thing God said through my mother’s life is that He is real and He really matters. Certain extraordinary moments stand out from the five weeks my mother was in the hospital, battling severe cancer, especially the Vigil Masses we celebrated in her hospital room and our evening ritual of praying the rosary together with her—the astonishing strength of her faith as she joined in to the extent she was able, even when she could no longer speak her lips moved in rhythm with our words. When it came to faith, my mother did not just go through the motions; God mattered to her and mattered greatly. It is no accident that she was named Mary.
A Daring Beauty
My mother was on a drip for most of her stay in hospital but this debilitating experience did not make a drip of her. At times and despite the best intentions, hospitals can make drips of their patients, by slowing them down to an institutional and docile rhythm —“No dear, you cannot have a cup of tea now; tea will be served in half an hour.” Mary was not a drip, she was a strong surge of water, a cascading current, a rushing river. She fought death and decline with ferocious courage. She had no intention of subsiding into some kind of inert passivity. I would love to see the moment when her flowing energy rushed into the unimaginably vast ocean of God’s love. Her courage and resilience helped me see that God is not a weak wimp but a massive tower of strength, not an ineffectual drip, but pure unlimited energy.
I also saw God’s compassion in my mother. She was a steadfast friend to many sick people. One woman recalled that my mother often came to visit her while she was convalescing in a nursing home. Although nearly 80 years old at the time, my mother made a long walk there and back for every visit. Every so often she would arrive drenched to the skin. When asked if she was okay, she simply said “Fine.” She was not into self-pity. She did not tell us about her many visits to the sick. Another woman spent 113 days in hospital; my mother visited her 112 of those days, which involved a total of nearly four hours on the bus there and back. Instead of speaking a thousand words about those in need, she did something for them. As Saint Ignatius of Loyola says, “Love is shown in deeds rather than in words.”
Her name, Mary, brings to mind her wonderful patron saint, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the astonishing way the Blessed Virgin Mary is described by the French novelist Georges Bernanos. He writes: “The eyes of Our Lady are the only real child-eyes that have ever been raised … they are eyes of gentle compassion … and with something more in them, never yet known or expressed, something that makes her younger than sin.” My mother was not without sin. She was a sinner like the rest of us and she would not want me to canonize her. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his book “A Grief Observed” when reflecting upon the death of his wife, she “was a splendid thing, a soul straight, bright and tempered like a sword. But not a perfected saint.” Despite all that, there was something of the innocence of the Virgin Mary about her, something of Our Lady’s sense of childlike wonder.
Adorned in Virtue
A few days before she died, when she could barely speak in a whisper, a dear, lifelong friend came and spoke to my mother about her wedding day and the splendid dress she had worn. Soon afterward, I reminded my mother of this image from her wedding day, and invited her to “borrow” the nuptial dress of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I invited her to “dress” herself in Our Lady’s virtues—humility, purity and especially her longing for God—and to prepare herself with this borrowed dress for the moment she would leave this life for the next, where she would be welcomed with open arms at the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb. She could not talk at the time but this touched her deeply. She rubbed my hand vigorously and tapped the palm of my hand several times. It was that dress of radiant colors, a dress Our Lady was only too glad to give her, which brought alive her childhood innocence once again.
Our Lady was with her as she made one of the most momentous journeys of her life. It was a journey that unfolded within the narrow limits of her hospital room, a journey from anxiety to trust. My mother had asked for a small miracle—the miracle of physical healing—but she received something much greater instead: the miracle of spiritual healing. It did not come instantaneously, but gradually. It moved at a slow pace, at the same rhythm as her long days of struggle with sickness. It was the miracle of trusting that death ultimately could not capture her because God was calling her to something much bigger and better. Although a miracle, it was not some sort of magic. That is why her faith did not erase her anxiety and it certainly did not cure her cancer. It meant her anxiety and the cancer stopped dominating everything. There was a bigger picture.
A Mighty Spirit
Our Lady’s prayer of praise, the Magnificat, says God casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly. As my mother lay there on her hospital bed, God was quietly at work, casting out her mighty fears, dispelling her anxieties and calming her agitated spirit. She began to see that salvation was not so much about what she did or what she achieved, but instead it was about total reliance upon God’s goodness, grace and mercy. As she lay on that hospital bed for more than five weeks, this formerly highly active woman, full of drive and energy, had to face the painful reality that she could not get up and do things any more. A few times she was so determined to go home that she actually tried to drag her feeble body out of the hospital bed, despite the various tubes connected to her body. I had to explain calmly to her that she could not do this.
She had always been a champion for the lowly and the underdog. In those final weeks she became one of the lowly herself. That is when she began to glimpse the truth of Our Lady’s prayer: “He raises the lowly.” The more physically weak she became, the stronger God made her spirit.
Dawn of Love
When all medical hope was gone, God was raising up something beautiful within her, ravaged as she was with cancer. I believe that in those last days and hours she finally allowed the reality of God’s love to sink in. There is only a distance of about 14 inches between the head and the heart but it can take a lifetime to get from one to the other. Sometimes it is only in the closing moments of life that we come to trust in the immensity of God’s love, a love without limits. If that miracle occurs, love will have definitively cast out fear. No longer afraid, we can now surrender ourselves totally to love. In that moment it dawns on us that trust is the only choice worth making. We realize our lack of trust would only wound God’s heart. He asks for our complete confidence, a confidence to which he responds by doing within us much more than we can ask or even imagine. That is what happened for my mother. In the words of the hymn we sang at her funeral mass: “Do not be afraid, I am with you, I have called you each by name. Come and follow Me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are Mine.”'
Is there an “Unforgivable” act?
We are still within Eastertide and celebrating the hope and forgiveness that came through Christ’s death and resurrection. Lingering in my mind are the stories that were all over social media prior to Lent season this year.
From the unjust attack on the Covington High School for boys, to the sad Canadian story of an amber alert that ended in the discovery of the death of an eleven year old girl.
I can’t begin to explain how much hate and ugliness surfaced even from those who were generally regarded as being “good Christians”. Accusations flew and declarations were made that certain actions are “unforgivable”! I was so discouraged by the array of obscenities and shaming, wondering, how can we profess to be bearers of Christ’s love and be so vulgar and cruel to each other? Whatever happened to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’? (Matthew 5:45)
One of the most beautiful displays of true love and forgiveness I ever witnessed was by my mother when I was nine years old.
Into the arms of Christ
My four year old little sister was hit by a car. She had been waiting for her school bus and unfortunately, became confused when the bus pulled off to the side of the road just before her bus stop. The bus was allowing traffic to pass, but my sister thought it was safe to cross. She was hit by an oncoming car whose driver did not noticed the child. She was air lifted to the hospital for sick children and later died as she was held by my mother.
My mother, in an act that still leaves me in complete awe of her, sang praises to God as she rocked my sister and handed her back into the arms of Christ.
I still miss my sister tremendously. Her death was an event that changed our lives forever. It refocused my eyes on Heaven, because it now held someone so dear to me, and it shaped my perspective. No longer could I view life the same way, as I now understood that it was fragile and unpredictable. But the event also allowed for the imprint of beautiful examples of faith and love, like that of the almost supernatural trust and surrender displayed by my mother as my sister passed away.
One example in particular stands in defiance to the ugliness I spoke of above. It was the moment my mother met the man who had inadvertently taken my sister’s life: something that many would consider an “unforgivable” act.
The driver of the car in my sister’s accident arrived at the court house shortly before the trial for the incident. You could see the excruciating pain from the remorse he bore, as he kept his head bowed in shame. I can’t even imagine the immensity of emotions that saturated his entire being, throughout the trial. How he must have struggled at the thought of looking into the eyes of the parents of the child whose life had been taken.
Just like the Father running to meet the prodigal son when he saw him coming up the road, my mother sought out the man. She hurried over to him and wrapped her arms around him. She hugged him tightly, whispering, “It’s okay.” He broke down shaking uncontrollably, weeping as she told him that she was not angry. The only thing she held in her heart was love and forgiveness for him. She told him that my sister would not want him to be burdened with pain and guilt. She would wish him a life of joy and hope.
My mother also made sure she offered her love and forgiveness to the bus driver, who was visibly tormented by guilt.
Something Beautiful for God
I recently told my mother how much her example meant to me, especially in view of the appalling comments and interactions I keep seeing on social media from friends and acquaintances attacking each other.
She said the exchange was a gift for her too. It helped with her healing and freed her from the burden of anger and resentment. It left her with a hope that God was doing something beautiful through the tragedy.
She says she still prays for the driver to this day and knows that somehow God is working enormously in his life in spite of the devastation experienced from the accident.
Are you a light on social media? Are you someone who chooses an approach defined by charity- an attitude that affirms the inherent dignity of the other? If you must reproach, do you do so in a way that still speaks of your identity as a Christian who is truly invested in the good of the other? Are you someone who could forgive the unforgivable?
I hope to be. I want to be.
Our world desperately needs light, love, hope and mercy: not the vile assassination of the dignity of people with whom we disagree or whose actions we do not condone.
Dear God, help us to forgive all those who have hurt us, knowingly or unknowingly. Instead of grudge may our heart be filled with love and forgiveness so that our prayers for them be a blessing upon their lives. Amen.'
The sound of yelling, accusations and cursing brings to my mind a lot about suffering. It is a well-known fact that trauma imprints itself vividly onto the brain, and I am no exception. I often cringe when hearing someone pop open an aluminum can. It is a grim reminder of my alcoholic husband and what transpired after that first drink. Mostly, my life was full of traumatizing experiences many times. There was no blood or visible damage to my body when I was being verbally abused. Those hurtful feelings turned into intellectual torture; it is really difficult to put into words the pain I experienced on a daily basis.
A few months ago, I received the flyer for a Shalom retreat and I simply registered. It was a time of great suffering and little did I know that the retreat would forever change my life.
During the three-day retreat we were given the living word of God by Father Jilto George CMI, Father Wills Combs, BBD, and Sister Ranis Matthew MSMI—all were proclaiming the word from the Old and New Testaments, the Psalms and the Gospel. The word of God was sung in hymns. The ample opportunity to make a good confession and to hear the Word of God opened my eyes to the truth that God was always by my side, no matter how traumatizing my life was. I felt an amazing connection with God, especially with the Holy Spirit. Praise the Lord for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God so generously bestowed on me.
I am truly grateful for the praise and worship we had at the Shalom retreat. The abundance of blessings was so great when we reached the third day. God deigned to give me a whole new perspective about my burdens. I felt the Holy Spirit lift off those heavy burdens from my arms. During the healing time I was cleansed from my disbelief and my heavy heartaches became lighter.
The movement of the Holy Spirit strengthened my faith and helped me realize that God never abandons us. The gift of God’s presence and His warmth gave me much clarity in my belief. With a feeling of assurance and protection I felt the Holy Spirit rain down on me. I could not stop crying as the Holy Spirit filled my soul with goodness. God took away my shame, pain and guilt. He made my whole being new!
I received immense grace through this retreat but never expected a surprise when I went back home. On the second day of the retreat God’s amazing grace did a miracle for my alcoholic husband who was at home. On that day I was in deep prayer, offering my husband to the merciful hands of God. When I had returned home, he narrated about his experience. That Saturday, while I was praying for him, he had a moment of deep prayer for his back pain. The next day his back pain had healed completely. I shared with him that at that same moment, when he was asking for healing, I was praying to God to heal him and to draw us closer to God. My husband did not seem to believe that my prayer intercession partly had led to his healing. I know now that this unbelief was due to his disease. God had granted me patience and acceptance. My prayers continued ever more for him and I believed that the power of prayer could break his bondage from alcohol addiction.
Until then I had grieved over the emotional hurt my husband hurled at me and it broke my heart over and over again. Pain is a very real thing to the person experiencing it. Those who have not felt a similar level of pain have trouble empathizing. Even though my emotional hurt came through heartbreaking experiences, it has helped me understand my and others’ sufferings in a way I previously could not have imagined. Despite the enormity of my husband’s addiction, I was aware that my experience seemed somewhat minor when compared to some of the pains others suffered.
The experience I had at the Shalom retreat heightened my empathy for those who suffer more than me and this proved as a turning point. I am hopeful that my testimony will not only strengthen my healing, but also give insight for others who have similar aching life experiences.
Aside from having an alcoholic husband, my life has been blessed. Though I still feel a mild sense of panic when he drinks, I am very grateful for the love and support of my children who have literally been there for every step.
It is unclear how long it will be until I am able to re-train my brain and overcome the mental issues associated with an alcoholic husband. Hopefully, I will soon regain a more normal life with the help of the Holy Spirit. I have already begun to see my life through a different lens—a lens of forgiveness and hope. The Shalom retreat brought me closer to our Blessed Mother and to Jesus. I have accepted my faults and regained control of my emotions through prayer, which is indeed our lifeline to God.
Thanks be to God!'