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In the midst of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic life as we knew it continues to change. We are stripped of so many things that were once a part of our everyday lives. And we stand amidst it all figuring out who we really are in this new normal.
Typically, we spend our lives working hard to shape our own identity, to brand ourselves. We want to control the kind of person we appear to be. Depending on our interests, we pour our time into specific activities, sports, hobbies, and into whatever work has helped shape the perception of “who we are” for the rest of the world. We desire to be seen and known as a certain kind of person and sometimes we even flaunt our special achievements or successes. We buy into the idea that the things we have, do, and accomplish are what make us who we are—that they create our identity.
And then all of a sudden, the whole world stops.
No more sports.
No more concerts.
No more large social gatherings.
No more intimate get-togethers with friends.
No more travel.
No more sense of security.
And for some,
a loss of money.
a loss of employment.
a loss of business.
a loss of health.
a loss of loved ones.
a loss of life.
We have been stripped. Stripped of much of what we thought we were, and much of what we thought we needed. Such a process of detachment is hard and painful and sometimes very scary.
Sometimes, even without a world-wide health crisis, God allows us to go through a process of detachment from the things and ways we use to identity ourselves so we can discover our true identity.
Inevitably, if we do not know who we are and what we are worth, we attach our identity to earthly things that are fleeting and can be pulled out from under our feet at any time. Our sure and solid source is God and God alone. And we need to know him intimately. When we do, we will know how much he values us.
You and I, my friend, are first and foremost beloved children of a loving Father. That is our true identity. That is the only identity that matters. The world will try to tell you otherwise. Your friends might try to tell you otherwise. The Tempter surely will try to tell you otherwise. But nothing changes the Truth of who you are. It is your Truth and it is my Truth, and it is every person’s Truth. And it does not matter whether or not we come to own it and believe it. Nothing we say or do can change that Truth. Our identity rooted in the Father is where we find life. And an interesting fact about the Kingdom Jesus established is when we feel we have nothing left; we realize that we actually have everything we need.
Now, in the midst of this crisis, when each one of us is being stripped of some aspect of our former lives, now is the time to dig deep and claim our true identity.
So I will start. I am Jackie Perry, a beloved daughter of our merciful Father.
Who are YOU?'
Even though I was adopted into a non-churchgoing Anglican family, I always believed in God and my mother had faith. There was, however, a lot of brokenness in my family because my father came from a broken family and Dad’s way of coping was drinking. This led to a lot of instability and even violence.
When I was 11, my parents split up and my Mum, younger brother and I moved to Australia, with my three older brothers following later. When I was 18, I joined the army and remained there for seven years. For the last couple of years, I worked in career advising, then went to Sydney University and studied Psychology.
Filling the Vacuum
I had always wanted to be in control of my life and tried everything to make myself happy. But the older I got the more miserable I became and, because I was adopted, I was insecure about whether I was loved. While I was in the army, I fell in love with a young man and we had a serious relationship with a view to marriage, but one day I found out he was seeing another girl and this broke my heart. After that, I became more insecure and I would do everything to make myself lovable, including never eating sweets or anything fattening; I was very disciplined, always exercising and spent a lot of time trying to look perfect. However, instead of feeling lovable, I felt more insecure. When I was about 27, I met someone who loved me. He wanted to be very successful in life and, even though I wasn’t in love with him, I thought I would marry him because he would give me security. During this time, would often spend a lot of money at expensive restaurants and lots of drinking. It felt so superficial with everyone trying to outdo each other. I was carrying a lot of hurt, which caused me to put up walls, so most of the time I only really felt good when we were drinking. I would feel horrible afterwards.
On a good note, his mother had a deep faith and his parents really loved each other. This gave me security because I hadn’t seen a stable marriage before. Although I was living in a highly sought-after suburb, I was very unhappy. The more worldly I became, the more insecure I felt. I believed that I needed to impress people to be lovable. When I met my natural mother and sister, I discovered they were both highly educated, with my sister being a doctor. My natural mother said that she thought that I would have gone to a better family and been educated. This hurt me. One of the reasons I went to University was to show her I was smart. Nevertheless, I only felt more insecure because I realised that I was doing it to be accepted.
Beads of Hope
In 1998, my mother had a physical healing and I remember thinking, “I will never deny God after this.” My boyfriend’s mother asked if I would take him to church on Good Friday and although I didn’t know what Good Friday was, I said, “Yes”. On Holy Thursday, we went out and got really drunk, so I was feeling really ashamed of myself when we went to the Good Friday service. Afterwards, I got on my knees and prayed, “Dear Lord, help me to stop drinking and help me to be good.” Well, God certainly answered that prayer and He gave me His mother to help me.
The next day, at my boyfriend’s house, I felt a great desire to pray the Rosary and asked his mother to teach me. I wasn’t a Catholic. I’d never even heard the Rosary, so I didn’t know where that came from. (Now, I know that it was the Holy Spirit). She was busy making dinner, so she gave me a set of plastic rosary beads and a rosary card and showed me how to pray. So, I went into the spare room and spent about an hour praying my first Rosary.
I felt an astounding peace that I hadn’t felt since childhood. Wow! I knew Catholics had something extraordinary here. I beseeched Mary, “Help me to be like you.” I didn’t realise what I was saying, but the Holy Spirit, in His great love, prompted that prayer. God gave me His beautiful mother to teach me how to pray and discover Jesus through the Rosary. After that day, I never stopped praying it.
The Best Birthday Gift ever
Six weeks afterwards, I visited England to see a close friend who wasn’t doing well mentally. I also thought that my boyfriend might realise how much he missed me. I arrived very early on the morning of my 30th birthday, so I was really looking forward to going out to celebrate my birthday with her. Unfortunately, she didn’t turn up at the airport. After waiting for a few hours, I rang her parents. Her Dad didn’t know where she was, so he told me to catch a bus. As I sat at the bus station, I said to myself, “I’ve got nobody – nobody loves me.” Before this, I would always pretend I had it together. I couldn’t stop crying as I faced the truth for the first time.
At that point, I heard a beautiful voice inside me say, “You’ve got me. I love you”. Instantly my tears dried up, I felt completely loved and I was filled with joy. In fact, I couldn’t stop smiling. I had never felt so complete and secure. All my life, I had been searching for love, but even when I hadn’t thought of Him, Jesus, in His mercy, came into my heart. From that moment on, I just wanted to know Jesus. Who is this God who would love me? I remember thinking, “This is the best birthday present I could ever have!” It was the beginning of my life.
On the 1st of September 1998 I became a Catholic. When I made my first Confession, I felt like a weight lifted off my chest. All the mistakes and sins I’d made and the shame I’d felt completely fell off me. The first time I received Jesus, I was a little bit worried because I didn’t ever want to sin ever again.
On Being Called
This experience completely changed my life. I returned to Australia and gave my life to God. I started off by wanting to know my faith and did various Mission Schools and formation programs. God gave me a heart for youth formation, parish renewal and evangelisation. Through this, a lay community evolved. During World Youth Day in 2008 I felt a strong call to be a Sister. I had previously felt this, but when I visited various religious communities the call disappeared. This time it was a very strong call and I knew it wasn’t from me. Archbishop Porteous, then auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, suggested starting a community under his authority and guidance, with the charism which had already evolved in the lay community.
In our community, we desire to become saints, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves, under the banner of the Immaculate Conception. The charism of the Immaculata community is Spiritual Renewal through Adoration, the Rosary and Faith Formation in parishes and in Mission. At the heart of renewal is love. Jesus said to love one another as He has loved us. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Love is particularly needed in our world and is the greatest way to evangelize. We want to help people to love the sacraments and their Catholic faith, to bring back a sense of prayerful devotion which fosters a love for Jesus. In our devotion to Our Lady, we teach youth to pray the Rosary and lead them into Eucharistic Adoration. Our Lady brings them to the feet of Jesus. Because Jesus gave us Mary at the foot of the Cross, she helps us stay close to Jesus and points the way to holiness. It was this experience of Mary which brought me close to God.
As Religious, we seek to imitate Christ in his poverty, chastity and obedience, so that we may have an undivided heart completely given to Christ for the service of His Church. We seek to follow Christ through the example of Mary’s fiat – “Let it be done unto me according to Thy Word.” – giving ourselves completely to the will of the Father through our vows. Through our consecration, we commit to always remaining faithful, with the Cross before us and the world behind us, at His Mother’s side. We also take a fourth vow of charity because Christ commands us to love one another and love is sorely needed in the world.'
In the context of Covid 19, Chevalier Benny Punnathara, Founder and Chairman of Shalom Media, adjuring us to take certain decisive steps without any delay.
We read in the Gospel of John, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19)
And today, while we are being locked inside our homes in fear and anguish, Jesus comes to our midst and says: “Peace be with you.” He addresses our troublesome times – fears on Covid 19, concerns on livelihood and uncertainties about future and says “Peace be with you”. To all those people, whose lives affected by the disease, to those who live in the fear of death, to those who care for the affected and to those who are quarantined, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” He continues: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives you, I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27) Let us not allow angst or fear to rule our heart now. Christ’s peace will enable us to live without fear even in this frightening time. His peace strengthens us to overcome every unfavourable situation. Let this Easter season be filled with hope that takes root from the peace in our hearts.
Easter is the occasion where all the plans were thwarted. Satan thought he won the battle when Jesus was crucified and killed. Jewish authorities concluded that they got rid of the turmoil forever. Romans believed they could protect the tomb with their seals and guards. And on the third day Jesus resurrected; against all their conclusions: parting the stones of their expectations.
Today our plans for life are also affected due to Covid 19. Many scheduled programmes and journeys are being postponed or cancelled. The future of our studies, jobs and business looks bleak. The plans and priorities of every nation has been reconsidered. But in this hour, we should remember that though our plans fail, God’s plan would never fail. Even when we are facing tribulations, we should believe that world is in the hands of God. The one who shaped the history and who steers the history will lead us to the fullness of humanity. So even while we are facing this dreadful disease, we are still travelling towards God’s plan. We should believe this. Even when we believe that God can mend all the wreck of the world, probably we are broken inside worrying how as a person I can manage the personal losses. The only answer to this puzzle is God. We should engrave it in our hearts that God is enough for me in all circumstances. The realization that God abides with us in good and bad times will set us free.
The story of Eli’jah sets an example. There had been no rain in Israel for three and a half years and a great draught fell upon them. The rivers dried up, trees withered up and animals died. Even in the midst of these adversities, God shielded His Prophet. He told him to go eastwards and stay by the brook of Cherith. He drank from the brook, and God commanded the ravens to feed him there. While he was living happily praising divine providence, unexpectedly, the brook dried up and the raven stopped coming. He was again in a fix. But he didn’t complain or murmur against God. He waited patiently for God’s time and was asked to go to Zarephath and stay there. God had directed a widow there to supply him with food. He stayed there until the famine ended. Likewise, we may be deprived of our support systems and strongholds for a short time. We should be brave enough to tell our difficult moments that, ‘even if the brook dries up, even if the raven fails to come, the providence from my God will never come to an end’. He is the eternal Lord who holds our hand. Let us not hesitate to give Him our hands and He’ll definitely show you a way out.
Some of us may be wondering if all these tribulations are signs of the Time. Could it be the omen of the end of the world? It is an approved fact that world has an end. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Before the coming of the Son of Man, “the sun shall be turned into darkness; the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29). Perhaps the people who lived during the time of these prophesies might have thought these would be impossible. But now, when science advanced, we are all aware that sun is merely an extinguishing star. Even non-believers believe that world has an end. The famous physicist Stephen Hawking said that it is inevitable that either a nuclear confrontation or an environmental catastrophe will cripple the earth at some near point and human life would be impossible in the near future itself. The hasty Mars missions are the proof that world nations are taking his predictions seriously. The objective of Elon Musk’s Tesla is the Mars settlements by 2030. NASA and China are also in the vanguard. Dutch project Mars 1, even opened registrations and 78,000 people already reserved for a One-Way Trip to Mars. Even for those who doubt the prophesies in Bible, the end of the world is a reality.
As Christians, our attention shall not be in the world’s end, instead our focus should be on Christ’s second coming. All Christians affirm this everyday while reciting the Creed. Unlike any other time in the history, we need to take His coming seriously. We should prepare ourselves for his Second Coming. Moreover we shall prepare the world for that. If we are not equipped well, we won’t be able to do that adequately. So how are we going to do that? Through the proclamation of Gospel. Only through the might of the Gospel, we can prepare the world for His coming. If we don’t, who will? His afflictions, torments, tears and His blood would be in vain if we ignore our duty. It’s as if we are considering His blood shed for redemption worthless. World’s essential need is Gospel. The root cause for all problems is godlessness. The disaster is that those who are entitled to reveal God stagger numb-headed. St. Foustina said, “the sins of those who have come to know Jesus hurts Him rather heavily than those who are ignorant of Him.” God needs us, the faithful, to reveal Him to the world. How shall we transform the world? In the early centuries of Christianity, Gospel sanctified all the cultures it met. Yet, in the modern world Church stumbles in sanctifying this world. Also, we paved way for the evil of the world to enter the Church. How does this happen? Why do we live unarmed? Why are we unable to transform the world? Only one reason. We couldn’t set the world ablaze in Holy Spirit. One of our famous adages go ‘snake in the furnace’. That means, if a snake take shelter in the furnace or fire place, it implies that the fire has been blown out for long and that it was left unused. We are not ablaze by the Gospel because of our aridity. The serpent pitches tent in our hearts because we put out the fire inside us.
Dear friends, it’s pointless if we fight against evil with our will alone. Evil will depart only when the fire of the Holy spirit set us ablaze, only when the power of the Gospel revives.
This is exactly how Church rises from ruins. Law doesn’t remove darkness. It is the Holy Spirit who rejuvenates the Church. Only Gospel can transform world. We shall prepare the pitch. If we don’t, it’s the ultimate injustice. Have we ever considered what our greatest wreck is? We are investing time on trivial concerns and ignoring the vital affairs. Gospel is the greatest treasure God gave us and the redemption of souls is the foremost need. Overlooking these significant affairs is the root cause for the decline of the Church. Let us pray that this Easter season witnesses an enlightenment in the Church. When the Gospel is preached ardently, the forts of evil shake. But we should remember that God will never leave us orphaned. And surely, He is with us always, to the very end of the ages. There could be a time of tribulations, the appearance of antichrist and other dismays. We shall not be troubled by anything. Our focal point is Christ and our vocation is to proclaim Gospel. Thus, together we shall triumph over the reign of evil.
St. Theresa of Avila says, “Let nothing trouble you; Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes. God never changes. Patience obtains all. Whoever has God wants for nothing. God alone is enough” Don’t be distressed by troubles. There is a God who is enough for me and you. Hold fast on to His hands and walk forward. The new Pentecost transfigures the face of the Church. We will walk through the light of His glory. So we shall pray fervently for a new Pentecost. We shall earnestly long for it with atonements. Each one of us needs to be risen in this Easter season; in our devotional exercises, spirituality, prayer life and all the walks of life. Let this Easter time witness the reawakening of all churches around the world.
What can I do when the Churches are closed and the Sacraments are not available?
Make a prayerful space in your home for regular prayer with your family or alone.
Gather your family together to pray the prayers of the Mass together. Dress up as if you were going out to church. Turn off phones and devices. You can use a missal, or use the Universalis app or website, or take advantage of the multitude of Masses being live streamed throughout the world. You could make a virtual visit to a different church every day.
Many people are meeting electronically to pray the Rosary and Stations of the Cross. There are many beautiful recordings of the Rosary on the internet, including a Gregorian Chant Rosary. There are lots of inspiring talks to watch or listen to on Shalom World TV. Use your time wisely, and do not fritter it away.
Look around your home to see who Christ is calling you to help today. Call to check on vulnerable people in your family or community. Compose a note, to put in mailboxes in your neighbourhood, offering support if they are ill or isolated. The elderly and disabled could be more endangered by neglect due to isolation, than the virus itself. Reflect upon how you have previously been using your free time and how it might be more valuably spent in the future. Contemplate what you have valued more – the material passing things in life, or the spiritual treasures which will last forever.
Regular examination of conscience, accompanied by an Act of Contrition, should be part of your daily routine. We should always attempt to make this an Act of Perfect Contrition, particularly at this time, when we may not have access to Confession and Mass for an extended period. Perfect Contrition is when sorrow for sin stems purely from love for God. Imperfect Contrition is when the motive for sorrow is something else, like fear of Hell, loss of Heaven or the ghastliness of sin. When we are able to receive the Sacrament of Penance, Imperfect Contrition is enough to be reconciled to God and receive forgiveness.
As World War Two approached, Saint Maximilian Kolbe spoke about what to do if priests are unavailable for Confession. “Whoever can, should receive the Sacrament of Penance. Whoever cannot, because of prohibiting circumstances, should cleanse his soul by Acts of Perfect Contrition: that is, the sorrow of a loving child who does not consider so much the pain or reward as he does the pardon from his father and mother to whom he has brought displeasure.”
If that is our regular habit, then we should have not greatly fear death because it is the gateway to Heaven.
While Confession is not available in the usual place and time in most countries of the world at the moment, it may be possible to make an appointment for Confession, or some priests are hearing Confession in creative ways that maintain the efficacy of the sacrament and the health of the participants. Check with your parish.
Act of Contrition
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest my sins above every other evil, because they displease Thee my God, who for Thy infinite goodness are so deserving of all my love, so I firmly resolve, never more to offend Thee, but to amend my life. Amen.
Important: The Act of Perfect Contrition for mortal sin must include the desire for the Sacrament of Penance (Confession/Reconciliation) and the intention to receive it at the very first opportunity.'
Some of my earliest memories are of my Mum eagerly preparing us for Church events. She made sure we felt special when we received the sacraments. My dad became a Catholic when I was six, but for some reason I struggled to love him. Even though I loved Jesus very much, this troubled relationship with my dad made me question if God cared about me.
Although I loved to visit the chapel to pray, inspired by the sacred art that surrounded me, I was often in tears. I was frequently bullied because I was striving to live a good life, ardently hoping for the spiritual treasures awaiting those who loved God with all their heart.
Tuning into Worldly Happiness
In senior high school, I began to drift away from my faith. I no longer felt supported by my family so I became rebellious, like the older son in the Prodigal Son, fighting to win their love and approbation. My plan was to become a history lecturer at Macquarie University. However, as I got older, I began looking to the world’s acclaim to satisfy my desires. I craved love from boyfriends and spent a lot of time on Netflix, watching TV shows and playing computer games, but neglected my parents, foolishly thinking the world would make me completely content. I filled myself up with anything and everything in order to be loved but I was rejecting my family, who actually cared about me. I felt trapped.
On the first day of university orientation I was given some free “Walk with Jesus” thongs (what Americans call flip-flops) for signing up with a Christian group. Subsequently, I received a call from a girl belonging to the Baptist Church. She did not beat around the bush; she immediately asked, “What’s your relationship with Jesus?” That question prompted me to attend some Anglican and Protestant events, which led me back to belief.
The turning point of my life was when I received an offer to replace my sister in a job running a Catholic youth group. Since I needed the money, I did not think twice! Before taking over, I had to take a month-long retreat. Although I had already decided to join the Baptist Church, I wanted this job so I went to the retreat at a Benedictine monastery. Since I had not been taught any Catholic prayers in primary or high school, it was all new to me. I was really surprised to learn that Catholics could pray so much! The angelus and rosary fascinated me because I had been wondering why Mary was not even mentioned in the Baptist Church.
Until then I had only valued material things and relationships that failed to fill the emptiness in my heart.
A Tremendous Challenge
My next surprise was adoration. I did not understand what eucharistic adoration was so they had to explain—it is when we put the host consecrated at Mass in a monstrance (a golden object that looks like a sun) so we can adore Jesus in the blessed sacrament longer. I was not able to totally take it in. Although I had often received Holy Communion, I had not believed that the consecrated bread was actually Jesus. How could a piece of bread be Christ? Why are we worshipping a piece of bread?
When I was told I had to stay silent for an hour, I was staggered. For a person who cannot even stay quiet for five minutes it was a real struggle. My heart was racing and my feet tapping. I sat at the back, so I could get away quickly, but could not help noticing others who seemed to have no problem silently conversing with Jesus, as if they had known Him well for years. Even though we had adoration every night, they still seemed to have more to say. As time went on, I felt drawn to sit close to “the bread” because I wanted to experience the same intimacy with Jesus.
When the Walls Crumbled
My mind was full of conflicting thoughts and emotions about the sins of my past— stealing money from my parents, addiction to pornography, manipulating people for my own ends—I could not block these painful thoughts so the walls around my heart crumbled. I looked up at Christ on the cross while He gazed back at me. I felt like Mary standing there at the foot of the cross. As I observed His wounds, I could feel them and words came to me from Jesus, “I thirst.” “Maybe God has better plans than what I have,” I thought.
I wanted to offer Him something and absurd thoughts about cutting myself ran through my head. Bitter tears fell as regrets for all the sins of the previous five years overwhelmed me. I was meeting the crucified Christ and powerfully realizing that He died for me. Suddenly, someone broke the silence to announce that confession was available. My heart shrank, “No way… I am not going in there. It’s just a man in a box. That priest will judge me.” A tug of war was happening inside me; you cannot beat perfect love and somehow God pulled me right into the confessional.
When God Held a Party for Me!
I had my heart in my hands but no words. I was so nervous. My hands were wet and I was trembling. I poured out my heart, confessing everything, even my shameful addiction to pornography. As I waited with bated breath for the priest’s response, I felt like a prisoner waiting for a guilty verdict. Then his words shattered my emptiness and filled my heart. ”Jemille … YOU ARE LOVED.” Joyful tears ran down my face, because I knew they came straight from Jesus Himself. In that moment I perceived the crucified Christ and the risen Christ. I felt like the Prodigal Son coming home to my Father and being received with joy and celebration. Confession seemed like a bath where my sins were all washed away.
When I left the confessional, I immediately recognized, at last, that the Blessed Sacrament is Christ Himself. I knew He was real and that I was loved. Nothing else mattered. I have never turned back. Those words continued to fill me: YOU ARE LOVED. “As the deer yearns running streams, so I long for you my Lord“ (Psalm 42:1). I was the deer who had been yearning but I was not thirsty anymore.
Never Stop Looking Up
My life completely changed yet I still struggled to change my relationships, give up materialistic desires and fully heal from my addiction to pornography. They had nearly destroyed my heart.
Christ is real. Without Him we are nothing. Adoration is now the center of my life. If I do not spend a lot of time talking with Him, if I do not listen and talk to God like a friend, the relationship
becomes distant and dry. Just as married couples need to constantly communicate, I need to constantly develop my relationship with Christ. Jesus is my Savior. He saved me that day from myself and I love Him very much. Each day my love for him is increased so I can realize my call to holiness. I am called to be a saint. My goal is heaven and I am on my way. Jesus, the Good Shepherd,
is leading me home.
John Pridmore was born in Walthamstow in the East end of London. At 13 he began to steal and by 15 he was put in a detention center (youth prison). At 19 he was imprisoned again and, because of his violent behavior, put into solitary confinement.
Being in solitary confinement was like having a mirror put in front of you. I hated what I saw, so I hated myself and the way I was living my life.
I was baptized a Catholic, but was not brought up a Catholic, so I never went to a Catholic school or church. My parents were very loving to me, but they started arguing a lot; when I was 10 they asked me to choose which one I wanted to live with because they were getting divorced. The two people I loved and trusted the most in this world had just crushed me. I really thought I was not loved anymore, so I made an unconscious decision, then and there, that I was not ever going to love anyone. I thought that if you did not love you would not get hurt. I really believe that their divorce led me to make a lot of very bad choices in my life.
I became very angry and bitter and was always losing my temper and fighting, which I think was a symptom of that divorce. Mum used to secretly visit me at school and when my father heard about it he had a massive row with her, right in front of me. At that moment, I felt completely unloved and closed my heart to everyone. The Church teaches that divorce is wrong, and I believe my behavior was the fruit of that. When parents divorce, it really can destroy your life.
Filling the Empty Space
I started bouncing round the east and west end clubs of London. I liked fighting, so I thought I might as well get paid for it! I met some guys who seemed to have the best of everything. They had power and respect, all for the wrong reasons, but I craved that respect, so I started dealing drugs for them. Before long, I was no longer working for them but with them. These were the guys who ran most of the organized crime in London. When I was only 20 years old, I was earning 20,000-30,000 pounds a month.
The money was incredible, but so was the emptiness. I tried to fill that emptiness with what the world offered. I was on crack cocaine, smoking dope and drinking heavily. I was also very promiscuous—I often woke up with girls whose names I did not even know. The more promiscuous I became and the more drugs I took, the more overpowered I felt by emptiness. Even though I was looked upon as a hard man, inside I was a scared man, scared of being rejected for who I really was. I would not share my feelings with anyone because I was scared of being rejected.
I was working in a club that we part-owned in the west end of London when I hit a guy with my brass knuckles, just to impress an underworld boss. I looked at this man lying on the floor and thought I had killed him. What really scared me was that I did not care! I had become somebody who could actually kill and not even care. When I was a kid I did care. I wanted to help people and make the world better, but here I was hurting everyone around me. I never woke up one day and said “Today I will be evil.” It was a slow progression, saying NO to everything good and YES to everything bad.
When God Spoke to Me
After nearly taking that man’s life, something incredible happened. One normal evening, I became aware of this voice speaking to me and I knew that voice was God. He was telling me all the horrendous things I had done. I felt I was dying physically there and then and that I was going to hell. I cried out for another chance, not because I was sorry but because I did not want to go to hell. Suddenly, I felt lifted up and I prayed for the first time in my life: “Up till now, all I have done is take from You, God. Now, I want to give.” As I said this prayer, the emptiness inside was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit and a sense of God’s love for me.
Mum was the only person I knew with faith. I seldom visited her but occasionally gave her an expensive gift when I felt guilty. When I told her how I had heard the voice of God speak to me, tears rolled down her face as she revealed that she had prayed for me every single day of my life. My stepdad gave me my first Bible. As I opened it, my eyes fell on the story of the Prodigal Son. I realized I was like him—starving to be loved.
Face—To—Face with Jesus
Later, I was invited to a retreat with approximately 250 young people. Some of these people had a joy I had never seen. Some of them were coming up and hugging me, which shocked me; as a gangster I had never been touched with love. A priest gave a talk, “Give Me Your Wounded Heart,” about how every sin we commit is like a wound in our heart. As I looked at the crucifix, I was filled with real sorrow for my sins. Much more than that sorrow was overwhelming joy! I felt Jesus was saying to me, “John, I love you so much that I’d go through this over and over again for you!” I started crying for the first time since my parents divorced when I was 10.
Then, I heard a whisper in my heart urging me to go to confession. I had never been to confession and, at 27, I had broken every commandment in the book. I went to confession and left nothing out. I was scared of what the priest might think of me but when I looked into his eyes he was crying. He was not judging me. He was Jesus to me. At the end, the priest put his hand on my head and absolved me from my sins. Yet, it was not his hand, it was Christ’s hand and I knew in my heart that I was forgiven. I could see how much God loved me, despite my unworthiness. I took all of my sin and tipped it all out at the foot of the cross. I felt like I was alive again!
After confession, there was a Mass. Since I had not grown up in the church, when they said that this white host was meant to be Jesus, it made no sense to me. I said a simple prayer, “If this is truly You Jesus then show me because I don’t understand.” As I received Jesus that day, every good feeling I had ever felt in my life, including my experience of God’s love for me and how I felt when I walked away from confession, was magnified and I knew it was Jesus—body, blood, soul and divinity. I believed, not because anybody taught me out of a book, but because Jesus had personally showed me in answer to my prayer. I knew I would be a Catholic till the day I die. He had given me an infused knowledge that everything the Church teaches was the true teaching of Jesus, and that He dwells in every tabernacle in every Catholic Church throughout this world.
The Day I Met a Saint
When I left that retreat, I felt I needed to start giving because I was so sick of taking. I ended up going to the Bronx in New York to work with the Franciscans of the Renewal. While I was there, I had the privilege of meeting Saint Teresa of Calcutta and spending nearly six hours with her. It was an amazing experience to be in the presence of someone who is so filled with God’s love. She told me something that changed my life: “When we share our story, we glorify Jesus.” I believe it was a message from God, asking me to share my story.
Over the last 20 years, I have had the honor of speaking to more than three million people around the world. In 2008, I spoke at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI. At school, they had told me I was stupid because I was dyslexic, unable to read or write; since I gave my heart to God, I have written four books.
If there is anyone out there who might be having doubts, God has a plan for you! For 27 years I was dead but now I am alive, and the greatest joy in my life is speaking on His behalf. For the last 20 years, I have lived completely off God’s providence, traveling the world to share my story. I have made three promises to God: I would be celibate—it is a gift and real joy to be celibate for God; I committed to poverty—so I am not allowed to earn money and any money we make supports the community and the work we do; and I promised to be obedient to the holy Catholic Church. I believe that is God’s will for us. It protects us and keeps us safe.
There was a time when I would never leave my house without a gun. Now, I would never leave without my rosary. Jesus is my best friend. He is also truly my savior.'
By now most of you are probably aware of the depressing statistics regarding the “nones,” that is to say, those in this country who claim no religious affiliation. The most recent survey showed that now fully one fourth of Americans belong to no religion at all—that’s approximately 80,000,000 people. And among those in the 18-29 age group, the percentage of nones goes up to 40! This increase has been alarmingly precipitous. Fifty years ago, only a fraction of the country would have identified as unreligious, and even a decade ago, the number was only at 14%. What makes this situation even more distressing is that fully 64% of young adult nones were indeed raised religious but have taken the conscious and active decision to abandon their churches. Houston, we definitely have a problem.
I have written frequently regarding practical steps that religious leaders ought to be taking to confront this rising tide of secularist ideology, and I will continue to do so. But for the moment, I would like to reflect on a passage from the Gospel of Luke, which was featured on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, and which sheds considerable light on this issue. It has to do with the visit of the shepherds to Mary and the Christ child in the stable at Bethlehem, and it hinges on three words: haste, astonished, and treasured.
We hear that, upon receiving the angel’s message, the shepherds “went in haste” to visit the holy family. This echoes a passage from a bit earlier in Luke’s Gospel: having heard the news of her own pregnancy and that of Elizabeth, Mary, we are told, “went in haste” to the hill country of Judah to help her cousin. The spiritual truth that both of these pericopes disclose is that energy, verve, enthusiasm, and a sense of mission come precisely from a good that is perceived to be both objective and transcendent to the ego. If I might borrow the language of Dietrich von Hildebrand, it is only the objectively valuable—as opposed to the merely subjectively satisfying—that fills the mind and soul with passion and purpose. When the sense of objective and transcendent value is attenuated—as it necessarily is within the context of a secularist worldview—passion and mission fade away. John Henry Newman said that what gives a river verve and movement is precisely the firmness of its banks. When those banks are broken down, in the interest of a supposed freedom, the once energetic body of water spreads out into a great lazy lake. What we have in our secularist culture, which denies the transcendent good, is a subjectivism that gives rise to the “whatever” attitude. Toleration and self-assertion reign supreme; but no one goes anywhere in haste. Rather, we all rest on our individual air mattresses in the midst of the placid but tedious lake.
The second word I want to emphasize is “astonished.” Luke tells us that those who heard the shepherds’ testimony were “astonished” at the news. The King James Version renders this as “they wondered at” the message. Wonder, amazement, and astonishment happen when the properly transcendent power breaks into our ordinary experience. The findings of the sciences delight and inform us, but they don’t astonish us, and the reason for this is that we are finally in control of the deliverances of the scientific method. We observe, we form hypotheses, we make experiments, and we draw conclusions. Again, this is all to the good, but it doesn’t produce amazement. Dorothy Day witnessed to the astonishing when she said, upon the birth of her first child, that she felt a gratitude so enormous that it would correspond to nothing or no one in this world. Mother Teresa was properly amazed when, on a lengthy train journey to Darjeeling, she heard a voice calling her to minister to the poorest of the poor. The apostles of Jesus fell into wonder when they saw, alive again, their master who had been crucified and buried. These are the most precious kinds of experiences that we can have, and if St. Augustine is right, they alone can satisfy the deepest longing of the heart. A secularist ideology—the worldview embraced by the “nones”—produces the clean, well-lighted space of what we can know and control. But it precludes true astonishment, and this leaves the soul impoverished.
The final word from Luke upon which I’d like to reflect is “treasured.” The evangelist tells us that Mary “treasured these things, pondering upon them in her heart.” Newman said that Mary, precisely in this contemplative, ruminative frame of mind, is the model of all theology. I’d press it further. She is the real symbol of the Church in its entire function as the custodian of revelation. What is the Sistine Chapel? What is Notre Dame Cathedral? What is The Divine Comedy of Dante? What is the Summa contra gentiles of Thomas Aquinas? What are the sermons of John Chrysostom? What are the teachings of the great ecumenical councils? What is the liturgy in all of its complexity and beauty? These are all means by which the Church stubbornly, century in and century out, treasures the astonishing events of God’s self-manifestation. Up and down the ages, the Church ponders what God has done so that the memory of these mighty deeds might never be lost. As such, she performs an indispensable service on behalf of the world—though the world might not have any sense of it. She keeps holding up the light against the darkness.
So to the “nones” and to those who are tempted to move into secularism, I say, don’t float on the lazy lake; rather, go in haste! Don’t settle for something less than astonishment; be amazed! Don’t fall into spiritual amnesia; treasure!'
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 heartbreaking 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 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.'