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Sep 01, 2020
Encounter Sep 01, 2020

Want to be the best version of you? Take the first step!

Missing Link

My testimony is not about a powerful conversion, a life changing moment or a miraculous healing. It is a journey of small steps—a journey where I continually stumbled and fell, but God always picked me up and walked with me. I was born and raised Catholic. However, as many people could attest, this does not always amount to much. I participated in the Sacraments and went to Church regularly, but a personal relationship with Jesus was lacking.

During my university life, whenever I encountered difficulties, I turned to God for comfort. He was always there for me, but I was not always there for Him. I put God in a compartment and I turned to Him only when I needed. He was certainly a part of my life, since I continued to go to Church on Sundays and pray frequently, but He was not central to my life. My own interests and desires were at the forefront of my mind. I never really paused to think about God’s will.

Six months before graduation, my whole world turned upside down. I went through a really deep depression and for a long time, there was only darkness. The despair and hopelessness I felt is hard to convey in words, but I think that many of you reading this will have felt it at some point. When it happens, we go one way or another. We run towards God seeking refuge in Him or run away from Him in anger.

Sadly, I chose the latter. I could not understand why God would put me through something so horrific if He loved me. For the best part of a year, I completely isolated myself. I stopped attending Church. I stopped going anywhere at all. I was caught up in feelings of shame and worthlessness. Thoughts like ‘you’re a burden’ and ‘everyone would be so much better off without you’ constantly invaded my head. My mind was like a prison that I just could not escape from.

Thankfully, that was not the end of my story. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose”. This reassures us that, whatever may happen in our lives, God will work it out for our good. It also lovingly reminds us that we have been chosen by Him and we have a purpose through Him. This became evident in my life when I slowly returned to the faith with the help of various people and incidents that God surely orchestrated.

Baby Steps

This time, it was different. I attended daily Mass and retreats as I truly sought God’s love. However, my mental health struggles kept recurring. There was not any progression or recovery, so my future looked bleak. I was fed up with life constantly. The hope and peace Jesus promised seemed far away. As I said before, there was not a magical moment when things turned around for me as I would have liked. I had to wait for God’s timing. Nevertheless, some small steps helped me progress to a more positive state.

My family is my biggest blessing. They have stood by me through the darkest times and I am truly grateful to God for them. About two years ago, we started reading the Bible for thirty minutes daily—something we continue to do. Even though it can be arduous, especially when delving into some of the Old Testament, it is definitely worth persevering. When we appreciate that the Bible is the living Word of God, we realize that there is an answer in there for everything.

“Satan’s target is your mind and his weapons are lies. So fill your mind with the Word of God”—Greg Locke.

This quote emphasizes how the devil uses lies against us as weapons. My struggles were mainly with my mind and I felt trapped. I wrestled with many sins that kept coming up again and again. The devil told me that I was unloved, broken and worthless when in actual fact, I am a child of God, who is infinitely loved. These are a few affirmations that the Word of God gives each of us:

“I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works that He has prepared for me to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

“The Spirit of God, who is greater than the enemy in the world, lives in me.” (1 John 4:4)

“I am chosen by God who called me out of the darkness of sin and into the light and life of Christ so I can proclaim the excellence and greatness of who He is.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Flawless Love

One of my favorite things about the Catholic faith is the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation). Being able to run to Confession and pour out my heart to Jesus has been immensely valuable. Receiving His forgiveness frees us from the guilt and shame which the devil condemns us to. The Holy Spirit helps us realize when we are on the wrong path, needing to repent and turn back to God. As long as we do this, there is nothing to worry about, although we may have to do it over and over again. The further we have strayed from God, the more He rejoices when we come back, just as the father celebrated when the prodigal son returned.

This took me a while to realize and I still have not grasped it fully; I do not need to do anything at all to earn God’s love. It is an unconditional gift that He pours out on us. His love is not dependent on me or my flawed self. It is dependent on His nature which is all loving and merciful. Even through my darkest times and yours, this love gives us hope. In the book of the prophet Hosea, God proclaims that He will “transform the Valley of Trouble into a Gateway of Hope” (Hosea 2:15). This beautifully portrays what happened in my life. Through His love, God transformed my troubles into an opportunity to have hope and share that hope with you.

Step by Step

In hindsight, my pain led me to ultimately get closer to God. He is the only one who has truly been there for me through everything. He is not only the majestic, all powerful God, He is my comforter and friend. I have learned to be more accepting of God’s will and His timing. My life definitely didn’t pan out the way I planned, but that is not a bad thing because God’s ways are higher than my ways. “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Many small factors contributed over time to increasing my faith. It led me to a deeper appreciation and understanding of God. I also truly believe that the power of prayer has helped me survive life’s many challenges. I humbly request that you keep me in your prayers and that we all adopt a mentality of praying for each other. As my testimony shows, we do not necessarily have to do ‘big’ things to get closer to God. Small steps are all it takes. I hope you are able to take a small step towards God today. He is waiting lovingly with open arms.

Dear God, I firmly believe and hope in You. Each day I rise up to take one more step closer to You. All I ask is for the grace to know You and love You. Let me be enfolded in Your loving arms. Amen

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By: Stefi Siby

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Sep 01, 2020
Encounter Sep 01, 2020

Father Chris da Sousa was blind until a pilgrimage to Fatima brought him a miracle and that wasn’t the last miracle she obtained for his family.

My devotion to Our Blessed Mother started right from my earliest days. I’m Australian born, but my parents are Portuguese immigrants, so we’ve always had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. We would pray the Holy Rosary in front of her altar in our home daily, so I developed a great trust in her intercession.

I was born legally blind in my right eye and afflicted with a pathological condition in my left eye which caused my vision to deteriorate each and every year. As I grew up, my parents determinedly took me from one specialist to another, hoping for a cure, but always receiving the same news. There was no real treatment and by adulthood I would become completely blind.

Take a Risk

By the time I entered early adulthood, no vision remained in my left eye, so my study of Law was severely hampered. My parents were distressed by witnessing my struggles to read big law books with my severely limited vision. So, in my second last year, they went on a pilgrimage to Fatima to plead for Our Lady’s intercession to restore their son’s vision. I remained to undertake my final year. When they returned with strengthened faith and trust in Our Lady’s intercession, they found a specialist who had learned a new procedure in Belgium that might help me. Although an appointment with this specialist was almost unobtainable, they asked Our Lady to help and I was unexpectedly called in for a consultation. Although I was resigned to my lack of eyesight, I couldn’t disappoint my parents after all their efforts.

Immediately after assessing my vision, the specialist said that he wasn’t sure if this procedure would help me. It was also very risky and, because it didn’t have government approval, it would be very expensive. However, my parents had such a great trust in Our Lady’s intercession that they immediately agreed to put up the money and urged me to go ahead. I was apprehensive, but assented, consigning myself into Our Lady’s loving care.

Take a Chance

They started with my right eye—he legally blind eye. The surgeon had said that it may take some months before you see any real improvement, so I wasn’t expecting any immediate difference. But within 15 to 20 minutes after the operation, I could see clearly for the first time in my legally blind eye. Colours and definition I had never seen before!

I came running out of that operation exalting God, praising Him and thanking Our Blessed Mother for her guidance and intercession. As I joyfully embraced my parents, the specialist, who wasn’t a believer, hailed it as a miracle. He was unable to explain this immediate gift of clear vision, after the procedure, in an eye that had never had clear vision.

One month later, he operated on the other eye, my left eye. A repeat of the miracle seemed too much to hope for, but God’s blessing are abundant. Once more, within 15 to 20 minutes, I could see clearly in my left eye. Complete vision had been restored. Thanks to Our Blessed Mother’s intercession and my parents’ great faith and trust, I was able to kickstart life as an advocate.

Make a Change

I had always desired to be a lawyer, but I also opened myself to the Lord. What was He asking of me? I knew that this miracle was a free gift that didn’t need to be earned, but together with Our Blessed Mother, I would ask Him, “Lord what is it that you want from me? Why have you restored my vision when so many others remain blind?” This commenced a period of discernment, as I started working. Even though I felt fulfilled as a lawyer and projected a life of marriage and family, I received a calling in my heart to religious life and the priesthood during a World Youth Day pilgrimage.

I felt overwhelmed with fear and it took me several months to come to terms with my calling. On the 13th of May, during Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima in my hometown, I asked Our Blessed Mother, “If this is what your Son wants from me, help me to see this just as clearly as you helped me to see.” It was like a veil was lifted from my eyes. I knew that her Son was calling me to religious life. Her Son was calling me to the priesthood. Entrusting myself into her maternal hands, I eventually discerned that I should give my life to the Lord, with the Somascan Fathers.

Following an ancient tradition in our religious order, when I professed my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, I also consecrated myself to Our Lady and added her name, Maria, to mine. Our founder, Saint Jerome Emiliani, had been miraculously liberated by Our Blessed Mother when he was a prisoner of war 500 years ago, enabling him to care for the sick, hungry and orphaned. I was miraculously liberated from my blindness, through her intercession, enabling me to give my life entirely to her Son.

Miracles Do Happen

When I was in Rome, preparing for my final Theology exams, my father became very ill with blood cancer. As he prepared to receive treatment, I went on pilgrimage to Fatima to entrust the health of my father to Our Lady’s care and to thank her for obtaining the miracle of my restored vision. On the same day that I walked on my knees to the place where she had appeared to the children 100 years earlier, my father’s specialist discovered that the cancer had completely disappeared from his blood. Once more, Our Blessed Mother’s intercession had miraculously restored another family member to health.

Following years of mission in India, Sri Lanka and Mozambique, I returned to Australia to prepare myself for my solemn vows and priestly ordination. My ordination took place in Mary’s month, May, on a Saturday, in her honor. I entrusted my entire priesthood into her maternal hands. The next day, on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, 13th May, I celebrated my first Mass. It was succeeded by a beautiful, candlelit procession, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, through the streets of Fremantle.

Our cup had runneth over until, at the apex of our joy, my mother fell gravely ill and was taken to hospital immediately in an ambulance. I followed quickly so that I could give her the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick – the sacrament of healing. She was the first person that I anointed with this sacrament. It strengthened my priesthood so much to be able to minister to her, not only as her son, but as a priest. The doctors thought she had suffered a heart attack and were giving her medication to thin out her blood. In fact, she had an aneurysm and was haemorrhaging internally.

They only realized this after several days of treatment with blood thinners. Their treatment was actually causing her to bleed more and more internally. She was rushed into an emergency operation, not expected to survive, but God blessed us once again with a miracle, thanks to the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, The doctors were unable to explain how my mother could still be alive after bleeding internally for so many days. My mother explained to them that Our Lady had interceded for her. “My son has consecrated himself to her and, as a priest, he’s been offering the Holy Mass for me every day. That is why I am healed, that is why this miracle has taken place.”

Mamma Leads the Way

These profound experiences have deepened my devotion to Our Blessed Mother. I encourage you to entrust your lives to her heavenly intercession. I can bear witness to the miracles that occur when she intercedes for us to her Son. She, who is immaculately conceived, received the graces, gained by her son on the Cross, from her conception. She was able to say “Yes” to being the Mother of God, preceding Our Lord’s assent to His Passion and Death on the Cross. Our Blessed Mother’s desire to help the couple at Cana brought about Our Lord’s first miracle. Our Blessed Mother’s heart was pierced with sorrow (Luke 2:35) foreshadowing Our Lord’s Heart being pierced with a lance on the Cross (John 19:34). So, she shows us how to follow Jesus, in all our joys and sufferings, entrusting them to her.

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By: Father Chris da Sousa

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Sep 01, 2020
Encounter Sep 01, 2020

Be fascinated by the life of Brian Welsh as he shares the journey of meeting the superstar and how radically his life changed.

Leap like a Deer

When I was very young, I heard the book of Isaiah being read, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Immediately, I put up my hand and called out, “Send me”.

I grew up in the country, loving football and fishing. I had a really good Catholic upbringing. After receiving Holy Communion one morning, I felt this fire burning in my heart. As soon as I got home from Mass, I started to leap like a deer, joyfully racing down the hill. An overwhelming sense of God’s Peace and Joy overflowed into a song, “God is burning in my heart. He and I are one.”

As I got older, I lost that innocent sense of God’s presence as I succumbed to temptations. When I was altar serving, it was my responsibility to bring the collection money back to the presbytery, I would say, “A little bit for God and a little bit for Brian”, then pocket some to buy ice cream. As I got older, that habit of stealing strengthened so if anything was left lying around, I had no qualms about taking it when no-one was looking.

Rifle in Hand

My father tried to keep me on the straight and narrow, but I started to rebel against his authority. I felt filled with anger. That spilled over into the way I played football as I became violent and vengeful. After I got knocked out in a tackle, I vowed vengeance against that player. A year passed before I played him again, but I hadn’t forgotten. When he ran the ball my way, I drove my knee into his jaw during the tackle. His jaw shattered, so he had to leave the field and never played football again.

My growing anger disturbed those around me, but when someone expressed their concern, “Brian, you have so much violence in your life, what are you going to do about it?” I snapped back furiously, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” One night I felt such resentment towards my father that I loaded my rifle, planning to shoot him. But as I turned to leave the room, I was transfixed by an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As I gazed into His eyes, I felt the madness lift and I hastily unloaded the rifle.

When my close friend, Andrew died of cancer, it really shocked me. Towards the end, he had asked me, “Who is God?” but I didn’t have any answers because I had forgotten the love that God had for us and lost my personal relationship with Him.

Perhaps a move to the big city would make things better, but instead I spiralled into depression and swiftly lost my job. The emptiness inside was swallowing me up, so I made plans to end it all. Before I could do anything, a friend called around and I spent the night confiding in him about this longing for something more. Nothing could fill that void – no relationship, no experience, nothing that money could buy. It was just a vast pain. I told him, “You could pour all the oceans of the world into my heart and it would still be empty.” For a while, I distracted myself by travelling around Australia, committing petty thefts to support myself, but I still felt empty and aimless.

Baffled by Lucia

Finally I turned to God with a prayer – “God I really need your help.” As I cast my eyes back down, I saw a Catholic bookshop. When I entered, I dared to pray again, “God, if there’s a book in this shop that You want me to read – Show me. Brushing past a bookstand, one book tumbled off, so I picked it up and put it back. Next time I passed, it fell off again so I replaced it. When it fell in front of me for the third time, I finally thought, “Perhaps God wants me to read this book.” Turning it over, I tried to make sense of the title – “Fatima in Lucia’s own words”. I was baffled – “What is Fatima and who is Lucia?“

When I took the book home, I read it over and over again. Suddenly, I recalled every detail of everything I had ever done wrong. Filled with sorrow for my sins, I knelt on the floor and cried out to God for His mercy, begging for His forgiveness. I went to Confession with a great list of sins. As soon as the priest said the words of absolution, I felt God’s merciful love flowing into me, banishing the darkness.

There was something more that I needed, but instead of looking for it in the Catholic Church, I went to a Pentecostal church with a friend. During the sermon on God’s love, I heard John 3:16 with fresh ears “God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That scripture really struck my heart, so when he called people who wanted prayer to come forward, I felt an inner voice urging me up.

When the pastor asked me what I wanted, I didn’t know what to ask for, except God’s love. He asked me if I’d met Jesus, urging me to open my heart to His love and mercy by saying, “Jesus come into my heart. Be my Lord and Saviour.” Because I’d already repented and been to Confession, my heart was ready. So, when I closed my eyes, held onto his hands and prayed with all my heart, the Holy Spirit fell upon me, filling the empty, aching void within me with God’s merciful love.

Finding My Home

I reconciled with my father and dealt with the unresolved issues between us. Now that I’m a father myself, I have a better understanding of some of the issues we battled with. Before he died of cancer, we shared a lot of happy memories and wept together about our misunderstandings. His greatest legacy is his love for the poor, who could always count on his kindness and generosity. After he died, I had a dream where I saw him filled with light, complete with his favorite hat.

I stayed with the Pentecostals until they told me not to worship Mary. “I don’t worship Mary. I pray the Rosary.” Although I loved this church, I loved My Heavenly Mother more, so I prayed, “Lord where do you want me?” When I related the saga in Confession, I was told about a Catholic charismatic group nearby. I felt at home there because they loved Mary, they loved the charismatic graces, they loved the traditions of the church and they loved the Eucharist.

My life continued to radically change. I asked the Lord, “What do you want from my life?” I felt a call to become a missionary and was sent to Papua New Guinea. It was great living among the people and seeing so many people being touched by the Holy Spirit.

A priest told me that I was an evangelist. I didn’t know what he meant. So, we stepped out onto the street and he challenged me to go and tell a young man about Jesus. So, I went across and shared the love of Jesus with him. Then he pointed to the pub. “Go in there and share the love of Jesus with the first person you meet.” So, I did just that. “What you did is being an evangelist,” Father said, “Simply sharing the love and mercy of Jesus.” So, for the last 32 years I’ve been going out onto the streets: sitting with junkies; walking into brothels; finding the people who don’t know the love of Jesus and feel so empty and lonely, even suicidal. The people out there need to know Jesus. Even some Catholics who go to church don’t know the love of Jesus.

Do You Love Him?

When I talk to people caught up in homosexuality, their very first question is, “I’m a lesbian, how can God love me? or I’m a transvestite how can God love me?” I tell them, “God loves you the same way He loves me. He doesn’t want to know your sexual identity, He wants to know if you have a heart that loves Him.” The Son of God came to redeem thee people from their sins. He triumphed over my sin by giving me mercy. I experienced the fire of his love and now I’m called to take that love to the world.

As I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament one day, I received an image of Jesus stepping out of the tabernacle, radiant with light. As He approached me, I could feel the fire of His love in my heart. Pointing to His heart, He said, “Take my love to the world.” I promised Him that I would, even if I was the only one, because He came for me. Even if it’s only for one person, it’s worth it. For many years, I went by myself, feeling the presence of God, but more people are joining me, speaking many different languages.

When we’re sharing the Word of God, many people say, “Good on you for being out here,” but some people react very negatively with swearing or demands to stop speaking. My response to that is simply, “God loves you.” We do have a right – a God-given right – to proclaim the truth, not to impose but to propose a new way of living in the mercy of Jesus Christ. Our team has been fortified by the Sacraments, the Word of God and prayer to take his healing power and mercy out to the people who need it so desperately. I usually give out Bibles, Rosaries, pamphlets and holy cards. During this pandemic, I put them in sealed packets and invite people to take them. I’ve set up my ute like a mini-chapel, with an image of the Divine Mercy, as a platform for my evangelization. I drive to a car park, or somewhere like that and talk to the people going by.

Who’s Your Star?

The workplace is also a setting where I evangelize. If people are open to it, I give them a Bible or pray with them. Sometimes people’s lives are falling apart or they’ve just gone through a separation, or breakdown of friendship. If they share this with me, I share the love of Jesus with them, because His friendship is a lasting friendship. As a gardener, I try to make their garden so beautiful that they can feel the presence of God in the tranquillity of their homes.

No matter what addiction you are afflicted with – alcohol, drugs, sex, nicotine, social media, screen … turn to Jesus, take up the power of the Rosary and meditation on the Gospel. One day He’ll say to you, you don’t need it and you’ll be free.

Make sure that you are following the right star. Film stars, sporting stars, TV stars and social media stars are all vying for our attention. Are you being guided by the right star? The true star leads us to Jesus Christ the Lord and Saviour, the healer of the human heart and the uniter of all nations. The Morning Star, Mary led me to Him. I was living in darkness, despair and hopelessness until she led me to experience the mighty love of God.

Now, I live my life for Him – in the family, in my workplace, in my social life. Wherever I go, I live my life in His presence, carrying His light into the world to dispel the darkness. My wife and children reflect His light back to me, healing and strengthening me. We live for Him and rejoice in sharing the very best thing we have – our love for Jesus.

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By: Brian Welsh

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Jun 25, 2020
Encounter Jun 25, 2020

There is a curious and intriguing passage in the third chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, which in the context of the missive seems almost tossed-off, but which has proven to be a cornerstone of Catholic moral theology for the past two thousand years. Responding to some of his critics, Paul says, “And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come?’ Their condemnation is deserved” (Rom. 3:8)! One might formulate Paul’s somewhat convoluted statement as follows: we should never do evil that good might come of it.

There are indeed truly wicked people who seem to take delight in doing evil for its own sake. Aristotle called them vicious, or in extreme cases, “beast-like.” But most of us who do bad things typically can find a justification for our behavior through appealing to a good end that we were hoping through our action to achieve. “I’m not really proud of what I did,” I might say to myself, “but at least it brought about some positive consequences.” But the Church, following the prompt of St. Paul, has consistently frowned on this manner of thinking, precisely because it opens the door to moral chaos. Concomitantly, it has recognized certain acts—slavery, adultery, the sexual abuse of children, the direct killing of the innocent, etc.—as “intrinsically evil”—which is to say, incapable of being justified through appeal to motivation, extenuating circumstances, or consequences. So far, so obvious.

But this principle has come to my mind recently, not so much in regard to the moral acts of individuals, but to the moral assumptions that seem to be guiding much of our society. I might suggest that a sea-change occurred in 1995 with the trial of O.J. Simpson. I think it’s fair to say that the overwhelming majority of reasonable people would concur that Simpson committed the terrible crimes of which he was accused, and yet he was exonerated by a jury of his peers and vehemently supported by large segments in our society. How can we explain this anomaly? The exculpation of O.J. Simpson was justified, in the minds of many, because it was seen as contributing to the solution of the great social ill of the racial profiling and persecution of African Americans by the Los Angeles police department in particular and police officers across the country in general. Allowing a guilty man to go free and allowing a gross injustice to remain unaddressed were, at the very least, tolerated, because it appeared they conduced to some greater good.

The O.J. Simpsonization of our legal thinking was on gross display much more recently in the sad case of Cardinal George Pell. Once again, given the wild implausibility of the charges and the complete lack of any corroborating evidence, reasonable people were bound to conclude that Cardinal Pell should never have been brought to trial much less convicted. And yet Pell was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, and a later appeal confirmed the original conviction. How could we possibly explain this disconnect? Many in Australian society, legitimately outraged at the abuse of children by priests and the subsequent cover-up by some in ecclesial authority, felt that the imprisonment of Cardinal Pell would somehow address this overarching issue. So once again, in violation of Paul’s principle, evil was done that good might come of it.

The same problem is evident in regard to sexual aggression against women. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein situation and the subsequent #MeToo movement, no serious person doubts that numerous women have been unconscionably mistreated by powerful men and that this abuse is a cancer on the body politic. Therefore, in order to achieve the good of solving this problem, men are sometimes accused, harassed, effectively condemned without investigation or trial. To show that I have no partisan axe to grind here, I will draw attention to the treatment of both Justice Brett Kavanaugh and, in recent days, former Vice President Joe Biden. The thinking seems, again, to be that the righting of a general wrong justifies morally irresponsible behavior in particular cases.

The prevalence of this moral consequentialism in our society is supremely dangerous, for the moment we say that evil can be done for the sake of the good, we have effectively denied that there are any intrinsically evil acts, and the moment we do that, the intellectual support for our moral system gives way automatically. And then the furies come. A very instructive example of the principle is the Terror that followed the French Revolution. Since there had been (undoubtedly) tremendous injustices done to the poor by the aristocratic class in eighteenth-century France, anyone perceived to be an enemy of the revolution was, without distinction or discrimination, swept to the guillotine. If innocents died alongside the guilty, so be it—for it served the building of the new society. I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that Western society has yet fully to recover from the moral chaos visited upon us by the lethal consequentialism of that time.

Therefore, even as we legitimately fight the great social evils of our time, we must remember Paul’s simple but trenchant principle: never do evil that good might come of it.

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By: Bishop Robert Barron

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Jun 25, 2020
Encounter Jun 25, 2020

If you can make it through the night, there’s a brighter day… Everything will be alright if you hold on to Him.

Panic Stricken

When the pandemic rolled in, it upended our lives, our homes and our reality like a hurricane. Suddenly — Six Feet Apart; Wash your Hands; Stay Home, and Steer Clear of Everyone became the mantras of the day. We became afraid of the future, the person passing by, or the scratchy throat we feel first thing in the morning.

Do I have Covid-19? Does my husband? Is it in my home? Fear and anxiety took the centre stage as people whispered, ‘You will get sick and die alone, without your family around you. You will not be able to feed your family or pay the bills.” Updates on the latest restrictions and predictions of death figures filled our newsfeeds, ramping up our panic as we reeled under the weight of the invisible doom threatening us from all sides. ‘We will get through this’; ‘We are all in this together’, we were told, but where is God? Why did all this happen?

Indescribable Anguish

Many years ago, I was overcome by fear and panic as I was plunged deep into an indescribable anguish. A paediatric neurologist told my husband and me that our three and a half year old son would die from a rare disease and that there was nothing we could do about it. His words shattered me. They drove me into the depths of despair and they drove me to my knees, begging God for the life of my son. Desperate for prayers, miracles and hope, I sought the counsel of our local priest who advised me that I would learn to pray and teach my family how to pray. It was not the consolation I was looking for.

Hope against All Hope

My husband and I sought out the best specialist in the world for this particular disease. She bluntly told us, “We don’t know the cause, so there is no cure, but I will try to help you.” My son was admitted into a large children’s hospital in Chicago— two thousand miles from our home where our trials continued. One day my son passed out after he was stabbed with a needle over and over again in a botched attempt to put in an IV line.

As I sank to the floor sobbing, a woman reached down to pull me up. Her eyes were full of love and compassion as she enquired, “Did you eat your breakfast this morning? Did you put on your makeup?”

I stared at her in disbelief. Was she kidding? “No”.

“What is your son’s ailment,” she asked. When I told her, she said, “Good, you have hope” then she pulled back the curtain to reveal a boy of about 12 in the next bed. “That’s my son Charles. He has a double brain tumour. They just operated on him, but couldn’t remove it. The operation took away his ability to speak.”

“What are they going to do?” I gasped.

“Nothing. They have given him two months to live” she revealed.

I was shocked, but she continued, “I get up every morning and I put my make up on and eat my breakfast, not for me but for that young boy right there and I pray ‘Thank you Jesus that I have my son Charles today. That’s all that matters.’”

I was speechless. She had no hope yet she was hopeful. I had hope but I was a wreck. Over the next eight days, I watched her go from room to room, bringing joy and hope as she checking on other suffering families. It was unbelievable. How could she do that while her son lay mute in his hospital bed where my son talked to him incessantly about Star Wars?

Going through the Fiery Furnace

After returning home with a plan to surgically implant a port for infusions three times a week and an appointment to return to Chicago to see his doctor, my husband sent Charles a signed Gator football hat, since we had discovered Charles loved the Gators. Sadly, we never heard back from Charles or his mom.

When our son finally began to improve, I stayed on my knees. Our past dreams and ambitions had all disappeared. We stayed on tenterhooks watching our son get better, relapse, get better, relapse. Again and again, up and down, watching, waiting, praying, hoping.

About two years later, as we once again stood in the hospital corridor waiting for blood results, I heard my name. Whirling around, I was delighted to see Charles and his mother! He ran up to our son, picked him up and twirled him around saying, “I couldn’t talk to you then, but I can talk to you now.” She looked at me with tears glistening in her eyes as she declared, “He’s not number one on the basketball team and he’s not a straight A student, but Thank You Jesus. I have my Charles today and that’s all that matters.” Even a double brain tumour was not big enough to stop the will of God! As I marvelled at her faith, I heard the words of scripture,

 

Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

My son was not supposed to make it to 4 years old, but he did. And then he went to kindergarten, then middle school, and then he graduated from high school. Today he is at the tail end of a doctorate program and is a theologian. He has been sick off and on his whole life and I have been on my knees off and on my whole life. The priest was right. Suffering has kept me in prayer and taught me how small I am, how little control I have and what really matters. My life is not the life I intended but looking back I see that so many blessings came about because of the suffering. It tenderized my heart and revealed to me that no matter what comes, with God’s help, I will make it through. I will continue to thank Jesus for all that comes, knowing that no matter how hopeless things may appear, I can trust in God’s goodness to care for my family and for me.

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By: Roseanne Pappas

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Jun 25, 2020
Encounter Jun 25, 2020

Looking for beauty that never fades?
Then this is for you!

Mark Twain, the celebrated American writer and humorist, once said “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Humor aside, we all know that it is not easy to deal with aging no matter who we are. And for the rich and famous, it is especially challenging to watch youth and beauty fade away.

Flying High

As a teenager in the early 1960s Mary Ann was beautiful, charming and full of energy. When she saw Dolores Hart’s film “Come Fly with Me” in 1963, she was fascinated by the status and privilege of the globetrotting stewardesses who were the movie’s main characters. The film glorified the glamor, prestige and adventure of being a stewardess. She started dreaming of being like Dolores Hart’s character traveling the world seeking romance and excitement.

Landing a job as a stewardess in those days was difficult. But Mary Ann was smart and beautiful and soon got that dream job. TWA, in those days, was one of the most prestigious international airlines and Mary Ann was soon featured in the company’s Skyliner magazine and got lots of attention. Eventually, she found more success after switching careers to publishing and journalism. She enjoyed the attention she received and maintained an active lifestyle. By the time she hit fifty, she started noticing wrinkles on her face. They horrified her. How could she remain who she was without her beauty and youthful smile?

Meeting the Abbess

A close friend noticed the change in Mary Ann’s mood. When they talked, Mary Ann confessed her concern over the aging process. Her friend recommended that she meet someone special at the nearby Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Cloistered Convent located in Bethlehem, Connecticut. On the day of the meeting, her friend introduced Mary Ann to the Prioress, Mother Dolores Hart. Mary Ann quickly noticed the resemblance between the Prioress and the actress she adored in that 60’s movie. Mother Dolores assured her that she was the same Dolores! Mary Ann could not believe that the favorite actress of her teen years was the Mother Superior of a convent, and a cloistered convent at that! In their private time together, Mary Ann told Mother Dolores about the pain of growing old and how the thought of losing her beauty and charm terrified her.

Here was Mary Ann speaking with a woman who, before joining the convent was a prominent actress throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Not only had she received the Theatre World Award and a Tony Award nomination, she was the first actress to kiss Elvis Presley on screen. She had grown up near Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood dreaming of becoming a movie star. Her dream came true, but God had other plans.

Out of the Limelight

In the early 1960s, Dolores performed at the Broadway theaters in New York City. During a long break, she did not have a house to go to like other actors who lived in the area. A friend told her about an Abbey in Connecticut which included guest quarters, in compliance with the rule of St. Benedict.

Dolores decided to stay at this Abbey with its cloistered convent. She was fascinated by how the sisters worked hard and yet remained so gracious. Her stay in the Abbey captivated her so much that she knew she would return soon! Eventually, Dolores recognized a calling to religious life and abandoned her career, her engagement to her fiancée, and the life she had known in order to embrace life in a cloistered convent.

A Lesson for Life

As Mary Ann listened to this story, she was totally absorbed. Mother Dolores told her that, at the height of her career, she looked at the mirror one day and realized that her fame had come because of her beauty and youthfulness, but those good looks would soon fade. She came to understand that the only beauty which lasts is inner beauty.

Mary Ann left that conversation with a new perspective on life. Though still a beautiful woman, it was Sister Dolores’ inner beauty that radiated from her. The body is a temple for the soul, so when we care for the beauty of the soul, that inner beauty is reflected on the face and in all our actions.

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By: Joseph Melookaran

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Jun 02, 2020
Encounter Jun 02, 2020

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?

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By: Jackie Perry

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May 13, 2020
Encounter May 13, 2020

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.

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By: Mother Mary Therese

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Apr 19, 2020
Encounter Apr 19, 2020

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.

 

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By: Chev. Benny Punnathara

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Apr 09, 2020
Encounter Apr 09, 2020

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.

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By: GENEVIEVE SWAN

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Mar 10, 2020
Encounter Mar 10, 2020

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.

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By: Jemille West

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