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Saying “Yes” to God is the best decision you can ever make!
“Please help,” pleaded the church lady making the announcements after Mass, “we desperately need teachers for the junior high religious education program.” I pretended not to hear. We had just moved back to Arizona from Illinois, and the oldest of our five children was entering high school. Each Sunday, the same simple entreaty. God must have been working on me week after week. I knew I was adding five kids to the roster; after all, maybe I should help. My resolve faded, and I signed up.
I’ve always said that I wasn’t born with a “no” gene, and organizations can see me coming a mile away. This newest yes is a point in case. “I’m a cradle Catholic; how hard could teaching kids be?”
Over the next couple of years, youth ministers popped in and out. After the most recent departure, our Pastor approached me and stated that my fellow volunteer teachers had recommended me to take over as youth minister. Me? Are you willing to try? Again, that missing no-gene failed to save me. God works in mysterious ways, and within a few weeks, I was the new junior high church lady. I previously assumed that only Priests and Nuns could work for the Catholic Church. I remember thinking how awesome it would be to work in such a holy environment with like-minded co-workers in the Lord’s Vineyard. It did not take long for that fantasy to be eradicated.
Shortly into my new gig, I had the distressing realization that someone who worked for the Church must be someone who had answers to tough questions and possessed theological smarts. That thought terrified me. I had no background or education in anything churchy. The reality that I was dumb as dirt when it came to faith invaded me every waking moment. Over forty years of being a Catholic and I knew squat. I was unaware of the often quoted line in which God equips those he calls. It was that very fear; however, that propelled me into action. Attending college was not an option. This meant I needed to get creative. I came across a cassette from Sister Gloria when one son was in her kindergarten class. For eight years, I never made the time to listen to it. Something compelled me to do so now. It was called “The Conversion Story of Dr. Scott Hahn.” I had no idea who Dr. Hahn was, but in a quiet moment, I pushed play. This Presbyterian minister’s journey for truth was fascinating, which brought him into the Catholic Church.
I craved more.
About that time, we were made aware of a Catholic family conference in California happening that summer. I had never heard of most speakers, but Dr. Hahn would be there. My husband was intrigued as well, and we brought the whole family. Speakers such as Tim Staples, Jesse Romero, Steve Ray, and so many other converts inspired us, fanning the embers of our hearts. We bought books and cassettes on many topics, including apologetics and the art of defending the faith. The kids were excited, and so were we. A passion was starting to burn in us that we simply did not have before. Year after year, we would invite other families to join us at the family conference, and they too would be set aflame.
I needed to be certified as a youth minister. Once again, God provided, and I attended the St. John Bosco summer conference at Franciscan University. This was all a new adventure to me. I had never experienced God through prayer, worship, adoration, catechesis, and incredible speakers. I hungered for more with a voracity previously inexperienced. With every precious morsel I consumed, I desired more. How could I be this old and so ignorant of God and my faith?
Contrary to what people imagine, expanding your knowledge and love of God isn’t boring. It was stimulating and inspiring. My relationship with God was finally being fed. The Mass came alive for us. The joy and increase in faith were evident to all I encountered. My enthusiastic passion invaded all aspects of my life, especially ministry work. God generously blessed my, yes, and the fruit was abounding. All along, God had been moving me closer to Him, laying the breadcrumbs that brought me closer step by step.
Twenty-one years later, I still work for the Catholic Church but am now in Marriage Preparation. I still pursue many avenues of continuing to stoke that fire that was set ablaze so many years ago. My endless gratitude goes to those converts who, at all costs, pursued truth and were open to where God led them. They will never know how many lives God impacted by their yes, and by extension, mine.
And those five little kids were married in the Church and are raising their children to know God and love their Catholic faith. My husband, too, has been a Deacon for ten years. All glory to you, oh Lord. You are so generous and good to us; you knew the best route to set my heart on fire. I cannot thank you enough. “Moreover, God can make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Through suffering and prayer, everything you have given me has led me ever closer to you and all those whom you have placed on my path. Thank you Lord!'
Nothing makes him so proud as to be called a ‘Mummy’s boy’. Rob O’ Hara narrates his beautiful life story of living close to the Mother of God
Where did it all begin?
Many years ago as a little boy, I grew up in Dublin as an only child with fantastic parents. They loved to pray the Rosary every single day without hesitation. Father Patrick Payton’s motto, “The Family that prays together, stays together” was the catch cry of my home life.
I first remember encountering Our Lady when I was a little boy. Mum and Dad had invited people over to pray the Rosary in the month of May, Mary’s month. It didn’t mean much to me, but all of a sudden, as I sat among the crowd of people praying the Rosary, I felt a strong desire to pray. The scent of roses filled the air and I felt the presence of Our Lady. When the Rosary was finished, I felt the urge to keep praying and urged people to stay for longer, “Let’s pray another Rosary, Our Lady is here.” So, we prayed another Rosary, but that still wasn’t enough. People began to leave, but I stayed there and prayed another 10-15 Rosaries in the company of Our Lady. I didn’t see Her, but I knew She was there.
When I was four or five years old, I experienced Our Lady’s grace and help for the first time in a tangible way. Back in the 80s, unemployment was high. My father had lost his job, and since he was in his mid-forties it wasn’t easy to get another one. I heard this story many times growing up, so the details are clear in my mind. My parents turned to Our Lady with trust. They started praying a Rosary Novena and at the end of the novena, my Dad got the job he really wanted.
When I hit my teens, I started noticing that faith, prayer and even talking about Our Lady was not “cool”. So I stopped praying the Rosary and found excuses not to be there when my parents prayed it. Sad to say, I fell into the secular world and really threw myself into that. I forgot about the peace, joy, and fulfillment I had found in prayer as a young boy and into my early teens. I threw myself into sports, socializing, and eventually, into my career. I was successful and popular, but I always had a gnawing emptiness inside me. I was longing for something, but I didn’t know what it was. I would come home to see my Mum and Dad praying the Rosary, and would laugh to myself and walk past.
When this nagging emptiness continued to blight my life, I wondered why this void wouldn’t leave me, no matter what I did. Although I had a good job, I was being bullied so badly, I was falling into depression. One day, after another terrible day, I came home to see my parents on their knees, praying the Rosary as usual. They turned to me with delight and asked me to join them in prayer. I couldn’t think of an excuse, so I said, “Okay.” I picked up the rosary beads that were once so familiar to my touch and I bowed my head in prayer.
Under Mary’s Mantle
I went to Mass where some old friends noticed me sitting at the back of the church, so they invited me to join them at a prayer meeting. When I went, I was surprised to find other young people praying the Rosary. As I knelt to pray, all these delightful childhood memories of me praying this beautiful prayer flashed through my mind. Since I had broken that relationship with my “Mother” I had not talked with her for a very long time. I started pouring out my heart to Our Lady, regularly praying the Rosary on the way to work.
Back in the motherly embrace of Mother Mary, all the dark areas of my life and the heaviness started drifting away and I started to have a great time at work. When I realized just how much Our Lady loved me, I started pouring out more and more of my heart to her. I felt enveloped in her blue mantle surrounded by peace and calm.
People started to notice how happy I was and asked me what had changed. “Oh, I’m praying The Rosary again.” I’m sure my friends thought this was a little strange for a young man in his early 20s, but they could see how happy I was. The more I prayed, the more I fell in love with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the Eucharist. As my relationship with Jesus grew and I turned more and more to Jesus, I started getting involved in Catholic youth movements in Ireland like Pure in Heart and Youth 2000. I devoured books like “Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary” and “True Devotion to Mary” by Saint Louis De Montfort. His motto “Totus Tuus” which Saint Pope John Paul II had adopted, struck me deeply. I also said to Our Lady, “I give myself totally to you.” My faith grew as it was nurtured by these great organizations and I felt a superabundance of joy. I thought, “This is Heaven, this is great!”
Finding “the one”
I knew in my heart that I had a vocation to get married, but I just wasn’t meeting the right lady at that time. So I turned to Our Lady and asked her, “Help me find the perfect wife for me so that we can pray to you and love your Son together more deeply.” I prayed this prayer every day and I started thanking Jesus and Mary for my future wife, and the children I hoped we would blessed with. Three months later, I met my future wife, Bernie.
On my first date I said to her, “Let’s go into the church and pray the Rosary to Our Lady.”
Bernie could have said no, but she said, “Yes, let’s do that” and we knelt down before the statue of Our Lady and prayed the Rosary together. That was the best first date I have ever had and the last first date I ever had! Throughout our courtship we prayed the Rosary everyday to Our Lady and Saint Joseph to help us prepare for the sacrament and to be with us in our marriage. We got married in Rome and it was the best day of our lives. Shortly afterwards, Bernie conceived. When our little girl, Lucy was born, we consecrated her to Our Lady on her Baptism day.
In the early years of our marriage, I left my job in the corporate banking world. It wasn’t the place for me for many reasons. While I was unemployed, trying to pay the rent and raise a young child, we prayed the Rosary for the right job to come. Eventually, our prayers were answered with a wonderful job for a charity organization called Human Life International. Glory to God and thanks to Our Lady!
We were further delighted when Bernie conceived twin boys, however sixteen weeks into the pregnancy, we rushed into the hospital with Bernie in pain. Scans revealed that the twins wouldn’t survive. But instead of despairing, we turned to Our Lady. She was with us, encouraging us to really lean on her. We prayed that she would intercede for a miraculous healing. The week we spent in hospital, we were joyful, joking and laughing. We were so full of hope and never in despair.
The hospital staff were amazed that this young couple going through such a difficult time were somehow keeping their joy and hope. I would kneel down at the bed and we would pray the Rosary, entreating Our Lady to be with us. We entrusted the twins to the care of Jesus and Mary, but on the 6th day we miscarried, and we entrusted our boys into their loving care. It was a difficult day. We got to hold them and bury them. But Our Lady was with us in our sorrow. When I felt weak, like I was crumbling on the ground, Our Lady held me up. When I saw my wife cry and knew that I had to stay strong, it was Our Lady who helped me.
While we were still grieving, we went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. On the first day, we unexpectedly discovered that the Mass celebrant was our very good friend, Father Rory. Although he didn’t know we were there, his homily seemed to be directed at us. He described how a celebrity coped by picking up his Rosary when he tragically lost his young friend. The Rosary took him through that dark place. For us, that was a confirmation—a message from Jesus and Mary; we could get through this difficult time by turning to them and praying the Rosary.
Two years later, we were blessed with another lovely little girl, Gemma. Afterwards, my father took ill and while he was on his death bed, my wife encouraged me to ask him who his favorite saint was. When I asked him, a beautiful smile lit up his face as he answered tenderly, “Mary…. because she is my mother.” I’ll never forget that. It was very near the end of his life and joy just radiated from him at the thought of what awaited him.
I was surprised at how Jesus showed up that June day
A heavy wool suit trimmed with fur isn’t what I usually wear in ninety-five-degree weather, especially in a car with no air conditioning. Yet there I was, one hot and humid Michigan afternoon, wearing not just the suit, but boots, a snowy white beard, and a thick woolen hat.
It felt like a sauna on wheels, but I really didn’t mind. This was no ordinary day, and I was no ordinary person: I was Santa Claus, on a mission of mercy to a little girl who was dying of leukemia at a nearby children’s hospital.
I worked as a chaplain at another pediatric hospital—a role that often plunged me into the struggles and sorrows of families grappling with the illness and death of a beloved child. When Christmas came around, I also had a moonlighting job playing Santa at various stores and events, including the annual J.L. Hudson Parade through downtown Detroit.
The two jobs could hardly have been more different, yet each was an opportunity to bring God’s love to others. Both as Santa and as a hospital chaplain, I was often privileged to see God breaking into people’s lives and hearts in surprising ways.
A Grandfather’s Love
On this particular afternoon, my two roles coincided. As I made my sweltering way to the hospital, I asked the Lord to use my visit to delight four-year-old Angela (not her real name) and console her grief-stricken grandfather. He was the one who had arranged this “Christmas in June,” after learning that Angela had just five weeks to live.
“What can I do?” he had asked God. “How can I put a lifetime of loving into the heart of my little granddaughter?”
As he sat sipping coffee at the kitchen table, he had noticed Angela’s crayon drawing of Santa Claus still taped to the refrigerator. He remembered what she had asked him once, as they watched the Detroit Christmas parade together: “Why does it have to end, Grandpa? …I wish Christmas could be forever!”
Suddenly, he had known exactly what to do.
Santa Makes a Stop
Approaching the hospital, I was surprised to see many helpers awaiting Santa at the main entrance—a doctor sporting a Santa hat, nurses, social workers, and volunteers decked out as Christmas elves.
“Merry June Ninth!” they called out. “Everything’s ready! We’re so excited that you’ve come all the way from the North Pole to visit the kids.” I quickly got the message that all the patients in the pediatric cancer unit were about to enjoy the surprise arranged for Angela’s sake.
Moving merrily through the lobby, my entourage and I packed into the elevator. Excitement mounted as we made our ascent to the oncology floor. When the doors opened, a magical scene greeted us. The ward was ablaze with holiday lights and filled with the sound of Christmas music. Garlands decorated the hallway, where four Christmas trees stood in splendor. A lively Frosty the Snowman was there to welcome us, scattering snow through a spout that poked up through his top hat.
Then came cries of delight, as Santa was spotted by six or seven children who were strong enough to be sitting in wheelchairs. I stopped to greet each one, then went visiting the other children room to room. Meanwhile, Angela’s grandpa stood watching with a smile.
When I finally got to Angela’s bedside, two big blue eyes were peering out over the top of the sheet. “Angela!” I said. The blue eyes opened wider still. A look of sheer joy came over her face.
With the whole staff crowded around to watch, I reached into my bag and presented the gift her grandfather had chosen; a new blue dress that Angela had wanted for a long time. There was a guardian angel doll with red tennis shoes and beautiful blonde hair—just like Angela’s was before chemotherapy. A small snapshot from her grandpa’s wallet was still fresh in my memory. “She looks a lot like you,” I observed. There was a little button that Santa pinned to her hospital gown, that read, “Santa says I was a good girl!”
With the mood so jolly, we launched into some familiar Christmas songs—“Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Then I began one of my favorite carols, “Silent Night.”
I really don’t have the words to describe what happened as we sang that last song. All I can say is that an almost palpable peace descended on the room. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was there. It didn’t matter that our celebration was at the wrong time of year, or even that some of the singers might not have understood what God did for the human race on that holy “silent night.” Despite it all, the eternal Son of God who revealed himself to poor shepherds as an infant in a manger was making Himself present to another unlikely group in another unlikely setting.
As always when I’m privileged to witness such events, I came away surprised and awed at how the Holy Spirit works—but somehow not surprised that he had come.
The Real Christmas Spirit
Angela died just ten days later. Her grandfather phoned to tell me, after her funeral in another part of the state. “I’m not going to pretend that I’m having an easy time,” he said. “Before I called you, I had a good cry.” But then he went on to recount an experience he’d had at the funeral home.
“I was looking at my little granddaughter lying there in a white casket—wearing her new blue dress, with the guardian angel doll by her side, and wearing the pin you gave her that said: ‘Santa says I was a good Girl!’ The grief was almost unbearable.
“But right then, when I was feeling the pain most profoundly . . . I can’t explain it, but I felt a sudden deep peace, even a joy. At that moment, I knew that Angela was with God and that we would be reunited in eternity.”
A sense of wonder came over me as I listened to his story. It had happened again! Just as we had felt Jesus present at Angela’s bedside, her grandfather had encountered him at her coffin. The Light that came into the world over two thousand years ago had filled his heart, bringing hope and joy in a place of sorrow and death.
This is the real “Christmas spirit”— not a feeling that comes once a year, but the knowledge of Christ that comes through the Holy Spirit. The true Christmas Spirit—the Third Person of the Trinity—is available 365 days a year, if only we open our hearts and lives to him.
Then, “Christmas forever” is not just a little girl’s dream, but a solid reality—in June, December, and all year through.
It’s time to let go & let God take over your life
I’m a 76-year-old cradle Catholic who grew up in an inter-church household with a Catholic mother and an Anglican father, so I never had the problem of the Orange and the Green. I am a European Chartered Engineer who accepted Jesus quite late in life.
Born during a time when the Catholic Church still demanded children of mixed marriages be baptized and brought up in “the faith,” I attended Catholic schools, learned about the sacraments, and duly made my first Confession and received First Holy Communion and Confirmation. I was even an altar server and remained a dutiful Catholic living at home until I left school and started an apprenticeship with a major electronics company. The apprenticeship led to a new job in a new town. After moving away, I started experiencing doubts about God and religion. Though I attended Mass regularly, I remember confessing that I thought I was losing my faith. The priest told me to pray about it. This I did badly, as I thought at the time.
Eventually, I fell in love with and married an Anglican woman. Life went on. Pauline and I had two boys who were baptized Catholic, and I continued being the same old “dutiful” Catholic I had always been. In 1989 I attended the Renew program at our parish. This was to become a major milestone in my pilgrimage to the Lord. Through this program I learned the importance of loving myself, for if you can’t love yourself how can you love anyone else?
Three years later, members of the parish ran a Life in the Spirit seminar, like the ALPHA program but without the pasta. I joined up because I wanted to do something to improve my prayer life. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was letting myself in for. During the penultimate evening I was prayed over for the baptism in the Holy Spirit although at the time I did not understand what this meant. Afterwards, standing in line for refreshments, I knew something important had happened.
The next day I was spiritually at 30,000 feet and it took me several days to come back to earth! I had become a Christian! I dusted off the Bible my wife had given me and I discovered the Word of God. This was the start of the disappearance of my lingering doubts about God. When I joined the parish prayer group I found strange people called Charismatics and struggled to make sense of their praying and singing in tongues. I told God I was not sure about this tongues business and then discovered the Lord’s mischievous sense of humor when shortly afterwards I received the gift myself.
Clearing the Mist
The Lord also revealed why I had been given the gift. My analytical mind often gets in the way of prayer, so the Lord gave me the gift of tongues to allow me to short circuit my mind and pray from the heart. My faith has become stronger and deeper. I am a reader at Mass and feel honored to be able to proclaim God’s word. I still find it difficult to pray, so the Lord again manifested his humor by seeing to it that I became the Intercessory Prayer Group Leader for a group of Christians from many Dunfermline Churches who feel drawn to “do something about the homeless.”
Since these experiences, I have experienced an almost complete healing of bad memories I have carried since childhood. I say ‘almost’ because I realize that, like Saint Paul, I have been left with a thorn in the flesh to guard me from the sin of pride.
We all receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit at our baptism and should unwrap them at our Confirmations. But I didn’t unwrap mine until my renewal some 30 years later. Since then, the Lord has made use of my gifts of discernment, prophecy, and healing. God has also disabused me of the false notion that focusing on Jesus would be disloyal to the Father. I had always felt close to the Father and the Spirit, but now Jesus has been revealing himself to me as my brother and friend.
Spiritually, I am not the same person I was thirty years ago. Yes, I get tired, worried, and frustrated. I am only human. However now I feel a deep inner peace regardless of what is going on at the surface. It was God who took the initiative in my life to bring about these changes. I only had to cooperate with his grace.
I thank you Father for the Gift of Your Son Jesus, my redeemer, and Your Holy Spirit without whom I can do nothing. As I continue my journey of life, may I always remember that You are with me at all times. Amen.
Father Fio scaled the thick wall of hopelessness, and experienced how God writes straight on crooked lines
At the age of nineteen, after two years of college, I joined the Jesuit novitiate in Mumbai, and four years later, after my religious studies, I was sent back to St. Xavier’s College to complete a degree in chemistry. I was happy and proud about my future career as a college professor! I studied hard and did very well in the preliminary examinations. However, at the final examinations in 1968, my mind suddenly went blank, and I couldn’t remember a word of what I had studied! Far from covering myself with glory, I failed the exam! I felt confused and humiliated, and angry. “How could God do this to me?” I asked.
However, there was worse in store for me. I prayed and studied more determinedly and appeared again for the chemistry examination some months later. Everything had gone well during my preparations, yet in the examination hall my mind went as blank as before and I failed a second time! By now I had entered a real crisis of faith. I asked myself, “Is there really a God? If he is a loving God, how could he do this to me?” Slowly, I began to give up prayer. My religious life was in crisis and I began to lead a worldly life.
Hitting the Wall
Meanwhile, in 1970, I prepared for a third attempt at the chemistry examination. Before entering the hall, I whispered, “God, I know you don’t love me, so there’s no point in my asking you for help. But I hope you still love my mother, so please answer her prayer!” But for the third time the same thing happened, and I failed. I was then sent to learned Jesuit psychologists who gave me many tests and eventually diagnosed my problem as having “developed a psychological block to chemistry.” But none of them could tell me how to get rid of the block!
Two years after my third failure, having successfully completed religious studies in philosophy, when I was preparing for a fourth attempt at the chemistry exam, “amazing grace” unexpectedly flowed down upon me from the hands of the great and good God who had not given up on me! On 11 February 1972, I suddenly felt moved to kneel in my room before my vows-crucifix to surrender my life to God.
From the depths of my poverty and nothingness, I found myself crying out: “Lord, I have nothing to offer you! I am a failure, and I have no future! But if you have a plan for my life, if you can use me in some way for your Kingdom, here I am!”
That was my moment of surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and of being “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” I was no longer in the driver’s seat of my life telling the Lord what to do for me; instead, I was asking Him to do with me as He willed.
God’s response was immediate! Even as I knelt there, I clearly heard God say to me, “Fio, you are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!” Those last words,“well pleased,” made no sense to me at all! If God had scolded me for all those months of unbelief, for giving up on prayer, etc., I would have understood it. But to be affirmed, to be welcomed so lovingly was too much for my small mind to grasp! And yet, deep down in my heart, I felt tremendous joy springing up, a divine consolation. In that moment, I was filled with such exultation that I shouted aloud, “JESUS, YOU ARE ALIVE, ALLELUIA!” This was at a time when the Charismatic Renewal had not yet reached India.
Experiencing the Lord speaking words of love to me completely transformed my life. I now understand that before God’s plans for me could be fulfilled, my ego had to be broken. My strange exam failures did the job! God gave me a new mindset and only then could I begin to appreciate the gratuitous character of salvation in Christ. God’s abundant love for each of us is a gift, for we are saved by grace, through faith, not by our merits.
The direction of my life soon changed! After I finally passed the chemistry exams and received my science degree with honours, my superior made a surprising announcement: “Fio,” they said,“we no longer want you to become a Professor in our College!
You have had a special spiritual experience; go share it with the world!”
You can imagine my surprise at the divine irony of what God had done in my life. Had I passed those exams straight away, for the whole of my priestly life I would have gone daily to the chemistry lab to teach college students how to mix hydrogen and sulphide…and then breathe in that wretched smell!
God indeed had a plan for my life. For 30 years He blessed me with a pioneering servant-leadership role in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in India and worldwide, enjoying eight of those years in Rome. For the last twenty years, God has used me in the pastoral-biblical ministry as a preacher and writer. By God’s amazing grace, I have happily proclaimed the Good News in over eighty countries to hundreds of thousands of people hungry for God’s word. I have authored eighteen books on biblical spirituality, many of which are translated into several Indian and foreign languages. All this resulted from my embarrassing and demoralizing failure. But God writes straight with crooked lines!'
That life-changing moment when you realize…God loves you more in a moment than anyone could in a lifetime…
I couldn’t possibly count all the times I’ve told others that God loved them, and challenged them to believe it. God’s unconditional love for us has been a dominant theme in every retreat, parish mission and reflection day I led over many years. I have been eloquently persuasive in convincing a plethora of people to stake their lives on the reality of God’s love for them.
But when it came to my own life, getting hold of that truth in a way that penetrated to my core was always an elusive goal. I desperately wanted that conviction to become as automatic as my breathing, but believing that God loved me was something I understood in my head, but seldom felt in my heart.
And then I met Maya Angelou. Already nationally known for her writing and poetry, for being a singer, dancer, actress and good friend of Oprah Winfrey, she became a household name when she wrote and recited a poem at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. The following year, she was the keynote speaker at the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress—the biggest Catholic event in the USA drawing twenty-five thousand adults and teens over the course of a long weekend. My wife, Nancy and I were also scheduled to speak and, at the conclusion of Maya’s keynote speech, Nancy was invited to dance while Maya recited her poem.
The keynote was astounding. She spoke with great eloquence. She recited poetry. She sang. And she inspired everyone in the room—all six thousand of us. While she was being introduced, I was struck by this anecdote.
When a reporter asked her, “What moment in your life changed you most?” Maya instantly replied, “Why, that’s easy. It was the moment I realized that God truly loves me.”
When the speech and dance were over, I congratulated Nancy and suggested we go to the speaker’s lounge. “And if Maya is there, I’m going to ask for her autograph.” To my delight we found the usually crowded room empty, except for the Sister who had introduced her speech and Maya Angelou herself. We sat down and chatted, but soon the Sister had to leave. “Before I go,” she said, pulling a notebook and pen from her bag and handing them to Maya, “Would you mind giving me your autograph?” With a dismissive gesture, Maya replied, “Oh honey, I don’t do autographs.” That left only the three of us at the table.
I immediately turned to Maya and confessed that I’d also planned to ask for an autograph. “But I realize now that I don’t really want your autograph,” I said. “There is something else I’d like,” I said.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“I’d like to hold your hand,” I said.
“Why, I would love that,” she replied.
I placed my right hand palm-up on the table. She place her left hand in mine. I put my left hand on top of hers, and she put her right hand on top of mine. As we sat there with this “hand sandwich” I looked directly into her eyes and told her, “I was deeply moved by the story Sister shared in her introduction, when you were asked to name the moment that changed your life.”
Maya didn’t hesitate. Returning my gaze, she said, “Oh yes, oh yes,” she said. “Why even now, even now just to think of it… just to think of how much God loves me…” As she spoke her enormous eyes welled up with giant tears that rolled down her cheeks. As I watched her awareness of God’s love for her turn into those precious tears, I thought to myself, “I want that. I want that! I want to know God’s love for me as fully as she does.”
That remained my hope and prayer for many years. Yes, I knew God loved me, but not to the depths of my being like Maya did. Not with a conviction that would move me to tears.
That came years later when I received an email from an editor thanking me for an article I had written. She told me I was a “real blessing” to their media organization, then she added, “God loves you very much.”
That did it. After all those years of seeking a bedrock conviction that God truly loved me, that one sentence did it! I had never met the editor in person, yet her words sent from across the ocean pierced my heart. It was as if God spoke those words Himself: “I love you very much, Graziano!” I knew it was true.
It was a tremendous and unexpected gift. And what a difference it makes!
God loves me whether I am good or bad. God loves me when I’m praying and when I’m not praying. I don’t have to deserve it because God gives it freely. And I can’t do anything to make God stop loving me. Not even sin. I have the freedom to break God’s heart and reject his love. But even then, God would keep on loving me.
And of course, God had been loving me all along. He didn’t start loving me that day, and that day wasn’t the first time I knew He loved me. But previously I had known it in my “head.” That day, God penetrated my heart with a different kind of knowing…a calm and peaceful assurance that transcends all of life’s circumstances.
It took me a long time to come to that point of clarity and certainty, to that serenity that wraps itself around you like a blanket. And what God did for me, He can do for you. Do you want God’s assurance of His love? Just ask. And then wait. It may be a surprise who God chooses to reveal His love. After it happens, you may also find yourself saying, “Oh yes, oh yes… Why even now, even now just to think of it… just to think of how much God loves me…”'
I was about to return home to work and save money for my college education but God had a big surprise for me
When I was a college student many years ago, I went on a mission trip to the Texas/Mexico border to volunteer with Our Lady’s Youth Center and the Lord’s Ranch Community. This lay apostolate, founded by a well-known Jesuit priest, Fr. Rick Thomas, had outreaches to the poor in both Juarez, Mexico and in the slums of El Paso. I had just completed my first year at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and after this 3-week experience of missions, I was to return home for the summer to work and save money, then go back to Ohio to continue my college education. At least, that was my plan. But God had a big surprise for me.
A Radical Departure
During my first week at the Lord’s Ranch, I started getting the uncomfortable sense that the Lord was calling me to stay. I was horrified! I had never been to the desert or experienced dry, swelteringly hot weather. I was born and raised in the tropical paradise of Hawaii surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, palm trees and an abundance of flowers and rain forests. The Ranch, on the other hand, is surrounded by mesquite bushes, tumbleweed, and a parched, semi-arid landscape.
“Lord, you’ve got the wrong person in mind,” I cried out in my prayer. “I could never live here, never hack this life of hard manual labor, no air conditioning, and very few creature comforts. Choose someone else, not me!”But the strong feeling that God was calling me to a radical departure from my carefully planned-out life kept growing in me.
One day in the chapel at the Lord’s Ranch, I received this reading from the book of Ruth:
“I have heard what you have done… you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom previously you did not know. May the Lord reward what you have done! May you receive a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Ruth 2:12-13
I slammed the Bible shut. I did not like where this was going!
Putting Out the Fleece
After the second week of wrestling with the Lord, I stopped praying. I didn’t like what He was saying. I was sure He had gotten the wrong girl. I was only 18 years old! Too young, too inexperienced, too much of a wimp, not tough enough. My excuses sounded good to me.
So I threw down a fleece (like Gideon did in Judges 6:36ff). “Lord, if you are really serious about this, speak to me through Sister.” Sister Mary Virginia Clark was a Daughter of Charity who co-led the apostolate with Fr. Rick Thomas. She had an authentic gift of prophecy and would share inspired words at the prayer gatherings. That week at the prayer meeting, she stood up and said, “I have a prophecy for the young women from Steubenville.” That got my attention. I don’t remember anything she said, except for the words, “Follow the example of the women in the Old Testament.” Ouch! I thought immediately of the reading in Ruth I had received in prayer.
“Okay, Lord. This is getting too real.” So out comes another fleece: “If you are really serious, have Sister Mary Virginia say something to me directly.” There, I thought. That should end it.
Sister used to speak individually with all the visitors who came through the Lord’s Ranch, so it was not unusual that she asked to meet with me that weekend. We had a nice chat, with her asking me about my family, my background, what led me to the Ranch, etc. She said a prayer at the end of our conversation, and I got up to leave. “Whew, dodged a bullet,” I was thinking, when suddenly she asked, “Have you ever thought about staying here?”
My heart sank. I couldn’t respond so just nodded yes. All she told me was, “I’ll pray for you.” And I sadly walked out the door.
I went outside to get some air. I headed for the small, man-made lake at the Lord’s Ranch. I had grown up on an island surrounded by the ocean so to be near water was always comforting and familiar to me. This small catfish-stocked pond was an oasis in the desert where I could sit and soothe my troubled soul.
I cried, I pleaded, I argued with the Lord, trying to convince Him that there really had been some divine mix-up. “I know you’ve got the wrong person, God. I don’t have what it takes to live this life.”
Silence. The sky as if bronzed. No movement or stirring.
When the Scales Fell
Sitting there alone by the peaceful water, fluffy white clouds floating overhead, I calmed down. I started to reflect on my life. I had always felt close to God since I was a little girl. He was my closest friend, my confidante, my rock. I knew He loved me. I knew He had my best interests at heart and would never harm me in any way. I also knew that I wanted to do whatever He asked, no matter how distasteful it was.
So I grudgingly gave in. “Okay, God. You win. I’ll stay.”
At that point I heard in my heart, “I don’t want a resignation. I want a cheerful, joyful yes.”
“What! Now you’re pushing it, Lord! I just gave in, but that’s not enough?”
More silence. More inner struggle.
Then I prayed for the desire to be here — something I had avoided asking for all this time. “Lord, if this is truly Your plan for me, please give me the desire for it.” Instantly, I felt like roots shoot out of my feet, grounding me solidly here, and I knew I was home.
This was home. This was where I was meant to be. Unasked for, unwanted, unattractive to my human senses. Not at all in my script for my life, but God’s choice for me.
As I continued to sit there, it was as if scales fell from my eyes. I started seeing the beauty in the desert — the mountains that frame the Lord’s Ranch, the desert plants, the wild ducks that were sharing this watering hole with me that evening. Everything looked so different, so striking to me.
I got up to leave knowing that there had been a dramatic shift in me. I was a different person — with a new perspective, a new purpose, a new mission. This was to be my life. Time to start embracing it and living it to the full.
That was 40 years ago. My life has been nothing like I envisioned it would be in my teen years. God’s plan for me swerved in a dramatically different direction than I thought I was going in. But I am so glad and grateful that I followed His path and not mine. I’ve been stretched and pulled way out of my comfort zone and what I thought I was capable of; and I know the challenges and lessons are not over yet. But the people I’ve met, the deep friendships I’ve formed, the experiences I’ve had, the skills I’ve learned, have enriched me far beyond what I thought was possible. And even though I initially resisted God and His crazy plan for my life, now I can’t imagine living any other way.
What a full, vibrant, challenging, and joy-filled life it has been! Thank You, Jesus.'
At a very young age Keith Kelly began drinking and experimenting with drugs. He led a dangerous lifestyle until one black night he saw the eyes of evil staring at him
Growing up was quite difficult for me and my siblings as my father was an alcoholic and my relationship with him was just non-existent. We all responded to dad’s alcoholism in different ways. My way was to suppress anger and frustration at our situation. To cope with these feelings, I began drinking at a very young age and went on to experiment with drugs. I became very rebellious against all forms of authority, so I had regular conflicts with the law enforcement in Westport and got expelled from secondary school.
During that time I started to feel a dark presence around me quite regularly. At the beginning I didn’t really know what was going on. I had an innate sense that this was something demonic or evil, but wasn’t able to fully articulate it. I then began to have episodes at night: waking up paralysed and dripping with sweat. I could feel a dark presence in my room which was very frightening. I felt suffocated by this presence and battled to be free of it. One night I woke up everyone by incessantly screaming.
Word by Word
All these demonic manifestations culminated in a very scary incident one night in my bathroom when I looked in the mirror and saw the devil inside me. It is very hard to put into words what I saw. It was a really hideous and beastly form of myself. I could hear him saying, ‘Your life is finished, your life is over, now I have you… I’m gonna destroy you.’ I heard voices regularly and there were a lot of threats being directed against me.
These strange experiences often reduced me to tears of desperation. One day, God gave me the grace to fall to my knees. Though I didn’t know who God was or what faith was about, I had learned the Our Father, and Hail Mary when I attended a Catholic school. So I just started praying the Our Father word by word. There’s always a temptation for prayers to become mechanical and disconnected from the heart. That day I meant every word of that prayer and it was truly a cry to God the Father. I called to Him with all my heart, begging Him to please deliver me.
Halfway through the Our Father, I felt another presence in the room…the presence of God, the presence of my Lord and God, the presence of my Heavenly Father. His presence physically removed this evil presence from my bedroom. I remember just lying on the ground, weeping in gratitude and I knew with certainty from that moment that God was truly my father. A divine peace swept over me that was so tangible, I could feel it. I’ve never felt anything similar to it since. I just lay there and wept with relief and joy.
Years later in my walk with God I learned that the Our Father is a deliverance prayer. It ends with ‘..deliver us from evil. Amen’ and this prayer is in the official exorcism ritual of the Church. The ‘Our Father’ is prayed to deliver the victim from possession or demonic manifestations. I didn’t know this at the time. From that moment when I was 16 or 17, I started praying for help. Every night, I would pray a few prayers asking for help to give up the drugs, to stop drinking, and to get my life back in order because I had a court case coming up. I was charged with 11 offenses and my solicitor was very frank, “You’re looking at a prison sentence.”
During that time my father actually became sober. He was able to conquer his alcohol addiction through the Alcoholics Anonymous program. To help facilitate his recovery, he had a sponsor, Jim Brown who had escaped alcohol addiction after a deep faith experience. Since then he was taking groups of people to Medjugorje. My father asked Jim to bring me to Medjugorje. Jim told my dad to start praying a decade of the Rosary for me every night . Though Jim was hesitant because he knew I had a bad name, he gave me a chance.
We went during the 2005 Easter season but I was just drinking, looking for girls, not really kind of participating in any of the activities. On the third day, I climbed the hill which is allegedly the place where Mary first appeared to the six visionaries. Lot of people have strong conversion experiences up there, but I didn’t know this at the time. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had an encounter with the living God. I was given the gift of faith. I suddenly had no doubts. I knew that God existed and I fell in love with Our Lady. I felt unconditionally loved for who I was, so I came down that mountain as a different person.
Someone in the group said to me years later, “You were different when you came down from that mountain, you were able to maintain eye contact, you were free and comfortable with yourself. You seemed more joyful without that heavy heartedness.” She noticed a transformation in me. I came back to the sacraments on the eve of the Divine Mercy Sunday, the day St John Paul II died, I was like the prodigal son, coming back to God, the father.
Two weeks after coming back from Medjugorje, I had that court case. I had just turned 18 which meant that I had to go on stand and defend myself. So it was quite intimidating. There were three guards, two detectives, the superintendent, the judge, my parents, my solicitor and a couple of journalists. Whenever I opened my mouth to tell my story, the guards would interrupt saying, “This guy is an absolute menace to society, he needs to be locked up, he’s very disruptive and we’ve had multiple incidents with him.” They kept interrupting me, so I couldn’t get into any rhythm. I was very nervous but there were a lot of people praying for me.
Suddenly the unexpected happened. The judge, Mary Devons pointed at the guards and told them, “I’ve had enough. Get out of my courtroom”. They were completely stunned. After they left, she just turned to me and said, “Right, just tell me your story.” I simply told her about how I went to this place called Medjugorje and about my experiences there. Tears sprang to my eyes as I declared with sincerity, “I just really believe God’s going to change my life around.” She looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to give you a second chance.” I was given a suspended sentence, 200 hours of community service and a nine o’clock curfew for a year. That was it! That was the lifeline I needed and I took it.
Looking back, and spiritually analyzing what had happened, I feel that God was my judge. It was He who saw the sincerity in my heart and intervened. Judge Mary Devons was just the instrument of His mercy. It was powerful. That was my deliverance. And I never looked back. I realized that my life was a gift and everyone’s life is a gift. We haven’t done anything to warrant our existence. God has gratuitously given it to us.
I began to delve deeper into my faith, studying the Bible and reading the lives of Saints. In 2000, I started taking groups of young people to Medjugorje. Recently, I heard a priest answer the question, “What’s the sign of conversion?” He replied that it’s the desire to evangelize. If you have had an encounter with the living God, you can’t keep it to yourself but share it. And I wanted to share it as I was set on fire with love of God. And that for me is a real gift.
Faith is a response to the self revelation of God and not only the self revelation of God, the God who died for us, who purchased us with his own blood. I want to reciprocate that love, which God expressed for me, on the Cross.
There’s a scripture that has always spoken to my heart. “Seek first, the kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be added unto you.” So if you put God first, everything else will fall into place. We cannot outdo God in generosity. That’s my experience of God. If you give God a millimeter, He will give you the universe. So whatever we give God, like the loaves and the fishes, He’ll multiply it. You can’t outdo Him in generosity.
Often, young people have got this preconceived idea that following God equates to giving up everything so life turns dull and boring. But it’s just the opposite. Saint Augustine says, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance, to seek him the greatest adventure and to find him the greatest human achievement.” So it’s an adventure. My walk with God has just been this incredible adventure. So don’t be afraid to respond to God’s initiative.'
As a young drug addict, Jim Wahlberg felt despised and forgotten by the world…until God spoke to him through a special person! Read his inspiring story of redemption
I grew up Catholic, but more in the Catholic tradition than the Catholic faith. I was baptized and made my first Holy Communion. My parents sent us to church, but we didn’t go to Sunday Mass as a family. There were 9 children in my family, so anybody who was old enough to walk to church, walked to church. I remember the feeling of not belonging: the few times I went to church I would take the bulletin, and then go off to do something else. Then I stopped going altogether. Most of my siblings did the same. Nobody ever told me that Jesus died for me or that God loved me or that the Virgin Mary would intercede on my behalf. I felt I wasn’t worthy, that the people in the pews were better than me and that they were somehow judging me. I was starving for attention and acceptance.
When I was 8 years old, I saw the neighborhood kids drinking beer. I forced myself into their little group and convinced them to give me some. I didn’t become an alcoholic that day, but I got my first taste of acceptance and attention from the older, ‘cool’ kids. I was instantly hooked on the attention and continued to hang around the people that were drinking, doing drugs or smoking, because I found acceptance there. I spent the rest of my adolescence chasing that attention.
I grew up during the forced integration of the Boston public school system, so every year I was put on a bus and sent to school in a different neighborhood. I attended seven different schools during my first seven years of grade school, which meant each year I started over as “the new kid”. God was completely out of the picture. The only relationship I had with God was one of fear. I remember hearing over and over that God was going to get me, that He was watching, and that He was going to punish me for all the bad things I was doing.
A Lost Little Boy
On the Friday night of my last day of 7th grade, I was getting ready to go out when my dad turned to me and said, “Don’t forget, when those streetlights come on, you better be in this house, or else don’t bother to come home.” That was his threat to make sure I followed the rules. I was a 12-year-old boy hanging out with other 12-year-old kids that were all from broken homes. We were all drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and doing drugs. Later that night, when I looked up and saw the streetlights come on, I knew I wasn’t going to make it home. Since I would be late, going home wasn’t an option, so I spent that entire summer down the street, a mile or two away from home, hanging out with my friends. We did drugs and drank alcohol every day. I was just a lost little boy.
During that summer, I was arrested a few times and became a ward of the state. It was not long before I was no longer welcome at home. I was placed in foster care, group homes and juvenile detention centers. I was homeless and completely lost and alone. The only thing that filled the emptiness was the alcohol and drugs. I would consume them, and then pass out or go to sleep. When I woke up, I would be filled with fear, and I would need more drugs and alcohol. From age 12 to 17, I was either homeless, or living in someone else’s home, or in juvenile detention.
Shackled and Broken
At 17 I got arrested again for injuring someone. I ended up being sent to the state prison on a 3-to- 5-year sentence. I found myself fighting the same inner battle as when I was younger, struggling for attention and acceptance, trying to create an illusion. I served the full five years of my sentence.
At the end of the prison term, they said I could go home, but the problem was I had no home to go to. An older brother was kind enough to say, “You can stay with me until you get on your feet.” But that would never happen. My brother picked me up at the prison to take me to see my mom. But first we stopped for a drink at a bar in my old neighborhood. I had to have a drink, before I could see my mom. It was my first legal drink, since I was now over 21. When I sat at my mother’s kitchen table, she didn’t recognize me as her child; she felt I was stranger.
I had been out of prison for approximately six months before I was arrested again for house invasion. The house I broke into belonged to a Boston police officer. In court, the officer spoke on my behalf. He said, “Look at this kid, look at his condition. Why don’t you get him help? I don’t know if prison is the right place for him.” He showed me sympathy because he could see I was a full-blown drug addict.
Suddenly I was back in prison serving a six-year sentence. I did all I could to create the illusion that I was changing my life so the police would release me early to rehabilitation. But I didn’t need rehabilitation—I needed God.
The Road to Freedom
After a few months of putting on this show of transforming my life, the prison chaplain, Father James, took notice of me and offered me a job as a custodian in his chapel. My first thought was, “I’m going to manipulate this guy”. He smoked cigarettes, drank coffee, had a phone—all things that inmates don’t have access to. So, I took the job, ulterior motives and all.
But what I didn’t know was that he also had a plan. When he approached me, his goal was to hustle me just as much as I was planning to hustle him. But his manipulation was for the glory of God. He wanted to get me back to Mass, back to the foot of the Cross. Soon after I started working in the chapel, I asked for a couple favors from Father James. When he granted my requests, it felt like my manipulation was working. One day, however, he approached me and told me he wanted me to come and clean after the Saturday Vigil Mass so that the chapel would be ready for Sunday Mass. When I offered to come after Mass, he insisted I come beforehand and stay through the Mass. He was already pushing me in the direction of faith.
A Divine Appointment
At the Mass, I felt awkward and uncomfortable. I didn’t know the prayers or when to sit or stand, so I watched what everyone else was doing to get by. Soon after, Father James officially hired me for the custodian job, and told me we would be having a special guest at the prison, “Mother Teresa.” I said, “Oh that’s amazing! Who is Mother Teresa?” Looking back, I probably didn’t even know who the President of the United States was at the time; my life revolved solely around consuming alcohol, and I rarely concerned myself with people and events outside my bubble of addiction.
Soon, Mother Teresa arrived at our prison. I remember seeing her in the distance and thinking, “Who is this person that all of the dignitaries, the warden, and the prisoners are swarming around, hanging on her every word?” Pulling closer, I noticed that her sweater and shoes looked a thousand years old. But I also noticed the peace in her eyes, and the money that filled her pockets. People often gave her money knowing she would give it to the poor.Since I worked at the chapel, I was blessed to be part of the entrance procession for the Mass with Mother Teresa. Prisoner that I was, I stood surrounded by the Cardinal, other dignitaries, and sisters from her order. The Cardinal invited Mother Teresa to sit at the altar with him, but she humbly declined, and with a reverent bow, went and knelt on the floor with some of the most dangerous criminals that I had ever met in my life.
Gazing Into God’s Eyes
As I sat on the floor, I caught her eye and I felt as though I was looking at God. Mother Teresa then ascended the altar steps and spoke words that touched me deeply, words that I had never heard before. She said that Jesus died for my sins, that I was more than the crimes I had committed, that I was a child of God, and that I mattered to God. In that moment, in that stillness, I felt as though there was no one else in the room, as though she was speaking directly to me. Her words reached a deep part of my soul.
I ran back to the chapel the next day and told Father, “I need to know more about the Jesus that she was talking about, the God and the Catholic faith that she was talking about.” Father James was delighted! He had me right at the foot of the Cross where he had wanted me ever since he offered me the custodian job. I was willing to do anything to learn more about Jesus, so Father James started preparing me for my Confirmation.
We met every week, studying the Catechism to learn about the faith. Though I was twice transferred to other prisons, I connected with the priests in those prisons as well, and was able to continue growing in my faith.
A New Beginning
A year later, it was time for me to make my formal commitment to my faith. My Confirmation was a thoughtful and intentional moment in my life. As an adult, I knew this was a major step that would set me on the road to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ
When the time came, I called my mom to tell her I was going to be confirmed, and that I would love for her to be there. She had promised she would never visit me in prison, so she was wary. After all that I had put her through, she was wounded as a mother. But when I called again a couple of days later, she agreed to come. The Confirmation day was monumental. It was not only significant for me and my walk with Christ, but also for my relationship with my mother.
The following year, it was time for me to stand before the parole board. They said they had a letter from my mother she had written on my behalf. I knew my mother would never lie to the authorities to get me out of prison. Her letter read, “Before you stands a man of God. It’s okay, you can let him go now. He won’t be back.” Those words meant everything to me.
By the time my mother passed away, she had dementia. Over the years she had lost her ability to tell stories and her world became small. But even in those moments when she was most in the grip of dementia, she was able to recall my Confirmation, the moment when she knew I was saved.
Jesus Christ is my Savior, and I feel His presence in my life. While it requires work and effort, my relationship with Jesus is the most important one in my life. He will always love me and support me, but unless I fully engage in the relationship, I won’t know the comfort and love He longs to share with me.
It is an honor to share my journey.
Jesus Christ is our Savior.'
When God calls us, He also gives us the strength to overcome any obstacles that come the way. Read the amazing story of how Father Peter Tran clung to God when assailed by the storms of life
In April 1975, the lives of Vietnamese people who live in the South were changed forever when Communists took over the country. More than a million South Vietnamese soldiers had been captured and imprisoned in concentration camps throughout the country, while hundreds of thousands of clergy, seminarians, nuns, monks and brothers were detained in jails and re-education centers so they could be brainwashed. About 60% of them died in the camps, where they were never allowed to receive visits from their families or friends. They lived as though they had been forgotten.
A War-Torn Nation
I was born in the 1960s, during the war, just after the Americans arrived in my country. I was brought up during the fight between the North and the South, so it formed the backdrop of my childhood. By the time the war ended, I had nearly finished secondary school. I did not really understand what it was all about but I was very sad to see so many people grieving for all their loved ones who had been killed or imprisoned.
When the Communists took over our country, everything was turned upside down. We lived in fear under constant persecution for our faith. There was virtually no freedom at all. We did not know what would happen to us tomorrow. Our fate was totally in the hands of Communist Party members.
Answering God’s Call
In these inauspicious circumstances, I felt the call of God. Initially, I reacted against it strongly, because I knew it was impossible for me to follow that call. First of all, there was no seminary where I could study for the priesthood. Secondly, it would not only be dangerous for me, but also for my family, who would be punished if the government found out. And ultimately, I felt unworthy to become a disciple of Jesus. However, God has His own way to bring about His plan, so I joined the (underground) seminary in 1979. Sixteen months later, the local police discovered that I wanted to become a priest and so I was conscripted into the army.
I hoped that I might be released after 4 years, so I could return to my family and my studies, but during my training a friend warned me that we were being sent to fight in Kampuchea. I knew that 80% of the soldiers who went to fight in Kampuchea never returned. I was so terrified at the prospect that I made plans to desert, despite the perilous risks. Although I escaped successfully, I was still in danger. I couldn’t endanger my family by returning home, so I was continually on the move, in constant fear that somebody would see me and report me to the police.
Fleeing for Life
After a year of this daily terror, with no end in sight, my family told me that, for the safety of everyone, I must attempt to escape from Vietnam. One day, after midnight, I followed secret directions to creep to a small wooden fishing boat, where fifty people had gathered to squeeze on board to run the gauntlet of the Communist patrols. From young children to the elderly, we held our breaths and each other’s hands until we were safely out in the open sea. But our troubles had only just begun. We only had a vague idea of where we wanted to go, and had little idea of where to head to get there.
Our escape was full of hardships and perils. We spent four days in terrible weather, tossed about in a rough sea. At one stage, we had given up all hope. We doubted that we would be able to survive the next storm, and believed that we would never arrive at our destination, as we were at the mercy of the sea which seemed to be driving us nowhere, and we couldn’t work out where we were. All we could do was entrust our lives to God’s Providence. All this time, He had us under His protection. We couldn’t believe our good fortune when we finally found refuge on a small island in Malaysia, where I spent eight months in a refugee camp before being accepted into Australia.
Having endured such terrors, I finally discovered that “After rain comes sunshine”. We have a traditional saying, “a flow will have an ebb”. Everyone in life must have some gloomy days to contrast with the days of joy and contentment. Perhaps it is a rule of human life. No one from birth can be free of all sorrows. Some are physical, some are mental, and some are spiritual. Our sorrows differ from each other, but almost everyone will have a taste. However, sorrows themselves cannot kill a human being. Only the lack of will to continue in surrender to God’s will can discourage someone so much that they seek shelter in illusory joys, or choose suicide in a vain attempt to escape from sorrow. I feel fortunate that I have learnt, as a Catholic, to trust God entirely with my life. I believe that He will assist me whenever I am in trouble, especially when it seems that I am out of options, encircled by enemies. I have learned by experience to seek shelter with God, the shield and stronghold of my life. Nothing can harm me when He is by my side (Psalm 22).
New Life in a New Land
When I arrived in Australia, I threw myself into studying English so that I could follow the longing in my heart to keep studying for the priesthood. It was not easy for me in the beginning, living in such a completely different culture. Often, I couldn’t find the right words to convey my thoughts without being misunderstood. Sometimes I felt like screaming loudly in frustration. Without family, or friends, or money, it was difficult to start a new life. I felt lonely and isolated, with little support from anyone, except God.
He has always been my companion, giving me strength and courage to continue persevering despite all the obstacles. His light has guided me through the darkness, even when I failed to recognize His presence. Everything I have achieved is by His grace and I will never cease to be grateful to Him for calling me to follow Him.'
Want to know the easiest way to Heaven?
My mother and grandmother had a great devotion to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart. As children, we prayed often to Mary for the many things we needed. Even when we were trying to find a lost doll or a bike that was stolen, we turned to Our Lady. My father used to work in the construction sector. When work was scarce, which it often was, my mother prayed to Mary, and inevitably, a short time later, a contractor would call offering work for my father.
Because we thought it was too long, most of us kids ran and hid whenever we heard the word “Rosary”. But our mother would eventually find us and bring us together to pray. Unfortunately, as we got older, Our Lady became less important to us than when we were children.
Back in Mary’s Arms
In 2006, the Saint Patrick’s Community came to our parish to give a mission. Each day consisted of Holy Mass in the morning, and talks and testimonies in the evening. Towards the end of the week, I found my heart was beginning to change. A wave of childhood memories of praying to Our Lady washed over me, and I recalled the important role she played in our lives. I longed to recapture my childhood relationship with Mother Mary.
On the final day of the Mission, we celebrated a beautiful Holy Mass. Afterwards, the children of the parish gathered round lighting candles to Our Lady. We adults joined them. While we were lighting candles and praying, the children asked many questions about the Blessed Mother: “Where she is now?” they wanted to know, and “How can we talk to her?” They prayed fervently, with eyes closed and hands joined. Again, I felt the desire to recapture my childhood piety. I started speaking to Our Lady in the same way I did as a child. We adults are sometimes content to speak to her but not with her. We don’t speak to her as we would to our mothers. During the parish mission, I relearned how to relax with Our Lady and let my prayers flow out of me.
In the car one day with my young daughter Sarah, I said that I’d love to see Our Lady. She replied that it would be “so cool.” Then she said, “Hold on Mommy, we do see Our Lady. We see her every day, but nobody takes the time to really see her or speak to her.” I was so astonished by her comment that I nearly drove off the road. What Sarah said felt wise. When I turned to ask her to explain, she was back playing with her doll. I was convinced her comment was inspired by the Holy Spirit. “Although you have hidden these things from the learned and wise, you have revealed them to the childlike” (Matthew 11:25).
Holding Mary’s Hands
Of course, my devotion to our Blessed Mother includes recitation of the Rosary. Though it’s an important and beautiful prayer, for many years I struggled to pray it because I hadn’t yet gotten over my childhood complaint that it was too long. But I began to recognize the importance of the Rosary when I started to meditate on the life of Jesus. Before that, the Rosary was a prayer I rushed to get over and done with. But as I reflected on the life of Jesus, Our Lady taught me that the Rosary brings us deeper into His heart. Because she is the Mother of God and our mother, too, we can rely on her taking us by the hand, and leading us into that deeper walk with Christ that only she fully understands.
As we move through life, the difficulties we encounter can cause us to doubt God’s love or distance us from Our Lady. My sister-in-law died of cancer when she was only forty-two, leaving behind a husband and three children. At such times, it’s natural to ask, “Why did this happen?” But who can understand our trials better than Mary? She stood at the foot of the Cross and watched her Son suffer and die. She can be a companion for us on any road we walk, including the road of suffering.
The Shortest Way to Christ’s Heart
It was through Our Lady that God led me to my heart’s desire. But it took some time. Through her I came to understand the importance of the Eucharist. Sometimes people’s devotion to Our Lady doesn’t lead to greater knowledge of Christ. But Our Lady is all about her Son, and about bringing us into a deeper relationship with Him. Through Our Lady I have made the total consecration to Jesus. It’s a personal journey with Mary to her Divine Son. Mary is a guide always leading us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In 2009, I went to Medjugorje after hearing that Our Lady was appearing there to six young children. It’s a simple but beautiful place where peace is tangible. There was a statue of the Sacred Heart in Medjugorje around which many pilgrims gathered to pray. When it was my turn to approach it, I drew close, closed my eyes, and prayed with my hand on the shoulder of the statue. But when I opened my eyes, I found that my hand was resting not on the shoulder but on the heart of Jesus! My simple prayer had been, “Jesus, I don’t know you as well as I know your mother.” I believe Our Lady was telling me, “Well, now it’s time. It’s time you go to my Son’s Heart.” I was unaware that the following day was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus!
A New Ministry Is Born
In August 2009, a visiting priest inspired me to start the Divine Mercy devotion in my parish. I had expected to do something related to the Rosary, but in hindsight I see that Our Lady was bringing me straight to her Son.
I also scheduled Divine Mercy talks throughout Ireland, and prayers for the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration. Eventually, I was invited to help plan the International Eucharistic Congress held in Ireland—all things I never imagined doing!
It was at the end of the Eucharistic Congress that the seed of my ministry was planted in my heart. Because I had found so much joy and grace flowing from the Eucharistic Congress, I asked myself, “Why does this have to end after one week of grace? Why can’t this continue?” Through God’s grace, it didn’t end. For the past ten years, I have been coordinating The Children of the Eucharist, set up under the auspices of the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration in Ireland. The objective of the ministry is to enhance the faith of our children and bring them closer to Christ through Adoration. This ministry was born when I recognized the need for children to learn more about Eucharistic Adoration and to experience it regularly in a child-friendly way. After piloting the program at our local primary school, the program quickly spread to many schools throughout Ireland.
As a youngster, I had hoped eventually to pursue nursing or some other profession, but those dreams faded when I married young at 22. After starting the Children of the Eucharist Apostolate, a priest told me, “Maybe if you had become a nurse, you wouldn’t be nursing souls now. You are nursing children in Adoration, helping them, and guiding them.”
Not only did Mother Mary lead me closer to her Son, but she inspired me to help children draw closer to Him as well. When we give our fiat, our deepest “yes” to Our Lady, a journey begins. She moves within our fiat, bringing us into a deeper union with Jesus and fulfilling His plans for our lives.