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Jun 18, 2021
Encounter Jun 18, 2021

Addicted, sleepless, anxious and feeling lost? Take heart, there is hope.

“There is hope.” These were the last words my father spoke to me before he died at the age of 77. These words would be spoken to me twice more and they would change my life. They would take me from a life of addiction to being a disciple of Jesus running a charity for recovering addicts, where the good news of the Gospel takes shape as an everyday, tangible existence, giving hope to all who s

Let me start at the beginning. I was born the youngest of 6 children in what you would consider a normal middle-class Catholic family where I received the foundations of the Catholic faith. But deek the truth. espite this solid grounding in The Church, I struggled with discipline, understanding, and prayer. I attended Mass, but my faith was weak.

By the time I reached adolescence, I was falling away rapidly, and by the time I went to college, all I wanted to do was play live music in a rock band. I dreamed of being a guitar hero while enjoying the party life.

I achieved recognition, at least locally, but to function I always needed an intoxicating substance inside me. My substance of choice became alcohol, though later I would become dependent on many substances. Years went by and I drank more and more—whether happy or sad, angry or peaceful, I drank. Going out or staying in, gigging or getting up to work the next day, made no difference. I was alcohol dependent, but I didn’t realise or admit it for many years.

After my father died, my anxiety rose to new levels. I was abusing prescribed medications from anxiety blockers, to sleeping tablets, to pain killers and anti-depressants. My life was out of control. I was hospitalized several times over several years, and once spent a week being medically detoxed from alcohol. That’s when I heard those words the second time. I awoke in my hospital bed delirious and babbling, but a nurse was holding my hand and saying, “Mark, it’s ok, there is hope.”

Fast forward a few years, and I’m in the very same hospital, only this time I’m sectioned on a ward after admitting to suicidal thoughts. My body was a toxic mix of drugs, pain killers and alcohol.  I became aware of the patient in the bed next to me who was talking to his partner on the phone, and everything he said irritated me. That conversation became entangled with voices I heard in my own head which for years had condemned me. Inexplicably, I suddenly felt the urge to kill the man in the bed beside me. I lay there till midnight thinking that, without alcohol or sleeping tablets, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I got insanely angry.

The urge to do violence to the man beside me grew. I imagined myself chocking him. Did I have it in me to strangle someone? Maybe I did. I thought about putting a pillow over his head and snuffing his breath away. I imagined hitting him as hard as possible and knocking him out cold. Then, I caught myself. “Wait, had I just murdered an innocent man in a hospital bed? Not once, not twice but three times. Who was I? What had I become?  I had killed a man in my heart three times!”

I turned my anger toward God. “I believe in You, and now You need to help me,” I cried. But I also blamed him. “Why did You create me just to torment me and send me to hell?”

I realised I was weak and had no fight left in me. Because I had used up all my faith in mankind, I needed something or someone to cling to. I had to hope. I had tried dozens of times to get clean on my own with always the same outcome. Now I did something I hadn’t done in many years. Though I had slid far from God and my childhood faith, I remembered my prayers and I began to pray. “I surrender to You, Jesus. Save me. I know You are My God and Saviour, help me!”  I kept praying.  I began to quote Scripture: “Ask and you shall receive.” I said, “Lord Jesus these are Your words. I’m quoting You, so You must listen. These are not my words but Yours,” I knew I was quoting The Bible and I knew it was true, but I had no idea what passage it was.

I know now I was quoting Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. My father’s last words to me had been ‘There is hope’ and here I was quoting Matthew 7:7.

Around 7:00 am, I awoke to the sound of a nurse asking me if I wanted a cup of tea. I had slept for seven hours! Most people know that a hospital is no place to get a good night’s sleep, but there I was withdrawing from alcohol, sleeping tablets, and all sorts of other substances and I had just gotten the best night’s sleep in years.  As the nurse was offering me tea and toast, I heard another voice mutter, “There is hope.”  Was it the nurse or was it God talking to me? I decided Jesus had answered my prayers: I had slept for hours and again I was hearing, “There is hope.”

But more importantly, something had changed, something profound. My anxiety was gone and I had a faint feeling of happiness and joy.  I wasn’t sure what caused it, but the demons that had tormented me for many years were gone.

This was the beginning of the miracle of my conversion, the first of many. I lay there in total peace and thanked Jesus. My journey with Jesus Christ began that day and I continue to walk the road on which he leads me.

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By: Mark Yates

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Jun 18, 2021
Encounter Jun 18, 2021

Discover a powerful prayer that takes just 7 minutes, and opens the door of Mercy

It was a warm, balmy day. The moss hanging from the massive water oak trees in our front yard blew sideways dusting the grass with debris. I had just checked the mailbox when Lia, one of my best friends, pulled into the driveway. She hurried over and I could see on her face that she was extremely upset.

“My mom went into the hospital two nights ago. Her cancer cells have spread from her lungs to her brain,” Lia said.

Lia’s beautiful brown eyes shimmered with tears that streamed down her cheeks.

Seeing her was heartbreaking. I took her hand.

“Can I go with you to see her,” I asked.

“Yes, I’m headed there this afternoon,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll meet you there,” I said.

When I walked into the hospital room, Lia was at her mom’s bedside. Her mom looked up at me, her face twisted in pain.

I hope it’s okay that I came to see you today,” I said.

“Of course. It’s nice to see you again,” she said.

“Have you heard from that priest friend of yours,” she asked, her voice weak but kind.

“Yes, we speak off and on” I said.

“I’m so glad I got to see him that day,” she said.

Lia and I had been part of a Rosary group that met every week during the time her mom was first diagnosed. A priest, well known for his spiritual gifts, had come to one of our meetings and we were eager for him to join us in prayer and hear our confessions.

Lia’s mom was raised Catholic, but when she married, she decided to assimilate into her husband’s family and adopt his Greek Orthodox faith. However, over the years, she felt less and less at home in either faith community. Worried that her mom had been away from The Church and sacraments for so many years, Lia invited her to our Rosary group so she could meet our special priest.

Not till the priest was preparing to leave did Lia’s mom finally walk through the back door. Lia shot me a relieved smile. Her mom and the priest talked alone for about twenty minutes. Later, Lia called to tell me her mom couldn’t say enough about how kind and loving the priest had been to her. She told Lia that after they talked, he had heard her confession, and she had been filled with peace.

Now, lying in the hospital bed, she no longer looked like herself. The color of her skin and the look in her eye revealed the ravages of a long progressive disease.

“I was wondering if you would like to pray together,” I asked. “There is special prayer called the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It is a powerful prayer Jesus gave to a nun named Sister Faustina to spread His mercy throughout the world. It takes about seven minutes and one of the promises of the prayer is that those who say it will enter through the door of mercy rather than judgment. I pray it often,” I said.

Lia’s mom looked up at me with one eyebrow raised.

“How can that be true,” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Are you telling me that if a hardened criminal prays that prayer minutes before he dies, he enters through the door of mercy rather than judgment? That doesn’t seem right,” she said.

“Well, if a hardened criminal actually takes the time to pray it and pray it sincerely, then there must be hope in him, despite all he has done. Who is to say if and when the heart opens to God? I believe that where there is life, there is hope.”

She stared at me intently.

I continued. “If your son were a hardened criminal, wouldn’t you love him even though you hated his crimes? Wouldn’t you always hope for his change of heart because of the great love you have for him?”

“Yes,” she said weakly.

“God loves us much more than we could ever love our children and He is always ready to enter any heart with His mercy. He waits for those moments patiently and with great desire because He loves us so much.”

She nodded.

“That makes sense. Yes, I’ll pray it with you,” she said.

The three of us prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet together, chatted a few more minutes, and then I left.

Later that evening Lia called me.

“My mom’s nurse called to tell me that right after I left the hospital, mom lost all lucidity.”

We grieved together, prayed and hoped for her mom’s recovery.

Lia’s mom died a few days later.

On the night of her death, I had a dream. In my dream, I walked into her hospital room to find her sitting up in bed, wearing a beautiful red dress. She looked radiant, full of life and joy, smiling from ear to ear. The night of the wake, when I approached the coffin to pay my respects, I was stunned to see her wearing a red dress! Chills ran up my spine. I had never been to a wake where the deceased wore a red dress. It was highly unconventional and completely unexpected. After the funeral, I grabbed Lia and pulled her aside.

“What made you put a red dress on your mom,” I asked.

“My sister and I discussed it and decided we would put mom in her favorite dress. Do you think we shouldn’t have done it?” she asked.

“No, it’s not that. The night your mom died, I dreamed I walked into her hospital room, found her sitting up smiling from ear to ear…and wearing a red dress!” I said. Lia’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened.

“What? No way,” she said.

“Yes, way,” I said.

With tears streaming down her cheeks Lia said, “You and I were the last people she saw before her brain shut down. And that means the last thing she did was pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet!” I grabbed Lia and hugged her.

“I’m so grateful you came with me that day, and we prayed with my mom, and that I was able to be with her before she lost her consciousness,” she said.

“I can’t get over the fact that you saw her in your dream so happy and wearing a red dress.  I think Jesus is telling us she really did enter through the door of mercy.” she said.  “Thank you, Jesus.”

“Amen,” I said.

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By: Rosanne Pappas

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Jun 16, 2021
Encounter Jun 16, 2021

“I walk by Faith, not by sight” chuckles Mario Forte as he shares an astonishing life witness

I was born with glaucoma, so at the beginning of my life, I only had partial sight in my left eye and none at all in my right eye.  Over the years I have had more than 30 surgeries—the first when I was only three months old…At the age of seven, the doctors removed my right eye in the hope of preserving the sight in my left eye. When I was twelve years old, I got hit by a car while I was crossing the road on my way home from school. After becoming airborne—thought I was superman there for a bit—I landed with an almighty thud and ended up with a retinal detachment, among other things I had three months off  school recovering and undergoing more surgery, so I had to repeat Grade Seven.

Everything is Possible

As a child, blindness was normal to me because I could not compare it to anything else. But God gave me an insight. From a very early age, before I had received any official instruction, I would talk to God, just like any other person because I was so used to communicating with people that I could not see.

I could only tell the difference between light and dark, but one day, in the blink of an eye, everything went black—like a light switching off. Although I have been in total darkness for more than 30 years, the grace of God gives me the courage to keep going. Now, it is not the physical light I see, but God’s light within. Without Him, I would not be any better than a piece of wood. The Holy Spirit makes everything possible.

Sometimes people even forget that I am blind because I am able to move around the house, operate a computer and look after myself. This is thanks to my parents who always encouraged me to do things by myself. My father was an electrician who took me on site with him to help me understand his trade, even getting me to install power points and switches. He taught me how to think logically so I could adapt and improvise when things went wrong. My mother, with her caring, loving nature, sowed the seeds for my faith. She made sure that we prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet together every day, so those prayers are engrained into my memory.

They enabled me to successfully graduate with an IT degree. With their support, I would get in touch with the individual lecturers to get the course outline before the term started. Then we would go to the library to copy all the relevant materials so the Royal Blind Society could transcribe them for me.

A Higher Call

In my teens, I had a remarkable experience of God calling me. At that stage, I still had some sight in my left eye. While I was praying in the church one day, the main altar was suddenly illuminated with an intense light and an interior voice spoke tenderly, saying, “Come, Come to me.” This happened three times. Ever since, I have felt His hand protecting me with a love and mercy which I don’t deserve.

This calling led me to consider if it were possible for me to become a priest or a deacon. That proved to be unrealistic but my Theology studies deepened my faith. I began to lead devotion to the Divine Mercy in a charismatic prayer group with the support of the parish priest. Despite all the setbacks I have suffered, I am grateful that I can be of service to the Lord and the people that I have met through the events I organize—the Divine Mercy devotions, overnight adoration and 40 Days for Life—have also assisted me after the deaths of my parents, my sister and my niece.

They have become my family and help me weekly with domestic duties and special transport needs.

Deep in My Heart

The most tragic events in my life are not the lack of my sight but the loss of my closest relations, so I am especially grateful that these friends come with me to the cemetery to have a meal by the gravesides of my loved ones and pray the Divine Mercy chaplet for their souls. I try to focus on the positives—what I have, rather than on what I lack. I strive to do the best I can to carry out God’s commandments to love. Every day, I am determined to put God’s will first and put the Gospel into action.

Saint Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) I often joke that I literally do this. That little verse speaks volumes. We will not see the fruits of our labour in this life. It is such a joy to work in God’s vineyard. Jesus suffered and died for me. Every single person can say this. Anyone who wants to know Him can come to receive the Lord. I give thanks and praise to the Lord that He has given us the opportunity to receive His glorious presence into our being. His living Word can revive us with the hope of the Resurrection, so that we can live each day in His presence and carry out His command to love. In my heart, I sing Alleluia!

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible; look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy that in difficult moments we might not despair, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself. Amen.

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By: Mario Forte

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Jun 05, 2021
Encounter Jun 05, 2021

That moment I felt like the Blessed Mother had enveloped me in Her cloak.

In 1947, I was born in a small town in Italy, near Casalbordino, the Apparition site of “Our Lady of Miracles.” Since my birthday was on the day between the feast of “Our Lady of Miracles” and the feast of Saint Antony, my parents called me Maria Antonia.

We migrated to Canada when I was 7 years old. Although my parents were not avid church-goers they made sure that we followed the Catholic faith, but I did not pay much attention to the importance and significance of Our Lady until my parents visited Medjugorje in 1983. My mom was very moved by the experience, so she came home and told us about what was going on there. Among the rosaries, medals, rings and trinkets that she brought back was a small post card with a picture of Our Lady surrounded by the six visionaries.  Every time I entered her home, I saw this image on a little shelf in the corner of her kitchen, and it touched me. I could feel Our Lady looking into my heart.

In 1995, while I was watching a video about the happenings in Medjugorje, I felt Our Lady asking me: “When are you coming? I’m your mother and I’m waiting for you.” The next year, we heard of a pilgrimage from Calgary to Medjugorje and I felt compelled to enrol myself. Because of the recent war in Bosnia, many people withdrew from the pilgrimage for fear of what might happen, but I was determined to go.

At Medjugorje, I felt a deep confirmation that Our Lady was indeed calling me. One day, I met Father Slavko Barbaric, who looked at me and said “When you go home, I would like you to start a prayer group and the prayers have to be directed at helping the family because the family is in crisis today.” After we got back, we started the Hour of Prayer at St. Bonaventure. Every year, we have more and more people joining us for prayer.

I visited Medjugorje seriously committed to make some drastic changes. I knew that I needed a strong conversion of heart, so I sought Our Lady’s help to understand the Scripture better, to grow in my prayer life and to experience joy and love in my heart as I prayed the Rosary. All of these blessings, and more, were granted.

At that time, I thought it was just “my” pilgrimage because I didn’t realize that Our Lady was inviting me to bring more people to Her. Father Slavko had insisted that I bring my husband, so in 1998, we went together. I felt called to bring more people to Our Lady, but asked Our Lady for a sign to confirm that. Soon after, two ladies approached me, seeking my help to go to Medjugorje. Every year since, I have a wonderful heart to heart to talk with Our Lady about whether I should go again. Every time, I receive the answer that there are more people who need to receive graces and blessings from the Lord with the help of Our Blessed Mother, who is full of grace…

Our lives haven’t been perfect and we have had moments that test our faith too. Eight years ago, we received news that shocked us. My daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia. We immediately turned to the Lord, but being in such a panic, it was hard to focus on God and what He can do for us. One particular day, we went through a very difficult time. A clot had developed at the port, so medicines could not be administered and the doctors had to figure out how to treat her.

As usual, we took our concerns into the Lord’s Presence at the Adoration Chapel to receive His comfort. I looked at the Lord and asked Him why was this happening to our daughter and “Why us?” Very clearly, I heard Him reply “Why not you?” I realized that He went through such terrible suffering and He was accompanying us in our suffering, so that we could grow in His love. At that moment, I felt that the Blessed Mother enveloped me in her cloak, holding me close as she had held her Son after His birth and after His death.

When we returned to the hospital, our daughter was surrounded by a team of people resolving the problems which were hindering her treatment   I felt reassured that our prayers had been heard. Our Lord and Our Lady were there.  All we needed to do was trust. Everything was going to be okay. They would always be in our life, taking care of us. Last year, our daughter celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary. God has been so good to us.

Our Lady at Medjugorje gave us 5 stones to build the foundation of our faith:

1. To pray every day, especially the Rosary.

2. Read Scripture every day, to receive the Word of God.

3. To participate in Holy Mass as often as possible, if not every day, at least on Sundays.

4. To receive the Lord’s healing and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, at least once a month without fail.

5. To fast on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays.

This is not easy, especially if you are new to it. It takes a long time to build these habits and the endurance to follow them, but Our Lady kept encouraging us. What surprised me most was that when we were most consistent in praying the Rosary, we were able to practise the other stones more easily. The Rosary helped us to have the confidence to put them into our daily lives and develop them into a routine which we have grown to love and depend upon. She has become a daily presence in our lives.

Many of her messages say to us, I cannot achieve God’s plan without you. I need you. Give me your problems and pray for my intentions which are those of all the people who are praying the Rosary. So when we pray the Rosary for Mary’s intentions we feel connected to everyone. We have seen many amazing changes as the people who come on the pilgrimages return and get involved in so many vital ministries. Medjugorje has been a school of love for me. She is so ‘full of grace’ that when we join her in prayer, we become open to all the graces and blessings which Our Lord has to offer.

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By: Marie Paolini

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Jun 01, 2021
Encounter Jun 01, 2021

Kim A-gi Agatha and her husband had no contact with Christianity or Catholic doctrine. They practiced Confucianism. But Agatha’s older sister, a devout Catholic, came for a visit. Looking around at the trappings of their traditional faith, including a large rice chest with ancestral tablets, she asked her younger sister, “Why are you holding on to these things? They are nothing but superstition!”

Her sister proclaimed that the one true ruler of the world is Jesus Christ. “Wake from your darkness,” she told her sister, “and accept the light of truth.”

Her sister’s urging aroused a great longing in Agatha. Knowing it would be difficult to go against her husband and the tradition of her family, she nonetheless determined to accept Christ and to suffer willingly whatever difficulties might come her way.

Agatha was not very bright and no matter how hard she tried, she was unable to memorize the morning and evening prayers. Eventually, she became known as the woman who knew nothing but “Jesus and Mary”. Because of her inability to learn doctrine and prayers, Kim A-gi Agatha was not initially baptized.

In September of 1836 Agatha and two other women were arrested for their Catholic faith. When interrogated Agatha remained firm and valiantly stood before her torturers saying, “I don’t know anything but Jesus and Mary. I will not reject them.” Her courageous witness led her to be the first to be baptized in prison during persecution.

Along with other condemned Christians, Agatha was tied by arms and hair to a large cross erected atop an ox cart. On the crest of a steep hill, guards forced the oxen to run headlong down. The road was rough, with many stones. The carts stumbled, causing great agony to the courageous prisoners who hung on the crosses. Following this ordeal, at the foot of the hill, the executioners violently beheaded each of the holy martyrs.

Agatha and eight other martyrs received their crown of glory at the same hour when Jesus breathed his last—three o’clock in the afternoon. Nearly one hundred years later Kim A-gi Agatha was beatified along with the other martyrs on July 5, 1925. They were canonized in their native Korea on May 6, 1984 by Pope John Paul II.

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By: Shalom Tidings

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Apr 27, 2021
Encounter Apr 27, 2021

You may be feeling lost and alone. Take heart, for God knows exactly where you are!

Alone in the shower, I could scream and not be heard. The water pelted the top of my head as anguish wracked my heart. My mind imagined the worst, a tiny coffin and a loss too great to bear. My heart ached, as if squeezed in a vice. It was more than a physical pain but I felt tortured with an oppressive sinking feeling. It pervaded my being. Nothing could alleviate the pain and no-one could comfort me.

Suffering is part of the human condition, unavoidable. A particular cross is fashioned for each of us to carry but I didn’t want this one. I whimpered beneath its weight. “Please God, give me a different cross, not this one. I can’t carry this one. I will take any pain, disease, anything, but not this, not my son. This one is too big. I can’t, please,” I begged. Nausea swept over me. I vomited and then slumped to the floor of the shower, sobbing.

My ‘No’ was futile. Surrender was the only path forward. Spent and exhausted, I prayed, “If you won’t change this cross God, please give me the strength to carry it . . . (the image of a tiny coffin flashed into my mind again) . . .  no matter where it leads. Help me. I cannot do this without You.”

My sweet, little boy had been admitted to the hospital in a serious condition. For eight days I lay next to him in his hospital bed. His spirit was undaunted by his illness but he no longer looked like himself. Bright pink and purple blotches spotted his cheeks, ran across the bridge of his nose and over his arms and legs. The medicine that would offer him a reprieve bloated his face and body. When he slept, which was hardly at all, I sobbed myself to sleep. Prayer, distraction and rocking his frail body were the only contribution I could make in his battle to survive. I read to him and drew cartoons on a magna doodle he had been given before he was hospitalized. It was therapeutic for both of us. Although I had never been able to draw before, in my efforts to give him some small joy, I suddenly found that I could draw with ease.

Finally, he was released from the hospital with a treatment plan, hope and a prayer for remission. Our new normal set in. My mom suggested that I explore my new ability to draw. We took an art class together at the local fine arts studio. The art teacher asked to bring in a picture that moved us. I chose a Christmas card depicting the Blessed Mother holding the Infant Jesus. The art teacher thought because I lacked experience and training, I should draw something simpler, like a flower. I turned my stool to face her, declaring , “My son should be dead but he is alive. Jesus and the Blessed Mother are all that matters to me. They move me.” Her eyes widened. “Oh, I had no idea about your son. I am sorry. Just be sure to watch your values.” I was confused. “What do my morals have to do with my picture,” I asked. “Light and dark values,” she said gently. “Oh, okay,” I said, somewhat embarrassed.

I turned to my easel, closed my eyes and prayed, “Come Holy Spirit, help me draw a picture that will help others love and need Jesus and Mary the way I do right now.” As I drew, I relied on the strength, love and wisdom of Heaven to carry me through. My desire found expression in my art. Each new piece was a prayer and a gift from God.

One morning, as I left the church after Mass, a visiting priest approached me, saying “When I was at your sister’s house, I saw the picture you drew of Christ and the angel in the Garden of Gethsemane during His agony. It moved me deeply. Your sister told me about your son and how you unexpectedly discovered your ability to draw in the midst of your anguish. Your art is truly a blessing born of suffering, a gift.”

“Thank you.” I replied, “It is. Looking back I feel that this artistic gift was a foreshadowing.”

“Why? What do you mean,” he asked.

“Drawing taught me to see everything differently. I discovered that the contrast of the dark and the light in a picture creates depth, richness and beauty. Without the light, the darkness in a painting is an empty abyss. The darkness of suffering is like the darkness in a painting. Without the light of Christ, suffering threatened to swallow me into the depths of despair. When I finally let go and surrendered my pain and my circumstances to Jesus, I fell into His loving arms and submitted to His plan for my life. Then Christ, the Master Artist, used the darkness of my suffering to tenderize my heart making room for faith, compassion, hope and love to grow within me. The light of Christ illuminated the darkness and brought untold blessings from our trials for my son, my marriage and our family.”

“Now I understand. It really is true. Art imitates life and suffering united to Christ brings great blessings. Praise be to God,” he exclaimed.

“Amen,” I agreed.

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By: Rosanne Pappas

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Apr 27, 2021
Encounter Apr 27, 2021

Is anger or resentment the only way to deal with unfaithfulness in your life? Sarah Juszczak unravels the path less trodden, through her story of pain and triumph.

The Meet-Cute

I come from a lovely, Italian family. I was raised and grew up Catholic, but in my teens, although I was going to Mass on Sundays, I wasn’t really living the faith.

When I was sixteen, I joined a youth group and that’s where I met Tomasz. Tom and I were asked to lead a youth weekend together, so we ended up spending a lot of time together trying to organise it. Soon after, we started “seeing each other”. Neither of us were keen to give our relationship a label- there was no intentionality about it.

I was pretty rebellious in my younger years, which Tom hated.  Being Polish, his Catholic faith was important to him, and he had a lot of traditional values. Neither of us really knew our faith or lived it—and because he didn’t really understand the reasons behind his values, it wasn’t hard for me to convince him otherwise. It wasn’t clear where this relationship was headed and it wasn’t the healthiest, but we cared about each other.

Fog in the Glass

After nearly three years together, Tom and I were starting to think about marriage. Tom was finishing up at university and had always dreamed of spending a few months travelling Europe before getting a full-time job. I was very unsure about this, but something in my heart told me that it was important. This time apart would either make or break us.

Just before Tom left for Europe, we joined our youth group at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney. At that point in my life, I was realizing that my faith life needed to change. I couldn’t continue floating along in what was really a ‘practical atheism’. I went to World Youth Day with this question on my heart: “God, if You exist, show yourself to me. I want to know You”.

A couple of talks and experiences really spoke to me that week. As I sat on the train ride home one evening, mulling over the things I had been hearing, I opened the pilgrim’s handbook to a quote from Saint Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. At that moment, I had a sudden and overwhelming awareness of the presence of God. My centre of gravity shifted. I knew that God was real and nothing would be the same again.

Soon after, Tomasz left for Europe and I suddenly had a lot of time to spare. I listened to talks on the Theology of the Body, read more about the lives of the Saints and attended weekly Holy Hours. The six months that Tom was away were a time of conversion for me, culminating in a one-month, live-in youth leaders formation course. During that time, I realized that if I wanted to continue on this journey with God, I needed to let go of the things that were leading me away from Him, so that I could follow him wholeheartedly.

The Worst Part?

With Tomasz away in Europe, I wondered if things would work out for us when he returned home. He was still caught up in a world that I had decided to leave behind, and our values and priorities were now miles apart.  I kept taking this to prayer, and praying for Tom. I tried to plant some seeds, and when some of his travel plans were derailed I managed to convince him to make a detour to Lourdes, which was a powerful experience for him—but he wasn’t ready to make changes yet.

When he returned from Europe, I knew we had to have an honest conversation. We went out to dinner and I tried to tell him about some of the things that had been happening in my life. I told him things needed to change about our relationship. For the most part he seemed okay with it, until I told him I wanted him to stop using pornography. He barely hesitated before responding with a flat out “No”. This was quite a shock for me. I thought he’d at least be open it to it. He’d later tell me that he was struggling with a porn addiction, although he wasn’t really aware of that at the time.

As the Fog Fades

As we continued to recount our experiences during our time apart, it became clearer to him that I was different, and he became somewhat uneasy. When I revealed that I really wanted to pray the Rosary with my family every day when I was married, he reacted very strongly against that. I would try to challenge him and encourage him. As I described my image of family life and how I hoped to live my life, he would push back. He was no longer the most important thing in my life and he didn’t like it one bit.

I started to feel that I wasn’t supposed to be in this relationship, so, I asked the Lord for an answer. I knew He wanted me to break up with Tom, but it was difficult because we were in so deep. I tried to break it off several times, but for Tom it was all or nothing. I loved him and didn’t want him out of my life completely. I told the Lord that I didn’t have enough strength to end the relationship myself. The only way it could happen is if Tom messed up big time, but I was certain that it wasn’t possible.

Completely Oblivious

Not long after, Tom came to see me. He was clearly very nervous, but he finally worked up the courage to come clean. He’d been cheating on me. I was shattered. How could he have betrayed me, when I trusted him so completely? How could he have lied so convincingly, without even batting an eyelid? How could I have been so oblivious?

This revelation made me question a lot of things I thought I knew. I never thought Tom was capable of being deceptive and I had thought I was a pretty good judge of character. I discovered he was in the habit of lying and had been for some time. He was frighteningly good at it.

Naturally, I threw Tom out straight away. I’ve always had a flair for drama, so I packed up a box of his things that night and called him back to collect them. When I met him outside my house, I completely lost it. I was enraged. To my surprise, he didn’t try to explain or defend himself, he just fell to the ground and wept.

Embraced by God

It’s hard to articulate what happened in that moment. As I saw Tom crying, all anger in me instantly dissolved. I was so moved with pity and love that I knelt down next to him and embraced him. I can only describe that moment as a glimpse of the Heart of the Father. I felt God’s love and mercy flowing through me, and saw that I was no different to Tomasz. In that moment, God gave me a glimpse of His own Heart as He embraced me and forgave me my own infidelity.

Tomasz later described this experience similarly, as if it was God enfolding him within His merciful, loving embrace. I’m not one to let go of things quickly, so the grace to forgive Tomasz so magnanimously definitely came from God, not me.

Connecting the Dots

Although I forgave Tom, we both knew we needed to go our separate ways. Tom would later say that being dumped was one of the best things that ever happened to him. God had been leading Tom on his own journey, and he needed to do this part without me. On that detour to Lourdes, months earlier, he experienced God guiding him. In fact, God guided him straight to the confessional. When he started to put things into the light, he received the grace to eventually be honest with me.

Following our breakup, Tomasz made a conscious effort to turn his life around. He started making regular Holy Hours, going to a priest friend of ours for guidance, and finally got around to listening to the CDs on Theology of the Body that I had been nagging him about since his return from Europe.

Little Did I Know

Tom and I were together three years before we broke up, and were apart for three years before God brought us back together. During that time, we were able to rebuild our friendship. I was completing my studies, enjoying a new career in marketing and communications and discerning my vocation. I was pretty sure I was going to be a religious Sister. Tom was earning a good living as a rehabilitation consultant, but growing increasingly restless. Both of us earnestly wanted to discover God’s will for our lives.

The opportunity to attend WYD 2011 in Madrid came up for each of us on separate pilgrimages. Both of us went with the intention of discovering what God wanted next. I was hoping to meet the religious order I was supposed to join, and Tom was preparing to leave his job, but didn’t know where to go next. By the end of the pilgrimage, Tom had decided to enrol in a Theology course. I was not successful in finding a religious order. Instead, while visiting Poland with my pilgrimage group, I found myself thinking about Tom and how it didn’t seem right to be visiting his homeland without him.

Shortly after returning home, I realized that I really needed to pray about God’s will regarding my relationship with Tom, so I started a novena. The same day, Tom invited me to join him in a fifty-four day Rosary Novena for a particular intention–27 days to pray for the intention and 27 days to give thanks. I agreed, but added on my secret, second intention for our relationship.

Twenty-seven days into that novena, Tom and I were both at a leadership retreat. Tom was helping to run the retreat while I served in the kitchen.  I dropped in to listen to him give a talk and was struck by how much he had grown. He was really becoming a man of God. I thought to myself, “Here is a man I could entrust myself to.” It turned out that he shared the same intention in the Novena. When we resumed dating, I felt total peace because both of us were seeking God’s will – so there was nothing to fear.

To cut a long story short, Tom and I were engaged on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady. Tom told me that he chose that day, not just because he loved Our Lady, but because it pointed to the ultimate end of the marriage he was proposing: Heaven. We were married on Easter Saturday, or the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday and prayed that our marriage could give witness to the transforming power of God’s Mercy. God had taken the mess that we had made of our relationship the first time around and made it into something completely new.

Marriage is a commitment, a vocation, a union. When we made that commitment at the altar to love one another, it was till death do us part. This is where we really learn about love. God doesn’t often ask us to die for our spouse, like Jesus did for us: His Church, but He is asking us to die to ourselves by forgiving each other in little ways every day. Marriage has to be based on loving forgiveness. God forgave us before we even said sorry. He told us to “Love one another as I have loved you.” When we imitate Him and forgive without rancour, then we share real love in a relationship centred on Christ. That relationship will last into eternity.

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By: Sarah Juszczak

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Apr 24, 2021
Encounter Apr 24, 2021

When I regained consciousness, I did not know where I was, what day of the week or how old I was.

That day everything turned very unfamiliar for me.

 

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known; along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

(Isaiah 42:16)

Because I was born with an abnormal mass in my brain, I started having seizures when I was a baby. I had become accustomed to dealing with them as a regular part of my life, until a new type of seizure disrupted my routine. One morning, I was enjoying breakfast with my mother when I suddenly lost consciousness. I fell from the chair and experienced a seizure that lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

Lost and Desperate

When I regained consciousness, I recognized my mother, but I did not recognize the house or anything that surrounded me. I did not know where I was, what day of the week it was, or how old I was. In my house, I could not identify my bedroom. Everything seemed very unfamiliar to me. The seizure had caused me to lose a lot of memory. I felt very lost. This continued for about two weeks, and I was becoming desperate.

One night, in the midst of my despair, I looked at the image of the Divine Mercy hanging on my bedroom wall, and I cried out to the Lord. I asked the Lord to strengthen me, to guide me, but, most importantly, to keep me close to Him. Lord, do not allow this situation to separate me from you. Instead, please use it as a tool to pull me closer to you. Jesus, I trust in you.

That same night, I woke around 2 AM and had a vision: I saw myself falling into a deep abyss. Then, suddenly, I saw a hand holding me and keeping me from sinking any further. It was the Lord’s hand. Within seconds, my pain and desperation was turned into peace and joy. From then on, I knew I was in the hands of the Lord, and I felt safe.

Surging Pain

Two weeks after the seizure, I began recovering memories from my childhood, but most of them were painful. I didn’t want to remember that. Instead, I wanted to remember the beautiful and happy moments of my life. At first, I couldn’t understand why I was receiving mostly painful memories. Neurologists and psychologists would have an explanation: the memories with the biggest psychological impact are the ones that are better recorded in the brain. But faith had a different explanation: The Lord wanted me to identify my wounds and heal from them.

One night, as I was reciting my bedtime prayers, I remembered the names and faces of the people who had hurt me deeply. I cried in deep pain, but — to my surprise — I did not feel anger or resentment towards them. Instead, I felt the urge to pray for their repentance and conversion, and I did it. Later, I came to realize that it was the Holy Spirit who prompted me to pray for them because he wanted to heal me. The Lord was healing my wounds.

A Different Answer

I keep a journal, and I began reading it to help me recover some memories. As I read it, I realized that I had attended a Shalom Growth retreat in March, the week prior to the lockdown due to Covid-19. At the retreat, I surrendered to the Lord and asked Him to direct my life. Later, in May, I attended a Healing Mass at my parish, and I asked the Lord to help me to identify my wounds and to heal them.

I never imagined that the Lord would respond in such a way. For me, the seizure, the memory loss and the events that followed are God’s perfect response to my prayers. You might wonder why God responded to my prayer by allowing that seizure and memory loss to occur, and my answer is this: Every moment of suffering is an invitation for us to come closer to God, every difficulty is an invitation for us to trust in Him, and every loss of control is an invitation for us to remember that He is in control and that His plans are better than ours.

A Walk to Remember

This is something I had never experienced before. The Lord certainly took me along a very unfamiliar path, but He was constantly by my side. Even though I forgot many things, He never allowed me to forget His love. The daily Bible readings, reflections, the Divine Mercy image, the dreams and the people praying for me were a constant reminder of His love. I felt Him walking with me along the way, which made this unfamiliar road much smoother for me. For this reason, the blessings were certainly stronger than the suffering.

For about a year, I had been serving the Lord by translating Catholic articles and other documents, and I was able to continue doing that throughout these months. Even though I forgot many things, I did not lose the skills and ability to translate. I am very grateful for that, because it allowed me to work for His kingdom during the time of difficulty. Now, several months later, I have recovered a lot of memory. I am still forgetful at times, and I have become slow at certain things, but I am very grateful to God for all the memories I have recovered and all the blessings I have received during these months.

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If the Lord has taken you also along an unfamiliar path, surrender to His will and ask Him to make the roads smooth before you. Remember that His plans are better than our plans. He did not forsake me, and He will not forsake you either.

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By: Maria Angeles Montoya

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Apr 20, 2021
Encounter Apr 20, 2021

Begin a new today and change your life forever!

All These Years

After nine years of formation, I recently professed final vows as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Following communion during the final vows Mass I was overcome with emotion and deep gratitude. It was as if God gifted me with a greater awareness of all that he had been accomplishing in me over the years. The gifts and graces of each prayer, confession, and reception of the Eucharist became present in that moment. I was amazed by God’s enduring, relentless love. As I knelt in prayer, I thought about how I was one of the unlikeliest candidates to become a spouse of Christ. “But nothing,” I remembered, “is impossible with God.”

I had grown up Baptist in Houston, Texas. When I was eight years old, my father died by suicide after years of struggling with addiction and because my mother was not able to care for us, my brothers and I were adopted by my aunt and uncle. The next ten years provided a consistency and stability I had never known in the first eight years of my life. I went to good schools, read books, played soccer, sang in the Church and school choirs, and got to be a regular kid.

When I was eighteen a pamphlet advertising a Dallas, Texas school for “independent thinkers” brought me to the University of Dallas. The fact it was Catholic totally escaped me.  I spent much of my four college years indulging in sinful behaviors as a way of medicating my old wounds. I had no idea what to do with the pain that come from abandonment. My conscience was being formed at the University of Dallas. I spent a semester in Rome and encountered Pope Saint John Paul II whom I loved. His understanding of God resonated deeply in me. I joined a Latin liturgical choir and became more familiar with the Mass by singing at hundreds of eucharistic liturgies.

Made for Another World

After graduation my life was mostly work during the day and bars or hanging out with friends at night. I eventually sensed something was missing; for “if no worldly experience can satisfy my desires, then probably I was created for more than just this world.” That’s when I started seeking deeper faith. I wanted to be like the godly women who raised me. To my surprise, when it came time to decide where I would go to church, I found myself hungering for the Mass. I hesitated to become Catholic because there were so few Black Americans in the church. But the desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist pulled me into the church.

Becoming Catholic didn’t fix everything. I still indulged in sinful behaviors, but I found myself constantly at confession. I was struggling emotionally and spiritually. Though I felt like I was killing myself spiritually (and physically–my weight was approaching 400 pounds), in my professional life I was reaching heights I had never imagined. During that struggle, I returned to Rome and went to confession and Mass at Saint Peter’s. My confessor’s advice that day to “just begin” changed everything. Within the year I was discerning a religious vocation, and three years after that confession I became a candidate with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

A Love Affair

Eleven years after that confession I said yes to Jesus in a way I did not know was possible. My wounds and shame had me making an all-too-common mistake which C.S. Lewis explains well: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Not only was I too easily pleased, but I made the mistake of seeing my life in light of the struggle instead of in light of the one who loves me.

During my postulancy, a Sister in her seventies who was giving a class on the spiritual life said, “I love my age. I would never want to be younger and I would never want to go back. I have all these years with Jesus. I have all these experiences. I would not want to trade that.” Surely, she had known loss, mistakes, and sin, but mingled in all that was an abiding love of Jesus that made her life a love affair with Jesus and an untradable treasure.

Gift of Tears

On the day of my final vows, my tears mingled a tinge of grief with a great sense of joy and gratitude. Throughout my life, as I experienced loss, pain, struggle and sin, joy remained inevitable because of Christ’s self-sacrificing love made manifest in the Eucharist.  I have come to know that the final word in all our stories is Christ himself. Saint John says, “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands… we saw it and testify to it.”

My tears on that day of my final vows gave witness to the enduring love of Christ, come what may, through all these years.

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By: Sister Josephine Garrett

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Mar 03, 2021
Encounter Mar 03, 2021

Going through financial stress and debts? Here’s a solution for all your problems.

Ever since high school, when I read about the fifteen promises of the Virgin Mary to those who pray the Holy Rosary, I did my best to say a Rosary every day. As a student, I promised myself that I would never charge people for rendering any assistance, especially if it involved using my God-given talents. Words of gratitude from those who benefitted from my help, made me feel more fulfilled than any material form of appreciation.

Unexpected Twist

In undertaking undergraduate and graduate education at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) in Communication Studies and Organizational Communications, I had expected that I would always have enough financial support from my family, because we had a service station selling petroleum products. Of course, it is a booming business in my country, Nigeria, so I never anticipated any lack of funds. But as I entered my final year as an undergraduate, the federal government marked my family’s business premises and other buildings for demolition to expand a major road, promising generous compensation.

As a result of the intended demolition, my family had to shut the business and purchase another site to relocate the service station, expecting that compensation payments would cover the loan and the cost of rebuilding. However, six years hence, no compensation has yet been paid. This affected my education, because I could not pay my fees. Fortunately, my other siblings had already finished university.

Weighing Down

God being so kind, I had some savings, enabling me to pay my bills for the final year of my undergraduate studies. In the expectation that the compensation would soon be paid, I enrolled in a two year Master’s degree, but this never happened, so the family business couldn’t bounce back. Towards the final year of my Master’s studies, I had accumulated about three thousand dollars in debt. Until I had redeemed every penny, they would not allow me to graduate.

The stress of my debt was weighing me down physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I felt unable to ask anyone for help because I couldn’t stand the trauma of being rejected. I took to drinking alcohol and keeping late nights with friends to stave off the constant reminders of my penury which beset me when I was alone and unintoxicated. Some of my friends, who were surprised at the changes in my lifestyle, asked what was going on, but I felt too ashamed to tell them.

When the stress became unbearable, I finally confided in my thesis moderator—Professor Oladejo Faniran, who is also the head of my department, and a Catholic priest. After disclosing my troubles, I asked him to approve my deferment request, so I could forward it to the school registrar for approval. He objected, asking me not to give up. He encouraged me to trust in God, to pray my Rosary, to share the problems with others, and promised to talk to some people on my behalf. That night, instead of intoxicating myself with alcohol as usual, I went outside into the darkness of the night to pray the Holy Rosary. With tears in my eyes, I cried my heart out to God, calling for mercy and help.

The Ultimate Encounter

With just a few weeks to my graduation, I uncharacteristically found the courage to disclose my situation to anyone who cared to know, including friends, classmates and even my social media acquaintances. Even fellow students, who heard about it from others, came to my aid with financial contributions beyond my imagination. To me, the most miraculous aspect of all this was that nobody rejected me. People came to my rescue in ways I never expected. I was able to raise the whole sum, with money to spare.

Previously, I had always relied on my will power for excellence, but when the pressure became unbearable, I gave up and become depressed. But now that I am turning to prayer to help me cope with stress, especially the Rosary when I awake every morning, I am filled with a reassuring confidence that propels me to give of my best and hope for the best.

Even when things don’t turn out the way I had expected and desired, my spirit will still be lifted and at peace. I do not feel complete if any day goes by without saying the Rosary, because I cannot afford to miss out on the promises of Jesus Christ, as revealed through His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. My daily encounter with Him in Her Rosary continues to contribute significantly to building my self-confidence, nurturing my daily interactions and setting me on a path of responsible living.

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By: Innocent Umezuruike Iroaganachi

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Feb 26, 2021
Encounter Feb 26, 2021

Read the extraordinary story of Cintia who was miraculously saved from the clutches of suicide.

Joyful Lips

I grew up in a middle class family in Brazil. My father was a paediatric surgeon who taught the students before he moved into Health Management and my mother is a nurse, so there was plenty of money for every material thing—good schools, a beautiful house, delicious food. My father had two families to support, since it was his second marriage, so he worked a lot and so did my mother. Sometimes I didn’t see her at home for two or three days because of the shifts she was working. We had someone working in our house to help care for us and do the housework, but I really missed my parents.

When I was sixteen-years my father betrayed my mother with another woman and they separated. I felt even more abandoned and frustration boiled up inside me as I felt so helpless. Even though we still had every material thing, we were not happy.

Although my brothers and I had been baptized, we had not been catechized. Occasionally, we would attend Sunday Mass but because we didn’t really understand what was going on, we found it boring. We believed in God, but we didn’t have any relationship with Him. Regular prayer and an understanding of our Catholic faith were missing.

My friend and I were lamenting our lack of good friends and the need to build something better in our lives when my brother’s friend said, “Oh I know where you can meet lots of young people who could be good friends because they follow God. They’re from the Catholic Church. Maybe you could go to Mass or a retreat there.”

My friend and I liked the idea, so we went. It was very different to what I’d experienced before—a lot of young people joyfully sang beautiful music and praised the Lord. Then, I heard a guy praying and saying many things that really applied to my life. All the things I had held inside—the emptiness, the sadness and the thirst for God that I hadn’t understood. I hadn’t realized that it was God that I was looking for.

When I attended a four day retreat in this community, it was the first time that I really experienced God. I spent four days crying a lot as I heard so many basic elements of the faith explained for the first time. For the first time I felt the presence of God, so I started to read the Bible a lot and pray every day in my room alone.

A Difficult Terrain

My parents had always emphasized the importance of gaining a good profession so I could get a good job, have money to buy my own things and be independent. I took all this very seriously, but I also felt so emotionally empty, always looking for something. I didn’t know that God could help us in this way.

Because I felt so frustrated with my family situation, when a guy from school asked me to date, I jumped at the chance to get out of the house. Because no-one had taught me God’s way and I did not have anyone to guide me. I soon found myself enmeshed in a really difficult relationship.

We started to do many things that were not good. He started to control everything in my life. Initially he went to church with me but he used that to manipulate my mind. He would use words he heard in church or the Bible so I would be submissive to him and do everything that he wanted. My formation was so lacking that I didn’t understand how wrong he was and he started to draw me away from the Church.

Because I trusted him, I lost everything. He cut me off from my family and friends and even disrupted my university studies. After four years in this relationship, I was in a really bad way, feeling crushed by all the pressure. Finally, I started to pray again when I was alone. I said to Jesus, “Three years ago I felt real love from you, but I’m so sad now. What has happened?” I begged God to help me with the many things that were troubling me. I surrendered everything to Jesus again and promised Him that I would live His way not my way. I wanted to be free and trusted that if God died for me, He would save me.

I didn’t have the strength to break off the relationship, but my boyfriend got a job in another city twelve hours away. Finally, I was able to break off the relationship because he was too far away to come after me. It was like a miracle because I hadn’t been able to do that for so long.

Lean Over the Edge

However, I still held a lot of pain inside from all I had been through. One day, it all felt too much. I couldn’t support any more of this anguish. Suicidal thoughts tortured me and one day I gave in. I went to the window and prepared to jump out to commit suicide. I wanted to take my life away, but fortunately, I didn’t have the courage to simply jump. I leaned out further and further letting my weight take me over the edge. Suddenly, I felt a big hand in my chest pushing me back. I fell back on the floor and started to cry because I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way.

God had given me a second chance. He saved me and I didn’t understand why. I cried out, “What do you want from me?” Then I felt Him saying, “Turn on the TV.” When I turned on the TV, I saw a priest talking about why we shouldn’t give up on life. Tears welled in my eyes as his words penetrated deeply into my heart. I listened intently for an hour as he ardently preached about the gift of our lives. Over and over again he emphasized,

“Your life is important.” I finally understood why Jesus saved me and I needed His help because I couldn’t do anything alone.

My mother noticed my tears and asked me if I needed help. I finally admitted that I did. When I started therapy, I was able to return to my studies. At the same time I understood that I needed to come back to church. I desperately needed Jesus. Because He saved my life and gave me a second chance, I promised that I would trust in Him and learn to do whatever He wants.

In 2009, I spent a year in the Palavra Viva community in their evangelization school. Within a few months, God revealed my vocation. He spoke really deep in my heart and asked me to be a consecrated woman. I felt confused since I had always hoped to marry because I love children. I started to discern if this call to consecrated life was real. Finally I had people that could help talk to me and guide my vocational discernment. When I understood that my calling did lie in consecrated life, I said “Okay, I will do it”, even though I didn’t fully understand. In 2011, I professed my first commitments of poverty, chastity and obedience. In 2017, I made my definitive commitments and came to Tasmania where I live out my vocation today. I am just a limited human being with many, many sins, but if I trust in Him all will be well.

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By: Cintia Ramos Sozinho Amorim

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