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May 31, 2024
Encounter May 31, 2024

‘Set a timer for five minutes and thank God for this person.’ I bet you are wondering what on earth I’m talking about. 

Sometimes, we forget to talk to God about unsettled situations regarding the people God places in our lives. Many times, I forget this. One day, by God’s grace, I chose to do something about the lack of peace in my heart. 

Several years ago, I was having a difficult time with someone in my life. I’ll skip the details. My problem was that it really bothered me. Have you ever been in a situation like this? I made a decision to talk to a priest about it and went to Confession. After he heard my confession, the priest gave me absolution and my penance. 

Guess what my penance was? If you said ‘set a timer,’ you are absolutely right! He said: “I want you to spend five minutes thanking God for this person.”

Five Minutes

Five Minutes? Yikes! Determined, I said to myself, I can do this. I left the Church and went to my car. I set my watch for five minutes, and immediately, I was stuck. Wow, this is really difficult! Slowly, I found little ways to thank God for this person. I checked my watch…ugh, only one minute passed. I continued to pray with all my heart. I want to do this! Again, I began thanking God. As the minutes slowly passed by, it became easier and easier. My five minutes still wasn’t up. Continuing with a renewed sense of determination, I found myself thanking God even for the small difficulties. Inside, my heart was leaping! Praying for this person was really working to change my heart. Why was I so consumed by these difficulties? This is really a good person.

Remembering

I often remember that day. When I face difficulties with someone, I attempt to apply what I learned from that particular penance. Do you remember the promise made when we recite the Act of Contrition? Those final words before we are absolved from our sins? “… I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, do penance, and amend my life. Amen.” 

Now, when I find myself ruminating over some difficulty I’m experiencing with someone, I stop, set a timer, and spend five minutes thanking God for them. It always astounds me how God can turn my heart around in such a short time. Jesus looked at them and said: “For human beings, this is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Thank you, Jesus, for the priest who sometimes gives us a difficult but much-needed penance.
Thank you, Jesus, for your healing touch.
Thank you, Jesus, for each person You put on our paths.
Thank you, Jesus, for loving us so much! 

Five minutes was and is so little time to have received such a great reward: peace of heart.

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you!’” (John 20:21)

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By: Carol Osburn

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May 31, 2024
Encounter May 31, 2024

I was three when my life turned upside down. Nothing was ever the same again, until I met Him!

At three years of age, I had a heavy fever followed by a sudden seizure, after which I started showing signs of facial palsy. By the time I was five, my face became visibly asymmetric. Life ceased to be smooth. 

As my parents kept reaching out to new hospitals, the pain and mental damage I went through became too much to bear—the repeated questions, the weird looks, the effects and aftereffects of new medications every once in a while…

Crawling into a Cocoon

I was comfortable alone because, ironically, groups made me feel lonely. I was so scared that the kids next door might cry out loud if I smiled at them. I remember the sweets my dad brought home every night to help me drink the unpleasant medicine, which was overloaded with bitterness. The weekly walks with my mother along the hospital corridors for the physiotherapy sessions were never a weekend trip—every time the vibrations from the stimulator hit my face, tears would start to roll down.

There were some beautiful souls who soothed my fears and pain, like my parents, who never gave up on me. They took me to every hospital they possibly could, and we tried a variety of treatments. Later, I would also see them devastated when neurosurgery was suggested.

For the first time in my life, I felt that I was being lived out somewhere else. I had to do something. So, in the first semester of college, unable to bear it any longer, I decided to discontinue the medicines. 

Discovering Beauty

After I stopped the meds, I had an adrenaline rush to create something on my own. I welcomed a new life, but I was totally clueless about how I should live it. I started writing more, dreaming more, painting more, and searching for colors in all the grey areas of life. Those were the days I started actively participating in the Jesus Youth Movement (an international Catholic movement approved by the Holy See); I started to slowly learn how to open myself to God’s love and feel loved again…

The realization of the importance of the Catholic lifestyle helped me understand my purpose. I started to believe again that I am so much more than everything that has happened to me. Now, when I look back at those moments marked by the closed doors, I can clearly see that within each rejection, the ever-compassionate presence of Jesus accompanied me, enveloping me with His boundless love and understanding. I recognize who I’ve become and the wounds I’ve healed from. 

Reason to Hold on

Our Lord says: “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 43:4-5)

Finding Him in my insecurities was never an easy task. While having plenty of reasons to move farther, it was all about finding that one reason to stay. And it gave me strength and confidence to live through my vulnerabilities. The journey of finding my worth, dignity, and joy in Christ was simply wonderful. We often complain about not finding grace even after the struggles we go through. I think it’s all about seeing through the struggles. Expressing honesty in the slightest adjustment in life without any sort of wrath brings light to your life. 

It was quite a journey. And while He is still writing my story, I’m learning each day to embrace more, reach out without inhibitions, and make room for little joys in life. My prayers no longer hold the constant need for things I desire. Instead, I’m asking Him to strengthen me to say ‘Amen’ to the changes that keep happening along the way. 

I’m praying that He heals and transforms me from all the negative influences within and around me. 

I’m asking Him to revive the parts of me that were lost.

I’m thanking Him for everything I’ve been through, all the blessings I receive every minute of the day, and for the person I’ve become. 

And I’m trying my best to love Him with all my heart and soul. 

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By: Emilin Mathew

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Apr 29, 2024
Encounter Apr 29, 2024

Martin de Porres was born in 16th-century Peru; he grew up facing the stigmas of both his mixed race and illegitimacy. After a barber-medical apprenticeship in his young years, he joined the Dominicans as a ‘lay helper’ and continued his barber work in the monastery.

One day, Brother Francis Velasco Carabantes approached Martin, desiring to talk to this man whom people were already starting to believe was saintly. Martin was busy with his barber work; he absent-mindedly grabbed this novice and placed him in the barber’s chair. Brother Francis had no inclination to have his head shaved; he disliked the hairstyle that the Dominicans used.

Before he could resist, Martin had finished his job, and Brother Francis was angry beyond expression. He started to shout, calling Martin all sorts of curse words. Martin was lost in prayer, and by the time he noticed that this novice was shouting, one of the rectors had seen the commotion and was scolding Brother Francis, who was severely punished and sent away.

Martin, once he came to realize what had happened, went to the rector with all possible excuses. He begged forgiveness for this person who had verbally abused him, trying even to explain away the curse words used. Finally, he told the rector: “Everyone knows what a sinner I am.” The rector, who was aware of Martin’s saintly life, gave in to his request and forgave Brother Francis. Not satisfied with this, Brother Martin even sent fresh fruit, which was a rare delicacy in the monastery, to Brother Francis.

How many times have we rejoiced in the ‘just’ punishments that our transgressors received? Let us pray to Saint Martin for the virtue of humility, to forgive and show the other cheek, as Jesus taught us to do.

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By: Shalom Tidings

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Apr 09, 2024
Encounter Apr 09, 2024

A familiar picture, a routine job, but that day, something different caught her eye.

On the corner of my bathroom vanity is an old photocopy of a drawing (original source long forgotten) in a clear, plastic frame. Years ago, one of my now adult sons had carefully framed it and set it on his dresser. It sat there until he grew up. When I re-homed, I transferred it to the corner of my bathroom vanity. On Saturdays, when I clean the bathrooms, I always lift the little frame and wipe the surfaces beneath it. Occasionally, I’ll swipe my cloth over the smooth sides of the frame to wash away any settled dust and invisible germs. But, like so many other familiar things, I rarely take notice of the image inside the old childish frame.

One particular day, though, this picture caught me by surprise. I eagerly focused on the eyes of the two figures in the image—a child and Jesus. The expression on the little child’s face was one of loving adoration. The innocence of child-like wonder and unrestrained admiration resonated in his soft, penciled eyes. The child’s tender, upward gaze seemed not to notice the horror of the crown of thorns atop Christ’s head or the Cross crushing His right shoulder. In contrast, Jesus’s eyes peered down from beneath heavy lids and shadowed creases. The artist had managed to skilfully veil the depth of pain behind those eyes.

Drawing Parallels

I recalled a memory from my early years as a mother. I was big with baby number three. In the last days of pregnancy, I was attempting to soothe my aching body with a warm bath. I bounded my two young sons. They were full of energy and chatter as they moved around the tub and peppered me with questions. My privacy and physical discomfort were of no consequence to their boyish minds.

I remembered the tears that rolled down my face as I tried, in vain, to get my sons to understand that I was hurting and in need of some space. But, they were simply little children who saw me as their ever-present mama, the one who kissed away boo-boos and always stood at the ready to hear their stories and meet their needs. They lacked understanding of the physical sacrifices that child-bearing demands. And I was too familiar to be seen by them as someone other than their strong, steadfast mother.

I considered the parallels. Like my little boys, the pictured child saw Our Lord through his individual, human lens of experiences. He saw a loving Teacher, a faithful Friend, and a steadfast Guide. Christ obscured the intensity of His Passion—out of mercy and met the child’s gaze with tenderness and compassion. The Lord knew that the child was not ready to see the full measure of the suffering that his salvation had cost.

Lost in the Darkness

Our familiarity with things, people, and situations can make us blind to reality. We most often see through the clouded tunnel of old experiences and expectations. With so many stimuli competing for our attention, it is reasonable that we filter out the world around us. But, like the child in the picture and my own little ones, we tend to see what we want to see and ignore that which does not correspond with our perspectives.

I believe that Jesus wants to heal our blindness. Like the blind man in the Bible who, on being touched by Jesus, said: “I see men, but they look like trees, walking” (Mark 8:22-26), most of us are not ready to see the ordinary with divine eyes immediately. Our eyes are still too accustomed to the darkness of sin, too attached to our self-reliance, too complacent in our worship, and too proud of our human endeavors.

The Full Picture

The price paid for our salvation on Calvary was not an easy price. It was sacrificial. Yet, like the child in the picture on my bathroom vanity, we focus only on Jesus’s tenderness and mercy. And because He is merciful, Jesus doesn’t rush; He allows us to come to a gradual maturity of faith.

However, it is good to ask ourselves every once in a while if we sincerely render efforts towards spiritual maturity. Christ did not give His life so that we might remain in the fantasy world of continued blessings. He gave His life so that we might have eternal life, and we need to open our eyes to see that He bought it at the price of His blood.

As we journey through Lent and especially Holy Week, we need to allow Christ to open our eyes little by little, surrender ourselves to His will, allow Him to remove our idols one by one, and strip away that which has become familiar in our lives so that we may begin to see the old blessings of worship, family, and holiness with new eyes of deep, abiding faith.

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By: Tara K. E. Brelinsky

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Mar 29, 2024
Encounter Mar 29, 2024

I remember a time in my ministry when I had felt a fellow minister distancing himself from me for no apparent reason. It seemed like he was struggling, but he wouldn’t share it with me. One Lenten day, burdened by this thought, I stood in my office and cried out to the Lord in my heart: “Jesus, I feel so left out of this person’s life.”

Immediately, I heard Jesus respond with these sad words: “I know how you feel. It happens to Me every day.”

Wow! I felt my own heart pierced, and tears flooded my eyes. I knew these words were a treasure.

I continued for months to unpack that grace. Since my Baptism in the Holy Spirit twenty years ago, I had considered myself to have a deep personal relationship with Jesus. But this Word from my precious Savior and Lord opened a whole new insight into Jesus’ Heart. “Yes, Jesus, so many people forget You, don’t they? And me too—how often am I going about my tasks, forgetting to bring my problems and thoughts to You? All the while, You wait for me to turn back to You, who looks on me with such love.”

In my prayer, I kept processing those words. “I know better now how You feel when someone rejects You, accuses or blames You, or does not talk to You for days or even years.” I would more consciously take my own sorrows to Jesus and tell Him: “Jesus, my Beloved, You feel this same sadness that I am feeling. I offer my little hurt to console You for so many people, including myself, who fail to console You.”

I saw in a new way my favorite image, Jesus with His Sacred Heart’s rays of love flowing out, lamenting to Saint Margaret Mary: “Look at My Heart that loves people so much—but receives so little love in return.”

Truly, Jesus gives me little trials daily so I can have a tiny taste of what He endured for us. I will always remember that moment of agony that brought me closer to the amazing, tender, long-suffering love of our dear Lord Jesus.

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By: Sister Jane M. Abeln SMIC

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Mar 21, 2024
Encounter Mar 21, 2024

Would my life ever return to normal? How can I possibly continue my work? Brooding over these, a terrible solution popped into my head…

I was finding life extremely stressful. In my fifth year at college, the onset of bipolar disorder was hindering my efforts to complete my teaching degree. I had no diagnosis yet, but I was plagued with insomnia, and I looked frazzled and unkempt, which impeded my prospects of employment as a teacher. Since I had strong natural tendencies toward perfectionism, I felt so ashamed and feared that I was letting everyone down. I spiraled into anger, despondency, and depression. People were concerned about my decline and tried to help. I was even sent to the hospital by ambulance from the school, but doctors could find nothing wrong except elevated blood pressure. I prayed but found no consolation. Even Easter Mass—my favorite time—didn’t break the vicious cycle. Why wouldn’t Jesus help me? I felt so angry with Him. Finally, I just stopped praying.

As this continued, day after day, month after month, I didn’t know what to do. Would my life ever return to normal? It seemed unlikely. As graduation approached, my fear increased. Teaching is a tough job with few breaks, and the students would need me to remain level-headed while dealing with their many needs and providing a good learning environment. How could I possibly do this in my current state? A terrible solution popped into my head: “You should just kill yourself.” Instead of casting off that thought and sending it straight back to hell where it belonged, I let it sit. It seemed like a simple, logical answer to my dilemma. I just wanted to be numb instead of under constant attack.

To my utter regret, I chose despair. But, in what I expected to be my last moments, I thought of my family and the type of person I had once been. In genuine remorse, I raised my head to the heavens and said: “I’m so sorry, Jesus. Sorry for everything. Just give me what I deserve.” I thought those would be the last words I would utter in this life. But God had other plans.

Listening to the Divine

My mother was, by providence, praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at that very moment. Suddenly, she heard the words loud and clear in her heart “Go find Ellen.” She obediently set aside her rosary beads and found me on the floor of the garage. She caught on quickly, exclaiming in horror: “What are you doing?!” while she pulled me into the house.

My parents were heartbroken. There’s no rulebook for times such as these, but they decided to take me to Mass. I was totally broken, and I needed a Savior more than ever before. I longed for a come-to-Jesus moment, but I was convinced that I was the last person in the world He would ever want to see. I wanted to believe that Jesus is my Shepherd and would come after His lost sheep, but it was hard because nothing had changed. I was still consumed by intense self-hatred, oppressed by darkness. It was almost physically painful.

During the preparation of the gifts, I broke down in tears. I had not cried for a really long time, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. I was at the end of my own strength, with no idea where to go next. But as I wept, the weight slowly lifted, and I felt myself enfolded in His Divine Mercy. I didn’t deserve it, but He gave me the gift of Himself, and I knew that He loved me the same at my lowest point as much as He loved me at my highest point.

In Pursuit of Love

In the days to come, I could barely face God, but He kept showing up and pursuing me in the little things. I re-established communication with Jesus with the aid of a Divine Mercy picture in our living room. I tried to talk, mostly complaining about the struggle and then feeling bad about it in light of the recent rescue.

Weirdly, I thought I could hear a tender voice whispering: “Did you really think I would leave you to die? I love you. I will never forsake you. I promise to never leave you. All is forgiven. Trust in my mercy.” I wanted to believe this, but I couldn’t trust that it was true. I was growing discouraged at the walls I was erecting, but I kept chatting with Jesus: “How do I learn to trust You?”

The answer surprised me. Where do you go when you feel no hope but have to go on living? When you feel totally unlovable, too proud to accept anything yet desperately wanting to be humble? In other words, where do you want to go when you want a full reconciliation with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but are too scared and disbelieving of a loving reception to find your way home? The answer is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and Queen of Heaven.

While I was learning to trust, my awkward attempts did not displease Jesus. He was calling me closer, closer to His Sacred Heart, through His Blessed Mother. I fell in love with Him and His faithfulness.

I could admit everything to Mary. Although I feared that I could not keep my promise to my earthly mother because, on my own, I was still barely mustering the will to live, my mother inspired me to consecrate my life to Mary, trusting that she would help me get through this. I didn’t know much about what that meant, but 33 Days to Morning Glory and Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Father Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, helped me understand. The Blessed Mother is always willing to be our intercessor, and she will never turn down a request from a child wanting to return to Jesus. As I went through the consecration, I resolved never to attempt suicide again with the words: “No matter what happens, I will not quit.”

Meanwhile, I started taking long walks on the beach while I talked with God the Father and meditated on the parable of the prodigal son. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the prodigal son, but it took me some time to get close to God the Father. First, I imagined Him at a distance, then walking toward me. Another day, I pictured Him running towards me even though it made Him look ridiculous to His friends and neighbors.

Finally, the day came when I could picture myself in the arms of the Father, then being welcomed not just to His home but to my seat at the family table. As I envisaged Him pulling out a chair for me, I was no longer a headstrong young woman but a 10-year-old girl with ridiculous glasses and a bob haircut. When I accepted the Father’s love for me, I became like a little child again, living in the present moment and trusting Him completely. I fell in love with God and His faithfulness. My Good Shepherd has saved me from the prison of fear and anger, continuing to lead me along the safe path and carrying me when I falter.

Now, I want to share my story so that everyone can know God’s goodness and love. His Sacred Heart is welling up with tender love and mercy just for you. He wants to love you lavishly, and I encourage you to welcome Him without fear. He will never abandon you or let you down. Step into His light and come home.

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By: Ellen Wilson

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Mar 12, 2024
Encounter Mar 12, 2024

Through the darkest valleys and toughest nights, Belinda heard a voice that kept calling her back.

My mother walked out on us when I was around eleven. At the time, I thought that she left because she didn’t want me. But in fact, after years of silently suffering through marital abuse, she couldn’t hold on anymore. As much as she wanted to save us, my father had threatened to kill her if she took us with her. It was too much to take in at such a young age, and as I was striving hard to navigate through this difficult time, my father started a cycle of abuse that would haunt me for years to come.

Valleys and Hills

To numb the pain of my father’s abuse and compensate for the loneliness of my mother’s abandonment, I started resorting to all kinds of ‘relief’ mechanisms. And at a point when I couldn’t stand the abuse anymore, I ran away with Charles, my boyfriend from school. I reconnected with my mother during this time and lived with her and her new husband for a while.

At 17, I married Charles. His family had a history of incarceration, and he followed suit soon enough. I kept hanging out with the same bunch of people, and eventually, I, too, fell into crime. At 19, I got sentenced to prison for the first time—five years for aggravated assault.

In prison, I felt more alone than I had ever been in my life. Everyone who was supposed to love and nurture me had abandoned me, used me, and abused me. I remember giving up, even trying to end my life. For a long time, I kept on spiraling downwards until I met Sharon and Joyce. They had given their lives to the Lord. Though I had no clue about Jesus, I thought I’d give it a try as I didn’t have anything else. There, trapped inside those walls, I started a new life with Christ.

Falling, Rising, Learning…

About a year and a half into my sentence, I came up for parole. Somehow in my heart, I just knew I was going to make parole because I’d been living for Jesus. I felt like I was doing all the right things, so when the denial came back with a year set off, I just didn’t understand. I started questioning God and was quite angry.

It was at this time that I was transferred to another correctional facility. At the end of the church services, when the chaplain reached out for a handshake, I flinched and withdrew. He was a Spirit-filled man, and the Holy Spirit had shown him that I had been hurt. The next morning, he asked to see me. There in his office, as he asked about what had happened to me and how I was hurting, I opened up and shared for the first time in my life.

Finally, out of prison and in private rehab, I started a job and was slowly getting a hold on my new life when I met Steven. I started going out with him, and we got pregnant. I remember being excited about it. As he wanted to make it right, we got married and started a family. That marked the beginning of probably the worst 17 years of my life, marked by his physical abuse and infidelity and the continuing influence of drugs and crime.

He would even go on to hurt our kids, and this once sent me into a rage—I wanted to shoot him. At that moment, I heard these verses: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Romans 12:19) and “The Lord will fight for you” (Exodus 14:14), and that prompted me to let him go.

Never a Criminal

I was never able to be a criminal for long; God would just arrest me and try to get me back on track. In spite of His repeated efforts, I wasn’t living for Him. I always kept God back, although I knew He was there. After a series of arrests and releases, I finally came home for good in 1996. I got back in touch with the Church and finally started building a true and sincere relationship with Jesus. The Church slowly became my life; I never really had that kind of a relationship with Jesus before.

I just couldn’t get enough of it because I started to see that it’s not the things that I’ve done but who I am in Christ that’s going to keep me on this road. But, the real conversion happened with Bridges to Life*.

How can I Not?

Even though I hadn’t been a participant in the program as an offender, being able to facilitate in those small groups was a blessing I hadn’t anticipated—one that would change my life in beautiful ways. When I heard other women and men share their stories, something clicked inside of me. It affirmed me that I was not the only one and encouraged me to show up time and again. I would be so tired and worn out from work, but I would walk into the prisons and just be rejuvenated because I knew that that was where I was supposed to be.

Bridges to Life is about learning to forgive yourself; not only did helping others help me become whole, it also helped me heal…and I am still healing.

First, it was my mother. She had cancer, and I brought her home; I looked after her for as long as she stayed until she passed away peacefully at my home. In 2005, my father’s cancer came back, and the doctors estimated he had at most six months. I brought him home too. Everybody told me not to take in this man after what he did to me. I asked: “how can I not?” Jesus forgave me, and I feel that God would want me to do this.

Had I chosen to hold on to the bitterness or hatred toward my parents for the abandonment and the abuse, I don’t know if they would have given their lives to the Lord. Just looking back over my life, I see how Jesus kept pursuing me and trying to help me. I was so resistant to feeling what was new, and it was so easy to stay in what was comfortable, but I am grateful to Jesus that I was able to finally completely surrender to Him. He is my Savior, He is my rock, and He is my friend. I just cannot imagine a life without Jesus.

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By: Belinda Honey

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Mar 12, 2024
Encounter Mar 12, 2024

Are you quick to judge others? Are you hesitant to help someone in need? Then, it’s time to reflect!

It was just another day for me. Returning from the market, weary from the day’s labor, collecting Roofus from the Synagogue school…

However, something felt different that day. The wind was whispering in my ear, and even the sky was more expressive than usual. Commotion from a crowd in the streets confirmed for me that today, something was going to change.

Then, I saw Him—His body so disfigured that I turned Roofus away from this fearful sight. The poor boy gripped my arm with all his might—he was terrified.

The way this man, well, what was left of Him, was being handled must mean he had done something terrible.

I could not bear to stand and watch, but as I began to leave, I was seized by a Roman soldier. To my horror, they commanded me to help this man to bear His heavy load. I knew this meant trouble. Despite resisting, they asked me to help Him.

What a mess! I did not want to associate with a sinner. How humiliating! To carry a cross whilst all of them watched?

I knew there was no escape, though, so I asked my neighbor Vanessa to take Roofus home because this trial would take a while.

I walked over to Him—filthy, bloody, and disfigured.  I wondered what he had done to deserve this. Whatever be it, this punishment was way too cruel.

The bystanders were yelling out ‘blasphemer,’ ‘liar,’ and ‘King of the Jews,’ whilst others were spitting at him and abusing him.

I had never been so humiliated and mentally tortured like this before. After taking only about ten to fifteen steps with him, he fell to the ground, face first. For this trial to end, he needed to get up, so I bent over to help him up.

Then, in his eyes, I saw something that changed me. I saw compassion and love? How could this be?

No fear, no anger, no hatred—just love and sympathy. I was taken aback, whilst with those eyes, He looked at me and held my hand to get back up. I could no longer hear or see the people around me. As I held the Cross on my one shoulder and Him on my other, I could only keep looking at Him. I saw the blood, the wounds, the spit, the dirt, everything that could no longer hide the divinity of His face. Now I heard only the beating of His heart and His labored breathing…He was struggling, yet so very, very strong.
Amid all the noise of the people screaming, abusing, and scurrying about, I felt as though He was speaking to me. Everything else I had done till that point, good or bad, seemed pointless.

When the Roman soldiers pulled Him from me to drag Him to the place of crucifixion, they shoved me aside, and I fell to the ground. He had to continue on His own. I lay there on the ground as people trampled over me. I did not know what to do next. All I knew was that Iife was never going to be the same again.

I could no longer hear the crowd but only the silence and the sound of my heart beating. I was reminded of the sound of His tender heart.

A few hours later, as I was about to get up to leave, the expressive sky from earlier began to speak. The ground beneath me shook! I looked ahead at the top of Calvary and saw Him, arms stretched and head bowed, for me.
I know now that the blood splattered on my garment that day belonged to the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. He cleansed me with His blood.

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This is how I imagine Simon of Cyrene recalling his experience of the day he was asked to help Jesus carry the Cross to Calvary. He had probably heard very little of Jesus till that day, but I am very sure that he was not the same person after he helped the Savior carry that Cross.

This Lenten season, Simon asks us to look into ourselves:

Have we been too quick to judge people?

Sometimes, we are too quick to believe what our instincts tell us about somebody. Just like Simon, we may let our judgments come in the way of helping others. Simon saw Jesus being scourged and assumed that He ought to have done something wrong. There might have been times when we let our presumptions about a person come in the way of loving them as Christ called us to.

Are we hesitant to help some people?

Shouldn’t we see Jesus in others and reach out to help them?

Jesus asks us to love not only our friends but also strangers and enemies. Mother Teresa, being the perfect example of loving strangers, showed us how to see the face of Jesus in everyone. Who better to point at for an example of loving enemies than Jesus Christ Himself? He loved those who hated Him and prayed for those who persecuted Him. Like Simon, we may feel hesitant about reaching out to strangers or enemies, but Christ calls us to love our brothers and sisters just as He did. He died for their sins as much as He died for yours.

Lord Jesus, thank You for giving us the example of Simon of Cyrene, who became a great witness for following Your Way. Heavenly Father, grant us the grace to become Your witnesses by reaching out to those in need.

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By: Mishael Devassy

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Mar 01, 2024
Encounter Mar 01, 2024

Judging others is easy, but often enough, we go totally wrong in our judgment about others.

I remember an old fellow who used to come to Saturday night Mass. He was much in need of a bath and clean clothes. Quite frankly, he stunk. You can’t blame those who didn’t want to be subject to this awful smell. He walked two or three miles every day around our little town, picking up trash, and lived in an old, run-down shack all by himself.

It is easy for us to judge appearances. Isn’t it? I suppose it is a natural part of being human. I don’t know how many times my judgments about a person were totally wrong. In fact, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to look beyond appearances without God’s help.

This man, for instance, despite his odd personality, was very faithful about participating in Mass every week. One day, I decided I would sit next to him at Mass regularly. Yes, he stunk, but he was also in need of love from others. By God’s grace, the stink didn’t bother me much. During the sign of peace, I would look him in the eye, smile, and greet him with a sincere: “Peace of Christ be with you.”

Never Miss This

When I entertain judgments about a person, I miss the opportunity that God wants to give me—an opportunity to see beyond the physical appearance and look into the person’s heart. That is what Jesus did to each person He encountered on His journey, and He continues to look beyond our yuck and look at our hearts.

I remember a time, being many years away from my Catholic faith, I sat in the Church parking lot, trying to muster enough courage to walk through the doors to attend Mass. I was so afraid that others would judge me and not welcome me back. I asked Jesus to walk in with me. Upon entering the Church, I was greeted by the Deacon, who gave me a big smile and a hug, and said: “Welcome.” That smile and hug were what I needed to feel like I belonged and was home again.

Choosing to sit with the old man who stunk was my way of “paying it forward.” I knew how desperately I wanted to feel welcomed, to feel that I belonged and I mattered.

Let us not hesitate to welcome each other, especially those who are difficult to be around.

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By: Connie Beckman

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Feb 10, 2024
Encounter Feb 10, 2024

As a teenager, I did what every teen tries to do—I tried to fit in. I had this feeling, though, that I was unlike my peers. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was my faith that made me different. I resented my parents for giving me this thing that made me stand out. I became rebellious and started to go to parties, discos, and nightclubs.

I didn’t want to pray anymore. I just wanted the whole excitement of putting on makeup, dressing up, daydreaming about who’s going to be at the parties, dancing all night long, and most of all, just ‘fitting in there.’

But, coming home at night, sitting on my bed all by myself, I felt empty inside. I hated who I’d become; it was a total paradox where I didn’t like who I was, and yet I didn’t know how to change and become myself.

On one of those nights, crying by myself, I remembered the simple happiness that I had as a child when I knew that God and my family loved me. Back then, that was all that mattered. So, for the first time in a long time, I prayed. I cried to Him and asked Him to bring me back to that happiness.

I kind of gave Him an ultimatum that if He did not reveal Himself to me in that next year, I would never return to Him. It was a very dangerous prayer but, at the same time, a very powerful one. I said the prayer and then totally forgot about it.

A few months later, I was introduced to the Holy Family Mission, a residential community where you come to learn your faith and know God. There was daily prayer, Sacramental life, frequent Confession, daily Rosary, and observation of the Holy Hour. I remember thinking, “That is way too much prayer for a single day!” At that point, I could hardly even give five minutes of my day to God.

Somehow, I ended up applying for the Mission. Every single day, I would sit in prayer in front of the Eucharistic Lord and ask Him who I was and what the purpose of my life was. Slowly but surely, the Lord revealed Himself to me through the Scriptures and from spending time in silence with Him. I gradually received healing from my inner wounds and grew in prayer and relationship with the Lord.

From the rebellious teenage girl who felt totally lost, to the joyous daughter of God, I underwent quite the transformation. Yes, God wants us to know Him. He reveals Himself to us because He faithfully answers every single prayer that we raise to Him.

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By: Patricia Moitie

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Feb 08, 2024
Encounter Feb 08, 2024

Caught in a spiral of drugs and sex work, I was losing myself, until this happened.

It was night. I was in the brothel, dressed ready for “work.” There was a gentle knock at the door, not the big bang by the police, but a truly gentle tap. The brothel lady—the Madame—opened the door, and my mother walked in.

I felt ashamed. I was dressed for this “work” that I had been doing for months now, and there in the room was my mom!

She just sat there and told me: “Sweetheart, please come home.”

She showed me love. She didn’t judge me. She just asked me to come back.

I was overwhelmed by grace at that moment. I should have gone home then, but the drugs would not let me. I sincerely felt ashamed.

She wrote her phone number down on a piece of paper, slid it across, and told me: “I love you. You can call me anytime, and I’ll come.”

The next morning, I told a friend of mine that I wanted to get off heroin. I was scared. At 24, I was tired of life, and it felt like I’d lived enough to be done with life. . My friend knew a doctor who treated drug addicts, and I got an appointment in three days. I called my mom, told her I was going to the doctor, and that I wanted to get off heroin.

She was crying on the phone. She jumped in the car and came straight to me. She’d been waiting…

How it all began

Our family shifted to Brisbane when my father got a job at Expo 88. I was 12. I was enrolled at an elite private girls’ school, but I just didn’t fit in. I dreamed of going to Hollywood and making movies, so I needed to attend a school that specializes in Film and TV.

I found a school renowned for Film and TV, and my parents easily gave in to my request to change schools. What I didn’t tell them was that the school was also in the newspapers because they were infamous for gangs and drugs. The school gave me so many creative friends, and I excelled in school. I topped a lot of my classes and won awards for Film, TV, and Drama. I had the grades to get to University.

Two weeks before the end of grade 12, someone offered me marijuana. I said yes. At the end of school, we all went away, and again I tried other drugs…

From the kid who was laser-focused on finishing school, I went on a downward spiral. I still got into University, but in the second year, I ended up in a relationship with a guy who was a heroin addict. I remember all of my friends at the time telling me: “You’re going to end up a junkie, a heroin addict.” I, on the other hand, thought I was going to be his savior.

But all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll ended up getting me pregnant. We went to the doctor, my partner still high on heroin. The doctor looked at us and immediately advised me to get a termination—she must have felt that with us, this child had no hope. Three days later, I had an abortion.

I felt guilty, ashamed, and alone. I would watch my partner take heroin, get numb, and be unaffected. I begged him for some heroin, but he was all: “I love you, I’m not giving you heroin.” One day, he needed money, and I managed to bargain some heroin in return. It was a tiny bit, and it made me sick, but it also made me feel nothing. I kept on using, the dose getting higher and higher each time.

I eventually dropped out of University and became a frequent user.

I had no idea how I was going to pay for almost a hundred dollars’ worth of heroin I was using on a daily basis. We started growing marijuana in the house; we would sell it and use the money to buy even more drugs. We sold everything we owned, got kicked out of my apartment, and then, slowly, I started stealing from my family and friends. I didn’t even feel ashamed. Soon, I started stealing from work. I thought they didn’t know, but I eventually got kicked out of there too.

Finally, the only thing that I had left was my body. That first night I had sex with strangers, I wanted to scrub myself clean. But I couldn’t! You can’t scrub yourself clean to the inside out…But that didn’t stop me from going back. From making $300 a night and spending all of it on heroin for my partner and me, I went to make a thousand dollars a night; every cent I made went into buying more drugs.

It was in the middle of this downward spiral that my mother walked in and saved me with her love and mercy. But that wasn’t enough.

A Hole in My Soul

The doctor asked me about my drug history. As I went over the long story, my mum kept on crying—she was shocked by the fullness of my story. The doctor told me that I needed rehab. I asked: “Don’t drug addicts go to rehab?” He was surprised: “You don’t think you are one?”

Then, he looked me in the eye and said: “I don’t think drugs are your problem. Your problem is, you have a hole in your soul that only Jesus can fill.”

I purposefully chose a rehab that I was sure to be non-Christian. I was sick, starting to slowly detox when, one day after dinner, they called us all out for a prayer meeting. I was angry, so I sat in the corner and tried to block them out—their music, their singing, and their Jesus everything. On Sunday, they took us to church. I stood outside and smoked cigarettes. I was angry, hurt, and lonely.

Begin Anew

On the sixth Sunday, August 15, it was pouring rain—a conspiracy from Heaven, in hindsight. I had no choice but to go inside the building. I stayed at the back, thinking that God couldn’t see me there. I had started to become aware that some of my life choices would be considered sins, so there I sat, at the back. At the end however, the priest said: “Is there anyone in here who would like to give their heart to Jesus today?”

I remember standing in front and listening to the priest say: “Do you want to give your heart to Jesus? He can give you forgiveness for your past, a brand new life today, and hope for your future.”

By that stage, I was clean, off heroin for almost six weeks. But what I didn’t realize was that there was much difference between being clean and being free. I repeated the Salvation prayer with the priest, a prayer I didn’t even understand, but there, I gave my heart to Jesus.

That day, I began a transformation journey. I got to begin anew, receive the fullness of the love, grace, and goodness of a God who had known me my whole life and saved me from myself.

The way forward was not one without mistakes. I got into a relationship in rehab, and I got pregnant again. But instead of thinking of it as a punishment for a bad choice that I had made, we decided to settle down. My partner said to me: “Let’s get married and do our best to do it His way now.” Grace was born a year later, through her, I have experienced so much grace.

I’ve always had the passion to tell stories; God gave me a story that has helped to transform lives. He has since used me in so many ways to share my story—in words, in writing, and in giving my all to work for and with the women who are stuck in a similar life that I used to lead.

Today, I am a woman changed by grace. I was met by the love of Heaven, and now I want to live life in a way that allows me to partner with the purposes of Heaven.

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By: Bronwen Healy

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