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Dr. Roy Schoeman, tells us how atheism dragged him into a pit of hopelessness and how he got out of it
I was born and raised Jewish. I went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I lost my belief in God, and essentially became an atheist. I went on to Harvard Business School, and after getting my degree was invited back to join the faculty. So at the age of 29, I found myself as a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School. Although it may sound surprising, that’s when the bottom fell out of my world. Ever since I was a small child, I knew life must have a real meaning, which I thought would come from entering into a personal relationship with God. I expected this would happen at my Bar Mitzvah (sort of like Catholic confirmation) at the age of 13. When it didn’t, it turned out to be one of the saddest days of my life. Then I thought real meaning would come from success in worldly life, but as a professor at Harvard, I was already more successful in a worldly career than I had ever hoped, yet still there was no meaning or purpose in my life. Therefore at that point, I fell into the darkest despair of my life.
Early one morning, I was walking in a Nature Preserve by the ocean, among the pine trees and sand dunes. I was just ambling along, lost in my thoughts. I had long since lost hope in believing that God existed. But all of a sudden, the curtain between Earth and Heaven disappeared, and I found myself in the presence of God, looking back over my life as if I had died. I saw that everything that had ever happened to me had been the most perfect thing that could have been arranged coming from the hands of an all-knowing, all-loving God, not only including those things that had caused the most suffering, but especially those things. I saw that I would have two great regrets after I died. Firstly, all the time and energy I had wasted worrying about not being loved when I had been held in an ocean of love, greater than anything I could imagine, at every moment of my existence, coming from this all-knowing, all-loving God. And secondly, every hour I had wasted doing nothing of value in the eyes of Heaven, since each moment contains the possibility of doing something valuable in God’s eyes. Every time we take advantage of that opportunity we will very truly be rewarded for it for all eternity, and every opportunity we let slip and don’t take advantage of, will be a lost opportunity for all eternity.
But the most overwhelming aspect of this experience was to come into the intimate, deep and certain knowledge that God Himself— the God who not only created everything that exists, but created existence itself—not only knew me by name and cared about me, He had been watching over me, every moment of my existence, arranging everything that ever happened to me in the most perfect way. He had actually known, and cared about how I felt every moment. In a very real way everything which made me happy made Him happy, and everything that made me sad made Him sad.
I realized that the meaning and purpose of my life was to worship and serve my Lord, God and Master who was revealing Himself to me, but I didn’t know His name or what religion this was. I couldn’t think of this as the God of the Old Testament, or this religion as Judaism. The picture of God that emerges from the Old Testament is of a God far more distant, severe and judgmental than this God was. I knew He was my Lord and God and my master, and I wanted nothing else but to worship and serve Him properly, but I didn’t know who He was or what religion to follow.
So I prayed, “Let me know your name so I know what religion to follow. I don’t mind if you are Buddha and I have to become a Buddhist; I don’t mind if you’re Krishna and I have to become a Hindu; I don’t mind if you’re Apollo and I have to become a Roman pagan. As long as you’re not Christ and I have to become Christian!” Well, He respected that prayer and did not reveal His name to me. But I returned home happier than I had ever been in my life. All I wanted was to know the name of my Lord, God and master who had revealed Himself to me, and what religion to follow. So every night before I went to sleep I would say a short prayer that I had made up to know the name of my Lord, my God and master who had revealed Himself to me in that experience.
Beauty beyond Words
A year to the day after that first experience, I went to sleep after having said that prayer, as well as a prayer of thanksgiving for what had happened exactly a year earlier. I thought I was awoken by a hand touching my shoulder gently, and was led to a room and left alone with the most beautiful young woman I could ever imagine. I knew without being told that it was the Blessed Virgin Mary. When I found myself in Her presence all I wanted to do was fall on my knees and somehow honor Her appropriately.
In fact the first thought that crossed my mind was: “Oh my Goodness I wish I at least knew the Hail Mary!’ but I didn’t. Her first words were an offer to answer any questions I might have for Her. Well, my first thought was to ask her to teach me the Hail Mary, so I could honor her appropriately, but I was too proud to admit that I didn’t know it. So as an indirect way of getting her to teach me the Hail Mary, I asked her what her favorite prayer to her was. Her first response was, “I love all prayers to me.” But I was a bit pushy, and said, “But you must love some prayers more than others.” She relented and recited a prayer in Portuguese. I didn’t know any Portuguese, so all I could do was try to remember the first few syllables phonetically and write them down as soon as I woke up the next morning. Later when I met a Portuguese Catholic woman, I asked her to recite the Marian prayers in Portuguese for me, and I identified the prayer as ‘O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee’.
As perfectly beautiful as Mary was to look at, even more profoundly affecting was the beauty of her voice. The only way I can describe it is to say it was composed out of that which makes Music, Music. When she spoke the beauty of her voice flowed through me, carrying her love with it, and lifted me up into a state of ecstasy greater than I ever imagined could exist.
Most of my questions simply flowed out of my being overwhelmed by who She was. At one point, I stammered out, “How can it be that you’re so glorious, that you’re so magnificent, that you’re so exalted?” Her response was just to look down at me almost with pity and shake her head gently and saying ‘Oh no, you don’t understand. I’m nothing. I’m a creature. I’m a created thing. He’s everything’.
Then again out of a desire to somehow honor her appropriately, I asked what title she liked best for herself. Her response was, “I am the beloved daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son and Spouse of the Spirit.” I asked her several other questions of somewhat less significance, after which she spoke to me for another 10 or 15 minutes. After that, the audience was ended and I went back to sleep. The next morning when I woke up I was hopelessly in love with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I knew I wanted nothing other than to be as fully and completely Christian as possible. From that experience I realized, of course, that the God who revealed Himself to me a year earlier had been Christ.
In Search of
There was a shrine to Our Lady of La Salette about 45 minutes from where I lived. I began to go there three or four times a week, just to walk in the grounds, to feel the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to commune with her. The shrine was owned by the Catholic Church and so, sometimes, there would be a Holy Mass taking place. Whenever I was in the presence of a Mass, I was filled with a tremendous desire to receive the Eucharist, even though I did not know what it was. Those two things led me without too much of a detour into the Catholic Church—knowing who the Blessed Virgin Mary is, and wanting to receive Communion, daily if possible.
On entering the Catholic Church, I not only did not stop being Jewish but, as I see it, became more Jewish than ever, since in doing so I became a Jewish follower of the Jewish Messiah, rather than a Jew who had not recognized the Jewish Messiah and remained in “pre- Messianic” Judaism. As I see it, the Catholic Church is post-Messianic Judaism and Judaism is pre-Messianic Catholicism: two phases in one and the same plan for salvation for all mankind.
I am infinitely grateful that I received these experiences. I was brought into the fullness of the truth, into a personal relationship with God beyond anything I ever imagined could exist, into knowing the answers to all the questions about Man, about God, about the meaning of life, about what happens after you die, and so forth that tormented me growing up. Most importantly, I gained a well-founded hope of an eternity of unimaginable bliss and love in the presence of God.
ARTICLE is based on the inspiring testimony shared by Dr. Roy Schoeman for the Shalom World program “Mary My Mother”. To watch the episode visit: shalomworld.org/episode/mary-my-mother'
“Who is there?” I asked.
“I Am Love,” came the reply.
“Come in. Do come in,” I begged in earnest. For it had been a long time since anyone had come to call and I was intrigued that someone so esteemed should come to me.
Rattle, rattle went the doorknob as it twisted back and forth.
“You have locked your door,” came the Voice from outside.
“I shall unlock it at once,” I replied.
But I could not. I discovered that the pathway to my entrance was barricaded. In fact, my room was so filled up with things that I could not even begin to clear a passage to reach the threshold.
“Please, come back tomorrow,” I instructed. “Tomorrow I’ll have an unlocked door.”
So, Love retreated.
And I set about the task of clearing a path for His return. Engaging all of my strength, I shoved this and that aside. The enterprise was taxing, but my resolve was strengthened by the prospect that Love would come again. Then having succeeded in pushing my most cumbersome belongings to the sidelines, I turned my attention to the nests of long-forgotten treasures that were now laid bare. I cast out the obvious rubbish and stacked the seemingly useful things. I made a channel through which to pass and, reaching the doorway, I unlatched the chains.
“Who is there?” I asked in excitement as bright rays of sunlight poured through the cracks in my door.
“I Am Love,” He responded.
“Come in. Do come in,” I instructed, while unchaining the latch and pulling open the heavy door. “Sit down. Do sit down,” I petitioned, pointing to the two seats, side-by-side.
Love entered in and reclined.
I sat beside Him for a minute, but then I leapt up and set about the job of entertaining.
“Look here,” I said, motioning to the pretty adornments on my walls. “See these,” I instructed, arraying all my earthly treasures before Him. I babbled on and on for a long while. I told Love all about my accomplishments. I shared with Him my dreams. I revealed to Him my blueprints. He sat for hours in silent stillness while I flitted about the room. Before I knew it, the day had slipped by and Love stood to go.
“Do come back again tomorrow,” I invited. “Tomorrow I will have more to offer.”
Love stepped out of the door and down the lane.
“I should sleep,” I thought to myself, but I was too excited to lay my head on a pillow. Instead, I exhausted myself redecorating. I dragged a round table into the center of the room and nestled our chairs around it. I laid a starched, white cloth upon the table and displayed an antique vase on top. Then, I dug into the depths of my closet and retrieved my best frock. I worked through the night preparing my cell and myself. Having exposed all of my tales, plans and achievements during Love’s last visit, I looked for novel sources of entertainment. I fished an old vinyl record from its dusty sleeve and set it on the long-unused player. Once satisfied with all my new arrangements, tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough.
“Who is there?” I called, rushing about the room touching up the last details as morning broke anew.
“I Am Love,” came the reply.
“Come in. Do come in,” I insisted flinging the door wide open. “Come and sit at my table.”
Love entered and took His place.
“Listen to this,” I cooed, setting the needle on the vinyl grooves. The space filled with noise as the record spun and a new energy swirled. For the next hours I swayed and whirled about in my fashionable attire. I danced before Love with seemingly endless enthusiasm. I sang the parts of the songs that I knew and hummed the tune when the lyrics eluded my memory. My heart was invigorated in my role as entertainer and I let go of my inhibitions, fancying myself an impressive hostess. And again the day was too quickly spent, such that as Love stood to go, I realized that He’d had no chance for Himself. I’d filled two days with my voice: speaking and singing. And I’d failed to hear Love’s response.
“Oh, please, do come again tomorrow,” I pleaded. “Come tomorrow and tell me all about Yourself: Your delights, Your stories, Your plans. Tomorrow I’ll be prepared to listen.”
In silence, Love exited.
“Who is there?” I queried, as the warm glowing light of daybreak seeped through the entryway’s crevices.
“I Am Love,” came the now familiar answer in the dawn.
“Come in. Do come in,” I said, “today I wish to hear Your voice.” In truth, having worn myself out in the previous days, I was only too glad to be able to sit and allow Love to work.
Love came in and reclined in His chair at my table, but no sound crossed His lips. He remained in silent stillness. I sat in silence, too, though I was not altogether comfortable with it. Several times I considered drawing upon my last reserves of energy, attempting to woo Him with some new tricks or trinkets. But then I remembered my promise and I continued to wait on His voice. Seconds turned into minutes. Minutes turned into hours. The clock seemed to have stopped, or at least to have hesitated now and then, which led me to check it often. And in searching to hear Love’s voice my ears attuned to all manner of other sounds: crowing…chirping…ticking… creaking…shifting…breathing… The silence was, at times, deafening. Wearied from my works and lulled by my anxious listening, I drifted in and out of sleep in the seat beside my Guest. Then, Love finally stood to leave.
However, after this long day I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of tomorrow. Love’s silence had confused my understanding of the roles of friendship. I was losing confidence in my ability to be a good hostess. “Perhaps, He ought to find a more suitable companion,” I considered in my mind. My heart in desolation, it seemed easier to allow Love to leave on this day.
So, rather than bid Him return to me, I simply said, “Goodbye.”
I latched the door behind Him.
Thoroughly spent, I kicked my shoes under the table, dropped my dress into a heap on the floor and made ready for bed. Then, I crawled beneath the patchwork quilt on my bed and heaved a sigh. I might have devoted some time to deciphering all that had come to pass between Love and me, but I hadn’t the inclination at that moment. I was weary and dejected. Sleep beckoned and I readily submitted.
At 3:33am, a gentle sound stirred on the other side of my latched door. Though it was barely more than a whisper, it called me from the depths of my slumber. Eyes wide open, I lay paralyzed for a minute while my mind worked to arouse; seeking to make sense of the hour and the circumstance.
“Who is there? I yelled, half fearing the reply.
“I Am Love,” was the answer.
“Love?” I asked. For though Love had been the only guest Who’d come to call on me, I was surprised by His arrival at such an hour. “I am not prepared to entertain you just now,” I said. “Come again tomorrow when I have had time to plan for your arrival.”
Love spoke not another word, but instead stood waiting. For half a minute I remained buried under the patchwork quilt, wrestling between exhaustion and curiosity. The latter won the battle so I rose from my bed and fumbled in the darkness until I reached the latch. Standing inside, in the blackness, I paused. For it occurred to me that this time Love’s entrance would be different. I couldn’t understand how I knew this, but it was clear in my mind that I would never be the same if I invited Love in on His own terms. So, I drew in a long breath, unlocked the chains and pulled the door in with great care.
As His foot crossed the threshold, my cell was awash in soft Light, though He carried no lantern. The Light exposed even the remotest of corners in my room, leaving nothing unseen. Ashamed, I began to offer my apologies for my ragged appearance and ill-kept room, but He tenderly put his arm about my shoulder and absolved me of my anxieties. Then, He silently led me to my chair and I sat.
Love made no speech, yet His Words filled my ears and instructed my intellect. Unlike the previous day, the outward silence now freed me from all distractions, allowing me to rest wholly in His Presence. Unattached to my plans and devoid of power, I discovered the security and serenity of being vulnerable to Love. He made no pretense nor accepted any. Love simply wrapped me in His embrace and all that had been before fell away.
Love’s hands had appeared empty when He entered, but from unseen resources He produced Bread and Wine upon the table. These He blessed and said, “Take and eat.”
Unaccustomed to dining at such an hour, I was strangely drawn to the meal. Deep inside, I experienced a hunger like never before. This desire penetrated deep within. So, I ate and I drank. Together, the sweet Bread and velvety Wine satiated the hunger, and yet they left me with a new thirst, a thirst for which no earthly remedy could suffice.
I never wanted Love to depart from me again, so I made the decision to keep my door open and the pathway free.
Like Solomon I implored, “Set me as a seal upon Your heart.”
Love smiled, for He already had.'
A young couple introduced their eight-year-old (special needs) son, Gabriel, to the parish priest with a request to accept him as an altar server. The priest asked the boy, “Do you want to be an altar server?” Instead of responding verbally, the boy hugged the priest around the waist, as high as he could reach.
The following Sunday, Gabriel arrived punctually, 15 minutes before Mass as the priest had arranged. Since there was no sacristan, the priest had to run back and forth making preparations. It was not until Mass was about to begin that he realized Gabriel knew nothing about how to serve Mass. So, the priest said, “Gabriel, do whatever I do, OK?”
Gabriel was an obedient boy, and very literal. When Mass began and the priest kissed the altar, the boy kissed it too. During the homily, all were smiling and paying no attention to the priest because they were captivated by the cute altar server who was doing his best to imitate the priest’s every gesture.
After Mass, the priest called little Gabriel to his side and explained what he should and should not do during Mass. He clarified that kissing the altar was a gesture reserved to the priest; “The altar represents Christ, and the priest, while performing the sacrament, is joined in a special way to Him.”
Although Gabriel was obedient, he was also frank, so he didn’t hesitate to say, “But I want to kiss it, too.” Further explanations didn’t diminish the boy’s desire to kiss the altar, so the priest came up with a clever solution telling the boy that he would kiss the altar “for both of them”. The boy seemed to accept this solution, at least for the moment.
As he began Mass the following Sunday, the priest kissed the altar and watched to see what Gabriel would do. The boy did not kiss the altar; instead, he pressed his cheek against the altar and stayed there with a big smile on his face until the priest asked him to stop.
After Mass, the pastor reviewed the instructions with the boy, reminding him he was not to kiss the altar and that the priest was doing it “for both of them”. But the boy quickly disagreed, saying, “I didn’t kiss it; it kissed me!” Taken aback, the priest said, “Gabriel, don’t play games with me.” But the boy didn’t back down. “It’s true!” he said. “He filled me with kisses!”
This incident, shared by Father José Rodrigo López Cepeda on social media, relates an incident from his early years at the parish of the Shrine of St. Orosia in Spain. Little Gabriel teaches us the importance of letting ourselves be loved by Jesus first, and of always remaining close, in good times and in bad. Have you been kissed by Him today?'
We Need to Be Careful What We Pray for Because We Might Just Get It
There is something very satisfying about the process and results of deep cleaning my home. For weeks, and sometimes months afterwards, the visible fruits of my efforts are enjoyed by my whole family. When the deep cleaning urge strikes, the satisfaction of tackling one area often leads to focusing on other parts of the house that require the same attention.
Cleaning often leads to purging unneeded items and the car gets loaded with boxes of things that are destined for the thrift store. Heading to the thrift store one afternoon with a car load, it occurred to me that I was the one who purchased most of the things in those boxes. Although I did not realize it at the time of purchase, I was the one who made the decision to clutter my life and home with burdensome things. Likewise, it dawned on me that this same dilemma had also crept into my personal and family life. Over the years, I had filled my schedule with so many “to do’s” that I had cluttered my own life. That thought made me aware that I needed to make some changes.
My Cup Overflows
Married life began when I was very young and full of energy. God blessed us with children right away and we embraced all the needs and activities that came along with the kids. I was a busy wife and mother. My cup was not only full…it overflowed. However, as full as my cup seemed, an increasing emptiness developed within me.
Life felt unsettled, but I did not have the time to uncover what made my spirit restless. God had placed a growing desire in my heart to develop a closer relationship with Him. I knew many fragmented details about God, but I didn’t understand His story or my place in that story. There was very little time, let alone quality time, for God in my day.
The Slow Down Effect
Fifteen years and 4 children later, I recall a morning when I felt overly tired, a feeling had been building for quite some time. It was far more than fatigue. The momentum of life, built, hastened and grew year by year, hastened which eventually led my mind, body and spirit to become depleted. I finally reached out to God in desperation. I shouted at Him, “LORD….SLOW ME DOWN! I cannot do everything and I certainly cannot do it at this pace. Where are you? I know you are out there. I need you!”
I have heard it said to be careful what you pray for because you might just get it. Well, God had been patiently and mercifully waiting a long time for me to call on Him. Within a few (still busy) months of my desperate prayer, I was bitten by a poisonous spider which thrust me into a downward spiral of various health problems. All activities didn’t just slow down, they stopped. I became extremely weak and painfully bedridden. Physician after physician, test after test, day after day…. I slowly slipped away. The frail woman that looked back at me from the mirror was a stranger; a shell of myself. “Lord help me,” I cried.
A Friendship to Treasure
Little energy to do things made the days feel very long and lonely. One afternoon, the dusty Bible on my bed stand caught my attention. In hopes of finding inspirational words to comfort me, I opened its gilded pages. Day by day, that book became a welcome and treasured friend. However, I found more questions than answers in my head as I tried to understand, Who is this God? Why did He do the things He did? How do the stories relate? How do I, laying in this bed, fit into His story? Where is He now? Does He hear me? Even before I asked my questions God had been at work putting the right people in my life. Help was on the way.
Months prior to becoming ill, I had hired a sweet little older lady, named Priscilla, to teach my kids and me how to play the piano. She came to our home for weekly lessons. Although she still came to teach my children, eventually I had to cancel my lessons because of weakness and fatigue. When Priscilla learned how ill I’d become, she shared her faith with me and offered to pray with me for healing. That moment opened up a friendship between us that I treasure to this day.
Something for God
The following week, Priscilla inquired about my health. I had not noticed any physical improvements, but I shared that I had started reading the Bible and it brought me comfort. I confessed, however, that I did not understand quite a few passages which frustrated me. Little did I know that our piano teacher was well versed in Scripture. Her eyes lit up as she explained her love for God and His Word. She offered to return the following week and share Bible time with me instead of our piano time. God had brought Priscilla (which means delight of the Lord) into my life and for over two years she delightfully answered my questions about Scripture. She prayed with me and helped me develop a meaningful prayer life. Prayer time led to a beautiful personal relationship with God. That empty restless feeling began to fade.
Although still very sick, it occurred to me that I should begin to take the focus off myself and try to do something for Him. God had given me numerous talents, but in my condition I had little to give. “Lord,” I prayed, “I think I can still crochet.” I wondered how He could possibly use crocheting, but I offered it anyway.
The following Sunday, too weak to attend Mass, I clicked on the TV hoping to find a Mass on the local Catholic channel. Instead, at that very moment, a broadcast from a church down the street from me was aired. Some friends and neighbors attended that church, so I wondered if any of them were there. As the service ended, a woman stood up to announce they were starting a new ministry called “The Prayer Shawl Ministry” and crocheters and knitters were needed. I nearly fell out of my bed! God had heard my prayer and was calling me into service. I stumbled downstairs as fast as my weak legs could take me and called one of my friends who attended that church. “Who was that lady…and how can I get involved with that ministry?” I urgently asked.
God Called Me
I offered what little I had and God called me to use it. When they held that ministry meeting, by His grace, He gave me the strength to make it to that little white church and I signed up to make Prayer Shawls for others. The shawls were to be given to the sick, lonely, dying and those needing comfort to remind them that others were thinking and praying for them. I crocheted many shawls and prayed for anyone who needed prayers. Their problems became my problems, and I made their needs more important than my own. Interestingly, that began the road to physical healing.
With each day, my physical and spiritual life became stronger. After a few years my family moved from that rural New England town to a town in Northern California. Within a few months, God opened the door to start the Prayer Shawl Ministry in our new parish where He reminded me there was still work to be done for Him.
I love the story of Martha and Mary in Luke’s Gospel (38-42) where Jesus helps Martha understand she needs to reorganize her priorities: “You are worried and upset about many things,” He tells her, “but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” Her sister Mary, on the other hand, simply “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” and Jesus says that “she has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” I felt God was transforming me from Martha into Mary.
It has been a long hard road to recovery. I still have tough days but God brought me from spiritual and physical depletion to a healthier life. I had to let go of many things I once thought were important. I had to deep clean my life, empty my cup and allow God to be the one who filled it. In Psalm 46:10 God tells us “Be still and know that I am God.” So now, I lead a stiller life with time to ask the Holy Spirit for the discernment to choose only what God wants me involved in. My time, talents and treasure belong to Him, and I strive to remember to make room in my life to be with God, to feel His presence and hear His voice. Those are the “things that are needed.”
When we clean our homes and experience good results, we are inspired to improve other areas. This concept can work in our spiritual lives in the same manner. My experience taught me that, the more time I spend with God and invite Him into my life, the more positive things happen. For “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28)
So today, I encourage you to choose an area within your life that might be an obstacle to a closer relationship with Him. Offer that area to Him and invite Him to deepen your faith and relationship with Him. For as Saint Augustine so accurately and profoundly stated,
“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”'
Prepare to be transformed as Kim Zember recounts how she freed herself from a homosexual lifestyle
I was born and raised in a devout Catholic family with two older brothers in Southern California. I grew up knowing God and His love.
Until eighth grade I went to a Catholic school where I was protected by God’s grace, but I struggled against it. I wanted to be like everybody else. Unfortunately, my parents heeded my pleas to transfer to a public high school where I treated people badly so I could get the attention I craved. I knew that the Lord had created me for greater things—to help others, but I was bored and I kept my eyes on myself.
Riddled with Guilt
In my senior year, I felt an attraction to a girl at school. I still don’t know where that desire came from. I didn’t have any sexual abuse in my life or any bitterness towards men. I started pursuing her ardently in a conniving, self-seeking way, wooing her into a romantic relationship. One night, when we were both drunk, I succeeded in breaking through to achieve the physical relationship that I thought I wanted. If only someone had stopped me in that moment before we connected in a way we were never meant to, and told me where this would take me.
I hungered for more, just like when I eat a brownie, I want more, even though it’s not good for me and leaves me feeling sick. But she knew there was something wrong about what we’d done, felt riddled with guilt and didn’t even want to talk about it. I also knew that it was wrong, so I hid my relationships with women by dating guys, not because the Church said it was wrong, or because I cared about what people would say, but because a still, small voice within me was crying out to be heard, “I have better for you Kim.”
Sadly, I suppressed that inner voice, drowning it out by chasing women and money as my career in real estate took off. On the surface, it looked like I was doing well, making lots of money and dating a series of guys. But it was all built on lies. I dated a girl for almost two years, but nobody knew. I lied to everyone. I was becoming another person. I was one person with my girlfriend and another person with them. I was a chameleon with whoever I was around.
The biggest draw for me was the emotional intimacy I experienced with women, not the physical relationship. They understood me; I understood them. I had always felt a desire to help people, especially if something was broken inside them. I never knew until later that it was a gift. But Satan wants to twist your special gift for his own purposes because he creates nothing.
He twists and distorts everything, especially the goodness and gifts of God. That affection that God gave me for women was meant to be used to build healthy friendships, to support each other. But Satan twisted that when I crossed a line and expressed that affection in an inappropriate physical way. Every relationship that I was in became twisted and unhealthy. Although they were amazing people and I was able to help them in some important ways, like getting off drugs, I was hurting them in much deeper ways.
I went to see a Catholic counselor, shared everything with him and he affirmed that I was gay. I could never accept that, but he told me that I didn’t understand Scripture. My ears loved hearing it, but I never had peace with that because I knew that wasn’t true, although I accepted it because it meant that I could do whatever I wanted.
At 23, I was dating a wonderful Christian guy. My heart was drawn to him and his love for the Lord, so when he told me that he loved me, I should have been ecstatic. Instead, I got furiously angry, because I knew what was going on inside me and my secret relationship with this girl. How could a guy who was so connected with God love me? How could someone who was so spiritually motivated, love someone who was so materially motivated? When I questioned him, he simply said, “I love your heart, but if you want to know your heart, you need to ask God to show you.” I was dumbstruck. I went into my room and cried out from the depth of my heart, “God show me my heart”. I didn’t expect God to answer right away, but I felt myself lifted up into a scene from my life that I had totally forgotten. I saw myself in 7th grade, listening, enthralled, to a priest speak about his mission in Africa. I grabbed my mother’s arm and told her, “I want to go to Africa.” Although she reminded me of how much I hated dirt and flies and discomfort, I wouldn’t quit, so we went up to see the priest afterwards. He listened attentively, then hugged me, saying, “If the Lord ever wants you in Africa, He will take you, just keep praying”. Although l had no memory of this, my mother later confirmed it.
I felt my heart exploding inside. I called my boyfriend and announced, “I’m going to Africa!” The Lord spoke and I ran. He showed me what I was created for. All that passion could be poured out and have a massive effect on other people. I saw kids who had lost their parents, who weren’t eating. When you hug that kid, and you get lice from that kid or contract their skin rashes—those are truly gifts. These children truly transformed me and opened my heart.
The Lord says that if you want to find me, look among the destitute, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the imprisoned. I came back from Ethiopia with my heart alive and beating. I gave up my career earning $200,000 per year, sold my house, my car and everything I had. I moved back to Ethiopia with the guy who had opened my heart to all this. Before we got married, I confessed everything I’d done and he said, “If you want to be with women then you could choose that, but if you want to be with me, then choose me” and I chose him.
On the night of my wedding I got on my knees and said “Lord I will never cheat on this man with a woman” and I meant it with everything I had. What I didn’t understand was that I didn’t have the strength to do that on my own. I needed my Savior’s help. I wasn’t immersed in His Word. I was just going through the motions. It’s good to develop good habits by going through the motions like brushing your teeth and saying your prayers, or dragging yourself or your children to Mass because you’re engraining good things, but it’s just a beginning.
Just a year after we married, when we returned from Africa, I cheated on my husband with a married woman. We both left our husbands and ended up divorced. This started a rapid downward spiral in my life. Things began to get worse when she wanted to have a baby. That’s where I drew the line because I knew that a baby needed a father and I didn’t want to play God, so we broke up. For another two years, I had a series of relationships with women, but I felt more broken with everyone. I was breaking my own heart and breaking other people.
My family loved me through all this, but they never condoned my actions. They always affirmed what God has made me to be and called me to higher things. It wasn’t hateful. It’s what I needed. They always reminded me that I was made and created for more. When they realized that inviting my girlfriends to join in family functions was affirming my lifestyle, they made the hard decision to say they couldn’t do that anymore, I felt angry, accusing them of being judgmental, and withdrew for a while, but they were the ones who were still there for me no matter what.
Power of Surrender
When my latest girlfriend cheated on me and I felt at my lowest ebb, I turned back to God in tears, praying, “Lord, I surrender. I trust that You are God and I am NOT. If You show me that You have better plans than me, then I will serve You for the rest of my days.”
That night, my friend, Daniel took me to a prayer meeting with an African preacher, but when I noticed how beautiful the pianist was, I had to cover my eyes to avoid temptation because I didn’t want to see anything but God. When they called people forth for prayer, I went up with my friends, but kept my eyes tightly shut. As we reached the head of the line, I was stunned to hear the preacher blasting Daniel as if he knew all his faults. I had never experienced prophecy and I was afraid of what he would say about me for everyone to hear.
Next moment, the preacher started declaring victory over my life in the name of Jesus Christ. He declared, “You have surrendered your life to Him and finally you have given it all. You will live for Him in everything.” He spoke the words that I had cried out to God in offering my surrender, the redirection that I had begged from Him. I knew that it was God Almighty speaking to me through him.
All these years I have been able to sustain in God’s grace and my spiritual life has completely transformed. The key to walking in freedom is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Having a deeper intimacy with Him through Daily Mass in Holy Communion, daily time with Scriptures, frequent confession, Adoration, Praise and Worship music, going to Catholic conferences and being in Christian community have all helped in my walk with Christ. As I began to do more and more of all these, I found myself doing less and less of the other things, which helped me to grow in the Spirit and out of my flesh. For me everything fell in place as I grew in personal relationship with Jesus. Surely He leads us all out of darkness and into His perfect light!
I hope that my brokenness can bring hope to anyone who needs encouragement to stand in the truth of God because what God has said will always be better than our own opinion. Let God continue to be God. Listen to Him when He speaks of His plans for males and females and relationships. He showed us what love is on the Cross. Love is sacrifice. My life is not my own. He is calling me into a deeper relationship with Him every day.'
When I realized I had done the same thing to my son that my mom had done to me…
“You are like the Samaritan woman,” my spiritual director said as he prayed over me.
His words shook me.
“I’m like the Samaritan woman,” I asked.
His words stung but his wise brown eyes were pools of compassion. He was no ordinary priest. I had been meeting with him for years and had had difficult and extraordinary experiences of God through him. Every time I met with him, the waiting room outside his office was filled with people from different parts of the world, who had heard of him and were waiting to see him for healing or encouragement. This quiet, humble and holy man had been God’s instrument for years and I had brought countless people to see him.
On the way home, I wrestled with his comparison. The Samaritan Woman? I didn’t have five husbands and the man I was living with was my husband. And then it occurred to me that maybe I was like the Samaritan Woman, because after her encounter with Christ, she ran into town to tell everyone that she had met the Messiah. Maybe that is what he meant.
Little did I know that his comparison would be prophetic…
Over the years, conflicts and problems in the home escalated and I ended up in therapy. For all my knowledge of the Catholic faith, I had very little self-awareness. I believed that I was holy because I was a devout Catholic who lived the sacramental life and was generous with my time and attention. Yet in Confession after Confession, I continued to admit committing the same sins over and over again. Much of my Confession time was focused on the sins of those closest to me and how they needed to change. Even while I listened to homilies at Mass, I thought more of the people that were not present, but needed to hear what I was hearing. I was certain that I was righteous, and that God was on my side. . .
Therapy began a journey of personal unveiling. I had been living in a House of Shame instead of a House of Grace and I had hurt the people closest to me and damaged our relationships. Each day brought opportunities for change, but it was not easy.
“Can you watch your sister for me for an hour or two? I need to run errands,” I asked my high school son who had just walked in from school and was headed up the stairs. In a nasty tone he said, “No.”
It was not what I had expected, and I was mad. I wanted to put him in his place and to level accusations like, ‘How dare you talk to me like that! You are a disrespectful and ungrateful brat. You’ve been away all weekend with your friends, and you can’t sit with your sister for an hour or two? How selfish of you.’
The battle with my ego was in full swing. Help me Jesus, I prayed. I remembered one of my first therapy sessions. “Ignore your first inclinations.”
I took a breath and shifted my focus away from myself and onto my son. I could see that his reaction was not equal to my request. He was mad. There was more behind his indignant refusal, and I wanted to know what it was.
“You are really mad. This isn’t like you. What’s going on,” I asked sincerely.
“It’s always me. You never ask my brothers,” he snapped.
The voice in my head retaliated, ‘He’s wrong! His brothers watch her when he isn’t around. He’s accusing you of being unfair, it’s not true.’
Jesus, help me stomp my pride and my ego.
My cheeks flushed. I felt exposed and ashamed.
Do I want to be right, or do I want to understand him and connect with him, I asked myself? Deep down I knew he was right. He was the one I always asked, because I believed he was the most responsible.
“You’re right, I always ask you,” I admitted.
His face softened.
“Well, it’s not fair.” His voice trailed off and his emotions intensified.
“You left me to take care of her when she was a tiny baby, and I was a wreck the whole time you were away because I didn’t feel like I was capable,” he said.
My mind flashed back to a memory. I was very young and home alone with my two brothers who were babies. I remembered the panic I had felt. I stood there looking up at him shocked by the realization that I had done the same thing to him that my mom had done to me.
“Tell me about it,” I murmured gently.
With deep emotion he recounted what he remembered. I moved closer to him.
“That’s awful. I should never have put you in that situation. My mom did the same thing to me. She thought I was more capable than my siblings, and she leaned heavily on me, depending on me for things I should never have been responsible for. I’m really sorry,” I admitted shakily.
Full of regret and pain from the hurt I had caused him, I resolved to make a change.
Remembering how I had felt as a child, and acknowledging my own anger and resentment toward my mom and siblings had helped me see the subtle ways I had unfairly leaned on him and avoided giving his brothers an opportunity to grow in responsibility. Worse, I began to see and accept that some of the tasks I had enlisted his help for were burdens meant for me or my husband to carry.
I made a concerted effort to split the responsibilities more fairly.
Our relationship improved, and as the pressure of responsibility was relieved, he felt less resentment towards his brothers.
Although conflicts continued to present opportunities for self-awareness, improved relationships increased my desire to squash my ego, extinguish the voice of accusations in my head, and accept and grow from my imperfections and mistakes.
One morning after Mass my sister-in-law approached me.
“I found a quote from a priest. I think it sums up what you mean when you say you are learning to move from a House of Shame to a House of Grace,” she said as she scrolled through her phone.
“Here, I found it,” she said.
“When the amount of your spirituality is equal to the amount of truth you can endure about yourself without escaping it, this is a sign of deep spirituality. That’s how transformation of the heart happens. Only Truth can set us free. And then we’ll be true adorers of the Lord. We will adore the Lord in spirit and in truth,” she said.
“Yes! That’s it,” I declared. “For so many years I thought all I needed was to know the truth of the Church. But there’s another truth I need. It’s a truth I can’t easily see or admit to in myself. It’s the battle within my heart and soul to live in a House of Grace rather than a House of Shame. And I can’t do it without Jesus.”
On the way home, I wondered where I had heard ‘Adore the Lord in spirit and in truth?’ As soon as I got home, I grabbed the Bible and found those exact words at the end of the Samaritan woman story. Chills ran down my spine. When Jesus exposed a personal truth about her to her, she acknowledged it instead of denying it, opening the floodgates of grace. “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?” (John 4:29)
My spiritual director was right. I am like the Samaritan woman.'
What happens when a Protestant Pastor finds a great treasure in the Catholic Church?
Becoming a Catholic was not easy for me. Like many converts, I had my share of misconceptions, and obstacles. My biggest obstacle was that my faith/ church perspective was also my career. At 20, I entered into full-time ministry as a Youth Pastor. Throughout my 22 year career in ministry, I have performed many roles—Senior Pastor, Teaching Pastor, Worship Leader, Missions Coordinator etc.
My faith was my life, and the idea of leaving it all behind to become a Catholic was something that I wrestled with. I never would have thought it could happen. I had no Catholics in my family. Growing up as the son of a United Methodist pastor, my only exposure to the Catholic faith was from people who hated the Catholic faith. When I met my wife, I asked her if she went to church. She replied, “I’m a Catholic but I don’t go to church”, so I took her to my church and she loved it! We were married in the United Methodist church where I worked; and never looked back. Until…
Like many others who ultimately convert, my first experience with a Catholic who actually practiced his faith proved to be life changing. His name is Devin Schadt. He was a graphic designer. I hired him to create a logo for our youth ministry which led to some interesting conversations about faith, church and eventually his Catholic faith. My first impression of him was that he loved Jesus and had a vibrant faith. This seemed very strange to me, because as I sat in his dining room, I was intrigued by the icons, paintings and other “Catholic looking” stuff he had in his house. Who does that? I had to press him on this. I had never heard a Catholic talk about Jesus in the way Devin did. I had assumed that he just hadn’t read the Bible enough to see that his Catholic faith contradicted the Scriptures. I was licking my chops at the idea of sharing some verses with him and explaining the Gospel. I was certain that after a few minutes of this, he would be ready to become a “real” Christian, pray the sinner’s prayer, and become a Protestant like me. I asked him, “Devin, when were you saved?” I wanted to see how a Catholic would answer this question. I did not expect much. I was so wrong.
Not only did Devin have an answer to that question, but he had his own questions for me. Questions that I was not at all prepared for. For example, “Keith, where did your Bible come from?” “Why are there so many Protestant denominations?” “How do we know who is accurately teaching the truth of Christianity when there are so many differences between Protestant denominations?” And so many more!
I had never heard any of these ideas before, but although I was intrigued, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility that the Catholic Church could be the one true Church founded by Christ. Even the idea that there was one true Church founded by Christ was a new idea to me. I had always believed that what mattered was a person’s faith and belief in the scriptures, not any connection to an institution. Devin was helping me to see that the Bible itself shows that Jesus not only founded a Church, but that it still existed today through the authority of the apostles as they had handed down the faith. However, this was not something I could easily accept.
When God Called Me
Devin and I would go on to have many conversations over the years. We would take a pilgrimage to Rome and Medjugorje together. We would argue passionately. During this time, my ministry and my family were growing. I loved my role in my church. God was moving and things were great. Although there were many things Devin had showed me that challenged my Protestant thinking, I was still too afraid to seriously entertain the idea of converting. However, there was one night in particular where God called me out.
I was at a church camp and one of my friends was leading the youth in a communion service. It was nothing new to me, but as he worked his way through the service and held up the bread and juice and said “this represents Jesus”, I knew that this was not what Jesus said, and I also knew this was not what the Christian Church believed for 1500 years.
It was as if God was calling to me “Come home and I’ll show you more…” I broke down and left the room. I called Devin and confessed to him that I was feeling called to become a Catholic. I was terrified that he would rub it in my face that he was right (only because that is what I would have done), but he did not. He simply said he was there to help.
I wish that this was the part of my story where I converted, but it is not. I was too afraid. I bailed because I could not wrap my mind around how this could work. What would I do for a job? What would my family think? How could I explain this? All of these questions overpowered the leading I felt and I put this whole Catholic thing behind me for many years. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life.
More than 10 years later, eventually God’s call home would become something I could no longer ignore. I had been the “Pastor to Youth and Mission” at a United Methodist Church for a couple years when a good friend of mine named Greg invited my wife and me to attend a screening of “Apparition Hill”. This movie was a documentary that followed seven strangers on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. I had not thought about that trip in quite a while, but when Greg called I thought I’d better go, since he was the one who originally took me on that trip all those years ago. The movie brought so many things back into my mind and had me in tears a few times. This film was clearly used by our Blessed Mother to reach out to me.
I had been in a bit of a storm in my church. Although my local church was great, our denomination was a mess. It had become clear to me that without an authoritative voice to not only interpret Scripture, but even history, chaos and schism were inevitable. For the United Methodists, the cultural issues of the day surrounding Marriage and Scripture were unraveling what was once a strong denomination. I found myself at odds with many people who wanted the church to change with the times. It did not seem to bother them that the scriptures clearly defined things like marriage and human sexuality. “That’s just one interpretation”. “The church has had it wrong all these years and we will fix it”. “God doesn’t hate. He/she loves everybody so you can’t judge anyone”. These were just some of statements I wrestled against all the while knowing that I really did not have a leg to stand on without some kind of external God-given authority to tell me otherwise. During one of my conversations with a very liberal pastor friend, she said to me, “Keith if you believe all that Church authority stuff, why aren’t you a Catholic?” Great question!
I had begun to reopen that idea. It seemed that the more I thought about everything Devin and I had argued about, the more it made perfect sense. I was in a different place. I had learned that not listening to God is the worst thing you can do. I still had objections. I still had issues, but I had begun to feel a new sense of calling and a new presence in my life. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but it all became clear to me as I was preparing to preach a sermon on the Annunciation. (It was Advent—so we could talk about Mary.) As I worked on this message in my office, I became overcome with emotion. The more I thought about Mary, the more I became aware of not only how amazing she was, but how connected to the Holy Spirit she continues to be. I felt her presence. When I preached that sermon, I could feel the Holy Spirit moving. I talked about how Mary was the “New Eve” and the “New Ark of the Covenant.” I talked about how amazing she must have been for the angel, Gabriel to greet her “Hail, full of grace”. The people were so intrigued by this.
One man came forward afterwards in tears, saying he had never heard anything like that before. There is so much more I could say about this, but the bottom line is: My doctrinal objections were solved not by arguments, but by The Blessed Mother capturing my heart. However, I still had the issue of what my life would look like if I converted. My dad had told me once, “Keith you can’t just quit your job and become Catholic, there needs to be a way”. He meant that I needed to know how I would feed my family. What would I do for a job? What about my ministry?
A Step of Faith
The answers to those questions would not be revealed to me for some time, but one night as I prayed before a crucifix, I said to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to become Catholic, but I need you to make a way.” With as much clarity as I have ever had from God, Jesus spoke to me from the crucifix. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. You don’t need Me to make a way, you just need ME”. I knew what this meant. I had just received my blessing during the Mass (because I could not receive the Eucharist). Jesus was showing me that He was not only truly present in the Eucharist, but also that my primary need was not for God to make things easy or fully revealed, but rather to take a step of faith like I had never taken before. He was showing me that what I truly needed was not control, or assurance. What I needed was Him.
I was realizing that even if I lost everything I have in this world, but gained Jesus, I had won! I had to get to the place where I did not need it all to work out perfectly in order to convert. I had to be willing to sacrifice it all for Jesus. Once I was able to take that step, it all became clear. There was no looking back. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) After all these years, I was finally ready to buy the field. I am so happy I did. Since becoming a Catholic, things have not been easy. I have lost friends, money, security, stability and more. But what I have gained has been more valuable than I could ever have asked for. The blessings I have received are incomparable with what I sacrificed. God has been true to his word. I know that no matter what happens in this life, I will never leave the Church.
When you follow the call of God, it does not mean life will become easy, but it does become more meaningful. I am so grateful for the grace he has given to me, and I can only dream, about where this journey will take me from here.'
“Questions swirled in my head, and it was hard to talk to my mom. But one surprising revelation changed my life forever.” Chi (Su) Doan shares those astonishing moments…
My life began in Vietnam in a loving family that set very high standards. Although we were not Catholics, they sent me to learn piano from the Sisters in the local convent. I was intrigued by their faith and their sense of purpose which I felt was lacking in my own life. One day, I wandered into the church and had a beautiful experience with Jesus Christ and God the Father which changed my life forever, but I didn’t get to discover Mother Mary until a little bit later.
Doing Big Things
It all started when I was about 13. At that age, everyone seems to struggle a little bit, trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I didn’t know what to do with my life. Looking at my brother and my cousins who were already successful in life, I felt under huge pressure to emulate their achievements. I found it hard to talk to my parents about this. Teenagers think that they can do big things without hindrance from adults like parents and teachers and I felt too nervous to bring up the questions that swirled around in my head.
However, the kind, gentle Sister who taught me piano was different. When she gently enquired into my spiritual life, hearing with interest that I was going to church and praying often, I felt comfortable opening up to her about my struggles. I told her how I wondered if there was any conflict between being prayerful and having a successful career as a doctor, teacher or businesswoman. I was full of doubts and felt so lost, but she was full of serene confidence. She advised me how important a mother can be in guiding their children along since they have cared so much for them and observed them from their earliest days.
I said, “It’s really hard to talk to my mother about it because I think I am old enough to do everything by myself without her help.” She assured me that it was okay, because if I found it hard to talk to my Mum, I had another mother I could talk to.
I was a little bit confused because that was a new concept to me, since I had grown up in a family without religion. “What do you mean?” I asked in surprise. She revealed the astounding news that since Mary is the one who gave birth to Jesus Christ Our Lord, she is also our mother. Jesus told us that we could call His Father, our Father, therefore we can call Him, Brother and His mother is our mother. As we read in the Bible, He entrusted Saint John and all of us to His Blessed Mother when He hung on the Cross.
This was a totally new and strange idea to me and I found it hard to get my head around it. She went on, “Just think about it like this. When you grow up a little bit more, you will realize that a mother in your life is really important. Whatever problems you have, you are going to run back to her for advice and comfort, to help you face them. She is another mother helping you to do exactly the same thing. So, if you feel that talking to your parents is challenging, at this stage in your life, you can come to Mother Mary and talk to her so that you can find some peace.”
It seemed like a good idea that was worth trying, but I did not know how to talk to her. Sister told me that I could just close my eyes and confide all my struggles, difficulties and suffering to her. I could tell her whatever I needed help with and ask her to offer me some comfort and some care. Just talking to her would help me think clearly about my future. I was not sure if it was all true, but there was no harm trying.
So, when I had some free time, I sat down quietly, closed my eyes and doubtfully said to her, “Okay, if you are really my mother, can you help me with this. I am trying to figure out what I should be doing with my life because I want to do great things when I grow up. I am feeling overwhelmed by studying, but I am trying to put myself on the right path, so that later I won’t have regrets. Please comfort me and help me to have some trust within myself to know the right thing to do with my life. Every night, I just kept saying the same thing. Whenever I was struggling with my study, I said, “If this subject’s not meant for me and I am not meant to be taking this any further, please just let me know.” Every time I said that, everything seemed a little bit better. At least I had someone to talk to about my struggles and difficulties now.
Figuring It Out
I was so intrigued that when Sister talked about Lourdes of Vietnam, I soon went for a visit. There I saw a beautiful statue of Mother Mary, high on a hill. As I gazed up at her, I felt looked after—that she was guiding me along the path that was meant for me.
When I sat down to pray, I felt awkward for a moment. Am I really putting myself in the presence of someone who is really my mother, although it took me 13 years to figure out she is there? I did not know what to say at first. Then I started mumbling my jumbled thoughts about why I had come, why it had taken so long and my gratitude for having this opportunity. I began to tell her how lost I felt. I think that everyone is lost at this age so I hoped there was nothing wrong with me. I told her that I just didn’t know what to do in my life. I didn’t know if I should stress myself out trying to get straight A’s in school or lower my sights to something more reasonable and then figure out what to do from there. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to manage my studies or my life or how to become someone successful when I grew up.
I confided how much it was all stressing me. I didn’t know who to talk to because I didn’t want to talk to people who would judge me and I didn’t want to talk to people who would think I was weak. My eyes filled with tears as I laid my soul bare and put everything into her hands hoping that she would give me some advice on what to do.
Eventually I just said, “Okay, I put all my trust in you. Please pray for me to God and then guide me along in my life because I really don’t know who to trust any more. Please can you give me the courage to talk to my parents about what I am going through, so they can offer me some advice and help?”
About once or twice a month, I came back to see her and talk to her. As time went by, I felt braver and got on top of my problems as I opened up to my Mum about what I wanted to be when I grew up and what options I’d have. I didn’t feel lost any more and I no longer struggled to talk to my parents and my teachers about how to choose schools, subjects, career and university, or other problems.
It was strange at first because I hadn’t known that I had two mothers in my life. Who would think of it if you weren’t born into a Catholic family? When I was about 16 years old, I started talking to my Mum about the experience I had with Mother Mary and surprisingly my mother agreed with me that it was true. She also believed that Mary is a mother who’s taking care of her children. She affirmed that Mary was the one who had given me the courage to talk to her about my struggles, so that she had a chance to help me.
It was a really amazing experience. I had simply talked to Mary and tried to listen to her voice. I didn’t hear her speak to me like Saint Bernadette, but sometimes when I was asleep or day dreaming, I felt like she was there telling me to just calm down a little bit. I seemed to hear her chiding me gently, “You just need to slow down.”
In my teenage phase, I had always wanted to do everything quickly and manage everything for myself. I didn’t even want to share my feelings with my parents because I didn’t want them telling me what to do.
So, it was a tremendous help when I sensed Mother Mary saying to me, “Just slow down a little bit. I know that you want to achieve success rapidly, but nothing works like that. Just trust me then it will eventually work out.” That was so true!
Just a couple of years later, my family decided to send me to Australia. I was finally baptized and received into the Catholic Church at St. Margaret Mary’s Church, Croydon Park where I still happily attend Mass. When I am struggling, I come to her in prayer and ask her to pray for me to God our Father. I feel that she listens to me and responds to my prayers in astounding ways.
Even now that I am in my 20’s, and living independently from my parents in another country, I still sometimes ask Mother Mary for courage to talk to them about my problems and open up to others. I am ever grateful for her loving, and motherly care.'
I did not grow up in faith. Although my grandparents were faithful Anglicans, my family were not churchgoers. I went to an Anglican high school, but that did not mean much to me. I briefly thought about God’s existence in my teens, but quickly dismissed it as ridiculous. I remember sitting on my surfboard one day, surrounded by tiny waves, praying, “Please send me some waves.” Then, I thought, “How can I pray when I don’t believe in God?”
Little did I know that deep within my heart was a real emptiness. That spontaneous prayer was a sign that I was missing something essential. After school, I joined the army to study at the Australian Defence Academy. However, this coincided with my phase of teenage rebellion. I went out drinking, neglected to do assignments and failed nearly every exam. I even refused to cut my hair, which was not a good look in the army.
So, it was not surprising that soon I was on my way back home. But my mother would not tolerate these bad habits. After I stayed out late drinking, she told me that my behaviour was unacceptable. When I tried to argue, she told me that I would have to start paying board if I wanted to set my own hours. I was so pig-headed that I started to do just that, but it was one of the best things that my mother ever said to me.
That prompted me to study Surveying and hold down three part-time jobs. However, in my downtime, I was out drinking at least three nights a week and experimenting with other drugs. Only my guardian angel’s intervention prevented me from killing myself or someone else with my recklessness, especially when I drove in a drunken state.
Sometimes, I had absolutely no recollection of what had happened for several hours. I was completely blacked out. I do not think that anyone understood what I was doing to myself. My sexual morality was also very dubious. Exposure to pornography at an early age affected how I treated women. That deeply horrifies me now and it distresses me to reflect upon my behaviour at that time. I wish I could go back and repair the harm I caused.
Choices We Make
After university, I got a mining job which enabled me to save a lot, since there’s not much to spend it on out there. So, I set off to holiday in Europe. My choice of reading material–a New Age book–was a good indication of the state of my spirituality. It was time to explore the meaning of life. I remember thinking, “I really like this guy, Jesus Christ. He loves the poor. He is not materialistic. He has got his finger on the pulse in terms of peace, but this thing about him being Son of God—that is impossible. He is just one of those great guys of history, like Gandhi or Buddha.”
To extend my stay in Europe, I found a job navigating ships and oil rigs around the North Sea. From a base in Scotland, a helicopter would fly me all the way to rigs scattered across the North Sea as far as the Arctic Circle. After two or three days work, I would return for two or three days off. My landlady’s boyfriend was a born again Christian who gave me a book to read, “The Late, Great Planet Earth” about the end times. (Scott Hahn read the same book before his initial conversion to Christianity.) I read about ten pages before deciding that it was not my cup of tea (it did not interest me).
One day, I was unexpectedly called to an urgent job. To while away the time on flights, I usually brought a book to read, but I had nothing except that one, so I grabbed it out of desperation as I walked out the door. I became engrossed in reading it, so the flight passed swiftly. Since the job did not take long, I had plenty of time to rest and reflect while I waited for the helicopter. Then almost unremarkably, a series of thoughts crossed my mind leading me to the astounding realization that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I did not know where these thoughts had come from.
Everything that I had heard about Jesus started making sense for some reason. I was a bit stunned and did not know what to do, so I said, “Jesus, if this is true please let me know.” At that moment, an amazing light seemed to spill out of my chest into the whole cabin, filling me with ecstatic joy. I had never experienced anything like this and it knocked my socks off. I felt a burning desire to read the Bible, so I hunted one down straight away because I could not wait. I spent my three days leave reading the whole New Testament straight through, from Matthew all the way to Revelation.
On my return to Australia, Mum was thrilled to see me again and came across my Bible while helping me unpack. “What’s this?” she said in surprise, so I told her the news. “I’m a Christian. I’ve found the faith.” Her response was discouraging, “Craig, don’t lose your friends.” I had a really great bunch of friends. It was actually through one of them that I became a Catholic. Karl married a Catholic whose family was heavily involved in a charismatic community. When they invited me along to a prayer meeting, it was a totally novel experience for me, but I loved it. They had a ten week course starting that week, so asked if I could join in.
The Lord really seemed to be bringing me home. One of them asked me one day, “Why don’t you think about becoming a Catholic?” Without hesitation, I replied, “Yes, I’m really open to that.” So, I started a one-on-one RCIA program with their chaplain, Father Chris. He gave me a catechism explaining all the Catholic doctrine we would be studying. I read through it and told him that I had no problem with any of it. I believed it all, without a doubt. Nothing that The Church taught was a barrier for me. Just as everything made sense to me when I first read the New Testament, I was able to immediately perceive that the teachings of The Catholic Church were true. I had no doubts at all.
A Higher Call?
Over the next two years, I became a Catholic, attended daily Mass and continued growing in my faith. As I thought about the future, I considered whether God was calling me to a religious vocation or marriage. Father Chris was in the Servite order, so I decided to join them to discern if I was meant to be a priest. They sent me to Melbourne for training, but before too long I realized that this was not where God was calling me. However, it was all part of His plan as in Melbourne I would reconnect with Lucy, a lovely, young woman who would become my wife two years later.
My faith journey was such a gift to me. I had not even been interested in becoming a Catholic or even a Christian. I was not even trying to understand who God was. I was not even asking the questions. God, in His infinite mercy, just decided to say, “Well, it’s time for him to come now.” He gave me that experience on the oil rig and made it so dramatic because he knew that I needed that. If it was a more subtle experience, I probably would not even be a Christian today. I just needed to be smacked between the eyes. But, with my hand on my heart, I can honestly say that I have never doubted, for one second since, that God exists, or that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and my Savior, through His death on The Cross for my sins.
Upstart of Miracles
Starting a school—Angelorum College in Brisbane— is our family’s big project now. Lucy wanted to help families grow in holiness. It is the primary goal of the school and everything we do is designed to support that. Since there was previously no Catholic Distance Education school in Australia, we also support families who home school with curriculum and other practical assistance.
In the beginning, I was almost praying that it would not get off the ground, because it seemed insane to think that we could start a school and there were so many obstacles to overcome. The first miracle was getting approved. The second miracle was finding a place to set up the school—thank you, Legion of Mary. There have been many miracles since and, five years down the track, it is bearing fruit in the lives of all the families who joined us in this crazy venture. We are now praying for the miracle of finding a bigger, permanent home. It is so exciting to be sharing our faith with the next generation, in company with such faithful, generous, loving families. Encountering the love of Christ and realizing what He did for us, and is doing for us all the time can transform lives. Eternity opened up before me, so I want to share that good news. Before I was dead, but now I am alive, I have discovered the pearl of great price. Each of us is created in the image and likeness of God and we find our fulfillment in Him.
Before my conversion, I desperately tried to fill the yearning emptiness inside with temporal pleasures which could never satisfy, but after my conversion He made me complete. So, I do not go out to get drunk now, not only because I do not want to lose my wits, but because I have no need to do that since I found my joy in the Lord. I am finally becoming the person that the Lord intends me to be, since He has saved me.'
Father Tao Pham shares his breathtaking journey through the storm, in spite of his crippling disability
To fulfill my dream of becoming a priest, I had to overcome a lot of challenges and difficulties. Many times, when the pain seemed unbearable, I prayed that my sufferings would be united with Jesus in His Passion. I knew that He could do anything, so if He wanted me to become a priest, then one day I would be a priest.
I was born in the north of Vietnam, the 7th of 8 children. We grew up in a very poor village where schooling ended at Year 9, but I felt that Christ was calling me to the priesthood. This was only possible if I received tertiary education. When I was 14, my brother and I sorrowfully bid farewell to our family so we could attend high school.
At that time, the Communist government in North Vietnam had closed all the seminaries, so after high school graduation, I spent 4 years assisting our parish priest full-time, 4 years at university and 4 years teaching before I finally began seminary training in the south. My dream was finally coming true, but this was just the beginning. When I’d finished 3 years of Philosophy, I was invited to complete my study for the priesthood in Australia.
After 3 more years studying Theology and a year of pastoral placement, I finally received the happy news that the bishop had chosen the date for my ordination as a deacon. A few days before the big day, I had a little mishap when the car boot fell and squashed my fingers as I was removing my luggage. The other seminarians cleaned me up, but the fingers became so swollen and painful that after 3 days, I finally went to the hospital. To my surprise, the doctors told me that I had less than 50% of normal blood volume because I was bleeding internally. They discovered a stomach ulcer which needed an emergency operation.
When I woke up, I was astonished to find myself tied to the bed. The doctor said I had been shaking so much that they had to tie me down so that I could receive a blood transfusion. They told me that I had tetanus, but after 40 days treatment, I was well enough to go back to the seminary to begin the intensive study prior to ordination. After several weeks, the Bishop asked me to come and stay with him. It was wonderful to be attending him at Mass, but I suddenly collapsed in the Cathedral and had to be rushed back to hospital.
They put me into intensive care because I had developed a catastrophic blood infection and was not expected to live. I stopped breathing and had to be put on life support. Since the doctors were certain I would die, they sent for my family and my brother came from Vietnam. After receiving the Last Rites, life support was turned off, but I didn’t die. After a couple of hours, they turned on the machines again. A couple of weeks later, they turned the machines off again, but I still survived. I ended up being in a coma for 74 days and was operated on 18 times.
When I woke up from the coma, I was still in a lot of pain. I could not talk because there was a tube in my throat. Even after the tubes were removed, I could not speak. It took months to slowly and painfully learn to talk again. My condition was still critical so the doctors prepared me for another surgery, which my brother had already consented to, but when I read that they were planning to cut my leg off, I refused. The doctor told me that I would die if it was not amputated, but I did not want this to prevent me from being ordained as a priest. I would not give up my dream of becoming a priest even though my family and many good friends were telling me that it was hopeless, to just go home to Vietnam and get married. It was very challenging, mentally and physically, but I put my hope and trust in God.
After a month on “Nil by Mouth”, I was desperately longing to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. If I could receive even a drop of the Precious Blood, I knew that I would be healed. The next day Father Peter brought the Precious Blood to me in Holy Communion. As he trickled a few drops into my mouth, I visualized it moving into my body and touching the infection. The following day, I felt much better. Tests were done and the infection was gone.
After more than a year in hospital, we had a meeting with the staff of the hospital to discuss my future. The bishop attended on my family’s behalf. The doctor reported that I would never be able to walk again and would need high level care 24 hours a day for the rest of my life. They said that I would not be able to look after myself, shower myself or even get in or out of bed without help. It was devastating to hear this and even more devastating to hear the bishop’s decision that he would not ordain me as a deacon or priest. After all the years of study and waiting, my dream seemed to be over.
It was very difficult for me, however I kept praying. I was determined to walk again, so I worked hard at all the painful exercises I was given, offering up my suffering in union with Christ for all the people who needed my prayers. The rehabilitation took years. Often I felt like giving up, but I held onto my dream and that gave me the courage to go on.
Despite all these challenges and obstacles, I still felt Christ calling me to become a priest to serve His people, even in my weakness. So, one day I sent a letter to the Archbishop of Melbourne asking him to accept me for ordination. To my surprise, he arranged to see me straight away and discuss what he needed me to do. He agreed to ordain me, even if I had to lie in a bed or sit in a wheelchair, but he told me that I would get better and better, and I would be walking. At that stage I was still in a wheelchair, but I continued to work at my exercises while I finished my study, so when ordination day came I was able to join the others walking in procession. The Cathedral was filled with the jubilant faces of friends. Many of them had met me when I needed their care in hospital so they knew how astonishing it was that I had lived to see this day. Tears of joy filled my eyes and I could see their eyes glistening too. I could not believe that this day had finally come, 30 years after I set out from my village in pursuit of my dream.
Now, I work with 2 other priests in a busy community with 4 churches, several schools and 6 nursing homes. Every day when I walk in to say Mass is like a fresh miracle. I do not think that I will ever tire of it. Then, strengthened by the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, I go out to visit the children in the schools and the elderly in the nursing homes. I feel blessed to bring His presence to them. The long wait to share in Christ’s priesthood is over and I can share with them the fruits of my suffering in union with Him.
Persisting through all my difficulties has enabled me to understand and help people in their adversities. I have learned that thinking about the needs of others and putting on a smiling face for them diverts me from my own afflictions and transforms my suffering into joy. When people come to me for assistance, I can draw on the strength I gained from my ailments to encourage them to persevere through their trials. Because they can see that I suffer a disability, it is easier for them to relate to me in times of trouble so that they can receive the Church’s support to maintain hope in the darkest times.'
Are you praying for a miracle? Here’s a wonder-working formula for you!
Several years ago my husband and I decided to face the inevitability of mortality head on. We dove into the world of wills, trusts, executors, probates, lawyers etc. and tried to sort our earthly possessions. It was very surreal trying to catalogue our possessions by value. Is a vehicle worth more than our wedding album? Would our children understand the value of memories, sentimental objects or family heirlooms the way their father and I did? What lasting legacy could we leave each of our children that would be valuable or meaningful for them after we had gone home to the Lord? Fortunately, God had the answers to all my questions and, just as in Scripture, He used stories to reveal these truths.
Trinkets and Treasures
This story revolves around our second son, James (or Jimmy as we have always called him), when he was about 6 years old. We raised our family in a wonderful, quaint New England area that offered many wholesome family events for community interaction, such as the annual country fair our church held each Fall. Our family was actively involved with the preparation of this fair and looked forward to it every year.
Our children grew up helping where they could and when they were needed. As a result, our kids were familiar faces to other parish volunteers who also helped make the fair happen. Jimmy had learned which booths were apt to have treasures that piqued his interest. He particularly enjoyed the various White Elephant and Rummage Sale booths. So, in the weeks leading up to the fair, he would volunteer to help set up those booths as a strategy for inspecting any incoming goodies. Jimmy had a particular interest in all kinds of trinkets and was blessed with a keen eye for treasures and a knack for bartering for them as well. (Just a side note…he still does!)
One year, on the day of the country fair, when all the preparations had been completed and we were ready to enjoy the festivities, Jimmy asked if he could go off in search of treasures. With a small pocketful of money and our blessing, he happily and independently set off on his quest. The rest of us spent the day wherever we were needed to make the day a success.
The full day of festivities was exciting and fun for our family, but it also proved to be long and tiring, especially for our little ones. At the end of the fair we wearily returned home and took turns sharing the day’s events and displaying any of the treasures we had acquired. When it was his turn, Jimmy proudly pulled a handful of precious knick-knacks from his pocket.
Methodically, he explained their importance to him and how he had bargained for each item. He saved his most valuable find till the end. As he slowly reached into his little pocket, he carefully extracted a long, worn, golden chain holding an equally worn golden cross. As he lifted it high for all of us to admire, he radiated a smile that practically exclaimed “TA DA!” My mother’s heart leaped with joy. This precious child of God had instinctively realized the intrinsic value of the worn cross. I hugged him at least a half dozen times to share his joy, before sending them all off to bed.
A Tiny Crack
Not long after they had disappeared to their rooms, a long drawn out cry of “Moooooom!” echoed down the stairwell. It was followed by a distinct distressed sobbing that indicated something was unusually wrong. Praying that no one was hurt, I dashed up the stairs to find Jimmy standing in his doorway pointing toward the corner of his room. “What is it? What happened? What is the matter?” I rattled off my standard motherly questions as I scanned the room for possible answers. Finding no apparent explanation, I stooped down to hear what was making him so distressed. Trying to catch his breath through the tears, he explained that the chain had slipped through his fingers and fallen through a very tiny crack in the floorboards. His tear-stained eyes were fixed on me, imploring me to recover his precious treasure. I asked his older brother for his rendition of events and he verified Jimmy’s story.
Plan A involved shining a flashlight into the tiny hole, hoping that it had fallen straight down where I could see it and then figure out how to retrieve it. But…no such luck. Moving on to Plan B, my husband gathered his tools and began prying up floorboards. Although we all scoured the area carefully, the chain was nowhere to be found. While my husband reattached the floorboards, I tried to console our disappointed, tired little boy.
We were all worn out, and it was apparent that nothing more could be done that evening. However, as we began to say nightly prayers with the boys, a thought came to me. When I was a child, just about Jimmy’s age, I had a toy jump rope that was very special to me. Somehow the jump rope had been misplaced and I felt very sad and helpless. I stopped and asked God to find it for me and place it in a
specific location for me to find the next morning. To my delight, it was there the next day. God had answered my prayer and I have never stopped praying or trusting Him since then. (Read this story in my article “Just Like a Child” for the September/October 2019 issue of Shalom Tidings at shalomtidings.org).
Recalling that feeling, I relayed my story to the boys and we prayed in the same way for God to help Jimmy. Jimmy asked for God to place the necklace on his dresser in a little container where he had placed other important treasures. We ended the long day with that prayer.
The next morning I woke up to another long drawn out cry of, “Moooooom!” Gathering my wits and my robe about me, the same list of questions echoed through my head as on the previous evening. However, instead of finding a crying son in the doorway, I saw Jimmy smiling from ear to ear as the worn golden chain and cross dangled once again from the grasp of his little hand. “Did you find my chain last night?” he asked excitedly. I gasped. I knew that question! I had asked that same question to my mother many years ago, regarding my jump rope, when I discovered it had been located. I knew the impact my answer was about to have on my son. I slowly shook my head and reached out to hold Jimmy’s little hand. “No, Jimmy. I did not find your chain. You asked for God to help you and He answered your prayer.” I let my answer sink into his little heart for a few moments.
My husband and my other sleepy son appeared in the doorway asking, “What’s going on?” Jimmy directed the same question at them, “Did you find my chain last night?” Neither could explain how the chain had appeared in the little treasure box. God had visited Jimmy that evening and it was time for me to pass on the lesson I had learned as a child.
“Jimmy, when we pray to God, He listens to us. Last night you needed help and you asked God to help you in a very specific way. God heard you and helped you. I want you to always remember this moment. I want you to know that, you can ALWAYS ask God to help you no matter what you need or how old you get. He will always help you. Do you understand?” He looked down at his little cross and nodded. The impact of what had just happened began to take root in him and in all of us. None of us have forgotten that day and we have shared the story of the little cross to the children that were born after Jimmy.
My husband and I finally concluded our deliberations on how to distribute our belongings to our children. They may not fully understand the monetary or sentimental value of our earthly possessions and that is okay. When I recall this story, God reminds of what He said in Matthew 6:19-20 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.” God tells us in Scripture not to store up things on this earth that will wither and pass away. He tells us to store up our treasures in Heaven. We have stressed to our children the importance of prayer and the eternal value of having faith in God.
I have found peace and comfort in knowing that we passed on to our children the importance of having a close prayerful relationship with God. They, in turn, are passing their faith and their stories about God on to their families. Praying forward our faith has become our everlasting legacy and heavenly treasure. Today, I want to encourage you. It is never too late to start your own legacy. Pray for your faith to increase and then pray forward your faith to those God places in your life. God bless you dear brothers and sisters.'