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Nov 26, 2022
Encounter Nov 26, 2022

Are you struggling with procrastination, lukewarmness and boredom? Here are 7 spiritual vaccinations to boost your soul’s immunity

Usually we associate the devil with darkness and the night. But there is a worse enemy that lurks when the sun is at its highest, we traditionally call it ‘the noonday devil.’ You begin the day with great enthusiasm and passion, but as it gets close to noon you lose your interest and vigor. This is not a physical fatigue, but more a deflation of the soul.

The Desert monks called this acedia, meaning lack of care. This vice is also known as sloth, one of the seven deadly sins, which does not stand by itself, but opens the door to other vices. After having an encounter with the Lord, a soul embarks on the spiritual journey with great passion. But to continue in the same spirit is not easy. After a few weeks or months, laziness or lack of motivation to do anything can beset the soul. This state of indifference, a boredom in the soul, is characterized by a numb spiritual emptiness.

Acedia can be described as a spiritual depression. No activity may be pleasing at this stage. Sloth threatens people in all stages of life. It is the cause of many evils. Obviously, it prevents us from working out our salvation. The noonday demon is “the most oppressive of all the demons” (Evagrius Ponticus). It is oppressive in the sense that it brings to mind how difficult it is to practice religious faith or the ascetic life. It suggests that there are many ways to serve God, so one does not necessarily have to regularly pray or perform religious exercises.

This mindset takes away all spiritual joy, and opens the doors for joys of the flesh to become the overriding motivation. One of the tricks of this demon is to ensure that a person does not realize that they are afflicted, instilling a distaste for spiritual matters, leading a person to excessive reliance on earthly pleasures until these also lose their delight. Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of this as a sterility, dryness, and barrenness of one’s soul that makes the sweet honey of Psalm-singing seem tasteless, and turns vigils into empty trials.

Temptations of Acedia

Acedia is the ultimate breakdown of one’s capacity to love oneself and others. This makes a spirit lukewarm. The Scripture speaks of them: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3: 15-16). How do you know if you’re under the oppression of the noonday devil? Examine your life and see if you face the following struggles.

One major sign is procrastination. Procrastination does not mean that you are doing nothing. Youmay be doing everything except for the one thing you were supposed to be doing. Is that you right now?

There are three forms of sloth: occupying oneself with unnecessary things, distraction, and spiritual melancholy or depression. Someone afflicted with the spirit of sloth may involve themselves in multiple things, without focusing on anything. They vacillate from one thing to another. Moments of stillness and peace are very difficult to acquire at this point. Lack of listening to the voice of God makes the soul terribly void. Distraction disrupts focus and recollection, leading to the minimization of prayer and spiritual exercises. This weariness leads to postponing everything. This experience of an interior void and weariness causes spiritual depression. There is a secret anger within. Under this affliction someone feels like criticizing everyone, without personally doing anything creative.

Turning to the Onions

Instability is another sign of this evil -inability to focus on your own vocational call.  Symptoms of instability may be excessive desire to change one’s locality, work, situation, institution, monastery, spouse, or friends. Listening to gossip, entertaining unnecessary debates and quarrels, and complaining about everything are some of the expressions of this acedia-spirit. When they are subject to this, people behave like naughty children: as soon as one desire is fulfilled, they want something else. They may begin reading a book, then jump to another book, then to the cell phone, but never finishing any task. At this stage, someone may feel like even faith or religion is of no use. Losing direction eventually takes a soul into dreadful doubt and confusion.

The third sign is exaggerated bodily interests: feeling unable to be in the company of what is distressful and unpleasant for long. The sorrow of the soul leads one to look for alternative sources of joy, then moves on to other things that give pleasure. Saint Thomas Aquinas once said: “Those who find no joy in spiritual pleasures, have recourse to pleasures of the body.” When spiritual joy disappears, a soul will automatically turn to the pleasures of the world or to the inordinate appetites of the body, tending to regress to the sins that had been renounced and left behind, craving for “the onions of Egypt” (Numbers 11:5). Someone who fails to look to the heavenly manna that the Lord serves every day will definitely start craving for “the onions of the world”.

A frozen heart can be yet another sign of a lukewarm soul. The Scripture says about such a soul: “the sluggard says, there is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets! As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed. The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs. 26: 13-15). Again, it says, “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” (Proverbs 6: 7). Remember the fall of King David. When the armies were at the battleground, the military leader remained in the palace, seeking his own petty interests. He was not where he should have been. Laziness led him to lust, and later to even more heinous sins. An unstructured day leaves the soul more prone to succumb to evil desires. Later, David wrote regretfully of “the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday” (Psalms 91: 6).

Overcoming Acedia

Desert fathers like Evagrius Ponticus, John Cassian and others have proposed several ways to combat the noonday devil. Let us explore seven of them:

1.Turn to God in tears: Genuine tears mark the sincerity of the desire for a Savior. They are the outward expression of an inner desire for God’s help. God’s grace is necessary to overcome acedia.

2. Learn to speak to your Soul: Keep reminding yourself of the blessings you have already received. You may motivate your spirit by thanking the Lord for all His merits. When you thank the Lord, you experience an uplifting of the spirit. In Psalms, David says: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalms 42:5). “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity” (Psalms 103: 2). This is a fail-safe tactic to fight the demon. I personally, have found this approach very powerful.

3. Perseverance leads to greater desire to do what is good: Desire drives action. Persistent desire is required to overcome spiritual laziness of the soul. Hyper-activism will not make you holy. In our cyber age, one may easily fall into superficial relationships, social media addictions, and real dangers to purity of heart and body. Boredom of the soul and dulling of conscience makes one want to live like everyone else, losing the grace to gaze at the transcendence. We must learn to practice stillness and solitude. For this, we must intentionally set apart a few moments for prayer and meditation. I suggest two simple yet profound ways to do this:

(a) Throw some ‘arrow prayers’ to charge the soul. Make short invocations like, “Jesus, I trust in you.” or, “O Lord, come to my assistance.” or “Jesus help me.”Or you can say the ‘Jesus prayer’ consistently: “O Lord Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me, a sinner.”

(b) Pray the Surrender Novena: “O Jesus, I surrender myself to You, take care of everything.”

You can recite these short prayers frequently, even while brushing, showering, cooking, driving, etc. This will help cultivate the presence of the Lord.

4. Go to the Sacrament of Penance: A spiritually lukewarm soul resists going to Confession. But, you must do it frequently. This is actually a reset button in your spiritual life that can get you back on track. You may be repeatedly confessing the same sins, and doing the same penance for years! Just do it at once. Share your spiritual status with the Confessor. You will receive an amazing grace.

5. Surround yourself with Holy things: Read about saints. Watch good inspiring Christian movies. Listen to the challenging stories of missionaries and missions. Read a short passage of the Scripture every day; you can begin by reading the book of Psalms.

6. Devotion to the Holy Spirit: The third Person of the Trinity is our Helper. Yes, we need help. Pray: “O Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your love. O Holy spirit, fill my emptiness with your life and spirit.”

7. Meditations on Death: Evagrius considered self-love as the root of all sins. By meditating on death, we remind ourselves that “we are but dust, and to dust we shall return.” Saint Benedict taught the rule: ‘To keep death daily before one’s eyes.” Death-contemplation is not to wallow in morbid thoughts but rather to make us vigilant and to commit ourselves to the mission more passionately.

These are seven ways to help a soul beat the noonday devil. They are like spiritual vaccinations to boost your soul’s spiritual immunity. Thirst for the Lord will be quenched by “the One” who puts thirst for Him in every soul.

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By: Father Roy Palatty CMI

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Nov 12, 2022
Encounter Nov 12, 2022

I was about to return home to work and save money for my college education but God had a big surprise for me

When I was a college student many years ago, I went on a mission trip to the Texas/Mexico border to volunteer with Our Lady’s Youth Center and the Lord’s Ranch Community. This lay apostolate, founded by a well-known Jesuit priest, Fr. Rick Thomas, had outreaches to the poor in both Juarez, Mexico and in the slums of El Paso. I had just completed my first year at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and after this 3-week experience of missions, I was to return home for the summer to work and save money, then go back to Ohio to continue my college education. At least, that was my plan. But God had a big surprise for me.

A Radical Departure

During my first week at the Lord’s Ranch, I started getting the uncomfortable sense that the Lord was calling me to stay. I was horrified! I had never been to the desert or experienced dry, swelteringly hot weather. I was born and raised in the tropical paradise of Hawaii surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, palm trees and an abundance of flowers and rain forests. The Ranch, on the other hand, is surrounded by mesquite bushes, tumbleweed, and a parched, semi-arid landscape.

“Lord, you’ve got the wrong person in mind,” I cried out in my prayer. “I could never live here, never hack this life of hard manual labor, no air conditioning, and very few creature comforts. Choose someone else, not me!”But the strong feeling that God was calling me to a radical departure from my carefully planned-out life kept growing in me.

One day in the chapel at the Lord’s Ranch, I received this reading from the book of Ruth:

“I have heard what you have done… you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom previously you did not know. May the Lord reward what you have done! May you receive a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Ruth 2:12-13

I slammed the Bible shut. I did not like where this was going!

Putting Out the Fleece

After the second week of wrestling with the Lord, I stopped praying. I didn’t like what He was saying. I was sure He had gotten the wrong girl. I was only 18 years old! Too young, too inexperienced, too much of a wimp, not tough enough. My excuses sounded good to me.

So I threw down a fleece (like Gideon did in Judges 6:36ff). “Lord, if you are really serious about this, speak to me through Sister.” Sister Mary Virginia Clark was a Daughter of Charity who co-led the apostolate with Fr. Rick Thomas. She had an authentic gift of prophecy and would share inspired words at the prayer gatherings. That week at the prayer meeting, she stood up and said, “I have a prophecy for the young women from Steubenville.” That got my attention. I don’t remember anything she said, except for the words, “Follow the example of the women in the Old Testament.” Ouch! I thought immediately of the reading in Ruth I had received in prayer.

“Okay, Lord. This is getting too real.” So out comes another fleece: “If you are really serious, have Sister Mary Virginia say something to me directly.” There, I thought. That should end it.

Sister used to speak individually with all the visitors who came through the Lord’s Ranch, so it was not unusual that she asked to meet with me that weekend. We had a nice chat, with her asking me about my family, my background, what led me to the Ranch, etc. She said a prayer at the end of our conversation, and I got up to leave. “Whew, dodged a bullet,” I was thinking, when suddenly she asked, “Have you ever thought about staying here?”

My heart sank. I couldn’t respond so just nodded yes. All she told me was, “I’ll pray for you.” And I sadly walked out the door.

I went outside to get some air. I headed for the small, man-made lake at the Lord’s Ranch. I had grown up on an island surrounded by the ocean so to be near water was always comforting and familiar to me. This small catfish-stocked pond was an oasis in the desert where I could sit and soothe my troubled soul.

I cried, I pleaded, I argued with the Lord, trying to convince Him that there really had been some divine mix-up. “I know you’ve got the wrong person, God. I don’t have what it takes to live this life.”

Silence. The sky as if bronzed. No movement or stirring.

When the Scales Fell

Sitting there alone by the peaceful water, fluffy white clouds floating overhead, I calmed down. I started to reflect on my life. I had always felt close to God since I was a little girl. He was my closest friend, my confidante, my rock. I knew He loved me. I knew He had my best interests at heart and would never harm me in any way. I also knew that I wanted to do whatever He asked, no matter how distasteful it was.

So I grudgingly gave in. “Okay, God. You win. I’ll stay.”

At that point I heard in my heart, “I don’t want a resignation. I want a cheerful, joyful yes.”

“What! Now you’re pushing it, Lord! I just gave in, but that’s not enough?”

More silence. More inner struggle.

Then I prayed for the desire to be here — something I had avoided asking for all this time. “Lord, if this is truly Your plan for me, please give me the desire for it.” Instantly, I felt like roots shoot out of my feet, grounding me solidly here, and I knew I was home.

This was home. This was where I was meant to be. Unasked for, unwanted, unattractive to my human senses. Not at all in my script for my life, but God’s choice for me.

As I continued to sit there, it was as if scales fell from my eyes. I started seeing the beauty in the desert — the mountains that frame the Lord’s Ranch, the desert plants, the wild ducks that were sharing this watering hole with me that evening. Everything looked so different, so striking to me.

I got up to leave knowing that there had been a dramatic shift in me. I was a different person — with a new perspective, a new purpose, a new mission. This was to be my life. Time to start embracing it and living it to the full.

That was 40 years ago. My life has been nothing like I envisioned it would be in my teen years. God’s plan for me swerved in a dramatically different direction than I thought I was going in. But I am so glad and grateful that I followed His path and not mine. I’ve been stretched and pulled way out of my comfort zone and what I thought I was capable of; and I know the challenges and lessons are not over yet. But the people I’ve met, the deep friendships I’ve formed, the experiences I’ve had, the skills I’ve learned, have enriched me far beyond what I thought was possible. And even though I initially resisted God and His crazy plan for my life, now I can’t imagine living any other way.

What a full, vibrant, challenging, and joy-filled life it has been! Thank You, Jesus.

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By: Ellen Hogarty

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Nov 10, 2022
Encounter Nov 10, 2022

At a very young age Keith Kelly began drinking and experimenting with drugs. He led a dangerous lifestyle until one black night he saw the eyes of evil staring at him

Growing up was quite difficult for me and my siblings as my father was an alcoholic and my relationship with him was just non-existent. We all responded to dad’s alcoholism in different ways. My way was to suppress anger and frustration at our situation. To cope with these feelings, I began drinking at a very young age and went on to experiment with drugs. I became very rebellious against all forms of authority, so I had regular conflicts with the law enforcement in Westport and got expelled from secondary school.

During that time I started to feel a dark presence around me quite regularly. At the beginning I didn’t really know what was going on. I had an innate sense that this was something demonic or evil, but wasn’t able to fully articulate it. I then began to have episodes at night: waking up paralysed and dripping with sweat. I could feel a dark presence in my room which was very frightening. I felt suffocated by this presence and battled to be free of it. One night I woke up everyone by incessantly screaming.

Word by Word

All these demonic manifestations culminated in a very scary incident one night in my bathroom when I looked in the mirror and saw the devil inside me. It is very hard to put into words what I saw. It was a really hideous and beastly form of myself. I could hear him saying, ‘Your life is finished, your life is over, now I have you… I’m gonna destroy you.’ I heard voices regularly and there were a lot of threats being directed against me.

These strange experiences often reduced me to tears of desperation. One day, God gave me the grace to fall to my knees. Though I didn’t know who God was or what faith was about, I had learned the Our Father, and Hail Mary when I attended a Catholic school. So I just started praying the Our Father word by word. There’s always a temptation for prayers to become mechanical and disconnected from the heart. That day I meant every word of that prayer and it was truly a cry to God the Father. I called to Him with all my heart, begging Him to please deliver me.

Halfway through the Our Father, I felt another presence in the room…the presence of God, the presence of my Lord and God, the presence of my Heavenly Father. His presence physically removed this evil presence from my bedroom. I remember just lying on the ground, weeping in gratitude and I knew with certainty from that moment that God was truly my father. A divine peace swept over me that was so tangible, I could feel it. I’ve never felt anything similar to it since. I just lay there and wept with relief and joy.

Ultimatum

Years later in my walk with God I learned that the Our Father is a deliverance prayer. It ends with ‘..deliver us from evil. Amen’ and this prayer is in the official exorcism ritual of the Church. The ‘Our Father’ is prayed to deliver the victim from possession or demonic manifestations. I didn’t know this at the time. From that moment when I was 16 or 17, I started praying for help. Every night, I would pray a few prayers asking for help to give up the drugs, to stop drinking, and to get my life back in order because I had a court case coming up. I was charged with 11 offenses and my solicitor was very frank, “You’re looking at a prison sentence.”

During that time my father actually became sober. He was able to conquer his alcohol addiction through the Alcoholics Anonymous program. To help facilitate his recovery, he had a sponsor, Jim Brown who had escaped alcohol addiction after a deep faith experience. Since then he was taking groups of people to Medjugorje. My father asked Jim to bring me to Medjugorje. Jim told my dad to start praying a decade of the Rosary for me every night . Though Jim was hesitant because he knew I had a bad name, he gave me a chance.

We went during the 2005 Easter season but I was just drinking, looking for girls, not really kind of participating in any of the activities. On the third day, I climbed the hill which is allegedly the place where Mary first appeared to the six visionaries. Lot of people have strong conversion experiences up there, but I didn’t know this at the time. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had an encounter with the living God. I was given the gift of faith. I suddenly had no doubts. I knew that God existed and I fell in love with Our Lady. I felt unconditionally loved for who I was, so I came down that mountain as a different person.

Someone in the group said to me years later, “You were different when you came down from that mountain, you were able to maintain eye contact, you were free and comfortable with yourself. You seemed more joyful without that heavy heartedness.” She noticed a transformation in me. I came back to the sacraments on the eve of the Divine Mercy Sunday, the day St John Paul II died, I was like the prodigal son, coming back to God, the father.

Thrown Back

Two weeks after coming back from Medjugorje, I had that court case. I had just turned 18 which meant that I had to go on stand and defend myself. So it was quite intimidating. There were three guards, two detectives, the superintendent, the judge, my parents, my solicitor and a couple of journalists. Whenever I opened my mouth to tell my story, the guards would interrupt saying, “This guy is an absolute menace to society, he needs to be locked up, he’s very disruptive and we’ve had multiple incidents with him.” They kept interrupting me, so I couldn’t get into any rhythm. I was very nervous but there were a lot of people praying for me.

Suddenly the unexpected happened. The judge, Mary Devons pointed at the guards and told them, “I’ve had enough. Get out of my courtroom”. They were completely stunned. After they left, she just turned to me and said, “Right, just tell me your story.” I simply told her about how I went to this place called Medjugorje and about my experiences there. Tears sprang to my eyes as I declared with sincerity, “I just really believe God’s going to change my life around.” She looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to give you a second chance.” I was given a suspended sentence, 200 hours of community service and a nine o’clock curfew for a year. That was it! That was the lifeline I needed and I took it.

Looking back, and spiritually analyzing what had happened, I feel that God was my judge. It was He who saw the sincerity in my heart and intervened. Judge Mary Devons was just the instrument of His mercy. It was powerful. That was my deliverance. And I never looked back. I realized that my life was a gift and everyone’s life is a gift. We haven’t done anything to warrant our existence. God has gratuitously given it to us.

I began to delve deeper into my faith, studying the Bible and reading the lives of Saints. In 2000, I started taking groups of young people to Medjugorje. Recently, I heard a priest answer the question, “What’s the sign of conversion?” He replied that it’s the desire to evangelize. If you have had an encounter with the living God, you can’t keep it to yourself but share it. And I wanted to share it as I was set on fire with love of God. And that for me is a real gift.

Faith is a response to the self revelation of God and not only the self revelation of God, the God who died for us, who purchased us with his own blood. I want to reciprocate that love, which God expressed for me, on the Cross.

There’s a scripture that has always spoken to my heart. “Seek first, the kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be added unto you.” So if you put God first, everything else will fall into place. We cannot outdo God in generosity. That’s my experience of God. If you give God a millimeter, He will give you the universe. So whatever we give God, like the loaves and the fishes, He’ll multiply it. You can’t outdo Him in generosity.

Often, young people have got this preconceived idea that following God equates to giving up everything so life turns dull and boring. But it’s just the opposite. Saint Augustine says, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance, to seek him the greatest adventure and to find him the greatest human achievement.” So it’s an adventure. My walk with God has just been this incredible adventure. So don’t be afraid to respond to God’s initiative.

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By: Keith Kelly

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Oct 26, 2022
Encounter Oct 26, 2022

As a young drug addict, Jim Wahlberg felt despised and forgotten by the world…until God spoke to him through a special person! Read his inspiring story of redemption

I grew up Catholic, but more in the Catholic tradition than the Catholic faith. I was baptized and made my first Holy Communion. My parents sent us to church, but we didn’t go to Sunday Mass as a family. There were 9 children in my family, so anybody who was old enough to walk to church, walked to church. I remember the feeling of not belonging: the few times I went to church I would take the bulletin, and then go off to do something else. Then I stopped going altogether. Most of my siblings did the same. Nobody ever told me that Jesus died for me or that God loved me or that the Virgin Mary would intercede on my behalf. I felt I wasn’t worthy, that the people in the pews were better than me and that they were somehow judging me. I was starving for attention and acceptance.

Chasing Acceptance

When I was 8 years old, I saw the neighborhood kids drinking beer. I forced myself into their little group and convinced them to give me some. I didn’t become an alcoholic that day, but I got my first taste of acceptance and attention from the older, ‘cool’ kids. I was instantly hooked on the attention and continued to hang around the people that were drinking, doing drugs or smoking, because I found acceptance there. I spent the rest of my adolescence chasing that attention.

I grew up during the forced integration of the Boston public school system, so every year I was put on a bus and sent to school in a different neighborhood. I attended seven different schools during my first seven years of grade school, which meant each year I started over as “the new kid”. God was completely out of the picture. The only relationship I had with God was one of fear. I remember hearing over and over that God was going to get me, that He was watching, and that He was going to punish me for all the bad things I was doing.

A Lost Little Boy

On the Friday night of my last day of 7th grade, I was getting ready to go out when my dad turned to me and said, “Don’t forget, when those streetlights come on, you better be in this house, or else don’t bother to come home.” That was his threat to make sure I followed the rules. I was a 12-year-old boy hanging out with other 12-year-old kids that were all from broken homes. We were all drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and doing drugs. Later that night, when I looked up and saw the streetlights come on, I knew I wasn’t going to make it home. Since I would be late, going home wasn’t an option, so I spent that entire summer down the street, a mile or two away from home, hanging out with my friends. We did drugs and drank alcohol every day. I was just a lost little boy.

During that summer, I was arrested a few times and became a ward of the state. It was not long before I was no longer welcome at home. I was placed in foster care, group homes and juvenile detention centers. I was homeless and completely lost and alone. The only thing that filled the emptiness was the alcohol and drugs. I would consume them, and then pass out or go to sleep. When I woke up, I would be filled with fear, and I would need more drugs and alcohol. From age 12 to 17, I was either homeless, or living in someone else’s home, or in juvenile detention.

Shackled and Broken

At 17 I got arrested again for injuring someone. I ended up being sent to the state prison on a 3-to- 5-year sentence. I found myself fighting the same inner battle as when I was younger, struggling for attention and acceptance, trying to create an illusion. I served the full five years of my sentence.

At the end of the prison term, they said I could go home, but the problem was I had no home to go to. An older brother was kind enough to say, “You can stay with me until you get on your feet.” But that would never happen. My brother picked me up at the prison to take me to see my mom. But first we stopped for a drink at a bar in my old neighborhood. I had to have a drink, before I could see my mom. It was my first legal drink, since I was now over 21. When I sat at my mother’s kitchen table, she didn’t recognize me as her child; she felt I was stranger.

I had been out of prison for approximately six months before I was arrested again for house invasion. The house I broke into belonged to a Boston police officer. In court, the officer spoke on my behalf. He said, “Look at this kid, look at his condition. Why don’t you get him help? I don’t know if prison is the right place for him.” He showed me sympathy because he could see I was a full-blown drug addict.

Suddenly I was back in prison serving a six-year sentence. I did all I could to create the illusion that I was changing my life so the police would release me early to rehabilitation. But I didn’t need rehabilitation—I needed God.

The Road to Freedom

After a few months of putting on this show of transforming my life, the prison chaplain, Father James, took notice of me and offered me a job as a custodian in his chapel. My first thought was, “I’m going to manipulate this guy”. He smoked cigarettes, drank coffee, had a phone—all things that inmates don’t have access to. So, I took the job, ulterior motives and all.

But what I didn’t know was that he also had a plan. When he approached me, his goal was to hustle me just as much as I was planning to hustle him. But his manipulation was for the glory of God. He wanted to get me back to Mass, back to the foot of the Cross. Soon after I started working in the chapel, I asked for a couple favors from Father James. When he granted my requests, it felt like my manipulation was working. One day, however, he approached me and told me he wanted me to come and clean after the Saturday Vigil Mass so that the chapel would be ready for Sunday Mass. When I offered to come after Mass, he insisted I come beforehand and stay through the Mass. He was already pushing me in the direction of faith.

A Divine Appointment

At the Mass, I felt awkward and uncomfortable. I didn’t know the prayers or when to sit or stand, so I watched what everyone else was doing to get by. Soon after, Father James officially hired me for the custodian job, and told me we would be having a special guest at the prison, “Mother Teresa.” I said, “Oh that’s amazing! Who is Mother Teresa?” Looking back, I probably didn’t even know who the President of the United States was at the time; my life revolved solely around consuming alcohol, and I rarely concerned myself with people and events outside my bubble of addiction.

Soon, Mother Teresa arrived at our prison. I remember seeing her in the distance and thinking, “Who is this person that all of the dignitaries, the warden, and the prisoners are swarming around, hanging on her every word?” Pulling closer, I noticed that her sweater and shoes looked a thousand years old. But I also noticed the peace in her eyes, and the money that filled her pockets. People often gave her money knowing she would give it to the poor.Since I worked at the chapel, I was blessed to be part of the entrance procession for the Mass with Mother Teresa. Prisoner that I was, I stood surrounded by the Cardinal, other dignitaries, and sisters from her order. The Cardinal invited Mother Teresa to sit at the altar with him, but she humbly declined, and with a reverent bow, went and knelt on the floor with some of the most dangerous criminals that I had ever met in my life.

Gazing Into God’s Eyes

As I sat on the floor, I caught her eye and I felt as though I was looking at God. Mother Teresa then ascended the altar steps and spoke words that touched me deeply, words that I had never heard before. She said that Jesus died for my sins, that I was more than the crimes I had committed, that I was a child of God, and that I mattered to God. In that moment, in that stillness, I felt as though there was no one else in the room, as though she was speaking directly to me. Her words reached a deep part of my soul.

I ran back to the chapel the next day and told Father, “I need to know more about the Jesus that she was talking about, the God and the Catholic faith that she was talking about.” Father James was delighted! He had me right at the foot of the Cross where he had wanted me ever since he offered me the custodian job. I was willing to do anything to learn more about Jesus, so Father James started preparing me for my Confirmation.

We met every week, studying the Catechism to learn about the faith. Though I was twice transferred to other prisons, I connected with the priests in those prisons as well, and was able to continue growing in my faith.

A New Beginning

A year later, it was time for me to make my formal commitment to my faith. My Confirmation was a thoughtful and intentional moment in my life. As an adult, I knew this was a major step that would set me on the road to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ

When the time came, I called my mom to tell her I was going to be confirmed, and that I would love for her to be there. She had promised she would never visit me in prison, so she was wary. After all that I had put her through, she was wounded as a mother. But when I called again a couple of days later, she agreed to come. The Confirmation day was monumental. It was not only significant for me and my walk with Christ, but also for my relationship with my mother.

The following year, it was time for me to stand before the parole board. They said they had a letter from my mother she had written on my behalf. I knew my mother would never lie to the authorities to get me out of prison. Her letter read, “Before you stands a man of God. It’s okay, you can let him go now. He won’t be back.” Those words meant everything to me.

By the time my mother passed away, she had dementia. Over the years she had lost her ability to tell stories and her world became small. But even in those moments when she was most in the grip of dementia, she was able to recall my Confirmation, the moment when she knew I was saved.

Jesus Christ is my Savior, and I feel His presence in my life. While it requires work and effort, my relationship with Jesus is the most important one in my life. He will always love me and support me, but unless I fully engage in the relationship, I won’t know the comfort and love He longs to share with me.

It is an honor to share my journey.

Jesus Christ is our Savior.

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By: Jim Wahlberg

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Oct 21, 2022
Encounter Oct 21, 2022

When God calls us, He also gives us the strength to overcome any obstacles that come the way. Read the amazing story of how Father Peter Tran clung to God when assailed by the storms of life

In April 1975, the lives of Vietnamese people who live in the South were changed forever when Communists took over the country. More than a million South Vietnamese soldiers had been captured and imprisoned in concentration camps throughout the country, while hundreds of thousands of clergy, seminarians, nuns, monks and brothers were detained in jails and re-education centers so they could be brainwashed. About 60% of them died in the camps, where they were never allowed to receive visits from their families or friends. They lived as though they had been forgotten.

A War-Torn Nation

I was born in the 1960s, during the war, just after the Americans arrived in my country. I was brought up during the fight between the North and the South, so it formed the backdrop of my childhood. By the time the war ended, I had nearly finished secondary school. I did not really understand what it was all about but I was very sad to see so many people grieving for all their loved ones who had been killed or imprisoned.

When the Communists took over our country, everything was turned upside down. We lived in fear under constant persecution for our faith. There was virtually no freedom at all. We did not know what would happen to us tomorrow. Our fate was totally in the hands of Communist Party members.

Answering God’s Call

In these inauspicious circumstances, I felt the call of God. Initially, I reacted against it strongly, because I knew it was impossible for me to follow that call. First of all, there was no seminary where I could study for the priesthood. Secondly, it would not only be dangerous for me, but also for my family, who would be punished if the government found out. And ultimately, I felt unworthy to become a disciple of Jesus. However, God has His own way to bring about His plan, so I joined the (underground) seminary in 1979. Sixteen months later, the local police discovered that I wanted to become a priest and so I was conscripted into the army.

I hoped that I might be released after 4 years, so I could return to my family and my studies, but during my training a friend warned me that we were being sent to fight in Kampuchea. I knew that 80% of the soldiers who went to fight in Kampuchea never returned. I was so terrified at the prospect that I made plans to desert, despite the perilous risks. Although I escaped successfully, I was still in danger. I couldn’t endanger my family by returning home, so I was continually on the move, in constant fear that somebody would see me and report me to the police.

Fleeing for Life

After a year of this daily terror, with no end in sight, my family told me that, for the safety of everyone, I must attempt to escape from Vietnam. One day, after midnight, I followed secret directions to creep to a small wooden fishing boat, where fifty people had gathered to squeeze on board to run the gauntlet of the Communist patrols. From young children to the elderly, we held our breaths and each other’s hands until we were safely out in the open sea. But our troubles had only just begun. We only had a vague idea of where we wanted to go, and had little idea of where to head to get there.

Our escape was full of hardships and perils. We spent four days in terrible weather, tossed about in a rough sea. At one stage, we had given up all hope. We doubted that we would be able to survive the next storm, and believed that we would never arrive at our destination, as we were at the mercy of the sea which seemed to be driving us nowhere, and we couldn’t work out where we were. All we could do was entrust our lives to God’s Providence. All this time, He had us under His protection. We couldn’t believe our good fortune when we finally found refuge on a small island in Malaysia, where I spent eight months in a refugee camp before being accepted into Australia.

Standing Strong

Having endured such terrors, I finally discovered that “After rain comes sunshine”. We have a traditional saying, “a flow will have an ebb”. Everyone in life must have some gloomy days to contrast with the days of joy and contentment. Perhaps it is a rule of human life. No one from birth can be free of all sorrows. Some are physical, some are mental, and some are spiritual. Our sorrows differ from each other, but almost everyone will have a taste. However, sorrows themselves cannot kill a human being. Only the lack of will to continue in surrender to God’s will can discourage someone so much that they seek shelter in illusory joys, or choose suicide in a vain attempt to escape from sorrow. I feel fortunate that I have learnt, as a Catholic, to trust God entirely with my life. I believe that He will assist me whenever I am in trouble, especially when it seems that I am out of options, encircled by enemies. I have learned by experience to seek shelter with God, the shield and stronghold of my life. Nothing can harm me when He is by my side (Psalm 22).

New Life in a New Land

When I arrived in Australia, I threw myself into studying English so that I could follow the longing in my heart to keep studying for the priesthood. It was not easy for me in the beginning, living in such a completely different culture. Often, I couldn’t find the right words to convey my thoughts without being misunderstood. Sometimes I felt like screaming loudly in frustration. Without family, or friends, or money, it was difficult to start a new life. I felt lonely and isolated, with little support from anyone, except God.

He has always been my companion, giving me strength and courage to continue persevering despite all the obstacles. His light has guided me through the darkness, even when I failed to recognize His presence. Everything I have achieved is by His grace and I will never cease to be grateful to Him for calling me to follow Him.

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By: Father Peter Hung Tran

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Oct 08, 2022
Encounter Oct 08, 2022

Want to know the easiest way to Heaven?

My mother and grandmother had a great devotion to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart. As children, we prayed often to Mary for the many things we needed. Even when we were trying to find a lost doll or a bike that was stolen, we turned to Our Lady. My father used to work in the construction sector. When work was scarce, which it often was, my mother prayed to Mary, and inevitably, a short time later, a contractor would call offering work for my father.

Because we thought it was too long, most of us kids ran and hid whenever we heard the word “Rosary”. But our mother would eventually find us and bring us together to pray. Unfortunately, as we got older, Our Lady became less important to us than when we were children.

Back in Mary’s Arms

In 2006, the Saint Patrick’s Community came to our parish to give a mission. Each day consisted of Holy Mass in the morning, and talks and testimonies in the evening. Towards the end of the week, I found my heart was beginning to change. A wave of childhood memories of praying to Our Lady washed over me, and I recalled the important role she played in our lives. I longed to recapture my childhood relationship with Mother Mary.

On the final day of the Mission, we celebrated a beautiful Holy Mass. Afterwards, the children of the parish gathered round lighting candles to Our Lady. We adults joined them. While we were lighting candles and praying, the children asked many questions about the Blessed Mother: “Where she is now?” they wanted to know, and “How can we talk to her?” They prayed fervently, with eyes closed and hands joined. Again, I felt the desire to recapture my childhood piety. I started speaking to Our Lady in the same way I did as a child. We adults are sometimes content to speak to her but not with her. We don’t speak to her as we would to our mothers. During the parish mission, I relearned how to relax with Our Lady and let my prayers flow out of me.

In the car one day with my young daughter Sarah, I said that I’d love to see Our Lady. She replied that it would be “so cool.” Then she said, “Hold on Mommy, we do see Our Lady. We see her every day, but nobody takes the time to really see her or speak to her.” I was so astonished by her comment that I nearly drove off the road. What Sarah said felt wise. When I turned to ask her to explain, she was back playing with her doll. I was convinced her comment was inspired by the Holy Spirit. “Although you have hidden these things from the learned and wise, you have revealed them to the childlike” (Matthew 11:25).

Holding Mary’s Hands

Of course, my devotion to our Blessed Mother includes recitation of the Rosary. Though it’s an important and beautiful prayer, for many years I struggled to pray it because I hadn’t yet gotten over my childhood complaint that it was too long. But I began to recognize the importance of the Rosary when I started to meditate on the life of Jesus. Before that, the Rosary was a prayer I rushed to get over and done with. But as I reflected on the life of Jesus, Our Lady taught me that the Rosary brings us deeper into His heart. Because she is the Mother of God and our mother, too, we can rely on her taking us by the hand, and leading us into that deeper walk with Christ that only she fully understands.

As we move through life, the difficulties we encounter can cause us to doubt God’s love or distance us from Our Lady. My sister-in-law died of cancer when she was only forty-two, leaving behind a husband and three children. At such times, it’s natural to ask, “Why did this happen?” But who can understand our trials better than Mary? She stood at the foot of the Cross and watched her Son suffer and die. She can be a companion for us on any road we walk, including the road of suffering.

The Shortest Way to Christ’s Heart

It was through Our Lady that God led me to my heart’s desire. But it took some time. Through her I came to understand the importance of the Eucharist. Sometimes people’s devotion to Our Lady doesn’t lead to greater knowledge of Christ. But Our Lady is all about her Son, and about bringing us into a deeper relationship with Him. Through Our Lady I have made the total consecration to Jesus. It’s a personal journey with Mary to her Divine Son. Mary is a guide always leading us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In 2009, I went to Medjugorje after hearing that Our Lady was appearing there to six young children. It’s a simple but beautiful place where peace is tangible. There was a statue of the Sacred Heart in Medjugorje around which many pilgrims gathered to pray. When it was my turn to approach it, I drew close, closed my eyes, and prayed with my hand on the shoulder of the statue. But when I opened my eyes, I found that my hand was resting not on the shoulder but on the heart of Jesus! My simple prayer had been, “Jesus, I don’t know you as well as I know your mother.” I believe Our Lady was telling me, “Well, now it’s time. It’s time you go to my Son’s Heart.” I was unaware that the following day was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

A New Ministry Is Born

In August 2009, a visiting priest inspired me to start the Divine Mercy devotion in my parish. I had expected to do something related to the Rosary, but in hindsight I see that Our Lady was bringing me straight to her Son.

I also scheduled Divine Mercy talks throughout Ireland, and prayers for the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration. Eventually, I was invited to help plan the International Eucharistic Congress held in Ireland—all things I never imagined doing!

It was at the end of the Eucharistic Congress that the seed of my ministry was planted in my heart. Because I had found so much joy and grace flowing from the Eucharistic Congress, I asked myself, “Why does this have to end after one week of grace? Why can’t this continue?” Through God’s grace, it didn’t end. For the past ten years, I have been coordinating The Children of the Eucharist, set up under the auspices of the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration in Ireland. The objective of the ministry is to enhance the faith of our children and bring them closer to Christ through Adoration. This ministry was born when I recognized the need for children to learn more about Eucharistic Adoration and to experience it regularly in a child-friendly way. After piloting the program at our local primary school, the program quickly spread to many schools throughout Ireland.

As a youngster, I had hoped eventually to pursue nursing or some other profession, but those dreams faded when I married young at 22. After starting the Children of the Eucharist Apostolate, a priest told me, “Maybe if you had become a nurse, you wouldn’t be nursing souls now. You are nursing children in Adoration, helping them, and guiding them.”

Not only did Mother Mary lead me closer to her Son, but she inspired me to help children draw closer to Him as well. When we give our fiat, our deepest “yes” to Our Lady, a journey begins. She moves within our fiat, bringing us into a deeper union with Jesus and fulfilling His plans for our lives.

 

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By: Antoinette Moynihan

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Sep 23, 2022
Encounter Sep 23, 2022

For years Margaret Fitzsimmons endured deep pain and shame—until she heard the four words that changed her life forever…

Broken Childhood

I came into the world in 1945, when war-torn Germany was struggling with damaged infrastructure and millions of displaced people. As a single mother going through a series of relationships, my mom struggled to raise me up. To help pay the rent, my mother would take on extra jobs like sweeping the stairs of the building we lived under, and I would be there with the dustpan trying to help.

My favorite pseudo-Dad was a policeman, a nice man. They conceived a child together, but she didn’t want the baby, so she had an abortion, then left that relationship and started working in hotels. While Mum was downstairs working and drinking with the customers, I was usually alone in the attic bedroom. When she was drunk my mother got cantankerous, and found fault for no reason when she got home. She always left a long list for me, but I could never complete it to her satisfaction. Things got worse, and she ended up in jail one night after fighting with the policeman’s new girlfriend.

From Bad to Worse

After her younger brother emigrated to Australia, my granddad thought it would be good if my Mum and uncle were in the same country. So we followed him to Australia in 1957, and lived with him for a while. Mum got a job as a cook, and I washed all the pots and pans. If she caught me not concentrating on the work, she would throw things at me, like a barbecue fork. Since I was only twelve and often made mistakes, I ended up with scars all over my body. When she was in a drunken stupor, it was even worse. I started to hate her.

We were living at a boarding house by then, and she had met a lot of new people who liked driving into the countryside and sitting under the trees to drink. I was nearly thirteen by then, so she wouldn’t leave me at home, but she would go off into the bush and leave me sitting with whoever was around. On one of those nights, I was gang-raped, but I was too scared to say anything to Mum.

Another night, driving along the highway, a car kept overtaking us and finally pulled us over. It turned out to be undercover police. They took us back to the police station and questioned us individually. When they found out I had been interfered with, a doctor came to examine me. They gave Mum a court summons for a day or two later. But as soon as we got home, she started packing and caught the next train out of town. We ended up in a small town where she got another job as a cook, and I was put on as house maid. It was a hard life, but I learned to survive.

Desperate for Hope

Mom hooked up with a fellow called Wilson, and we went to live with him in Tully. He had been in a mental institution after his first wife died. Mum soon corrupted him, and they started fighting when they were drunk. I hated being in the middle of their fights. When Mum fell pregnant, she said, “Let’s take Wilson’s car and go down to Sydney and start a new life. I don’t really want to get married or have this baby.” I felt terrible.

I was tired of being on my own, and had wanted a brother or a sister for years. So, I went and told Wilson. After he confronted my Mum, they ended up getting married, but she held me responsible. She told me I had to look after the baby because she didn’t want her. My baby sister was my world until the day I met Tom. I was sick of all the fighting, and Tom promised to marry me when I was old enough, so I left home. I thought life would be fantastic after that, but it wasn’t. Tom’s mother was lovely. She really tried to look after me, but Tom would get drunk, then come home and abuse me. He kept getting drunk and getting sacked job after job, so we moved constantly. We did marry, and I hoped he would settle down and start treating me better, but he kept beating me and having affairs. I had to escape this misery, so I cleared out and moved to Brisbane where I got a job washing dishes.

Late one night after work, I got off the bus and saw someone standing across the road. I knew it was Tom. Although I was terrified, I stayed near the light in case he tried something stupid. He followed me, but I told him I wouldn’t go back and wanted a divorce.

A New Beginning

When I got home, I packed my bags, took a train to Sydney, and got on a bus out of town. For months, I had nightmares about him chasing me. I buckled down and got a job as a domestic helper at the hospital, where I made new friends.

There was another young girl with poor English who was a lot like me. We got along well, and started our nursing training together, then worked at a hospital after our training. She knew a chap that was doing National Service in the army. When he invited her to a ball, she got me, a blind date so we could go together. I wasn’t impressed with the date, but it was a way to get out.

One of the army caterers serving the meal started paying me attention. I thought he was better than the blind date, so we had a few dances and got on well. We kept on seeing each other, but after a few weeks Peter told me he was being sent to do an aviation course. I felt terribly disappointed. We had shared our life stories, so he knew what was going on, but he didn’t give up on me and kept in contact.

The more I got to know him, the more I liked him, but I didn’t want to get married again after the first disaster. Eventually, he introduced me to his family, and we got engaged before he finished his training. He was posted to Townsville, where I had lived with Tom. Though I didn’t want to revisit the horrors of the past, I couldn’t say no to Peter. We lived together for nearly two years before we were able to marry legally. Peter had grown up Catholic but stopped practicing in the hurly burly of military training, so we got married in our backyard.

Words That Changed Everything

Sometimes I was lonely because Peter was often away servicing helicopters in the field. I got a job as a high school lab assistant, but we came to realize there was something missing in our life. We had everything, but there was still an emptiness. Then Peter suggested, “Let’s go to church.” The first few times, we sat in the back pew, but as our hearts opened to the presence of the Lord, we got more involved.

We heard about a Marriage Encounter weekend and signed up. It was a real eye opener for both of us. Our hearts were stirred.

On that weekend we learned how to communicate by writing things down. I had never been able to put what I felt into words. Mum had always told me to shut up, so I learnt not to talk, and became unable to share my emotions.

When I first heard the words, “God doesn’t make junk,” I knew those words were meant for me. A wave of emotion overcame me. “God made me. I am okay. I am not junk.” All those years, I had been putting myself down, blaming myself for the awful things that had happened—the rape, marrying someone who drank when I should have known better, the divorce, my mother’s abuse …. I was coming back to life. My heart changed for the better every time I went to Mass or a prayer meeting. I was so in love with God and my husband.

Replacing Hate With Love

Up to this point, I hadn’t ever forgiven anyone. I had put my hurts in the background, and locked them away as if they never happened. When Peter and I got engaged, I wanted to let Mum know. I sent letters, but she returned them “to sender,” so I gave up.

Then, I dreamt that I saw my mother hanging from a tree. Her stark blue eyes were open and staring down at me. I looked at her with pity and said, “God, I dislike her, but not that much.” Somehow, that dream taught me not to hate. Even if I strongly disliked what someone had done, hate was wrong. I forgave Mum completely, and that opened other doors to grace. I softened and reached out again to my mother until she finally responded, and we stayed with her for a couple of days. When my sister called to tell me she had died suddenly of a heart attack, I burst into tears.

After her death, I felt I hadn’t forgiven Mum properly, but counseling and prayers with a good priest helped restore my peace. When I uttered the words of forgiveness, the light of the Holy Spirit penetrated my being, and I knew I had forgiven her

Forgiving Tom was something I had to keep taking back to prayer. It took quite a while, and I had to say aloud more than once that I forgave Tom for the times he abused me, his affairs, and for not looking after me properly. I know I’ve forgiven him. It doesn’t take away the memories, but it does take away the hurt.

Wiping the Slate Clean

Forgiveness isn’t a one-time thing. We must forgive whenever resentment resurfaces. We must continually give up the desire to hold on to grudges, and surrender them to Jesus.

This is how I pray: “Jesus, I surrender everything to you, take care of everything.” And He does. I feel totally at peace once I have prayed that a few times.

It took a long time before I felt strong enough to bring healing forgiveness to the rape. I just pushed it aside. I didn’t even want to think about it. Yet even that was healed once I had presented it to Christ and forgiven my rapists. It doesn’t affect me anymore. God has wiped it clean, because I asked God to come and take away anything that is not of Him.

Now, I hand things over to God as they happen, and a peace washes over me. We have an awesome God, who is forgiving, morning, noon, and night. Whatever darkness we have in our lives, God is there waiting for us to repent and ask for His forgiveness, so that He can cleanse us and make us whole.


ARTICLE is based on the testimony shared by Margaret Fitzsimmons for the Shalom World program ‘Seventy times Seven.’ Margaret lives with her husband in Brisbane, Australia.

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By: Margaret Fitzsimmons

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Sep 23, 2022
Encounter Sep 23, 2022

The Question of Why

Physicist Christian Simon, 33, was an atheist for a long time and expected answers to all of life’s pressing questions from science— until he came up against its limits

I grew up Catholic, received all the sacraments as is customary, and was also quite devout as a child. Unfortunately, over time I developed a terribly false image of God: God as a stern judge who throws sinners into hell, but otherwise very distant and not really interested in me. I doubted very much that God meant me well. In my youth, I even became more and more convinced that God had something against me. I imagined that He always did exactly the opposite of what I had asked Him to do. At some point it was over for me. I didn’t want to know anything more about God.

Religion—A Thing for Weirdos

At the age of about 18, I was convinced that there was no God at all. For me, only what I could experience with my senses or what could be measured by the natural sciences counted. Religion seemed to me to be only something for weirdos who either had too much imagination or were simply totally indoctrinated and had never questioned their faith. I was convinced that if everyone were as smart as I was, no one would believe in God anymore.

After a few years of self-employment, I started studying physics at the age of 26. I was burningly interested in how the world works and hoped to find my answers in physics. Who could blame me? Physics can seem very mysterious with its incredibly sophisticated mathematics that very few people in the world understand. It’s easy to get the idea that if you could just crack these coded forms and symbols, unimagined horizons of knowledge would open up—and that literally anything would then be possible. After studying all sorts of subfields of physics, and even getting to grips with the most up-to-date fundamental physics, I sat down to work on my master’s thesis on an abstract theoretical topic—one which I wasn’t convinced would ever have any relation to the real world. I finally became very aware of the limits of physics: the highest goal physics could ever reach would be a complete mathematical description of nature. And that is already very optimistic thinking. At best, physics can describe how something works, but never why it works exactly the way it does and not differently. But this question about the why was tormenting me at this time.

The Probability of God

For reasons I cannot satisfactorily explain, I was gripped in the fall of 2019 by the question of whether there is a God after all. It was a question I had asked myself on and off, but this time it wouldn’t let me go. It demanded an answer, and I would not stop until I found it. There was no key experience, no stroke of fate that would have led to it. Even Corona was not an issue at that time. For half a year I devoured everything I could find on the subject of “God” every day. During this time I did almost nothing else, so much did the question captivate me. I wanted to know if God existed and what the various religions and worldviews had to say about it. In doing so, my approach was very scientific. I thought that once I had collected all the arguments and clues, I would eventually be able to determine the probability as to whether God existed. If it were greater than 50 percent, then I would believe in God, otherwise not. Quite simple, isn’t it? Not really!

During this intense period of research, I learned an incredible amount. First, I realized that I would not reach my goal with reason alone. Second, I had thought through to the end the consequences of a reality without God. I inevitably came to the conclusion that in a world without God, everything would ultimately be meaningless.

Certainly, one can try to give meaning even to one’s life, but what would that be but an illusion, a conceit, a lie? From a purely scientific point of view, we know that at some point in the universe all the lights will go out. If nothing exists beyond that, what difference do my small and large decisions, indeed anything at all, make?

Faced with this sad prospect of a world without God, I decided in the spring of 2020 to give Him a second chance. What could it hurt to just pretend to believe in God for a while, and try everything that people who believe in God do? So I tried praying, attended church services, and just wanted to see what that would do to me. Of course, my basic openness to the existence of God didn’t make me a Christian yet; after all, there were other religions. But my research had quickly convinced me that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical fact. For me, the authority of the Church as well as the Holy Scriptures follows from this.

Proof of God

So, what came out of my experiment in “faith”? The Holy Spirit awakened my conscience from its years of hibernation. He made it very clear to me that I needed radically to change my life. And He welcomed me with open arms. Basically, my story is in the biblical parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I received the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time with all my strength. To this day, after each confession, I feel as if I have been reborn. I feel it all over my body: the relief, the overflowing love of God that washes away all cloudiness of the soul. This experience alone is proof of God for me, as it far exceeds any scientific attempt at explanation.

In addition, God has gifted me with a plethora of great encounters in the last two years. Right at the beginning, when I started attending church services, I met a person who was just perfect for me in my situation at that time with all my questions and problems. To this day he is a faithful and good friend. Since then, almost every month great new people have come into my life, who have helped me enormously on my way to Jesus—and this process is still going on! “Happy coincidences” of this kind have accumulated to such an overwhelming extent that I am no longer able to believe in coincidences.

Today, I have fully focused my life on Jesus. Of course, I fail at it every day! But I also get back up every time. Thank God that God is merciful! I get to know Him a little better every day and am allowed to leave the old Christian Simon behind. This is often very painful, but always healing and I go on strengthened. The regular reception of the Eucharist contributes a great part to my strengthening. A life without Jesus is unimaginable for me today. I seek Him in daily prayer, praise, Scripture, service to others, and the sacraments. No one has ever loved me as He does. And to Him belongs my heart. For all time.

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By: Christian Simon

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Aug 09, 2022
Encounter Aug 09, 2022

God answers prayers and sometimes He goes so far beyond anything we ever believed could happen…

There’s a popular television commercial that aired for many years portraying an injured person desperately calling out, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Although they’re just actors selling a medical alert system that summons help in case of an emergency, each time I’ve seen that commercial I’ve wondered what it would be like to be in such a desperate vulnerable position. Being alone and incapable of getting back up after falling must feel stressful and frightening. Fortunately there are companies and gadgets we can rely on to put safety measures in place for us or our endangered loved ones.

Recurring Dilemma

That commercial came to mind one day when I was examining my conscience in preparation to receive the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Reconciliation or Confession). After reflecting on the things that were offensive to God that took me further from His presence, it was frustrating to fall off the path to holiness again and again. It occurred that there were things that I needed to confess that I’d previously confessed often. Saint Paul talks about his struggles with the same dilemma. In the book of Romans (7:15-19) he said, “I cannot understand my own behavior. I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and find myself doing the very things I hate…instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want.” This is a struggle we all experience. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines this unwanted inclination to sin as “concupiscence”.

It was easy to relate to the actor in the commercial because spiritually I’d fallen, and it felt like I couldn’t get back up. Drawing away from God placed me in a desperate, vulnerable position deprived of many of the graces He offers us. My relationship with God was damaged, and the thought of staying in that fallen state was stressful and frightening. However, Jesus loves me. He’s merciful and has put safety measures in place for all of us who still suffer with the unwanted inclination to sin.

Unceasing Prayer

The church my family attended offered the Sacrament of Penance an hour before the Saturday evening Vigil Mass. It was important for me to go to Confession on Saturday because I valued my relationship with God and wanted to restore it. I asked my husband if he would join me when confessions finished, so that we could attend Mass together. To my delight, he agreed. He was raised Methodist and for over 25 years it had been my unceasing prayer that God would place the desire on his heart to come into the fullness of his faith, by becoming a member of the Catholic Church. For now, I was waiting on God’s timing and was just happy that we’d be together.

The church wasn’t crowded, so before long I was kneeling before the priest to confess my sins. Confessing sin requires humility, but the joy of absolution left me feeling new and restored. After completing the penance from the priest, my heart no longer felt heavily weighed down by sin. Everything around me and in me was quiet, as a sense of peace encompassed my spirit once again. Repeatedly, I thanked God for His mercy. At one point, I sighed with contentment, “Lord, I don’t want to spoil this moment by asking you for anything. I just want to thank You over and over again. I want to be like the one leper who came back to thank You after You healed him.”

I knelt there engulfed in His holy presence and understood what being in a state of grace really felt like. Jesus had restored our relationship and we were one again. However, being still and quiet is a virtue that is a regular struggle for me. It wasn’t long before a strong impulse to ask God for just one thing popped into my head. “Lord, just one thing and it isn’t for myself. Please give my husband the desire to become Catholic. I want him to know what this feels like.” Time in quiet prayer passed quickly and it wasn’t long before my husband sat beside me.

I’ve heard it said that when you pray in the state of grace, your prayers are clearly heard by God. You’re so close to Him that He can hear the whispers of your heart. I’m not sure if that’s solid Catholic doctrine, but it makes a point of how important it is to remain close to God. When Mass began that evening, the priest welcomed everyone and he asked us to take a quiet moment to offer our Mass up for any personal intentions we might have that evening. His prompting was wonderful but not the way he usually opened the Mass. Not wanting to waste the moment, I immediately repeated the prayer for my husband to come into the Catholic faith. I’d never heard that priest begin the Mass like that before or since that evening. In hindsight, it was a good indication that God’s answer to my prayer was imminent. The intention remained in my heart for the rest of Mass, and I felt very connected to both God and my husband.

Startling News

On our way home, my husband unexpectedly said he had something to tell me. It was a very good thing that he was driving, because the following words might have startled me into swerving off the road. “I have decided that I want to enroll in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program at our church and see if I want to become a Catholic.” Stunned, I said nothing. Thoughts and emotions swirled through my mind and body. I recall asking God: “What was happening here? Had the Sacrament of Reconciliation cleared up the connection for you to hear my prayer? Had my personal Mass intention been heard? Were You really answering my prayers after all these years?” After regaining my composure, my husband and I talked about his decision.

We had been attending Mass together for our entire marriage and it was important to him that our family went to one church. Through the years, he had had many questions, but had grown to love and trust the Catholic Church as his family. The Holy Spirit guided him to understand that was the right time to fully commit to becoming a part of that family and be able to partake in all the sacraments and their graces. The following Easter Vigil, after he’d completed the RCIA program, my husband was finally confirmed as a member of the Catholic Church, filling us both with great joy. My heart continues to dance with joy, unceasingly thanking God for this long-awaited answer to my prayer.

More Surprises in Store!

But wait, there’s more! God knew I’d asked Him if he’d really heard and answered my prayers. He wanted to make sure I knew for certainty that He had, because more surprises were in store. Two of our sons were in solid relationships. Both were wonderful young women who had grown up walking with the Lord in their Protestant faith. They too had been regularly included in my prayers for conversion to the Catholic faith, although I had not specifically prayed for them that evening. Within a week of that special Mass, independent of each other, both young women shared with me that they intended to become Catholics. I know with certainty that my husband’s decision to become a Catholic was not a mere coincidence and as an added bonus: those wonderful young women are now my daughters- in-law. Praise God!

I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, nor how the 3 of them, independent of each other, decided to become Catholics. It’s a miracle to me and I am happy to leave it at that. Okay, not exactly…one more thing. I believe that when we do something that hurts our relationship with God, we need to go to Him in Confession and say we are sorry. I believe that when we truly want to get our relationship right with God, He wants to bless us. I believe that prayer really does work and He wants to answer us. I believe that God loves me and blessed me not once, not twice, but three times that Saturday, but He wanted me to also know that He hears ALL my prayers at ALL times no matter what state I am in.

I knew that I had fallen and, because of concupiscence, I am likely to fall again. Alleluia, there is good news! Even when I cannot understand my own behavior; even when I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and find myself doing the very things I hate…even when I don’t do the good things I want to do, and carry out the sinful things I do not want; with God’s grace and through His forgiveness, I know I am not alone, I don’t have to be stressed, frightened or stay fallen. I CAN get back up.

Saint Paul, pray for us. Amen.

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By: Teresa Ann Weider

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Jul 26, 2022
Encounter Jul 26, 2022

If you open your heart today, you can change the world! Daniella Stephans describes her incredible journey of finding love that never ends

I was a cradle Catholic, growing up in the heart of a Catholic family with 7 children. We went to Mass regularly and I felt drawn to learn more about my faith, to imitate the saints and felt attracted to the beautiful images which spoke to me about the presence of the Lord. He planted the seed of love into my life from a young age. When I was given the choice in my teens, I continued to go to Mass, even when some of my siblings didn’t, out of simple obedience. I always wanted to do the right thing and never wanted to get in trouble. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents and I knew it was a sin to deliberately miss Mass on Sundays.

However, I never really understood what was going on. I was just ticking off boxes through the different parts of the Mass. Although I felt that God was close to me, I didn’t know Him personally and still felt a gaping, throbbing hole in my heart. When I was really busy during the week, I didn’t have time to worry about it, but on weekends, I felt consumed by this deep loneliness.

Falling in Love

I was at the age, where I felt attracted by all that the material world had to offer, so I tried to solve my problem by drinking and going out to parties with friends, but that gaping hole remained unfilled. I felt rejected, lonely and disappointed. Although I wanted to be free to do my own thing, I was battling with my conscience which was telling me that so much of what I wanted to do was wrong. God hadn’t made me for that. I read in the Bible about Jacob wrestling with an angel and I could really relate to that.

As I was praying about all this at Mass one Sunday, I realized that I was in self-denial. God had a better plan for the life that He wanted me to live. Gazing up at a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I could sense that He was knocking on the door to my heart, asking to come in, but I was too scared to accept this amazing gift because I feared that Jesus would come in and take away my freedom. Until that moment, it was fear of getting in trouble that had kept me from worse sins. Then, somehow, by the grace of God, I found myself saying, “Right, Lord, I’ll give you a chance.”

In that moment, I looked up and for the first time noticed a picture of Jesus being baptised. He looked so strong humble and gentle. Instantly my heart changed. The fear melted away, the gaping hole was filled with incredible warmth and I fell in love with Jesus. This moment changed everything. I walked out of church feeling alive. I felt like the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was healed instantly, freed of all my pain.

I had been scared that if I let him into my heart, He would take away my freedom, but I was wrong. The cleft in the rock in which God placed Moses is analogous to the hole pierced in the side of Christ. I felt that Christ had pulled me into His Sacred Heart where I could be kept close and protected and He could talk to me as a friend speaks to a friend, just like Moses when he spoke with the Lord.

The Dark Hole

The more I sought out personal encounters with the Lord at daily Mass and Adoration, the closer I felt to Him. So, I studied Theology and as I came to know God more intimately, He revealed Himself to me even more, even in times of tragedy, like my brother’s death. At the time, I was struggling with finding my identity after finishing my studies and feeling fearful of the future. I couldn’t feel His presence anymore and wondered if God had abandoned me. I knew all the words Jesus had said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life… I am the Resurrection and the life.” but now my belief was being tested. Was it all true? In the silence as I sat in my brother’s room, gazing at his empty bed, I remembered how Jesus had told Martha, “Your brother will rise again,” and felt that He was saying those words to me.

When I went to World Youth Day, I felt a bit lost in the huge crowd. As I looked out around at all these people, I asked Jesus, “Lord, how do you love all these people and love me as well?” God showed me how He saw each one as an individual with whom He has a personal relationship. God gazes on each one of us with a unique and individual love. He loves you like no-one else, because there is no-one else in the world like you. God loves you uniquely, personally and individually. There is no-one from Adam to the end of time who has ever been exactly like you. So, when you feel His love personally, He sees you as the unique individual you are, in a way that no-one else can. He gave Himself up for each one of us. When He was on the Cross, He was thinking about each one of us personally by name.

Banishing My Fears

Jesus showed me that my image of the Father had been flawed. I had felt that God was condemning me, that I was in trouble. I feared His justice, but I was wrong. Jesus came into the world to reveal the Father’s love for us in His plan for our salvation—to heal the rift between God and Man by living among us. He even told us that if we had seen Him, we had seen the Father. He showed me that gaping hole in my heart was meant to be filled by God, and when I let Him in, He set me free indeed. We are made by God and for God, so when I invited Him in, He filled me with His warm and loving presence, banishing the depression and restlessness which had been troubling me.

When we try to fill that God-shaped hole with other things, they all fall short, because He is infinite and irreplaceable. It reminded me of how we are warned that “putting the wrong fuel in a vehicle can cause havoc to your journey and potentially cause extensive damage to your car engine.” Your heart is your engine and it needs the right fuel to prevent the damage that sin causes.

Daily Mass, regular Confession, prayer, Adoration, Bible reading and faith study, and a deeper relationship with Our Lady have been the fuel that has restored my heart and given me the grace to live my life in personal encounter with God. He called me to go deeper. Although it’s sometimes painful to take up my cross and follow Him daily, He has led me through trial and temptation and expanded my capacity to receive and share His love.

Amidst Your Struggles

Every day, the Enemy, Satan is trying to discourage us and turn us from God’s love. He doesn’t want us to know and experience what God has to offer. He stiffens our pride so that we are unwilling to bend to God’s will. When we feel broken by the pain that sin causes us, we delude ourselves into thinking that God doesn’t love us. Saint Therese said that Satan’s strategy is to dismantle and demolish our belief that God can love us when He is perfect and we are so imperfect.

Does God really love me when I’m struggling? One night, Jesus left His disciples struggling all night against the wind while He prayed on a mountain, but in the morning they saw Him walking toward them across the water. When you are going through difficult times, the Lord is there in the midst of your struggle. He also says to you, “Do not be afraid.” And when we feel ourselves sinking, like Peter did when his faith failed him as he walked across the water towards Jesus, we can call out, “Lord save me.” When everything seems to be going against you, fix your eyes on Him and He will not fail you.

There is always a new dawn. Every day is a day to start again. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Night can be symbolic of trial and temptation. Morning is symbolic of Christ who is the Light of the World. Remember on Easter Sunday, Christ left the tomb in a burst of light. He has come to share His light with us.

Jesus’ name means God saves. He came to save us. He came to share our trials, enter into the depths with us and draw us out. Trust is like a muscle which grows under trying circumstances and pressure. Surrendering my desires to Him and trusting that He will fulfill them is hard. To be able to sincerely say, “I want God’s will above my own,” isn’t easy because we like to do what we want to do. That’s what Our Lady did when she said, “Let it be done to me according to Thy word,” (Luke 1:38). In her gentle way, she stands beside us, helping us to align our deepest desires with all that is good.

So, by the grace of God, I go forward with confidence, knowing that I can speak to the Lord as a friend and family member about all my needs. I have come to know God as a loving Father who calls us to come to Him with childlike trust in His loving plan, despite all our flaws, and mistakes, no matter how many times we have failed.

“Let us approach the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16) and “Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord, your God is with you” (Joshua 1:9)


ARTICLE is based on the testimony shared by Daniella Stephans for the Shalom World program “Jesus My Savior”.

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By: Daniella Stephans

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Jul 09, 2022
Encounter Jul 09, 2022

We have all been given the gift of time, but what do we do with it?

Sometimes I have trouble understanding what God is trying to tell me. I often make Him repeat Himself. Last year, over and over, I felt the Lord was placing these words on my heart –“Put a hedge around it.”

I eventually asked for clarification and this scripture came to mind: “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.” (Matthew 21:33)

I knew that hedges were bushes grown closely together, often to enclose gardens. When I asked God what He wanted me to enclose, I came to understand that I was to guard my time, especially my time with Him.

So, I began to be more careful with my morning routine. I became more conscious of my waking thoughts, dreams, and songs running through my head. I began to journal. I strove to raise my heart to the Lord with praise and thanksgiving before even stepping out of bed. Instead of sifting through social media feeds or reading the news, I poured over the daily Mass readings each day, with my morning coffee in hand.

I am guarding my interior life. I am guarding my time with the Lord. I feel rather like a watchman at daybreak.

When I sought out a spiritual director this past year, the first thing he asked was if I had a daily prayer routine. His number one goal for me was to keep a regular and consistent prayer life.

My husband and I now pray more faithfully as a couple. We have begun to pray more intentionally at mealtimes, adding heart-felt prayers along with the ones we know by heart. At the end of the day, we are keeping our commitment to pray as a family.

I pray in the car. I pray in church. I pray on my morning jog. Sometimes I walk the circumference of a park while praying the Rosary or Divine Mercy, putting a hedge of prayer around it.

I believe these new habits are already bearing fruit. I have noticed a decline in questionable activity at the park next door. I have also noticed my husband and I are working more on the same page and are more willing to laugh off our differences. But most importantly, I have noticed a change in myself. I am more at peace.

I am more in tune with what the Lord is speaking to my heart. I am more prepared to meet the challenges of each day.

God desires us all to pray without ceasing, but the first step is to put prayer hedges around our days. We need to offer up the first fruits of our day to the Lord and end our day with prayer. Our prayer hedges will differ, but we must be sure to put them up to smite the tactics of the devil.

God is ever drawing close to us, and He wants us to draw close to Him. But we are easily distracted. We need to diligently guard our time. Prayer hedges will lead to a more fruitful place.

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By: Denise Jasek

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