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Nov 02, 2020
Encounter Nov 02, 2020

Last Christmas SEAN BOOTH received an unexpected gift that’s etched in his memory forever!

I have received many blessings in my life, but the most memorable Christmas gift I received in my life involved paying a prostitute.

Tentative Meeting

Around three years ago, I was helping at a homeless centre in Manchester, England, where we shared the Gospel with people who came each Sunday for a meal. One of the men that came was a Muslim man. He was not homeless, but joined us for fellowship. Over the course of a few months, we struck up a close bond, sharing about our respective faiths. Often our conversations would last for hours. As Christmas drew nearer, I explained how special Christmas time was for us as Christians and asked if he would like to join me at Midnight Mass. He gladly accepted the invitation, since he had never been in a Catholic Church, let alone attended a service.

At the same time, I was also volunteering with a city centre, Catholic Church, who worked with a charity providing meals and a bed for homeless asylum seekers. Many of these men were also Muslim. By the grace of God, I was on the rota to sleep over on Christmas Eve. It was all hands to the pump since the priests were busy preparing for the celebration of Mass. As we shared a meal that night, I invited the men to come to Holy Mass and five of them accepted the invitation. I explained I had to pick up a friend but would be back before Mass started.

After picking up my Muslim friend, we drove into the city centre. Along the way, we noticed a distressed lady waving her hands at us. Although I thought she was a prostitute, I turned the car around to make sure she was okay. When I wound the window down, she begged me for a lift to the pharmacy because there were no buses running and it closed at midnight. I agreed and as we drove, she leaned forward from the back seat and asked if I would ‘like some business’. I declined her offer, explaining that we believed in God and were on the way to attend a church service. Then, I invited her to join us.

Need for Money

She apologised if she had offended us and said she could not come because she had to ‘earn some money’ on the streets. We reached the pharmacy in time and she went inside. I felt inspired to follow her inside to ask if I could pray with her. While her prescription was being prepared, she closed her eyes and held out both of her hands. We prayed, standing at the counter, holding hands. It was beautiful. She was so open.

After we came out, I asked her once more to join us, but again she explained that her need for money prevented her from coming. In that moment, I had a thought. I’d brought money for the collection during Mass, but if I spent it bringing her to God’s house, that was still giving it to the Church. Potentially, that could open her heart to encounter Jesus in the Mass, where Heaven meets earth, whilst also keeping her from potential evil. I offered her the money, explaining that it would only be an hour long and, at the very least, would be warmer than standing on the street. She deliberated and eventually agreed. My heart skipped a beat as I thanked God. When we arrived at the church at two minutes to midnight, the asylum seekers were waiting for us on the steps. I was in absolute awe of God. Before we all went inside, I asked everyone if we could pray together. I asked for The Lord’s blessing on each one of these beautiful people, that they would each feel welcome and for the Christ’s peace to rest upon them all. The lady asked if I was a priest and looked surprised when I laughed and said “No.”

Sobbing Like a Baby

As we walked in, if felt so surreal, I thought that I should pinch myself, I felt so blessed. Only God could have arranged this. I stood with tears in my eyes, thanking God, in absolute awe of His goodness, thanking Him for allowing me to be in His presence with my new group of friends. The gratitude and love in my heart exploded. There was nowhere else in the world, I would rather have been.

During reception of Holy Communion, I explained how they could receive a personal blessing from Christ through the priest. The lady said, ‘Look at me. Look at what I am wearing. People will look at me. I can’t go up there’. I told her that if they were truly Christians, they would not judge her, because Jesus exhorted us not to judge, lest we be judged for the sins we are ashamed of. I explained how Jesus came for the sinners, those on the edge of society, the outcasts. He even came to the defence of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He often ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes, assuring her that she was both worthy and welcome.

The Muslim man heard our every word and agreed. I told her that the Lord’s eyes were the only eyes that she needed to be conscious of. She went up, sobbing like a baby. If only every person went for a blessing or Holy Communion aware of their own unworthiness and brokenness like this beautiful child of God, we would have a very different church.

A priest once told me in Confession; ‘The Church is not an exclusive club for saints, but a hospital for sinners’. Saint Paul also reminds us that ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). ALL of us!

As we came back to our seats, she cried again. The asylum seekers and Muslim man also went up to receive Christ’s blessing, through the priest. As I contemplated the reality of Jesus being truly present within me through Holy Communion, I was able to pray with even more love for my companions.

The Greatest Gift

As The Mass concluded, the priest wished everybody a happy Christmas before the final blessing. In typical, reserved Catholic style, there was not much of a response, apart from one person—my lady friend, who replied, “And a very merry Christmas to you too Father.” Instantly, I beamed with a massive smile and my insides lit up. The priest, almost shocked, smiled and thanked her. As people turned to see who had spoken, she said ‘Well, he said it to us!’. Nobody could deny saying Amen to that.

I mentioned in the beginning that this was the most memorable Christmas gift I had received and what an absolute honor, privilege and blessing it was to be with these beautiful human beings that night. Nothing can compare, though, to the very first and greatest gift the whole world received over 2000 years ago, at that very first Christmas—when God Himself took on human flesh to become a helpless baby; when the Light was born into our darkness and the world was changed forever.

This is the true message of Christmas; welcoming Jesus into our lives—for the first time or once again. This is the real giving and receiving. Allowing Him to be born inside us, welcoming Him with joy, love, awe, and wonder. He gives Himself to us every moment of every single day. We must hear and respond like the shepherds, who were invited to come and see. After they encountered Jesus, they went away ‘glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard’ (Luke 2:20). We must also be like the angels, God’s messengers, inviting and leading people to discover Jesus for themselves.

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2). This Christmas, will you witness to this Light, to those in the darkest of places? The lonely, the depressed, the oppressed, the rejected, the dejected, the forgotten, the lost, the abandoned, the sick, the homeless, the prisoners, the elderly, the orphans and the widows? You may not have to look far. These could be members of your own household or family. It could be as simple as remembering them in your prayers. Or will you put yourself out this Christmas to personally share the greatest gift that anybody could ever wish to receive—the gift of Jesus Christ? Make this your most memorable Christmas for other people, as well as yourself.

“We must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35

Let us remind the world that Christmas is about Christ.

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By: Sean Booth

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Nov 02, 2020
Encounter Nov 02, 2020

Have you heard about one of the earliest recorded Eucharistic miracle?

Did you know that the earliest recorded Eucharistic Miracle comes from the Desert Fathers in Egypt, who were among the first Christian monks? One of the monks in the monasteries of Scetis (Roman-governed Egypt) was a hard worker who lacked instruction in the Faith. In his ignorance he would say: ‘The Bread we receive is not really the Body of Christ, but a symbol of that Body.’

Two of the more experienced monks heard his comment and knowing he was a good and pious monk, decided to speak to him. They gently told him: ‘What you are saying contradicts our Faith.’ The uneducated monk replied: ‘Unless you can show me evidence, I will not change my mind.’ The older monks said, ‘We will pray to God about this mystery and we believe God will show us the truth.’

At Mass the following Sunday as the words of consecration were spoken all except the uneducated monk saw a small Child in place of the Host. When the priest raised the Eucharistic Bread to break, the monks saw an angel with a sword pierce the Child. As the priest broke the sacred Host, Blood ran into the chalice. The monks drew near to receive Communion and when the skeptical monk looked down his bread had become a morsel of bloody flesh. Seeing this, he cried out: “Lord the Bread is Your Body and Your Blood is in the chalice.” Immediately the flesh became bread again, and the monk received reverently giving thanks to God.

This account goes back to the first centuries of Christianity and is found in the sayings of the Desert Fathers whose life in the desert followed the example of Saint Antony, Abbot. The miracle is but the first of many experienced by other holy men and women throughout the centuries. They came to believe that every Mass is like Christmas when Christ comes down from Heaven to be on our altars and in our hearts “dwelling among us” under the appearance of bread and wine.

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By: Shalom Tidings

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Nov 02, 2020
Encounter Nov 02, 2020

In a debilitating condition for nearly nine years, JULIANA ELARDE struggled to find meaning in the pain and suffering, until a pilgrimage to Lourdes changed her life!

It was a day like any other when Juliana stepped into the elevator. She felt healthy, strong and independent, but her life was about to change forever. Stabbing pain suddenly radiated across her lower back and darted down her right leg. She collapsed onto the floor in agony. Despite tests and treatments, her condition continued to deteriorate until she was completely debilitated. Doctors could give it a name—Complex Regional Pain Syndrome—but around fifty medical specialists in eight and a half years could offer no effective treatment or pain relief and certainly no hope for a cure. Again and again, she tried complicated, expensive treatments in the hope that something would make a difference, but to no avail.

Excruciating Pain

She felt hopeless and helpless. From the knee down to the toes, her right leg was grossly swollen, turning purple from lack of circulation as gangrene threatened. Her toes were twisted and purple while a painful, open sore oozed for years without healing. The constant load on her arms from the walking frame resulted in carpal tunnel syndrome which sent pain shooting through her wrists, making it hard to do the smallest things for herself. Even taking a shower was excruciatingly painful. The water felt like nails piercing through the leg and the slightest abrasion felt like a knife scraping through the skin.

Every night, Juliana lay awake in such excruciating pain those 2 hours of uneasy dozing was all she could hope for. “I thought my life had ended. My independence had been taken away. I was so angry with God. I blamed him and I could see no meaning in this pain—emotionally, spiritually, physically—I was a complete mess.”

World of Happiness

Even though Juliana had been brought up in a devout Croatian Catholic family who prayed the Rosary every night, she had abandoned the practice of her faith when she was only 19, occasionally turning up for Easter and Christmas Masses. She had wanted to be in charge of her own life, so she didn’t want God in it. But the more she had sought happiness out in the world, the lonelier and more unsettled she had become. She did not understand the concept of offering up her suffering to Jesus, as someone had advised after her malady began. However, when she was given a prayer card, she started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. “Although I had no feeling in my heart, I felt compelled to do it.”

Since Juliana had no devotion to Mary, she was surprised when a friend suggested that she could also ask Mary to intercede for her. A pilgrimage to Lourdes was even recommended in the hope of receiving a miraculous cure. “If Jesus wants to heal you, He can.” Juliana felt like a hypocrite. How could she ask Mary to help her when she had no devotion to her and even feared Mary? But she decided that she had nothing to lose, so humbly started to ask Mary to pray for her.

Peace Like a River

Not knowing anything about its significance, she attended a special Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday. On that day, she made a General Confession of all the sins she could recall over her whole life. Everything changed spiritually for her from then on. She started praying for an hour, three times a day and fulfilled a promise to spend a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament every Monday from 4 to 5pm. Her seven-year-old daughter loved spending that time there with her.

Once she understood the meaning of her pain and suffering and united them to Our Lord in His Divine Mercy, she was able to surrender her will to God’s Will, and trust in His great plan for her life. She learned to deal with pain and suffering by praising and thanking God every moment of the day. He knew when the perfect time to travel to Lourdes would come, so she was at peace.

With the help of her mother and her daughter, Juliana was finally able to join Harvest Pilgrimages on their journey to Lourdes in 2008 for the 150th anniversary of Our Lady’s visions to Saint Bernadette. Paul, the leader of the group was very helpful to her and she felt encouraged by the strength of his devotion to Our Lady.

Waiting for her turn at the baths, Juliana felt very nervous. Since she had been told that the water was freezing cold, she feared it would cause spasms and increase her pain. Before she stepped into the bath, she gazed at a statue of Mary and requested her to warm up the water. To her delighted surprise, when the attendants gently lowered her into the water, it was completely warm. She was overcome with emotion that this simple prayer had been answered so completely, but more was to come.

When they returned her to the wheelchair, Juliana’s daughter noticed with excitement that the dark purple skin on her toes was fading. They were turning pinker. As they wheeled her out of the cubicle, she felt a sensation like cool, flowing water passing over the top of her foot. She kept asking her mother and daughter if her foot was wet, but it wasn’t. The pain in her wrists had also disappeared.

The next day, she went to the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction in the underground basilica. As she waited in her wheelchair in the front row, gazing at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, she asked Him, “If it’s Your Holy Will, could you please heal me spiritually, as well as physically, so that I can be a mother to my child in the way I’ve always wanted to be.”

When the priest lifted the monstrance in Benediction, she felt a tremendous jolt from her waist down to her toes in both legs. It felt like she was being electrocuted. Such intense pain, on top of her usual agony, made her want to scream, but she gripped the arms of the wheelchair tightly and held the suffering deep inside. As the priest placed Jesus on the altar and began the Divine Praises, the pain started disappearing, from her waist down to her legs, section by section.

Mystical Moment

At that moment, she knew that something had taken place, but what? She was still in pain, but her right leg felt very light. She felt in her heart that Jesus was calling her to go to the Grotto right away, so that she could pray the Rosary in the place where Mary had appeared to Saint Bernadette.

As they prayed the Rosary at the Grotto, she experienced a very special, mystical moment with Our Lady. Although, the sun was shining on her right she saw a tiny light in the sky ahead of her. She had a deep sense that Mary was behind this light and heard Mary’s voice in her heart saying, “Julie don’t worry, everything will be all right. Just trust!”

Immediately Juliana felt deep, tender, motherly love from Mary, and love for Mary spontaneously burst from Juliana’s heart in return. Without judgement or fear, Juliana felt she could really trust Mary. Only then, did the Lord allow the completion of her physical healing.

Her toes, which had been so twisted and mangled, felt like they were being stretched out. She started crying, “My toes, my toes!” When her mother removed her slipper, the toes were wiggling. The pain in her lower back and leg had totally disappeared and she could even touch her leg without wincing, which had been impossible for the last eight and a half years.

“I think I can stand up!” she exclaimed. As Paul and her mother lifted her out of the wheelchair, she rejoiced at being able to stand without any pain at all. “I think I can walk!” she declared, feeling as if she were gliding on a cloud, as she moved toward the beautiful statue marking the spot where Saint Bernadette had seen Our Lady. “Wow! Is this really happening?” she thought, astonished at the lack of the pain which had been her constant companion for eight and a half years. Later, she would realize that the day and hour of her healing was that of her usual Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament.

The open wound on her leg, that had failed to heal for several years, closed up a few days later and healed over permanently. Apart from some initial physiotherapy to strengthen the disused muscles, she has needed no further treatment. She has no more symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome—a condition that she had been told was incurable—or any after effects. The purple, mangled toes returned to normal in Lourdes and have been perfect ever since. The carpal tunnel syndrome, which healed immediately after the Lourdes bath, has also not returned. Her doctor still refers to her today as his “miracle patient.”

Most importantly, at Lourdes she experienced her Heavenly Mother’s love, the moment of Mary, as she calls it. She cherished that moment and nurtured the maternal affection Mary had given her by lovingly praying the Rosary every day. To keep Our Lady with her always, she invites Mary to join her in all the activities of her daily life. She asks Mary to use her as Mary’s little instrument and as a result, “I’ve never been happier in my whole life.”

Our Lady has interceded for her to grant even the hopes she had felt were too much to ask for. Crucially, Mary brought her a loving husband to share her life with and be a wonderful stepfather— modelling Saint Joseph—to her daughter as she entered her teenage years. Even better, he shares her love for Jesus in His Divine Mercy and for Mary. She met him on the pilgrimage to Lourdes—Paul, who cared for her so tenderly and was present when she was healed. Juliana and Paul are looking forward to their pending 10th anniversary.

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By: Juliana Elarde

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Nov 02, 2020
Encounter Nov 02, 2020

You can be instrumental in bringing your life partner closer to God! The story of STEPHEN KING, and his journey into Catholicism is sure to inspire you.

When Stephen King grew up as a Protestant in Northern Ireland, he never imagined that he would one day cross the divide and become a Catholic. The Troubles between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland turned Stephen and his family away from the idea of religion. Although he occasionally went to Sunday School in his early youth, after his father’s death when he was 11, the family stopped going to Church altogether.

He developed a cynical, materialistic outlook on life, expecting Science to have the answer for everything. He felt no need for God and that religion only caused people trouble, so he’d stay away from it. “Being a materialist or a scientific type of guy is a terrible handicap to faith. It gives you an arrogance that is very hard to get rid of.”

After finishing his Geology studies, he worked for a company based at Trinity College, Dublin. Although the significance of the name escaped him, the Lord hadn’t abandoned him. His work frequently took him overseas and he was asked to base himself in Brisbane, Australia. He came to Australia, not really knowing anyone or having much support, but, in His providence, Our Lord took a hand.

Love Is in the Air

On the train to work, he had noticed another regular passenger—a beautiful, young lady who stood head and shoulders above all the other women and many of the men. Nicole Davies felt a strong attraction to this tall, dapper, young man—one of the few who could outmatch her in height.

After six months of admiring him from afar, her sister dared her to ask him out. “That very day, we were the only people on the platform, then we were the only people in the railway carriage, but I still couldn’t speak to him. But when we got out of the carriage and I saw him walking away, I remembered my sister’s words, ‘Don’t ever mention that man again if you don’t ask him out.’” So she finally gathered her courage, ran after him and asked him out. He refused initially, but she persisted.

They soon found an affinity with one another to such an extent that Nicole was already talking about marriage. Stephen was in love, but didn’t feel ready for that. However, Nicole was clear that if their relationship wasn’t headed toward marriage in 18 months, she’d be looking elsewhere. So, after a year of dating, he invited her to join him on a trip to Europe to meet his family, go skiing and do some sightseeing.

A Major Revelation

Nicole was a lapsed Catholic, but her mother had recently experienced a reconversion. Just before they left for Europe, Nicole accompanied her mother to a talk by a Catholic visionary. Something incredible happened to her that night. She experienced a major revelation from Our Lord. Simply hearing that Jesus loved her, changed how she thought about everything. All of a sudden, it all made sense to her and it overwhelmed her. From that time, she was driven in her faith to be an absolutely committed Catholic. While it was very good news for her, it was the start of a difficult period in their relationship.

The movie, “The Case for Christ” depicted a very similar ordeal in the relationship of the atheist journalist and his wife after she experienced a conversion. His feelings of anger, annoyance and inconvenience mirrored Stephen’s. He was not happy that Nicole’s mother had taken her to this meeting and changed everything. Their trip to Europe turned into a complete disaster. “Nicole wanted to see every church we went near, and there’s a lot of churches in Europe.” Every day there were arguments and every evening ended in tears at the dinner table, “I think all the waiters wanted to kill me.” Eventually, she returned to Australia early.

Stephen thought that they were finished. How could they possibly continue together after this? But although personal conversion was far from his thoughts, he still loved Nicole and didn’t know what to do without her. He sought her out again on his return, made up with her and made it work. Within seven months, they were married. “Although we were at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of Religion, I loved this woman and we were morally quite aligned, which I think is very important in relationships.”

There were terrible difficulties for Nicole because none of their friends were religious at all. In any discussion, Nicole would be alone with everyone else piled on against her. Somehow, she found the strength to maintain her faith. Because Nicole’s faith journey had begun from a visionary’s testimony, it felt very foreign to Stephen. He didn’t think that any of these visions or miracles could be true. She was caught up in the fervor of the revert, alongside her mother. He didn’t warm to some of the people she was meeting in the Catholic Church, who, while professing faith, didn’t seem to be nice people. So, it didn’t attract him.

A Favor Done

Over time, Nicole became more reflective and after trying a number of different parishes, she started going to the Latin Mass. The priest was Father Gregory Jordan SJ. He became a big part of their lives and a good friend. One day, he took Stephen aside and said, “Nicole is really struggling with the children at Mass. Would you do me a favor? Would you come along to Mass on a Sunday and just sit there helping her look after the kids, not making any commitment to the faith or doing anything. It would make life so much easier for her.” That seemed reasonable, so, he started going along with her to Mass every week and would absorb things that were going on. He enjoyed spending this time with his children, then chatting with friends afterwards.

“It turned out to be no big imposition for me. Some people can be really intimidated by how regimented the Latin Mass, but I was really struck by the reverence. That attracted me. One day a friend gave me a book, “Has Science Buried God?” by Professor John Lennox who teaches Mathematics at Cambridge. I read this book and it opened my eyes to the possibility of faith. It asked questions that Science couldn’t answer. Our Lord’s amazing universe is much more complex than any of us could realize. How you could think it came from nothing is incomprehensible to me now.

Having sat in the Catholic Church for quite a while, it became very clear to me that the One, True Church was the real answer. I moved very slowly on my way on that journey of faith. The Lord gave me a kick in the pants when I had a heart attack in 2015 and that really changed things for me. It changed my timeframe. I realized that I wasn’t going to live forever. I had better work out what’s real and what’s important pretty quickly. The Lord had been speaking to me all that time, but He had to hit me over the head with a sledgehammer for me to hear it. I’m a bad listener.”

While he was recovering, with three months off work to sit and think, he read the Bible. As he thought about it and prayed about it, he gradually came to realize that he would have to make a decision. “I had no great revelation, but it became clear that it was the right thing to do, the right way to live my life and the right way to be a good father to my children and a husband to my wife.”

Three months later, he was accepted into the Catholic Church. It was a very emotional day for everybody; especially his family, seeing him come into the Church after all these years. Receiving Holy Communion for the first time, he realized how much he needed the Lord’s help. “I’d always been very self-contained and thought that I had everything I needed to keep myself going. In that first Holy Communion, I realized that He was what I needed.”

“When Nicole became a Catholic initially, it was very annoying. She brought something into our lives that I didn’t want. It didn’t attract me at all. The progression came when I met Catholics that I actually admired and liked and could see what good people they were. Father Jordan was a big part of that. Without him I don’t think I would have ever ended up where I am.”

“I rely on Our Lord’s support and sanctuary and guidance now, trying to live my life a different way, in the way that someone who follows Christ should live it. I say the Rosary with the family now and I try to read the Bible every day, reflecting on the graces I’ve been given. I go to Mass in a different way. I am mystified by that sacrifice He made for us. It’s changed my life forever. Even though there may be difficulties, I’ll be a Catholic for the rest of my life.”

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By: Stephen and Nicole King

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Nov 02, 2020
Encounter Nov 02, 2020

Have you realized the power of prayer in your life?

My wife and I have a Christmas tradition of bringing our children and grandchildren together for the Christmas celebrations. On Boxing Day my wife takes the grandchildren to a pantomime, accompanied by some of our adult children. I know the grandchildren looked forward to the panto with much excitement. The last time we did this was four years ago. Since the grandchildren have now all grown up a little, the pantomime does not quite appeal as it used to.

Fourteen years ago, I had a heart attack. After I received two stents and some rehabilitation I was absolutely fine. But 10 years later, at 3AM on Boxing Day, I awoke in a great deal of pain. It felt like a re-run of my heart attack. Because I didn’t want to disturb my wife, I got up and went downstairs to pray in the kitchen. I decided not to call an ambulance, mainly because I didn’t want to spoil all the Christmas celebrations.

I have never prayed so hard or so fervently in my whole life, imploring the Virgin Mary to ask her son, Jesus for this not to happen right now, not for my sake, but for my family. I imagined the heartache this would cause them all if I was taken to hospital. In my prayer to Our Lady, I recalled the granting of her request in the Miracle of Cana. It gave me so much hope that she would listen to my supplications. As time passed, the pain increased more and more. Ten years previously, I had suffered the same symptoms. To my relief, after several hours of fervent, urgent prayer, the pain subsided and then left me altogether. I was so grateful to our Holy Mother for comforting me in my pain and anxiety and interceding for me.

Now, four years later, I have remained completely free of pain from my heart condition and am able to cycle many miles each week.

Trust in the power of prayer.

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By: Michael Maxwell

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Sep 01, 2020
Encounter Sep 01, 2020

Want to be the best version of you? Take the first step!

Missing Link

My testimony is not about a powerful conversion, a life changing moment or a miraculous healing. It is a journey of small steps—a journey where I continually stumbled and fell, but God always picked me up and walked with me. I was born and raised Catholic. However, as many people could attest, this does not always amount to much. I participated in the Sacraments and went to Church regularly, but a personal relationship with Jesus was lacking.

During my university life, whenever I encountered difficulties, I turned to God for comfort. He was always there for me, but I was not always there for Him. I put God in a compartment and I turned to Him only when I needed. He was certainly a part of my life, since I continued to go to Church on Sundays and pray frequently, but He was not central to my life. My own interests and desires were at the forefront of my mind. I never really paused to think about God’s will.

Six months before graduation, my whole world turned upside down. I went through a really deep depression and for a long time, there was only darkness. The despair and hopelessness I felt is hard to convey in words, but I think that many of you reading this will have felt it at some point. When it happens, we go one way or another. We run towards God seeking refuge in Him or run away from Him in anger.

Sadly, I chose the latter. I could not understand why God would put me through something so horrific if He loved me. For the best part of a year, I completely isolated myself. I stopped attending Church. I stopped going anywhere at all. I was caught up in feelings of shame and worthlessness. Thoughts like ‘you’re a burden’ and ‘everyone would be so much better off without you’ constantly invaded my head. My mind was like a prison that I just could not escape from.

Thankfully, that was not the end of my story. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose”. This reassures us that, whatever may happen in our lives, God will work it out for our good. It also lovingly reminds us that we have been chosen by Him and we have a purpose through Him. This became evident in my life when I slowly returned to the faith with the help of various people and incidents that God surely orchestrated.

Baby Steps

This time, it was different. I attended daily Mass and retreats as I truly sought God’s love. However, my mental health struggles kept recurring. There was not any progression or recovery, so my future looked bleak. I was fed up with life constantly. The hope and peace Jesus promised seemed far away. As I said before, there was not a magical moment when things turned around for me as I would have liked. I had to wait for God’s timing. Nevertheless, some small steps helped me progress to a more positive state.

My family is my biggest blessing. They have stood by me through the darkest times and I am truly grateful to God for them. About two years ago, we started reading the Bible for thirty minutes daily—something we continue to do. Even though it can be arduous, especially when delving into some of the Old Testament, it is definitely worth persevering. When we appreciate that the Bible is the living Word of God, we realize that there is an answer in there for everything.

“Satan’s target is your mind and his weapons are lies. So fill your mind with the Word of God”—Greg Locke.

This quote emphasizes how the devil uses lies against us as weapons. My struggles were mainly with my mind and I felt trapped. I wrestled with many sins that kept coming up again and again. The devil told me that I was unloved, broken and worthless when in actual fact, I am a child of God, who is infinitely loved. These are a few affirmations that the Word of God gives each of us:

“I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works that He has prepared for me to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

“The Spirit of God, who is greater than the enemy in the world, lives in me.” (1 John 4:4)

“I am chosen by God who called me out of the darkness of sin and into the light and life of Christ so I can proclaim the excellence and greatness of who He is.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Flawless Love

One of my favorite things about the Catholic faith is the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation). Being able to run to Confession and pour out my heart to Jesus has been immensely valuable. Receiving His forgiveness frees us from the guilt and shame which the devil condemns us to. The Holy Spirit helps us realize when we are on the wrong path, needing to repent and turn back to God. As long as we do this, there is nothing to worry about, although we may have to do it over and over again. The further we have strayed from God, the more He rejoices when we come back, just as the father celebrated when the prodigal son returned.

This took me a while to realize and I still have not grasped it fully; I do not need to do anything at all to earn God’s love. It is an unconditional gift that He pours out on us. His love is not dependent on me or my flawed self. It is dependent on His nature which is all loving and merciful. Even through my darkest times and yours, this love gives us hope. In the book of the prophet Hosea, God proclaims that He will “transform the Valley of Trouble into a Gateway of Hope” (Hosea 2:15). This beautifully portrays what happened in my life. Through His love, God transformed my troubles into an opportunity to have hope and share that hope with you.

Step by Step

In hindsight, my pain led me to ultimately get closer to God. He is the only one who has truly been there for me through everything. He is not only the majestic, all powerful God, He is my comforter and friend. I have learned to be more accepting of God’s will and His timing. My life definitely didn’t pan out the way I planned, but that is not a bad thing because God’s ways are higher than my ways. “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Many small factors contributed over time to increasing my faith. It led me to a deeper appreciation and understanding of God. I also truly believe that the power of prayer has helped me survive life’s many challenges. I humbly request that you keep me in your prayers and that we all adopt a mentality of praying for each other. As my testimony shows, we do not necessarily have to do ‘big’ things to get closer to God. Small steps are all it takes. I hope you are able to take a small step towards God today. He is waiting lovingly with open arms.

Dear God, I firmly believe and hope in You. Each day I rise up to take one more step closer to You. All I ask is for the grace to know You and love You. Let me be enfolded in Your loving arms. Amen

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By: Stefi Siby

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Sep 01, 2020
Encounter Sep 01, 2020

Father Chris da Sousa was blind until a pilgrimage to Fatima brought him a miracle and that wasn’t the last miracle she obtained for his family.

My devotion to Our Blessed Mother started right from my earliest days. I’m Australian born, but my parents are Portuguese immigrants, so we’ve always had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. We would pray the Holy Rosary in front of her altar in our home daily, so I developed a great trust in her intercession.

I was born legally blind in my right eye and afflicted with a pathological condition in my left eye which caused my vision to deteriorate each and every year. As I grew up, my parents determinedly took me from one specialist to another, hoping for a cure, but always receiving the same news. There was no real treatment and by adulthood I would become completely blind.

Take a Risk

By the time I entered early adulthood, no vision remained in my left eye, so my study of Law was severely hampered. My parents were distressed by witnessing my struggles to read big law books with my severely limited vision. So, in my second last year, they went on a pilgrimage to Fatima to plead for Our Lady’s intercession to restore their son’s vision. I remained to undertake my final year. When they returned with strengthened faith and trust in Our Lady’s intercession, they found a specialist who had learned a new procedure in Belgium that might help me. Although an appointment with this specialist was almost unobtainable, they asked Our Lady to help and I was unexpectedly called in for a consultation. Although I was resigned to my lack of eyesight, I couldn’t disappoint my parents after all their efforts.

Immediately after assessing my vision, the specialist said that he wasn’t sure if this procedure would help me. It was also very risky and, because it didn’t have government approval, it would be very expensive. However, my parents had such a great trust in Our Lady’s intercession that they immediately agreed to put up the money and urged me to go ahead. I was apprehensive, but assented, consigning myself into Our Lady’s loving care.

Take a Chance

They started with my right eye—he legally blind eye. The surgeon had said that it may take some months before you see any real improvement, so I wasn’t expecting any immediate difference. But within 15 to 20 minutes after the operation, I could see clearly for the first time in my legally blind eye. Colours and definition I had never seen before!

I came running out of that operation exalting God, praising Him and thanking Our Blessed Mother for her guidance and intercession. As I joyfully embraced my parents, the specialist, who wasn’t a believer, hailed it as a miracle. He was unable to explain this immediate gift of clear vision, after the procedure, in an eye that had never had clear vision.

One month later, he operated on the other eye, my left eye. A repeat of the miracle seemed too much to hope for, but God’s blessing are abundant. Once more, within 15 to 20 minutes, I could see clearly in my left eye. Complete vision had been restored. Thanks to Our Blessed Mother’s intercession and my parents’ great faith and trust, I was able to kickstart life as an advocate.

Make a Change

I had always desired to be a lawyer, but I also opened myself to the Lord. What was He asking of me? I knew that this miracle was a free gift that didn’t need to be earned, but together with Our Blessed Mother, I would ask Him, “Lord what is it that you want from me? Why have you restored my vision when so many others remain blind?” This commenced a period of discernment, as I started working. Even though I felt fulfilled as a lawyer and projected a life of marriage and family, I received a calling in my heart to religious life and the priesthood during a World Youth Day pilgrimage.

I felt overwhelmed with fear and it took me several months to come to terms with my calling. On the 13th of May, during Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima in my hometown, I asked Our Blessed Mother, “If this is what your Son wants from me, help me to see this just as clearly as you helped me to see.” It was like a veil was lifted from my eyes. I knew that her Son was calling me to religious life. Her Son was calling me to the priesthood. Entrusting myself into her maternal hands, I eventually discerned that I should give my life to the Lord, with the Somascan Fathers.

Following an ancient tradition in our religious order, when I professed my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, I also consecrated myself to Our Lady and added her name, Maria, to mine. Our founder, Saint Jerome Emiliani, had been miraculously liberated by Our Blessed Mother when he was a prisoner of war 500 years ago, enabling him to care for the sick, hungry and orphaned. I was miraculously liberated from my blindness, through her intercession, enabling me to give my life entirely to her Son.

Miracles Do Happen

When I was in Rome, preparing for my final Theology exams, my father became very ill with blood cancer. As he prepared to receive treatment, I went on pilgrimage to Fatima to entrust the health of my father to Our Lady’s care and to thank her for obtaining the miracle of my restored vision. On the same day that I walked on my knees to the place where she had appeared to the children 100 years earlier, my father’s specialist discovered that the cancer had completely disappeared from his blood. Once more, Our Blessed Mother’s intercession had miraculously restored another family member to health.

Following years of mission in India, Sri Lanka and Mozambique, I returned to Australia to prepare myself for my solemn vows and priestly ordination. My ordination took place in Mary’s month, May, on a Saturday, in her honor. I entrusted my entire priesthood into her maternal hands. The next day, on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, 13th May, I celebrated my first Mass. It was succeeded by a beautiful, candlelit procession, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, through the streets of Fremantle.

Our cup had runneth over until, at the apex of our joy, my mother fell gravely ill and was taken to hospital immediately in an ambulance. I followed quickly so that I could give her the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick – the sacrament of healing. She was the first person that I anointed with this sacrament. It strengthened my priesthood so much to be able to minister to her, not only as her son, but as a priest. The doctors thought she had suffered a heart attack and were giving her medication to thin out her blood. In fact, she had an aneurysm and was haemorrhaging internally.

They only realized this after several days of treatment with blood thinners. Their treatment was actually causing her to bleed more and more internally. She was rushed into an emergency operation, not expected to survive, but God blessed us once again with a miracle, thanks to the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, The doctors were unable to explain how my mother could still be alive after bleeding internally for so many days. My mother explained to them that Our Lady had interceded for her. “My son has consecrated himself to her and, as a priest, he’s been offering the Holy Mass for me every day. That is why I am healed, that is why this miracle has taken place.”

Mamma Leads the Way

These profound experiences have deepened my devotion to Our Blessed Mother. I encourage you to entrust your lives to her heavenly intercession. I can bear witness to the miracles that occur when she intercedes for us to her Son. She, who is immaculately conceived, received the graces, gained by her son on the Cross, from her conception. She was able to say “Yes” to being the Mother of God, preceding Our Lord’s assent to His Passion and Death on the Cross. Our Blessed Mother’s desire to help the couple at Cana brought about Our Lord’s first miracle. Our Blessed Mother’s heart was pierced with sorrow (Luke 2:35) foreshadowing Our Lord’s Heart being pierced with a lance on the Cross (John 19:34). So, she shows us how to follow Jesus, in all our joys and sufferings, entrusting them to her.

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By: Father Chris da Sousa

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Sep 01, 2020
Encounter Sep 01, 2020

Be fascinated by the life of Brian Welsh as he shares the journey of meeting the superstar and how radically his life changed.

Leap like a Deer

When I was very young, I heard the book of Isaiah being read, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Immediately, I put up my hand and called out, “Send me”.

I grew up in the country, loving football and fishing. I had a really good Catholic upbringing. After receiving Holy Communion one morning, I felt this fire burning in my heart. As soon as I got home from Mass, I started to leap like a deer, joyfully racing down the hill. An overwhelming sense of God’s Peace and Joy overflowed into a song, “God is burning in my heart. He and I are one.”

As I got older, I lost that innocent sense of God’s presence as I succumbed to temptations. When I was altar serving, it was my responsibility to bring the collection money back to the presbytery, I would say, “A little bit for God and a little bit for Brian”, then pocket some to buy ice cream. As I got older, that habit of stealing strengthened so if anything was left lying around, I had no qualms about taking it when no-one was looking.

Rifle in Hand

My father tried to keep me on the straight and narrow, but I started to rebel against his authority. I felt filled with anger. That spilled over into the way I played football as I became violent and vengeful. After I got knocked out in a tackle, I vowed vengeance against that player. A year passed before I played him again, but I hadn’t forgotten. When he ran the ball my way, I drove my knee into his jaw during the tackle. His jaw shattered, so he had to leave the field and never played football again.

My growing anger disturbed those around me, but when someone expressed their concern, “Brian, you have so much violence in your life, what are you going to do about it?” I snapped back furiously, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” One night I felt such resentment towards my father that I loaded my rifle, planning to shoot him. But as I turned to leave the room, I was transfixed by an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As I gazed into His eyes, I felt the madness lift and I hastily unloaded the rifle.

When my close friend, Andrew died of cancer, it really shocked me. Towards the end, he had asked me, “Who is God?” but I didn’t have any answers because I had forgotten the love that God had for us and lost my personal relationship with Him.

Perhaps a move to the big city would make things better, but instead I spiralled into depression and swiftly lost my job. The emptiness inside was swallowing me up, so I made plans to end it all. Before I could do anything, a friend called around and I spent the night confiding in him about this longing for something more. Nothing could fill that void – no relationship, no experience, nothing that money could buy. It was just a vast pain. I told him, “You could pour all the oceans of the world into my heart and it would still be empty.” For a while, I distracted myself by travelling around Australia, committing petty thefts to support myself, but I still felt empty and aimless.

Baffled by Lucia

Finally I turned to God with a prayer – “God I really need your help.” As I cast my eyes back down, I saw a Catholic bookshop. When I entered, I dared to pray again, “God, if there’s a book in this shop that You want me to read – Show me. Brushing past a bookstand, one book tumbled off, so I picked it up and put it back. Next time I passed, it fell off again so I replaced it. When it fell in front of me for the third time, I finally thought, “Perhaps God wants me to read this book.” Turning it over, I tried to make sense of the title – “Fatima in Lucia’s own words”. I was baffled – “What is Fatima and who is Lucia?“

When I took the book home, I read it over and over again. Suddenly, I recalled every detail of everything I had ever done wrong. Filled with sorrow for my sins, I knelt on the floor and cried out to God for His mercy, begging for His forgiveness. I went to Confession with a great list of sins. As soon as the priest said the words of absolution, I felt God’s merciful love flowing into me, banishing the darkness.

There was something more that I needed, but instead of looking for it in the Catholic Church, I went to a Pentecostal church with a friend. During the sermon on God’s love, I heard John 3:16 with fresh ears “God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That scripture really struck my heart, so when he called people who wanted prayer to come forward, I felt an inner voice urging me up.

When the pastor asked me what I wanted, I didn’t know what to ask for, except God’s love. He asked me if I’d met Jesus, urging me to open my heart to His love and mercy by saying, “Jesus come into my heart. Be my Lord and Saviour.” Because I’d already repented and been to Confession, my heart was ready. So, when I closed my eyes, held onto his hands and prayed with all my heart, the Holy Spirit fell upon me, filling the empty, aching void within me with God’s merciful love.

Finding My Home

I reconciled with my father and dealt with the unresolved issues between us. Now that I’m a father myself, I have a better understanding of some of the issues we battled with. Before he died of cancer, we shared a lot of happy memories and wept together about our misunderstandings. His greatest legacy is his love for the poor, who could always count on his kindness and generosity. After he died, I had a dream where I saw him filled with light, complete with his favorite hat.

I stayed with the Pentecostals until they told me not to worship Mary. “I don’t worship Mary. I pray the Rosary.” Although I loved this church, I loved My Heavenly Mother more, so I prayed, “Lord where do you want me?” When I related the saga in Confession, I was told about a Catholic charismatic group nearby. I felt at home there because they loved Mary, they loved the charismatic graces, they loved the traditions of the church and they loved the Eucharist.

My life continued to radically change. I asked the Lord, “What do you want from my life?” I felt a call to become a missionary and was sent to Papua New Guinea. It was great living among the people and seeing so many people being touched by the Holy Spirit.

A priest told me that I was an evangelist. I didn’t know what he meant. So, we stepped out onto the street and he challenged me to go and tell a young man about Jesus. So, I went across and shared the love of Jesus with him. Then he pointed to the pub. “Go in there and share the love of Jesus with the first person you meet.” So, I did just that. “What you did is being an evangelist,” Father said, “Simply sharing the love and mercy of Jesus.” So, for the last 32 years I’ve been going out onto the streets: sitting with junkies; walking into brothels; finding the people who don’t know the love of Jesus and feel so empty and lonely, even suicidal. The people out there need to know Jesus. Even some Catholics who go to church don’t know the love of Jesus.

Do You Love Him?

When I talk to people caught up in homosexuality, their very first question is, “I’m a lesbian, how can God love me? or I’m a transvestite how can God love me?” I tell them, “God loves you the same way He loves me. He doesn’t want to know your sexual identity, He wants to know if you have a heart that loves Him.” The Son of God came to redeem thee people from their sins. He triumphed over my sin by giving me mercy. I experienced the fire of his love and now I’m called to take that love to the world.

As I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament one day, I received an image of Jesus stepping out of the tabernacle, radiant with light. As He approached me, I could feel the fire of His love in my heart. Pointing to His heart, He said, “Take my love to the world.” I promised Him that I would, even if I was the only one, because He came for me. Even if it’s only for one person, it’s worth it. For many years, I went by myself, feeling the presence of God, but more people are joining me, speaking many different languages.

When we’re sharing the Word of God, many people say, “Good on you for being out here,” but some people react very negatively with swearing or demands to stop speaking. My response to that is simply, “God loves you.” We do have a right – a God-given right – to proclaim the truth, not to impose but to propose a new way of living in the mercy of Jesus Christ. Our team has been fortified by the Sacraments, the Word of God and prayer to take his healing power and mercy out to the people who need it so desperately. I usually give out Bibles, Rosaries, pamphlets and holy cards. During this pandemic, I put them in sealed packets and invite people to take them. I’ve set up my ute like a mini-chapel, with an image of the Divine Mercy, as a platform for my evangelization. I drive to a car park, or somewhere like that and talk to the people going by.

Who’s Your Star?

The workplace is also a setting where I evangelize. If people are open to it, I give them a Bible or pray with them. Sometimes people’s lives are falling apart or they’ve just gone through a separation, or breakdown of friendship. If they share this with me, I share the love of Jesus with them, because His friendship is a lasting friendship. As a gardener, I try to make their garden so beautiful that they can feel the presence of God in the tranquillity of their homes.

No matter what addiction you are afflicted with – alcohol, drugs, sex, nicotine, social media, screen … turn to Jesus, take up the power of the Rosary and meditation on the Gospel. One day He’ll say to you, you don’t need it and you’ll be free.

Make sure that you are following the right star. Film stars, sporting stars, TV stars and social media stars are all vying for our attention. Are you being guided by the right star? The true star leads us to Jesus Christ the Lord and Saviour, the healer of the human heart and the uniter of all nations. The Morning Star, Mary led me to Him. I was living in darkness, despair and hopelessness until she led me to experience the mighty love of God.

Now, I live my life for Him – in the family, in my workplace, in my social life. Wherever I go, I live my life in His presence, carrying His light into the world to dispel the darkness. My wife and children reflect His light back to me, healing and strengthening me. We live for Him and rejoice in sharing the very best thing we have – our love for Jesus.

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By: Brian Welsh

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Jun 25, 2020
Encounter Jun 25, 2020

There is a curious and intriguing passage in the third chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, which in the context of the missive seems almost tossed-off, but which has proven to be a cornerstone of Catholic moral theology for the past two thousand years. Responding to some of his critics, Paul says, “And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come?’ Their condemnation is deserved” (Rom. 3:8)! One might formulate Paul’s somewhat convoluted statement as follows: we should never do evil that good might come of it.

There are indeed truly wicked people who seem to take delight in doing evil for its own sake. Aristotle called them vicious, or in extreme cases, “beast-like.” But most of us who do bad things typically can find a justification for our behavior through appealing to a good end that we were hoping through our action to achieve. “I’m not really proud of what I did,” I might say to myself, “but at least it brought about some positive consequences.” But the Church, following the prompt of St. Paul, has consistently frowned on this manner of thinking, precisely because it opens the door to moral chaos. Concomitantly, it has recognized certain acts—slavery, adultery, the sexual abuse of children, the direct killing of the innocent, etc.—as “intrinsically evil”—which is to say, incapable of being justified through appeal to motivation, extenuating circumstances, or consequences. So far, so obvious.

But this principle has come to my mind recently, not so much in regard to the moral acts of individuals, but to the moral assumptions that seem to be guiding much of our society. I might suggest that a sea-change occurred in 1995 with the trial of O.J. Simpson. I think it’s fair to say that the overwhelming majority of reasonable people would concur that Simpson committed the terrible crimes of which he was accused, and yet he was exonerated by a jury of his peers and vehemently supported by large segments in our society. How can we explain this anomaly? The exculpation of O.J. Simpson was justified, in the minds of many, because it was seen as contributing to the solution of the great social ill of the racial profiling and persecution of African Americans by the Los Angeles police department in particular and police officers across the country in general. Allowing a guilty man to go free and allowing a gross injustice to remain unaddressed were, at the very least, tolerated, because it appeared they conduced to some greater good.

The O.J. Simpsonization of our legal thinking was on gross display much more recently in the sad case of Cardinal George Pell. Once again, given the wild implausibility of the charges and the complete lack of any corroborating evidence, reasonable people were bound to conclude that Cardinal Pell should never have been brought to trial much less convicted. And yet Pell was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, and a later appeal confirmed the original conviction. How could we possibly explain this disconnect? Many in Australian society, legitimately outraged at the abuse of children by priests and the subsequent cover-up by some in ecclesial authority, felt that the imprisonment of Cardinal Pell would somehow address this overarching issue. So once again, in violation of Paul’s principle, evil was done that good might come of it.

The same problem is evident in regard to sexual aggression against women. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein situation and the subsequent #MeToo movement, no serious person doubts that numerous women have been unconscionably mistreated by powerful men and that this abuse is a cancer on the body politic. Therefore, in order to achieve the good of solving this problem, men are sometimes accused, harassed, effectively condemned without investigation or trial. To show that I have no partisan axe to grind here, I will draw attention to the treatment of both Justice Brett Kavanaugh and, in recent days, former Vice President Joe Biden. The thinking seems, again, to be that the righting of a general wrong justifies morally irresponsible behavior in particular cases.

The prevalence of this moral consequentialism in our society is supremely dangerous, for the moment we say that evil can be done for the sake of the good, we have effectively denied that there are any intrinsically evil acts, and the moment we do that, the intellectual support for our moral system gives way automatically. And then the furies come. A very instructive example of the principle is the Terror that followed the French Revolution. Since there had been (undoubtedly) tremendous injustices done to the poor by the aristocratic class in eighteenth-century France, anyone perceived to be an enemy of the revolution was, without distinction or discrimination, swept to the guillotine. If innocents died alongside the guilty, so be it—for it served the building of the new society. I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that Western society has yet fully to recover from the moral chaos visited upon us by the lethal consequentialism of that time.

Therefore, even as we legitimately fight the great social evils of our time, we must remember Paul’s simple but trenchant principle: never do evil that good might come of it.

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By: Bishop Robert Barron

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Jun 25, 2020
Encounter Jun 25, 2020

If you can make it through the night, there’s a brighter day… Everything will be alright if you hold on to Him.

Panic Stricken

When the pandemic rolled in, it upended our lives, our homes and our reality like a hurricane. Suddenly — Six Feet Apart; Wash your Hands; Stay Home, and Steer Clear of Everyone became the mantras of the day. We became afraid of the future, the person passing by, or the scratchy throat we feel first thing in the morning.

Do I have Covid-19? Does my husband? Is it in my home? Fear and anxiety took the centre stage as people whispered, ‘You will get sick and die alone, without your family around you. You will not be able to feed your family or pay the bills.” Updates on the latest restrictions and predictions of death figures filled our newsfeeds, ramping up our panic as we reeled under the weight of the invisible doom threatening us from all sides. ‘We will get through this’; ‘We are all in this together’, we were told, but where is God? Why did all this happen?

Indescribable Anguish

Many years ago, I was overcome by fear and panic as I was plunged deep into an indescribable anguish. A paediatric neurologist told my husband and me that our three and a half year old son would die from a rare disease and that there was nothing we could do about it. His words shattered me. They drove me into the depths of despair and they drove me to my knees, begging God for the life of my son. Desperate for prayers, miracles and hope, I sought the counsel of our local priest who advised me that I would learn to pray and teach my family how to pray. It was not the consolation I was looking for.

Hope against All Hope

My husband and I sought out the best specialist in the world for this particular disease. She bluntly told us, “We don’t know the cause, so there is no cure, but I will try to help you.” My son was admitted into a large children’s hospital in Chicago— two thousand miles from our home where our trials continued. One day my son passed out after he was stabbed with a needle over and over again in a botched attempt to put in an IV line.

As I sank to the floor sobbing, a woman reached down to pull me up. Her eyes were full of love and compassion as she enquired, “Did you eat your breakfast this morning? Did you put on your makeup?”

I stared at her in disbelief. Was she kidding? “No”.

“What is your son’s ailment,” she asked. When I told her, she said, “Good, you have hope” then she pulled back the curtain to reveal a boy of about 12 in the next bed. “That’s my son Charles. He has a double brain tumour. They just operated on him, but couldn’t remove it. The operation took away his ability to speak.”

“What are they going to do?” I gasped.

“Nothing. They have given him two months to live” she revealed.

I was shocked, but she continued, “I get up every morning and I put my make up on and eat my breakfast, not for me but for that young boy right there and I pray ‘Thank you Jesus that I have my son Charles today. That’s all that matters.’”

I was speechless. She had no hope yet she was hopeful. I had hope but I was a wreck. Over the next eight days, I watched her go from room to room, bringing joy and hope as she checking on other suffering families. It was unbelievable. How could she do that while her son lay mute in his hospital bed where my son talked to him incessantly about Star Wars?

Going through the Fiery Furnace

After returning home with a plan to surgically implant a port for infusions three times a week and an appointment to return to Chicago to see his doctor, my husband sent Charles a signed Gator football hat, since we had discovered Charles loved the Gators. Sadly, we never heard back from Charles or his mom.

When our son finally began to improve, I stayed on my knees. Our past dreams and ambitions had all disappeared. We stayed on tenterhooks watching our son get better, relapse, get better, relapse. Again and again, up and down, watching, waiting, praying, hoping.

About two years later, as we once again stood in the hospital corridor waiting for blood results, I heard my name. Whirling around, I was delighted to see Charles and his mother! He ran up to our son, picked him up and twirled him around saying, “I couldn’t talk to you then, but I can talk to you now.” She looked at me with tears glistening in her eyes as she declared, “He’s not number one on the basketball team and he’s not a straight A student, but Thank You Jesus. I have my Charles today and that’s all that matters.” Even a double brain tumour was not big enough to stop the will of God! As I marvelled at her faith, I heard the words of scripture,

 

Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

My son was not supposed to make it to 4 years old, but he did. And then he went to kindergarten, then middle school, and then he graduated from high school. Today he is at the tail end of a doctorate program and is a theologian. He has been sick off and on his whole life and I have been on my knees off and on my whole life. The priest was right. Suffering has kept me in prayer and taught me how small I am, how little control I have and what really matters. My life is not the life I intended but looking back I see that so many blessings came about because of the suffering. It tenderized my heart and revealed to me that no matter what comes, with God’s help, I will make it through. I will continue to thank Jesus for all that comes, knowing that no matter how hopeless things may appear, I can trust in God’s goodness to care for my family and for me.

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By: Roseanne Pappas

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Jun 25, 2020
Encounter Jun 25, 2020

Looking for beauty that never fades?
Then this is for you!

Mark Twain, the celebrated American writer and humorist, once said “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Humor aside, we all know that it is not easy to deal with aging no matter who we are. And for the rich and famous, it is especially challenging to watch youth and beauty fade away.

Flying High

As a teenager in the early 1960s Mary Ann was beautiful, charming and full of energy. When she saw Dolores Hart’s film “Come Fly with Me” in 1963, she was fascinated by the status and privilege of the globetrotting stewardesses who were the movie’s main characters. The film glorified the glamor, prestige and adventure of being a stewardess. She started dreaming of being like Dolores Hart’s character traveling the world seeking romance and excitement.

Landing a job as a stewardess in those days was difficult. But Mary Ann was smart and beautiful and soon got that dream job. TWA, in those days, was one of the most prestigious international airlines and Mary Ann was soon featured in the company’s Skyliner magazine and got lots of attention. Eventually, she found more success after switching careers to publishing and journalism. She enjoyed the attention she received and maintained an active lifestyle. By the time she hit fifty, she started noticing wrinkles on her face. They horrified her. How could she remain who she was without her beauty and youthful smile?

Meeting the Abbess

A close friend noticed the change in Mary Ann’s mood. When they talked, Mary Ann confessed her concern over the aging process. Her friend recommended that she meet someone special at the nearby Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Cloistered Convent located in Bethlehem, Connecticut. On the day of the meeting, her friend introduced Mary Ann to the Prioress, Mother Dolores Hart. Mary Ann quickly noticed the resemblance between the Prioress and the actress she adored in that 60’s movie. Mother Dolores assured her that she was the same Dolores! Mary Ann could not believe that the favorite actress of her teen years was the Mother Superior of a convent, and a cloistered convent at that! In their private time together, Mary Ann told Mother Dolores about the pain of growing old and how the thought of losing her beauty and charm terrified her.

Here was Mary Ann speaking with a woman who, before joining the convent was a prominent actress throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Not only had she received the Theatre World Award and a Tony Award nomination, she was the first actress to kiss Elvis Presley on screen. She had grown up near Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood dreaming of becoming a movie star. Her dream came true, but God had other plans.

Out of the Limelight

In the early 1960s, Dolores performed at the Broadway theaters in New York City. During a long break, she did not have a house to go to like other actors who lived in the area. A friend told her about an Abbey in Connecticut which included guest quarters, in compliance with the rule of St. Benedict.

Dolores decided to stay at this Abbey with its cloistered convent. She was fascinated by how the sisters worked hard and yet remained so gracious. Her stay in the Abbey captivated her so much that she knew she would return soon! Eventually, Dolores recognized a calling to religious life and abandoned her career, her engagement to her fiancée, and the life she had known in order to embrace life in a cloistered convent.

A Lesson for Life

As Mary Ann listened to this story, she was totally absorbed. Mother Dolores told her that, at the height of her career, she looked at the mirror one day and realized that her fame had come because of her beauty and youthfulness, but those good looks would soon fade. She came to understand that the only beauty which lasts is inner beauty.

Mary Ann left that conversation with a new perspective on life. Though still a beautiful woman, it was Sister Dolores’ inner beauty that radiated from her. The body is a temple for the soul, so when we care for the beauty of the soul, that inner beauty is reflected on the face and in all our actions.

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By: Joseph Melookaran

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