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I did not grow up in faith. Although my grandparents were faithful Anglicans, my family were not churchgoers. I went to an Anglican high school, but that did not mean much to me. I briefly thought about God’s existence in my teens, but quickly dismissed it as ridiculous. I remember sitting on my surfboard one day, surrounded by tiny waves, praying, “Please send me some waves.” Then, I thought, “How can I pray when I don’t believe in God?”
Little did I know that deep within my heart was a real emptiness. That spontaneous prayer was a sign that I was missing something essential. After school, I joined the army to study at the Australian Defence Academy. However, this coincided with my phase of teenage rebellion. I went out drinking, neglected to do assignments and failed nearly every exam. I even refused to cut my hair, which was not a good look in the army.
So, it was not surprising that soon I was on my way back home. But my mother would not tolerate these bad habits. After I stayed out late drinking, she told me that my behaviour was unacceptable. When I tried to argue, she told me that I would have to start paying board if I wanted to set my own hours. I was so pig-headed that I started to do just that, but it was one of the best things that my mother ever said to me.
That prompted me to study Surveying and hold down three part-time jobs. However, in my downtime, I was out drinking at least three nights a week and experimenting with other drugs. Only my guardian angel’s intervention prevented me from killing myself or someone else with my recklessness, especially when I drove in a drunken state.
Sometimes, I had absolutely no recollection of what had happened for several hours. I was completely blacked out. I do not think that anyone understood what I was doing to myself. My sexual morality was also very dubious. Exposure to pornography at an early age affected how I treated women. That deeply horrifies me now and it distresses me to reflect upon my behaviour at that time. I wish I could go back and repair the harm I caused.
Choices We Make
After university, I got a mining job which enabled me to save a lot, since there’s not much to spend it on out there. So, I set off to holiday in Europe. My choice of reading material–a New Age book–was a good indication of the state of my spirituality. It was time to explore the meaning of life. I remember thinking, “I really like this guy, Jesus Christ. He loves the poor. He is not materialistic. He has got his finger on the pulse in terms of peace, but this thing about him being Son of God—that is impossible. He is just one of those great guys of history, like Gandhi or Buddha.”
To extend my stay in Europe, I found a job navigating ships and oil rigs around the North Sea. From a base in Scotland, a helicopter would fly me all the way to rigs scattered across the North Sea as far as the Arctic Circle. After two or three days work, I would return for two or three days off. My landlady’s boyfriend was a born again Christian who gave me a book to read, “The Late, Great Planet Earth” about the end times. (Scott Hahn read the same book before his initial conversion to Christianity.) I read about ten pages before deciding that it was not my cup of tea (it did not interest me).
One day, I was unexpectedly called to an urgent job. To while away the time on flights, I usually brought a book to read, but I had nothing except that one, so I grabbed it out of desperation as I walked out the door. I became engrossed in reading it, so the flight passed swiftly. Since the job did not take long, I had plenty of time to rest and reflect while I waited for the helicopter. Then almost unremarkably, a series of thoughts crossed my mind leading me to the astounding realization that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I did not know where these thoughts had come from.
Everything that I had heard about Jesus started making sense for some reason. I was a bit stunned and did not know what to do, so I said, “Jesus, if this is true please let me know.” At that moment, an amazing light seemed to spill out of my chest into the whole cabin, filling me with ecstatic joy. I had never experienced anything like this and it knocked my socks off. I felt a burning desire to read the Bible, so I hunted one down straight away because I could not wait. I spent my three days leave reading the whole New Testament straight through, from Matthew all the way to Revelation.
On my return to Australia, Mum was thrilled to see me again and came across my Bible while helping me unpack. “What’s this?” she said in surprise, so I told her the news. “I’m a Christian. I’ve found the faith.” Her response was discouraging, “Craig, don’t lose your friends.” I had a really great bunch of friends. It was actually through one of them that I became a Catholic. Karl married a Catholic whose family was heavily involved in a charismatic community. When they invited me along to a prayer meeting, it was a totally novel experience for me, but I loved it. They had a ten week course starting that week, so asked if I could join in.
The Lord really seemed to be bringing me home. One of them asked me one day, “Why don’t you think about becoming a Catholic?” Without hesitation, I replied, “Yes, I’m really open to that.” So, I started a one-on-one RCIA program with their chaplain, Father Chris. He gave me a catechism explaining all the Catholic doctrine we would be studying. I read through it and told him that I had no problem with any of it. I believed it all, without a doubt. Nothing that The Church taught was a barrier for me. Just as everything made sense to me when I first read the New Testament, I was able to immediately perceive that the teachings of The Catholic Church were true. I had no doubts at all.
A Higher Call?
Over the next two years, I became a Catholic, attended daily Mass and continued growing in my faith. As I thought about the future, I considered whether God was calling me to a religious vocation or marriage. Father Chris was in the Servite order, so I decided to join them to discern if I was meant to be a priest. They sent me to Melbourne for training, but before too long I realized that this was not where God was calling me. However, it was all part of His plan as in Melbourne I would reconnect with Lucy, a lovely, young woman who would become my wife two years later.
My faith journey was such a gift to me. I had not even been interested in becoming a Catholic or even a Christian. I was not even trying to understand who God was. I was not even asking the questions. God, in His infinite mercy, just decided to say, “Well, it’s time for him to come now.” He gave me that experience on the oil rig and made it so dramatic because he knew that I needed that. If it was a more subtle experience, I probably would not even be a Christian today. I just needed to be smacked between the eyes. But, with my hand on my heart, I can honestly say that I have never doubted, for one second since, that God exists, or that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and my Savior, through His death on The Cross for my sins.
Upstart of Miracles
Starting a school—Angelorum College in Brisbane— is our family’s big project now. Lucy wanted to help families grow in holiness. It is the primary goal of the school and everything we do is designed to support that. Since there was previously no Catholic Distance Education school in Australia, we also support families who home school with curriculum and other practical assistance.
In the beginning, I was almost praying that it would not get off the ground, because it seemed insane to think that we could start a school and there were so many obstacles to overcome. The first miracle was getting approved. The second miracle was finding a place to set up the school—thank you, Legion of Mary. There have been many miracles since and, five years down the track, it is bearing fruit in the lives of all the families who joined us in this crazy venture. We are now praying for the miracle of finding a bigger, permanent home. It is so exciting to be sharing our faith with the next generation, in company with such faithful, generous, loving families. Encountering the love of Christ and realizing what He did for us, and is doing for us all the time can transform lives. Eternity opened up before me, so I want to share that good news. Before I was dead, but now I am alive, I have discovered the pearl of great price. Each of us is created in the image and likeness of God and we find our fulfillment in Him.
Before my conversion, I desperately tried to fill the yearning emptiness inside with temporal pleasures which could never satisfy, but after my conversion He made me complete. So, I do not go out to get drunk now, not only because I do not want to lose my wits, but because I have no need to do that since I found my joy in the Lord. I am finally becoming the person that the Lord intends me to be, since He has saved me.'
Father Tao Pham shares his breathtaking journey through the storm, in spite of his crippling disability
To fulfill my dream of becoming a priest, I had to overcome a lot of challenges and difficulties. Many times, when the pain seemed unbearable, I prayed that my sufferings would be united with Jesus in His Passion. I knew that He could do anything, so if He wanted me to become a priest, then one day I would be a priest.
I was born in the north of Vietnam, the 7th of 8 children. We grew up in a very poor village where schooling ended at Year 9, but I felt that Christ was calling me to the priesthood. This was only possible if I received tertiary education. When I was 14, my brother and I sorrowfully bid farewell to our family so we could attend high school.
At that time, the Communist government in North Vietnam had closed all the seminaries, so after high school graduation, I spent 4 years assisting our parish priest full-time, 4 years at university and 4 years teaching before I finally began seminary training in the south. My dream was finally coming true, but this was just the beginning. When I’d finished 3 years of Philosophy, I was invited to complete my study for the priesthood in Australia.
After 3 more years studying Theology and a year of pastoral placement, I finally received the happy news that the bishop had chosen the date for my ordination as a deacon. A few days before the big day, I had a little mishap when the car boot fell and squashed my fingers as I was removing my luggage. The other seminarians cleaned me up, but the fingers became so swollen and painful that after 3 days, I finally went to the hospital. To my surprise, the doctors told me that I had less than 50% of normal blood volume because I was bleeding internally. They discovered a stomach ulcer which needed an emergency operation.
When I woke up, I was astonished to find myself tied to the bed. The doctor said I had been shaking so much that they had to tie me down so that I could receive a blood transfusion. They told me that I had tetanus, but after 40 days treatment, I was well enough to go back to the seminary to begin the intensive study prior to ordination. After several weeks, the Bishop asked me to come and stay with him. It was wonderful to be attending him at Mass, but I suddenly collapsed in the Cathedral and had to be rushed back to hospital.
They put me into intensive care because I had developed a catastrophic blood infection and was not expected to live. I stopped breathing and had to be put on life support. Since the doctors were certain I would die, they sent for my family and my brother came from Vietnam. After receiving the Last Rites, life support was turned off, but I didn’t die. After a couple of hours, they turned on the machines again. A couple of weeks later, they turned the machines off again, but I still survived. I ended up being in a coma for 74 days and was operated on 18 times.
When I woke up from the coma, I was still in a lot of pain. I could not talk because there was a tube in my throat. Even after the tubes were removed, I could not speak. It took months to slowly and painfully learn to talk again. My condition was still critical so the doctors prepared me for another surgery, which my brother had already consented to, but when I read that they were planning to cut my leg off, I refused. The doctor told me that I would die if it was not amputated, but I did not want this to prevent me from being ordained as a priest. I would not give up my dream of becoming a priest even though my family and many good friends were telling me that it was hopeless, to just go home to Vietnam and get married. It was very challenging, mentally and physically, but I put my hope and trust in God.
After a month on “Nil by Mouth”, I was desperately longing to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. If I could receive even a drop of the Precious Blood, I knew that I would be healed. The next day Father Peter brought the Precious Blood to me in Holy Communion. As he trickled a few drops into my mouth, I visualized it moving into my body and touching the infection. The following day, I felt much better. Tests were done and the infection was gone.
After more than a year in hospital, we had a meeting with the staff of the hospital to discuss my future. The bishop attended on my family’s behalf. The doctor reported that I would never be able to walk again and would need high level care 24 hours a day for the rest of my life. They said that I would not be able to look after myself, shower myself or even get in or out of bed without help. It was devastating to hear this and even more devastating to hear the bishop’s decision that he would not ordain me as a deacon or priest. After all the years of study and waiting, my dream seemed to be over.
It was very difficult for me, however I kept praying. I was determined to walk again, so I worked hard at all the painful exercises I was given, offering up my suffering in union with Christ for all the people who needed my prayers. The rehabilitation took years. Often I felt like giving up, but I held onto my dream and that gave me the courage to go on.
Despite all these challenges and obstacles, I still felt Christ calling me to become a priest to serve His people, even in my weakness. So, one day I sent a letter to the Archbishop of Melbourne asking him to accept me for ordination. To my surprise, he arranged to see me straight away and discuss what he needed me to do. He agreed to ordain me, even if I had to lie in a bed or sit in a wheelchair, but he told me that I would get better and better, and I would be walking. At that stage I was still in a wheelchair, but I continued to work at my exercises while I finished my study, so when ordination day came I was able to join the others walking in procession. The Cathedral was filled with the jubilant faces of friends. Many of them had met me when I needed their care in hospital so they knew how astonishing it was that I had lived to see this day. Tears of joy filled my eyes and I could see their eyes glistening too. I could not believe that this day had finally come, 30 years after I set out from my village in pursuit of my dream.
Now, I work with 2 other priests in a busy community with 4 churches, several schools and 6 nursing homes. Every day when I walk in to say Mass is like a fresh miracle. I do not think that I will ever tire of it. Then, strengthened by the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, I go out to visit the children in the schools and the elderly in the nursing homes. I feel blessed to bring His presence to them. The long wait to share in Christ’s priesthood is over and I can share with them the fruits of my suffering in union with Him.
Persisting through all my difficulties has enabled me to understand and help people in their adversities. I have learned that thinking about the needs of others and putting on a smiling face for them diverts me from my own afflictions and transforms my suffering into joy. When people come to me for assistance, I can draw on the strength I gained from my ailments to encourage them to persevere through their trials. Because they can see that I suffer a disability, it is easier for them to relate to me in times of trouble so that they can receive the Church’s support to maintain hope in the darkest times.'
Are you praying for a miracle? Here’s a wonder-working formula for you!
Several years ago my husband and I decided to face the inevitability of mortality head on. We dove into the world of wills, trusts, executors, probates, lawyers etc. and tried to sort our earthly possessions. It was very surreal trying to catalogue our possessions by value. Is a vehicle worth more than our wedding album? Would our children understand the value of memories, sentimental objects or family heirlooms the way their father and I did? What lasting legacy could we leave each of our children that would be valuable or meaningful for them after we had gone home to the Lord? Fortunately, God had the answers to all my questions and, just as in Scripture, He used stories to reveal these truths.
Trinkets and Treasures
This story revolves around our second son, James (or Jimmy as we have always called him), when he was about 6 years old. We raised our family in a wonderful, quaint New England area that offered many wholesome family events for community interaction, such as the annual country fair our church held each Fall. Our family was actively involved with the preparation of this fair and looked forward to it every year.
Our children grew up helping where they could and when they were needed. As a result, our kids were familiar faces to other parish volunteers who also helped make the fair happen. Jimmy had learned which booths were apt to have treasures that piqued his interest. He particularly enjoyed the various White Elephant and Rummage Sale booths. So, in the weeks leading up to the fair, he would volunteer to help set up those booths as a strategy for inspecting any incoming goodies. Jimmy had a particular interest in all kinds of trinkets and was blessed with a keen eye for treasures and a knack for bartering for them as well. (Just a side note…he still does!)
One year, on the day of the country fair, when all the preparations had been completed and we were ready to enjoy the festivities, Jimmy asked if he could go off in search of treasures. With a small pocketful of money and our blessing, he happily and independently set off on his quest. The rest of us spent the day wherever we were needed to make the day a success.
The full day of festivities was exciting and fun for our family, but it also proved to be long and tiring, especially for our little ones. At the end of the fair we wearily returned home and took turns sharing the day’s events and displaying any of the treasures we had acquired. When it was his turn, Jimmy proudly pulled a handful of precious knick-knacks from his pocket.
Methodically, he explained their importance to him and how he had bargained for each item. He saved his most valuable find till the end. As he slowly reached into his little pocket, he carefully extracted a long, worn, golden chain holding an equally worn golden cross. As he lifted it high for all of us to admire, he radiated a smile that practically exclaimed “TA DA!” My mother’s heart leaped with joy. This precious child of God had instinctively realized the intrinsic value of the worn cross. I hugged him at least a half dozen times to share his joy, before sending them all off to bed.
A Tiny Crack
Not long after they had disappeared to their rooms, a long drawn out cry of “Moooooom!” echoed down the stairwell. It was followed by a distinct distressed sobbing that indicated something was unusually wrong. Praying that no one was hurt, I dashed up the stairs to find Jimmy standing in his doorway pointing toward the corner of his room. “What is it? What happened? What is the matter?” I rattled off my standard motherly questions as I scanned the room for possible answers. Finding no apparent explanation, I stooped down to hear what was making him so distressed. Trying to catch his breath through the tears, he explained that the chain had slipped through his fingers and fallen through a very tiny crack in the floorboards. His tear-stained eyes were fixed on me, imploring me to recover his precious treasure. I asked his older brother for his rendition of events and he verified Jimmy’s story.
Plan A involved shining a flashlight into the tiny hole, hoping that it had fallen straight down where I could see it and then figure out how to retrieve it. But…no such luck. Moving on to Plan B, my husband gathered his tools and began prying up floorboards. Although we all scoured the area carefully, the chain was nowhere to be found. While my husband reattached the floorboards, I tried to console our disappointed, tired little boy.
We were all worn out, and it was apparent that nothing more could be done that evening. However, as we began to say nightly prayers with the boys, a thought came to me. When I was a child, just about Jimmy’s age, I had a toy jump rope that was very special to me. Somehow the jump rope had been misplaced and I felt very sad and helpless. I stopped and asked God to find it for me and place it in a
specific location for me to find the next morning. To my delight, it was there the next day. God had answered my prayer and I have never stopped praying or trusting Him since then. (Read this story in my article “Just Like a Child” for the September/October 2019 issue of Shalom Tidings at shalomtidings.org).
Recalling that feeling, I relayed my story to the boys and we prayed in the same way for God to help Jimmy. Jimmy asked for God to place the necklace on his dresser in a little container where he had placed other important treasures. We ended the long day with that prayer.
The next morning I woke up to another long drawn out cry of, “Moooooom!” Gathering my wits and my robe about me, the same list of questions echoed through my head as on the previous evening. However, instead of finding a crying son in the doorway, I saw Jimmy smiling from ear to ear as the worn golden chain and cross dangled once again from the grasp of his little hand. “Did you find my chain last night?” he asked excitedly. I gasped. I knew that question! I had asked that same question to my mother many years ago, regarding my jump rope, when I discovered it had been located. I knew the impact my answer was about to have on my son. I slowly shook my head and reached out to hold Jimmy’s little hand. “No, Jimmy. I did not find your chain. You asked for God to help you and He answered your prayer.” I let my answer sink into his little heart for a few moments.
My husband and my other sleepy son appeared in the doorway asking, “What’s going on?” Jimmy directed the same question at them, “Did you find my chain last night?” Neither could explain how the chain had appeared in the little treasure box. God had visited Jimmy that evening and it was time for me to pass on the lesson I had learned as a child.
“Jimmy, when we pray to God, He listens to us. Last night you needed help and you asked God to help you in a very specific way. God heard you and helped you. I want you to always remember this moment. I want you to know that, you can ALWAYS ask God to help you no matter what you need or how old you get. He will always help you. Do you understand?” He looked down at his little cross and nodded. The impact of what had just happened began to take root in him and in all of us. None of us have forgotten that day and we have shared the story of the little cross to the children that were born after Jimmy.
My husband and I finally concluded our deliberations on how to distribute our belongings to our children. They may not fully understand the monetary or sentimental value of our earthly possessions and that is okay. When I recall this story, God reminds of what He said in Matthew 6:19-20 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.” God tells us in Scripture not to store up things on this earth that will wither and pass away. He tells us to store up our treasures in Heaven. We have stressed to our children the importance of prayer and the eternal value of having faith in God.
I have found peace and comfort in knowing that we passed on to our children the importance of having a close prayerful relationship with God. They, in turn, are passing their faith and their stories about God on to their families. Praying forward our faith has become our everlasting legacy and heavenly treasure. Today, I want to encourage you. It is never too late to start your own legacy. Pray for your faith to increase and then pray forward your faith to those God places in your life. God bless you dear brothers and sisters.'
When I was about 15, my Dad passed away and I was in a desperate situation. One night while I was praying, I yearned for God because I needed His help. And He answered me. I saw Him in a vision. At first, I was shocked because I had never had any experience of that sort. Jesus answered my prayer by showing Himself with His hands opened wide, a crown of thorns on His head, and His heart glowing. He did not say or do anything, but I was deeply touched by His presence. This was the first time I felt extremely close to Jesus.
As I look back, I realize that aspects of what I saw in the vision symbolized aspects of my life. The crown of thorns symbolized the pain I was going through at that time, and Jesus’ glowing heart communicated His great love for me. Every time I remember the vision, the image of Jesus’ wide-open arms reminds me that everything is going to be alright because He is always with me.
Growing up in a Catholic family made it easy for me to practice my faith. Regular Mass attendance was part of our routine. But when I moved to South Africa to teach English, I lived in a rural area where Sunday Mass was not available. This made me aware of how grateful I should be for every opportunity to be in the presence of the Eucharist and to receive Holy Communion.
When I went to Albania to teach English, I was fortunate to stay in a convent where adoration before the Blessed Sacrament was part of our daily routine. That experience helped form my love for adoration and deepened my love for the Holy Eucharist. During that time with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament I opened my heart to Him and shared everything I was feeling.
People ask me how I can be so sure that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament. I believe without a doubt because I can feel Him. His presence—His warmth and love—surround my whole being. Adoration is crucial in my life because it gives me the opportunity to listen to what God wants me to do. The more I listen to Him, the better I am able to discern God’s purpose in my life.
While I was at university, I had a wonderful experience going to World Youth Day at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. Four million of us celebrated adoration on the beach. The waves rolled in on one side, the sun shone upon us and when the Blessed Sacrament was raised, I was overwhelmed. The glory of Jesus, His invisible presence, was profound. As I knelt, with bowed head, surrounded by millions, I felt my burdens lifted and I was drawn closer to Him than ever before.
Over the years, my relationship with Jesus has deepened and the Holy Eucharist has become central in my life. Even through the trials of my life, I have known Jesus is there for me. Whether at Mass or in Adoration, or in my own private prayer, I am always struck by His awesome, wonderful presence.'
Addicted, sleepless, anxious and feeling lost? Take heart, there is hope.
“There is hope.” These were the last words my father spoke to me before he died at the age of 77. These words would be spoken to me twice more and they would change my life. They would take me from a life of addiction to being a disciple of Jesus running a charity for recovering addicts, where the good news of the Gospel takes shape as an everyday, tangible existence, giving hope to all who seek the truth.
Let me start at the beginning. I was born the youngest of 6 children in what you would consider a normal middle-class Catholic family where I received the foundations of the Catholic faith. But deek the truth. espite this solid grounding in The Church, I struggled with discipline, understanding, and prayer. I attended Mass, but my faith was weak.
By the time I reached adolescence, I was falling away rapidly, and by the time I went to college, all I wanted to do was play live music in a rock band. I dreamed of being a guitar hero while enjoying the party life.
I achieved recognition, at least locally, but to function I always needed an intoxicating substance inside me. My substance of choice became alcohol, though later I would become dependent on many substances. Years went by and I drank more and more—whether happy or sad, angry or peaceful, I drank. Going out or staying in, gigging or getting up to work the next day, made no difference. I was alcohol dependent, but I didn’t realise or admit it for many years.
After my father died, my anxiety rose to new levels. I was abusing prescribed medications from anxiety blockers, to sleeping tablets, to pain killers and anti-depressants. My life was out of control. I was hospitalized several times over several years, and once spent a week being medically detoxed from alcohol. That’s when I heard those words the second time. I awoke in my hospital bed delirious and babbling, but a nurse was holding my hand and saying, “Mark, it’s ok, there is hope.”
Fast forward a few years, and I’m in the very same hospital, only this time I’m sectioned on a ward after admitting to suicidal thoughts. My body was a toxic mix of drugs, pain killers and alcohol. I became aware of the patient in the bed next to me who was talking to his partner on the phone, and everything he said irritated me. That conversation became entangled with voices I heard in my own head which for years had condemned me. Inexplicably, I suddenly felt the urge to kill the man in the bed beside me. I lay there till midnight thinking that, without alcohol or sleeping tablets, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I got insanely angry.
The urge to do violence to the man beside me grew. I imagined myself chocking him. Did I have it in me to strangle someone? Maybe I did. I thought about putting a pillow over his head and snuffing his breath away. I imagined hitting him as hard as possible and knocking him out cold. Then, I caught myself. “Wait, had I just murdered an innocent man in a hospital bed? Not once, not twice but three times. Who was I? What had I become? I had killed a man in my heart three times!”
I turned my anger toward God. “I believe in You, and now You need to help me,” I cried. But I also blamed him. “Why did You create me just to torment me and send me to hell?”
I realised I was weak and had no fight left in me. Because I had used up all my faith in mankind, I needed something or someone to cling to. I had to hope. I had tried dozens of times to get clean on my own with always the same outcome. Now I did something I hadn’t done in many years. Though I had slid far from God and my childhood faith, I remembered my prayers and I began to pray. “I surrender to You, Jesus. Save me. I know You are My God and Saviour, help me!” I kept praying. I began to quote Scripture: “Ask and you shall receive.” I said, “Lord Jesus these are Your words. I’m quoting You, so You must listen. These are not my words but Yours,” I knew I was quoting The Bible and I knew it was true, but I had no idea what passage it was.
I know now I was quoting Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. My father’s last words to me had been ‘There is hope’ and here I was quoting Matthew 7:7.
Around 7:00 am, I awoke to the sound of a nurse asking me if I wanted a cup of tea. I had slept for seven hours! Most people know that a hospital is no place to get a good night’s sleep, but there I was withdrawing from alcohol, sleeping tablets, and all sorts of other substances and I had just gotten the best night’s sleep in years. As the nurse was offering me tea and toast, I heard another voice mutter, “There is hope.” Was it the nurse or was it God talking to me? I decided Jesus had answered my prayers: I had slept for hours and again I was hearing, “There is hope.”
But more importantly, something had changed, something profound. My anxiety was gone and I had a faint feeling of happiness and joy. I wasn’t sure what caused it, but the demons that had tormented me for many years were gone.
This was the beginning of the miracle of my conversion, the first of many. I lay there in total peace and thanked Jesus. My journey with Jesus Christ began that day and I continue to walk the road on which he leads me.'
Discover a powerful prayer that takes just 7 minutes, and opens the door of Mercy
It was a warm, balmy day. The moss hanging from the massive water oak trees in our front yard blew sideways dusting the grass with debris. I had just checked the mailbox when Lia, one of my best friends, pulled into the driveway. She hurried over and I could see on her face that she was extremely upset.
“My mom went into the hospital two nights ago. Her cancer cells have spread from her lungs to her brain,” Lia said.
Lia’s beautiful brown eyes shimmered with tears that streamed down her cheeks.
Seeing her was heartbreaking. I took her hand.
“Can I go with you to see her,” I asked.
“Yes, I’m headed there this afternoon,” she said.
“Okay, I’ll meet you there,” I said.
When I walked into the hospital room, Lia was at her mom’s bedside. Her mom looked up at me, her face twisted in pain.
I hope it’s okay that I came to see you today,” I said.
“Of course. It’s nice to see you again,” she said.
“Have you heard from that priest friend of yours,” she asked, her voice weak but kind.
“Yes, we speak off and on” I said.
“I’m so glad I got to see him that day,” she said.
Lia and I had been part of a Rosary group that met every week during the time her mom was first diagnosed. A priest, well known for his spiritual gifts, had come to one of our meetings and we were eager for him to join us in prayer and hear our confessions.
Lia’s mom was raised Catholic, but when she married, she decided to assimilate into her husband’s family and adopt his Greek Orthodox faith. However, over the years, she felt less and less at home in either faith community. Worried that her mom had been away from The Church and sacraments for so many years, Lia invited her to our Rosary group so she could meet our special priest.
Not till the priest was preparing to leave did Lia’s mom finally walk through the back door. Lia shot me a relieved smile. Her mom and the priest talked alone for about twenty minutes. Later, Lia called to tell me her mom couldn’t say enough about how kind and loving the priest had been to her. She told Lia that after they talked, he had heard her confession, and she had been filled with peace.
Now, lying in the hospital bed, she no longer looked like herself. The color of her skin and the look in her eye revealed the ravages of a long progressive disease.
“I was wondering if you would like to pray together,” I asked. “There is special prayer called the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It is a powerful prayer Jesus gave to a nun named Sister Faustina to spread His mercy throughout the world. It takes about seven minutes and one of the promises of the prayer is that those who say it will enter through the door of mercy rather than judgment. I pray it often,” I said.
Lia’s mom looked up at me with one eyebrow raised.
“How can that be true,” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Are you telling me that if a hardened criminal prays that prayer minutes before he dies, he enters through the door of mercy rather than judgment? That doesn’t seem right,” she said.
“Well, if a hardened criminal actually takes the time to pray it and pray it sincerely, then there must be hope in him, despite all he has done. Who is to say if and when the heart opens to God? I believe that where there is life, there is hope.”
She stared at me intently.
I continued. “If your son were a hardened criminal, wouldn’t you love him even though you hated his crimes? Wouldn’t you always hope for his change of heart because of the great love you have for him?”
“Yes,” she said weakly.
“God loves us much more than we could ever love our children and He is always ready to enter any heart with His mercy. He waits for those moments patiently and with great desire because He loves us so much.”
“That makes sense. Yes, I’ll pray it with you,” she said.
The three of us prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet together, chatted a few more minutes, and then I left.
Later that evening Lia called me.
“My mom’s nurse called to tell me that right after I left the hospital, mom lost all lucidity.”
We grieved together, prayed and hoped for her mom’s recovery.
Lia’s mom died a few days later.
On the night of her death, I had a dream. In my dream, I walked into her hospital room to find her sitting up in bed, wearing a beautiful red dress. She looked radiant, full of life and joy, smiling from ear to ear. The night of the wake, when I approached the coffin to pay my respects, I was stunned to see her wearing a red dress! Chills ran up my spine. I had never been to a wake where the deceased wore a red dress. It was highly unconventional and completely unexpected. After the funeral, I grabbed Lia and pulled her aside.
“What made you put a red dress on your mom,” I asked.
“My sister and I discussed it and decided we would put mom in her favorite dress. Do you think we shouldn’t have done it?” she asked.
“No, it’s not that. The night your mom died, I dreamed I walked into her hospital room, found her sitting up smiling from ear to ear…and wearing a red dress!” I said. Lia’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened.
“What? No way,” she said.
“Yes, way,” I said.
With tears streaming down her cheeks Lia said, “You and I were the last people she saw before her brain shut down. And that means the last thing she did was pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet!” I grabbed Lia and hugged her.
“I’m so grateful you came with me that day, and we prayed with my mom, and that I was able to be with her before she lost her consciousness,” she said.
“I can’t get over the fact that you saw her in your dream so happy and wearing a red dress. I think Jesus is telling us she really did enter through the door of mercy.” she said. “Thank you, Jesus.”
“Amen,” I said.'
“I walk by Faith, not by sight” chuckles Mario Forte as he shares an astonishing life witness
I was born with glaucoma, so at the beginning of my life, I only had partial sight in my left eye and none at all in my right eye. Over the years I have had more than 30 surgeries—the first when I was only three months old…At the age of seven, the doctors removed my right eye in the hope of preserving the sight in my left eye. When I was twelve years old, I got hit by a car while I was crossing the road on my way home from school. After becoming airborne—thought I was superman there for a bit—I landed with an almighty thud and ended up with a retinal detachment, among other things I had three months off school recovering and undergoing more surgery, so I had to repeat Grade Seven.
Everything is Possible
As a child, blindness was normal to me because I could not compare it to anything else. But God gave me an insight. From a very early age, before I had received any official instruction, I would talk to God, just like any other person because I was so used to communicating with people that I could not see.
I could only tell the difference between light and dark, but one day, in the blink of an eye, everything went black—like a light switching off. Although I have been in total darkness for more than 30 years, the grace of God gives me the courage to keep going. Now, it is not the physical light I see, but God’s light within. Without Him, I would not be any better than a piece of wood. The Holy Spirit makes everything possible.
Sometimes people even forget that I am blind because I am able to move around the house, operate a computer and look after myself. This is thanks to my parents who always encouraged me to do things by myself. My father was an electrician who took me on site with him to help me understand his trade, even getting me to install power points and switches. He taught me how to think logically so I could adapt and improvise when things went wrong. My mother, with her caring, loving nature, sowed the seeds for my faith. She made sure that we prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet together every day, so those prayers are engrained into my memory.
They enabled me to successfully graduate with an IT degree. With their support, I would get in touch with the individual lecturers to get the course outline before the term started. Then we would go to the library to copy all the relevant materials so the Royal Blind Society could transcribe them for me.
A Higher Call
In my teens, I had a remarkable experience of God calling me. At that stage, I still had some sight in my left eye. While I was praying in the church one day, the main altar was suddenly illuminated with an intense light and an interior voice spoke tenderly, saying, “Come, Come to me.” This happened three times. Ever since, I have felt His hand protecting me with a love and mercy which I don’t deserve.
This calling led me to consider if it were possible for me to become a priest or a deacon. That proved to be unrealistic but my Theology studies deepened my faith. I began to lead devotion to the Divine Mercy in a charismatic prayer group with the support of the parish priest. Despite all the setbacks I have suffered, I am grateful that I can be of service to the Lord and the people that I have met through the events I organize—the Divine Mercy devotions, overnight adoration and 40 Days for Life—have also assisted me after the deaths of my parents, my sister and my niece.
They have become my family and help me weekly with domestic duties and special transport needs.
Deep in My Heart
The most tragic events in my life are not the lack of my sight but the loss of my closest relations, so I am especially grateful that these friends come with me to the cemetery to have a meal by the gravesides of my loved ones and pray the Divine Mercy chaplet for their souls. I try to focus on the positives—what I have, rather than on what I lack. I strive to do the best I can to carry out God’s commandments to love. Every day, I am determined to put God’s will first and put the Gospel into action.
Saint Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) I often joke that I literally do this. That little verse speaks volumes. We will not see the fruits of our labour in this life. It is such a joy to work in God’s vineyard. Jesus suffered and died for me. Every single person can say this. Anyone who wants to know Him can come to receive the Lord. I give thanks and praise to the Lord that He has given us the opportunity to receive His glorious presence into our being. His living Word can revive us with the hope of the Resurrection, so that we can live each day in His presence and carry out His command to love. In my heart, I sing Alleluia!
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible; look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy that in difficult moments we might not despair, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself. Amen.'
That moment I felt like the Blessed Mother had enveloped me in Her cloak.
In 1947, I was born in a small town in Italy, near Casalbordino, the Apparition site of “Our Lady of Miracles.” Since my birthday was on the day between the feast of “Our Lady of Miracles” and the feast of Saint Antony, my parents called me Maria Antonia.
We migrated to Canada when I was 7 years old. Although my parents were not avid church-goers they made sure that we followed the Catholic faith, but I did not pay much attention to the importance and significance of Our Lady until my parents visited Medjugorje in 1983. My mom was very moved by the experience, so she came home and told us about what was going on there. Among the rosaries, medals, rings and trinkets that she brought back was a small post card with a picture of Our Lady surrounded by the six visionaries. Every time I entered her home, I saw this image on a little shelf in the corner of her kitchen, and it touched me. I could feel Our Lady looking into my heart.
In 1995, while I was watching a video about the happenings in Medjugorje, I felt Our Lady asking me: “When are you coming? I’m your mother and I’m waiting for you.” The next year, we heard of a pilgrimage from Calgary to Medjugorje and I felt compelled to enrol myself. Because of the recent war in Bosnia, many people withdrew from the pilgrimage for fear of what might happen, but I was determined to go.
At Medjugorje, I felt a deep confirmation that Our Lady was indeed calling me. One day, I met Father Slavko Barbaric, who looked at me and said “When you go home, I would like you to start a prayer group and the prayers have to be directed at helping the family because the family is in crisis today.” After we got back, we started the Hour of Prayer at St. Bonaventure. Every year, we have more and more people joining us for prayer.
I visited Medjugorje seriously committed to make some drastic changes. I knew that I needed a strong conversion of heart, so I sought Our Lady’s help to understand the Scripture better, to grow in my prayer life and to experience joy and love in my heart as I prayed the Rosary. All of these blessings, and more, were granted.
At that time, I thought it was just “my” pilgrimage because I didn’t realize that Our Lady was inviting me to bring more people to Her. Father Slavko had insisted that I bring my husband, so in 1998, we went together. I felt called to bring more people to Our Lady, but asked Our Lady for a sign to confirm that. Soon after, two ladies approached me, seeking my help to go to Medjugorje. Every year since, I have a wonderful heart to heart to talk with Our Lady about whether I should go again. Every time, I receive the answer that there are more people who need to receive graces and blessings from the Lord with the help of Our Blessed Mother, who is full of grace…
Our lives haven’t been perfect and we have had moments that test our faith too. Eight years ago, we received news that shocked us. My daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia. We immediately turned to the Lord, but being in such a panic, it was hard to focus on God and what He can do for us. One particular day, we went through a very difficult time. A clot had developed at the port, so medicines could not be administered and the doctors had to figure out how to treat her.
As usual, we took our concerns into the Lord’s Presence at the Adoration Chapel to receive His comfort. I looked at the Lord and asked Him why was this happening to our daughter and “Why us?” Very clearly, I heard Him reply “Why not you?” I realized that He went through such terrible suffering and He was accompanying us in our suffering, so that we could grow in His love. At that moment, I felt that the Blessed Mother enveloped me in her cloak, holding me close as she had held her Son after His birth and after His death.
When we returned to the hospital, our daughter was surrounded by a team of people resolving the problems which were hindering her treatment I felt reassured that our prayers had been heard. Our Lord and Our Lady were there. All we needed to do was trust. Everything was going to be okay. They would always be in our life, taking care of us. Last year, our daughter celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary. God has been so good to us.
Our Lady at Medjugorje gave us 5 stones to build the foundation of our faith:
1. To pray every day, especially the Rosary.
2. Read Scripture every day, to receive the Word of God.
3. To participate in Holy Mass as often as possible, if not every day, at least on Sundays.
4. To receive the Lord’s healing and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, at least once a month without fail.
5. To fast on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays.
This is not easy, especially if you are new to it. It takes a long time to build these habits and the endurance to follow them, but Our Lady kept encouraging us. What surprised me most was that when we were most consistent in praying the Rosary, we were able to practise the other stones more easily. The Rosary helped us to have the confidence to put them into our daily lives and develop them into a routine which we have grown to love and depend upon. She has become a daily presence in our lives.
Many of her messages say to us, I cannot achieve God’s plan without you. I need you. Give me your problems and pray for my intentions which are those of all the people who are praying the Rosary. So when we pray the Rosary for Mary’s intentions we feel connected to everyone. We have seen many amazing changes as the people who come on the pilgrimages return and get involved in so many vital ministries. Medjugorje has been a school of love for me. She is so ‘full of grace’ that when we join her in prayer, we become open to all the graces and blessings which Our Lord has to offer.'
Kim A-gi Agatha and her husband had no contact with Christianity or Catholic doctrine. They practiced Confucianism. But Agatha’s older sister, a devout Catholic, came for a visit. Looking around at the trappings of their traditional faith, including a large rice chest with ancestral tablets, she asked her younger sister, “Why are you holding on to these things? They are nothing but superstition!”
Her sister proclaimed that the one true ruler of the world is Jesus Christ. “Wake from your darkness,” she told her sister, “and accept the light of truth.”
Her sister’s urging aroused a great longing in Agatha. Knowing it would be difficult to go against her husband and the tradition of her family, she nonetheless determined to accept Christ and to suffer willingly whatever difficulties might come her way.
Agatha was not very bright and no matter how hard she tried, she was unable to memorize the morning and evening prayers. Eventually, she became known as the woman who knew nothing but “Jesus and Mary”. Because of her inability to learn doctrine and prayers, Kim A-gi Agatha was not initially baptized.
In September of 1836 Agatha and two other women were arrested for their Catholic faith. When interrogated Agatha remained firm and valiantly stood before her torturers saying, “I don’t know anything but Jesus and Mary. I will not reject them.” Her courageous witness led her to be the first to be baptized in prison during persecution.
Along with other condemned Christians, Agatha was tied by arms and hair to a large cross erected atop an ox cart. On the crest of a steep hill, guards forced the oxen to run headlong down. The road was rough, with many stones. The carts stumbled, causing great agony to the courageous prisoners who hung on the crosses. Following this ordeal, at the foot of the hill, the executioners violently beheaded each of the holy martyrs.
Agatha and eight other martyrs received their crown of glory at the same hour when Jesus breathed his last—three o’clock in the afternoon. Nearly one hundred years later Kim A-gi Agatha was beatified along with the other martyrs on July 5, 1925. They were canonized in their native Korea on May 6, 1984 by Pope John Paul II.'
You may be feeling lost and alone. Take heart, for God knows exactly where you are!
Alone in the shower, I could scream and not be heard. The water pelted the top of my head as anguish wracked my heart. My mind imagined the worst, a tiny coffin and a loss too great to bear. My heart ached, as if squeezed in a vice. It was more than a physical pain but I felt tortured with an oppressive sinking feeling. It pervaded my being. Nothing could alleviate the pain and no-one could comfort me.
Suffering is part of the human condition, unavoidable. A particular cross is fashioned for each of us to carry but I didn’t want this one. I whimpered beneath its weight. “Please God, give me a different cross, not this one. I can’t carry this one. I will take any pain, disease, anything, but not this, not my son. This one is too big. I can’t, please,” I begged. Nausea swept over me. I vomited and then slumped to the floor of the shower, sobbing.
My ‘No’ was futile. Surrender was the only path forward. Spent and exhausted, I prayed, “If you won’t change this cross God, please give me the strength to carry it . . . (the image of a tiny coffin flashed into my mind again) . . . no matter where it leads. Help me. I cannot do this without You.”
My sweet, little boy had been admitted to the hospital in a serious condition. For eight days I lay next to him in his hospital bed. His spirit was undaunted by his illness but he no longer looked like himself. Bright pink and purple blotches spotted his cheeks, ran across the bridge of his nose and over his arms and legs. The medicine that would offer him a reprieve bloated his face and body. When he slept, which was hardly at all, I sobbed myself to sleep. Prayer, distraction and rocking his frail body were the only contribution I could make in his battle to survive. I read to him and drew cartoons on a magna doodle he had been given before he was hospitalized. It was therapeutic for both of us. Although I had never been able to draw before, in my efforts to give him some small joy, I suddenly found that I could draw with ease.
Finally, he was released from the hospital with a treatment plan, hope and a prayer for remission. Our new normal set in. My mom suggested that I explore my new ability to draw. We took an art class together at the local fine arts studio. The art teacher asked to bring in a picture that moved us. I chose a Christmas card depicting the Blessed Mother holding the Infant Jesus. The art teacher thought because I lacked experience and training, I should draw something simpler, like a flower. I turned my stool to face her, declaring , “My son should be dead but he is alive. Jesus and the Blessed Mother are all that matters to me. They move me.” Her eyes widened. “Oh, I had no idea about your son. I am sorry. Just be sure to watch your values.” I was confused. “What do my morals have to do with my picture,” I asked. “Light and dark values,” she said gently. “Oh, okay,” I said, somewhat embarrassed.
I turned to my easel, closed my eyes and prayed, “Come Holy Spirit, help me draw a picture that will help others love and need Jesus and Mary the way I do right now.” As I drew, I relied on the strength, love and wisdom of Heaven to carry me through. My desire found expression in my art. Each new piece was a prayer and a gift from God.
One morning, as I left the church after Mass, a visiting priest approached me, saying “When I was at your sister’s house, I saw the picture you drew of Christ and the angel in the Garden of Gethsemane during His agony. It moved me deeply. Your sister told me about your son and how you unexpectedly discovered your ability to draw in the midst of your anguish. Your art is truly a blessing born of suffering, a gift.”
“Thank you.” I replied, “It is. Looking back I feel that this artistic gift was a foreshadowing.”
“Why? What do you mean,” he asked.
“Drawing taught me to see everything differently. I discovered that the contrast of the dark and the light in a picture creates depth, richness and beauty. Without the light, the darkness in a painting is an empty abyss. The darkness of suffering is like the darkness in a painting. Without the light of Christ, suffering threatened to swallow me into the depths of despair. When I finally let go and surrendered my pain and my circumstances to Jesus, I fell into His loving arms and submitted to His plan for my life. Then Christ, the Master Artist, used the darkness of my suffering to tenderize my heart making room for faith, compassion, hope and love to grow within me. The light of Christ illuminated the darkness and brought untold blessings from our trials for my son, my marriage and our family.”
“Now I understand. It really is true. Art imitates life and suffering united to Christ brings great blessings. Praise be to God,” he exclaimed.
“Amen,” I agreed.'
Is anger or resentment the only way to deal with unfaithfulness in your life? Sarah Juszczak unravels the path less trodden, through her story of pain and triumph.
I come from a lovely, Italian family. I was raised and grew up Catholic, but in my teens, although I was going to Mass on Sundays, I wasn’t really living the faith.
When I was sixteen, I joined a youth group and that’s where I met Tomasz. Tom and I were asked to lead a youth weekend together, so we ended up spending a lot of time together trying to organise it. Soon after, we started “seeing each other”. Neither of us were keen to give our relationship a label- there was no intentionality about it.
I was pretty rebellious in my younger years, which Tom hated. Being Polish, his Catholic faith was important to him, and he had a lot of traditional values. Neither of us really knew our faith or lived it—and because he didn’t really understand the reasons behind his values, it wasn’t hard for me to convince him otherwise. It wasn’t clear where this relationship was headed and it wasn’t the healthiest, but we cared about each other.
Fog in the Glass
After nearly three years together, Tom and I were starting to think about marriage. Tom was finishing up at university and had always dreamed of spending a few months travelling Europe before getting a full-time job. I was very unsure about this, but something in my heart told me that it was important. This time apart would either make or break us.
Just before Tom left for Europe, we joined our youth group at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney. At that point in my life, I was realizing that my faith life needed to change. I couldn’t continue floating along in what was really a ‘practical atheism’. I went to World Youth Day with this question on my heart: “God, if You exist, show yourself to me. I want to know You”.
A couple of talks and experiences really spoke to me that week. As I sat on the train ride home one evening, mulling over the things I had been hearing, I opened the pilgrim’s handbook to a quote from Saint Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. At that moment, I had a sudden and overwhelming awareness of the presence of God. My centre of gravity shifted. I knew that God was real and nothing would be the same again.
Soon after, Tomasz left for Europe and I suddenly had a lot of time to spare. I listened to talks on the Theology of the Body, read more about the lives of the Saints and attended weekly Holy Hours. The six months that Tom was away were a time of conversion for me, culminating in a one-month, live-in youth leaders formation course. During that time, I realized that if I wanted to continue on this journey with God, I needed to let go of the things that were leading me away from Him, so that I could follow him wholeheartedly.
The Worst Part?
With Tomasz away in Europe, I wondered if things would work out for us when he returned home. He was still caught up in a world that I had decided to leave behind, and our values and priorities were now miles apart. I kept taking this to prayer, and praying for Tom. I tried to plant some seeds, and when some of his travel plans were derailed I managed to convince him to make a detour to Lourdes, which was a powerful experience for him—but he wasn’t ready to make changes yet.
When he returned from Europe, I knew we had to have an honest conversation. We went out to dinner and I tried to tell him about some of the things that had been happening in my life. I told him things needed to change about our relationship. For the most part he seemed okay with it, until I told him I wanted him to stop using pornography. He barely hesitated before responding with a flat out “No”. This was quite a shock for me. I thought he’d at least be open it to it. He’d later tell me that he was struggling with a porn addiction, although he wasn’t really aware of that at the time.
As the Fog Fades
As we continued to recount our experiences during our time apart, it became clearer to him that I was different, and he became somewhat uneasy. When I revealed that I really wanted to pray the Rosary with my family every day when I was married, he reacted very strongly against that. I would try to challenge him and encourage him. As I described my image of family life and how I hoped to live my life, he would push back. He was no longer the most important thing in my life and he didn’t like it one bit.
I started to feel that I wasn’t supposed to be in this relationship, so, I asked the Lord for an answer. I knew He wanted me to break up with Tom, but it was difficult because we were in so deep. I tried to break it off several times, but for Tom it was all or nothing. I loved him and didn’t want him out of my life completely. I told the Lord that I didn’t have enough strength to end the relationship myself. The only way it could happen is if Tom messed up big time, but I was certain that it wasn’t possible.
Not long after, Tom came to see me. He was clearly very nervous, but he finally worked up the courage to come clean. He’d been cheating on me. I was shattered. How could he have betrayed me, when I trusted him so completely? How could he have lied so convincingly, without even batting an eyelid? How could I have been so oblivious?
This revelation made me question a lot of things I thought I knew. I never thought Tom was capable of being deceptive and I had thought I was a pretty good judge of character. I discovered he was in the habit of lying and had been for some time. He was frighteningly good at it.
Naturally, I threw Tom out straight away. I’ve always had a flair for drama, so I packed up a box of his things that night and called him back to collect them. When I met him outside my house, I completely lost it. I was enraged. To my surprise, he didn’t try to explain or defend himself, he just fell to the ground and wept.
Embraced by God
It’s hard to articulate what happened in that moment. As I saw Tom crying, all anger in me instantly dissolved. I was so moved with pity and love that I knelt down next to him and embraced him. I can only describe that moment as a glimpse of the Heart of the Father. I felt God’s love and mercy flowing through me, and saw that I was no different to Tomasz. In that moment, God gave me a glimpse of His own Heart as He embraced me and forgave me my own infidelity.
Tomasz later described this experience similarly, as if it was God enfolding him within His merciful, loving embrace. I’m not one to let go of things quickly, so the grace to forgive Tomasz so magnanimously definitely came from God, not me.
Connecting the Dots
Although I forgave Tom, we both knew we needed to go our separate ways. Tom would later say that being dumped was one of the best things that ever happened to him. God had been leading Tom on his own journey, and he needed to do this part without me. On that detour to Lourdes, months earlier, he experienced God guiding him. In fact, God guided him straight to the confessional. When he started to put things into the light, he received the grace to eventually be honest with me.
Following our breakup, Tomasz made a conscious effort to turn his life around. He started making regular Holy Hours, going to a priest friend of ours for guidance, and finally got around to listening to the CDs on Theology of the Body that I had been nagging him about since his return from Europe.
Little Did I Know
Tom and I were together three years before we broke up, and were apart for three years before God brought us back together. During that time, we were able to rebuild our friendship. I was completing my studies, enjoying a new career in marketing and communications and discerning my vocation. I was pretty sure I was going to be a religious Sister. Tom was earning a good living as a rehabilitation consultant, but growing increasingly restless. Both of us earnestly wanted to discover God’s will for our lives.
The opportunity to attend WYD 2011 in Madrid came up for each of us on separate pilgrimages. Both of us went with the intention of discovering what God wanted next. I was hoping to meet the religious order I was supposed to join, and Tom was preparing to leave his job, but didn’t know where to go next. By the end of the pilgrimage, Tom had decided to enrol in a Theology course. I was not successful in finding a religious order. Instead, while visiting Poland with my pilgrimage group, I found myself thinking about Tom and how it didn’t seem right to be visiting his homeland without him.
Shortly after returning home, I realized that I really needed to pray about God’s will regarding my relationship with Tom, so I started a novena. The same day, Tom invited me to join him in a fifty-four day Rosary Novena for a particular intention–27 days to pray for the intention and 27 days to give thanks. I agreed, but added on my secret, second intention for our relationship.
Twenty-seven days into that novena, Tom and I were both at a leadership retreat. Tom was helping to run the retreat while I served in the kitchen. I dropped in to listen to him give a talk and was struck by how much he had grown. He was really becoming a man of God. I thought to myself, “Here is a man I could entrust myself to.” It turned out that he shared the same intention in the Novena. When we resumed dating, I felt total peace because both of us were seeking God’s will – so there was nothing to fear.
To cut a long story short, Tom and I were engaged on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady. Tom told me that he chose that day, not just because he loved Our Lady, but because it pointed to the ultimate end of the marriage he was proposing: Heaven. We were married on Easter Saturday, or the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday and prayed that our marriage could give witness to the transforming power of God’s Mercy. God had taken the mess that we had made of our relationship the first time around and made it into something completely new.
Marriage is a commitment, a vocation, a union. When we made that commitment at the altar to love one another, it was till death do us part. This is where we really learn about love. God doesn’t often ask us to die for our spouse, like Jesus did for us: His Church, but He is asking us to die to ourselves by forgiving each other in little ways every day. Marriage has to be based on loving forgiveness. God forgave us before we even said sorry. He told us to “Love one another as I have loved you.” When we imitate Him and forgive without rancour, then we share real love in a relationship centred on Christ. That relationship will last into eternity.'