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Did you know you have an ever-present father? Read on if you are longing for his love.
When you turn back
Sixteen years ago I was facilitating a catechist class at Folsom Prison, a maximum security prison in California, preparing some of the inmates for Confirmation. An inmate named Juan, was telling his story. He shared that his biological father had abandoned his family when he was an infant and that his stepfather was aloof and abusive. In so many words, he said that his connectedness to a father of any kind was “messed up”. That might be the reason, he said, why he is drawn to his childhood faith–he is still seeking his father.
I said, “Juan, God IS your Father and Jesus invites you to call him ‘Abba’.”
“What does ‘Abba’ mean?” he asked.
“It means ‘Dad’, ‘Papa.’ Jesus gives you permission to call God ‘Papa’,” I said.
With tears welling in his eyes, Juan slowly and reverently recited the Our Father. He said it with such power and conviction that it seemed like he was saying it for the first time.
The simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer and our own familiarity with it can mask what a phenomenal breakthrough it was in the history of religion. Jesus doesn’t address God as ‘Judge,’ or ‘Omniscient One,’ or ‘Great Power in the Sky’, or some other title that that would point to God’s transcendence. Instead, Jesus calls God ‘Father’ which evokes a sense of familiarity, reminding us how a child turns towards his or her father, trusting that they are loved by him.
Filling the void
If some experience their fathers as absent, judgmental, or harsh, it is possible they may project these qualities onto God. If they have grown to expect little of their fathers, they may also expect little or nothing of God. If their father was generally non-communicative, they may project that onto God. But Jesus taught us to call God “Abba” which means “my father” and evokes a sense of intimacy, of warmth, safety, and love.
Such an understanding of God as loving parent can be found in the prophet Hosea, who captures this intimate Father-child relationship that Jesus invites us to:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the farther they went from me,
sacrificing to the Baals
and burning incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
who took them in my arms;
I drew them with human cords,
With bands of love;
I fostered them like one
who raises an infant to his cheeks.
What a tender image of our loving God as one “who raises an infant to his cheeks.”
That’s the image that melted the heart of a prisoner named Juan and filled his eyes with tears. Many people go through life seeking their father. But Jesus tells us we have a father who loves us more than any earthly parent ever could. We simply have to come before him and with the simplicity of childhood say, “Abba!”
Heavenly Father I surrender myself completely into Your hands just like a child, and I trust in Your Divine providence. Each day let me feel those invisible bands of love which draw me close to You. Amen.'
In 1926, as the Cristero war began, Mexicans had suffered religious persecution for many years. Churches were confiscated and closed. Religious education and gatherings were banned. Religious and priests were forced into hiding.
One night, plainclothes policemen staked out a home where they suspected people were gathering to receive Communion. A man approached and quickly flipped the lapel of his suit jacket, as if to show a lieutenant’s badge.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “We think a priest is inside,” they replied. “Wait here while I check,” he commanded. They kept watch as he went in to boldly distribute Holy Communion to the faithful waiting inside.
Father Miguel Pro was famous for his impersonations. Using a variety of clever disguises, and often in the dead of night, he bravely ventured out to baptize infants, bless marriages, celebrate Mass, hear confessions, anoint the sick and distribute Holy Communion. On more than one occasion, he penetrated a jail disguised as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to Catholics awaiting execution. Dressed as a stylish businessman, he even frequented the neighbourhoods of his greatest enemies to collect for the poor.
Arm in arm with a young lady, or dressed in the rags of a beggar, he cheerfully brought spiritual and material relief to beleaguered Mexican Catholics at the risk of his life. Renowned for his ready wit, he laughed in the face of death, “If I meet any long-faced saints in Heaven, I will cheer them up with a Mexican hat dance.” After little more than a year of this clandestine ministry, his enemies were desperate to eradicate his influence. Falsely accusing him of an assassination attempt, he was sentenced to death without trial, immediately after capture.
President Calles invited world media to witness his execution, expecting Father Pro to break down and deny his faith in front of the firing squad. Instead their photos captured him peacefully forgiving and praying for his executioners, refusing a blindfold and welcoming the bullets with arms outstretched in the form of a cross, shouting, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long Live Christ the King!)'
On August 18, 1996, when Mass concluded in the Church of Santa Maria y Caballito Almagro, a woman reported that a consecrated Host had been abandoned on a dusty candle holder at the back of the Church. Since it was not in a fit condition to be consumed, the priest followed normal protocols by placing the Host in water and storing it in the tabernacle.
The following Monday, when the tabernacle was opened, the Host appeared to be suffused with a bloody substance. This was reported to Bishop Jorge Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis, at that time auxiliary bishop and soon to be archbishop of Buenos Aires). The Host was then moved to a secure location where the appearance of the Host continued to change until it was flesh alone. Archbishop Bergoglio led an investigation into the miracle after the host-turned-bloody was miraculously preserved for several years.
On October 5, 1999, in the presence of the Archbishop’s representatives, a scientist took a sample of the fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. The origin of the sample was not revealed to the scientists. Dr. Frederic Zugiba, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist, determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA taken from the heart of a living person who had been tortured.
He testified that “the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle which is responsible for the contraction of the heart. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”'
God has a plan for you; but what if it doesn’t fit into yours?
“I’m concerned,” the ultrasound technician gravely admitted. Our hearts sank. All of the excitement and joy we had built up in expectation of seeing our little one was threatened by two words we did not expect to hear.
My husband and I had been married for a year and a half, trying to conceive for the same amount of time. We had happily dreamed together of a future with a growing family. We both ardently desired to bring life into this world, to nurture and love those children, and to help one another become better people and the best parents we could hope to become.
After a year and a half of trying to get pregnant, feeling disappointment after disappointment every time we saw a negative sign appear on a pregnancy test, you could only imagine the joy and elation we felt when we finally saw a positive instead. We were parents… finally! We were going to have a baby and were so very excited.
We waited three weeks until our first ultrasound and neither one of us imagined that there would be reason for concern. At the end of our appointment, the technician asked us to come back in a week for a second ultrasound with the doctor because the baby was not measuring as it should at almost eight weeks.
Instead of diving deep into fear and worry, we decided we would thank Jesus for the gift of life and trust His plans, whatever they were. Still, we both prayed believing that the concern expressed in our first ultrasound was false and that our little one was just fine. We prayed with belief and we prayed with trust.
Sometimes, though, things don’t turn out the way that you desire. Sometimes, you don’t even get to know why. We went back for our second ultrasound ten days after the first one and were given the bad news that there was no heartbeat and a miscarriage was inevitable.
When my husband and I had walked through the doors of that hospital for our second ultrasound, we were both confident that God would show us a healthy, thriving baby on the screen, and we believed that is what we would see. God, however, had other plans—plans that were really difficult to accept.
We had gone from growing our family to mourning the loss of our baby in an instant. I didn’t want to accept the news. I wanted to control the outcome and I didn’t want this; to be our new reality, but there was nothing I could do to change it.
God had different plans in mind for us, plans that involved heartache and grief and loss. Even in the midst of all the sadness, we decided to accept His plans and carry ourselves forward in pursuit of those plans, whatever they may be. Even so, acceptance of God’s plans does not always equate to understanding God’s plans, nor does acceptance of God’s plans equate to being comfortable with God’s plans. We wanted God’s plans to be different, but we had to ask ourselves if we were going to be mad at God or if we were going to accept His plans for us and trust Him.
After all God did say,
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me and I will change your lot…” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
If we believe Jesus, then we have to trust in His promises, do we not? Father Joe McMahon once said, “either Jesus lied or we’re not trusting Him.” Jesus desires our trust. He desires our belief. He desires our faith.
So every time I feel wrecked by the emptiness and loneliness that miscarriage brings about, I turn back to the words of Jeremiah 29:11-14. Each time I ache because we won’t get to hold our baby in our arms here on earth, I turn back to those words.
Do I think Jesus is a liar, or is it possible that I do not trust Him enough in the midst of my pain?
What about you? Do you trust in the One that spoke you into existence? Do you trust in the story that God has written for your life? Do you trust where He is leading you? Do you trust Him in the midst of your pain?
No matter what your hurts and sorrows are, now is the time to take those hurts and sorrows to the foot of The Cross, to leave them there for your Creator to handle and heal. In the midst of the hurt and uncertainty is exactly when to place all of your trust in the Lord, no matter how difficult or painful that may seem.
Ask yourself, do you believe that Jesus lied? Do you believe He does NOT have a hopeful future designed just for you? Or is it possible that you just don’t trust Him enough?
Grow your trust in the Lord. Give Him your pain and your sorrow so He can make you new again and reveal your future destiny. Allow yourself to be small so that He can show you just how big He is.
O Jesus, when I feel weak and helpless, let me sense Your presence. Help me to trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry me. Instead by living close to You, let me see Your hand, Your purpose, Your will through all things. Amen.'
Does Jesus still heal and perform miracles today?
An Intense Call
As a child of eight, I remember sitting with my mother watching an appeal on TV that was asking donations for the poor and starving children of Africa. I felt an ache and an almost magnetic pull towards one young boy of a similar age who was shown crying. I felt his eyes burn into mine as a fly landed on his lip and he did not even notice. At the same time, an overwhelming wave of love and sadness swept over me.
I was watching people who were dying from lack of food while I sat comfortably just metres away from a full refrigerator. I could not make sense of the injustice and wondered what I could do. When I asked my mother how I could help, she said we could send money, but I felt compelled to do something personally, directly. That feeling echoed in my heart at various times of my life, but I never really knew what doing something more direct and personal could be. I grew up believing I had a calling in my life, that I existed to bring about change, and that I was born to love, serve and help others. But life always seemed to get in the way of acting on those convictions.
Journaling through Life
In 2013 I spent time in an English prison. It was there that I encountered the risen Lord in the most life–changing experience of my life. Space does not permit me to elaborate (Refer my bio credited at the end of the article to get the link to the Shalom World TV program “Jesus My Savior” episode where I tell that part of my story), but after that encounter I surrendered my life to him and have been on a most incredible journey ever since.
In 2015, when I met an American religious brother who worked with the poor in Calcutta, India, I finally recognized my opportunity to serve among the poor. Within months I was on a plane headed to India to volunteer with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
As soon as I landed, I looked at the night sky and felt God’s presence. When I sat back in the taxi I immediately thought, ‘I’m home’. Yet here I was in a place I had never been before. When I began my volunteer work, I understood why I felt at home: Home is where the heart is.
I encountered Jesus countless times in the poor and beautiful people of India. Mother Teresa said the Gospel can be described on 5 fingers: ‘you… did… it… to… me’ (Matthew 25:40), and in the poor I regularly saw the eyes of Jesus. From the moment I woke up and prayed each morning to the moment my head hit the pillow at night, I experienced love. Each night before bed I sat on the roof terrace writing in my journal until the very early hours. People wondered how I kept going, why I did not collapse in a heap. There is only one explanation—the fire in my Heart which is The Holy Spirit.
Windows to the Soul
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I often connect with people through the eyes. I connected this way with a disabled young man I cared for who each day invited me to play cards with him. Since he was both mute and lacked the use of his arms and legs, he would point to which cards he wanted me to turn. As the days passed, we communicated more and more even though no words came from his mouth. We communicated through the eyes in the universal language of love.
One day, he asked me to wheel him inside the house and led me to a floor-to-ceiling image of The Divine Mercy. I asked if he loved Jesus and he smiled and nodded. We went into the chapel and as I wheeled him close to the tabernacle, he threw himself out of the wheelchair, face down. Thinking he had fallen I went to help him, but he pushed me away and performed one of the most beautiful acts of worship I have ever witnessed. Using all his strength he pushed himself up onto his knees. I knelt next to him with tears in my eyes. As I led the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be he made noises matching my words perfectly in rhythm and tone. From birth this man had been dealt a life of suffering, rejection, and isolation. His body was crippled, yet he knelt praying and giving thanks to God, radiating light and teaching me how prayer should be done.
Another day, he showed me all his earthly possessions. He opened a small shoe box that contained photographs which he was eager to show me. The photographs were of him when the Missionaries of Charity Brothers first found him and brought him into their home. Another was of his Baptism, one of his First Holy Communion, and another of his Confirmation. He loved showing the photos and I loved seeing them and seeing the pleasure he took in showing them to me.
More Precious than Gold
When the time came for me to return home, I was in floods of tears and found it almost impossible to say goodbye to my new friend. We were next to his bed when he pointed to his pillow. I didn’t understand, but another resident, a child with Down’s syndrome, lifted my friend’s pillow and revealed a set of Rosary beads. My friend grabbed them the best he could with his crippled hand and moved towards me to give them to me. Knowing how little he had, I told him I could not take them. He stared at me with his frowned eyebrows telling me I had to. Reluctantly I held out my hand and he dropped them into my palm. As soon as the Rosary touched me, I felt love go through my body. The Rosary was made from string and plastic, but it was more valuable than gold or precious stones. I kissed him and the Rosary and left absolutely staggered at how much God had blessed me through the beauty and love of this amazing human being. Like the widow in the gospel, he had given out of his extreme poverty.
On 4th September 2016, Mother Teresa was declared a Saint. I had the privilege of being in St Peter’s Square for the Canonisation Mass. Early on the morning after (September 5, her feast day), I decided to visit St John Lateran Basilica before my flight home to thank God for my experience and for Mother Teresa. Early in the morning, I entered the church and found it empty except for two nuns at the front who stood next to a first-class relic of Mother Teresa. I asked if I could touch my new Rosary beads to the relic whilst I prayed. I explained who gave them to me and then thanked her for saying yes.
She returned the Rosary with a holy card of Mother Teresa which read on the back: ‘All for Jesus through Mary’. As I kissed the Rosary, that phrase exploded in my heart. I had been asking Jesus to show me what was most pleasing to Him and this card provided an answer to my prayer. As I prayed in gratitude, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A lady wearing a surgical mask was looking directly into my eyes. “Whatever you are praying for,” she said, “do not be afraid. God is with you”. I immediately stood up and with love erupting from the very core of my being, I kissed the woman.
The woman told me she had cancer. “But the crazy thing is,” she said, “I can’t cure myself”. “That’s true,” I said, “you can’t heal yourself, but God can and for that to happen you must have faith.”
She replied that she had little faith. I told her that was fine because Jesus tells us we only need ‘faith the size of a Mustard seed’ to move mountains (Mark 11:22-25). “If we can move mountains,” I said, “then we can certainly move cancer.” I asked her to repeat with me ‘believe that you have received it and it will be yours.’ (Mark 11:24). As we parted, I gave her a Rosary from Medjugorje and we exchanged phone numbers. In the coming weeks I encouraged her, by email and text, to trust Jesus and continue claiming her healing.
A few weeks passed. One day, just as I was entering the church, she sent me a text asking for prayer before her hospital check-up. Her last exam showed the cancer had spread. As I prayed, I felt reassured by the warmth of the sun shining on me through the stained-glass window. It hardly felt surprising when she delightedly shared her good news. The doctors could not explain it!
Not only was she better, but the cancer had completely disappeared. Later, I remembered something about the moment she tapped me on the shoulder in Rome when I felt that strong urge to kiss her. Moments before that kiss, I had kissed the Rosary beads which had just touched the relic of Mother Teresa. When I explained this to her she was stunned and told me how Mother Teresa had asked her to join her community when they had met years before. Afraid to say yes to that call, the woman wound up marrying instead. But now, in this dramatic healing she was unexpectedly connected—through me, the Sisters in the Rome Basilica, the sacred relic—to the Holy woman whom she had met many years before.
Over and over, my life events have shown me that God answers prayer, that Jesus still heals, and that miracles still happen. We have the intercession of Saints and the power of the Rosary to help us. And that is enough to move mountains.
Dear Jesus, I love You above all things in this world. Help me to see you in those around me, especially my family, and to share the joy of loving You. I want to love You more and more each day. Amen.'
Your life will never be the same if you do this…
Words are all around us and are used to make us feel or react to things and events. Words are powerful tools to lift us up or bring us down. In this fast paced internet age of communication, it is more important than ever to look for words that inspire and give hope. Years ago, there were bumper stickers and signs that simply read “John 3:16”. I had no idea what these words were referring to. One day, a friend explained that it was a Bible verse. After finally getting around to looking up that verse, I can honestly say they were the most powerful uplifting words that I have ever read. This scripture has become so popular, that most people can recite some, if not all of it from memory. Why would so many people memorize this verse and print its simple reference in public places? It’s simply because these words are packed full of love, hope and salvation.
John tells us in his Gospel that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This passage not only gives us hope for our salvation, it is a message of immense love. Read it again…God so loved the world! Let that sink in a few minutes. God loves ALL of us and EVERYTHING in the world that He has created. This is a powerful message worth unpacking, but I must backtrack a little to explain how the depths of John 3:16 was revealed to me, in my own corner of the world.
One morning, many years ago, my husband had gone to work, our children had left for school, and the house was QUIET! Still in my pajamas, I sat at my kitchen table with a warm cup of tea, planning to settle in with my sweet Lord to complete a weekly Bible study lesson. It was a cool, cozy California winter day. It would rain for a while, then the sun would peek out from behind the clouds just long enough to make everything glisten before another cool fragrant wave of rain would follow. The rhythm of rain and sun in northern California makes the most delightful rainbows that tend to remind me of God’s covenant with us. “He is our God and we are His people. He is my God and I am His…. (happy sigh!).” What a delightful way to start a Bible study session.
When the Sun Shines
I have heard that God has a sense of humor, but this morning I was not in the mood to indulge His wit. I had just opened all my books, readied a pen, and sipped a bit of tea when I felt a soulful urging. Suddenly the rain stopped and the sun appeared. I tried to ignore the urgent prodding, but it became stronger. “But Lord,” I moaned, “I am still in my pajamas!” We had 2 small dogs and I felt that God wanted me to change quickly, leash the dogs and take them for a walk while it was sunny. I was not to take anything with me. I felt a peaceful but strong sense of urgency. I was out the door within minutes. I thought God had given me a brief window of time to soak up the sun since I was recently diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency. Sunshine, my doctor informed me, would help reverse that. But little did I know that God was about to facilitate a unique kind of Bible study.
At the round end of my neighborhood cul-de-sac there is an entrance to a labyrinth of walking trails. Approaching the entrance, I noticed a large white unmarked cargo van parked ahead. Although my stomach started to tighten in anticipation, God seemed to prod me onward. Close to the van stood an armed corrections officer standing at the ready. “Oh Lord, what are you up to? This isn’t funny,” I thought. I tried to act casual as I walked past the guard. I nodded at him, but kept walking.
Pushing the Panic button
Parallel to the trail, there’s a creek that fills with water when it rains. Looking down into the creek I saw 6-8 men in orange jumpsuits, the kind worn by prisoners from the local prison. Two beavers had recently decided to dam up the creek and caused a drainage problem. The men in the orange jumpsuits were low security prisoners sent to clean the debris from the creek. However, they were guarded by armed security. I clutched my Rosary and kept moving.
The prisoners stopped working as I walked by and a few of them made barely audible comments about my little dogs. Just then, one of my dogs decided it was time to answer nature’s call. She stopped in full view of the workers. Suddenly another correctional officer appeared from nowhere and approached my dogs and I. For some reason I felt guilty for lingering, but I was at the mercy of my dog’s timing. I wanted nothing more than to hurry along.
As the second armed officer drew near, my insides started to tense. But then I heard myself asking, “What are you guys doing?” I was surprised to hear my own voice break the silence. I already knew what they were doing. Where did that question come from? The officer confirmed my assessment and we exchanged a few quick pleasantries. I cleaned the area and continued my walk.
Kissed on the cheek
As I walked, I wondered why God had wanted me to leave the house so urgently. I thought again about the sunshine being a gift for me and settled into a peaceful walk. God’s presence was all around me and in the comfort of His presence, I decided to take a longer walk than I had intended. The Rosary in my hand became our conversation as I prayed the mysteries of the day. About two decades into the Rosary, the wind began to pick up and a light mist kissed my face as if God’s lips had gently brushed my cheeks. The gentle mist, however, soon turned into a light rain, which in turn became a heavy downpour that soaked me and my dogs. “Very funny…” I thought. I had not taken an umbrella. “You told me not to take anything with me!” I laughed at God’s sense of humor, thanked God for the rain and hurried home. But God was not done yet.
Were the guards and the prisoners still there? Approaching the trail exit I noticed the white van. For some reason, I felt relief that they had not left yet. Stranger still, I was suddenly convinced that I needed to give them something. But what? Water? Cookies? What? What did I have? My mind raced. I had made banana bread that was cooling on the kitchen counter.
Yes, that was it…quickly now…get inside and cut it up! The sense of urgency intensified. Don’t dawdle! Something was guiding me. Hastily I cut up the bread, put it on a plate, covered it and briskly left my house just as the white prison van was passing my driveway.
A Godly Smile
As if on cue, I waved to the driver with a smile. He recognized me and cautiously rolled to a stop. I held up the bread as if an offering. He rolled down the window and I said, “I just thought you might like the men to have this. They worked so hard.” I barely completed my words, when the officer smiled and nodded to accept my offering. I could not see any faces, but I heard a man in the back seats exclaim “Aah.” The officer took the bread and just before he rolled up his window, a prisoner poked up his head and with a toothless, godly smile said, “Thank you! Thank you!” I said, “God bless you” and one by one they echoed back the same sentiment to me. As they drove away, I slowly walked back into the house and sobbed tears of joy. I had been blessed.
I believe everything that happened that morning happened for a reason. Every word had purpose. Every second counted. The rain and sunshine performed on cue. Even my dogs’ cuteness and the call of nature played a role. God had set the stage and gave me a role to play in a powerful Bible study lesson that reminded me He loves us all and He never forgets any of us. He loves all of us no matter where we are, what we look like or what we have done. He loved me, He loved the compassionate officers, He loved the prisoners, He loved my dogs. He even loved and played with the wind, the sun, the rain, and the rainbow that day.
I may never see those men again in this life. I gave them banana bread to fill their stomachs for a brief moment, but God loves them so much that He gave His only begotten Son, the true and everlasting bread from Heaven. When God sent His Son for our salvation, it was because He loves! He loves All His creations. Everything God created has His love in it and through His Son Jesus Christ He will give us everlasting life. I have never looked at John 3:16 the same since that day. I see God’s love in everything now. I have also become fond of the expression, “Make hay while the sun (Son) shines.” But I have added something to it: “because you don’t want to miss God’s lessons or blessings!”
Loving Father I praise and thank You for loving me beyond all measures. Every moment I am in Your sight and You know the deepest recess of my heart. Today I firmly resolve to love You with all my heart and to never leave the light of Your unceasing love. Amen.'
Ever wondered why we need to forgive those who hurt us? Forgiving is tough; read on to know how it can be easily done.
Beyond the Limits
If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:15)
As Christians, all our hope solely depends on one thing— forgiveness from God. Unless He forgives our sins, it is clear that we could never make it to heaven. Thank God for being a loving God who seeks reasons to forgive His children. He wants to forgive our sins, regardless of their severity and number. We simply need to acknowledge the wrong we have done, ask His forgiveness and willingly extend that forgiveness to others! So, we are writing an exam with a leaked question paper! Yet, most of us are struggling to fulfil this minimum criterion!
With our sinful nature, unconditional forgiveness is beyond our capacity. We need Divine Grace to do it. However, our purposeful choice and willingness to take steps are important. Once we take these steps, we will start experiencing the Grace flowing from Him.
So, how do we do our part? One thing we can do is seek reasons to forgive. Here are some of my reasons to forgive.
Why should I forgive?
Answer 1: Because I deserve a healthy life
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you!—Lewis B. Smedes
Modern research has accepted what Scripture taught very long ago—the need to forgive! Forgiveness reduces anger, hurt, depression and stress and increases the feeling of optimism, hope and compassion. Forgiveness reduces hypertension. People who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illnesses–including depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Here, my focus is on my own wellbeing. Life is a gift from the Creator, and it is my responsibility to live a good life. Unforgiveness prevents me from enjoying a quality life. So, I need to forgive.
Answer 2: Because God wants me to forgive
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you— C. S. Lewis
This is very straightforward. I choose to forgive because God expects it from me. My focus is to be obedient to God. I depend on His Grace to try to forgive.
Answer 3: Because I am not better
There is no one who is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10)
In this approach, the focus is on my sinful nature. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. What would my response be if I were in his / her place? Many times, when we let go of our self-justifying thoughts and start meditating on occasions when we have hurt others, we start realizing that we are not better than others. This realization will make our job easier.
Answer 4: Because God has been using those hurtful situations for my good
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)
In the book of ‘Acts’, we read about the execution of Saint Stephen. Just before the execution, Stephen saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God! While the mob was stoning him, Stephen prayed for his executioners, asking God not to hold their sin against them.
Here we see another key element that could help us to forgive others—knowing the reward! Stephen saw the glory of God. After experiencing that, I believe that Stephen desired to be with God at the earliest moment. So, it might have been easier for him to forgive his persecutors as he could see them as the people who were helping him to reach his final destination sooner.
It is a human tendency to think only about the negative consequences of a previous hurtful incident. We might be surprised if we purposefully stop thinking in that way and start counting the benefits we received because of those incidents. For example, I might have lost my job because of the dirty politics of one of my old colleagues, but that is what led to me successfully apply for a better job! I can also count non-material benefits. Those incidents might have helped me to grow in my spirituality, or might have made me a stronger person and so on. Once we start realising this, it will be much easier for us to forgive those who hurt us.
Answer 5: Forgive him? For what? What did he do?
I will remember the sins no more. (Hebrews 8:12b)
A reason to forgive is required only when I feel the other person hurt me on purpose! If his action didn’t hurt me, the question becomes irrelevant.
Here is an incident from my friend’s life. Once he was about to go out for an important appointment wearing carefully chosen, well-ironed clothing. Just before leaving the home, he noticed his infant child crawling towards him with a beautiful smile. He immediately took her in his arms and cuddled her for a moment. After a few seconds, he felt wetness on his shirt and realized, with a shock, that the baby was not wearing a nappy. He was very disturbed and expressed himself angrily to his wife.
He changed his clothing and hurried out. On the way, the Lord started talking to him.
“Did you forgive her?”
“It was her fault… she should have been more responsible” he grumbled.
The Lord repeated the question, “I meant, did you forgive your child?”
“Forgive my child? For what? What does she know?”
On that journey, the Lord opened his heart to understand the meaning of ‘forgiveness’ in the divine dictionary.
Remember the prayer Jesus prayed on the cross; “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. (Luke 23:34)
Ideally, we need to forgive as Jesus forgave, but this can be achieved only with abundant grace from the Lord. What we can do is to decide to forgive and raise our sincere desire to heaven. We are not short of reasons to forgive. Let us take these baby steps and ask the Lord to help us.
Dear God, I realize how deeply Your beloved son loved me that he came down to earth and went through unimaginable pains so I could be forgiven. Your mercy flows through His wounds in spite of my faults and failures. Help me to imitate Jesus by loving unconditionally even those who hurt me. And to experience the compassion that comes by truly forgiving. Amen'
A principal reason why the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was so successful, both morally and practically, was that it was led largely by people with a strong religious sensibility. The most notable of these leaders was, of course, Martin Luther King. To appreciate the subtle play between King’s religious commitment and his practical work, I would draw your attention to two texts—namely, his Letter from the Birmingham City Jail and his “I Have a Dream” speech, both from 1963.
While imprisoned in Birmingham for leading a nonviolent protest, King responded to certain of his fellow Christian ministers who had criticized him for going too fast, expecting social change to happen overnight. The Baptist minister answered his critics in a perhaps surprising manner, invoking the aid of a medieval Catholic theologian. King drew their attention to the reflections of St. Thomas Aquinas on law, specifically Thomas’ theory that positive law finds its justification in relation to the natural law, which finds its justification in relation to the eternal law. Aquinas means that what makes a practical, everyday law righteous is that it somehow gives expression to the principles of the moral law, which in turn are reflective of God’s own mind. Therefore, King concluded, unjust positive laws, such as the Jim Crow regulations that he was contesting, are not just bad laws; they are immoral and finally offensive to God.
Here is King’s own language: “One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.” But then King contrasts this with obedience to an unjust law: “Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’” And in clarifying the difference, he turns to Aquinas: “Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” This is not pious boilerplate; rather, it reveals what gave King’s movement its justification and purpose.
The very same dynamic was on display six months later, when King addressed the throng who had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington. He was not giving a sermon. He was making a political speech, advocating in the public place for social change. But attend to some of the language that he used: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’” He was directly relating the social revolution he was advocating to the mystical vision of the prophet Isaiah. And listen to the magnificent conclusion of the address in which he artfully blends the lyrics of an American patriotic song to the lyrics of a song he and his family sang in church: “And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Once again, on King’s reading, the political nests within the moral, which nests within the sacred.
Martin Luther King derived from his religious heritage not only the metaphysics that informed his social activism, but also the nonviolent method that he employed. What Jesus reveals in the rhetoric of the Sermon on the Mount (“Love your enemies”; “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who maltreat you”; “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and give him the other”; etc.) and even more strikingly in his word of forgiveness from the cross is that God’s way is the way of peace, nonviolence, and compassion. As a Christian, King knew in his bones that reacting to oppression with violence would only exacerbate the tensions within society. He sums up this principle in one of his best-known sermons: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Within the confines of this brief article, I cannot begin adequately to address the social upheaval occurring in our culture today. But I will say simply this: it is indisputably clear that there are severe moral deficits in our society that must be addressed, but the best way to do so is from within a moral and finally religious framework. May Martin Luther King’s model of leadership in this regard be a lodestar.'
Is beauty all about what pleases the eyes of the beholder? What makes a person beautiful?
From Wildflower to Artistic Painting
Pope Francis says in his encyclical, Evangelium Gaudii (The Joy of the Gospel): “Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus.” (EG 129)
In recent years, there has been a rediscovery of beauty as a way to truth and goodness. Theologians call this the ‘via pulchritudinis’ or the ‘way of beauty’. It is a via, meaning a path towards something, and that something is God wherein our happiness too is found.
Is beauty only what pleases or teases the eye of the beholder as the cliché runs? Or does a more universal beauty exist that can attract people of all ages and cultures? What makes a person beautiful? It seems we are all drawn to beauty in some way, but not everyone is moved by it to contemplate and acknowledge God as the source of this beauty.
We can cultivate gratitude within our hearts for the gift of beauty and beautiful things. Something as simple as a wildflower or as extravagant as magnificent art and architecture may raise our eyes to the Divine. Beauty always comes to us as a gift which encourages us to foster attitudes of humility, gratitude, and selflessness within. When we notice something beautiful, we recognize that the beauty comes from outside of ourselves – we did not create the beauty. Beauty is not about bling. It is not about what is the most colourful, the most expensive, the most professional, the loudest. It is about keeping it simple so that everyone has access to its message.
Reshape and Awaken
Venerable Canon Francesco Chiesa, an Italian priest and spiritual director of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, had a phrase: “Beauty is a bridge by which we come to know God.” Indeed, the beauty of God is what draws us to God. Paradoxically this includes the mystery and glory of Christ on The Cross—the utter distortion of divine-human beauty and yet its complete fulfilment. It is a challenging beauty, a deformed beauty, but a powerful one, with power to transform our own suffering and sin. It is a beauty that shakes us to the core for here we see that the beauty that saves is a person; Jesus is the Beautiful One, who will save the world.
“Dignity and beauty in the liturgy” and “celebrate with dignity and beauty” were phrases coined by Fr. Alberione also to be used by us his spiritual daughters, in our ministry of promoting beauty as a means of evangelization through the liturgy and the arts. In a world that has lost its sense of beauty and harmony, he saw the need to bring people to Jesus and help them to “pray in beauty.” He encouraged us to help families to have Christian art in their homes, a form of visual catechesis for those who may not be able to read or have access to the Bible. He was convinced that art can reshape the culture and awaken the desire within for the good, the true and the beautiful.
When the Book of Genesis says, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’ it tells us that the world is a work of art, and it tells us who the Artist is. Over and over again it repeats that God sees that His Creation is ‘good’. When He creates His masterpiece – mankind – He sees that it is ‘very good.’ The Lord is continuously working on us. We are like a piece of clay in God the Potter’s Hands where he keeps shaping and moulding us to the image of our God (cf: Jeremiah 18). When we allow God to transfigure us, we reflect His Beauty, becoming icons of the glory of God (2 Cor 3:18).
One of the Fathers of the Church, St. Basil reminds us that: ‘The world is a work of art displayed for our admiration’. If the world is a work of art, am I adding to its beauty or detracting from it? St. Basil also says that: “God does not judge the beauty of His work by the charm of the eyes, and He does not form the same idea of beauty that we form. God who planned an obvious design in His works, approved each one of them, because it fulfilled the purpose for which it was created.”
This is good to remember, because sometimes sin can distort what is beautiful and make it an object of temptation for us. Even our brother or sister can be objectified or deemed ugly in our eyes, because we no longer see them with eyes of love, as God created them. We also need to remember that each one of us is beautiful! “Beauty isn’t about having a pretty face. It’s about having a pretty mind, a kind heart, and most importantly, a beautiful soul.”
Discover God’s Masterpiece
Yes, inner beauty can be cultivated in any of us. God does not make junk. He has created each of us in His own image. However, many people do not feel beautiful inside. We are often smothered by a lack of confidence and even a lack of acceptance by others. In a way, we are like stained-glass windows. We sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, our true beauty can be revealed only if there is a light from within – the light of Christ. We need to trust that we are indeed “God’s masterpiece” and that ‘He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10). If we want to discover our mission or purpose in life, we need to understand that we are God’s work of art. This is the key to believing in God’s love for each one of us. While self-help books tell you to look within, the key is to look to God asking Him to help you discover your uniqueness.
It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Beauty is always extravagant and simple at the same time. I like to think of the woman in the Gospel who breaks open the alabaster jar of precious nard (perfume) and anoints Jesus’ feet with it (John 12). Straight away people tried to criticise her, saying that she was wasting the ointment, but she knew what was important in life. As Christian disciples and pilgrims striving for beauty, Christ continues to come into our flawed existence. He sees the heart and can transform it into a beautiful work of art for the glory of God!'
Question: I find that I struggle with the same sins over and over. As much as I confess them and try to change, I find myself falling into them again. What can I do to break out of a stubborn habit of sin?
Answer: It can be frustrating to confess the same sins over and over again. But, as a priest once told me, it is good that you are not coming up with new sins!
The Australian Catholic evangelist Matthew Kelly says, “Our lives will change when our habits change.” This is very true! If we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always recieved. So what practical steps can we do to get out of a spiritual rut?
First, work on your prayer life. The only thing stronger than sin is love. When we love Jesus more than we love our sin, we will be free from our sin. I knew a man who had a particularly strong addiction. He was starting to despair, but in desperation cried out to the Blessed Mother. He felt her saying to his soul, “When you have prayed one Rosary for every occasion you fell into that sin, you will be free.” He thought, “Woah, that’ll be a lot of Rosaries!” But he got started, and as his love for God and the Blessed Mother grew, he was slowly, slowly freed from the addiction!
Second, implement fasting. Human beings are made of both body and soul. In the beginning, God intended the body (with its passions, emotions, senses, and desires) to be under control of the soul (with our intellect showing us what is truly good, and our free will choosing it). But because of original sin, our body rebels against the soul and so often it takes control! How many times have we vowed not to fall into gossip but we find it too juicy to resist; how often have we almost-automatically grabbed that extra donut or hit that snooze button? Saint Paul instructs us that “the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17).
So the key to overcoming our body’s natural rebellion is to strengthen the will. We do that through fasting. By giving up a chocolate bar, it becomes easier to give up a sin. By denying ourselves a second helping, we become stronger and can deny ourselves an illicit pleasure. We give up something good so that it becomes easier to give up something evil. Our free will is like a muscle—when it is exercised, it grows stronger. Choose some sort of voluntary mortification every day, and you will find that your self-mastery will grow.
Third, we should study and exercise the opposite virtue from our sin. If we find ourselves struggling with anger, read Scripture quotes about peacefulness, or engage in Catholic meditation. If lust is our stubborn sin, pursue chastity and study the Theology of the Body. If we struggle with sins of the tongue, read James chapter 3 and practise holding back imprudent words. Grow in the opposite virtue, and the sin will disappear.
Finally, do not ever give up! My Dad always said, “Discouragement is from the devil!” God often allows us to struggle so that we grow in humility, recognizing that we need Him. Trust in His mercy, and even if it takes a lifetime, keep working on overcoming that stubborn sin! If you take Him into partnership, He will win the victory in your life!'
It all comes down to finding that trajectory.
I often ponder on what a blessing it is to have been raised a Catholic. I was shown the way right from my birth. The flame of faith was ignited and kept alive throughout my childhood without having to make significant efforts at discovery on my own.
Have I done enough justice to these beliefs growing up? There have been times of doubt, times of lethargy and times of despondency. However, my faith has survived and become stronger since then. Not a mean feat and not something I could have done if I leaned on my own understanding. So I have clearly had help—in a big way.
A vivid memory from when I was nine years old came to mind recently. It was almost my birthday when my mother and I were browsing in Saint Michael’s Catholic gift shop. Amid the fascinating array of religious pictures, statues and trinkets all tightly arranged together, one in particular drew my attention—an image of Mother Mary that I later came to know as “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.”
Encountering my caring, heavenly Mother would help me in numerous ways in the years to come. When my mother gave me the book, “Our Lady of Fatima’s Peace Plan from Heaven”, I came to understand how much our Blessed Mother loves us and desires our salvation. Watching a beautiful video on the Marian apparitions cemented my understanding even more.
Since then, I have come to know Mother Mary as a person I could talk to, regardless of my level of piety at any given time. She never fails to bring me closer to God and I have often prayed for her intercession when in dire need of a miracle. On several occasions, she has helped and the outcome has fallen noticeably on a Wednesday, the day associated with devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Mother Mary also does not encourage me to treat God as a magician who grants my wishes, but strengthens me to traverse the learning curve He sets, before the wish is transformed into a more righteous result. Many of her interventions have come as a prompt to worry less, get back on course, and focus more on her Son, Jesus.
When I connect the dots formed by all the spiritual encounters, intercessions and blessings I have received over the years, I realize that the dots form a trajectory. A trajectory, as we know, is defined as the path followed by an object moving under the action of given forces. An apt definition, I think, to apply to this spiritual journey.
How splendid would it be if we all took a few moments to reflect upon when our relationship with God really began to strengthen? There might have been someone on earth driving this aided by someone in Heaven. Mother Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony and all the saints draw us closer to Jesus, preparing us for the Good Shepherd to reveal Himself to us and direct us along His Way.
Let us remember how often God has blessed us with even more than we needed; the fortuitous coincidences which have connected us to our soul mate and like-minded friends; and all the little miracles that illuminate our lives while we were too busy to notice. Let us seek out the trajectory God has placed us on, and stand firmly upon it, praying with all our might. Now is the time that the world stands in need of our prayers, more than ever before.'