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Jan 28, 2023
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The world’s greatest treasure is within the reach of every person!

The reality of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist is something great and marvelous. I know that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist from my own experience not just because the Church teaches this truth.

The First Touch

One of the experiences I had that helped increase my faith in the Lord was after I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in my early days in the Catholic Charismatic renewal. I was still not a priest at that time. I was leading a prayer meeting and during this meeting, we were praying over people. We had the Eucharist exposed for Adoration and then people would come one by one to be prayed over.

A woman came asking me to pray over her with folded hands and I thought she was praying. She asked me to pray for her husband who had a problem with his foot. But as I was praying, I felt in my heart that the Lord wanted to heal her. So I asked her if she needed any kind of physical healing. She told me, “My hands are like this because I have frozen shoulder.” She had a problem of mobility with her hands. As we were praying for her healing she said that a great heat came out from the Eucharist, descended on her frozen shoulder and she was healed then and there.

That was the first time I actually saw such healing taking place through the power of the Eucharist. It’s exactly as we have in the Gospels—people touched Jesus and power came out of Him and healed them.

Unforgettable Moment

I have had another powerful experience of the Eucharist in my life. Once I was praying with somebody who was involved in the occult, and she needed a deliverance. We were praying as a group and there was a priest with us. But this woman, who was on the floor couldn’t see the priest who was bringing the Eucharist inside the church to the sacristy. The exact moment the priest brought the Eucharist, from her mouth, a male violent voice said these words: “Remove Him whom you’ve got in your hands!” It choked me because the demon did not say ‘it’- a piece of bread, but “Him”. Satan recognizes the living presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I will never forget that moment of my life. When I became a priest later, I kept those two incidences in my heart to really believe and preach the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Unspeakable Joy

As a priest I had one another experience which I will not forget. I attend prison ministry when I am not preaching around. Once I was giving communion to a particular division in the prison and had the Eucharist with me. Suddenly I felt in my heart the joy of Jesus in giving himself to the prisoners. This is something I cannot explain to you. If you could only experience and know the joy Jesus has in the Eucharist to come into each and every one of us!

Another experience I have had of the Blessed Sacrament was a personal, emotional healing for myself. Once somebody who was in the church really hurt me with his words. It wasn’t easy and I was starting to get angry. Although I am not aggressive by nature, this hurt stirred up a lot of feelings and bad thoughts against this person. I fled to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and just cried. In that moment I felt His love, for that person who hurt me, radiating out from the Eucharist and entering into my heart. Jesus in the Eucharist healed me, but more than that, as a priest it helped me to realize where the real source of love and healing is in our lives.

Not only for me as a priest, but for married persons and young people – who can really give the love that we are looking for? Where can we find love that is greater than sin and hatred? It’s in Him, present in the Eucharist. The Lord gave me so much love for the person who hurt me.

On the eve of the day I was going to make my first vows, a sudden darkness entered into my heart. I went straight to the tabernacle instead of finding my new room in the community. Then from the depths of the heart I heard the Lord telling me, “Hayden, you are coming here for me.” And suddenly all the joy came back. In the Eucharist Jesus taught me one very important thing about my life as a Franciscan priest—He has called me for Him, I exist for Him. The Eucharist teaches every one of us that we can do nothing apart from Jesus—it’s not about us, it’s JUST ABOUT HIM. We are in the Church to be with Him!

As a priest, celebrating the Eucharist is the most wonderful moment I have with the Lord and it also brings me closer to the Christian community. It is Jesus in the Eucharist who is the source of communion between us. As a priest, I cannot live without the Eucharist. What is the greatest thing we can ask Jesus when we receive Him in our hearts? It is asking Him to fill us with His Holy Spirit once again. When Jesus was resurrected, He breathed the Holy Spirit into the Apostles. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, He gives us once again the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Ask Him to fill you with the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Broken for you

Once when I was lifting up the Host and breaking it, I got this deep conviction regarding the priesthood. We look at the people through the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which is a broken body. A priest should be like that. He breaks his life so that he can give it to the community and the rest of world. One can also discover this beauty in the married life. Love is like the Eucharist. You have to break yourself in order to give yourself. The Eucharist has taught me how to live a celibate life, how to be Jesus for the community, giving my whole life for them. The same thing has to happen in married life.

Finally, I can tell you that whenever I have felt lonely or down, just going near him—is enough to receive all the strength that I need, even if I am tired or sleepy. I can’t count the number of times I have experienced this in my travels and in my preaching. The best rest is to get closer to Him. I can assure you; He can renew us physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Because in the Eucharist Jesus is ALIVE—He is there for us!

 

 

 

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By: Father Hayden Williams OFM Cap

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Jan 28, 2023
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Today if you clearly hear what God wants you to do…dare to do it!

“Become a monk first.” Those were the words I received from God when I was 21 years old; 21 years old with the sort of plans and interests that would be expected of an average 21-year-old. I had plans to graduate from college within a year. Plans to serve in youth ministry, while working as a stuntman in Hollywood. I fancied I might move to the Philippines one day, and spend some time living among tribes on a remote island. And of course, marriage and children had a very strong appeal. These aspirations among others were arrested swiftly when God spoke those four unmistakable words. Some enthusiastic Christians express envy when I tell them about how God made His will explicit for my life. They often say, “I wish God would speak to me that way.” In response to this, I wish to offer some clarification on God’s pattern of speech based on my personal experience.

God does not speak until we are ready to hear and receive what He has to say. What He has to say may determine how long it takes before we are ready. Until we can hear and receive God’s word, He will simply wait; and God can wait a very long time, as illustrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son. More importantly, those who wait on Him are esteemed throughout Scripture. I should preface my calling to become a monk with details about how my vocation really began, when I started reading the Church Fathers as an adolescent, or more accurately, when I started reading the Bible daily. Factoring in these details shows that it took seven years of discernment before I could receive just four words from God.

Digging into Books

I hated reading as a child. Sitting in a stuffy room with a book for hours on end made no sense when endless adventures were lying just outside my door. However, the imperative to read my Bible daily posed an unresolvable dilemma. Every Evangelical knows that any Christian who allows dust to collect on the Good Book is not much of a Christian. But how could I study Sacred Scripture as someone who hated reading? By the influence and example of a youth pastor, I gritted my teeth and set myself to the task of laboring over God’s Word one book at a time. The more I read, the more I began to ask questions. More questions led me to reading more books for more answers.

Teenagers are intense by nature. Subtlety is something they learn later in life, which is why the Church Fathers left me so enamored as a young man. Ignatius was not subtle. Origen was not refined. The Church Fathers were extreme in every sense, renouncing earthly goods, residing in the desert, and often sacrificing their lives for the Lord. As an adolescent with proclivities toward the extreme, I found no one who could rival the Church Fathers. No MMA fighter could compare with Perpetua. No surfer was gnarlier than the Shepherd of Hermas. And yet, what these early radicals cared about was nothing other than imitating the life of Christ as modeled in the Bible. Furthermore, all were in consensus on leading a life of celibacy and contemplation. The paradox was striking to me. Being extreme like the Church Fathers entailed a lifestyle that, on the surface, appeared rather mundane. More questions to ponder.

Talking Back

With graduation on the horizon, I was torn by a couple job offers that would determine denominational affiliation, as well as prospective institutions for further education after college. At the time, my Anglican priest advised me to bring the matter to God in prayer. How I should serve Him was ultimately His decision, not mine. And what better place to discern the will of God in prayer than a monastery? On Easter Sunday, a woman I had never met approached me at St. Andrew’s Abbey, saying “I am praying for you, and I love you.” After asking for my name, she advised me to read the first chapter of Luke, saying “this will help you determine your vocation.” I kindly thanked her, and did as she instructed. As I sat on the chapel lawn reading about John the Baptist’s origin story, I noticed several parallels between our lives. I will not stray into all the details here. All I will say is that it was the most intimate experience I ever had with God’s Word. It felt like the passage was written for me in that very moment.

I continued to pray and wait for God’s direction on the grassy lawn. Would He direct me to accepting a position in Newport Beach, or back home in San Pedro? Hours passed by as I patiently listened. Suddenly, an unexpected voice popped in my mind; “Become a monk first.” This was startling, as it was not the answer I was looking for. Entering a monastery after graduation was the last thing on my mind. Besides, I had a vibrant and colorful life to live. I stubbornly pushed God’s voice aside, attributing it to be some wild idea that rose from my subconsciousness. Returning to prayer, I listened for God to make His will evident to me. Next, an image captured my mind; three dry river beds appeared. Somehow, I knew that one represented San Pedro my hometown, another represented Newport, but the river bed in the middle signified becoming a monk. Against my will, the riverbed in the middle began overflowing with white water. What I saw was completely out of my control; I couldn’t not see it. At this point I became afraid. Either I was going mad, or God was calling me to something unexpected.

Undeniable

The bell tolled as tears trickled down my cheeks. It was time for Vespers. I shuffled into the chapel along with the monks. As we chanted the Psalms, my weeping grew uncontrollable. I could no longer keep up with the chanting. I remember feeling embarrassed about the mess I must have looked like. As the brethren filed out one by one, I remained in the chapel.

Lying prostrate in front of the altar, I began to weep harder than I ever have in my entire life. What felt strange was the complete lack of emotion to accompany the weeping. There was neither sorrow nor anger, just sobs. The only explanation I could attribute to the downpour of tears and snot, was the touch of the Holy Spirit. It was undeniable that God was calling me to the monastic life. I went to bed that night with eyes swollen but peace knowing God’s path for me. The next morning I promised God I would follow His bidding, seeking to become a monk first and foremost.

I am Not Done Yet?

Although God is punctual at times, as with Moses on Mt. Sinai or Elijah on Mt. Carmel, more often than not, His words are inopportune. We can’t presume that by putting our lives on hold, God will be forced to speak up. He is not manipulatable in the slightest. Thus, we are left with no choice but to carry on with our humdrum tasks until we nearly forget about Him—this is when He shows up. Young Samuel heard God’s voice precisely when Samuel was attending to his daily (mundane) duties, i.e., ensuring the tabernacle candle remain lit. There are vocations within vocations; callings within callings. Thus, a student may very well hear God speak in the middle of attending to her algebra problem. A single mother may receive a word from God while quietly sitting in traffic on the 405 freeway. The point is to watch and wait always, for we do not know when the Master will appear. This gives rise to a question; Why is a word from God so infrequent and ambiguous?

God gives us just the amount of clarity we need to follow Him; no more. The Mother of God received a word without much clarification. The prophets, who constantly received revelations from Him, were often perplexed. John the Baptist, who was the first to recognize the Messiah, second guessed himself later on. Even the disciples, Jesus’ closest kin, were constantly confused by the words of our Lord. Those who hear God speak are left with more questions, not answers. God told me to become a monk, but He did not say how or where. Much of my own vocation He left up to me to figure out. It would take four years before my calling was realized; four years (within which I visited eighteen other monasteries) before I was granted entry to St. Andrew’s. Confusion, doubt, and second guessing, are all part of the lengthy process of discernment. Moreover, God does not speak in a vacuum. His words are preceded and followed by the words of others. A youth pastor, an Anglican priest, an oblate of St. Andrew’s—these acted as God’s vassals. Hearing their words was essential before I could receive God’s.

My vocation remains incomplete. It is still being discovered, still being realized every day. I’ve been a monk for six years now. Just this year I professed solemn vows. One might say I’ve done what God told me to do. Be that as it may, God is not done speaking. He did not stop speaking after the first day of Creation, and He will not stop until His magnum opus is complete. Who knows what He will say or when He will speak next? God has a history of having very strange things to say. Our part is to watch and wait for whatever He has in store.

 

 

 

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By: Brother John Baptist Santa Ana, O.S.B.

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Jan 27, 2023
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“Have mercy on me, O Lord, a sinner.”

These words have been the battle cry of my life. Even in my earliest years, they were my motto, when I didn’t even realize.

Mercy. If God had a middle name, it would be “Mercy”.

Mercy held my hand every time I walked into the confessional.

Mercy saved me time and time again, while enveloping my soul and pardoning me.

My faith journey began decades ago when my parents chose for me what I couldn’t yet choose for myself—baptism into the Catholic Church.

I was raised to know right from wrong. And I suffered the consequences when I veered off track. My parents took their roles seriously and took pride in teaching me about Jesus and the Church. They were God’s hands in my life, forming my conscience through His grace.

As I grew, I hungered and thirsted for more of Him. Yet, the world and my own struggles with fear and anxiety got in the way.

Vacillation between good and bad plagued my life for years. I called it “walking a tightrope between heaven and hell.” During college, I recall standing drunk at 1 AM in a bar bathroom, downing my drink while I prayed the Rosary, afraid that I would miss even a day of praying it.

As I look back on moments like this that illustrated my internal tug of war, I am reminded of Mercy. I knew who I belonged to, but I was tempted to wander.

An innate struggle caused by original sin permeates our lives whether we can name it or not:

Our deepest desire for Christ is opposed by the allurements of the world and the evil one.

Yet Mercy has pulled me out of the gutter of sin, cleaned me of the muck and washed me anew.

Mercy has waited for my call, sitting by the phone at all hours of the night until I was ready to be picked up and brought home.

Mercy has pulled me from going under, supporting me like a life vest.

Mercy has listened to the screaming, the tears, the angry words, and held me close as I settled.

Mercy has held me patiently as I fought back again and again.

Mercy is the end. The beginning. My everything in between.

The God of Mercy has waited for me, pursued me, and forgiven me for as long as I have known him.

And by His grace, He has assured me that He is always there, arms outstretched, loving and forgiving again and again.

 

 

 

 

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By: Betsey Sawyer Estrade

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Jan 19, 2023
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When troubles come, how quick are we to think that nobody understands what we are going through?

In almost every church, we find a crucifix hanging above the altar. This image of our Savior does not present Him crowned with jewels sitting on a throne, nor descending on a cloud carried by angels, but rather as a man, wounded, stripped of basic human dignity, and enduring the most humiliating and painful form of execution. We see a person who has loved and lost, who has been hurt and betrayed. We see a person just like us.

And yet, in the face of this evidence, when we ourselves suffer, how quick we are to lament that nobody understands us, nobody knows what we’re going through? We make quick assumptions and sink into a place of isolation bound by inconsolable sorrow.

A Change of Course

A few years ago my life changed forever. I had always been a healthy child, a ballet dancer with dreams I had already begun to realize by the time I turned twelve. I had regularly attended Sunday school and felt drawn to God but had never done much about it, so I went on enjoying my life, my time with friends, and dancing lead roles at top ballet schools. I was content with my life. I knew God was there, but He was always over there. I trusted Him, but never thought very much about Him.

Yet in eighth grade, at the peak of my childhood dance career, my health started to plummet, and four years later I still have not recovered. It all began just one week after performing in a ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House, the day after I received the sacrament of Confirmation, and two weeks before I was to attend a summer intensive at the second most prestigious dance school in the United States. A bad strain of ligaments in my foot aggravated a previously undiscovered break in my ankle bone which now required surgery. Then I developed appendicitis, requiring another surgery. The two surgeries in close succession caused severe damage to my neurological and immune systems and weakened me to a point that no doctor could treat or even fully understand my situation.

As I continued to push my body to continue ballet, my body pushed back and I ended up fracturing my spine, ending my ballet career.”

Throughout the year leading up to my Confirmation, I experienced Jesus in ways I never had before. I saw His love and mercy magnified through study of the Gospels and discussions of His ministry. I started going to church every Sunday and experienced the power of the Eucharist. Before the confirmation classes with my parish priest, no one had ever taught me so clearly about Jesus’ love for me. His instruction clarified my growing understanding of who God truly is. Jesus, who I’d always known to be my Savior, was now my dearest friend and becoming my greatest love. He wasn’t just a statue hanging in the church, a character in stories; He was real, and He was the embodiment of Truth, Truth I had never known I was seeking. Through that year of study I made the decision to fully live my life for Jesus. I wanted nothing more than to become more like Him.

Since my injury, as my health bounced up and down and took me off the path I expected to be on forever, I struggled to remain hopeful. I lost ballet and even some friends. I could barely get out of bed to go to school, and when I did make it, I couldn’t stay the entire day. The life I had always known was crumbling and I needed to understand why. Why did I have to suffer so much and lose so much? Did I do something wrong? Would it lead to something good? Each time I started to heal, some new health issue arose and knocked me down again. Yet even at my lowest points, Jesus always pulled me back to my feet, and back to Him.

Finding Purpose

I learned to offer my suffering to God for the sake of others and watched it change their lives for the better. As things were taken away, space was made for better opportunities. For instance, not being able to dance ballet gave me the space to photograph the dancers at my ballet school and showcase their talent. I finally had spare time to attend my brother’s football games and started taking photos of him in action. I soon ended up photographing the whole team, including boys who never had anyone come out to watch them play, let alone capture their skills in a photograph. When I could hardly walk, I would sit and make rosaries to give to others. As I began to feel worse physically, my heart grew lighter because I was given the chance not merely to live for myself, but to live for God and see His love and compassion at work in others and in my own heart.

Listening to Jesus

Yet it is not always easy for me to find the good in suffering. I often find myself wishing the pain would be taken away, wishing I could live a normal life without physical agony. Yet one evening last March I received clear insight into my eternal questions. I was in adoration, sitting on the hard wood of the church pew, gazing at the crucifix in the dull candlelight and for the first time I wasn’t just looking at the crucifix—I was truly seeing it.

My body ached all over. My wrists and ankles throbbed painfully, my back hurt from the latest injury, my head was tender from a chronic migraine, and every so often, a sharp pain pierced my ribs and knocked me to the ground. Before me, Jesus hung from the cross with nails through His wrists and ankles, wounds from the whips lacerating His back, a crown of thorns painfully thrust upon His head, and a gash between His ribs where the spear had pierced His side–a spear that was meant to ensure He was dead. A thought struck me so forcefully, that I nearly fell over in the pew. Every pain I felt, even the smallest suffering, my Savior felt as well. My back pain and headaches, even my conviction that nobody else could understand, He understands it all because He experienced it too, and continues to bear it with us.

Suffering is not a punishment, but a gift we can use to grow closer to God and to shape our character. While physically I have lost a lot, spiritually I have gained. When all that we think is so important gets stripped away, then we can see what truly matters. That night in adoration as I looked at Jesus’ wounds so similar to my own, I realized that if He bore it all for me, then I can bear it all for Him. If we want to be more like Jesus, we’re going to have to walk the same journey He did, Cross and all. But He will never leave us to walk alone. We need only to look at the Cross and remember He is right there walking beside us through it all.

 

 

 

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By: Sarah Barry

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Jan 18, 2023
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On August 6, 1945 during World War II, an atomic bomb was dropped on the town of Hiroshima, Japan. 140,000 people were killed or injured. In the midst of the devastation, near the hypocenter of the attack, eight Jesuit missionaries who were in their rectory survived.

None suffered hearing loss from the explosion. Their church, Our Lady of the Assumption, suffered the destruction of its stained glass windows but did not fall; it was one of only a few buildings left standing in the midst of widespread destruction.

Not only were the clerics kept safe from the initial blast — they suffered no ill effects from the harmful radiation. Doctors who cared for them after the blast warned that radiation poisoning to which they had been exposed would cause serious lesions, illness and even death. But 200 medical exams in the ensuing years showed no ill effects, confounding the doctors who had predicted dire consequences.

Father Schiffer, who was only 30 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, told his story 31 years later, at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia in 1976. At the time, all eight members of the Jesuit community who had lived through the bombing were still alive. Before the gathered faithful, he reminisced about celebrating Mass in the early morning, then sitting down in the rectory kitchen for breakfast. He had just sliced and dug his spoon into a grapefruit when there was a bright flash of light. At first, he thought it might be an explosion in the nearby harbour. Then he described the experience:

“Suddenly, a terrific explosion filled the air with one bursting thunder stroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me, whirled me round and round like a leaf in a gust of autumn wind.”

Next thing he remembered was that he opened his eyes and found himself on the ground. He looked around, and saw there was nothing left in any direction: the railroad station and buildings in all directions were gone.

Not only did they all survive with (at most) relatively minor injuries, but they all lived well past that awful day with no radiation sickness, no loss of hearing, or any other visible long term defects or maladies. Asked why they believe they were spared, when so many others died either from the explosion or from the subsequent radiation, Father Schiffer spoke for himself and for his companions:

“We believe that we survived because we were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home.”

 

 

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By: Shalom Tidings

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Jan 16, 2023
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God sends no one away empty-handed—except those who are full of themselves

I once heard a Taekwondo master tactfully correct a young teenage boy who was looking to be his martial arts student: “If you would like to learn martial arts from me,” he said, “you need to pour out the tea in your cup first, and then bring back the empty cup.” To me the master’s meaning was clear and concise: He didn’t want a prideful student. A cup full of tea has no space for more; no matter how good what you try to add is, it will overflow the cup. Likewise, no student can learn from even the best of masters if he is already full of himself. As my eyes followed the young man walking away in indignation, I told myself that I would never fall into that prideful trap. Yet a few years later, I found myself bringing a cup brimming with bitter tea to God—my Master.

Full to the Brim

I was assigned to teach religion to PreK to second grade students at a small Catholic school in Texas. I received that assignment from my religious superior with bitterness and discouragement. For me, the reason was quite understandable: I had completed my Master of Theology degree, because I wanted to become a college professor in Sacred Scripture, and later, a sought-after public speaker. This assignment clearly did not meet my expectations and required so much less of me than what I thought I could give. In tears I fell prostrate onto the convent’s chapel floor and lay there for a long time. How can I bring myself to teach a bunch of little children? How can I benefit from working among kids? Indeed, my teacup was full to the brim. But even in my pride, I could not bear to walk away from my Master. The only way out was to beg Him for help.

The Master saw me through and through and was ready to help me drain my teacup so he could fill it with more tasteful tea. Ironically, he chose to use the very children put in my charge to teach me humility and empty my cup of pride. To my surprise, I began to realize that the children were budding, little theologians. Regularly, their questions and remarks gave me greater understanding and insights into the nature of God.

A question from four-year-old Andrew brought a surprising result: “How can God be inside of me?” he asked. While I was organizing my thoughts and preparing a sophisticated theological answer, little Lucy replied without a moment’s hesitation, “God is like air. He is everywhere.” Then she took a deep breath to show how like air God could be inside her.

Trained by True Master

God not only used the children to help me empty my cup, but also to teach me ‘martial arts’ for my spiritual battles. While watching a short video about the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, little Matthew broke down in tears. When I asked, he humbly admitted, “I bragged the other day that I had shared my ice cream with my friend.” His words reminded me to remain on guard against the sin of pride. By the end of the year, I had learned that as I emptied my teacup, God was filling it with Himself instead. Even the children told me so. One day, Austin sneakily asked, “Sister, what is the Bible?” Not waiting for an answer, he pointed at me: “You are the Bible,” he said. I was a bit shocked and confused but little Nicole supplied the explanation, “Because you are all about God,” she said. It was through the children that God poured new tea into my cup.

Many of us go to God asking Him to teach us how to fight our spiritual battles without realizing our cup is too full of pride to have room for His teaching. I have learned that it is easier to bring an empty cup and ask our master to fill it with His own life and wisdom. Let’s allow the true master to train us and give us exercises for our life journey and for the battles we will inevitably fight. He may surprise us and use little children, or others we think little of, to teach us, but let us remember that “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29).

 

 

 

 

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By: Sister Theresa Joseph Nguyen, O.P.

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Jan 14, 2023
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Few Saints of the Catholic Church have captured the popular imagination like Joan of Arc. Her story is depicted in paintings, sculptures, and numerous films.

Born into a peasant family in 1412, Joan grew up illiterate, but acquired a profound love for the Church and a deep faith in God from her mother. Because she loved prayer and the sacraments, her neighbors said, “She was so good that all the village loved her.” She cared for the sick and homeless, often even giving them her own bed.

By the age of thirteen, Joan began to hear the voices of Michael the Archangel, Saint Margaret of Antioch, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria. They told her she was to liberate France and ensure the French heir to the throne was installed as France’s rightful king. She won his trust by telling him details of his past only someone with divine knowledge could know. At the time, France was dominated and ruled by England.

Convinced that her “voices” came from God, Joan heroically and faithfully obeyed their instruction, despite obstacles and suffering. Prayer and contemplation remained primary in her life even as she led battles, during which she never raised the sword against an enemy

Though two years earlier a commission had “declared her to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty and simplicity”, Joan was accused of witchcraft and heresy after the English captured her, receiving no support from the very King she put on the throne. At her trial, Joan manifested her deep faith and wisdom, and despite being wrongly condemned, she never lost her faith in God or the Church. When she was burned at the stake, she proclaimed the name of Jesus while holding a crucifix to her heart, causing an observer to say, “We have burned a saint.”

Her death increased her fame and popularity. Twenty years later, a new trial declared her innocent of all her alleged crimes. After her reputation grew over the centuries to epic proportions, Joan was beatified in 1910 by Pope Pius X and canonized eleven years later by Pope Benedict XV. She is now the patron Saint of France and one of the Church’s most beloved Saints.

Joan’s obedience to God ensured France kept the Catholic faith during the Protestant Reformation while England abandoned it. France remained a solid center of Catholicism from which it would spread to northern Europe.

 

 

 

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By: Shalom Tidings

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Jan 03, 2023
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The river had swelled so high that water covered everything and all sense of where the road or footpath might be was purely a guess. With water everywhere, it seemed foolish to advance, especially in a carriage, for if anyone strayed ever so little off the road, they would perish without a doubt. 

As her companions panicked, Sister Teresa encouraged them, “As we are engaged in God’s work, how could we die in a better cause?” She then led the way on foot to the convent through the fierce storm. Suddenly she slipped down an embankment and fell squarely into the mud. 

Instead of complaining or cursing, the irrepressible nun, looked to the sky and quipped, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have many!” The sixteenth-century Saint and Doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila, didn’t take herself or this world too seriously and brushed off the little hardships of life with a sense of humor. 

Her ability to humbly recognize her own faults and need for grace was also tinged with her refreshing humor. In her autobiography, Teresa writes, “Having virtuous and God-fearing parents would have been enough for me to be good if I were not so wicked.” Saint Teresa was also mindful of false piety and once said, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!”

A healthy and good sense of humor will keep our head straight and enable us to see the world’s true beauty. Did God say that we need to be “sour-faced” to be holy? So, if you want to become a saint, lighten up, share the joy of the Lord and laugh with your friends like Jesus did.

 

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By: Shalom Tidings

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Dec 31, 2022
Engage Dec 31, 2022

Q – Why is it that only men can become priests? Doesn’t that discriminate against women?

A – A body has many parts, each of which has a unique role to play. An ear cannot be a foot, nor should an eye desire to become a hand. For the whole body to function well, each part has a critical role to play.

Similarly in the Body of Christ (the Church), there are many different and beautiful complementary roles to play! Not every person is called to be a priest, but all are called to be saints in their own specific vocation.

The priesthood has been reserved to men for several reasons. First, Jesus Himself chose only men to be His Apostles. This is not just due to the culture of the times, as some have claimed. Jesus often broke cultural norms in His relationships with women—He bantered with the Samaritan woman, He welcomed women into His entourage, He chose them to be the first to witness the Resurrection. Jesus bestowed a remarkable dignity and honor upon women, treating them asequals—but He did not choose them for the unique role of Apostle. Even His own mother Mary, who was holier and more loyal than all of the other Apostles, was not selected as an Apostle. The Apostleswere the first bishops, and all priests and bishops can trace their spiritual lineage to the Apostles.

A second reason is because when a priest celebrates the Sacraments, he is standing “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ). A priest does not say, “This is Christ’s Body”—no, he says, “This is MY Body”. He does not say “Christ absolves you” but rather, “I absolve you.” It makes me tremble, as a priest, to take these words of Christ as my own! But as the priest stands in the person of Christ the Bridegroom, giving of himself to His Bride (the Church), it is fitting that a priest be a male.

A final reason is because of the order of creation. We first see God create rocks and stars and other inanimate objects. No big deal. Then God creates plants—we have life! Then God creates animals—life that moves and is conscious! Then God creates man—life that is in His image and likeness! But God is not yet finished. The highpoint of His creation is woman—the perfect reflection of God’s beauty, tenderness, and love. Only a woman can bring forth life as God does; a woman is created to be relational, as God loves relationship. So, one can state that woman is the pinnacle of God’s creation.

The vocation of priesthood is centered around service and laying down one’s life for the flock. Therefore,it would not be appropriate for womento serve men, but rather for men to serve women. Men are created to defend, protect, and provide for others—the priesthood is one way in which he lives out that calling, as he defends and protects souls from the Evil One, and provides for the Church through the Sacraments. A priest should be laying down his life for the souls entrusted to his care!

It is a modern error to think that leadership equals power and oppression. Because of original sin, we often see people abuse leadership roles, but in the Kingdom of God, to lead is to serve. In this light, priesthood is a calling to sacrifice, to imitate Christ even to the Cross. It is a uniquely masculine role.

Thisin no way means that women are second-class citizens in the Church! Rather, their calling is equal but different. Many heroic women have given their lives for Christ as martyrs, virgins, consecrated religious, missionaries, leaders—in a uniquely feminine way, bearing spiritual life, nurturing relationships, uniting themselves to Christ the Bridegroom.

What a beautiful thing it is to have such a wide variety of different but complementary vocations in the Church!

 

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By: Father Joseph Gill

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Dec 08, 2022
Engage Dec 08, 2022

Whether you know it or not, when you seek truth, you seek God.

One warm summer day as a boy of nine, I went for a walk with a couple of friends. One of my friends, who was a little older, brought an air rifle with him. As we walked through a cemetery, he pointed to a bird on top of the church roof and asked if I thought I could hit it. Without giving it a second thought, I took the gun, loaded, and took aim. The moment I squeezed the trigger, a cold feeling of death fell over me. Before the pellet had even left the gun, I knew I was going to hit this living creature and it would die. As I watched the bird fall to the ground, I experienced sadness and guilt, and confusion swept over me. I questioned why I had done it, but I had no answer. I had no idea why I gave my consent, but I felt empty and numb. As with many things in life, I buried the event inside and soon forgot about it.

Déjà vu

In my late twenties, the woman I was in a relationship with became pregnant. When we found out, we hardly confided in anybody.. I didn’t expect any support or advice anyway, and it didn’t seem that big a deal. I convinced myself I was doing the ‘decent thing’–assuring her I would support any decision she made, whether to keep the baby or have an abortion. For several reasons, we decided to end the pregnancy. What helped me arrive at the decision was the legality of abortion in this country and the great number of people who procure abortions. How could it be that bad? Ironically, raising children of my own was always the biggest dream of my life.

We made the appointment with the abortion ‘clinic.’ Going there felt like a simple trip to the chemist to pick up a prescription, so much so, in fact, that I waited outside in the car, oblivious to the magnitude and impact this decision would have. When my girlfriend came out of the building, I at once saw the change in her. Her pale face projected ‘Death.’ The emotions I had felt as a nine-year-old boy shooting the bird flooded over me. We travelled home in silence, and barely spoke about it again. But we both knew something had changed us that day, something tragic, something dark.

Freedom

A couple of years later, I was accused of a crime I hadn’t committed and placed on remand in HMP Manchester (Strangeways Prison) to await trial. I began to speak to God in my heart and for the first time in my life I began to pray the Rosary properly. After a few days, I began reviewing my life, scene by scene, and I saw many blessings I had received, but also my many sins.

When I got to the sin of abortion, for the first time in my life I realized clearly that it had been a real living baby growing in the womb, and that it was my child. The realization that I had chosen to end my own child’s life broke my heart, and while crying on my knees in that prison cell I said to myself, ‘I can’t be forgiven.’

But it was in that very moment that Jesus came to me and spoke words of forgiveness, and I knew there and then that He had died for my sins. I was instantly flooded with His love, mercy, and grace. For the first time my life made sense. I deserved death but received life from the One Who said, ‘I am the Life’ (John14:6). No matter how great our sins may be, I realized, God’s love is infinitely greater (John 3:16-17)!

An Encounter

Recently, sitting in a London train station waiting for my train, I silently asked Jesus to bring someone on board that I could witness to about him. When I took my seat, I found myself facing two women. After a while we began to chat and one of them asked about my faith and if I had always been a believer. I shared some of my past, including the abortion, and explained that the moment I realized I had taken the life of my own child I came face to face with the crucified Christ, and was forgiven and set free.

Instantly the pleasant mood changed. I had hit a nerve and one of the women started screaming at me. I reminded her she had asked for my story, so I was only answering her question. Unfortunately, there was no reasoning with her. She screamed “It isn’t a baby in the womb!” with the other woman nodding in agreement.

I sat patiently and then asked what them what makes what is in the womb “a baby.” One answered “DNA,” and the other agreed. I told them that DNA is present the moment a baby is conceived, and gender and eye colour are already decided. Again, they screamed at me to a point where one of them was shaking. After an awkward silence, I said I felt so sorry she had gotten so upset. It turned out this woman had had an abortion many years before and was clearly still carrying wounds from the experience. When she stood to get off, we shook hands, and I assured her of my prayers.

Unbound

The tragedy of ending an innocent life in the womb is scarcely spoken about today, and when it is, we hear much misinformation and even lies rather than the facts. Choosing to abort a child is not a one-off, done-and-dusted decision, with no lasting negative effects. The pro-choice movement insists that “it’s the mother’s body, so it’s her choice.” But there is more than the mother’s body and choice to consider. There is a tiny, miraculous life growing in the womb. As the father of an aborted baby, I can honestly say that my healing has been a process, which has been ongoing even until this day.

Thanks be to God those who seek the truth can find it, if only they open their hearts. And when they come to know the ‘Truth’, the ‘truth will set them free’ (John 8:31-32).

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By: Sean Booth

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Nov 26, 2022
Engage Nov 26, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Temptations of Acedia

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

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

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

Turning to the Onions

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

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

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

Overcoming Acedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By: Father Roy Palatty CMI

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