- Latest articles
Question: I have two young children, and I worry about how to keep them in the Faith. In our world that seems to be growing more secular by the year, is there any way I can instill the Catholic Faith so deeply within them that they will stay Catholic as they grow older?
This is indeed a difficult situation for so many parents, as our culture is often openly hostile to our Catholic Faith. How to keep them Catholic when it seems that the deck is stacked against them?
Part of the challenge is that God’s grace is a mystery. A hundred people can hear the same talk or homily, and for some it will change their lives and others will find it boring and meaningless. In my own family, I have a brother who identifies himself as an atheist—both a priest and an atheist from the same family, with the same parents and upbringing! So, we must acknowledge that grace is a mystery—but we are also convinced that God loves your children more than you ever could, and He is doing everything possible to win their hearts and lead them to salvation.
With that said, there are some things that parents can do to help kids encounter Christ and stay faithful to Him. Although I do not have children, I have worked with thousands of kids and teens over the past seventeen years of youth ministry, and I have seen a few successful strategies that families employ to keep their kids faithful.
First, make Sunday Mass a non-negotiable. I remember my parents taking us to Mass on vacation, and they would never allow one of our sports games to interfere with Mass. The Mass-going example of a father on his children is especially critical. There’s an adage that says, “If a mother goes to Mass the children will go to Mass, but if a father goes to Mass the grandchildren will go to Mass.” My dad used to make special trips to our boy scout campouts to take me and my brother to Mass, and then return us back to the campsite when Mass was over! It made a huge impact on me and it taught me that nothing, absolutely nothing, came between us and Sunday Mass. That was the real cornerstone of our family. If you are ever on vacation, you can visit www.masstimes.org which lists all the Masses in the entire world—so whether you are in Paris or Buenos Aires or Disney World, you can still find a Sunday Mass!
Second, pray together as a family. My family used to pray the Rosary on the way to Mass, and we had special devotions around the Advent Wreath. We would attend Stations of the Cross together during Lent, and my parents took us to Eucharistic Adoration frequently. Although there were times I complained about being dragged into these things, they also introduced me to a personal relationship with Christ, one that has stayed strong to this day.
Also, never forget to pray and fast for your kids—daily!
Third, keep sin out of your home. If you allow your kids to have a smartphone, put a filter on it. Make sure the TV shows and movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the books they read are wholesome. Although your kids may complain, parents should be more concerned about their kids’ eternal happiness than a quick temporary pleasure of watching a bad movie!
Another good thing to do is to make your home a sanctuary. Fill it with crucifixes, holy pictures, statues of the Saints, and books about the Faith. The old adage is true: “Out of sight, out of mind.” The more we can call to mind eternal realities, the more we will stay faithful to them.
Fifth, surround your kids with a good Catholic community, both peers and adults. They need good friends who have similar values, so perhaps have them join a youth group or go to a Catholic summer camp. They also need adult mentors who love the Faith, so befriend other good Catholic families. Invite your parish priest over for dinner. Get together for a party with other parishioners. When I was younger, my father sometimes took me to his men’s group on Saturday mornings, and I will never forget the impact of seeing these men—men I knew and respected and liked, who were plumbers and lawyers and sports coaches—praying and singing and passionate about Jesus. It made me realize that it was cool and normal to have faith in the Lord!
A related question is where to send your child to school. The answer is quite simple: who is changing whom? If your child goes to school and brings the light of Christ there, then it is a good environment. But if your child starts to adopt the values of the world, then perhaps it is time to switch schools. Sadly, many Catholic schools do not provide a truly Christ-centered environment, so be careful even if you choose Catholic schools.
Finally, the best and most effective way to pass the faith on to children is to be a parent who is seeking the Lord in their own personal life! My father has always prayed the daily Rosary from before I was born, and both my parents comfortably discussed their faith life at home. I could see them studying the Faith on their own, reading books about Saints or spirituality. As the old saying goes, “Faith is more caught than taught”—and our actions speak louder than words. That does not mean we are perfect, but we do have to be sincere in seeking the face of the Lord in our own hearts.
None of these are guarantees, of course, as our kids have free will and are able to choose whether or not to follow the Lord. But in doing these things, we are giving them the foundation, and allowing God the opportunity to win their hearts. It is His grace alone that keeps kids Catholic—we are only conduits of that grace! Never forget that as much as you love your children, God loves them infinitely more—and desires their salvation!'
As a gentle and kind-hearted woman, Mary Zhu Wu was esteemed for her exemplary faith.
She was a mother of four and lived with her husband Zhu Dianxuan, a village leader in Zhujiahe village in the Hebei Province of China towards the middle of the 1800s.
When the Boxer Rebellion broke out and Christians and foreign missionaries were massacred, the tiny village took in about 3000 Catholic refugees from neighboring villages. The parish priest, Father Léon Ignace Mangin, and fellow Jesuit, Father Paul Denn, offered daily Mass and heard confessions throughout the day during that troublesome time. On July 17, about 4,500 members of the Boxers and the imperial army attacked the village. Zhu Dianxuan gathered about 1000 men to defend the village and led them in battle. They fought bravely for two days but Zhu died when the cannon they had captured backfired. All those who were able, fled the village in terror.
By the third day, the soldiers gained entry into the village and killed hundreds of women and children. Around 1000 Catholics had already taken refuge in the church where the priests gave them general absolution and prepared for a final Mass. Although grieving for her husband, Mary Zhu Wu remained calm and exhorted those gathered to trust God and pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the soldiers finally broke down the church door and started firing randomly, Mary Zhu-Wu rose with amazing courage. She positioned herself with outstretched arms in front of Father Mangin to shield him with her body. Soon, she was struck by a bullet and fell at the altar. The Boxers then surrounded the church and set it on fire to kill the survivors, with Fathers Mangin and Denn burning to death as the church roof finally collapsed.
Until her last breath, Mary Zhu Wu had continued to strengthen the faith of fellow believers and bolstered their courage. Her words spurred them to overcome fear and embrace martyrdom. Because of her powerful leadership, only two of the Christians of Zhujiahe apostatized. In 1955, Pope Pius XII declared her Blessed, together with the two Jesuits and several other martyrs. They were all canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000.'
Is there a hidden danger in dreaming BIG? Not unless we miss the silent, subtle, and heroic duty of the present moment
Often God’s will for us can be disguised by its very ordinary nature. This truth dawned on me again a few weeks ago.
I became the primary caregiver for my elderly mother after she moved in with me last year when it became clear that she was unable to live on her own any longer. She is fragile, not only physically, but emotionally as well. Any change in her routine can throw her into an emotional tailspin.
To come and live with me, she had to move to a different state, so it took weeks before she finally settled in and felt at home. Some months later, circumstances dictated that we move to a different house. I dreaded telling her this news, knowing that it would cause her anxiety and distress to be uprooted again. I put off telling her for as long as I could, but eventually had to let her know.
Not unexpectedly, it threw her for a loop. She was weepy, fearful and anxious. I tried the usual tactics to distract her and raise her spirits, but nothing worked. A few days before the actual move, I took her to see the new house. She liked it, but still felt disconcerted and upset about the change.
When we returned home from seeing the new place, I sensed that she needed me to spend time with her for the rest of the day. She loves to watch TV, but we have different tastes in movies, so I usually turn one on and then leave her to watch it alone. But this time I deliberately sat down beside her to watch, knowing that this would comfort her in the midst of her feeling of upheaval.
Sure enough, although I found the movie trite and uninteresting, I knew my physical proximity was reassuring to her. There were many other things I needed to do and would rather have done, but I also knew in my heart that sitting with my mom at this moment was the will of God for me. So, I tried to embrace it wholeheartedly, offering it to the Lord in prayer. I prayed for those who were struggling to find God’s will for their lives; for those who felt lonely or abandoned; for those who didn’t know God’s love yet; for the great suffering of so many in our world. Instead of getting impatient and antsy as the movie played on, I was calm and peaceful, knowing I was in the heart of God’s will for me in that moment.
Reflecting on this later, I realized, yet again, that much of God’s will for us takes the shape of very ordinary, mundane tasks. Servant of God Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House, called it the “duty of the moment.” She said, “All through my childhood and early youth I was instilled with the fact that the duty of the moment was the duty of God…Later, I still believed that the duty of the moment was the duty God gave me. God speaks to us, then, in the duty of every moment. As this duty of the moment is the will of the Father, we must give our whole self to that. When we do so, we can be certain that we are living in the truth, and hence in love, and hence in Christ…” (“Grace in Every Season” by Madonna House Publications, 2001).
My mom was comforted and reassured that day as I set aside my busy to-do list and did something she enjoyed. I felt, too, that the Lord was pleased with my little offering.
As you face your day and the tasks that lie ahead, even if they seem boring or repetitive, make the decision to unite your heart to God and offer it as a prayer for someone who is in need that day. Then get on with what you are called to do at that moment, knowing that God can take our ordinary tasks of each day and turn them into extraordinary sources of grace and transformation for the world.'
Is technology shaping your consciousness? If so, it’s time to re think
The recent cyber-attacks in the U.S which led to gas shortages, panic buying, and worries about meat shortages—drove home how dependent we are on technology to function in our modern society. Such dependency has spawned new and unique mental, psychological, and spiritual challenges. Our days are spent on “screen time” seeking out our news, entertainment, and emotional and intellectual stimulation. But as we navigate through life via our digital devices and technology, we do not realize how they are shaping our consciousness.
Such dependency raises a basic question: does technology, an extension of reason, form our consciousness; has it become our primary orientation towards life? Many today would unapologetically answer, “Yes”. For many, reason and logic are the only way to “see.” But Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians offers a different view through a pithy statement that summarizes the Christian life: “…we walk by Faith, not by sight” (5:7)
A Powerful Insight
As Christians, we perceive the world through our bodily senses, and we interpret that sensory data. through our rational interpretative lenses just like non-believers do. But our primary orientation is not given to us by the body or reason, it is given by faith. Faith has nothing to do with gullibility, superstition, or naivete. We do not have to put our Chromebooks, iPads, and smartphones, in the closet. Through faith we integrate our sensory perceptions and rational inferences into our relationship with God and others. Through faith we can appreciate Jesuit poet Gerald Manly Hopkins’ powerful insight that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Perception and reason–walking by sight—is good and necessary; indeed, that is where we start. But as Christians we walk primarily by faith. That means we are attentive to God and the movement of God within our ordinary experience. The contemporary spiritual writer Paula D’Arcy put it this way, “God comes to us disguised as our life.” And that cannot be a matter of direct vision or rational insight. To see life charged with God’s grandeur or to grasp that we do not have to look for God because God is in the very fabric of our life can be done only by faith, which goes beyond reason without contradicting it.
So, as we furtively emerge from our pandemic exile in which so many have suffered great pain and loss we may ask, where was God in all of this? What is God up to? Usually, the eyes of reason cannot see the answer. But we walk by faith, not just by sight. What God is doing happens slowly and in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. God is always acting! He is never missing-in-action! From the smallest beginnings can come the accomplishment of God’s purposes. We know this from the prophet Ezekiel who sang of Israel’s great universal destiny which was prophesied during the Exile in which they lost everything!
Five hundred years after Ezekiel, Jesus makes much the same point. We read in the Gospel according to Saint Mark, “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed in the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how” (4:26-27).
Ready for a Surprise
God is working, but we cannot see it with our ordinary eyes; we cannot understand it with our ordinary categories; no app is going to give us that access. God is at work and we know not how. That is okay. We walk by faith not by sight.
This is why in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus also says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed—the smallest of all the seeds of the earth, but once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants, so that “birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” (4:32). It is not easy for us to enter into this logic of the unforeseeable nature of God and to accept His mysterious presence in our life. But especially during this time of uncertainty, loss, and cultural/political divisiveness God exhorts us to walk by faith which exceeds our plans, calculations, and predictions. God is always at work and He will always surprise us. The parable of the mustard seed invites us to open our hearts to surprises, to God’s plans, both at the personal level and that of the community.
In all our relationships—familial, parish, political, economic, and social—it is important that we pay attention to the little and big occasions in which we can live the Great Commandments—loving God and neighbor. That means we disengage from the divisive rhetoric so prevalent on television and social media that causes us to objectify our sister and brothers. Since we walk by faith and not sight we engage in the dynamics of love, of welcoming and showing mercy towards others.
Never Give Up
The authenticity of the Church’s mission, which is the mission of the Risen and Glorified Christ, does not come through programs or successful outcomes, but from going forth, in and through Christ Jesus, to walk with Him courageously, and to trust that our Father’s will always bear fruit. We go forth professing that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar or his successors. We understand and accept that we are a small mustard seed in the hands of our loving Heavenly Father who can work through us to bring about the Kingdom of God.'
Many a time we dwindle into cares and worries, and life gets messy. What’s the way out?
“What a world! What a world!” declared the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” as she melted out of sight after being doused with a bucket of water. How often have we heard people use similar words because the world seems to be going a bit crazy? Problems and world issues can make us feel helpless, lost and drowning in buckets of negativity. We face challenges and a culture that grows messier every day. What a world! What a world!
While it is easy to blame “the world” for our problems, we are the individuals that collectively make up “the world”. Our actions or inactions have a ripple effect within our families and communities that continue rippling outward. Our lives touch the people around us and change them.
They in turn touch others. The global spread of the Covid-19 virus demonstrates how incredibly connected humanity is.
So why are we in such a mess?
Perhaps, it is because we have lost our way. Perhaps we are like the Apostle Peter who stepped out of the boat onto the water, but saw the storm raging and became frightened, and taking his eyes off Jesus began to sink (Matthew 14:30). When we take our eyes off Jesus, it is easy to lose our courage and sink into the problems that engulf us. Life can get messy very fast.
What does it mean to take our eyes off Jesus? I will explain by sharing my story. When my 4 children were young and our family life was extremely busy, my daily routine left little time to spend in prayer with God. However, each morning I invited Him to tag along with me in every activity. In addition to all my daily obligations, I had a strong interest in sewing. My desire to sew developed into a cottage industry that eventually grew so rapidly that I could not keep up.
After a full day caring for my family, I would sew when they slept. But weeks of operating on too little sleep, negatively changed my disposition, and that affected my family. A negative ripple effect was set in motion. One evening, I was exceptionally tired and facing another weary night of sewing, a dam of tears unlocked. Sobbing and full of frustration, I remembered that God tagged along with me all this time, so I thought it a good idea to blame Him for my situation. “Why God?” I asked. “Why did you give me the interest and the talent to sew and not give me the time to sew? WHY?”
It seemed God had been waiting for me to ask that question, because as soon as it flew out of my mouth, He answered back, “Because I gave it to you for pleasure, not profit!” I was so stunned that the tears instantly halted and dried. I had no rebuttal. Suddenly I realized I had not sought God’s guidance or discerned His will before starting my sewing business. I had settled for letting Him “tag along”. I felt so ashamed. I had stepped out on my own and forgotten to pray. I placed Him behind me where I could not see Him. And with my eyes off Jesus I was sinking. My sewing business was having a negative ripple effect on me, my family and my world.
I had forgotten that God, who can and wants to help us, should lead, not follow behind me. But fortunately, there is help for us when we take our eyes off Jesus. Jesus told us, “Come to me, all who are weary and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) We shouldn’t seek comfort or answers from other people, things or the false gods of this world. Our first “go to” should always be to turn in prayer to our merciful God who patiently waits for us to seek Him out. Like with Saint Peter, God wants to extend His hand to us, save us, get in our boats and lead us to safety. And it all starts with “asking”. Jesus said it clearly in the Gospel of Saint Matthew:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened…If you who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:7-11)
Like a good parent, God established a few conditions for answering prayer. The Apostle John tells us “if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). Our prayers cannot go against the will of God. So we need to know God and pray according to His will. (1 John 5:14)
How do we get to know God’s will? Jesus tells us, “If you remain in Me and My Words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) This means that to understand His will, we have to know Him. To get to know Him we have to pick up our Bibles. In sacred scripture we can hear Him, learn from Him and about Him, and understand His will. And then we must stay close to Him in prayer and through the Sacraments.
A Promise Forever
Saint Paul also weighs in on the subject of prayer. He tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Paul is clear that we should not let the worries of the world weigh us down. We need to approach God with a trusting and thankful heart. If we realized we are asking for help from the Creator of the Universe who loves us and can do anything, would we be anxious about anything?
In the Gospel according to Saint Mark, Jesus tells us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (11:24). If we truly believe God will answer our prayers we should be thankful even before it is answered, because we know it will be answered. There is a saying floating around the internet that says, “Don’t tell God how big your problems are. Tell your problems how big God is!” Good advice that can help place our problems into a smaller perspective.
For many of us the idea of prayer is daunting. We want to turn to God in prayer, but we may not know where to begin. Many years ago, my life felt burdensome. I knew I needed to pray, but did not know how. I asked for help and God answered by sending the Holy Spirit to guide me. The following prayer filled my being so quickly that I felt I had merely penned what the Holy Spirit dictated.
Teach me to pray, Lord.
Teach me to pray so that I may know you.
Teach me to pray for the things that please You and lead me into Your perfect will for my life.
Teach me to pray with all of my senses….my eyes, my ears, my nose, my mouth, my touch.
Teach me to pray with my eyes, by only looking at and for things that glorify You.
Teach me to pray with my ears, by hearing only affirming truths that venerate You.
Teach me to pray with my nose. Remind me of Your Breath of Life and Your Holy Spirit that rests within me, as my lungs fill with each breath.
Teach me to pray with my words so that they exalt You and Your precious name.
Teach me to pray with my hands by reaching out in love, to others in Your name.
Teach me to remember to pray.
Teach me to pray by calling to You for guidance in all my needs.
Teach me to pray in and through the turmoils of my life.
Teach me to pray for others and bring to mind their intentions as if they were my own.
Teach me to know Your truth, Your way, Your peace, Your grace and Your protection.
Teach me to pray in thanksgiving for the blessings and graces You generously bestow on me.
Teach me to calm my mind and pray in silence so that I may hear Your words to me.
Teach me to pray that I may be able to hear and know Your Holy Spirit in me, so that I may recognize when the Master is addressing me, His servant.
Teach me to pray that I may love you with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength and with all my mind.
Teach me to allow my whole life to be a prayer to You.
Jesus, I ask you to be with me.
Jesus, I invite you to reside in me.
Jesus, I humbly request You to work through me.
Jesus, Teach me to pray. Amen.
I invite you to pray this prayer and remember that though we might be weary of the trials in this world, we certainly are not helpless. We have the power of prayer!
Now for the rest of Peter’s story. When Peter realized he had taken his eyes off Jesus and began to drown, he did not give up. He yelled out, “Lord! Save me!”. And at once Jesus put His hand out and held him! And as they both got into the boat, the wind dropped.
Now for the rest of my story…When I realized I had taken my eyes off Jesus and was drowning in too many activities and lack of sleep, I too asked Jesus to save me. He got into my boat and redirected my life. I completed my obligations and then turned my sewing into a pleasurable, relaxing activity.
Prayer changes things for us and the world around us. If we pray for ourselves and others, we can create a positive ripple effect. My prayer is that someday soon, instead of lamenting “What a world! What a world!”, we will echo Louis Armstrong’s classic song: “What a Wonderful World”.'
On a scorching afternoon she walked down the street. There was nothing left for the children at the orphanage, so she went begging. Upon reaching a nearby tea shop, she held out her hand imploring the shopkeeper to give something for her hapless children.
The man spat into her palm. Without hesitation, she gently wiped her hand with the edge of her sari and held out the other hand. She spoke in an even low voice, “I am grateful to you for what you have given me. I request you not to spit on this hand, but give something for my children.”
The shopkeeper stood astonished at her humility. He asked her pardon and the incident marked a tremendous change in him. From then on, he became a generous contributor to the welfare of the children in her orphanage. The woman clad in white sari with blue border was none other than Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Humility, according to Saint Teresa of Calcutta, is the mother of all virtues. She taught that “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a Saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”
Today humility is often misunderstood. Some take it as self-deprecation. But many Saints understood that humility is the way to hammer out good selfesteem by depending on God rather than oneself.
Did Mother Teresa suffer from low self-esteem? Of course not. Otherwise, how could she have dared to speak against abortion at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1993 right in front of President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and their spouses?
Too often we rely on ourselves, and that becomes the greatest block to growing closer to God. By putting on the virtue of humility, Mother Teresa grew ever closer to God and became a living embodiment of Saint Paul’s pronouncement, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).'
He didn’t have much time left, but Father Hilton chose to thrive on the promises, inspiring millions and changing lives
My journey through life has not been very smooth, but from the moment I decided to follow Christ, my life has never been the same. With the Cross of Christ before me and the world behind me I can firmly say, “There’s no turning back…”
During my schooldays at Bede’s College in Mentone, I felt a strong calling from within. I had great mentors there including Brother Owen who inspired and fostered my love for Jesus. At the tender age of 17, I joined the Missionaries of Sacred Heart. After 10 years of study, including a stint at the University of Canberra and a Theology degree in Melbourne, I was finally ordained.
Tryst with destiny
My first appointment was in Papua New Guinea, where I received a practical grounding living amongst simple people with a great sense of living in the present moment. Later, I was sent to Paris to study liturgy. Doctoral studies in Rome were interrupted by tension headaches which prevented me from completing it. And soon it became clear that my calling was not to teach in the seminary. On my return to Australia, I got involved in parish ministry and had a taste of 16 parishes in several different states across the country. I was revitalized by my involvement with two fabulous movements which nurture and revive marriage and family life—Teams of Our Lady and Marriage Encounter.
I felt content. Life was going very well. But all of a sudden, on 22nd of July 2015, everything changed. It didn’t come totally out of the blue. Over the past six months, I had seen blood in the urine on a couple of occasions. But now I was unable to even pass urine. In the middle of the night, I drove myself to the hospital. After a series of tests, I received alarming news. I had been diagnosed with kidney cancer which had already reached the fourth stage. I found myself in a state of shock. I felt cut off from normal people. The doctor had informed me that even with the medications, I could only expect to live for another three and half years. I could not help thinking about my sister’s tiny children. I would never see these charming toddlers grow up.
Until this crisis occurred, I had loved praying the morning meditations but from then on I struggled. After a while, I found an easier way to meditate. Resting before the Lord’s presence, I repeated a mantra inspired by Dante, “Your Will is my peace.” This simple form of meditation enabled me to restore my peace and trust in God. But as I went about my normal day, I found it much more difficult. I was often distracted by thoughts such as ‘I wouldn’t be around much longer…’
The Best Advice
After three months of treatment, tests were done to see if the medication was working well. The results were positive. There was significant reduction in most areas, and I was advised to consult a surgeon to remove the offending kidney. I felt a burst of relief because in the back of my mind I doubted if the medication was really working. So this was really great news. After the operation, I recuperated and returned to being a parish priest.
This time around, I felt more energized towards evangelization. Not knowing how long I would be able to do this work, I put all my heart into everything I engaged in. Every six months, tests were done. Initially, the results were good, but after a while the medicine I had been taking became less effective. Cancer began to grow in my lungs and in my back, giving me sciatica and causing me to hobble. I had to undergo chemotherapy and start a whole new immunotherapy treatment. It was disappointing, but not a surprise. Anybody who is on a journey with cancer knows that things change. You can be well one moment and next moment disaster strikes.
A beautiful friend of mine, who has been a nurse in the oncology department for many years, gave me the best advice: Go on living your life as normally as you can. Have coffee if you enjoy coffee, or have a meal with friends. Keep doing the normal things.
I loved being a priest and felt excited by the wonderful things happening in our parish. Even though the journey was no longer smooth, I still loved what I did. I always loved celebrating the Mass and ministering the Sacraments. It is something I held very precious and I am always grateful to God for this great privilege.
I had a strong conviction that we really need to make greater efforts to turn around the dwindling number of people coming to the Church by being proactive. In our parish we endeavored to make Sunday more engaging. Since I had always loved the contemplative side of our Church, I wanted to create an oasis of prayer and peace by bringing a little bit of the monastic spirit into our parish. So every Monday night, we held a contemplative, candlelit Mass with soothing contemplative music. Instead of giving a sermon, I read a reflection.
One of the songs that touched me deeply is the GRAMMY winning single “10,000 reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman. Whenever I sang the third verse of the song, I almost choked up.
And on that day
when my strength is failing.
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore
I found it so moving because what we are ultimately trying to do is to give praise to God and develop our relationship with Jesus. Despite my illness, it was one of the most exciting times in my life as a priest. It reminded me of the words Jesus spoke, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10
“My husband who is not a Catholic and only beginning to learn about faith got to know Father John by chance. Later he said ‘From what I know about this guy, Jesus… Father John seems to be just like Him. To know you are going to die and continue to give of yourself more and more even though the people around you don’t realize that these are your last days…” – Kaitlyn McDonnell
“One of the things John was very clear about was his purpose in life. He was an absolute driver and really made Jesus real in this world. I would often wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t been that strong in terms of his faith and values. It might have been very challenging for him but every Sunday when we met him, he had the same energy. Regardless of what happened around him or with him or to him, he had a sense of serenity around him. It was an incredible gift.” – Dennis Hoiberg
“We had to remind him that he had limitations, but that didn’t slow him down. He was such an inspiration because here’s a man who’s been told you’ve got a limited time. Yet he still kept giving instead of getting overcome by his disease and thinking about it.” – Shaun Sunnasy'
Do you believe God is right here, right now?
“Keep guard at all times over the actions of your life, knowing for certain that God sees you everywhere.” This verse from chapter four of the Rule of Saint Benedict aptly characterizes one of the Rule’s foundational principles: awareness that we are always in God’s presence. This knowledge of God’s constant gaze upon us can be both our greatest source of strength in temptation and our most powerful reminder of God’s perfect love and care for us His creatures.
The certainty that no actions escape the notice of our Creator causes us to mind our behavior and curbs our natural inclination to excess or inaction, helping us instead to direct our intentions toward the glory of God. Under God’s watchful eyes, we are less likely to have that extra glass of wine or sleep in and skip morning prayers.
Our charitable acts are treasures worthy of Heaven, but sometimes they are tainted with our own self-seeking. Remember Jesus’ caution in Saint Matthew’s Gospel: “Take heed not to do your good before men, in order to be seen by them; otherwise, you shall have no reward with your Father in Heaven” (6:1). The Prologue of Benedict’s Rule teaches us how to purify our intentions: “Whenever you begin any good work, beg of [God] with most earnest prayer to perfect it.” Praying before starting the smallest of tasks not only allows God to use our actions to accomplish His purposes but reminds us that God is with us in everything we do.
Benedict believed that “the Divine Presence is everywhere, and that the eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil in every place” (Rule, Chapter 19). Since we are to always imagine ourselves in the company of our Creator, Benedict challenges us in the same chapter to “consider how we ought to behave in the presence of God.” What an awe-inspiring proposal!
Yet do we really believe that God is with us here and now? The truth is likely that, though we believe through faith that God is omnipresent, we easily forget it, especially when we are caught up in the daily grind. It is easy to be struck by an acute sense of God’s presence when gazing at a breathtaking sunset, but much harder to realize His power and presence when we take out the trash.
Practice Makes Perfect
God’s omnipresence is not just a theological concept to accept, but a habit that requires cultivation. Constant awareness of and responsiveness to God’s Presence, known as ‘recollection,’ is an acquired disposition that has taken many a saint—perhaps even Saint Benedict!—years of practice.
One method of fostering such recollection is to ask ourselves each day how God has manifested His love for us that day. As we recall the myriad ways God showed us His tender care and mercy, our hearts will spontaneously fill with thanks and praise, which in turn cultivate in our minds and hearts a deep love of God. Ultimately, glorifying Our Maker in thoughts, words, and actions becomes second nature.
Inevitably, even the most recollected among us can lose sight of God during the storms and stresses of life. But the reality is that during times of fear and confusion when God seems far away, He is actually nearer than ever, “trying us by fire” to turn us closer to Him. Thus, Saint James exhorts us to “count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial. Realize that when your faith is tested this makes for endurance” (1:2-3). Though we may not feel particularly joyful in the moment, there is tremendous value in attempting to be present to whatever crisis is confronting us, having faith that God is with us and will provide a measure of relief.
Indeed, Sacred Scripture tells us beyond a shadow of a doubt that God never leaves us alone, especially in times of trouble. In Psalm 91, God assures us through the psalmist that when we call, He will answer: “I am with you. I will save [you] in distress and give [you] glory” (15).
Who can forget Jesus’s poignant words quoted from Psalm 22 as He hung on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (2). Yet that same psalm closes with a hopeful closing passage that many have never heard: “For He has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out” (25). Indeed, the last third of the psalm is an invitation to praise God!
A few hours before His arrest, Jesus predicted to His disciples that they would abandon Him yet declared, “I can never be alone; the Father is with me” (John 16:32). And before ascending to His Father, Jesus promised us, “Know that I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
Sorrows, labors, anxieties, irritations, weaknesses, oppositions, rebukes, humiliations—all can be borne patiently and even accepted when we fix our eyes on Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us (Matthew 1:23).
When the One we love is all around us—ahead of us, behind us, above us, below us, beside us—past regrets and future worries are rendered powerless. Under the approving, all-seeing eyes of the Almighty Father, life with Jesus in the present moment is wedded bliss.
“Now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2).'
I am very close to my sister, but recently she told me that she has stopped practicing the Faith. She hasn’t been to Mass in a year, and she tells me that she just isn’t sure any more about whether Catholicism is true. How can I help bring her back to the Church?
This is a common situation that can be found in many families. When siblings, children or friends leave the Church, it breaks the hearts of those who love them. I have two siblings who no longer practice the Faith, and it grieves me deeply. What can be done about it?
The first and simplest (though not necessarily the easiest) answer is prayer and fasting. Although simple, it is profoundly effective. Ultimately it is God’s grace that causes a soul to return to Him. So, before we speak, act, or do anything else for this straying sheep, we must beg God to soften her heart, enlighten her mind, and fill her soul with the touch of His love. Enlist others to pray and fast with you for the conversion of this soul.
Once we have prayed, we must show joy and kindness. Saint Francis de Sales, often called “The Gentleman Saint” for his great courtesy, said, “Be as gentle as possible; and remember you will catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.” Far too many people go straight to nagging and guilt when trying to draw back a lost soul. But we should seek to be a follower of Christ out of joy, not out of mere obligation! If He truly is our life, our delight, his joy should radiate in our life. This will draw souls without ever bringing up the name of Jesus, for joy and kindness is attractive in and of itself. After all, as the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God!”
Closely related to this is to ask the question: Are we living our faith counter-culturally? If our lives are indistinguishable from the secular culture, then we must ask if we are really effective witnesses to the transforming power of Christ. If we talk incessantly about our possessions, or are unduly attached to praise or our job, or if we gossip freely and watch trashy TV shows, we may not inspire anyone to follow Christ. The early Christians were so successful at evangelization because their lives were in such stark contrast to the decadent culture in which they lived. We still live in a decadent post-Christian culture, and our lives can stand out equally well if we live our faith radically.
It is also important to talk with your sister. Perhaps she has strayed because she has had a bad experience with a priest, or maybe she has a misunderstanding about something the Church teaches. Maybe she is struggling with a sin in her own life, and her absence from church springs from a conscience that is not at rest. Don’t get defensive, but listen patiently and agree with any good points she makes. If she is willing to ask questions, be prepared with responses! Make sure you know what the Church teaches, and if you don’t know the answer to one of her questions, offer to investigate further.
Invite her to go with you to a retreat or a talk, if you think she is ready for it. Perhaps give her a gift of a book about the Faith, or a CD of a good talk you once heard. Offer to arrange for her to meet with a priest, if she is willing. It can be tricky, because you don’t want to become pushy, so make the invitations without pressure or obligation.
Finally, trust in God. He loves your sister more than you ever could, and He is doing everything possible to draw her back to Himself. Persevere, knowing that everyone is on a spiritual journey. Your sister might become like Saint Augustine, who strayed far but became a Doctor of the Church! Keep loving your sister, and trust in our merciful God who wants none to perish but all to attain eternal life.'
Inevitably, others will do things that annoy us. But a heart that is bent on growing in holiness can learn to turn such frustrations into opportunities for growth.
For a long time, Sister Therese’s assigned place of meditation was near a fidgety Sister who constantly tinkered with her Rosary or some other object. Sister Therese was extremely sensitive to stray sounds and soon exhausted all her resources for remaining focused. Though she alone had this hyper-sensitivity to the distractions, Sister Therese had a strong impulse to turn around and give the offender a look that would make her stop the noises.
As she considered this option Sister Therese knew that the better way was to bear it with tranquility, both for the love of God and to avoid hurting the hapless sister. So she strove to keep quiet, but biting her tongue required so much effort that she would break out in perspiration. Her meditation turned into suffering with patience. With time, however, Sister Therese began to endure it in peace and joy, as she strove to take pleasure even in the disagreeable noise. Instead of trying not to hear it, which was impossible; Sister Therese listened to it as though it were some delightful music. What should have been her “prayer of quiet” became instead an offering of “music” to God.
In the annoyances we endure in our daily lives, how often do we miss opportunities to practice the virtue of patience? Instead of expressing anger or dislike we can let the experience teach us generosity, understanding, and patience. Patience then becomes an act of charity and a moment of conversion. We are all engaged in a journey of faith where
we discover Jesus more and more as the One who is patient with us!
Shocked by his words, I stared at him…
It was a perfectly beautiful beach day, not a cloud in the sky. I settled back into my beach chair and sunk my feet deep into the sand, wiggling my toes, hoping to feel a tinge of cool sand between them. It was a sizzling hot July day on the west coast of Florida.
My friend and I were enjoying the day together, watching as my three year old son, rode on the back of his twelve year old cousin while he crawled through the shallow, green water. The tide was low next to the causeway where a little inlet gave the boys hundreds of feet to play in the cool waters off the beach. The perfect spot!
I took a deep breath, opened the water cooler, grabbed my ice-cold water bottle and drank a huge gulp. I needed to stay cool and hydrated because I was almost nine months pregnant with my third son. I shut the cooler and focused back in on my son in the water. He and his cousin had separated and he ran, laughing and splashing through the water. Then it looked like he sat down, but he seemed to be sitting too low in the water. It didn’t make sense.
“What is he doing? Why isn’t he standing up,” I cried, pushing myself up out of the chair. “I don’t understand…”
“That’s weird,” my friend said.
I felt a panic rip through my body, “Hail Mary Full of Grace, the Lord is with you, “I prayed as I bolted into the water, eyes locked on his little head, “Blessed are you among women, and Blessed is the Fruit of your womb, Holy Mary Mother of God…Hail Mary Full of Grace, the Lord is with you…” Treading through the water I wondered, ‘Why isn’t he standing up, please don’t let his head go down under, please Jesus.’
Out of breath and full of fear, I arrived at the spot to discover that he had walked into a hole in the sandy bottom that wasn’t visible from the beach. He was frantically treading water, trying to keep his head above the surface. Terror struck through me like a lightning rod. I grabbed him and pulled him close as I clambered out of the hole. “Hail Mary Full of Grace the Lord is with you, Please Mary, Please, Save Him, Please Mary, Jesus will listen to you. Blessed are you among women…”
His breath was labored.
“Call 911,” a man called out.
I turned and looked at him in astonishment.
“What? His head never went under water,” I replied,
wondering where he had appeared from.
“Call 911. If he inhaled water, he could drown in the parking lot! Call 911,” he stated boldly.
I turned and shouted at my friend to call 911. At the same time, I distraughtly wondered what he was talking about.
My son threw up over my shoulder.
I screamed again, “Call my husband.”
“Hail Mary full of Grace…”
The man moved a little closer.
“I was on the other side of the causeway and God spoke in my heart. He told me to pray intensely and immediately run to the other side of the causeway. I saw you in a panic and knew this was where I had to go and he was the one I had to pray for.”
I stared at him, shocked by his words and the gravity of the situation.
I held my son close, “You’re okay buddy.” Silently, I continued, “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you…”
My husband arrived, took our son and put him over his shoulder.
He threw up again.
I wiped his mouth, leaned in close to his face and said, “You will be okay buddy. It’s going to be alright,” trying desperately to mask my mounting fear and anguish.
“Hail Mary…” I continued as I tried to soothe him.
The ambulance arrived. The paramedics took over.
“We are calling the chopper to Bay Flight him to All Children’s Hospital,” they said.
“What? Why? His head never went under,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter, we need to be sure he is okay,” they said.
I stared at them in shock. This could not be happening, I thought.
“Blessed are you among women…”
My husband and I stared at each other.
The man next to me broke the silence.
“I won’t stop praying.”
The chopper landed.
The paramedic got out of the chopper and approached us, opening his arms to take our son.
“I’m going with him,” I said.
“I’m sorry but you can’t come in the helicopter with us.
We can’t take care of him and you too. You might go into labor with the stress. We will take good care of him.”
“I’ll go,” my husband declared.
“No, we can’t take you either, sir, only him. We have to focus on him,” they affirmed.
My husband and I watched helplessly as they carried our son into the helicopter.
“Hail Mary full of grace, Please Jesus, Mary, Please…” “Let’s go,” my husband said.
We jumped into the car and sped down the causeway to All Children’s Hospital.
“You can’t go into labor,” he said.
“I’m fine,” I said, “Just get us there fast,” as I continued silently, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
We pulled into the Emergency Room lot and ran into the hospital. They directed us through the tunnel to the children’s wing.
My husband ran and I followed, out of breath, shoeless and clothed in a wet bathing suit.
“Hail Mary full of grace…”
We were ushered into his room. I climbed into his bed and held him close.
The doctor came in.
“He is stable and in good condition, but we will keep him in overnight as a precaution,” he said.
I sighed in relief, then silently continued praying while my thoughts scattered in bewilderment as I wondered how this had all happened.
My son fell asleep in my arms and I felt thankful, but guilty. I was a bad mother who almost let her son drown. Washed in shame, I let the tears flow in the dark, quiet hospital room.
Sobbing with distress, I picked up my phone and called my spiritual father, a holy priest. It was 9:30 at night, so I had little hope that he would answer… His voice broke into my troubled thoughts.
I poured out the whole dreadful tale of what had happened that day.
“Pray for him Father, please,” I begged.
He prayed with me, but I still felt upset.
“My son almost drowned because of me,” I confessed.
“No! You saved your son’s life,” he said reassuringly.
Sobs of relief mixed with the tears of fear and worry.
“God is with you. It’s going to be alright,” he said.
“Thank you Father,” I said. My gaze fell on my little boy, peacefully sleeping away the trauma of the day. I nestled in close while my lips continued to beseech Our Lady’s intercession until I joined him in slumber. “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you…”
The next morning we gratefully left the hospital with our happy, healthy son. No sooner had we arrived home when my husband turned to him saying, “It’s time to go swimming buddy.”
Fearfully, I stared at my husband. He whispered, “Let me do this.”
With my heart in my mouth, I watched as my husband coaxed him into the water and they swam happily around together.
At his next swimming lesson, his teacher confided that only last week she taught him how to tread water.
Thank you Jesus, thank you Mary.'