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Heard about World Youth Day? Sister Jane M. Abeln prods you to take a chance and experience this unbelievable celebration that brings Heaven to earth
From the day Pope John Paul II appeared as the new Pope with the words, “Be not afraid!”, I greatly admired and followed him. He inspired my work with youth, for whom he had a special charism. In 1984 and 1985, he issued a special invitation for youth to join him in Rome on Palm Sunday. This was so successful that he expanded it into a “World Youth Day” (or rather week) which now occurs in different nations around the world every two years.
A Polish-born journalist shared a marvelous insight into how Pope JPII evolved the idea of World Youth Days. “In Communist Poland, he had to find ways of helping Catholics express their faith. Every year, he organized pilgrimages to Jasna Gora (Shrine of the Black Madonna), for August 14-15. He discovered how greatly these built relationships and strengthened faith in his people.”
Although I am no longer a youth or young adult, God in His Providence made it possible for me to attend the North American World Youth Days. World Youth Day is designed for the 16-35 age group, but priests, religious, families and older chaperones are also welcome. With less than a year to go for the August 1-7, 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, I share my experiences to inspire you to join the pilgrimage, to support others to attend and to join them in prayer.
WYD 1993, Denver, Colorado, USA
With Pope John Paul II coming to Denver in 1993 for the first World Youth Day in the USA, I began planning a local event in our archdiocese to tie in with it. When it fell through, I read about a surplus “packet” offered by Salesians at a bargain price, which included the round trip flight and hotel, and arranged to go with a local youth group.
The motto of Denver World Youth Day was: “I have come to bring you life—abundant life” (John 10:10).We felt it enfolding us from the very moment we arrived to hear the airport filled with the joyful sound of young adults singing to the Lord in languages from around the globe. That continued through the catechetical days. The cheerful enthusiasm of the young people and their chaperones was like a foretaste of Heaven as they laughed, shared meals, smiles and deep conversations. Wherever they went, they sang, danced and chanted while they waved their banners and flags in the streets. Grace flowed as people flocked to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, pray around the clock at Eucharistic Adoration and gather for reverent, prayerful Masses. When Pope John Paul arrived, he was greeted by applause and animated voices chanting, “John Paul II, we love you.”
The culminating World Youth Day began with a pilgrimage on foot to the venue of the final Mass. Pilgrims could walk 15 miles, or take the trolley and walk just 3 miles. I chose the latter on the 90ᵒ F day, but after Vespers service with the Holy Father, the field at Denver’s mile-high site dropped to 40ᵒ. Although I nearly froze because I didn’t bring the warm clothing advised, I was entertained by the Spanish and French youth who danced all night. The dawning of a new day, returned warmth to our bodies as we emerged from our sleeping bags to prepare for the final Mass. This was so beautiful that tears of joy streamed from my eyes as I prayed in union with so many young people filled with hope for the future.
In a riveting homily to the millions gathered before him, Pope John Paul II challenged us to be active in promoting a “Culture of Life” to counter the devastation being wreaked by the “Culture of Death” which promotes contraception, abortion, euthanasia, divorce, despair and suicide. This call would inspire the formation of many new apostolates including “Crossroads” which began at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and has expanded into annual pro-life summer pilgrimages in 3 countries, publicly witnessing to the communities they pass through, as they make prayerful sacrifice for them.
WYD 2002, Toronto, Canada
In 2002, I was blessed to be sponsored to attend Pope John Paul II’s final World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada. Although the Pope was now bent with age, and shaking with Parkinson’s disease, he still had the capacity to invigorate and inspire a new generation to carry on the mission. Although Sunday started with a downpour, I clung to a hope that it would clear. The Gospel came from Matthew 5. Just as the words, “You are the light of the world,” (Mt 5:14) rang out through the stadium, the sun broke through the clouds.
The Pope’s homily came straight from his Shepherd heart: “Jesus Christ is the Light in the world’s great darkness. Don’t get caught in the darkness. Although I have lived through much darkness…I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young.”
He directly addressed the sex-abuse scandal that had just broken out: “Don’t be discouraged by sins of darkness, even in priests and religious. BUT [he shouted] remember the many good priests and religious whose only desire is to serve and do good.” He encouraged the youth to follow religious and priestly vocations—“the royal road of the Cross” on which, in difficult times, “the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent.” Many vocations were born that year.
When our Holy Father announced the next site as 2005 in Cologne, Germany, he added, “Christ will meet you there.” My heart skipped a beat and tears filled my eyes, because he usually said, “I will meet you there.” I knew, we all knew, that he knew his final days were at hand.
2005 and beyond
In August 2005, I sat with my dying Dad watching on television as Pope Benedict sailed down the Rhine River to meet the world’s youth in Cologne. It amazed me to realize that the Pope who succeeded Pope John Paul II was a native of the country already chosen for the next World Youth Day! A similar thing happened in 2013. As youth from every continent, except Antarctica, prepared for World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Pope Benedict resigned, and was succeeded by Pope Francis from the continent already chosen. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis both totally embraced the legacy of their predecessor and World Youth Day continues to inspire youth to follow the path of holiness.
WYD 2023, Lisbon, Portugal
Young people from all over the world are now planning to travel to Lisbon for the next World Youth Day. The host country is planning for Days in the Diocese across Portugal for youth to experience their culture, and they have an enticing program packed with talks, workshops, and events from some of the Church’s best preachers, musicians, and artists. Local families, schools and parishes are preparing to accommodate the many young pilgrims. The Sacrament of Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration will be everywhere and teams are already praying for the expected visitors. Pilgrimage groups are forming in nations around the world, and parishes are fundraising to assist their youth to attend. If God is calling you there, He can help you get there, and sustain you on life’s journey. It’s one of the treasures of the Catholic Church in our time. (See your diocesan website, and YouTube and Facebook for the official promo, song in 5 languages, logo, and scenes).
Those who can’t attend can participate in some events via social media, and pray in union with the pilgrims.'
What is the way out of fear, anxiety, and depression?
Christians believe that God is three in One. We profess faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Behaviorally, however, we place our emphasis on the first two Persons of the Trinity—we pray the Our Father and believe He sent His Son, Jesus, for our salvation. And, while we recognize that the Holy Spirit is the divine “Lord and giver of Life,” we tend to forget the Spirit and don’t give Him the opportunity to give us Life! Let’s revisit the story of Pentecost and rediscover how the Holy Spirit can be the “Lord and giver of life” for us, because without the Spirit, our faith becomes a barren, joyless moralism.
The second chapter of Acts (vs. 1-11) describes the Apostles’ encounter with the Holy Spirit and how they behaved afterwards. Following fifty days of uncertainty, something big is about to happen. Jesus had entrusted His Mission to the Apostles the previous week, but are they ready to proclaim the risen Lord? Can they set aside their doubts and fears? The coming of the Holy Spirit changes everything. The disciples are no longer afraid. Before, they feared for their lives; now, they are ready to preach the Good News to all the nations with a zeal that cannot be suppressed. The Holy Spirit neither takes away all their difficulties nor the opposition of the religious establishment. But the Spirit endows them with a dynamism that enables them to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth.
How did this happen? The lives of the Apostles needed to be radically changed, and the gift of the Spirit is how that change occurred. In the Spirit, they encountered the third person of the Trinity—a real person, not just a force, but a person with whom we can be in relationship. While we know the Father as Creator, and the Son as Redeemer, we come to know the Spirit as Sanctifier, the one who makes us holy. It is the Holy Spirit that makes Jesus live within us.
While Jesus is no longer physically present among us, He remains within us through the Holy Spirit. And that Spirit brings peace—a peace that does not free us from problems and hardships, but enables us in our problems to find peace, to persevere, and to hope because we know we are not alone! Faith is not a problem-solving enterprise: when one problem goes away, another takes its place. But faith assures us that God is with us in our struggles, and that the love of God and the peace Jesus promised are ours for the asking.
In today’s frenzied world, super-charged by social media and our digital devices, we find ourselves pulled in a thousand directions, and sometimes we get burned out. Then we look for the quick fix, sometimes resorting to self-medication through alcohol or pill-popping, or one hedonistic thrill after another.
During such restlessness, Jesus enters our lives through the Holy Spirit and says, “Peace be with you!” Jesus throws us an anchor of hope. As Saint Paul says in his letter to the Romans, the Spirit keeps us from falling back into fear, for He makes us realize that we are beloved children of our heavenly Father (Romans 8:15).
The Holy Spirit is the Consoler, who brings the tender love of God into our hearts. Without the Spirit, our Catholic life unravels. Without the Spirit, Jesus is little more than an interesting historical figure, but with the Holy Spirit He is the risen Christ, a powerful, living presence in our lives here and now. Without the Spirit, Scripture is a dead document. But, with the Spirit, the Bible becomes the living Word of God, a word of life. The living God speaks to us and renews us through His Word. Christianity without the Spirit is joyless moralism; with the Spirit, our faith is life itself—a life we can live and share with others.
How can we invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts and souls? One way is by reciting a simple prayer: “Veni Sancte Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”). Another way to deepen your relationship with the Holy Spirit is to reflect upon the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we receive at Confirmation. Find a commentary on wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, and strive to integrate these gifts into your everyday life.
A good way to know if you are living the gifts of the Spirit is to ask yourself if your life manifests the fruits of the Holy Spirit (found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians [5:22-23]). If love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are present in your life, then you know the Holy Spirit is at work!
Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your divine love! Endow us with your gifts and make our lives fertile ground that produces an abundance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. AMEN.'
22 years of torturous wait for a baby could not diminish Victoria’s filial devotion to Our Lady. And then Mary smiled
I grew up not knowing much about Mother Mary because my parents didn’t say much about her, but when I began Catechism classes and went to school at a Salesian convent, I came to know her better, especially the devotion to her as Mary, Help of Christians. Thanks to the nuns who taught me to pray the Rosary, I learned that reciting the Rosary is not just a repetition of prayers, but a meditation on the Word of God enabling us to get closer to Jesus. From then on, I never hit the bed without reciting a Rosary.
Where’s the Good News?
Once I finished my studies, I became a teacher in a good Catholic school, where I became closer to Our Lady through the nuns who taught there and the spiritual retreats they organized for the staff. When I wanted to settle down and find a life partner, I sought her powerful intercession and soon I met my husband, Christopher at a faith education seminar. Thanks to Our Lady, we have been happily married for the past 28 years.
The initial days of our marriage were filled with fun, frolic and love but as the months passed by, people around us began to ask, “Why isn’t there any good news?” I assured them that “In God’s own time there will be.” That saved me from further questions, but as the years went by, a fear crept into my heart as no good news resulted. Medical investigations only found that my uterus was retroverted, which might be delaying pregnancy, but the doctor advised us that this would change if we followed their guidelines. But still, month by month passed by without change. There were days when I felt very gloomy and sad, but the love of Mary and my husband lifted me at those low points.
Pouring Out My Heart
I spent a lot on different medications based on advice from my friends and family, but to no avail. Then I began to approach Mary rather than visit more doctors, taking up all kinds of novenas suggested by my friends. I walked 24 kilometers for nine days to Saint Mary’s Basilica, but still there was no sign of pregnancy, although I was given an inner strength that kept us moving forward. We were blessed to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where we continued our petitions. I remember visiting the grotto of Our Lady (or Milk Grotto) where, according to tradition, the Holy Family sought refuge on their way to exile in Egypt. A drop of milk is said to have fallen from Our Lady’s breast as she fed baby Jesus, turning the cave from reddish stone into chalky white. Many women come here to pray for a child, or a better milk supply. Standing there, I wept bitterly, overwhelmed by a deep sense of loss. None of the other pilgrims could console me.
My husband and I decided to seek work abroad, so that we could afford to visit other pilgrimage sites, like Lourdes and other beautiful places in the world. Resigning from such a wonderful school after 14 years of service was the hardest part, but we wanted a change because we hadn’t quite given up hope. Somewhere in the corner of my heart, I still believed, although I couldn’t see how. We picked up jobs in Dubai where we totally entrusted our lives to the care of our dear Mother Mary, asking for her intercession as we continued our journey of life in this new soil. Although the church was a long way from where we lived, we never missed Holy Mass.
At Mass on New Year’s Eve, 2015, a tray with promise cards was passed around. My promise card had the verses from Genesis, chapter 30, verse 23, which speaks about Rachel’s barrenness and how God removed her disgrace. I just smiled. When Sarah heard the angelic visitors say that, “This time next year Sarah will bear a child,” she laughed because it seemed so impossible. I felt the same way, but I went back home and read through the entirety of Genesis, chapter 30.
It related the story of the two sisters – Leah, who was able to bear children, and Rachel who could not. She beseeched the Lord to open her womb and He heard her prayer, enabling her to bear two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. We went back to India to visit our families for a vacation but on our return, I felt unwell. So I went to the doctor for a check-up, thinking that my blood pressure was fluctuating.
The doctor ordered tests, which revealed the astonishing news that I was pregnant!
This was both exciting and disconcerting. We had both signed five-year contracts, so we would have to pay a hefty penalty if we broke them. Due to my advanced age, there was no insurance coverage for my maternity either, so if we stayed in the Gulf for my husband to work, it would be very costly, and we couldn’t bear to be parted just as our prayers for a child had finally been fulfilled after 22 long years. So, once again, we turned to our dear Mother Mary to pray for a solution to our dilemma.
One day, the Chairman sent a car to our flat asking us to come to her residence. Wondering what this could possibly be about, we were amazed to hear her cheerfully say, “It’s better that both of you resign and go back to India.” We were so delighted and astonished that we could hardly believe it, but we didn’t forget to give thanks to the Lord and to our beloved Mother for being with us in prayer for all that time.
Waiting for a Miracle?
My doctors in Bangalore expected a difficult pregnancy at my time of life, but thanks to Mary’s powerful intercession, I had a wonderful pregnancy without any complications. Of course the doctors were surprised that I was heading towards a normal delivery, but they still wanted to perform a caesarean section because I was pregnant with twins at an advanced age. We cooperated and on Easter Sunday, we were delighted to thank God for blessing us with our twin babies— Carlton and Vanessa—a better gift than any Easter egg. If you have been waiting for a miracle in your life, I want to encourage you to be strong in faith. Don’t give up. Keep going back to God with your petitions and ask Mary to join you in prayer. God always hears our prayers and never denies us an answer.
Ave Maria! All Glory to God!
This ARTICLE is based on the testimony shared by Victoria Christopher for the Shalom World program “Mary My Mother”. To watch the episode visit: shalomworld.org/show/mary-my-mother-2'
Hesitant to take that leap of faith? Then this is for you.
Five years ago, my then-boyfriend now-husband and I were seriously dating while living seriously far apart. I lived in Nashville, TN and he lived in Williston, ND—1,503 miles apart. The distance wasn’t practical for two people in their mid-thirties who had love and marriage on their minds. But we had well established lives in separate states. While dating, we prayed separately and together about our future, particularly about the distance factor. After we prayed a Novena of Surrender, his job suddenly offered him a transfer back to his home state of Washington, and soon I decided to also move to Washington where we could finally date while in the same city.
A New Adventure
One afternoon as I chatted with a friend, I shared my decision to move to Washington. I was stunned when she said, “You’re so brave!” I could have used one hundred words to describe my decision, but ‘brave’ would not have been one of them. It didn’t feel brave; it just felt right because it was grounded in contemplation and discernment. I had been praying long and hard about our future together, and while I prayed, I realized God was not only changing my heart, but also preparing me for this new adventure.
Over time the things that once had kept me tethered to the city I had lived in and loved for almost ten years lost their hold on me. One by one, my obligations began to neatly wrap themselves up or were redirected entirely. As I experienced those changes, I was able to pull away from my once busy life and continue to pray about my future. I experienced a new freedom which allowed me to become somewhat of an obedient nomad able to follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
Do What is Right
As I said, being ‘brave’ had never crossed my mind. I simply felt I was doing the next right thing for my life, regardless of the unknown and despite the look of surprise that would wash over people’s faces when I told them my plans. It turned out that I was doing the next right thing for my life. It was one of the most right things I have ever done.
My boyfriend and I eventually married (three years and counting). Two years later we conceived our first sweet babe whom we lost in utero, and then our beautiful baby girl was born the following year.
Lately, I’ve thought often about my friend calling me brave. Her comment aligns with a Scripture passage that continues bubbling up in my mind: “…for God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
If I had chosen fear instead of the courage the Holy Spirit gave me, I would have scuttled the future God had planned for me. I would probably not be married to the man God had in mind for me. I would not have my baby girl or our baby in heaven. I would not have the life I’m now living.
Fear is rotten. Fear is a distracter. Fear is a liar. Fear is a thief. God did not give us a spirit of fear.
I encourage you to boldly, and lovingly choose the path of courage for your life, with a sound mind and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Tune into the Spirit’s promptings and drown out fear. Fear is not of the Lord. Do not journey through life with a spirit of timidity, passively watching your life pass you by. Instead, in the spirit of power and love and self-control, be an active participant with the Holy Spirit. Be bold. BE BRAVE. Live the life God has planned for you and you alone.'
Seventy years ago, in a rural village a farmer lived a comfortable, middle-class life. But when his financial situation collapsed, his life spun out of control. Abandoning his faith and the Church, he turned to drinking and eventually became an alcoholic. His wife held on to her children as she knelt each day praying the Rosary for his healing. Her only desire was to see her husband make a good confession, return to Church, and receive Holy Communion. One night he passed out from too much drinking. When he woke the next morning, he couldn’t find anyone at home. His family had gone to the Church without him, and he felt a deep emptiness inside. To relieve the hangover, he searched for his bottle but found it empty. So, he staggered up the road to a nearby tea shop and sat there sipping a hot cup of tea. As he headed out to return home, he chanced to see a group of nuns walking down the lane returning to their convent from Sunday Mass. As they waited to cross the road, he noticed one of the sisters smiling.
Instantly, the man felt as if he had been electrocuted. The mesmerizing smile on that Sister’s face pierced him. A divine light brighter than the sun filled his being, and he began to weep. As he wept, he could hear the words of Psalm 51 rushing over him, “Have mercy on me O God…Against You, You alone have I sinned…Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean…”
He didn’t lose a moment, but went straight home, took bath, and headed to the Church. After staring at the Crucifix for a long time, he confessed his sins to the local priest. And his life changed forever.
A parable or a true-life event? Miraculously, this event actually occurred in the village of Bharananganam in Kerala, India. Thanks to the constant prayers of his wife and children, the floodgates of grace opened, and this man’s life changed profoundly.
The sister whose smile shone with the light of a thousand suns became the first Indian-born woman to be canonized a saint, St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, the very first saint of the Syro-Malabar Church, canonized in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI. We celebrate her feast day on July 28.
The light of the risen Lord whom she had just received in the Holy Eucharist glowed through Sr Alphonsa and its electrifying power transformed the man whose heart it touched. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we too receive the resurrected body of Christ with all its glowing power. But how often do we allow his radiant light to shine through our lives?'
In the twelfth century, the Cathar heresy that denied the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, was becoming widely accepted. A brilliant Franciscan brother named Anthony argued against this and other heresies of the day. Because Anthony was an excellent speaker endowed with great debating skills, he often took on those who denied the truths of the faith.
One day, during a public debate, a Cathar heretic named Bononillo insisted that only miraculous proof would convince him of Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic host. He proposed that if Anthony could make Bononillo’s mule bow down before the Eucharist, he would believe.
Since no other methods of persuasion worked on this man, Anthony agreed that three days hence they would meet to see if the mule could be made to worship the Body of Christ.
But Bononillo was not an honest man. He decided to stack the deck by starving his mule throughout the three days, convinced that the hungry mule would be so glad to see a bale of hay that he would pay no attention whatsoever to the Eucharist.
On the third day, a large crowd gathered to observe the outcome. Bononillo brought his mule to the town square where Anthony had just celebrated Mass. He placed a bale of tender hay under the mule’s nose expecting him to start feeding. But Anthony held up a consecrated host and called out in a loud voice, “Mule! Come here and give reverence to your Creator!”
Immediately, the mule turned his head and walked toward Anthony. But what happened next was truly shocking: as the mule drew close to the Eucharist, the animal bent its front legs and knelt in adoration!
When Bononillo saw this miraculous behavior, he knelt beside the pious mule and professed his belief in the Real Presence. As a result, many others who had been deceived by the Cathar heresy also came to believe in Christ’s true presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
Brother Anthony is now one of our most popular saints to whom people turn for help with finding lost articles. This dear Saint from Padua is not only the patron of lost articles, but because of his great learning and wisdom, and his love of the gospels, he was declared a Doctor of the Church. We celebrate his feast day on June 13.'
I looked up and hugged her, pressing my face into her apron that smelled like apple pies; quickly I ran off to show my brother the treasure that Nonna found for me
The house was old and belonged to my great grandparents. It was a small solidly built house where they raised many children. It’s rickety parts and musty smells often betrayed the facade of the freshly painted wood siding. It was a home with a history of family memories, stories and heirlooms. When guests came to call, the graying splintered wooden back door would release wafts of heavenly aromas from freshly baked apple pies cooling on the kitchen table. It’s a home that makes me reflect fondly on my grandmother. It’s funny how recalling one simple memory can lead to another memory and then another until a whole story floods my mind. Instantly, I’m taken back to another place and time that was part of the foundation of my life.
I grew up in a historical area of Kentucky, in a simpler place and time. It was a time when the mundane routines of the day were treasured as if they were family traditions. Sunday was a day of church, rest and family. We owned functional things and wore simple clothing which were either fixed or mended when they were worn out. Family and friends were relied on when we couldn’t fend for ourselves, but charity was not accepted unless it could be repaid at the first possible opportunity. Caring for another’s children was not charity, it was a necessity of life and the closest relatives were asked before friends or neighbors.
Mom and Dad regarded their parental responsibilities as their primary duties. They sacrificed to provide for us and rarely had time for themselves. However, every so often, they planned a special evening out and they looked forward to time together. My grandmother, whom we called Nonna, now lived in that old house, made those heavenly pies and cheerfully cared for my siblings and me while my parents were out together.
Mom’s heels clicked along the cobblestone walkway that led to Nonna’s backdoor, Daddy smelled of a freshly starched shirt and the break in our family routine filled the air with a sense of excitement on the evening when Mom and Dad went out together. Just as the old gray wooden door opened and my grandmother greeted us in her faded worn apron, I felt I’d stepped back into another time. A brief catch up conversation with Nonna was followed by a strict warning to behave ourselves and a kiss that left a waft of her cologne on our clothes and lipstick on our cheeks. When the door closed behind them, we were left to play in the adjoining room with a bag of toys we brought from home. While Nonna tidied up the kitchen and tended to an elderly sister who lived with her, we contently colored in the new coloring books bought for this evening.
It wasn’t long before the sense of excitement wore off and the toys no longer held much interest. There wasn’t a television to entertain us and the antiquated parlor radio played only old static country music. The aged furnishings, fixtures, sounds and smells of the house occupied my attention for a little bit. Then, as if on cue, I heard Nonna’s house slippers shuffling along the creaking wooden floors. She stopped in the doorway to see if we were okay or needed anything. The growing idleness of the evening made me call out, “Nonna, find me something”.
“What do you mean? She asked.
“Mom said when she was a little girl, she would ask your sister to find her “something” when she was bored. Then your sister would find her a treasure”, I replied matter of factly. Nonna looked away to ponder my words. Without much ado she turned back and gestured, “follow me”.
I scurried along behind her into a dark, cold, musty bedroom that contained some old furniture, including a beautiful, antique, wooden wardrobe.
She flipped on a light and glass knob handles on its doors glistened. I’d never been in this part of her house, nor had I ever been with Nonna all by myself. I had no idea what to expect. I tried to contain my excitement, wondering what treasures could be waiting behind those doors, which seemed to beckon us to open them. This unplanned moment, filled with firsts, was almost too much for a seven year old little girl to absorb, and I didn’t want to ruin this special memory with my grandmother.
Nonna reached for a glass knob, the door creaked when opened and revealed a stack of small wooden drawers. She reached into a drawer, pulled out a gently used brown leather coin purse, handed it to me and told me to open it. My little hands, nervous with anticipation, shook as I snapped it open. Tucked down into the corner of the leather was a small white pearl bead rosary with a silver crucifix. I just looked at it. Then she asked if it was a good treasure. I’d seen my Mom’s rosary, but didn’t have my own or know how to use it. However, for some reason, I thought it was the best treasure ever! I looked up, hugged her legs, pressed my face against the apron that smelled like Nonna and apple pies, then happily thanked her before I ran off to show my brother the treasure Nonna found for me.
The following year I was enrolled in a Catholic elementary school where I learned more about Jesus and His Mother Mary. I received my First Holy Communion and learned to pray the Rosary. The seeds of love for Jesus and Mary took root as I continued to pray the Rosary. In time that little white pearl rosary became too small for my hands and I acquired a simple wooden rosary. I always carry the wooden one in my pocket and it too has become a treasure to me. Through the years, spending time in prayer developed a love for the Blessed Mother and her rosary. These days, before I begin my rosary prayers, I quietly ask the Blessed Mother to “find me something”. Every story exemplifies a virtue to be gained. So, I often ask her to explain the details and stories contained in the daily mysteries in order to develop those virtues in my life. She never fails to open the doors to her Son, Jesus, so that I can grow closer to Him. After meditating on what she graciously reveals, I’ve discovered that’s where the “treasures” are found.
Fast forward. Today, I’m about the age of Nonna when she gave me that little white pearl rosary. When I recall the day she “found me something”, I wonder, as she paused to ponder my request, did she know the ramifications of the treasure she gave me or if she knew she was opening more than an old wardrobe door for me? In that leather coin purse, she opened a whole world of spiritual treasures. I wonder if she’d already discovered the treasure of the rosary for herself and wanted to pass it on to me. I wonder if she knew her words were prophetic when she told me to open the case myself and discover the treasure within. Nonna has long passed on to be with Jesus. I still have that brown leather coin purse with the little pearl rosary inside. From time to time I take it out and think of her. I can still hear her ask me, “Is this a good treasure?” I still happily answer her, “Yes Nonna, it is the best treasure ever!”'
As a young boy growing up in Northern Spain, Francis Xavier dreamed of doing great things. At age 19 and full of ambition, he went to study in Paris where he met Ignatius of Loyola. A Scripture text Ignatius was fond of quoting had a deep impact on Francis: “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Francis took that Scripture to heart and came to understand the emptiness of earthly greatness while becoming powerfully drawn to the love of heavenly things. The humility of the Cross appeared to him more desirable than all the glories of this world. Eventually, he took vows as one of the first seven members of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, founded by Ignatius of Loyola. When one of the two Jesuits chosen to travel to Asia as a missionary became ill, Father Francis joyfully offered to substitute.
Francis pursued his missionary work with great zeal. During one of his voyages, a terrible tempest so terrified the sailors that they gave themselves up for lost. But Francis immediately drew a crucifix from his breast and leaned over the side of the vessel to touch the waves with it. But the crucifix slipped from his hand into the raging sea. Immediately, the storm ceased, but Francis was much distressed that he had lost the only crucifix he had.
The next day after landing on the coast of Malacca, Father Francis was walking along the shore when he saw a crab come out of the sea holding the crucifix between its claws. The crab walked straight to Father Francis and stopped at his feet. Francis kissed the cross and clasped it to his breast. He then bent down to bless the crab and, to his amazement, noticed a cross on the back of the crab’s shell. This miracle story was depicted on a banner that hung from St. Peter’s Basilica during Francis Xavier’s canonization ceremony. Even today, every Malacca crab bears the marking of the cross on its shell, a sign, perhaps, of God’s paternal love for Saint Francis Xavier, the greatest missionary since the time of the Apostles.'
Here’s a scale to test your courage…
Before entering a monastery hidden in the high desert of California, I lived at 5th and Main street in downtown Los Angeles, the border of Skid Row. Rampant homelessness is one of LA’s not so amiable qualities. Individuals down on their luck come from far and wide, often by means of a free one-way Greyhound ticket, to wander streets where winters are less hostile, begging for a means to rise above their circumstances. It is impossible to traverse a couple blocks of downtown without being reminded of the hopelessness that marks these individuals’ daily lives. The sheer magnitude of L.A.’s homelessness often leaves the more fortunate feeling as if nothing they would do could ever make the problem go away, so they resort to a strategy of avoiding eye contact, rendering invisible a population of 41,290, and counting.
Man on a Mission
One day I was having lunch with a friend at Grand Central Market. During our meal he unexpectedly handed me the key to a room in the luxurious Bonaventure Hotel, telling me it was mine to enjoy for the next couple of weeks! The Bonaventure, with its revolving sky restaurant, was the biggest hotel in LA, and only a ten minute walk from my studio apartment. I had no need for a fancy hotel room, but I knew 41,290 individuals who did. My only dilemma was how I should go about selecting the single person who would receive shelter? I felt like the gospel servant who was commissioned by his master to “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21).
It was midnight when I got off work. Emerging from the metro station I began my “hunt,” asking God to select the person He wished to bless. Peering down alleyways, I glided through the city on my skateboard, trying not to appear like a man on a mission. I headed for the L.A. Cafe, confident I would find someone in need there. Sure enough I spotted a man sitting on the storefront sidewalk. He was old and thin, showing boney shoulders through a stained white T-shirt. I sat down a few feet away. “Hello,” I greeted him. “Hi,” he returned. “Sir, are you looking for a place to sleep tonight?” I asked. “What?” he said. “Are you looking for a place to sleep?” I repeated. Suddenly he became irritated. “Are you trying to make fun of me?” he said, “I’m fine. Leave me alone!”
Surprised and feeling sorry for offending him, I apologized and rolled off dismayed. This mission would be more difficult than I expected. After all, it was after midnight, and I was a total stranger offering what seemed too good to be true. But the odds were in my favor, I thought. My offer might get turned down, just like the servant in the parable of the great banquet, but sooner or later someone would be bound to take me up on it. The only question was how long would it take? It was already late, and I was tired after a long shift at work. Maybe I should try again tomorrow, I thought.
Skating and praying, I continued to make my way through the urban jungle, eyeing various candidates. Sitting on a nearby corner, I spotted the silhouette of a man alone in a wheelchair. He appeared to be half asleep and half awake, as many do who are accustomed to sleeping on the streets. Hesitant to disturb him, I approached cautiously until he looked up at me with tired eyes. “Excuse me sir,” I said, “I have access to a room with a bed, and I know you don’t know me, but if you trust me I can take you there.” Without raising an eyebrow, he shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head. “Great. What’s your name?” I asked. “James,” he replied.
I asked James to hold my skateboard as I pushed him in his wheelchair and together we made our way to the Bonaventure. His head became increasingly alert as our surroundings gentrified. While pushing him along through the darkness, I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be sand covering his backside. Then I realized the sand was moving. It wasn’t sand at all, but thousands of tiny insects.
Entering the five star hotel lobby, James and I were met with expressions of shock from every onlooker. Avoiding eye contact, we passed the posh fountain, boarded a glass elevator, and arrived at the room. James asked if he could take a bath. I helped him inside. Once clean, James slid himself comfortably between white sheets and fell immediately to sleep. That night James taught me an important lesson: God’s invitations often come unexpectedly, demanding a measure of faith that usually makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes we must find ourselves in situations with nothing to lose before we are ready to accept His invitation to us. And more often, it is in bringing blessings to others that we are truly blessed.'
When I was very young, I remember asking my father whether it was really necessary to love one’s sister (even loving one’s enemy seemed more reasonable at the time). My father, of course, insisted that it was. And I recall explaining to him at length that this would be very difficult— even impossible—given the current circumstances, and that perhaps we should consider giving her up for adoption. My father said to me, “Jason, you may find this hard to believe, but some day, you will discover that you do love your sister. And when that day comes, you will actually want to be nice to her. In the meantime, however…fake it.”
At the time, this sounded like awfully cold advice, but if we are to put into action what Christ demands of us in the Gospels— if we really are to love our neighbors as we love our own selves—then there are going to be times when we don’t feel very predisposed to that emotion. Because, let’s face it, some people are very, very difficult to love. Even God can seem awfully distant at times, but if you think about it, those times when we must force ourselves to “fake” this love for a neighbor are often the most sincere instances of love, because those are the times when we can give love without hope of recompense. And if the wise ones are right, then the curious result of all this feigned affection is that an unfeigned affection begins to grow out of it.
So until we arrive at that point where loving everyone comes naturally, perhaps its best just to fake it—that is, to act as though we love others, whether or not we really feel it, and hope, in the meantime, that some day we will be able to see them with the eyes of faith.
Heavenly Father I surrender all my struggles in enduring certain people in my life. Give me the strength and courage to bear them gently with love even when I feel like giving up. Help me to be patient, kind, slow to anger, and compassionate. Whenever I feel like walking away, remind me of the grace you extended to me when I was at my lowest point. Let me love them just as you love me. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.'
I was terrified and frozen with fear, unable to move or make a noise.
It was a cold and eerie night. I was peacefully sleeping in bed when suddenly an enormous, grey wolf climbed in through the bedroom window. It bounded swiftly across the floor and hid under my bed, pushing its snout through my mattress. I could really feel the snout of the wolf pressing right at the small of my back. I was terrified, frozen with fear, unable to move or make a noise.
As time passed by nothing happened, and I thought to myself, “I have got to do something!” As a child I knew that the best thing I could do was to call for Mom. And so I tried to call her, but all that came out from my mouth was a small, feeble voice. Mom couldn’t hear me, but the wolf didn’t move either. I felt a little bolder and braver now, so I tried again, “Mom!” It still wasn’t loud enough for my Mom to hear, but the wolf still didn’t move either. So I took a deeper breath and screamed as loud as I could, “MOM!”
Soon I could hear my Mom rushing up the stairs, followed by the heavy thuds of my Dad. They burst into the room shouting, “David, David what’s the matter?” My voice was still trembling as I murmured in a low voice “There’s a wolf under my bed”. My Dad was startled and tried to assure me that we had no wolves in this country, but I quickly narrated how a big grey wolf had climbed in through the window and scampered under my bed. I concluded by whimpering “I can feel the snout of the wolf still pressing at the small of my back”. My Dad took control of the situation while my Mom stood perplexed. He declared, “I am going to count up to 3. On the count of 3, roll off the bed and I will grab the wolf.” My Mom gasped, but I agreed.
On the count of 3, I just rolled off my bed. My Dad didn’t move nor did the wolf. We got down on all fours and peered under the bed. There was no wolf in sight. We searched under the doorway, and every nook and corner but there was no wolf anywhere. Bewildered, I looked back to the bed and suddenly noticed a small button turned on its side, right at the place where I had been lying. A tremendous realization struck me…I had been lying on my bed, frozen with fear, unable to move or make a noise…terrified of a button!
The memory of this incident from my childhood is deeply etched into my mind. As I got older and wiser, I came to realize that most of the things that frighten me were, in reality, mere buttons, just like that mighty wolf who had been lying in wait to pounce on me. And I am definitely not scared of buttons.
Take a Look
Throughout the Bible, there is one message that is emphasized over and over again. “Do not be afraid.” Surely it raises a question. Why don’t we need to be afraid? All around us, terrifying scenarios are building up, and it seems right to be afraid. But God says, “Do not be afraid.” Does that mean you are doing something wrong when you are afraid? No. It simply encourages you not to let fear inhibit or stop you from being the person you were created to be.
Fear is a natural human response. It focuses our body and our mind on situations requiring our urgent attention. So, the fear that invades my mind when I am aware of a wolf under my bed is good and even healthy. But when that fear is based on something that isn’t true, then it can have a really negative impact. We can get stuck in that situation, unable to move or respond. So when we are frightened, we should stop and take a second look. We ought to pray about it, listen, reflect and think, “Is this something I need to be afraid of?” Maybe I can just push it aside. Maybe it is like my wolf, in which case I need to ask for help to transform my flawed perception of a terrifying wolf into a harmless button.
So why don’t we need to be afraid? The simple answer is: we are God’s children. No matter how bad the situation you are in, God holds you in His strong arms. He speaks to you today. Listen to Him saying, “Be not afraid” and seek His strength.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for loving us so much. You know everything about us—all our strengths, weaknesses, and all the things that terrify us. Lord, help us to experience Your Peaceful Presence surrounding us, giving us strength to face our fears. When we feel trapped by anxiety, grant us the grace to overcome our panic and escape the bondage of fear. We ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
The ARTICLE is based on the talk given by David Beresford for the Shalom World program “9PM Series”. To watch the episodes visit: shalomworld.org/shows/9-pm-talks'