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Saint Augustine of Hippo is known as one of the greatest saints of all time. However, he lived very sinfully in his youth and subscribed to pagan philosophies like Neoplatonism and Manichaeism. Despite his mother’s fervent pleas for repentance, he continued to live with a woman out of wedlock, eventually fathering a child with her.
So, how did one of the greatest Saints of all time, a Church Father, convert to the One True Faith from a life mired in sin?
The answer: The Word of God.
In Confessions, Saint Augustine explains that his conversion to Catholicism was not instant. Though he had a strong desire to become a Catholic, he struggled to observe some of the Church’s teachings—especially that of chastity. He wrote that he asked God to make him chaste, but not yet.
One day, Augustine’s frustration came to a head. He pleaded with God to fully convert his heart. He wanted to become a Catholic and fully embrace the Church’s teachings, but he felt it impossible to detach himself from sins of the flesh. Augustine retreated to a garden for deep contemplation of his soul. He writes in Confessions that he heard a child’s voice implore him to “take up and read” the copy of Sacred Scripture he had brought into the garden with him. Immediately, Augustine opened the book of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 13:13-14, which read:
“Let us live righteously as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in dissension and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
After reading those words, Augustine knew it was time to change his life.
We are all called to conversion of heart, but for most us it is not easy. However, we can learn from Saint Augustine’s story that the Word of God speaks directly to our restless hearts and offers us a road map to come home to Him.'
How can hardship itself be a teacher—from the loss of simple freedoms, like leaving your house, to the most tragic loss of life?
Can we refer to the Holy Mass as ‘The Mundane Miracle’? This Catholic oxymoron could describe the beautiful sacrament of the Eucharist. After all, we are able to receive Our Risen Lord in this sacrament daily. Catholics, in a state of grace, can receive this extraordinary gift by simply joining the Communion line, after fasting for at least an hour. No admission ticket or proof of authenticity is needed, just our conscience telling us we are free from serious sin. Thus, the God-given miracle of Himself is received mundanely. Then, Covid-19 entered our world.
In your wildest imagination, did you ever think that churches would be ordered to close their doors by our government? That there would not be Sunday Mass, not to mention daily Mass in our parishes? But, thanks be to God, technology enabled our brave and resourceful priests to live-stream Masses. My kitchen table became my sacred space where the Word of God was heard from my phone. Our priests preached their homily, consecrated the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord and allowed us to receive spiritually all in our own domestic churches or homes.
But the days became months and a hunger developed. It was a longing for the sacramental reception of the Eucharist that could not be satisfied. For the first time in my life, and I daresay yours too, we became aware of just how the absence of the Eucharist could affect us. The mundane miracle became the missed miracle.
Though restaurants were closed, take-out food could be ordered. Slowly, under strict state guidelines, indoor eating was allowed. More wonderful than that, daily Mass, then Sunday Mass resumed with masked and socially distanced churchgoers. After eighty-eight days of not receiving the Eucharist sacramentally, I was starved for our Risen Lord. I, along with many others, received the Eucharist with teary eyes and a longing that was finally satisfied. I was so grateful to be reunited with my dear Friend who laid down His life for me. Just a few short minutes meditating on His gift of the Himself to me in the Eucharist melted away our time of separation.
Then I realized the greatest lesson from Covid-19: the Eucharist was the greatest take-out food ever. Fully received and fully consumed, the Eucharist satisfies a hungry heart who walks out into the world at the end of Mass. And this take-out food was meant to be delivered. I pray to God that I will give Him to others in the ways He prompts me. Again and again, the process can be repeated: receive, take out and deliver to our hungry, needy world.
After the priest gives the final blessing, we are “good to go.” No correction. We are “God to go”—ready and able to deliver the best take-out food ever. So be ready to deliver a smile, a kind word, a helping hand, a necessary gift of food, comfort and heartfelt help. He will help us see where the special delivery needs to go. It’s funny how we learn from the strangest life events. Or perhaps, in the darkest of days, we search as hard as we can for the light and He shines His understanding upon us.'
Growing up in a large family of ten children with ten quite different personalities, our home was often loud and chaotic, but also full of deep faith and love. I have vivid memories of me and my siblings bombarding our dear mother almost daily with tattling and disagreements.
Very often my mother simply replied to our quarrels by reciting the Beatitude in her quiet, calming voice: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Hearing those words, we would retreat and make a firm resolve to compromise and forgive. Over the years, so many of my mother’s insightful words have become my inner voice. That voice is particularly loud now, given the tumultuous world we live in.
Strangely enough, the world today is not entirely different from the home I grew up in. This world, too, is loud and chaotic, but yet full of faith and love. Even with clashing personalities, different ideals, and conflicting thoughts, I nonetheless believe there is a communal desire for peace, and an underlying love for one another.
My father’s favorite prayer was the simple but beautiful peace prayer of Saint Francis which has become more meaningful to me as I have grown older. It is a perfect prayer for the times in which we live. Not merely a prayer for peace, it is a prayer that seeks a way to become a vessel for spreading peace.
It asks that we forsake ourselves in order to care for others and heal this world that is profoundly bruised and hurting. As I reflect on the heartening words of this touching prayer, I cannot help but feel a mingling of compassion and empathy for those who are injured, and a sincere desire to help heal, give comfort, and bring peace where I can.
What a different world this would be if we all embraced the gentle words of the gentle saint of Assisi and implemented them in our lives:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Divine Master, Grant that I may not
so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.'
Plastic? Covered with dust? Not this guy!
A Strange Inkling
At one time, I thought saints were plastic and covered with dust, like too many of the old statues I had seen. What could they know or care about me and my world? But over a period of time, I began to get an inner ‘sense’ that Saint Joseph wanted my attention. I had no idea why. But this impression would not go away. I would sometimes kneel before his statue at church and shoot up little conversational leads like, “Hello, Joseph, I don’t know you. Are you really wanting my attention?” I never heard answers. But still, I could not shake the notion that he was trying to connect.
I am a single woman with no knack for malfunctions—mechanical or digital—who often becomes wildly frustrated when such things occur. As an experiment, I began asking Saint Joseph’s help with these situations and I noticed he seemed to respond in a variety of creative ways. I was impressed. After a few years, I grew convinced that Saint Joseph truly was on my team. I smilingly began telling friends, “He’s my main man!” Saint Joseph went on looking after me, in matters big and small. But recently, he protected me even before I asked, when I did not know I needed protection.
My friend Kathy had left a message asking me to cover her hour of adoration the following day. Since I could not respond in time, I just showed up the next day as she had asked. Unaccountably, I parked in an area of the parking lot where I do not usually park—at the far north end rather than the south end of the enormous parking lot. In church, as I sank down on the kneeler, I glimpsed my friend Andy walking past. But he did not walk past. He leaned into my pew and whispered that my driver’s-side rear tire was going flat. Surprised, I thanked Andy, shot up a quick prayer asking Saint Joseph to take charge, and put the tire out of mind. As I was finishing my hour, Andy suddenly re-appeared. This time his voice was urgent: “I wouldn’t drive on that tire at all. I have a device that can inflate your tire. I’ll run get it. Be back in ten minutes.”
Outside as I awaited Andy’s return, a friend came by. She and I mulled over my tire and agreed it did not look all that flat. I was certain no harm would result if I drove the two miles to my tire shop. But I had no way to contact Andy and I could not take off and leave him while he was going out of his way to help me. Plus, I had this little niggling thought, ‘Andy’s a ‘car guy’ by trade. He just might have a better “car eye” than I do.’ Sure enough, when Andy attached his gadget to my tire, the pressure registered at 6 pounds rather than the 30-35 pounds it was supposed to be. My tire could have been trashed had I driven on it. Yikes! While Andy was inflating the tire, I mentioned I was there that morning at Kathy’s request. To my surprise, so was he! It seems when Kathy was unable to reach me, she also asked Andy to cover her hour. Who knew that the two of us would both show up?
A Heavenly Scheme?
At the shop a nail was removed and my tire repaired at no charge. As I drove home, thanking God for His care, Saint Joseph popped into my mind. And questions started popping into my head: Was Saint Joseph part of a heavenly scheme to protect me that day…or to protect me from a possible blow-out later that week when I would be traveling on the highway?
Andy and I both showed up at adoration and I parked on the north side that day, when usually I park on the south. And in that vast parking lot Andy, with his keen mechanic’s eye, just happened to pull up right next to my car where he could readily spot my near-flat tire.
Were all these coincidences? I won’t know for sure this side of Heaven. But I do know for sure that the saints are not far away and sometimes they really do get involved in our nitty-gritty matters, both big and small. And sometimes—even when we have not asked—their invisible heavenly fingerprints appear in the darndest places. I know Saint Joseph is not plastic, not by a longshot. This powerful guy with heavenly clout demonstrates over and over that he really does have my back. Not only does he help me navigate treacherous roads anytime I ask, but sometimes he extends his proactive care even when I haven’t a clue that I need it.
O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong and so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in You all my interests and desires. Assist me by Your powerful intercession that I may always seek God’s Holy Will. Be my protector and my guide in the way of salvation. Amen.'
One afternoon, Padre Pio sat alone on the veranda, just outside his cell. His assistant, Father Alessio felt it would be a good opportunity to review some of the letters asking for his advice, but he was surprised at his response. “I am very busy right now,” Padre Pio replied. “I cannot answer your question at this time.”
Father Alessio was confused. It was obvious to him that Padre Pio was not busy. He was sitting alone with Rosary in his hand, but he always held his Rosary. Later Padre Pio explained: “There have been many guardian angels here today bringing me messages from my spiritual children.” Over the years, Father Alessio personally experienced mysterious knocks on his door, or whispers in his ear from Padre Pio’s guardian angel, calling him to Padre Pio’s aid when he could not walk without assistance.
Every human being is assigned a guardian angel who always sees the face of God. Their task is to guide us into His presence, to the places that God has prepared for us in Heaven. Whenever you are in need, call upon your angel to help you. Send your guardian angel to comfort a friend in distress. Remember that there is always a witness to your deeds.
Angel of God my guardian dear to Whom His love commits me here; Ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen'
Have you heard of the open-source Linux operating system known as Ubuntu? Released in 2014, it is now one of the most-used operating systems on the planet. Ubuntu is widely used in the world’s fastest supercomputers, runs on most of the web servers around the world and is even behind the technology used by Google’s self-driving car!
Do you know what “Ubuntu” actually means?
The story goes that an anthropologist once proposed a game to some African tribal children. He placed a basket of sweets near a tree and had the children stand a few hundred feet away. Whoever reached the basket first would get all the sweets.
When he said ready, steady, go … do you know what these small children did?
They all held each other’s hands and ran toward the tree together, divided the sweets and enjoyed them equally.
When the anthropologist asked them why they did that, they said “Ubuntu”—which to them meant “How can one be happy when all the others are sad?”
It turns out that the word “Ubuntu” represents a South African ethical ideology that focuses on people’s allegiances and relations with each other. The word comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages and is regarded as one of the founding principles of the new republic of South Africa.
A rough translation of the principle of Ubuntu is “a belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all of humanity.” Interestingly, the logo of Ubuntu represents three friends holding hands.
Let us always carry this attitude of “Ubuntu” within us, to spread happiness by sharing with others wherever we may go. I am because we are.
“Keep the joy of loving God in your heart, and share it with all you meet, especially your family.”: Saint Teresa of Calcutta
The simple and tender words of Jesus instructing us to “love one another as I have loved you” have taken on a deeper meaning for me over the past few weeks as the coronavirus has spread throughout the globe.
I have witnessed love of neighbor in action from every end of the earth, and in my own backyard. And if this love had a sound, that sound would be silence: quiet classrooms, empty offices, and desolate parks. The silence is powerful. It is the sound of love. It is the sound of Isolation, sacrifice, and self-denial for the health and safety of humanity. What a beautiful movement in a defining moment.
Odd as it may sound, there is an immeasurable amount of beauty in all this suffering we face. As I look in my daughter’s closet and see her dresses for prom and graduation hanging up, now never to be worn, I can’t help but feel a twinge of pain and sadness for the memories she and so many others will never create. But she is living in a moment she will never forget. A moment that none of us will ever forget –when the world came together and love spread faster than a virus. That is the most extraordinary memory to keep. That is what makes this time of pain and loss extraordinarily holy.
Like many people, I hope that when love and prayer and science conquer this pandemic, life does not return to normal. I pray kindness and compassion will continue to overflow this earth. I pray the pain, sacrifice, and hardships we are all enduring softens us – softens our hearts, our actions, our thoughts. I pray that each of us will appreciate our blessings in life a little more, that our faith will become a little deeper, that our love for each other will grow a little stronger. My hope is that the little things in life become the bigger things in life, as our appreciation for everything around us flourishes. I pray that we fully understand what it means to love each other as Jesus loves us and actively live this love, because we are all in this beautiful life together.'
I had the most extraordinary experience of love of neighbor with a Hindu family. A gentleman came to our house and said, “Mother Teresa, there is a family who has not eaten for so long. Do something.” So, I took some rice and went there immediately. When I saw the children, their eyes were shining with hunger. I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger, but I have seen it very often. The mother of the family took the rice I gave her and went out. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go; what did you do?” She gave me a very simple answer: “They [a neighbor family] are hungry also.” What struck me most was that they were a Muslim family. And she knew. I did not bring any more rice that evening, because I wanted them – Hindus and Muslims – to enjoy the joy of sharing. Those children were radiating joy – sharing their joy and peace with their mother because she had the love to give until it hurts. You see this is where love begins – at home in the family.” [Excerpt from “A Call to Mercy” by Mother Teresa]
This happened at a time when religious violence was prevalent in India, and thousands of people died in the riots between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The unselfishly generous gift this poor woman unhesitatingly gave to her hungry neighbors, who happened to be a Muslim family, deeply touched Mother Teresa. She often looked to the poor; for their love was simple and their hearts were full of joy. Mother Teresa invites us to learn from the poor and receive their joy by sharing our blessings generously.
“Not all of us are called to do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa'
At Baptism I entered your soul, never ever to go
Many a year I waited, for you to know and love Me.
I bestowed graces, gifts and talents, to equip you for my work
But unaware, you grew up in the world.
In Confirmation, I empowered you, to follow your Saviour
Filling you with strength to walk in victory.
I longed to hear you speak to Me, perceiving My abiding presence
I waited for your call for help, that I may step in to lead you.
When you thirsted and looked around,
I hoped you would look inside to find My living waters.
When friends betrayed you and sorrow filled your heart
I wished you recognised the Companion within you.
When you tripped and fell into sin,
I yearned to give you My power to live the Word.
Come to Me, time has not passed
Let me give you the treasures of heaven.
Unwrap the gifts I have chosen for you
To build up My kingdom here on earth.
Call upon me, your Helper, to be always at your side
No sin, no pain, nothing can cause you harm.
Dear soul, I am your Advocate, who loves you without measure
With Me, you shall conquer and live in heaven forever.'
I come from a little village in Cork, Ireland. Although I grew up in a Catholic family attending Sunday Mass and receiving the sacraments, we didn’t practise our faith very well. The Church and a relationship with God wasn’t at the heart of our everyday family life.
Filling the Void
From a very early age, I felt rejected and worthless because I was bullied a lot at school. In College, I looked for God in the wrong places, like alcohol, nights out, and other people. To remove that feeling of rejection, I tried to fill the void with something other than God, but I didn’t realize that all those passing pleasures would never satisfy me.
One night, when I returned from a night out, I was really tired and depressed. My mother gave me a little “Miracle” prayer card. I felt drawn to it by the Holy Spirit, although I didn’t realize that at the time. After I read it, I said to God, “If you really exist… if you are really there—please answer me. Please turn my life around. I feel very low. Please I need your help…”
I didn’t think about it again until a few months later when I felt compelled to renew the prayer. Soon after, my parents invited me to go to Medjugorje in Croatia. My motivation for going was to enjoy a free holiday in the sun and have a few drinks. I heard there was something religious there, but I wasn’t really interested.
At Medjugorje, I was greeted by people who radiated an amazing freedom and joy. They kept talking about Jesus and Mary, as if they knew them. They told me amazing things about the Catholic faith that were foreign to me. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I truly I desired the joy, freedom and love which emanated from them. They kept urging me to go to Confession. ‘No way!’ was my first reaction, because I was very against Confession at the time. I was worried about what the priest would think of me, that he would judge me and kick me out! However, I longed for this freedom, joy and sense of belonging. I wanted to know where I was meant to be and who I can be. Eventually, I felt convinced to go.
On my way to the confessional, a prayer came into my heart. It was the Creed that I had learnt during Mass. I didn’t know it all by-heart, but the power of the Holy Spirit helped me out. With each word, I really felt the Holy Spirit encouraging me. When I knelt down to confess, I poured my heart out to the priest about all the things that I had done wrong in my life. The mercy of God flowed over me and peace filled my heart. When I came out, I was a new woman, walking joyfully in faith, because I finally had a deep conviction that God really loved me.
A Surprise from God
On my return, I asked the Lord why He had revealed Himself to me, despite the many wrong decisions I had made in life. All of a sudden, I saw the words of the “Miracle prayer” clearly in my mind and I realized how the Lord answered my prayer. I felt incredible joy knowing God had been making this plan for months, preparing for the day when I would realize His love for me at Medjugorje.
I needed to make a lot of changes, but God helped me pull away from many people and things that were not bringing me closer to God and brought amazing friends and opportunities into my life. The Holy Spirit gave me a greater understanding of, and reverence for, Mass and the Scriptures. When I heard the Scriptures being read, I was deeply moved, because the message wasn’t just for people who lived 2000 years ago. It was for me living in this moment. God wanted those words spoken to me right now.
After reading the Scripture and immersing myself in faith, I had a great desire to learn more, know more, understand more and love God more. This wasn’t from my head but from my heart. God Himself sowed the seed of great love in my heart.
God led people to me who had endured similar suffering. He asked me to speak with them about how I had experienced the power of prayer and confession. It was incredible to see how God worked through those simple one on one conversations, just as those amazing witnesses at Medjugorje had led me to faith. Sometimes, He would simply ask me to be silent and pray for that particular person.
One of the messages Our Lady conveyed at Medjugorje is to “Pray! Pray until prayer becomes a joy for you.” I never understood that until l persevered in prayer. Now I absolutely love praying and it has truly become a joy for me. I thank God every day for the gift of the Holy Spirit who is working through me. There is no way that I would stand firm in faith today without the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially Perseverance.
O Holy Spirit, teach me to pray well. Assist me to live a holy life and to grow in goodness and grace. Amen.'
Love that blossomed in springtime
My love for Mary began in my childhood. When my godmother gave me a tiny silver rosary for my First Holy Communion, Dad promised me, “Janie, if you say your Rosary every day, the Blessed Mother will always take care of you.” If I didn’t join Dad in his daily Rosary, he would ask me, “Did you say your Rosary today?” I’d usually admit that I hadn’t, but finally promised him, “When I’m 8, I’ll begin.” Ever since my 8th birthday, I’ve kept that commitment to say at least one set of Mysteries every day.
When God called me to religious life, I was drawn to the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, partly because they were dedicated to Mary. I appreciated our daily Rosary before Evening Prayer and the Saturday evening Rosary processions to the Lourdes grotto. I often turned to Mary when I felt stressed by the challenges of teaching and ministry. When I accepted an invitation to teach in Taiwan, I practised the only Chinese I’d learned – a phonetic version of the Hail Mary – hundreds of times on the plane ride there.
Shortly after I returned from Taiwan, Dad revealed that when I was born, he said, “Blessed Mother, she’s yours.” Wow—what a great Epiphany. I instantly understood why Mary was so important to me. This explained why I felt drawn to make a grotto with a statue of Our Lady in my room as a child, where I could pray her Rosary. My mother and my brothers had not felt attracted to the Rosary, and even resisted praying it as a family. I am forever grateful that my Dad consecrated me to Mary in that simple way when I was born.
Power of Consecration
When our Missionary Sisters meet for prayer we begin, “O Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I consecrate this hour (or day, or myself) to you as an act of perfect love….” But I didn’t make a formal consecration for many years. When I heard that Pope John Paul II motto was Totus Tuus, I wondered, what it meant to give everything to Jesus through Mary. Then a friend invited me to join a group to prepare for the De Montfort Total Consecration, which we made at a Church in New York City in 1990.
Throughout my five years at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I passed up several opportunities to join in preparing for a December 8th Consecration.
Then in 1998, I decided to do it again as a renewal with others on this campus of fervent Catholics. The De Montfort renewal prayer became a treasured part of my daily prayer: “I am all Yours, and all I have is Yours, my most loving Jesus, through Mary Your holy Mother.”
My Journey Home
A Marian priest, Fr. Michael Gaitley said that he longed to be a saint but felt that his many failings impeded him. However, when he read that “Consecration to Mary is the short, easy, secure, and most effective way to become a saint” everything changed. Fr. Michael was inspired to write 33 Days to Morning Glory, a Do-It-Yourself retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration. The essence of this method is daily readings from the saints. I was inspired by pondering key passages from St Louis de Montfort, St Maximilian Kolbe, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and Pope St John Paul II. I used 33 Days to Morning Glory to regularly renew and deepen my consecration to Mary and shared this with others.
I can truly affirm that Our Blessed Mother has taken marvellous care of me. Despite my weaknesses and failings, Our Lady has led me closer to the Heart of her Son, Jesus. My life journey has been enriched by contemplating her messages from her appearances at Lourdes, Fatima and Mexico. Every day, I walk with my beautiful Mother, happily confident that she will lead me home to Heaven. I heartily encourage others to make and renew this total consecration to Jesus through Mary.
Mary, my Mother, I give myself totally to you as your possession and property. Please make of me, of all that I am and have, whatever most pleases you. Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands for bringing the greatest possible glory to God. Amen.'