I was surprised at how Jesus showed up that June day
A heavy wool suit trimmed with fur isn’t what I usually wear in ninety-five-degree weather, especially in a car with no air conditioning. Yet there I was, one hot and humid Michigan afternoon, wearing not just the suit, but boots, a snowy white beard, and a thick woolen hat.
It felt like a sauna on wheels, but I really didn’t mind. This was no ordinary day, and I was no ordinary person: I was Santa Claus, on a mission of mercy to a little girl who was dying of leukemia at a nearby children’s hospital.
I worked as a chaplain at another pediatric hospital—a role that often plunged me into the struggles and sorrows of families grappling with the illness and death of a beloved child. When Christmas came around, I also had a moonlighting job playing Santa at various stores and events, including the annual J.L. Hudson Parade through downtown Detroit.
The two jobs could hardly have been more different, yet each was an opportunity to bring God’s love to others. Both as Santa and as a hospital chaplain, I was often privileged to see God breaking into people’s lives and hearts in surprising ways.
A Grandfather’s Love
On this particular afternoon, my two roles coincided. As I made my sweltering way to the hospital, I asked the Lord to use my visit to delight four-year-old Angela (not her real name) and console her grief-stricken grandfather. He was the one who had arranged this “Christmas in June,” after learning that Angela had just five weeks to live.
“What can I do?” he had asked God. “How can I put a lifetime of loving into the heart of my little granddaughter?”
As he sat sipping coffee at the kitchen table, he had noticed Angela’s crayon drawing of Santa Claus still taped to the refrigerator. He remembered what she had asked him once, as they watched the Detroit Christmas parade together: “Why does it have to end, Grandpa? …I wish Christmas could be forever!”
Suddenly, he had known exactly what to do.
Santa Makes a Stop
Approaching the hospital, I was surprised to see many helpers awaiting Santa at the main entrance—a doctor sporting a Santa hat, nurses, social workers, and volunteers decked out as Christmas elves.
“Merry June Ninth!” they called out. “Everything’s ready! We’re so excited that you’ve come all the way from the North Pole to visit the kids.” I quickly got the message that all the patients in the pediatric cancer unit were about to enjoy the surprise arranged for Angela’s sake.
Moving merrily through the lobby, my entourage and I packed into the elevator. Excitement mounted as we made our ascent to the oncology floor. When the doors opened, a magical scene greeted us. The ward was ablaze with holiday lights and filled with the sound of Christmas music. Garlands decorated the hallway, where four Christmas trees stood in splendor. A lively Frosty the Snowman was there to welcome us, scattering snow through a spout that poked up through his top hat.
Then came cries of delight, as Santa was spotted by six or seven children who were strong enough to be sitting in wheelchairs. I stopped to greet each one, then went visiting the other children room to room. Meanwhile, Angela’s grandpa stood watching with a smile.
When I finally got to Angela’s bedside, two big blue eyes were peering out over the top of the sheet. “Angela!” I said. The blue eyes opened wider still. A look of sheer joy came over her face.
With the whole staff crowded around to watch, I reached into my bag and presented the gift her grandfather had chosen; a new blue dress that Angela had wanted for a long time. There was a guardian angel doll with red tennis shoes and beautiful blonde hair—just like Angela’s was before chemotherapy. A small snapshot from her grandpa’s wallet was still fresh in my memory. “She looks a lot like you,” I observed. There was a little button that Santa pinned to her hospital gown, that read, “Santa says I was a good girl!”
With the mood so jolly, we launched into some familiar Christmas songs—“Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Then I began one of my favorite carols, “Silent Night.”
I really don’t have the words to describe what happened as we sang that last song. All I can say is that an almost palpable peace descended on the room. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was there. It didn’t matter that our celebration was at the wrong time of year, or even that some of the singers might not have understood what God did for the human race on that holy “silent night.” Despite it all, the eternal Son of God who revealed himself to poor shepherds as an infant in a manger was making Himself present to another unlikely group in another unlikely setting.
As always when I’m privileged to witness such events, I came away surprised and awed at how the Holy Spirit works—but somehow not surprised that he had come.
The Real Christmas Spirit
Angela died just ten days later. Her grandfather phoned to tell me, after her funeral in another part of the state. “I’m not going to pretend that I’m having an easy time,” he said. “Before I called you, I had a good cry.” But then he went on to recount an experience he’d had at the funeral home.
“I was looking at my little granddaughter lying there in a white casket—wearing her new blue dress, with the guardian angel doll by her side, and wearing the pin you gave her that said: ‘Santa says I was a good Girl!’ The grief was almost unbearable.
“But right then, when I was feeling the pain most profoundly . . . I can’t explain it, but I felt a sudden deep peace, even a joy. At that moment, I knew that Angela was with God and that we would be reunited in eternity.”
A sense of wonder came over me as I listened to his story. It had happened again! Just as we had felt Jesus present at Angela’s bedside, her grandfather had encountered him at her coffin. The Light that came into the world over two thousand years ago had filled his heart, bringing hope and joy in a place of sorrow and death.
This is the real “Christmas spirit”— not a feeling that comes once a year, but the knowledge of Christ that comes through the Holy Spirit. The true Christmas Spirit—the Third Person of the Trinity—is available 365 days a year, if only we open our hearts and lives to him.
Then, “Christmas forever” is not just a little girl’s dream, but a solid reality—in June, December, and all year through.
Father Joseph Bernie Marquis is the pastor of Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church and founder of the Saint Nicholas Institute. He lives in Livonia, Michigan.
Mar 10, 2023
Mar 10, 2023
Sudden shifts and changes in life can be harrowing but take heart!
You are not alone…
Explaining the moment I became aware of my relationship with God is like asking me to remember when I started breathing; I can’t do it. I’ve always been conscious of God in my life. There is not a defining “Aha” moment that made me aware of God, but there are countless moments that remind me He is always present. Psalm 139 says it beautifully: “For You formed my inward parts, You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14).
The Only Answer
While God has always been a constant presence in my life, many times other things have not been as consistent. Friends, homes, health, faith and feelings, for example, can change with time and circumstances.
Sometimes change feels new and exciting, but other times it is frightening and leaves me feeling weak and vulnerable. Things ebb and flow rapidly and I feel like my feet are planted on the edge of a windy, sandy beach where the tide constantly shifts my foundation and causes me to find my balance once again. How do we manage the daily changes that throw off our equilibrium? For me, there has been only one answer, and I suspect the same is true for you: Grace—God’s own life moving within us, God’s unmerited and undeserved gift which we can’t earn or buy, and which leads us through this life to eternal life.
Relocation without Respite
On average, I’ve moved approximately once every 5 or 6 years. Some moves were more local and temporary; others took me much farther away and for longer periods. But they were all moves and changes just the same.
The first major change came when my father’s job required us to move across the country. Our family had deep roots in a state that was vastly different geographically and culturally from the new state. The excitement of something new temporarily eased my fear of the unknown.
However, when we arrived at our new home, the reality that I’d left everything I ‘d known—my home, our relatives, friends, school, church and all that was familiar—engulfed me with a heavy sadness and emptiness.
The relocation shifted our family dynamic. While everyone was adjusting to the changes, they became absorbed in their individual needs. We didn’t feel like the same family. Nothing felt safe or familiar. Loneliness began to settle in.
During the weeks following our move we unpacked and sorted our belongings. While I was at school one day, my mother unpacked a crucifix that had previously hung on the wall above my bed since I was born. She unwrapped it and hung it in my new bedroom.
It was a little thing, but it made a big difference. The cross was something familiar and beloved. It reminded me of how much I loved God and how I’d often talked with him in my former home. He’d been my friend since I was a little girl, but somehow, I thought I’d left Him behind. I took the crucifix from the wall, held it tightly in my hands and wept. Something began to change in me. My best friend was with me, and I could talk with Him once again. I told Him how strange this new place felt and how I longed to go back home. For hours I told Him how lonely I’d become, the fears that gripped my heart, and I asked for His help.
Little by little, the tears that ran down my cheek washed away the bits of darkness that had gripped my heart. Peace, I hadn’t felt in a long time, settled in my heart. The tears gradually dried, hope entered my heart and, knowing God was with me, I was happy again. God’s presence in my room that day changed my disposition, my heart, and my outlook. I could not have done that on my own. It was God’s gift to me…His grace.
The Only Constant in Life
In scripture God tells us not to fear because He is always with us. One of my favorite verses helps me deal with my fear of change: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
I’ve moved and changed many times since I was that little girl, but I’ve come to realize that I am the one who moves and changes, not God. He never changes. He’s always there with me no matter where I go and what is shifting in my life. God has restored my balance after every move, every change, and every shift in the sand. He has been part of my life ever since I can remember. Sometimes I forget Him, but He never forgets me. How could He? He knows me so intimately that “even the hairs of (my) head are numbered” (Matthew 10:30-31). That too is grace.
The day I took that cross off my bedroom wall and held it tightly symbolized the relationship I would have with Him for the rest of my life. I need His constant presence to lift the darkness, to give me hope, and to show me the way. He is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), so I hold onto Him as tightly as I can through prayer, reading scripture, attending Mass, receiving the Sacraments, and sharing with others the graces He gives me. I need my friend to be with me always as He promised. I need all His amazing graces and I ask for them daily. I am sure I don’t deserve such gifts, but He gives them to me anyway because He is Love and wants to save a ‘wretch like me.’
By: Teresa Ann Weider
Feb 27, 2023
Feb 27, 2023
Last week, I met with the deans of our diocese to discuss a number of issues, the most prominent of which was the ongoing process of merging some of our parishes and reorganizing others into clusters. These moves, which have been happening over the past several years, are necessitated by a number of factors: the diminishing number of priests, demographic shifts in our cities and towns, economic pressures, etc. Even as I expressed my approval for some of these changes, I told the deans that, for every strategy of consolidation, I want a strategy for growth as well.
I simply refuse to accept the proposition that I, or any other bishop, should be presiding over the decline of our churches. By its very nature, Christianity is centrifugal, outward-tending, universal in purpose and scope. Jesus didn’t say, “Preach the Gospel to a handful of your friends,” or “Proclaim the Good News to your own culture.” Rather, he said to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18–19). He also instructed his followers that the very gates of hell would not prevail against the fighting Church that he established. Therefore, maintaining things as they are, or managing decline, or treading water is absolutely not what Jesus wants or expects of us.
Permit me to say, right away, that the expansion of our Church is by no means the exclusive responsibility of bishops and priests. As Vatican II clearly teaches, every baptized Catholic is commissioned to be an evangelizer; so we’re all in this together. Therefore, what are some of the strategies of growth that can be employed by any Catholic? A first one I would highlight is simply this: every family that comes regularly to Mass should make it their evangelical responsibility to bring another family to Mass this coming year. Every faithful Mass-goer reading these words knows people who should be going to Mass and aren’t. They might be your own children or grandchildren. They might be coworkers who were once ardent Catholics and who simply drifted away from the practice of the faith, or perhaps people who are angry at the Church. Identify these wandering sheep and make it your evangelical challenge to bring them back to Mass. If we all did this successfully, we would double the size of our parishes in a year.
A second recommendation is to pray for the expansion of the Church. According to the Scriptures, nothing great is ever accomplished apart from prayer. So ask the Lord, insistently, fervently, even stubbornly, to bring back his scattered sheep. Just as we have to beg the harvest master to raise up workers to gather in his harvest, so we have to beg him to increase his sheepfold. I would encourage the elderly and the homebound in a parish to take on this specific task. And I might ask those who regularly do Eucharistic Adoration to spend fifteen or thirty minutes a day asking the Lord for this specific favor. Or I would suggest that liturgy planners include petitions for the growth of the parish in the prayers of the faithful at Sunday Mass.
A third enjoinder is to invite seekers to raise their questions. I know from lots of concrete experience over the past twenty years that many young people, even those who claim hostility to the faith, are actually deeply interested in religion. Like Herod listening to the preaching of John the Baptist in prison, even the seemingly anti-religious will go on religious websites and attend carefully to what is being discussed. So ask those who have disaffiliated why they no longer come to Mass. You might be surprised by how ready they are to tell you. But then, you have to have followed the recommendation of St. Peter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pet. 3:15). In other words, if you elicit questions, you better be ready to give some answers. This means that you have to bone up on your theology, your apologetics, your Scripture, your philosophy, and your church history. If that sounds daunting, remember that in the last twenty-five years or so there has been an explosion of literature in just these areas, focusing precisely on the kinds of questions that young seekers tend to ask—and most of it is available readily online.
A fourth and final suggestion that I would make is simply this: be kind. Sherry Waddell, whose Forming Intentional Disciples has become a modern classic in the field of evangelization, says that a crucial first step in bringing someone to the faith is the establishment of trust. If someone thinks that you are a good and decent person, she is far more likely to listen to you speak about your faith. May I be blunt? Even the most casual glance at Catholic social media reveals a plethora of obnoxious behavior. Far, far too many seem intent upon trumpeting their own correctness, focusing on narrow issues that are unintelligible and irrelevant to most people, and tearing down their enemies. I fear that this reality on social media may be an amplification of attitudes in the Church outside of the digital space. These attitudes are inimical to evangelization. A colleague of mine has related that in his conversations with the alienated and unaffiliated that what keeps them away from the Church is their experience of what they describe as meanness from believers. So both online and in real life, be kind. No one will be interested in hearing about the faith life of obviously bitter and unhappy people.
So, we have our marching orders: proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ to all nations. Let us start with our own parishes, our own families. And let us never settle for maintenance of the status quo.
By: Bishop Robert Barron
Feb 25, 2023
Feb 25, 2023
Making the right decision is pivotal; What’s your choice?
Forty years ago, Bob Dylan immersed himself in exploring Christianity, which was evident in his Slow Train Coming album (1979). In the following lyrics, Dylan asks the question ’To whom do you give your ultimate allegiance?’:
“Yes, you’re goin’ to have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
We can’t avoid this question because we are in fact constituted “to serve somebody.” Why is that? Why can’t we just drift along from one experience to another without giving our allegiance to anything or anyone? The answer comes from our human nature: we have a Mind (reflective consciousness) and a Will (that which desires the good). Our Mind has the inherent capacity to seek meaning in our human existence. Unlike other creatures, we don’t simply experience; rather, we take a step back and interpret, we give meaning to what just transpired. In our process of making meaning from our experiences, we must face Dylan’s question: Whom will I serve?
Heading for a Dead End?
Jesus, as was his custom, simplifies the choice when he says, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (emphasis added; Matthew 6:24).
Jesus knows that we either seek fulfillment by being in relationship with God, the source of our being, or we seek happiness apart from God. We can’t have it both ways: “…it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The choice we make determines our destiny.
When we give our allegiance to ‘mammon’ we reject our True Self, which is meant to be in genuine relationship with God and neighbor. In choosing ‘mammon’ we shift to a consuming self, which finds its identity in property, prestige, power, and pleasure. When we do this, we objectify ourselves. In contemporary terms, we call this the ‘commodification of the Self.’ In other words, we are what we possess.
The path of property, prestige, power, and pleasure leads to a dead end. Why? Because they are…
- scarce—not everyone has access to wealth, acclaim, pleasure, and power. If having the goods of the world is the gateway to happiness, then most human beings have no chance at happiness.
- exclusive--which is a consequence of their scarcity. Life becomes a zero-sum game with society divided into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ As Bruce Springsteen sings in his song “Atlantic City”: “Down here it's just winners and losers and Don't get caught on the wrong side of that line.”
- transitory--which means our needs and wants change; we never reach an endpoint because there’s always something else out there to desire.
- ephemeral--their chief drawback is superficiality. While materialism, acclaim, status, and being in control can satisfy us for a time, they don’t address our deepest yearning. In the end, they pass away: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2b).
Pursuingthe riches and pleasures of this worldcan have devastating psychological and spiritual implications. If my self-worth depends on my possessions and achievements, then lacking the latest gadgets or experiencing some failure means I not only have less than othersdo or that I have failed in some effort, but that I have failed as a person. Comparing ourselves to others and expecting perfection of ourselves explains the anxiety experienced by so many young people today. And as we age and become less productive,we can lose our sense of usefulness and self-worth.
Jesus tells us that our other alternative is to “serve the Lord” who is Life itself and who wants to share His Life with us so we can become like Him and reflect the wonder of his being. The False Self, the Old Self, the Commodified Self leads to self-absorption and spiritual death. But by “serving the Lord” we enter into His very Being. The New Self, the True Self is Christ living in us; it’s the self that is ordered to love because, as Saint John reminds us, “God is love” (1 John 4:7b). Saint Paul adds that when we have that True Self, we are being renewed in the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:1-4).
Knowing who we are makes it much easier to know what to do. Who we are matters infinitely more than what we have because knowing who we are tells us what to do.We are God’s beloved children created to rest God’s love. If we focus on that truth, knowing who to serve is no longer a difficult decision. Echoing Joshua, we can confidently say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
By: Deacon Jim McFadden
Feb 04, 2023
Feb 04, 2023
Ever wondered why bad things happen in life? The reason may surprise you
Often, when we are faced with severe trials and sufferings, we are tempted to blame God: “Why is God doing this to me,” or “Why does a loving God not come immediately to my aid?” In the process, we conveniently forget the Bible tells us that there is also a mysterious evil Force at work in our world whose only purpose is “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Jesus called this evil power the Devil and described him as “a murderer from the beginning… a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
“An enemy has done this” (Matthew 13:28). Jesus specifically taught us that we must never blame His/our “Abba” for our sufferings! In His insightful parable, when questioned by the servants about the appearance of weeds among the good wheat given them to sow, the Master replied categorically, “Some enemy has done this, not I.”
Choose Your Victory
God is not a moody, tyrannical, or uncaring deity who causes cancers and marital breakdowns and tsunamis to plague His beloved children! The cause lies in the mysterious spiritual battle raging between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil that involves every human being! The precious gift of free will, given to us by the Creator, allows each of us “to choose life or to choose death” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), to stay happily on the side of Good or to cross over to the Enemy’s side.
And this choosing is done not only by individuals, but by systems as well. In addition to individual sin, there is systemic sin—well-organized oppressive systems and institutions which perpetuate social injustice and religious persecution. The Bible tells us that Jesus has won the victory over all the Forces of Evil, and that in the “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21, 22) whatever turned creation away from its original purpose will be destroyed for the sake of the new creation, which will fulfill the Lord’s prayer: ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.
In his 1986 Encyclical Letter on the Holy Spirit, Saint John Paul II explained this cosmic spiritual warfare when he explained how the sin of Adam and Eve allowed “the perverse genius of suspicion” into the world. This apt phrase expresses correctly that the Enemy is a genius (as a fallen angel, his intelligence is superior to ours), but a perverse genius (he uses his intelligence for evil purposes rather than for good), and his (successful) strategy has been to sow suspicion in the minds of God’s creatures (us!) against God the Creator Himself! The real Enemy goes scot-free:
“For in spite of all the witness of creation, the spirit of darkness is capable of showing God as an enemy of His own creature, and in the first place as an enemy of man. In this way, Satan manages to sow in man’s soul the seed of opposition to the One, who from the beginning would be considered as man’s enemy—and not as Father. This analysis of sin indicates that throughout the history of humanity there will be a constant pressure on man to reject God, even to the point of hating Him. Man will be inclined to see in God primarily a limitation of himself, and not the source of his own freedom and fullness of good” (Dominum et vivificantem, n.38).
Reason for Suspicion
Don’t our own personal experiences bear this out? Throughout history, a constant pressure has indeed been exerted on humanity to suspect God! And because of this, Saint John Paul II explains, “there is in the depths of God an unimaginable and inexpressible pain. This inscrutable and indescribable fatherly ‘pain’ will bring about, above all, the wonderful economy of redemptive love in Jesus Christ, so that love can reveal itself in human history as stronger than sin” (Dominum et vivificantem, n.39).
When I was the Parish Priest at Holy Family Church, Mumbai, I was surprised to learn that I was expected to insure my church against God! The insurance contract which I had to renew, contained this line: “We insure this building against floods, fires, earthquakes and such acts of God!” I protested to the agent that my God, the God revealed by Jesus Christ, could never be blamed for natural calamities, but was instead a God of surpassing love. (I eventually signed the contract, but only after crossing out the offending words).
The incident taught me how a “perverse suspicion of God” has become so ingrained in human customs and traditions that a good God gets represented as a moody, tyrannical deity! Instead of recognizing that the cause of the misery and suffering that plagues our world is man’s refusal to be an obedient steward of God’s creation (see Genesis 1:28) the secular (and often even the religious) world prefers to make God the scapegoat for everything amiss!
However, we cannot blame God for our human ills resulting from global warming, terrorism, wars, poverty, unforgiveness, contagious diseases, etc. On the contrary, from the mystery of His own Son’s terrible crucifixion and resurrection, we must conclude that God always desires our good, and that “wherever evil abounds, His grace super-abounds” (Romans 5:20).
There is a spiritual battle being waged imperceptibly between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. Even in 2023, humanity needs to be reminded that, despite all its technological progress and scientific achievements, this spiritual battle continues, and involves every human being!
“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
So please, let’s put the blame where it belongs and never blame Jesus’ and God, our Father!
By: Father Fiorello Mascarenhas SJ
Jan 31, 2023
Jan 31, 2023
Beginning the first day of my incarceration, I have been building a relationship with God. I often feel regret that it took such a tragedy for me to submit to my need for Him, but even more often I feel grateful that I have found a burning passion for life in the Lord. My desire to seek Him sprang from prayer. I prayed intently for those suffering the crushing consequences of my dangerous actions driven by addictions. It was during this prayer time that God revealed His unconditional love for me and called me into kinship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. My journey, building a relationship with God during these years in prison, reminds of the techniques needed to build the foundation for a camp-fire, a skill I had developed in the past when I was free to spend my time enjoying the outdoors. I cleared the ground to make room for my new love.
Like the stones I placed around the fire pit, I surrounded myself with others seeking self-improvement via divine guidance. Church became the bedrock on which my foundation was laid. I listened carefully to The Word, and did my best to apply it in my daily activities. But my fire pit was empty. I set out to add elements to build my fire pit.
Small portions of time were dedicated to communal prayer, Bible study gatherings and group recovery sessions. These small additions, like kindling were needed to start the fire burning, but I knew that I needed something more substantial to add, or my fire would be sure to burn out quickly. I fervently sought for something I could dedicate my life that would consolidate my bond with God. The answer came in the form of service work.
It was service to others, whether in the simple form of a listening ear, or working in leadership positions dedicated to teaching my peers, that brought me true joy. I piled the giant logs of service positions onto my nest of kindling. Now I needed something flammable for ignition.
Much to my surprise, unique accelerators were express delivered by the Lord Himself. Counselling sessions with our Chaplain, professional mentoring with my work supervisor, and the loving support of my family back home, gave me the encouragement I desperately needed to ask forgiveness for my past and believe in my future. I poured all their loving guidance onto the firewood with eager expectation. The time had finally come to set my constructed masterpiece ablaze.
I found the perfect spark in the Living Word. For an entire year I cupped this crucial element. I fed it oxygen while digesting God’s teaching, direction and wisdom and carefully placed the spark near the base of my structure. God assisted by gently blowing against the spark, and a fire of love for Jesus roared into life in my heart.
Today, this fire burns warm and bright. The love I share with the Lord has satisfied all that I have ever longed for. Prior to incarceration, I was lost and distracted by worldly pleasures, trapped in its pitfalls, feeling desperately drained and directionless. As someone lost in the wilderness of life, there is no survival without fire. My life is meaningful in the Lord, and it is so much easier to see hope in opportunity by the light of this fire.
Jan 28, 2023
Jan 28, 2023
The world’s greatest treasure is within the reach of every person!
The reality of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist is something great and marvelous. I know that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist from my own experience not just because the Church teaches this truth.
The First Touch
One of the experiences I had that helped increase my faith in the Lord was after I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in my early days in the Catholic Charismatic renewal. I was still not a priest at that time. I was leading a prayer meeting and during this meeting, we were praying over people. We had the Eucharist exposed for Adoration and then people would come one by one to be prayed over.
A woman came asking me to pray over her with folded hands and I thought she was praying. She asked me to pray for her husband who had a problem with his foot. But as I was praying, I felt in my heart that the Lord wanted to heal her. So I asked her if she needed any kind of physical healing. She told me, “My hands are like this because I have frozen shoulder.” She had a problem of mobility with her hands. As we were praying for her healing she said that a great heat came out from the Eucharist, descended on her frozen shoulder and she was healed then and there.
That was the first time I actually saw such healing taking place through the power of the Eucharist. It’s exactly as we have in the Gospels—people touched Jesus and power came out of Him and healed them.
I have had another powerful experience of the Eucharist in my life. Once I was praying with somebody who was involved in the occult, and she needed a deliverance. We were praying as a group and there was a priest with us. But this woman, who was on the floor couldn’t see the priest who was bringing the Eucharist inside the church to the sacristy. The exact moment the priest brought the Eucharist, from her mouth, a male violent voice said these words: “Remove Him whom you’ve got in your hands!” It choked me because the demon did not say ‘it’- a piece of bread, but “Him”. Satan recognizes the living presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I will never forget that moment of my life. When I became a priest later, I kept those two incidences in my heart to really believe and preach the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
As a priest I had one another experience which I will not forget. I attend prison ministry when I am not preaching around. Once I was giving communion to a particular division in the prison and had the Eucharist with me. Suddenly I felt in my heart the joy of Jesus in giving himself to the prisoners. This is something I cannot explain to you. If you could only experience and know the joy Jesus has in the Eucharist to come into each and every one of us!
Another experience I have had of the Blessed Sacrament was a personal, emotional healing for myself. Once somebody who was in the church really hurt me with his words. It wasn’t easy and I was starting to get angry. Although I am not aggressive by nature, this hurt stirred up a lot of feelings and bad thoughts against this person. I fled to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and just cried. In that moment I felt His love, for that person who hurt me, radiating out from the Eucharist and entering into my heart. Jesus in the Eucharist healed me, but more than that, as a priest it helped me to realize where the real source of love and healing is in our lives.
Not only for me as a priest, but for married persons and young people - who can really give the love that we are looking for? Where can we find love that is greater than sin and hatred? It’s in Him, present in the Eucharist. The Lord gave me so much love for the person who hurt me.
On the eve of the day I was going to make my first vows, a sudden darkness entered into my heart. I went straight to the tabernacle instead of finding my new room in the community. Then from the depths of the heart I heard the Lord telling me, “Hayden, you are coming here for me.” And suddenly all the joy came back. In the Eucharist Jesus taught me one very important thing about my life as a Franciscan priest—He has called me for Him, I exist for Him. The Eucharist teaches every one of us that we can do nothing apart from Jesus—it’s not about us, it’s JUST ABOUT HIM. We are in the Church to be with Him!
As a priest, celebrating the Eucharist is the most wonderful moment I have with the Lord and it also brings me closer to the Christian community. It is Jesus in the Eucharist who is the source of communion between us. As a priest, I cannot live without the Eucharist. What is the greatest thing we can ask Jesus when we receive Him in our hearts? It is asking Him to fill us with His Holy Spirit once again. When Jesus was resurrected, He breathed the Holy Spirit into the Apostles. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, He gives us once again the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Ask Him to fill you with the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Broken for you
Once when I was lifting up the Host and breaking it, I got this deep conviction regarding the priesthood. We look at the people through the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which is a broken body. A priest should be like that. He breaks his life so that he can give it to the community and the rest of world. One can also discover this beauty in the married life. Love is like the Eucharist. You have to break yourself in order to give yourself. The Eucharist has taught me how to live a celibate life, how to be Jesus for the community, giving my whole life for them. The same thing has to happen in married life.
Finally, I can tell you that whenever I have felt lonely or down, just going near him—is enough to receive all the strength that I need, even if I am tired or sleepy. I can’t count the number of times I have experienced this in my travels and in my preaching. The best rest is to get closer to Him. I can assure you; He can renew us physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Because in the Eucharist Jesus is ALIVE—He is there for us!
By: Father Hayden Williams OFM Cap
Jan 27, 2023
Jan 27, 2023
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, a sinner.”
These words have been the battle cry of my life. Even in my earliest years, they were my motto, when I didn’t even realize.
Mercy. If God had a middle name, it would be “Mercy”.
Mercy held my hand every time I walked into the confessional.
Mercy saved me time and time again, while enveloping my soul and pardoning me.
My faith journey began decades ago when my parents chose for me what I couldn’t yet choose for myself—baptism into the Catholic Church.
I was raised to know right from wrong. And I suffered the consequences when I veered off track. My parents took their roles seriously and took pride in teaching me about Jesus and the Church. They were God’s hands in my life, forming my conscience through His grace.
As I grew, I hungered and thirsted for more of Him. Yet, the world and my own struggles with fear and anxiety got in the way.
Vacillation between good and bad plagued my life for years. I called it “walking a tightrope between heaven and hell.” During college, I recall standing drunk at 1 AM in a bar bathroom, downing my drink while I prayed the Rosary, afraid that I would miss even a day of praying it.
As I look back on moments like this that illustrated my internal tug of war, I am reminded of Mercy. I knew who I belonged to, but I was tempted to wander.
An innate struggle caused by original sin permeates our lives whether we can name it or not:
Our deepest desire for Christ is opposed by the allurements of the world and the evil one.
Yet Mercy has pulled me out of the gutter of sin, cleaned me of the muck and washed me anew.
Mercy has waited for my call, sitting by the phone at all hours of the night until I was ready to be picked up and brought home.
Mercy has pulled me from going under, supporting me like a life vest.
Mercy has listened to the screaming, the tears, the angry words, and held me close as I settled.
Mercy has held me patiently as I fought back again and again.
Mercy is the end. The beginning. My everything in between.
The God of Mercy has waited for me, pursued me, and forgiven me for as long as I have known him.
And by His grace, He has assured me that He is always there, arms outstretched, loving and forgiving again and again.
By: Betsey Sawyer Estrade
Jan 19, 2023
Jan 19, 2023
When troubles come, how quick are we to think that nobody understands what we are going through?
In almost every church, we find a crucifix hanging above the altar. This image of our Savior does not present Him crowned with jewels sitting on a throne, nor descending on a cloud carried by angels, but rather as a man, wounded, stripped of basic human dignity, and enduring the most humiliating and painful form of execution. We see a person who has loved and lost, who has been hurt and betrayed. We see a person just like us.
And yet, in the face of this evidence, when we ourselves suffer, how quick we are to lament that nobody understands us, nobody knows what we’re going through? We make quick assumptions and sink into a place of isolation bound by inconsolable sorrow.
A Change of Course
A few years ago my life changed forever. I had always been a healthy child, a ballet dancer with dreams I had already begun to realize by the time I turned twelve. I had regularly attended Sunday school and felt drawn to God but had never done much about it, so I went on enjoying my life, my time with friends, and dancing lead roles at top ballet schools. I was content with my life. I knew God was there, but He was always over there. I trusted Him, but never thought very much about Him.
Yet in eighth grade, at the peak of my childhood dance career, my health started to plummet, and four years later I still have not recovered. It all began just one week after performing in a ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House, the day after I received the sacrament of Confirmation, and two weeks before I was to attend a summer intensive at the second most prestigious dance school in the United States. A bad strain of ligaments in my foot aggravated a previously undiscovered break in my ankle bone which now required surgery. Then I developed appendicitis, requiring another surgery. The two surgeries in close succession caused severe damage to my neurological and immune systems and weakened me to a point that no doctor could treat or even fully understand my situation.
As I continued to push my body to continue ballet, my body pushed back and I ended up fracturing my spine, ending my ballet career.”
Throughout the year leading up to my Confirmation, I experienced Jesus in ways I never had before. I saw His love and mercy magnified through study of the Gospels and discussions of His ministry. I started going to church every Sunday and experienced the power of the Eucharist. Before the confirmation classes with my parish priest, no one had ever taught me so clearly about Jesus’ love for me. His instruction clarified my growing understanding of who God truly is. Jesus, who I’d always known to be my Savior, was now my dearest friend and becoming my greatest love. He wasn’t just a statue hanging in the church, a character in stories; He was real, and He was the embodiment of Truth, Truth I had never known I was seeking. Through that year of study I made the decision to fully live my life for Jesus. I wanted nothing more than to become more like Him.
Since my injury, as my health bounced up and down and took me off the path I expected to be on forever, I struggled to remain hopeful. I lost ballet and even some friends. I could barely get out of bed to go to school, and when I did make it, I couldn’t stay the entire day. The life I had always known was crumbling and I needed to understand why. Why did I have to suffer so much and lose so much? Did I do something wrong? Would it lead to something good? Each time I started to heal, some new health issue arose and knocked me down again. Yet even at my lowest points, Jesus always pulled me back to my feet, and back to Him.
I learned to offer my suffering to God for the sake of others and watched it change their lives for the better. As things were taken away, space was made for better opportunities. For instance, not being able to dance ballet gave me the space to photograph the dancers at my ballet school and showcase their talent. I finally had spare time to attend my brother’s football games and started taking photos of him in action. I soon ended up photographing the whole team, including boys who never had anyone come out to watch them play, let alone capture their skills in a photograph. When I could hardly walk, I would sit and make rosaries to give to others. As I began to feel worse physically, my heart grew lighter because I was given the chance not merely to live for myself, but to live for God and see His love and compassion at work in others and in my own heart.
Listening to Jesus
Yet it is not always easy for me to find the good in suffering. I often find myself wishing the pain would be taken away, wishing I could live a normal life without physical agony. Yet one evening last March I received clear insight into my eternal questions. I was in adoration, sitting on the hard wood of the church pew, gazing at the crucifix in the dull candlelight and for the first time I wasn’t just looking at the crucifix—I was truly seeing it.
My body ached all over. My wrists and ankles throbbed painfully, my back hurt from the latest injury, my head was tender from a chronic migraine, and every so often, a sharp pain pierced my ribs and knocked me to the ground. Before me, Jesus hung from the cross with nails through His wrists and ankles, wounds from the whips lacerating His back, a crown of thorns painfully thrust upon His head, and a gash between His ribs where the spear had pierced His side–a spear that was meant to ensure He was dead. A thought struck me so forcefully, that I nearly fell over in the pew. Every pain I felt, even the smallest suffering, my Savior felt as well. My back pain and headaches, even my conviction that nobody else could understand, He understands it all because He experienced it too, and continues to bear it with us.
Suffering is not a punishment, but a gift we can use to grow closer to God and to shape our character. While physically I have lost a lot, spiritually I have gained. When all that we think is so important gets stripped away, then we can see what truly matters. That night in adoration as I looked at Jesus’ wounds so similar to my own, I realized that if He bore it all for me, then I can bear it all for Him. If we want to be more like Jesus, we’re going to have to walk the same journey He did, Cross and all. But He will never leave us to walk alone. We need only to look at the Cross and remember He is right there walking beside us through it all.
Jan 12, 2023
Jan 12, 2023
Overwhelmed by the uncertainties in life? Take heart. I was once there too—but Jesus showed me a way through
I was thirty-something, strolling through downtown in the dress I loved, an airy sky-blue print. Its shape flattered me I thought, so I wore it often. Without warning I suddenly glimpsed my reflection in a store window. Revolted, I tried to suck in my gut. It wouldn’t suck. It had nowhere to go. Bulges everywhere. Beneath the hem, my legs were hams. I loathed myself.
My eating and weight were skyrocketing out of control; and beyond that, my entire life was a train wreck. Divorce had recently shredded my brief marriage. Externally I pretended everything was fine, but inside I was shattered.
Isolating behind walls of fat, I shared my anguish with no one. To numb my pain, I drank alcohol, worked, and ate—excessively. Successive dieting attempts only plummeted me into another cycle of obsession, self-pity, and compulsive binging.
And, beneath all that rubble, spiritual problems festered. I still called myself Catholic, but I lived like an atheist. To me, God was ‘up there’ all right, but far away and caring nothing about my miseries. Why should I trust Him in the slightest? I showed up at Sunday Mass only when visiting my parents, to deceive them into believing I practiced faithfully. In truth, I bulldozed through my days with no thought of God and went ahead doing whatever I pleased.
But the chilling memory of my reflection in that window haunted me. A new restlessness gripped my soul. Change was needed, but what? I had no idea. Nor did I have any idea that God Himself was moving in that moment, beginning to expose the ache in my heart with His gentle fingers.
Contending with Goliath
A woman at work expressed discouragement about her eating and weight, and we connected. One day she mentioned a twelve-step group she’d begun attending. The group asserted that because disordered eating is related to our emotional and spiritual lives, losing weight and keeping it off needs to address these components as well. This integrated approach appealed to me. Despite my scorn for groups, I tried some meetings. Soon hooked, I attended regularly, and though I rarely spoke up in the meetings, afterwards I would experiment with some of the ideas I heard. This approach worked somewhat, and after a few months I was elated when my weight began to drop. However—though I admitted this to no one—I was contending with a vicious Goliath, one which threatened to destroy my progress.
While at work each day, I followed a food plan that allowed me to eat moderately and to minimize temptations. But by 5:00 p.m. each day I was famished. I’d rush home and fly into a rampage, stuffing my face nonstop until I collapsed into bed. Powerless over this beast, and terrified that pounds would soon be piling on, I was disgusted with myself. What was I to do? I hadn’t a clue. The bleak pattern dragged on, and hopelessness gripped me.
An Idea Popped Up
Then unexpectedly the most outlandish thought popped into my head. Instead of going straight home from work, I could hit the 5:15 p.m. Mass. That would at least postpone my binge and reduce its duration by one hour. At first this idea seemed pathetic. Wasn’t it stop-gap and preposterous? But, with no other options in sight, desperation prompted me to try it. Soon I was attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion daily.
My one goal was to reduce my binging. Apparently, that was enough for Jesus. Truly present in His Body and Blood, He was waiting for me there, and glad to have me back. Only much later did I realize that He had an agenda in all this too: one unfathomably higher, wider, and deeper than my own. He knew precisely what I needed and how to provide it.
With tender care, he used my despair to draw my faltering feet onto solid ground and began what would be a lengthy process of healing my heart and connecting it with his own. At Mass each day, feeding me His very own Body and Blood, He began to remedy my ills, bathe me in supernatural graces, radiate light into my darkness, and equip me to combat evils that threatened me.
Freedom at Last
His Eucharistic graces ignited and invigorated me, and I upped my program participation to a new level. Earlier I had dabbled; now I jumped in with both feet, and as the days passed, I found two gifts which proved to be indispensable: a supportive community that stuck with me through good days and bad, and an arsenal of practical strategies. Without these, I would have lost heart and given up. But instead—over a long period, as I learned to let Jesus be for me the Savior He had died to be, as my twelve-step friendships enriched and strengthened me, and as I employed the tools and wisdom I was given, I found freedom from my disordered eating and a stable and lasting recovery plan which continues to this day.
In this process, faith that was once only in my head shifted to my heart, and my false image of a remote uncaring God crumbled to smithereens. Jesus, Blessed Savior who continues to draw me closer to Himself, turned so much of my bitter into sweet. To this day, as I cooperate, He continues to transform other pits and waste lands that prevent me from flourishing.
What about you? What impossible hurdles are you facing today?
Whether you are troubled about your eating, anguished about a loved one who has left the faith, or crushed by other burdens, take heart. Embrace Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and in adoration. He is waiting for you. Bring your ache, your bitterness, your messes to Him. He yearns to come to your aid just as He rescued me in all my distress. No problem is too great or too little to bring to Him.
By: Margaret Ann Stimatz
Dec 28, 2022
Dec 28, 2022
Standing at the crossroads can be daunting, but help is only a prayer away…
When I was only eleven, my life was changed forever by a severe leg injury. Without reconstructive plastic surgery, I would have been permanently crippled. My admiration for my plastic surgeon fuelled my desire to follow in his footsteps so I could also help people in need. Performing reconstructive surgery in private practice and on medical missions satisfied this desire and I wasn’t keen to give it up as retirement loomed.
Long before I retired, I was already making plans to continue my missionary work and I also planned to volunteer as a hospital chaplain. Unfortunately, the Corona Pandemic threw a wrench in my plans. However, I remembered that Einstein once said, "When you stop learning, you start dying,” so I resolved not to fall into the temptation to become a couch potato.
I decided to take a spiritual guidance course. I soon realized that I had been looking for what I wanted to do, and not what God had in mind for me. Once I understood this, it didn't take long for Him to answer my prayers for guidance and enlightenment. I received an email from the Sacramento Life Center, looking for a volunteer medical advocate and have been enjoying this work for the past year.
Volunteer medical advocates help out with a number of simple, but important tasks for patients in hospitals. Often, patients are just looking for a non-judgmental ear. Maybe they feel lost and are looking for information on referrals or other services. Sometimes they need some help getting basic baby needs such as diapers, baby wipes, formula, clothes, car seats, stroller, etc. Sometimes, they are simply searching for answers. The confusion and distress that patients experience when these needs aren’t met adds to their pain, and hinders their recovery, so these volunteers have a crucial role.
During my medical career, I had the opportunity to save and transform lives. Being an advocate can be just as rewarding. Sometimes, I meet people who are contemplating abortion. It is amazing what reviewing a little pregnancy physiology can do, especially if they think of the unborn child as a blob of tissue. When the sperm and egg unite, a new life begins. This is one of God's greatest miracles. Only six weeks after fertilization, the patient can see and hear the unborn child’s heart beating through ultrasound. I show them life-size embryo models, as we marvel over the baby’s growth and development. "WOW, look at his eyes and ears and his little nose and mouth! His hands and feet have tiny little fingers and toes."
Potentially, I could save three lives in one visit. Conflicted feelings after abortion can lead to suicide or broken relationships. The information and advice I provide, often leads to decisions that lead to life instead of heartbreak and guilt. When an abortion-minded couple comes into the clinic, but leaves having chosen life, I feel warm and bubbly inside. I thank God for His gifts and blessings that have allowed me to do His work.
By: Dr. Victor M. Nava