Does God Love Me?
That life-changing moment when you realize…God loves you more in a moment than anyone could in a lifetime…
I couldn’t possibly count all the times I’ve told others that God loved them, and challenged them to believe it. God’s unconditional love for us has been a dominant theme in every retreat, parish mission and reflection day I led over many years. I have been eloquently persuasive in convincing a plethora of people to stake their lives on the reality of God’s love for them.
But when it came to my own life, getting hold of that truth in a way that penetrated to my core was always an elusive goal. I desperately wanted that conviction to become as automatic as my breathing, but believing that God loved me was something I understood in my head, but seldom felt in my heart.
And then I met Maya Angelou. Already nationally known for her writing and poetry, for being a singer, dancer, actress and good friend of Oprah Winfrey, she became a household name when she wrote and recited a poem at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. The following year, she was the keynote speaker at the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress—the biggest Catholic event in the USA drawing twenty-five thousand adults and teens over the course of a long weekend. My wife, Nancy and I were also scheduled to speak and, at the conclusion of Maya’s keynote speech, Nancy was invited to dance while Maya recited her poem.
The keynote was astounding. She spoke with great eloquence. She recited poetry. She sang. And she inspired everyone in the room—all six thousand of us. While she was being introduced, I was struck by this anecdote.
When a reporter asked her, “What moment in your life changed you most?” Maya instantly replied, “Why, that’s easy. It was the moment I realized that God truly loves me.”
When the speech and dance were over, I congratulated Nancy and suggested we go to the speaker’s lounge. “And if Maya is there, I’m going to ask for her autograph.” To my delight we found the usually crowded room empty, except for the Sister who had introduced her speech and Maya Angelou herself. We sat down and chatted, but soon the Sister had to leave. “Before I go,” she said, pulling a notebook and pen from her bag and handing them to Maya, “Would you mind giving me your autograph?” With a dismissive gesture, Maya replied, “Oh honey, I don’t do autographs.” That left only the three of us at the table.
I immediately turned to Maya and confessed that I’d also planned to ask for an autograph. “But I realize now that I don’t really want your autograph,” I said. “There is something else I’d like,” I said.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“I’d like to hold your hand,” I said.
“Why, I would love that,” she replied.
I placed my right hand palm-up on the table. She place her left hand in mine. I put my left hand on top of hers, and she put her right hand on top of mine. As we sat there with this “hand sandwich” I looked directly into her eyes and told her, “I was deeply moved by the story Sister shared in her introduction, when you were asked to name the moment that changed your life.”
Maya didn’t hesitate. Returning my gaze, she said, “Oh yes, oh yes,” she said. “Why even now, even now just to think of it… just to think of how much God loves me…” As she spoke her enormous eyes welled up with giant tears that rolled down her cheeks. As I watched her awareness of God’s love for her turn into those precious tears, I thought to myself, “I want that. I want that! I want to know God’s love for me as fully as she does.”
That remained my hope and prayer for many years. Yes, I knew God loved me, but not to the depths of my being like Maya did. Not with a conviction that would move me to tears.
That came years later when I received an email from an editor thanking me for an article I had written. She told me I was a “real blessing” to their media organization, then she added, “God loves you very much.”
That did it. After all those years of seeking a bedrock conviction that God truly loved me, that one sentence did it! I had never met the editor in person, yet her words sent from across the ocean pierced my heart. It was as if God spoke those words Himself: “I love you very much, Graziano!” I knew it was true.
It was a tremendous and unexpected gift. And what a difference it makes!
God loves me whether I am good or bad. God loves me when I’m praying and when I’m not praying. I don’t have to deserve it because God gives it freely. And I can’t do anything to make God stop loving me. Not even sin. I have the freedom to break God’s heart and reject his love. But even then, God would keep on loving me.
And of course, God had been loving me all along. He didn’t start loving me that day, and that day wasn’t the first time I knew He loved me. But previously I had known it in my “head.” That day, God penetrated my heart with a different kind of knowing…a calm and peaceful assurance that transcends all of life’s circumstances.
It took me a long time to come to that point of clarity and certainty, to that serenity that wraps itself around you like a blanket. And what God did for me, He can do for you. Do you want God’s assurance of His love? Just ask. And then wait. It may be a surprise who God chooses to reveal His love. After it happens, you may also find yourself saying, “Oh yes, oh yes… Why even now, even now just to think of it… just to think of how much God loves me…”
Graziano Marcheschi serves as the Senior Programming Consultant for Shalom World. He speaks nationally and internationally on topics of liturgy and the arts, scripture, spirituality, and lay ecclesial ministry. Graziano and his wife Nancy are blessed with two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren and live in Chicago.
Oct 21, 2022
Oct 21, 2022
When God calls us, He also gives us the strength to overcome any obstacles that come the way. Read the amazing story of how Father Peter Tran clung to God when assailed by the storms of life
In April 1975, the lives of Vietnamese people who live in the South were changed forever when Communists took over the country. More than a million South Vietnamese soldiers had been captured and imprisoned in concentration camps throughout the country, while hundreds of thousands of clergy, seminarians, nuns, monks and brothers were detained in jails and re-education centers so they could be brainwashed. About 60% of them died in the camps, where they were never allowed to receive visits from their families or friends. They lived as though they had been forgotten.
A War-Torn Nation
I was born in the 1960s, during the war, just after the Americans arrived in my country. I was brought up during the fight between the North and the South, so it formed the backdrop of my childhood. By the time the war ended, I had nearly finished secondary school. I did not really understand what it was all about but I was very sad to see so many people grieving for all their loved ones who had been killed or imprisoned.
When the Communists took over our country, everything was turned upside down. We lived in fear under constant persecution for our faith. There was virtually no freedom at all. We did not know what would happen to us tomorrow. Our fate was totally in the hands of Communist Party members.
Answering God’s Call
In these inauspicious circumstances, I felt the call of God. Initially, I reacted against it strongly, because I knew it was impossible for me to follow that call. First of all, there was no seminary where I could study for the priesthood. Secondly, it would not only be dangerous for me, but also for my family, who would be punished if the government found out. And ultimately, I felt unworthy to become a disciple of Jesus. However, God has His own way to bring about His plan, so I joined the (underground) seminary in 1979. Sixteen months later, the local police discovered that I wanted to become a priest and so I was conscripted into the army.
I hoped that I might be released after 4 years, so I could return to my family and my studies, but during my training a friend warned me that we were being sent to fight in Kampuchea. I knew that 80% of the soldiers who went to fight in Kampuchea never returned. I was so terrified at the prospect that I made plans to desert, despite the perilous risks. Although I escaped successfully, I was still in danger. I couldn’t endanger my family by returning home, so I was continually on the move, in constant fear that somebody would see me and report me to the police.
Fleeing for Life
After a year of this daily terror, with no end in sight, my family told me that, for the safety of everyone, I must attempt to escape from Vietnam. One day, after midnight, I followed secret directions to creep to a small wooden fishing boat, where fifty people had gathered to squeeze on board to run the gauntlet of the Communist patrols. From young children to the elderly, we held our breaths and each other’s hands until we were safely out in the open sea. But our troubles had only just begun. We only had a vague idea of where we wanted to go, and had little idea of where to head to get there.
Our escape was full of hardships and perils. We spent four days in terrible weather, tossed about in a rough sea. At one stage, we had given up all hope. We doubted that we would be able to survive the next storm, and believed that we would never arrive at our destination, as we were at the mercy of the sea which seemed to be driving us nowhere, and we couldn’t work out where we were. All we could do was entrust our lives to God’s Providence. All this time, He had us under His protection. We couldn’t believe our good fortune when we finally found refuge on a small island in Malaysia, where I spent eight months in a refugee camp before being accepted into Australia.
Having endured such terrors, I finally discovered that “After rain comes sunshine”. We have a traditional saying, “a flow will have an ebb”. Everyone in life must have some gloomy days to contrast with the days of joy and contentment. Perhaps it is a rule of human life. No one from birth can be free of all sorrows. Some are physical, some are mental, and some are spiritual. Our sorrows differ from each other, but almost everyone will have a taste. However, sorrows themselves cannot kill a human being. Only the lack of will to continue in surrender to God’s will can discourage someone so much that they seek shelter in illusory joys, or choose suicide in a vain attempt to escape from sorrow. I feel fortunate that I have learnt, as a Catholic, to trust God entirely with my life. I believe that He will assist me whenever I am in trouble, especially when it seems that I am out of options, encircled by enemies. I have learned by experience to seek shelter with God, the shield and stronghold of my life. Nothing can harm me when He is by my side (Psalm 22).
New Life in a New Land
When I arrived in Australia, I threw myself into studying English so that I could follow the longing in my heart to keep studying for the priesthood. It was not easy for me in the beginning, living in such a completely different culture. Often, I couldn’t find the right words to convey my thoughts without being misunderstood. Sometimes I felt like screaming loudly in frustration. Without family, or friends, or money, it was difficult to start a new life. I felt lonely and isolated, with little support from anyone, except God.
He has always been my companion, giving me strength and courage to continue persevering despite all the obstacles. His light has guided me through the darkness, even when I failed to recognize His presence. Everything I have achieved is by His grace and I will never cease to be grateful to Him for calling me to follow Him.
By: Father Peter Hung Tran
Aug 20, 2022
Aug 20, 2022
The dramatic account of the Cleansing of the Temple found in chapter 2 of the Gospel of John tells of Jesus going to the Jerusalem temple where He finds merchants selling oxen, sheep, and doves and money changers sitting at their tables. Making a whip out of cords, He drives them out of the temple area, overturns the moneychangers’ tables and orders them to “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (v. 16).
Jesus did not strike anyone, but this dramatic action so close to Passover, certainly got the attention of the crowds and sparked a backlash from the religious authorities and from those whose economic interests were being threatened.
Jesus’ behavior in this account challenges us to seek not our own advantages and interests, but the glory of God who is love. Jesus’s bold intervention cleansed the Temple of “junk religion” to make room for real religion. What does junk religion look like today?
Put simply, junk religion is picking and choosing elements of the Catholic Tradition that support our personal agenda while conveniently putting on blinders to those Catholic elements that don’t. We can do all the right things—attend Mass regularly, appreciate good liturgy, give generously, quote scripture and even understand some theology, but if we don’t let the Gospel penetrate to the depth of our hearts, we end up domesticating the Catholic faith and reducing it to “junk religion.” Without that deep commitment, religion becomes less about the Good News and more about oneself and one’s personal ideology—no matter which end of the political spectrum we find ourselves.
The Gospel calls us to embrace the Way of Jesus, which is self-emptying and forgiving. We are called to be nonviolent and to promote justice and goodness. And we need to do those things both in season and out when it is easy and when isn’t. When the going got tough, the Israelites wanted to return to the comfort and security of their old life in Egypt. Like them, we may be tempted to wear religion as a garment that makes a statement about us rather than letting it be a leaven that changes us from within. We must remember that we are instruments of God’s generous and supportive love and be steadfast to our call.
Our ritual and devotional practices will remind us that true adoration of God consists of giving thanks for life and expressing gratitude by sharing our lives with others. If we do that, we will incarnate the risen Christ in the here and now. We will usher peace with justice into our community. In sum, we will be practicing genuine religion, binding ourselves to a God who only wants to love us and be loved in return.
By: Deacon Jim McFadden
Jul 17, 2022
Jul 17, 2022
Listening to that still, small voice...
Whispers come unexpectedly. Those quiet words found in a book or heard from a friend or homilist that cross our paths at just the right moment—a moment when our hearts are graced to hear them in a fresh or unique way. It happens like a flash of lightening suddenly illuminating the landscape below.
Such a phrase caught my eye recently, “When you replace judgment with curiosity, everything changes.” Hmm...I paused to consider the sentence. It made sense! I had practiced replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations and various Scriptures over the years, and it resulted in a new way of thinking. I seemed to have a genetic predisposition toward negativity. This tendency which I had seen in one of my parents as I grew up had become ingrained in me, but that wasn’t who I wanted to be. As a result, I found myself attracted to optimistic friends! They exhibited something different to my experience, and I was drawn to it! Looking for what was good in others was the object, but it extended to searching for the positive in the midst of difficult circumstances, too.
Life is full of obstacles and challenges; anyone who has lived any length of time on this earth knows that. The Gospel of John quotes Jesus speaking this truth: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We see His words enfleshed in people like Helen Keller, who despite an illness that left her deaf and blind, was able to voice that “although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail. I try to increase the power God has given me to see the best in everything and everyone and make that best a part of my life.”
Over time, my efforts and God’s grace, resulted in responding to hardships by immediately directing my attention to what I could be grateful for despite the unwelcome circumstances. It’s easy to get caught up in “stinking thinking!” It takes intention and courage to choose to redirect internal and external conversations away from complaints, criticism, and condemnation! I have reflected often on these words I first heard as a young adult: “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a lifestyle. Sow a lifestyle, reap a destiny.”
What we think precedes what we do. What we do repeatedly becomes a habit. Our habits comprise the way we live our life. The way we live our life, our choices over time, makes us who we are. I didn’t believe these words just because someone said them. One only needs to attend funerals and listen attentively to eulogies to learn this truth! How someone lives their life determines how they will be remembered...or if they will be remembered.
Of course, a life well lived requires frequent reflection, as well as a willingness to adapt. Now I am pondering the admonition to ‘replace judgment with curiosity.’ There are opportunities all around me! Just as I hadn’t wanted to live life with a negative outlook in the past, now, I don’t want a judgmental attitude to make it harder to obey Jesus’ commandment to love my neighbor as myself.
I found an opportunity to try out this new response almost immediately! Something a friend shared with me the next day quickly evolved into a judgment about another person, and quick as lightening, I found myself agreeing! But just as swiftly came the whisper, “When you replace judgment with curiosity, everything changes.” In an instant, choosing to be curious as to why the person made the choice that the two of us found so easy to judge, a plausible reason came to mind! It was true....curiosity does change everything! And even if it doesn’t, it can change me...and wasn’t that the goal all along?!
"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each human's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
May 14, 2021
May 14, 2021
I asked the Lord, “Why, why this cross in our lives?” And He gave me an incredible answer!
Like Simon of Cyrene, it is the vocation of every Christian to carry the Cross of Christ. This is why Saint John Marie Vianney said, “Everything is a reminder of the Cross. We ourselves are made in the shape of the Cross.” There is a great deal to unpack in that seemingly simple but profound teaching.
The sufferings we experience allow us to partake in the suffering of Christ. Without the willingness to embrace suffering for the sake of Christ, we cannot fulfill our Christian mission on earth. Christianity is the only religion that recognizes the salvific aspects of suffering and teaches that suffering can help us attain eternal salvation—if we join it to Christ’s own suffering.
Venerable Fulton Sheen said that unless there is a cross in our lives, there never will be a resurrection. Jesus himself tells us what is required to be His disciple, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). Again, Jesus says in Matthew 10:38, “He who does not take his cross and follow Me, is not worthy of Me.”
Jesus died on the Cross to save the world. After His death, He ascended into Heaven but left the Cross in the world. He knew that anyone who wants to join Him in Heaven will go there by way of the Cross. Saint John Vianney also reminds us that “The Cross is the ladder to Heaven.” Our willingness to embrace the Cross allows us to climb that heavenly ladder. There are plenty of ways to destruction, but there is only one way to Heaven—the way of the Cross.
Depths of My Heart
In 2016, while I was studying for my Masters, my mother began to show signs of weakness. The doctors suggested a biopsy. During Holy Week, we received the report that my mother had cancer. My family was devastated by the news. That evening, I sat in my room and stared at a statue of Jesus carrying His Cross. Slowly, tears flowed from my eyes as I complained to Jesus: for the last two years I almost never missed Holy Mass, I prayed rosaries every day and I gave a lot of time working for the kingdom of God (I was quite active in Jesus Youth at the time). My pious mother was very devoted to Mother Mary. So I asked Jesus from the depths of my heart, “Why, why this cross in our lives?”
That Holy Week, I went through a great agony. As I sat in my room gazing at the statue, a thought entered my mind. Jesus is alone carrying His cross. After a while, I heard a voice in my heart saying, “Josin can you help Me carry My Cross?” I realized what Jesus was calling me to do and my vocation became clear. I was to help carry the Cross of Jesus, like Simon of Cyrene.
Around that time, I made a visit to one of my mentors in Jesus Youth and shared with him the pain I was undergoing since my mother’s cancer diagnosis. After hearing my troubles, he gave me but one piece of advice: “Josin, in praying for your present situation, you will find one of two answers: either God will heal your mother completely, or else He has no plan to heal this illness but is giving this illness as a cross to bear. But if that is the case, He will also give you and your family the grace and strength to bear it.”
I soon came to understand that God was answering my prayers in the second way. But he gave me the grace and strength to carry His cross; and not only for me, but to my whole family. As time passed, I began to realize that this cross of cancer was purifying our family. It increased our faith. It transformed my father into a man of prayer. It helped and guided me to choose the religious life. It helped my sister to grow closer to Jesus. This cross eventually helped my mother to go peacefully to the heavenly Jerusalem.
The Letter of James (1:12) says “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.”
By June of 2018, my mother’s illness had taken a turn for the worse. She was under tremendous pain, but surprisingly, she remained joyful. She said to my father one day, “Enough of all this treatment. After all, I am going to heaven.” A few days later, she woke from a dream and said to my father “I saw a dream”. But before she could elaborate, Celine Thomas departed from the world, completing her earthly pilgrimage.
Over the course of two years, through 30 chemotherapies and two major surgeries, she carried her cross faithfully without relief from her pain. I am now certain that she is looking upon the glory of Christ, face to face.
Can we imagine our Lord telling us, “I have many friends at My table, but very few at My Cross?” During Jesus’ crucifixion Mary Magdalene stood courageously before the Cross. She sought to be with Christ in His suffering. And because of this, three days later, it was she who first saw the glory of the Risen Lord. This encounter transformed her sorrow into joy and made her the Apostle to the Apostles. The great Carmelite mystic Saint John of the Cross says, “Whoever does not seek the Cross of Christ does not seek the glory of Christ.” The glory of Christ is hidden in His Passion. This is the wonderful secret of the Cross! Saint Peter reminds us, “Rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
Like Saint Mary Magdalene, if we stand at the foot of the Cross with a willingness to suffer with Him, we too will encounter the risen Lord, and He will turn our messes into messages, our tests into testimonies, and our trials into triumphs.
Lord Jesus, I give myself wholly to you through the hands of Mother Mary. Give me the strength to carry my cross after You, all the days of my life. Amen.
By: Brother Josin Thomas O.P
May 11, 2021
May 11, 2021
A priest was visiting Rome and had an appointment to meet Pope John Paul II in a private audience. On his way, he visited one of the many lovely basilicas. As usual, the steps were thronged with beggars, but one of them caught his interest. “I know you. Didn’t we go to seminary together?” The beggar nodded in affirmation. “Then you became a priest, didn’t you?” the priest asked him. “Not anymore! Please leave me alone!” the beggar replied angrily. Mindful of his approaching appointment with the Holy Father, the priest left promising, “I’ll pray for you,” but the beggar scoffed, “A lot of good that will do.”
Usually, private audiences with the Pope are very short—a few words are exchanged as he bestows his blessing and a blessed rosary. When the priest’s turn came, the encounter with the beggar-priest was still playing on his mind, so he implored His Holiness to pray for his friend, then shared the whole story. The Pope was intrigued and concerned, asking for more details and promising to pray for him. Not only that, he and his beggar-friend received an invitation to dine alone with Pope John Paul II. After dinner, the Holy Father spoke privately with the beggar.
The beggar emerged from the room in tears. “What happened in there?” asked the priest. The most remarkable and unexpected reply came. “The Pope asked me to hear his Confession,” choked the beggar. After regaining composure, he continued, “I told him, ‘Your Holiness, look at me. I am a beggar, not a priest.’”
“The Pope looked tenderly at me, saying, ‘My son, once a priest always a priest, and who among us is not a beggar. I also come before the Lord as a beggar asking for forgiveness of my sins.’” It had been so long since he had heard a Confession that the Pope had to help him through the words of absolution. The priest commented, “But you were in there for such a long time. Surely the Pope’s did not take that long to confess his sins.”
“No,” said the beggar, “But after I heard his Confession, I asked him to hear mine.” Before they departed, Pope John Paul II invited this prodigal son to take on a new mission - to go and minister to the homeless and the beggars on the steps of the very church where he had been begging.
Apr 20, 2021
Apr 20, 2021
Begin a new today and change your life forever!
All These Years
After nine years of formation, I recently professed final vows as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Following communion during the final vows Mass I was overcome with emotion and deep gratitude. It was as if God gifted me with a greater awareness of all that he had been accomplishing in me over the years. The gifts and graces of each prayer, confession, and reception of the Eucharist became present in that moment. I was amazed by God’s enduring, relentless love. As I knelt in prayer, I thought about how I was one of the unlikeliest candidates to become a spouse of Christ. “But nothing,” I remembered, “is impossible with God.”
I had grown up Baptist in Houston, Texas. When I was eight years old, my father died by suicide after years of struggling with addiction and because my mother was not able to care for us, my brothers and I were adopted by my aunt and uncle. The next ten years provided a consistency and stability I had never known in the first eight years of my life. I went to good schools, read books, played soccer, sang in the Church and school choirs, and got to be a regular kid.
When I was eighteen a pamphlet advertising a Dallas, Texas school for “independent thinkers” brought me to the University of Dallas. The fact it was Catholic totally escaped me. I spent much of my four college years indulging in sinful behaviors as a way of medicating my old wounds. I had no idea what to do with the pain that come from abandonment. My conscience was being formed at the University of Dallas. I spent a semester in Rome and encountered Pope Saint John Paul II whom I loved. His understanding of God resonated deeply in me. I joined a Latin liturgical choir and became more familiar with the Mass by singing at hundreds of eucharistic liturgies.
Made for Another World
After graduation my life was mostly work during the day and bars or hanging out with friends at night. I eventually sensed something was missing; for “if no worldly experience can satisfy my desires, then probably I was created for more than just this world.” That’s when I started seeking deeper faith. I wanted to be like the godly women who raised me. To my surprise, when it came time to decide where I would go to church, I found myself hungering for the Mass. I hesitated to become Catholic because there were so few Black Americans in the church. But the desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist pulled me into the church.
Becoming Catholic didn’t fix everything. I still indulged in sinful behaviors, but I found myself constantly at confession. I was struggling emotionally and spiritually. Though I felt like I was killing myself spiritually (and physically--my weight was approaching 400 pounds), in my professional life I was reaching heights I had never imagined. During that struggle, I returned to Rome and went to confession and Mass at Saint Peter’s. My confessor’s advice that day to “just begin” changed everything. Within the year I was discerning a religious vocation, and three years after that confession I became a candidate with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
A Love Affair
Eleven years after that confession I said yes to Jesus in a way I did not know was possible. My wounds and shame had me making an all-too-common mistake which C.S. Lewis explains well: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Not only was I too easily pleased, but I made the mistake of seeing my life in light of the struggle instead of in light of the one who loves me.
During my postulancy, a Sister in her seventies who was giving a class on the spiritual life said, “I love my age. I would never want to be younger and I would never want to go back. I have all these years with Jesus. I have all these experiences. I would not want to trade that.” Surely, she had known loss, mistakes, and sin, but mingled in all that was an abiding love of Jesus that made her life a love affair with Jesus and an untradable treasure.
Gift of Tears
On the day of my final vows, my tears mingled a tinge of grief with a great sense of joy and gratitude. Throughout my life, as I experienced loss, pain, struggle and sin, joy remained inevitable because of Christ’s self-sacrificing love made manifest in the Eucharist. I have come to know that the final word in all our stories is Christ himself. Saint John says, “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands… we saw it and testify to it.”
My tears on that day of my final vows gave witness to the enduring love of Christ, come what may, through all these years.
By: Sister Josephine Garrett
Sep 01, 2020
Sep 01, 2020
Father Chris da Sousa was blind until a pilgrimage to Fatima brought him a miracle and that wasn’t the last miracle she obtained for his family.
My devotion to Our Blessed Mother started right from my earliest days. I’m Australian born, but my parents are Portuguese immigrants, so we’ve always had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. We would pray the Holy Rosary in front of her altar in our home daily, so I developed a great trust in her intercession.
I was born legally blind in my right eye and afflicted with a pathological condition in my left eye which caused my vision to deteriorate each and every year. As I grew up, my parents determinedly took me from one specialist to another, hoping for a cure, but always receiving the same news. There was no real treatment and by adulthood I would become completely blind.
Take a Risk
By the time I entered early adulthood, no vision remained in my left eye, so my study of Law was severely hampered. My parents were distressed by witnessing my struggles to read big law books with my severely limited vision. So, in my second last year, they went on a pilgrimage to Fatima to plead for Our Lady’s intercession to restore their son’s vision. I remained to undertake my final year. When they returned with strengthened faith and trust in Our Lady’s intercession, they found a specialist who had learned a new procedure in Belgium that might help me. Although an appointment with this specialist was almost unobtainable, they asked Our Lady to help and I was unexpectedly called in for a consultation. Although I was resigned to my lack of eyesight, I couldn’t disappoint my parents after all their efforts.
Immediately after assessing my vision, the specialist said that he wasn’t sure if this procedure would help me. It was also very risky and, because it didn’t have government approval, it would be very expensive. However, my parents had such a great trust in Our Lady’s intercession that they immediately agreed to put up the money and urged me to go ahead. I was apprehensive, but assented, consigning myself into Our Lady’s loving care.
Take a Chance
They started with my right eye—he legally blind eye. The surgeon had said that it may take some months before you see any real improvement, so I wasn’t expecting any immediate difference. But within 15 to 20 minutes after the operation, I could see clearly for the first time in my legally blind eye. Colours and definition I had never seen before!
I came running out of that operation exalting God, praising Him and thanking Our Blessed Mother for her guidance and intercession. As I joyfully embraced my parents, the specialist, who wasn’t a believer, hailed it as a miracle. He was unable to explain this immediate gift of clear vision, after the procedure, in an eye that had never had clear vision.
One month later, he operated on the other eye, my left eye. A repeat of the miracle seemed too much to hope for, but God’s blessing are abundant. Once more, within 15 to 20 minutes, I could see clearly in my left eye. Complete vision had been restored. Thanks to Our Blessed Mother’s intercession and my parents’ great faith and trust, I was able to kickstart life as an advocate.
Make a Change
I had always desired to be a lawyer, but I also opened myself to the Lord. What was He asking of me? I knew that this miracle was a free gift that didn’t need to be earned, but together with Our Blessed Mother, I would ask Him, “Lord what is it that you want from me? Why have you restored my vision when so many others remain blind?” This commenced a period of discernment, as I started working. Even though I felt fulfilled as a lawyer and projected a life of marriage and family, I received a calling in my heart to religious life and the priesthood during a World Youth Day pilgrimage.
I felt overwhelmed with fear and it took me several months to come to terms with my calling. On the 13th of May, during Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima in my hometown, I asked Our Blessed Mother, “If this is what your Son wants from me, help me to see this just as clearly as you helped me to see.” It was like a veil was lifted from my eyes. I knew that her Son was calling me to religious life. Her Son was calling me to the priesthood. Entrusting myself into her maternal hands, I eventually discerned that I should give my life to the Lord, with the Somascan Fathers.
Following an ancient tradition in our religious order, when I professed my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, I also consecrated myself to Our Lady and added her name, Maria, to mine. Our founder, Saint Jerome Emiliani, had been miraculously liberated by Our Blessed Mother when he was a prisoner of war 500 years ago, enabling him to care for the sick, hungry and orphaned. I was miraculously liberated from my blindness, through her intercession, enabling me to give my life entirely to her Son.
Miracles Do Happen
When I was in Rome, preparing for my final Theology exams, my father became very ill with blood cancer. As he prepared to receive treatment, I went on pilgrimage to Fatima to entrust the health of my father to Our Lady’s care and to thank her for obtaining the miracle of my restored vision. On the same day that I walked on my knees to the place where she had appeared to the children 100 years earlier, my father’s specialist discovered that the cancer had completely disappeared from his blood. Once more, Our Blessed Mother’s intercession had miraculously restored another family member to health.
Following years of mission in India, Sri Lanka and Mozambique, I returned to Australia to prepare myself for my solemn vows and priestly ordination. My ordination took place in Mary’s month, May, on a Saturday, in her honor. I entrusted my entire priesthood into her maternal hands. The next day, on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, 13th May, I celebrated my first Mass. It was succeeded by a beautiful, candlelit procession, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, through the streets of Fremantle.
Our cup had runneth over until, at the apex of our joy, my mother fell gravely ill and was taken to hospital immediately in an ambulance. I followed quickly so that I could give her the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick - the sacrament of healing. She was the first person that I anointed with this sacrament. It strengthened my priesthood so much to be able to minister to her, not only as her son, but as a priest. The doctors thought she had suffered a heart attack and were giving her medication to thin out her blood. In fact, she had an aneurysm and was haemorrhaging internally.
They only realized this after several days of treatment with blood thinners. Their treatment was actually causing her to bleed more and more internally. She was rushed into an emergency operation, not expected to survive, but God blessed us once again with a miracle, thanks to the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, The doctors were unable to explain how my mother could still be alive after bleeding internally for so many days. My mother explained to them that Our Lady had interceded for her. “My son has consecrated himself to her and, as a priest, he’s been offering the Holy Mass for me every day. That is why I am healed, that is why this miracle has taken place.”
Mamma Leads the Way
These profound experiences have deepened my devotion to Our Blessed Mother. I encourage you to entrust your lives to her heavenly intercession. I can bear witness to the miracles that occur when she intercedes for us to her Son. She, who is immaculately conceived, received the graces, gained by her son on the Cross, from her conception. She was able to say “Yes” to being the Mother of God, preceding Our Lord’s assent to His Passion and Death on the Cross. Our Blessed Mother’s desire to help the couple at Cana brought about Our Lord’s first miracle. Our Blessed Mother’s heart was pierced with sorrow (Luke 2:35) foreshadowing Our Lord’s Heart being pierced with a lance on the Cross (John 19:34). So, she shows us how to follow Jesus, in all our joys and sufferings, entrusting them to her.
By: Father Chris da Sousa
Dec 11, 2019
Dec 11, 2019
What’s the catch in seeking God’s will in your life?
Life in our family was a roller coaster ride of joys and sorrows. Love and laughter were mingled with financial crises, job losses, investment failures, housing troubles, relationship dilemmas, failure in exams and career quandaries. Although I often felt miserable during these trials and tribulations, my family would cling to Our Lord and He would intervene and calm the storm. However, it seemed the next hardship was never far away. I was born into a staunchly Catholic family that had enthusiastically embraced the Charismatic movement. My dad evangelized in small ways while running his own business and my mom’s piety and charity infused into everything she did, even her work as a lab technician. My siblings aligned themselves to the faith my parents shared with them, whereas I struggled to believe. My elder sister joined the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate, Kerala, while my little sister pursued postgraduate studies.
When Uncertainty Strikes
My personal life was not going well either. Over the years, my studies and friendships were a constant battle. Although my dad insisted that we do yearly retreats and frequent follow ups, it did not make sense to me. Surprisingly, I progressed because so many people prayed on my behalf. When I completed my undergraduate degree in nursing I was appointed a tutor in the college and felt quietly satisfied at the recognition I had finally received.
A year passed by and my friends began to move away as their plans for the future unfolded. The position at work became redundant and I felt overwhelmed with uncertainty in deciding my next move amidst the unending suggestions from well-meaning friends and family. My parents observed my anxiety and suggested I give our Lord a chance to take a hand in my decision. With nothing left to lose I obliged.
For the first time in my life, I knelt with outstretched arms in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord. I confided my hopes and dreams, even though I thought they were impossible to achieve. Abandoning myself into His presence I prayed “I seek Your will for my life.” Reciting the rosary, I pleaded for our blessed mother to intercede. The moments that followed will always be cherished.
He Will Make a Way
As I knelt in prayer, our Lord spoke. He told me to pursue the higher studies I longed for but at a university, I did not desire. Since this university did not accept admissions until after all the other colleges had closed theirs, I felt fearful. What if the Lord's plan should fail? I would also need to pass an entrance exam requiring months of preparation. Yet, in spite of my trepidation, I received the grace to obey His inspiration and plunged into prolonged study accompanied by sporadic prayer. When I finally took the exam I felt beset by doubt, certain I would not make it through.
As I journeyed home I felt low and hopeless but a message from the university changed that in an instant. Due to various issues, the exam results were cancelled and candidates had to prepare for another one. I was convinced our Lord was in control this time and doubled my efforts. My results were much better yet barely qualified me for the interview. I secured the 10th rank on the interview but, with only nine places being offered, I prayed for the next miracle. Of course, our Lord did not let me down. One of the students could not be accepted and I was taken in.
I realized that when you seek His will and lay the talents He has given you at His feet, He will offer you the best. I will never cease to be grateful that He granted an average student like me the chance to complete postgraduate studies, with high scores in the country’s top university. This was followed by an appointment as a lecturer—my dream job.
As the years pass, I have learned the beauty of seeking His will in each and every task. I became part of a Charismatic youth movement, involved in doing little things for His kingdom. Turning to the Lord and following His call has brought the greatest joy I could experience on earth. Trials have not stopped but now I am convinced it is for a greater good—deepening bonds within families, personal sanctification and invitation into prayerful relationship with our Saviour. Praise the Lord!!
“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Oct 24, 2018
Oct 24, 2018
Despite being a cradle Catholic, I never considered becoming a sister—that is, until the rat race got to me. Frankly, God was not my biggest priority while I climbed the corporate ladder. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in history and journalism, I was blinded by the allure of a glamorous, fast-paced life in network television in New York City, and I chased after a career in broadcast media. For three years I worked in areas ranging from production to research to multimedia news. I moved from job to job, working overnight and weekend shifts, holidays, doing whatever I needed to do to get ahead. As a result, my health and relationships suffered.
Yet, God was still good to me. He gave me the grace to persevere through the difficult times and, eventually, my work conditions got better. I was able to spend more time with my family and friends and serve at my parish as a catechist. And that is when I identified a yearning in my heart for something more, something better. I was still a long way from sisterhood, however.
ENCOUNTER WITH A SAINT
Growing up, I had little contact with sisters. My family belonged to a Korean Catholic parish in northern New Jersey, where I attended public schools. Two Korean sisters served in our parish, and they spoke little to no English. Although I saw them around church, I could not relate to them and did not get to know them well. Nevertheless, the sisters from my childhood must have left an impression on me because when I started getting involved with campus ministry in college, I noted the absence of sisters at our Catholic center and on retreats; I wished there were some there.
It was not a religious sister but my biological sister, Rosa, who inadvertently piqued my interest in religious life. While I was still working as a journalist, Rosainvited me to venerate the relic of Saint John Bosco when it was at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City as part of a U.S. tour. This was my first encounter with the saint who was a friend of the young and the poor and who had founded the men’s religious congregation the Salesians of Don Bosco, as well as cofounded the women’s religious congregation the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, also known as the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco. After patiently waiting my turn in line among thousands of pilgrims, I had my first encounter with Saint Don Bosco through his relic. As I touched the glass box that encased a life-size wax replica of his body, I prayed for guidance. Little did I know that a few years from then I would be entering religious life in the congregation he founded.
THE SEED OF VOCATION OF GROWS
My vocation discernment did not happen in a nice, orderly, logical fashion. I do not know if anyone discerns that way. God worked in mysterious ways over the course of three years, speaking to me through various people, events, places, and dreams. I was terrified at first that God might be calling me to be a sister! I had no idea what the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience were all about. I did not want to give up the life I was living, despite the misgivings I was starting to have about it. Like most people, I had always dreamed of someday getting married and starting my own family, but the Lord gave me the grace to have courage and remain open. I thought it was my career that was causing this growing unrest within me. I prayerfully considered a career change and decided to leave journalism for a field where I saw greater potential to effect positive social change. With a desire to help communities through the built environment, I got a Master’s degree in urban planning. It still had not dawned on me that the hole in my heart could be filled by a religious vocation.
Halfway through graduate school, I attended a “Life in the Spirit Seminar” hosted by a charismatic young adults group. During the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” program of the retreat, I was touched by the Holy Spirit in a very powerful way. I felt the fire of God’s love burning in my heart and on my tongue. I felt my heart filling with great joy and peace. That seminar cultivated the seed of my vocation. I began to hear God’s call to live exclusively for Him.
INSPIRED BY RELIGIOUS IN HAITI
The call grew louder while I was on a church service trip to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, which had suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010. For one week, we stayed and served at a nursing home facility for the homeless elderly of Croix-des-Bouquets, about a thirty-minute drive from the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The facility was staffed and operated by consecrated religious men and women of the Korean congregation known as the Kkottongnae Brothers and Sisters of Jesus. These missionary brothers and sisters, most of whom were in their thirties and forties, were trained medical professionals who lived at the facility and took great care of the residents. I was fascinated by their life. They were some of the happiest, most authentic people I had ever met. Their life of love and sacrifice for others inspired me and challenged the way I saw the world around me.
One night during a charismatic prayer meeting with the sisters and brothers of Kkottongnae, God said to me through one of the brothers there, “Go where my Light is.” When I heard these words spoken aloud, I began to sob uncontrollably because deep down in my heart I knew what that meant. God was calling me—now more clearly than ever—to follow Him in a radical way. I welcomed His invitation into my heart that night and I finally felt free.
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
Upon my return from Haiti, with the help of a spiritual director I began to visit communities closer to home. I looked at the spirituality of each congregation more than its core work, and I asked myself if I could honestly see myself living the community’s charism and lifestyle.
As I continued to pray and discern, God led me to the Salesian Sisters a month before my graduation. These sisters were gentle, joyful, and a whole lot of fun. They offered me friendship and cordiality, without pressuring me to visit them or enter the community, allowing me to decide for myself if and when I wanted to enter.
During this time, my parents were very apprehensive about my desire to pursue religious life, with my father concerned that I was trying to escape the world and avoid responsibility for my expensive decision to go to graduate school. Many arguments ensued. He started to warm up to my decision after graduation when he saw how hard I was working—at multiple part-time jobs—to pay off my student loans. Additionally, God sent people to my dad to advocate for my vocation. Once he approved, it did not take long to win over my mom.
God continued to send me little signs to reassure me that I was on the right path even during my application process to be accepted into the Salesian Sisters. When I retrieved my baptismal record from the church where I was baptized as a baby in Seoul, Korea, I learned that the date of my Baptism was January 31, the feast day of Saint John Bosco, one of our founders. I also learned that Saint Francis De Sales, the saint I had chosen for my Confirmation, was the patron saint of the Salesians and the source of its name.
HOPEFUL FOR THE FUTURE
Now I am in my third year of formation with the Salesian Sisters—that is, preparation for full membership. I feel more fully alive now than ever before. Living the virtues of poverty, obedience and chastity enables me to be totally free to love and serve others. Though my vocation journey is not without fear, doubt, or difficulty, I have faith that God’s plan for me is, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “a future full of hope.”
By: Sister Boram Lee
Jan 07, 2018
Jan 07, 2018
My heart can still feel the ache of singleness. My eyes well up with tears and I feel the pain of what used to be. It was a long road of sadness, anger, uncertainty and loneliness. It seemed like I was always discerning God’s will and discovering more about who I was becoming. There were blessings of joy and beauty. For 16 years I longed to have my deepest desire fulfilled. In college, I cried with friends telling them of this ache. I have journals with pages of sorrow. There have been so many prayers.
Unless you have traveled the road of singleness for quite some time, it may be hard to truly understand what it is like. It was never about just getting married or going with just what I wanted. It was about what God wanted for my life. Coming to realize that is one thing; it is another to want what God wants and to embrace it with joy!
I prayed often for God to take my desire for marriage away until the time was right. It hurt to have such deep desires with nowhere to go with them, especially when I believed they were from God Himself. I prayed for my heart’s desires to be His desires. I laid down my desire for marriage time and time again. This all took place during dating, break-ups and singleness. I discerned whether or not marriage was the vocation to which God was calling me. I have always enjoyed Mass and sharing the Gospel message. Parts of religious life are very beautiful, but I did not feel a call to that life. Was the single life for me? I enjoyed many parts to that life and I faithfully served God. What about marriage? Little by little, I laid down my will for marriage and focused on becoming a happy, healthy woman. Laying my life and future down to the Lord (completely) was one of my most painful experiences. I believe that once we make a decision after discerning for some time, God brings peace. Once I surrendered, I learned that what will be will be when it will be. I embraced each day being present in it, rather than living in the past or in the future. We are not truly living if we are not in the present. When I got busy living, I was not so focused on what I thought was missing from my life. Instead, I was busy being happy and growing in many ways.
I started taking care of myself by putting things into my life that made me my best self. I also took out things. I learned to move on from a relationship that was never going to bring marriage. I learned to love again, but guarded and with confidence in who I was becoming. I discovered how to be OK with alone time and I eventually embraced it. I ate right and exercised. I learned what a healthy dating relationship was. I better balanced my personal and work time. I set weekly goals that focused on building confidence. I said good-bye to men that brought me extreme joy and frustration because they were not God’s plan for me. I turned down a wedding proposal and a future seeing a clear vision of who my husband should be. I closed a chapter in my life with someone who was “perfect,” but could not love me according to God’s plan for marriage. I have been working on embracing life and God’s plans for my vocation since 2011. I looked at it as a mountain climb. In order to get to the top, I had to go through the tough stuff—the healing, forgiving myself and others, taking new risks while being afraid, moving on, letting go, laying down my life and trusting God. I realized that I could not skip or take shortcuts to get to where I was going. As Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.” I love the person I became and the person I am becoming as a result of the “going through” and embracing God’s plan for me each day. Hard? Yes, but worth it.
A Practical Note:
Please pray for the single and the pain they suffer. If you ever need to offer words to someone struggling with their state of single life, it is always best to walk with them rather than give advice. There are so many bad “words of wisdom.” Be there. Listen. Offer an “I’m sorry you’re hurting and going through this.” Pray with and for them.