Every Step Counts
Want to be the best version of you? Take the first step!
My testimony is not about a powerful conversion, a life changing moment or a miraculous healing. It is a journey of small steps—a journey where I continually stumbled and fell, but God always picked me up and walked with me. I was born and raised Catholic. However, as many people could attest, this does not always amount to much. I participated in the Sacraments and went to Church regularly, but a personal relationship with Jesus was lacking.
During my university life, whenever I encountered difficulties, I turned to God for comfort. He was always there for me, but I was not always there for Him. I put God in a compartment and I turned to Him only when I needed. He was certainly a part of my life, since I continued to go to Church on Sundays and pray frequently, but He was not central to my life. My own interests and desires were at the forefront of my mind. I never really paused to think about God’s will.
Six months before graduation, my whole world turned upside down. I went through a really deep depression and for a long time, there was only darkness. The despair and hopelessness I felt is hard to convey in words, but I think that many of you reading this will have felt it at some point. When it happens, we go one way or another. We run towards God seeking refuge in Him or run away from Him in anger.
Sadly, I chose the latter. I could not understand why God would put me through something so horrific if He loved me. For the best part of a year, I completely isolated myself. I stopped attending Church. I stopped going anywhere at all. I was caught up in feelings of shame and worthlessness. Thoughts like ‘you’re a burden’ and ‘everyone would be so much better off without you’ constantly invaded my head. My mind was like a prison that I just could not escape from.
Thankfully, that was not the end of my story. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose”. This reassures us that, whatever may happen in our lives, God will work it out for our good. It also lovingly reminds us that we have been chosen by Him and we have a purpose through Him. This became evident in my life when I slowly returned to the faith with the help of various people and incidents that God surely orchestrated.
This time, it was different. I attended daily Mass and retreats as I truly sought God’s love. However, my mental health struggles kept recurring. There was not any progression or recovery, so my future looked bleak. I was fed up with life constantly. The hope and peace Jesus promised seemed far away. As I said before, there was not a magical moment when things turned around for me as I would have liked. I had to wait for God’s timing. Nevertheless, some small steps helped me progress to a more positive state.
My family is my biggest blessing. They have stood by me through the darkest times and I am truly grateful to God for them. About two years ago, we started reading the Bible for thirty minutes daily—something we continue to do. Even though it can be arduous, especially when delving into some of the Old Testament, it is definitely worth persevering. When we appreciate that the Bible is the living Word of God, we realize that there is an answer in there for everything.
“Satan’s target is your mind and his weapons are lies. So fill your mind with the Word of God”—Greg Locke.
This quote emphasizes how the devil uses lies against us as weapons. My struggles were mainly with my mind and I felt trapped. I wrestled with many sins that kept coming up again and again. The devil told me that I was unloved, broken and worthless when in actual fact, I am a child of God, who is infinitely loved. These are a few affirmations that the Word of God gives each of us:
“I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works that He has prepared for me to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
“The Spirit of God, who is greater than the enemy in the world, lives in me.” (1 John 4:4)
“I am chosen by God who called me out of the darkness of sin and into the light and life of Christ so I can proclaim the excellence and greatness of who He is.” (1 Peter 2:9)
One of my favorite things about the Catholic faith is the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation). Being able to run to Confession and pour out my heart to Jesus has been immensely valuable. Receiving His forgiveness frees us from the guilt and shame which the devil condemns us to. The Holy Spirit helps us realize when we are on the wrong path, needing to repent and turn back to God. As long as we do this, there is nothing to worry about, although we may have to do it over and over again. The further we have strayed from God, the more He rejoices when we come back, just as the father celebrated when the prodigal son returned.
This took me a while to realize and I still have not grasped it fully; I do not need to do anything at all to earn God’s love. It is an unconditional gift that He pours out on us. His love is not dependent on me or my flawed self. It is dependent on His nature which is all loving and merciful. Even through my darkest times and yours, this love gives us hope. In the book of the prophet Hosea, God proclaims that He will “transform the Valley of Trouble into a Gateway of Hope” (Hosea 2:15). This beautifully portrays what happened in my life. Through His love, God transformed my troubles into an opportunity to have hope and share that hope with you.
Step by Step
In hindsight, my pain led me to ultimately get closer to God. He is the only one who has truly been there for me through everything. He is not only the majestic, all powerful God, He is my comforter and friend. I have learned to be more accepting of God’s will and His timing. My life definitely didn’t pan out the way I planned, but that is not a bad thing because God’s ways are higher than my ways. “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Many small factors contributed over time to increasing my faith. It led me to a deeper appreciation and understanding of God. I also truly believe that the power of prayer has helped me survive life’s many challenges. I humbly request that you keep me in your prayers and that we all adopt a mentality of praying for each other. As my testimony shows, we do not necessarily have to do ‘big’ things to get closer to God. Small steps are all it takes. I hope you are able to take a small step towards God today. He is waiting lovingly with open arms.
Dear God, I firmly believe and hope in You. Each day I rise up to take one more step closer to You. All I ask is for the grace to know You and love You. Let me be enfolded in Your loving arms. Amen
Steffi Siby has a passion for reading and writing. She lives with
her family in Blackpool, England. To read more of her articles visit:
Apr 14, 2023
Apr 14, 2023
Freelance artist Holly Rodriguez had been an atheist all her life and never thought about God or considered joining a religion or even going to church, but one day…
It was December of 2016, I had woken up one winter morning wanting nothing more than my usual cup of coffee. I had been an atheist all of my life. I had never thought about God and certainly never considered joining a religion or going to church. However on that day, for no reason at all, I felt a sudden desire to go to church. There was nothing unusual going on in my life to bring about this sudden change of heart. I had been living a fairly normal, quiet life as a freelance artist in a small seaside town in Kent, England.
I searched for the closest church that was open that day and found a Roman Catholic church within walking distance. That was a surprise.Although I had passed that area many times, I had never noticed a church there before. It’s amazing how blind we are to the presence of God, and how near He is to us, when we walk the path of life with a closed heart.
I phoned the church and a kind lady answered the phone.She introduced herself as the parish secretary and I asked her some questions which she was happy to answer. She told me the church was Catholic and that she would let the priest know I had phoned and we said our goodbyes. I was shy and didn’t know what to expect. I’ve always been one of those people who likes to know everything about a situation before making a decision. I didn’t know what a Catholic Church was, and had never met a priest before. I decided to take the day off work and learn about the Catholic faith, so did a lot of reading on Wikipedia for a few hours.
Then my phone rang.On the other line was a kind voice—a priest who introduced himself as Father Mark. He was very friendly and enthusiastic which came as a shock to me. I had never in my life met someone so eager to meet me and welcome me. We scheduled a time for me to visit the church the next day. When I had arrived, Father Mark was there in his cassock to greet me. It was the first time I’d seen a priest in person and I remember being really fascinated by his cassock. I guess I’d never thought about what a priest looks like. I had only seen the Pope briefly on the television news occasionally, but never anything beyond that.
Father Mark sat with me and we talked for a couple of hours, then he invited me to join the “RCIA” classes. He also suggested that it was a good idea to start going to Mass right away, so I did. I can recall the first Mass I ever went to. It was Gaudete Sunday and I sat in the very front pew, absolutely clueless to the etiquette. Everyone around me was standing and then sitting and then standing again and sometimes kneeling, and reciting the creed and other prayers. I was new and found this a bit intimidating, but also fascinating and intriguing. I followed what everyone else was doing to the best of my ability. The priest was wearing a beautiful rose vestment that looked very ornate and delicate. He chanted at the altar and I watched and listened closely as incense filled the chapel. It was a very beautiful English Mass, and from then on I knew I’d come back.
Straight to the Heart
I liked it so much that I kept going back every weekend and even started attending daily Mass. My love for Jesus grew at every encounter. During my first Christmas Eve Mass, the priest tenderly carried the Christ Child statue, wrapped in his ivory satin cope the way that priests hold a monstrance.As he processed around the chapel with the Infant Christ to the crib, accompanied by the chanting of prayers, I was moved to tears. I thought that was so lovely. Never in my life had I seen anything like it before.
As I prepared to be received into the Catholic Church, I spent a lot of time reading at home, especially from the catechism given to me by the priests of the parish. A week before my baptism that I was told I’d need to choose a Saint for my confirmation. There were thousands of Saints however, and didn’t know how I’d choose from them all. I knew nothing about them except for Saint Philomena because the priest did a homily on her one Sunday morning. By divine providence I came across a fascinating book, “Interior Castles” while I was volunteering in the parish café. It was written by a Spanish Saint I’d never even heard of before—the Carmelite nun, Saint Teresa of Avila. Since my family is of Spanish heritage, I chose her as my patron although I didn’t know much else about her.
Finally, during the Easter vigil Mass on April 15th 2017, I was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church. I was so excited that I could now receive the Blessed Sacrament at the altar rail, instead of a blessing that I was up bright and early on Easter Sunday to sing with the choir at the main Mass. Soon after, I joined the Legion of Mary and began praying the Rosary, making Rosaries and doing mission work around the town to bring the lapsed Catholics back to Mass and pray the Rosary with people at home.
Saint Teresa remained a guiding influence in my life, teaching me to love Jesus more and more, but I had no idea who the Carmelites were until I joined our parish on a day pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Simon Stock at Aylesford Priory, a historic home of the Carmelite friars.
A Radical Change
Years later, I would stumble upon another Spaniard, Saint Josemaria Escriva who also had a great love for Saint Teresa of Avila and the Carmelites. He was the founder of Opus Dei, a prelature within the Catholic Church, which I joined as a co-operator, with a mission to pray for the members and priests. I felt God calling me to a deeper commitment, but didn’t know if that was with Opus Dei, or in religious life as a nun.A priest friend told me that I had to make up my mind and choose which path to take, that I couldn’t stay suspended in uncertainty forever. He was right, so I began to pray and fast, listening to God’s call. My life had gone through a lot of changes in a short period of time and I suffered a dark night of the soul.
My Cross felt very heavy, but I knew that if I kept persevering in my faith, all would be well. I had to let go of the need for total control, allow God to lead the way and stop fighting against His will.I had been too caught up in my own ego and desires to really listen to Him. When that epiphany came, I decided to let go and live each day as it came to me, as a gift from God and to let Him lead the way. I adopted the philosophy that God places us where we are in life because that is where He needs us at that specific time. I made myself an instrument to His divine will. When I abandoned myself to Him, God showed me that everything had happened that way because He was calling me from the very start.
Lead Kindly Light
I kept receiving gifts from the Saints which were leading me to Carmel. One day, I was entranced by a bright pink rose growing out of the cement. Later I discovered that it was the birthday of Saint Thèrése of Lisieux who said that she would send people roses as a sign from Heaven. That same day, I was in a secular incense shop when I came across a box of pretty rose scented incense sticks with an image of St Thèrése of Lisieux on the box. These little signs helped plant seeds of vocation and seeds of faith.
As I write this, I am about to celebrate my 6th anniversary as a Catholic and preparing to enter the sacred garden of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Accepting this vocation to be a cloistered nun, if God wills it to be so, I spend my life praying for the Church, for the world, and for priests. It has been a long journey, and I have met so many wonderful people along the way.
Saint Thèrése of Lisieux referred to Carmel as her desert where Our Lord spent forty days in contemplation and prayer, but for me it is the garden of Gethsemane where Our Lord sat among the olive trees in agony. I join Him in His agony with unbridled love, and walk with Him on the Via Dolorosa. Together we suffer for souls and offer the world our love.
Mar 30, 2023
Mar 30, 2023
Despite growing up as a Baptist, alcohol, drugs and college life threw John Edwards into a whirlwind, but did God abandon him? Read on to find out.
I was born and raised in a Baptist family in midtown Memphis. I never had a lot of friends in school, but I had a lot at church. That's where my community was. I spent every day with these guys and girls, evangelizing and enjoying all the things that you did as a young Baptist. I loved that period of my life, but when I turned 18, my friendship group dispersed. I was still uncertain about what I wanted to do with my life while most of them went off to college leaving me, for the first time in my life, without a community. I was also at the point in my life where I had to decide what to do. I enrolled at the University of Memphis, a local university, and joined a fraternity. It was then I began to get involved in drinking, drugs, and chasing women. Unfortunately, I filled this void with all the activities that you see in a lot of movies and started drinking and chasing women. One night I made a bad decision--one of the worst decisions of my life--to do cocaine. It plagued me for the next 17 years of my life.
When I met Angela, my future wife, I overheard her say that the man she would someday marry had to be Catholic. I wanted to be her man. Even though I had not been to church for over 10 years, I wanted to marry this wonderful woman. Before we married, I went through the RCIA program and became a Catholic, but the truth of the Catholic Church never took deep roots in me because I was just going through the motions.
As I became a successful salesperson, I had a lot of responsibilities and stress. My income was entirely dependent on the commissions I made on sales and I had very demanding customers. If a fellow worker made a mistake, or caused an issue, I could lose our income. To relieve the pressure, I began to throw myself into drug use at night, but I managed to hide this from my wife. She had no idea what I was doing.
Shortly after the birth of Jacob, our first baby, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She had just two weeks to a couple months to live and that really threw me over the edge. I remember asking God: “How can You let a lying scumbag drug addict like me live, but let someone like her, who has loved You without fail her whole life, die? If that's the kind of God You are, then I don't want anything to do with You!” That day, I remember looking up at the sky and saying: “I hate You and I will never worship You again!” That’s the day when I fully turned away and walked away from God.
The Turning Point
I had some customers who were very difficult to deal with. Even at night, there was no respite, with texts threatening to take their business away. All the stress overwhelmed me, and I threw myself into the drugs more and more each night. One night, around two in the morning, I suddenly woke up and sat up in bed. It felt like my heart was going to blow out of my chest. I thought: ‘I'm gonna have a heart attack and die’. I wanted to call out to God, but my proud, selfish, stubborn nature would not give in.
I didn’t die, but I resolved to throw out the drugs and pour out the alcohol…I followed through with that in the morning…only to buy more drugs and beer in the afternoon. The same thing happened over and over again—customers texting, using drugs to fall asleep, and waking up in the middle of the night.
One day, my desire for drugs was so great that I stopped to buy cocaine on my way to pick up my son, Jacob, from my father-in-law's house! As I drove away from the drug dealer’s house, I heard a police siren! The drug enforcement agency was right behind me. Even while I sat in the police station being questioned with my leg chained to a bench, I still thought I was going to get out of this. As a super salesman, I believed I could talk my way out of anything. But not this time! I ended up in jail in downtown Memphis. Next morning, I thought it was all just a nightmare, until I hit my head on the steel bunk.
When it dawned on me that I was in jail and not in my home, I panicked. This can't be happening…everybody's going to know…I’m going to lose my job…my wife…my kids…everything in my life…” Very slowly, I began to look back over my life and think about how this all began. That's when I realized how much I had lost when I walked away from Jesus Christ. My eyes filled with tears and I spent that afternoon in prayer. I would later realize that this was no ordinary day. It was Holy Thursday, 3 days before Easter, the day when Jesus chided His apostles when they could not watch one hour with Him as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. While I talked to Him in prayer, I received a deep sense of certainty that Jesus had never left me, even when I had walked away from Him. He had always been with me even in my darkest moments.
When my wife and my mother-in-law came to visit, I was filled with anxiety. I was expecting my wife to say: “I’m done with you. I'm leaving you and taking the children!” It felt like a scene from Law and Order where the prisoner talks on the phone to his visitor on the other side of the glass. As soon as I saw them, I burst into tears and sobbed, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” When she spoke, I could hardly believe my ears. “John, stop…I’m not going to divorce you. It has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with the vows we made in the Church…” However, she told me that I couldn't come home yet, even though she was bailing me out. My sister was supposed to pick up that evening from jail to take me to my father's farm in Mississippi. It was Good Friday when I walked out of jail. When I looked up it wasn’t my sister waiting for me but my father. I was nervous to see him but we wound up having the realest conversation we had ever had on the hour and a half car ride down to the farm.
A Chance Encounter
I knew that I had to do something to change my life and I wanted to start with Mass on Easter Sunday. But when I pulled up at the church for the 11 o'clock Mass, no-one was there. I began to hit the steering wheel with my fists in disappointment and anger. For the first time in 10 years, I wanted to go to Mass and nobody was there. Did God care at all? The next moment, a Sister pulled up and asked if I wanted to go to Mass, then she redirected me to the next town where I found the church filled with families. This felt like another crushing blow because I wasn't with my own family.
All I could think about was my wife and how I longed to be worthy of her. I recognized the priest. The last time I saw him, many years ago, I was with her. When Mass finished, I remained in the pew asking God to heal me and reunite me with my family. When I finally got up to leave, I felt an arm on my shoulder which surprised me, since I didn’t know anybody there. As I turned around, I saw that it was the priest who greeted me warmly, “Hello, John”. I was stunned that he remembered my name because it had been at least five years since our last meeting, and that had lasted for about 2 seconds. He took my hand and told me, “I don't know why you're here alone or where your family is, but God wants me to tell you that everything's going to be alright.” I was flabbergasted. How could he know?
I made up my mind to change my life and go to rehab. My wife came with me when I was admitted and returned to bring me home after 30 days of outpatient care. When my children saw me walk in the door, they cried and threw their arms around me. They jumped all over me and we played until it was time for bed. As I lay in my bed, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to be there--comfortable in my house with air conditioning and a TV that I could watch whenever I wanted to; dining on food that wasn't prison slop; and lying in my own bed again.
I smiled as if I was king of the castle until I looked over to Angela’s empty side of the bed. I thought to myself: “I need to change my whole life; stopping the drugs and alcohol isn’t enough.” I opened my bedside table, looking for a Bible and found a book that Father Larry Richards had given me at a conference. I had only read 3 or 4 pages back then, but when I picked it up that night, I couldn’t put it down until I had read it cover to cover. I stayed up all night and was still reading when my wife woke at 6 am. The book quickened my understanding of what it meant to be a good husband and a father. I earnestly promised my wife that I was going to be the man she deserved. That book set me on a course to start reading Scripture again. I realized how much I’d missed in my life and wanted to make up for lost time. I started leading my family to Mass, and prayed for hours on end each night. In the first year, I read over 70 Catholic books in that first year. Little, by little, I began to change.
My wife gave me an opportunity to become the man God called me to be. Now, I’m trying to help other people do the same through my podcast ‘Just a Guy in the Pew’.
On Holy Thursday, Jesus prepared to die, and I chose to die to my old self. On Easter Sunday, I felt that I was also resurrected with Him. We know that satan may be quiet when we're on a path far away from Jesus. It's when we start coming closer and closer to Christ that he starts to get really loud. When his lies start to surround us, then we know that we are doing something good. Never give up. Keep on persevering in the love of God, all through your life. You’ll never regret it.
Mar 14, 2023
Mar 14, 2023
Saying “Yes” to God is the best decision you can ever make!
“Please help,” pleaded the church lady making the announcements after Mass, “we desperately need teachers for the junior high religious education program.” I pretended not to hear. We had just moved back to Arizona from Illinois, and the oldest of our five children was entering high school. Each Sunday, the same simple entreaty. God must have been working on me week after week. I knew I was adding five kids to the roster; after all, maybe I should help. My resolve faded, and I signed up.
I’ve always said that I wasn’t born with a “no” gene, and organizations can see me coming a mile away. This newest yes is a point in case. “I’m a cradle Catholic; how hard could teaching kids be?”
Over the next couple of years, youth ministers popped in and out. After the most recent departure, our Pastor approached me and stated that my fellow volunteer teachers had recommended me to take over as youth minister. Me? Are you willing to try? Again, that missing no-gene failed to save me. God works in mysterious ways, and within a few weeks, I was the new junior high church lady. I previously assumed that only Priests and Nuns could work for the Catholic Church. I remember thinking how awesome it would be to work in such a holy environment with like-minded co-workers in the Lord’s Vineyard. It did not take long for that fantasy to be eradicated.
Shortly into my new gig, I had the distressing realization that someone who worked for the Church must be someone who had answers to tough questions and possessed theological smarts. That thought terrified me. I had no background or education in anything churchy. The reality that I was dumb as dirt when it came to faith invaded me every waking moment. Over forty years of being a Catholic and I knew squat. I was unaware of the often quoted line in which God equips those he calls. It was that very fear; however, that propelled me into action. Attending college was not an option. This meant I needed to get creative. I came across a cassette from Sister Gloria when one son was in her kindergarten class. For eight years, I never made the time to listen to it. Something compelled me to do so now. It was called “The Conversion Story of Dr. Scott Hahn.” I had no idea who Dr. Hahn was, but in a quiet moment, I pushed play. This Presbyterian minister’s journey for truth was fascinating, which brought him into the Catholic Church.
I craved more.
About that time, we were made aware of a Catholic family conference in California happening that summer. I had never heard of most speakers, but Dr. Hahn would be there. My husband was intrigued as well, and we brought the whole family. Speakers such as Tim Staples, Jesse Romero, Steve Ray, and so many other converts inspired us, fanning the embers of our hearts. We bought books and cassettes on many topics, including apologetics and the art of defending the faith. The kids were excited, and so were we. A passion was starting to burn in us that we simply did not have before. Year after year, we would invite other families to join us at the family conference, and they too would be set aflame.
I needed to be certified as a youth minister. Once again, God provided, and I attended the St. John Bosco summer conference at Franciscan University. This was all a new adventure to me. I had never experienced God through prayer, worship, adoration, catechesis, and incredible speakers. I hungered for more with a voracity previously inexperienced. With every precious morsel I consumed, I desired more. How could I be this old and so ignorant of God and my faith?
Contrary to what people imagine, expanding your knowledge and love of God isn’t boring. It was stimulating and inspiring. My relationship with God was finally being fed. The Mass came alive for us. The joy and increase in faith were evident to all I encountered. My enthusiastic passion invaded all aspects of my life, especially ministry work. God generously blessed my, yes, and the fruit was abounding. All along, God had been moving me closer to Him, laying the breadcrumbs that brought me closer step by step.
Twenty-one years later, I still work for the Catholic Church but am now in Marriage Preparation. I still pursue many avenues of continuing to stoke that fire that was set ablaze so many years ago. My endless gratitude goes to those converts who, at all costs, pursued truth and were open to where God led them. They will never know how many lives God impacted by their yes, and by extension, mine.
And those five little kids were married in the Church and are raising their children to know God and love their Catholic faith. My husband, too, has been a Deacon for ten years. All glory to you, oh Lord. You are so generous and good to us; you knew the best route to set my heart on fire. I cannot thank you enough. “Moreover, God can make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Through suffering and prayer, everything you have given me has led me ever closer to you and all those whom you have placed on my path. Thank you Lord!
Feb 09, 2023
Feb 09, 2023
Let God write a beautiful story into your life
It was a beautiful summer day as we relaxed and chatted with friends while the children laughed and played in the creek. They proudly told us about their older son who had gone to Mexico to pursue his career in dentistry because it was much more affordable in their home country. Their son had told them about the new friends he was making. One of the girls he met astonished him by her behavior and attitude which didn’t quite match up with his conservative values, so he decided to step away from her. They were so proud of their son because he was able to perceive that it was not a good idea to pursue friendship or relationship with this girl. I could understand his caution, but I had a different perspective because I was once, ‘that girl’...
I was born in a small town in Quebec which was a great place to raise a family. Unfortunately, my parents divorced when I was only 2 years old, so I grew up with my mom and her partner, and only visited my dad once a fortnight. I always felt a lack of love and was not really introduced to Jesus. Although my parents were Catholics, and my mom made sure I received all my sacraments, she didn’t bring me to Sunday Mass, nor pray in the home, even the Rosary or Grace before meals. My faith was pretty basic. My father was Italian, but grew up in Canada. His mother was a devout Catholic and would never forget to pray every day. It’s a shame I didn’t follow in her footsteps...Yet God had other plans for me, I guess.
As I was growing up, I felt rejected by other kids because of my skin color. My mom is from Costa Rica so I wasn’t the typical French Canadian. However, I managed to make plenty of friends, although they weren’t all a good influence. As puberty hit, I developed into an attractive young lady who appeared much older than I was. I took advantage of this to become popular and had no problem getting boyfriends. My mom never really gave me the sexual education I needed and the environment I was living in was not a conservative one. As time went by, I suffered deception after deception. I felt empty. My “joy” was always temporary and soon enough, I ended up in someone else’s arms.
Search for Love
When I finished high school, I decided to take a year off and go to Costa Rica to live with my aunt before I started college. Since I already had a part-time job to buy my own fashionable clothes, make up, perfume etc, I saved money to fund the trip and learn Spanish in an academy. I arrived during the holiday season, so lots of festivities were taking place. Since my relationships with men were always ending badly, I had decided (at 18) that I was through with men. I resolved to spend time with family instead, but God, had other plans for me...
Five days after my arrival, my cousin took me to a restaurant-bar where he was meeting some friends. As soon as we sat down, a very handsome guy smiled at me. I blushed and smiled back. He asked if he could join us, and I accepted with pleasure. We both felt an immediate bond and arranged to meet again the next day, and the next, and the next and so on. Despite our cultural differences, we had so much in common and we were able to connect in a way we could not imagine. He told me, “What matters most to me is what’s in your head and what’s in your heart.” Nobody had ever said anything like that to me before.
William and I became inseparable. He even invited me to go to Mass with him before we went somewhere. Although I didn’t really pay attention, it still pleased me because I was with him. Then he invited me to go on a pilgrimage with his family to the basilica of Cartago that involved 4 hours of walking. Again, I didn’t really go because of my faith.
A Heart Poured Out
I was amazed to see thousands and thousands of people coming to the church, asking the Blessed Virgin Mary for a favor, or giving thanks for the favors they had received. It was incredible. Every one of them would enter the church, kneel down and walk on their knees all the way down the aisle until they reached the altar. When our turn came, I was feeling perfectly fine, but as soon as I knelt down, I felt like I was out of air. A big knot formed in my throat and I exploded in tears. I wept like a baby all the way to the altar. William looked at me, wondering what was happening, but didn’t say anything. Once we were outside again, his mom, Sandra asked me what had happened. “I don’t know,” I gasped. She said that Jesus had come to visit my heart. I knew she was right. It was like meeting someone you loved deeply after a long separation. Something supernatural, beyond my control, was taking over me.
From that moment on, I felt like a new person and my life was starting afresh. William took me to Confession for the first time since my Confirmation at 11 years old. My list was so long...I think the priest wanted to retire after hearing my confession. We have a lot of work to do he said!
William and I married 4 years later and God has blessed us with 3 beautiful boys. In 2016 we consecrated our family to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. My faith has continued to grow. I started serving the Church in various ministries: most recently as a catechist. God has truly spun my life in a different direction. He continues to polish my soul, crafting me into His masterpiece. Even the challenging times are part of His plan. When I embrace my cross and follow Him, He leads me towards His kingdom. Jesus chose me to serve as He did.
When I offer up little annoyances and humiliations in sacrifice to Him, He changes them into something more beautiful than I could ever imagine, as He has changed me.
As I reflected on what my friends had said, I thought of the old me, how lost I was, and how completely God transformed my life through the catalyst of meeting William. I advised them to encourage their son not to reject a friendship too hastily, but to let God’s light shine into their soul. Maybe God has a plan...
By: Claudia D’Ascanio
Dec 20, 2022
Dec 20, 2022
It’s time to let go & let God take over your life
I’m a 76-year-old cradle Catholic who grew up in an inter-church household with a Catholic mother and an Anglican father, so I never had the problem of the Orange and the Green. I am a European Chartered Engineer who accepted Jesus quite late in life.
Born during a time when the Catholic Church still demanded children of mixed marriages be baptized and brought up in “the faith,” I attended Catholic schools, learned about the sacraments, and duly made my first Confession and received First Holy Communion and Confirmation. I was even an altar server and remained a dutiful Catholic living at home until I left school and started an apprenticeship with a major electronics company. The apprenticeship led to a new job in a new town. After moving away, I started experiencing doubts about God and religion. Though I attended Mass regularly, I remember confessing that I thought I was losing my faith. The priest told me to pray about it. This I did badly, as I thought at the time.
Eventually, I fell in love with and married an Anglican woman. Life went on. Pauline and I had two boys who were baptized Catholic, and I continued being the same old “dutiful” Catholic I had always been. In 1989 I attended the Renew program at our parish. This was to become a major milestone in my pilgrimage to the Lord. Through this program I learned the importance of loving myself, for if you can’t love yourself how can you love anyone else?
Three years later, members of the parish ran a Life in the Spirit seminar, like the ALPHA program but without the pasta. I joined up because I wanted to do something to improve my prayer life. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was letting myself in for. During the penultimate evening I was prayed over for the baptism in the Holy Spirit although at the time I did not understand what this meant. Afterwards, standing in line for refreshments, I knew something important had happened.
The next day I was spiritually at 30,000 feet and it took me several days to come back to earth! I had become a Christian! I dusted off the Bible my wife had given me and I discovered the Word of God. This was the start of the disappearance of my lingering doubts about God. When I joined the parish prayer group I found strange people called Charismatics and struggled to make sense of their praying and singing in tongues. I told God I was not sure about this tongues business and then discovered the Lord’s mischievous sense of humor when shortly afterwards I received the gift myself.
Clearing the Mist
The Lord also revealed why I had been given the gift. My analytical mind often gets in the way of prayer, so the Lord gave me the gift of tongues to allow me to short circuit my mind and pray from the heart. My faith has become stronger and deeper. I am a reader at Mass and feel honored to be able to proclaim God’s word. I still find it difficult to pray, so the Lord again manifested his humor by seeing to it that I became the Intercessory Prayer Group Leader for a group of Christians from many Dunfermline Churches who feel drawn to “do something about the homeless.”
Since these experiences, I have experienced an almost complete healing of bad memories I have carried since childhood. I say ‘almost’ because I realize that, like Saint Paul, I have been left with a thorn in the flesh to guard me from the sin of pride.
We all receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit at our baptism and should unwrap them at our Confirmations. But I didn't unwrap mine until my renewal some 30 years later. Since then, the Lord has made use of my gifts of discernment, prophecy, and healing. God has also disabused me of the false notion that focusing on Jesus would be disloyal to the Father. I had always felt close to the Father and the Spirit, but now Jesus has been revealing himself to me as my brother and friend.
Spiritually, I am not the same person I was thirty years ago. Yes, I get tired, worried, and frustrated. I am only human. However now I feel a deep inner peace regardless of what is going on at the surface. It was God who took the initiative in my life to bring about these changes. I only had to cooperate with his grace.
I thank you Father for the Gift of Your Son Jesus, my redeemer, and Your Holy Spirit without whom I can do nothing. As I continue my journey of life, may I always remember that You are with me at all times. Amen.
Nov 03, 2022
Nov 03, 2022
Heard about World Youth Day? Sister Jane M. Abeln prods you to take a chance and experience this unbelievable celebration that brings Heaven to earth
From the day Pope John Paul II appeared as the new Pope with the words, “Be not afraid!”, I greatly admired and followed him. He inspired my work with youth, for whom he had a special charism. In 1984 and 1985, he issued a special invitation for youth to join him in Rome on Palm Sunday. This was so successful that he expanded it into a “World Youth Day” (or rather week) which now occurs in different nations around the world every two years.
A Polish-born journalist shared a marvelous insight into how Pope JPII evolved the idea of World Youth Days. “In Communist Poland, he had to find ways of helping Catholics express their faith. Every year, he organized pilgrimages to Jasna Gora (Shrine of the Black Madonna), for August 14-15. He discovered how greatly these built relationships and strengthened faith in his people.”
Although I am no longer a youth or young adult, God in His Providence made it possible for me to attend the North American World Youth Days. World Youth Day is designed for the 16-35 age group, but priests, religious, families and older chaperones are also welcome. With less than a year to go for the August 1-7, 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, I share my experiences to inspire you to join the pilgrimage, to support others to attend and to join them in prayer.
WYD 1993, Denver, Colorado, USA
With Pope John Paul II coming to Denver in 1993 for the first World Youth Day in the USA, I began planning a local event in our archdiocese to tie in with it. When it fell through, I read about a surplus “packet” offered by Salesians at a bargain price, which included the round trip flight and hotel, and arranged to go with a local youth group.
The motto of Denver World Youth Day was: “I have come to bring you life—abundant life” (John 10:10).We felt it enfolding us from the very moment we arrived to hear the airport filled with the joyful sound of young adults singing to the Lord in languages from around the globe. That continued through the catechetical days. The cheerful enthusiasm of the young people and their chaperones was like a foretaste of Heaven as they laughed, shared meals, smiles and deep conversations. Wherever they went, they sang, danced and chanted while they waved their banners and flags in the streets. Grace flowed as people flocked to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, pray around the clock at Eucharistic Adoration and gather for reverent, prayerful Masses. When Pope John Paul arrived, he was greeted by applause and animated voices chanting, “John Paul II, we love you.”
The culminating World Youth Day began with a pilgrimage on foot to the venue of the final Mass. Pilgrims could walk 15 miles, or take the trolley and walk just 3 miles. I chose the latter on the 90ᵒ F day, but after Vespers service with the Holy Father, the field at Denver’s mile-high site dropped to 40ᵒ. Although I nearly froze because I didn’t bring the warm clothing advised, I was entertained by the Spanish and French youth who danced all night. The dawning of a new day, returned warmth to our bodies as we emerged from our sleeping bags to prepare for the final Mass. This was so beautiful that tears of joy streamed from my eyes as I prayed in union with so many young people filled with hope for the future.
In a riveting homily to the millions gathered before him, Pope John Paul II challenged us to be active in promoting a “Culture of Life” to counter the devastation being wreaked by the “Culture of Death” which promotes contraception, abortion, euthanasia, divorce, despair and suicide. This call would inspire the formation of many new apostolates including “Crossroads” which began at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and has expanded into annual pro-life summer pilgrimages in 3 countries, publicly witnessing to the communities they pass through, as they make prayerful sacrifice for them.
WYD 2002, Toronto, Canada
In 2002, I was blessed to be sponsored to attend Pope John Paul II’s final World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada. Although the Pope was now bent with age, and shaking with Parkinson’s disease, he still had the capacity to invigorate and inspire a new generation to carry on the mission. Although Sunday started with a downpour, I clung to a hope that it would clear. The Gospel came from Matthew 5. Just as the words, “You are the light of the world,” (Mt 5:14) rang out through the stadium, the sun broke through the clouds.
The Pope’s homily came straight from his Shepherd heart: “Jesus Christ is the Light in the world’s great darkness. Don’t get caught in the darkness. Although I have lived through much darkness…I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young.”
He directly addressed the sex-abuse scandal that had just broken out: “Don’t be discouraged by sins of darkness, even in priests and religious. BUT [he shouted] remember the many good priests and religious whose only desire is to serve and do good.” He encouraged the youth to follow religious and priestly vocations—“the royal road of the Cross” on which, in difficult times, “the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent.” Many vocations were born that year.
When our Holy Father announced the next site as 2005 in Cologne, Germany, he added, “Christ will meet you there.” My heart skipped a beat and tears filled my eyes, because he usually said, “I will meet you there.” I knew, we all knew, that he knew his final days were at hand.
2005 and beyond
In August 2005, I sat with my dying Dad watching on television as Pope Benedict sailed down the Rhine River to meet the world’s youth in Cologne. It amazed me to realize that the Pope who succeeded Pope John Paul II was a native of the country already chosen for the next World Youth Day! A similar thing happened in 2013. As youth from every continent, except Antarctica, prepared for World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Pope Benedict resigned, and was succeeded by Pope Francis from the continent already chosen. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis both totally embraced the legacy of their predecessor and World Youth Day continues to inspire youth to follow the path of holiness.
WYD 2023, Lisbon, Portugal
Young people from all over the world are now planning to travel to Lisbon for the next World Youth Day. The host country is planning for Days in the Diocese across Portugal for youth to experience their culture, and they have an enticing program packed with talks, workshops, and events from some of the Church’s best preachers, musicians, and artists. Local families, schools and parishes are preparing to accommodate the many young pilgrims. The Sacrament of Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration will be everywhere and teams are already praying for the expected visitors. Pilgrimage groups are forming in nations around the world, and parishes are fundraising to assist their youth to attend. If God is calling you there, He can help you get there, and sustain you on life’s journey. It’s one of the treasures of the Catholic Church in our time. (See your diocesan website, and YouTube and Facebook for the official promo, song in 5 languages, logo, and scenes).
Those who can’t attend can participate in some events via social media, and pray in union with the pilgrims.
By: Sister Jane M. Abeln SMIC
Oct 26, 2022
Oct 26, 2022
As a young drug addict, Jim Wahlberg felt despised and forgotten by the world…until God spoke to him through a special person! Read his inspiring story of redemption
I grew up Catholic, but more in the Catholic tradition than the Catholic faith. I was baptized and made my first Holy Communion. My parents sent us to church, but we didn’t go to Sunday Mass as a family. There were 9 children in my family, so anybody who was old enough to walk to church, walked to church. I remember the feeling of not belonging: the few times I went to church I would take the bulletin, and then go off to do something else. Then I stopped going altogether. Most of my siblings did the same. Nobody ever told me that Jesus died for me or that God loved me or that the Virgin Mary would intercede on my behalf. I felt I wasn’t worthy, that the people in the pews were better than me and that they were somehow judging me. I was starving for attention and acceptance.
When I was 8 years old, I saw the neighborhood kids drinking beer. I forced myself into their little group and convinced them to give me some. I didn’t become an alcoholic that day, but I got my first taste of acceptance and attention from the older, ‘cool’ kids. I was instantly hooked on the attention and continued to hang around the people that were drinking, doing drugs or smoking, because I found acceptance there. I spent the rest of my adolescence chasing that attention.
I grew up during the forced integration of the Boston public school system, so every year I was put on a bus and sent to school in a different neighborhood. I attended seven different schools during my first seven years of grade school, which meant each year I started over as “the new kid”. God was completely out of the picture. The only relationship I had with God was one of fear. I remember hearing over and over that God was going to get me, that He was watching, and that He was going to punish me for all the bad things I was doing.
A Lost Little Boy
On the Friday night of my last day of 7th grade, I was getting ready to go out when my dad turned to me and said, “Don’t forget, when those streetlights come on, you better be in this house, or else don’t bother to come home.” That was his threat to make sure I followed the rules. I was a 12-year-old boy hanging out with other 12-year-old kids that were all from broken homes. We were all drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and doing drugs. Later that night, when I looked up and saw the streetlights come on, I knew I wasn’t going to make it home. Since I would be late, going home wasn’t an option, so I spent that entire summer down the street, a mile or two away from home, hanging out with my friends. We did drugs and drank alcohol every day. I was just a lost little boy.
During that summer, I was arrested a few times and became a ward of the state. It was not long before I was no longer welcome at home. I was placed in foster care, group homes and juvenile detention centers. I was homeless and completely lost and alone. The only thing that filled the emptiness was the alcohol and drugs. I would consume them, and then pass out or go to sleep. When I woke up, I would be filled with fear, and I would need more drugs and alcohol. From age 12 to 17, I was either homeless, or living in someone else’s home, or in juvenile detention.
Shackled and Broken
At 17 I got arrested again for injuring someone. I ended up being sent to the state prison on a 3-to- 5-year sentence. I found myself fighting the same inner battle as when I was younger, struggling for attention and acceptance, trying to create an illusion. I served the full five years of my sentence.
At the end of the prison term, they said I could go home, but the problem was I had no home to go to. An older brother was kind enough to say, “You can stay with me until you get on your feet.” But that would never happen. My brother picked me up at the prison to take me to see my mom. But first we stopped for a drink at a bar in my old neighborhood. I had to have a drink, before I could see my mom. It was my first legal drink, since I was now over 21. When I sat at my mother’s kitchen table, she didn’t recognize me as her child; she felt I was stranger.
I had been out of prison for approximately six months before I was arrested again for house invasion. The house I broke into belonged to a Boston police officer. In court, the officer spoke on my behalf. He said, “Look at this kid, look at his condition. Why don’t you get him help? I don’t know if prison is the right place for him.” He showed me sympathy because he could see I was a full-blown drug addict.
Suddenly I was back in prison serving a six-year sentence. I did all I could to create the illusion that I was changing my life so the police would release me early to rehabilitation. But I didn’t need rehabilitation—I needed God.
The Road to Freedom
After a few months of putting on this show of transforming my life, the prison chaplain, Father James, took notice of me and offered me a job as a custodian in his chapel. My first thought was, “I’m going to manipulate this guy”. He smoked cigarettes, drank coffee, had a phone—all things that inmates don’t have access to. So, I took the job, ulterior motives and all.
But what I didn’t know was that he also had a plan. When he approached me, his goal was to hustle me just as much as I was planning to hustle him. But his manipulation was for the glory of God. He wanted to get me back to Mass, back to the foot of the Cross. Soon after I started working in the chapel, I asked for a couple favors from Father James. When he granted my requests, it felt like my manipulation was working. One day, however, he approached me and told me he wanted me to come and clean after the Saturday Vigil Mass so that the chapel would be ready for Sunday Mass. When I offered to come after Mass, he insisted I come beforehand and stay through the Mass. He was already pushing me in the direction of faith.
A Divine Appointment
At the Mass, I felt awkward and uncomfortable. I didn’t know the prayers or when to sit or stand, so I watched what everyone else was doing to get by. Soon after, Father James officially hired me for the custodian job, and told me we would be having a special guest at the prison, “Mother Teresa.” I said, “Oh that’s amazing! Who is Mother Teresa?” Looking back, I probably didn’t even know who the President of the United States was at the time; my life revolved solely around consuming alcohol, and I rarely concerned myself with people and events outside my bubble of addiction.
Soon, Mother Teresa arrived at our prison. I remember seeing her in the distance and thinking, “Who is this person that all of the dignitaries, the warden, and the prisoners are swarming around, hanging on her every word?” Pulling closer, I noticed that her sweater and shoes looked a thousand years old. But I also noticed the peace in her eyes, and the money that filled her pockets. People often gave her money knowing she would give it to the poor.Since I worked at the chapel, I was blessed to be part of the entrance procession for the Mass with Mother Teresa. Prisoner that I was, I stood surrounded by the Cardinal, other dignitaries, and sisters from her order. The Cardinal invited Mother Teresa to sit at the altar with him, but she humbly declined, and with a reverent bow, went and knelt on the floor with some of the most dangerous criminals that I had ever met in my life.
Gazing Into God’s Eyes
As I sat on the floor, I caught her eye and I felt as though I was looking at God. Mother Teresa then ascended the altar steps and spoke words that touched me deeply, words that I had never heard before. She said that Jesus died for my sins, that I was more than the crimes I had committed, that I was a child of God, and that I mattered to God. In that moment, in that stillness, I felt as though there was no one else in the room, as though she was speaking directly to me. Her words reached a deep part of my soul.
I ran back to the chapel the next day and told Father, “I need to know more about the Jesus that she was talking about, the God and the Catholic faith that she was talking about.” Father James was delighted! He had me right at the foot of the Cross where he had wanted me ever since he offered me the custodian job. I was willing to do anything to learn more about Jesus, so Father James started preparing me for my Confirmation.
We met every week, studying the Catechism to learn about the faith. Though I was twice transferred to other prisons, I connected with the priests in those prisons as well, and was able to continue growing in my faith.
A New Beginning
A year later, it was time for me to make my formal commitment to my faith. My Confirmation was a thoughtful and intentional moment in my life. As an adult, I knew this was a major step that would set me on the road to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ
When the time came, I called my mom to tell her I was going to be confirmed, and that I would love for her to be there. She had promised she would never visit me in prison, so she was wary. After all that I had put her through, she was wounded as a mother. But when I called again a couple of days later, she agreed to come. The Confirmation day was monumental. It was not only significant for me and my walk with Christ, but also for my relationship with my mother.
The following year, it was time for me to stand before the parole board. They said they had a letter from my mother she had written on my behalf. I knew my mother would never lie to the authorities to get me out of prison. Her letter read, “Before you stands a man of God. It’s okay, you can let him go now. He won’t be back.” Those words meant everything to me.
By the time my mother passed away, she had dementia. Over the years she had lost her ability to tell stories and her world became small. But even in those moments when she was most in the grip of dementia, she was able to recall my Confirmation, the moment when she knew I was saved.
Jesus Christ is my Savior, and I feel His presence in my life. While it requires work and effort, my relationship with Jesus is the most important one in my life. He will always love me and support me, but unless I fully engage in the relationship, I won’t know the comfort and love He longs to share with me.
It is an honor to share my journey.
Jesus Christ is our Savior.
Sep 23, 2022
Sep 23, 2022
The Question of Why
Physicist Christian Simon, 33, was an atheist for a long time and expected answers to all of life's pressing questions from science— until he came up against its limits
I grew up Catholic, received all the sacraments as is customary, and was also quite devout as a child. Unfortunately, over time I developed a terribly false image of God: God as a stern judge who throws sinners into hell, but otherwise very distant and not really interested in me. I doubted very much that God meant me well. In my youth, I even became more and more convinced that God had something against me. I imagined that He always did exactly the opposite of what I had asked Him to do. At some point it was over for me. I didn't want to know anything more about God.
Religion—A Thing for Weirdos
At the age of about 18, I was convinced that there was no God at all. For me, only what I could experience with my senses or what could be measured by the natural sciences counted. Religion seemed to me to be only something for weirdos who either had too much imagination or were simply totally indoctrinated and had never questioned their faith. I was convinced that if everyone were as smart as I was, no one would believe in God anymore.
After a few years of self-employment, I started studying physics at the age of 26. I was burningly interested in how the world works and hoped to find my answers in physics. Who could blame me? Physics can seem very mysterious with its incredibly sophisticated mathematics that very few people in the world understand. It's easy to get the idea that if you could just crack these coded forms and symbols, unimagined horizons of knowledge would open up—and that literally anything would then be possible. After studying all sorts of subfields of physics, and even getting to grips with the most up-to-date fundamental physics, I sat down to work on my master's thesis on an abstract theoretical topic—one which I wasn’t convinced would ever have any relation to the real world. I finally became very aware of the limits of physics: the highest goal physics could ever reach would be a complete mathematical description of nature. And that is already very optimistic thinking. At best, physics can describe how something works, but never why it works exactly the way it does and not differently. But this question about the why was tormenting me at this time.
The Probability of God
For reasons I cannot satisfactorily explain, I was gripped in the fall of 2019 by the question of whether there is a God after all. It was a question I had asked myself on and off, but this time it wouldn't let me go. It demanded an answer, and I would not stop until I found it. There was no key experience, no stroke of fate that would have led to it. Even Corona was not an issue at that time. For half a year I devoured everything I could find on the subject of "God" every day. During this time I did almost nothing else, so much did the question captivate me. I wanted to know if God existed and what the various religions and worldviews had to say about it. In doing so, my approach was very scientific. I thought that once I had collected all the arguments and clues, I would eventually be able to determine the probability as to whether God existed. If it were greater than 50 percent, then I would believe in God, otherwise not. Quite simple, isn't it? Not really!
During this intense period of research, I learned an incredible amount. First, I realized that I would not reach my goal with reason alone. Second, I had thought through to the end the consequences of a reality without God. I inevitably came to the conclusion that in a world without God, everything would ultimately be meaningless.
Certainly, one can try to give meaning even to one's life, but what would that be but an illusion, a conceit, a lie? From a purely scientific point of view, we know that at some point in the universe all the lights will go out. If nothing exists beyond that, what difference do my small and large decisions, indeed anything at all, make?
Faced with this sad prospect of a world without God, I decided in the spring of 2020 to give Him a second chance. What could it hurt to just pretend to believe in God for a while, and try everything that people who believe in God do? So I tried praying, attended church services, and just wanted to see what that would do to me. Of course, my basic openness to the existence of God didn't make me a Christian yet; after all, there were other religions. But my research had quickly convinced me that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical fact. For me, the authority of the Church as well as the Holy Scriptures follows from this.
Proof of God
So, what came out of my experiment in "faith"? The Holy Spirit awakened my conscience from its years of hibernation. He made it very clear to me that I needed radically to change my life. And He welcomed me with open arms. Basically, my story is in the biblical parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I received the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time with all my strength. To this day, after each confession, I feel as if I have been reborn. I feel it all over my body: the relief, the overflowing love of God that washes away all cloudiness of the soul. This experience alone is proof of God for me, as it far exceeds any scientific attempt at explanation.
In addition, God has gifted me with a plethora of great encounters in the last two years. Right at the beginning, when I started attending church services, I met a person who was just perfect for me in my situation at that time with all my questions and problems. To this day he is a faithful and good friend. Since then, almost every month great new people have come into my life, who have helped me enormously on my way to Jesus—and this process is still going on! "Happy coincidences" of this kind have accumulated to such an overwhelming extent that I am no longer able to believe in coincidences.
Today, I have fully focused my life on Jesus. Of course, I fail at it every day! But I also get back up every time. Thank God that God is merciful! I get to know Him a little better every day and am allowed to leave the old Christian Simon behind. This is often very painful, but always healing and I go on strengthened. The regular reception of the Eucharist contributes a great part to my strengthening. A life without Jesus is unimaginable for me today. I seek Him in daily prayer, praise, Scripture, service to others, and the sacraments. No one has ever loved me as He does. And to Him belongs my heart. For all time.
Jul 26, 2022
Jul 26, 2022
If you open your heart today, you can change the world! Daniella Stephans describes her incredible journey of finding love that never ends
I was a cradle Catholic, growing up in the heart of a Catholic family with 7 children. We went to Mass regularly and I felt drawn to learn more about my faith, to imitate the saints and felt attracted to the beautiful images which spoke to me about the presence of the Lord. He planted the seed of love into my life from a young age. When I was given the choice in my teens, I continued to go to Mass, even when some of my siblings didn’t, out of simple obedience. I always wanted to do the right thing and never wanted to get in trouble. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents and I knew it was a sin to deliberately miss Mass on Sundays.
However, I never really understood what was going on. I was just ticking off boxes through the different parts of the Mass. Although I felt that God was close to me, I didn’t know Him personally and still felt a gaping, throbbing hole in my heart. When I was really busy during the week, I didn’t have time to worry about it, but on weekends, I felt consumed by this deep loneliness.
Falling in Love
I was at the age, where I felt attracted by all that the material world had to offer, so I tried to solve my problem by drinking and going out to parties with friends, but that gaping hole remained unfilled. I felt rejected, lonely and disappointed. Although I wanted to be free to do my own thing, I was battling with my conscience which was telling me that so much of what I wanted to do was wrong. God hadn’t made me for that. I read in the Bible about Jacob wrestling with an angel and I could really relate to that.
As I was praying about all this at Mass one Sunday, I realized that I was in self-denial. God had a better plan for the life that He wanted me to live. Gazing up at a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I could sense that He was knocking on the door to my heart, asking to come in, but I was too scared to accept this amazing gift because I feared that Jesus would come in and take away my freedom. Until that moment, it was fear of getting in trouble that had kept me from worse sins. Then, somehow, by the grace of God, I found myself saying, “Right, Lord, I’ll give you a chance.”
In that moment, I looked up and for the first time noticed a picture of Jesus being baptised. He looked so strong humble and gentle. Instantly my heart changed. The fear melted away, the gaping hole was filled with incredible warmth and I fell in love with Jesus. This moment changed everything. I walked out of church feeling alive. I felt like the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was healed instantly, freed of all my pain.
I had been scared that if I let him into my heart, He would take away my freedom, but I was wrong. The cleft in the rock in which God placed Moses is analogous to the hole pierced in the side of Christ. I felt that Christ had pulled me into His Sacred Heart where I could be kept close and protected and He could talk to me as a friend speaks to a friend, just like Moses when he spoke with the Lord.
The Dark Hole
The more I sought out personal encounters with the Lord at daily Mass and Adoration, the closer I felt to Him. So, I studied Theology and as I came to know God more intimately, He revealed Himself to me even more, even in times of tragedy, like my brother’s death. At the time, I was struggling with finding my identity after finishing my studies and feeling fearful of the future. I couldn’t feel His presence anymore and wondered if God had abandoned me. I knew all the words Jesus had said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life... I am the Resurrection and the life.” but now my belief was being tested. Was it all true? In the silence as I sat in my brother’s room, gazing at his empty bed, I remembered how Jesus had told Martha, “Your brother will rise again,” and felt that He was saying those words to me.
When I went to World Youth Day, I felt a bit lost in the huge crowd. As I looked out around at all these people, I asked Jesus, “Lord, how do you love all these people and love me as well?” God showed me how He saw each one as an individual with whom He has a personal relationship. God gazes on each one of us with a unique and individual love. He loves you like no-one else, because there is no-one else in the world like you. God loves you uniquely, personally and individually. There is no-one from Adam to the end of time who has ever been exactly like you. So, when you feel His love personally, He sees you as the unique individual you are, in a way that no-one else can. He gave Himself up for each one of us. When He was on the Cross, He was thinking about each one of us personally by name.
Banishing My Fears
Jesus showed me that my image of the Father had been flawed. I had felt that God was condemning me, that I was in trouble. I feared His justice, but I was wrong. Jesus came into the world to reveal the Father’s love for us in His plan for our salvation—to heal the rift between God and Man by living among us. He even told us that if we had seen Him, we had seen the Father. He showed me that gaping hole in my heart was meant to be filled by God, and when I let Him in, He set me free indeed. We are made by God and for God, so when I invited Him in, He filled me with His warm and loving presence, banishing the depression and restlessness which had been troubling me.
When we try to fill that God-shaped hole with other things, they all fall short, because He is infinite and irreplaceable. It reminded me of how we are warned that "putting the wrong fuel in a vehicle can cause havoc to your journey and potentially cause extensive damage to your car engine.” Your heart is your engine and it needs the right fuel to prevent the damage that sin causes.
Daily Mass, regular Confession, prayer, Adoration, Bible reading and faith study, and a deeper relationship with Our Lady have been the fuel that has restored my heart and given me the grace to live my life in personal encounter with God. He called me to go deeper. Although it’s sometimes painful to take up my cross and follow Him daily, He has led me through trial and temptation and expanded my capacity to receive and share His love.
Amidst Your Struggles
Every day, the Enemy, Satan is trying to discourage us and turn us from God’s love. He doesn’t want us to know and experience what God has to offer. He stiffens our pride so that we are unwilling to bend to God’s will. When we feel broken by the pain that sin causes us, we delude ourselves into thinking that God doesn’t love us. Saint Therese said that Satan’s strategy is to dismantle and demolish our belief that God can love us when He is perfect and we are so imperfect.
Does God really love me when I’m struggling? One night, Jesus left His disciples struggling all night against the wind while He prayed on a mountain, but in the morning they saw Him walking toward them across the water. When you are going through difficult times, the Lord is there in the midst of your struggle. He also says to you, “Do not be afraid.” And when we feel ourselves sinking, like Peter did when his faith failed him as he walked across the water towards Jesus, we can call out, “Lord save me.” When everything seems to be going against you, fix your eyes on Him and He will not fail you.
There is always a new dawn. Every day is a day to start again. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Night can be symbolic of trial and temptation. Morning is symbolic of Christ who is the Light of the World. Remember on Easter Sunday, Christ left the tomb in a burst of light. He has come to share His light with us.
Jesus' name means God saves. He came to save us. He came to share our trials, enter into the depths with us and draw us out. Trust is like a muscle which grows under trying circumstances and pressure. Surrendering my desires to Him and trusting that He will fulfill them is hard. To be able to sincerely say, “I want God’s will above my own,” isn’t easy because we like to do what we want to do. That’s what Our Lady did when she said, “Let it be done to me according to Thy word,” (Luke 1:38). In her gentle way, she stands beside us, helping us to align our deepest desires with all that is good.
So, by the grace of God, I go forward with confidence, knowing that I can speak to the Lord as a friend and family member about all my needs. I have come to know God as a loving Father who calls us to come to Him with childlike trust in His loving plan, despite all our flaws, and mistakes, no matter how many times we have failed.
“Let us approach the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16) and “Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord, your God is with you” (Joshua 1:9)
ARTICLE is based on the testimony shared by Daniella Stephans for the Shalom World program “Jesus My Savior”.
By: Daniella Stephans
Apr 01, 2022
Apr 01, 2022
The very thing that turned me away from the Church brought me back wholeheartedly! This is my side of the story…
Born and raised in Philadelphia, I attended a Catholic school like most of my friends. Our family attended Mass only on Christmas and Easter. I learned about the sacraments in school, but mostly I memorized the correct answers to get them right on a test. I was a good kid. I didn’t struggle with any major sins. My friends teased that I’d probably become a nun because I was such a goodie two-shoes. But I wasn’t connecting well with my faith. And after a bad confession experience in fourth grade, I decided never to return. I turned away from the Church.
After high school I worked as a server at the Olive Garden. One of my coworkers was an incredibly handsome guy named Keith. A talented musician and a strong Christian, Keith invited me to his non-denominational church, and I loved it. We attended together often, but soon Keith accepted a position as a youth pastor in his home state of Iowa. We missed each other terribly, so I followed him. We married in 1996, and everything was perfect: Keith loved his job at the church: the congregation took wonderful care of us, we had three beautiful children, and I loved us being a pastor’s family. We served there and at a handful of other churches for two decades. Ministry had its ups and downs, but we loved it.
The Tipping Point
Then, after 22 years as a pastor, Keith announced one day, “I think God is calling me to quit my job and convert to Catholicism.” I was shocked, even as I learned that he had been privately considering Catholicism for a long time. He had read books about Catholicism and discussed the faith with priests and catholic friends. What he discovered about the Church Fathers, the sacraments, and the papacy had shaken him to his core, but he had kept going. I loved his new excitement, but I wasn’t interested and didn’t think he’d go through with it. There was no way the Keith I knew would convert to the dull and lifeless religion of my upbringing. But the more I noticed Keith light up when he spoke about converting, the more I panicked. The kids were getting older and had grown up in churches they loved; even if we wanted to, we couldn’t make them convert. “God can’t want to divide our home,” I thought…
How could I go back to what meant so little to me as a child, especially since my new Protestant faith kept me fulfilled. I’d need to work through things like Confession—something I never wanted to do again. I secretly hoped this was just a phase Keith would soon get over. The tipping point for Keith came after a Catholic apologetics talk where he felt God speaking directly to him. He came home and said, “That’s it, I’m doing this. I’m converting. I don’t know what we will do for money, but I know that God is calling me to this; we will figure it out.” The next day, he told his church he was resigning. Now I had to decide what to do.
After months of prayer, I ultimately followed Keith to the Catholic Church. I felt it was best for our kids to see their mom follow their dad’s lead in faith, but they decided to stay at their Protestant churches. It was exciting to see Keith so passionate about his conversion, but I had a more challenging time than I thought I would. I cried at every Mass for about three months. Our family had worshipped together for the past 22 years. Now, we were painfully scattered. In addition, I was upset that Keith wasn’t using his gifts for ministry in the Catholic Church. Since God called him to quit his job, I expected there’d be an incredible ministry waiting for him. I believed God had a plan for Keith, but what was it? Keith was content attending Mass and soaking it all in, but I wanted to see God use him in some new way.
A Wonderful Trip
After a few months of attending Mass, I became more open to the faith. I started asking questions and learning why we do what we do. I began opening my heart to the Mass and started loving it. The people in our parish were beautiful examples of what being Catholic is all about. I loved the scripture-filled Mass, the incense, holy water, and sacraments. I loved the devotions, and of course, the Eucharist. Had I learned more about the Eucharist as a child, I couldn’t have walked away so easily.
During the summer after our conversion, a friend invited us to go to Medjugorje. Keith had gone years before and had a wonderful experience. We were both excited to go, especially when we realized we’d be there on the first anniversary of Keith entering the Catholic Church. What a great way to celebrate. I realized that we had become so busy with life, work, and family that perhaps we hadn’t heard from God about the future because we hadn’t taken the time to stop and listen. “Maybe in Medjugorje God will talk to us about his plan for our life,” I thought. The trip was a powerful experience, but I wasn’t hearing God speaking to me about our future. I started getting impatient and frustrated.
Before It’s Too Late
On the last day, we went to Mass, Rosary services, Adoration, and everything else they offered. We didn’t want to miss anything. During Adoration, I prayed, “God, please talk to me. I felt God say, “Go to Confession.” “No God, please speak to me directly. It’s our last night. Please tell me what to do.” He said, “Go to Confession.” I argued with God, “Do you know how many people are in line for confession? I’ll never get in!”
In Medjugorje, Confession is a big deal. Even with dozens of priests hearing Confessions in many languages, the lines can be long. The outdoor Confessions area was swarming with people every time we walked by. “Sorry God, if you had told me this earlier in the week, I would have gone, but I don’t want to miss out on anything during our last night here,” I prayed. Looking back, I am sure God was rolling His eyes.
After Adoration, while waiting for our friends, I looked at the Confession line trying to decide what to do. A friend from our group came over, looked at me, and said one word, “Pizza.” I jumped up and said, “Yes, let’s go.” We had a delightful time, and after I had stuffed myself, it occurred to me that I might have made a big mistake. “Maybe I should have tried to go to Confession,” I thought. “I think God was talking to me, and I disobeyed. Now, what am I going to do? It might be too late.” I was starting to feel guilty.
I asked Greg about my chances to get into Confession. “It’s after 9:00,” he said, “finding a priest still there (especially an English-speaking priest) won’t be easy”. I decided to try. We walked a block to the outdoor Confessions area and found it empty and dark. As we turned the corner, we spotted a priest in the distance sitting beside a sign that said “English.” I couldn’t believe it. As I approached, he said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
A Message from God
I sat down and started my Confession. “I should tell you,” I said, “I’ve had issues with Confession. All my other Confessions were half-hearted and done out of obligation. I feel like God told me to come here tonight, so I’m going to consider this my first Confession.” Then I spilled my guts. It took a long time. I was crying, and even though I felt that I had confessed my sins to Jesus throughout the years, there was something special about speaking them out loud to a priest. I struggled to get out some of my words, but I did the best I could.
When I finished, he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then he said, “I can tell you are genuinely sorry for your sins, but that’s not the only reason you are here. You are here because it is your last night in Medjugorje (I didn’t tell him that!), and you have been frustrated with God for a long time. You have wanted Him to speak to you on this trip, and you feel He hasn’t. (I didn’t tell him that either!)
“Here is God’s message to you,” said the priest. “Be patient, keep doing what you’re doing and trust in Me.’’ I started crying and then laughing because I was so filled with joy. I hugged him and thanked him for waiting for me. I couldn’t wait to tell Keith what the priest told me. We realized there was a reason we were in Medjugorje on Keith’s anniversary of becoming a Catholic. There was a reason God didn’t have Keith do too much during that first year. We needed to be patient and faithful. And shortly after returning, doors began opening for Keith to share his journey into the Catholic faith.
For example, since the Pandemic began, Keith has been live streaming a Rosary every afternoon on YouTube. He’s done it every day for almost two years now, with over 70 countries represented. It’s now referred to as the Rosary Crew. People from all over the world tell Keith that his ministry has helped them. We are extremely grateful. I’ve learned that while we often ask God to speak to us, too often we’ve already decided what we want Him to say. But God loves to surprise us. Isn’t it crazy that Confession, the very thing that turned me away from The Church, is the thing that Jesus used to bring me back wholeheartedly?
Are you asking God for advice but unwilling to hear what He says? Do you have issues with the Church which you need to resolve? Do you need to ask someone for forgiveness? Do you need to surrender to Jesus and start living differently? Whatever your issue, try to let go of your expectations and just listen? Don’t wait any longer. God is speaking to you. Listen.