“Questions swirled in my head, and it was hard to talk to my mom. But one surprising revelation changed my life forever.” Chi (Su) Doan shares those astonishing moments…
My life began in Vietnam in a loving family that set very high standards. Although we were not Catholics, they sent me to learn piano from the Sisters in the local convent. I was intrigued by their faith and their sense of purpose which I felt was lacking in my own life. One day, I wandered into the church and had a beautiful experience with Jesus Christ and God the Father which changed my life forever, but I didn’t get to discover Mother Mary until a little bit later.
It all started when I was about 13. At that age, everyone seems to struggle a little bit, trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I didn’t know what to do with my life. Looking at my brother and my cousins who were already successful in life, I felt under huge pressure to emulate their achievements. I found it hard to talk to my parents about this. Teenagers think that they can do big things without hindrance from adults like parents and teachers and I felt too nervous to bring up the questions that swirled around in my head.
However, the kind, gentle Sister who taught me piano was different. When she gently enquired into my spiritual life, hearing with interest that I was going to church and praying often, I felt comfortable opening up to her about my struggles. I told her how I wondered if there was any conflict between being prayerful and having a successful career as a doctor, teacher or businesswoman. I was full of doubts and felt so lost, but she was full of serene confidence. She advised me how important a mother can be in guiding their children along since they have cared so much for them and observed them from their earliest days.
I said, “It’s really hard to talk to my mother about it because I think I am old enough to do everything by myself without her help.” She assured me that it was okay, because if I found it hard to talk to my Mum, I had another mother I could talk to.
I was a little bit confused because that was a new concept to me, since I had grown up in a family without religion. “What do you mean?” I asked in surprise. She revealed the astounding news that since Mary is the one who gave birth to Jesus Christ Our Lord, she is also our mother. Jesus told us that we could call His Father, our Father, therefore we can call Him, Brother and His mother is our mother. As we read in the Bible, He entrusted Saint John and all of us to His Blessed Mother when He hung on the Cross.
This was a totally new and strange idea to me and I found it hard to get my head around it. She went on, “Just think about it like this. When you grow up a little bit more, you will realize that a mother in your life is really important. Whatever problems you have, you are going to run back to her for advice and comfort, to help you face them. She is another mother helping you to do exactly the same thing. So, if you feel that talking to your parents is challenging, at this stage in your life, you can come to Mother Mary and talk to her so that you can find some peace.”
It seemed like a good idea that was worth trying, but I did not know how to talk to her. Sister told me that I could just close my eyes and confide all my struggles, difficulties and suffering to her. I could tell her whatever I needed help with and ask her to offer me some comfort and some care. Just talking to her would help me think clearly about my future. I was not sure if it was all true, but there was no harm trying.
So, when I had some free time, I sat down quietly, closed my eyes and doubtfully said to her, “Okay, if you are really my mother, can you help me with this. I am trying to figure out what I should be doing with my life because I want to do great things when I grow up. I am feeling overwhelmed by studying, but I am trying to put myself on the right path, so that later I won’t have regrets. Please comfort me and help me to have some trust within myself to know the right thing to do with my life. Every night, I just kept saying the same thing. Whenever I was struggling with my study, I said, “If this subject’s not meant for me and I am not meant to be taking this any further, please just let me know.” Every time I said that, everything seemed a little bit better. At least I had someone to talk to about my struggles and difficulties now.
I was so intrigued that when Sister talked about Lourdes of Vietnam, I soon went for a visit. There I saw a beautiful statue of Mother Mary, high on a hill. As I gazed up at her, I felt looked after—that she was guiding me along the path that was meant for me.
When I sat down to pray, I felt awkward for a moment. Am I really putting myself in the presence of someone who is really my mother, although it took me 13 years to figure out she is there? I did not know what to say at first. Then I started mumbling my jumbled thoughts about why I had come, why it had taken so long and my gratitude for having this opportunity. I began to tell her how lost I felt. I think that everyone is lost at this age so I hoped there was nothing wrong with me. I told her that I just didn’t know what to do in my life. I didn’t know if I should stress myself out trying to get straight A’s in school or lower my sights to something more reasonable and then figure out what to do from there. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to manage my studies or my life or how to become someone successful when I grew up.
I confided how much it was all stressing me. I didn’t know who to talk to because I didn’t want to talk to people who would judge me and I didn’t want to talk to people who would think I was weak. My eyes filled with tears as I laid my soul bare and put everything into her hands hoping that she would give me some advice on what to do.
Eventually I just said, “Okay, I put all my trust in you. Please pray for me to God and then guide me along in my life because I really don’t know who to trust any more. Please can you give me the courage to talk to my parents about what I am going through, so they can offer me some advice and help?”
About once or twice a month, I came back to see her and talk to her. As time went by, I felt braver and got on top of my problems as I opened up to my Mum about what I wanted to be when I grew up and what options I’d have. I didn’t feel lost any more and I no longer struggled to talk to my parents and my teachers about how to choose schools, subjects, career and university, or other problems.
It was strange at first because I hadn’t known that I had two mothers in my life. Who would think of it if you weren’t born into a Catholic family? When I was about 16 years old, I started talking to my Mum about the experience I had with Mother Mary and surprisingly my mother agreed with me that it was true. She also believed that Mary is a mother who’s taking care of her children. She affirmed that Mary was the one who had given me the courage to talk to her about my struggles, so that she had a chance to help me.
It was a really amazing experience. I had simply talked to Mary and tried to listen to her voice. I didn’t hear her speak to me like Saint Bernadette, but sometimes when I was asleep or day dreaming, I felt like she was there telling me to just calm down a little bit. I seemed to hear her chiding me gently, “You just need to slow down.”
In my teenage phase, I had always wanted to do everything quickly and manage everything for myself. I didn’t even want to share my feelings with my parents because I didn’t want them telling me what to do.
So, it was a tremendous help when I sensed Mother Mary saying to me, “Just slow down a little bit. I know that you want to achieve success rapidly, but nothing works like that. Just trust me then it will eventually work out.” That was so true!
Just a couple of years later, my family decided to send me to Australia. I was finally baptized and received into the Catholic Church at St. Margaret Mary’s Church, Croydon Park where I still happily attend Mass. When I am struggling, I come to her in prayer and ask her to pray for me to God our Father. I feel that she listens to me and responds to my prayers in astounding ways.
Even now that I am in my 20’s, and living independently from my parents in another country, I still sometimes ask Mother Mary for courage to talk to them about my problems and open up to others. I am ever grateful for her loving, and motherly care.
CHI (SU) DOAN loves her faith and believes that what she has achieved is God's work. The article is based on her personal testimony shared through the Shalom World program, “Mary My Mother”. To watch the episode visit: shalomworld.org/show/mary-my-mother
En route with the three Magi and be amazed! The Epiphany is a feast of light. We hear from the prophet Isaiah, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1). We look to the actions of the Magi to guide our journey to the Lord Jesus, who is revealed as the light and salvation of the world. If we want to encounter Jesus too, we should pay attention to what the Magi did. What did they do? Three actions: they looked up to see the star; they realized what it meant and left their homes and activities to set out towards the light; and, they brought valuable gifts to worship Him. Look Up This is where the journey begins. Have you ever wondered why the Magi alone saw the star, and realized its significance? Perhaps few people were looking up to the heavens, because their gaze was focused on the ground with their own immediate concerns. I wonder how many of us look up to the sky? How many of us are like the Psalmist who says, “My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak...” (Psalms 130:6), or are we more like, “Hey, it’s enough that I have good health, a solid bank account and stock portfolio, access to a 5G network, and a little entertainment, especially on Sunday in which I can watch wall-to-wall football games!” Do we know how to long for God, to expect the freshness that he brings to life, or do we let ourselves be swept along by the frenetic pace of our lives? The Magi understood that to truly be alive, we need lofty goals—we need to dream big!—and we need to keep looking up. Get Going The second thing the Magi did, which is essential to finding Jesus, is to get up and begin the journey. When we stand before Jesus, we have a disconcerting either-or choice: is he Emmanuel, God among us, or is He not? If He is, then we have an obligation to give Him our total, uncompromised commitment so that our lives revolve around Him. Following His star is a decision to move towards Him and to advance steadfastly on the way He laid out for us. Although our journey is often two steps forward, one step backwards, the key is to keep our gaze on Jesus, pick ourselves up with His aid when we fall flat, and keep moving forward. However, we cannot do that without getting off our couches, detaching ourselves from our comfort and security, and setting out instead of standing still. Jesus makes demands: He says that we are either for Him or against Him. In the spiritual path, there are only two directions: we’re either moving towards God or away from Him. If we want to move towards Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction, and our laziness. Put simply, we have to take risks, to let go of our self-referential lifestyle if we are going to find the Child. But, those risks are worth it because when we find the Child, we’ll discover His tenderness and love and rediscover our true identity. Bring Gifts At the end of their long journey, the Magi do as God does: they bestow gifts. God’s ultimate gift is His divine life, which He invites us to share for eternity. They offer what is most valuable for them: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts represent what St. John Paul II calls The Law of the Gift: we abide in an authentic relationship with God when we live how God operates with self-giving love. The best gift you can give to Jesus is your very life! Give freely, without reservations—don’t hold back, keeping something for yourself. Give without expecting anything in return—including the reward of Heaven! This is the truest sign that you have found Jesus in your life. For he says: “The gift you have received, give freely as a gift” (Matthew 10:8): to do good towards others without counting the cost, even when unasked, even when you get nothing in return, even when it is unpleasant. That is what God wants of you because that’s how God relates to us! Look at how God comes to us: as a Child—He became small for our sake. As we celebrate the Epiphany, let us look at our hands: are they empty of self-giving or are we offering the free gift of ourselves without expecting anything in return. And, let us ask Jesus: “Lord, send forth your Spirit that I may be renewed; that I may rediscover the joy of giving.”
Last week, I had the great good fortune to sit down for a Zoom interview with Jordan Peterson, Jonathan Pageau, and John Vervaeke. As I’m sure you know, Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, is one of the most influential figures in the culture today. Pageau is an artist and iconographer working in the Orthodox Christian tradition, and Vervaeke is a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto. All three of these gentlemen have a powerful presence on social media. The topic of our conversation was a theme that preoccupies all four of us—namely, the crisis of meaning in our culture, especially among the young. To kick things off, Peterson asked each of us to give our definition of meaning and, more specifically, of religious meaning. When my time came, I offered this: to live a meaningful life is to be in purposive relationship to value, and to live a religiously meaningful life is to be in purposive relationship to the summum bonum, or the supreme value. Following the prompts of Dietrich von Hildebrand, I argued that certain values—epistemic, moral, and aesthetic—appear in the world, and they draw us out of ourselves, calling us to honor them and to integrate them into our lives. So, mathematical and philosophical truths beguile the mind and set it on a journey of discovery; moral truths, on display in the saints and heroes of the tradition, stir the will into imitative action; and artistic beauty—a Cézanne still-life, a Beethoven sonata, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass—stops us in our tracks and compels us to wonder and, in turn, to create. To order one’s life in such a way that one consistently seeks such values is to have a properly meaningful life. Now, I continued, the perceptive soul intuits that there is a transcendent source of these values: a supreme or unconditioned goodness, truth, and beauty. The fully meaningful life is one that is dedicated, finally, to that reality. Thus, Plato said that the culminating point of the philosophical enterprise is discovering, beyond all particular goods, the “form of the good”; Aristotle said that the highest life consists in contemplating the prime mover; and the Bible speaks of loving the Lord our God with our whole soul, our whole mind, our whole strength. Jordan Peterson, echoing Thomas Aquinas, put it as follows: Every particular act of the will is predicated upon some value, some concrete good. But that value nests in a higher value or set of values, which in turn nests in a still higher one. We come, he said, eventually, to some supreme good that determines and orders all of the subordinate goods that we seek. Though we articulated the theme in different ways and according to our various areas of expertise, all four of us said that the “wisdom tradition,” which classically presented and defended these truths, has been largely occluded in the culture today, and this occlusion has contributed mightily to the crisis of meaning. Much has contributed to this problem, but we put emphasis especially on two causes: scientism and the postmodern suspicion of the very language of value. Scientism, the reduction of all legitimate knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge, effectively renders claims of value unserious, merely subjective, expressive of feeling but not of objective truth. Combined with this reductionism is the conviction, baked into the brains of so many young people today, that claims truth and value are simply disguised attempts to prop up the power of those who are making them or to sustain a corrupt institutional superstructure. Accordingly, these assertions have to be demythologized, dismantled, and deconstructed. And along with this cultural assault on the realm of values, we have witnessed the failure of many of the great institutions of the culture, including and especially the religious institutions, to present this realm in a convincing and compelling manner. Far too often, contemporary religion has turned into superficial political advocacy or a pandering echo of the prejudices of the environing culture. So, what do we need for a meaningful life? From my perspective, I said, we need great Catholic scholars, who understand our intellectual tradition thoroughly and who believe in it, are not ashamed of it—and who are ready to enter into respectful but critical conversation with secularity. We need great Catholic artists, who reverence Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Mozart, Hopkins, and Chesterton, and who are also on point to produce fresh works of art, imbued with the Catholic sensibility. And we need, above all, great Catholic saints, who show concretely what it looks like to live one’s life in purposive relation to the summum bonum. We can and should blame the culture of modernity for producing the desert of meaninglessness in which so many today wander, but we keepers of the religious flame ought to take responsibility too, acknowledging our failures and resolving to pick up our game. For people today will not enter into relationship with values and with the supreme value unless they can find mentors and masters to show them how. --------------------------- © ARTICLE originally appeared at wordonfire.org. Reprinted with permission.
Here’s a simple technique to stay focused on God’s plan for your life A few years ago, at a New Year’s Day Mass celebrating the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, the priest encouraged us to ask the Blessed Mother for a “word” for the coming year. Maybe this would be a special grace that she wanted to give us, or a re-focusing word for our mission in life, or a virtue that she wanted to help us grow in. The choice of the word was up to her—our role was to pray and receive that word, and then let her unpack its meaning for us throughout the coming year. The priest paused and gave us all some time to pray. I asked Our Lady for the ‘word’ she had for me and the word “humility” came clearly to mind. As that year unfolded, I learned a lot from Mary about humility, and I know she helped me to grow in this virtue that she lived so beautifully in her life. The following year, the word I received was “contentment.” In the subsequent months, Mary helped me learn what St. Paul talks about in Philippians 4:11, “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.” Asking the Blessed Mother for this annual theme word has proved a fruitful practice for me in my spiritual life. So at the start of each New Year, I pray and ask Our Lady to give me her special “word” for the year ahead. For this past year of 2021, my word has been “intercession.” In retrospect, I can see how appropriate this theme was for me as I am in a season of being the primary caregiver for my elderly mother. My life now revolves around caring for her, which is a privilege and honor, but it has also required me to shrink my outside involvement with people and ministries that I used to be a part of. Sometimes it can feel isolating and lonely. As my mom ages, we go to more doctor’s appointments, physical therapy sessions, wellness checkups, etc. and her emotional needs require delicate handling and reassurances. At the end of the day, I don’t have much reserve or inner bandwidth left. But in quiet moments during car rides, or in examination rooms waiting on the doctors, I can intercede for people. I let the Lord bring to mind those He wants me to pray for — friends, family members, ministry leaders in our non-profit organization, the people we serve, etc. I pray for each person as they float through my thoughts. I feel the Lord’s tender love for them, His desire to bless and heal and help them. It comforts my heart to tap into the wellsprings of love and mercy that the Good Shepherd has for His sheep. And somehow, I feel more connected to people as I cooperate with Mary in this mission that she brought into focus by giving me my “word” for this year. Instead of feeling isolated or on the fringe, a deep sense of our inner connectedness in the Body of Christ fills my heart. As we near the close of this year and the beginning of 2022, I encourage you to adopt this practice that the priest recommended. Take some time in quiet prayer and ask Our Lady to give you her “word” for you for this New Year. Receive it, and then ask her to help you understand what she means by it, how it will help you better live out God’s plan for your life, and how you can bless other people by embracing it. You may find that this simple prayer and practice will bring deep fruitfulness to your spiritual life, just as I have.
I looked up and hugged her, pressing my face into her apron that smelled like apple pies; quickly I ran off to show my brother the treasure that Nonna found for me The house was old and belonged to my great grandparents. It was a small solidly built house where they raised many children. It’s rickety parts and musty smells often betrayed the facade of the freshly painted wood siding. It was a home with a history of family memories, stories and heirlooms. When guests came to call, the graying splintered wooden back door would release wafts of heavenly aromas from freshly baked apple pies cooling on the kitchen table. It’s a home that makes me reflect fondly on my grandmother. It’s funny how recalling one simple memory can lead to another memory and then another until a whole story floods my mind. Instantly, I’m taken back to another place and time that was part of the foundation of my life. I grew up in a historical area of Kentucky, in a simpler place and time. It was a time when the mundane routines of the day were treasured as if they were family traditions. Sunday was a day of church, rest and family. We owned functional things and wore simple clothing which were either fixed or mended when they were worn out. Family and friends were relied on when we couldn’t fend for ourselves, but charity was not accepted unless it could be repaid at the first possible opportunity. Caring for another’s children was not charity, it was a necessity of life and the closest relatives were asked before friends or neighbors. Mom and Dad regarded their parental responsibilities as their primary duties. They sacrificed to provide for us and rarely had time for themselves. However, every so often, they planned a special evening out and they looked forward to time together. My grandmother, whom we called Nonna, now lived in that old house, made those heavenly pies and cheerfully cared for my siblings and me while my parents were out together. Mom’s heels clicked along the cobblestone walkway that led to Nonna’s backdoor, Daddy smelled of a freshly starched shirt and the break in our family routine filled the air with a sense of excitement on the evening when Mom and Dad went out together. Just as the old gray wooden door opened and my grandmother greeted us in her faded worn apron, I felt I’d stepped back into another time. A brief catch up conversation with Nonna was followed by a strict warning to behave ourselves and a kiss that left a waft of her cologne on our clothes and lipstick on our cheeks. When the door closed behind them, we were left to play in the adjoining room with a bag of toys we brought from home. While Nonna tidied up the kitchen and tended to an elderly sister who lived with her, we contently colored in the new coloring books bought for this evening. It wasn’t long before the sense of excitement wore off and the toys no longer held much interest. There wasn’t a television to entertain us and the antiquated parlor radio played only old static country music. The aged furnishings, fixtures, sounds and smells of the house occupied my attention for a little bit. Then, as if on cue, I heard Nonna’s house slippers shuffling along the creaking wooden floors. She stopped in the doorway to see if we were okay or needed anything. The growing idleness of the evening made me call out, “Nonna, find me something”. “What do you mean? She asked. “Mom said when she was a little girl, she would ask your sister to find her “something” when she was bored. Then your sister would find her a treasure”, I replied matter of factly. Nonna looked away to ponder my words. Without much ado she turned back and gestured, “follow me”. I scurried along behind her into a dark, cold, musty bedroom that contained some old furniture, including a beautiful, antique, wooden wardrobe. She flipped on a light and glass knob handles on its doors glistened. I’d never been in this part of her house, nor had I ever been with Nonna all by myself. I had no idea what to expect. I tried to contain my excitement, wondering what treasures could be waiting behind those doors, which seemed to beckon us to open them. This unplanned moment, filled with firsts, was almost too much for a seven year old little girl to absorb, and I didn’t want to ruin this special memory with my grandmother. Nonna reached for a glass knob, the door creaked when opened and revealed a stack of small wooden drawers. She reached into a drawer, pulled out a gently used brown leather coin purse, handed it to me and told me to open it. My little hands, nervous with anticipation, shook as I snapped it open. Tucked down into the corner of the leather was a small white pearl bead rosary with a silver crucifix. I just looked at it. Then she asked if it was a good treasure. I’d seen my Mom’s rosary, but didn’t have my own or know how to use it. However, for some reason, I thought it was the best treasure ever! I looked up, hugged her legs, pressed my face against the apron that smelled like Nonna and apple pies, then happily thanked her before I ran off to show my brother the treasure Nonna found for me. The following year I was enrolled in a Catholic elementary school where I learned more about Jesus and His Mother Mary. I received my First Holy Communion and learned to pray the Rosary. The seeds of love for Jesus and Mary took root as I continued to pray the Rosary. In time that little white pearl rosary became too small for my hands and I acquired a simple wooden rosary. I always carry the wooden one in my pocket and it too has become a treasure to me. Through the years, spending time in prayer developed a love for the Blessed Mother and her rosary. These days, before I begin my rosary prayers, I quietly ask the Blessed Mother to “find me something”. Every story exemplifies a virtue to be gained. So, I often ask her to explain the details and stories contained in the daily mysteries in order to develop those virtues in my life. She never fails to open the doors to her Son, Jesus, so that I can grow closer to Him. After meditating on what she graciously reveals, I’ve discovered that’s where the “treasures” are found. Fast forward. Today, I’m about the age of Nonna when she gave me that little white pearl rosary. When I recall the day she “found me something”, I wonder, as she paused to ponder my request, did she know the ramifications of the treasure she gave me or if she knew she was opening more than an old wardrobe door for me? In that leather coin purse, she opened a whole world of spiritual treasures. I wonder if she’d already discovered the treasure of the rosary for herself and wanted to pass it on to me. I wonder if she knew her words were prophetic when she told me to open the case myself and discover the treasure within. Nonna has long passed on to be with Jesus. I still have that brown leather coin purse with the little pearl rosary inside. From time to time I take it out and think of her. I can still hear her ask me, “Is this a good treasure?” I still happily answer her, “Yes Nonna, it is the best treasure ever!”
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