In Luke 10:19, Jesus told the 72 other disciples, “Behold I have given you the power to tread upon the serpents and scorpions and upon all the forces of the enemy and nothing shall ever harm you.”
We read in Luke 4:17:21, “Jesus stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me, to bring glad tidings to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, He handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at Him. He said to them, “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
In the Book of John 14:12, Jesus said, “Amen, I say unto you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these because I am going to my Father.”
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”—Acts 1:8.
From these different passages in the scriptures, we can say that the Lord’s will and design for our lives are for us to live a power-filled style of living. The source of this mighty power, this divine power in our lives, is the Holy Spirit. It is not from our own wisdom or knowledge or ability but from the Holy Spirit. However, many people, including Christians, do not live in the power that the Lord wants them to have. Many Christians claim for themselves only a minute portion of what God has made possible for them in Christ Jesus because they are ignorant of what the Holy Spirit can do and wants to do for them and through them. In John 7:37, Jesus says, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as scripture says, “Rivers of living waters shall flow within him.” When Jesus mentioned the “living waters,” He was actually referring to the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the uncreated power of God. Jesus says in Luke 13:11, “If you then who are wicked know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will my Father in heaven give you the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
Some people describe His power as “dunamis,” a Greek word meaning “dynamite.” But I believe that this power that the Lord is giving us is more powerful, more potent than all the atomic bombs and weapons combined in this world. We have an awesome God and His power is mighty. There is no limit to His power. There is no description to His power. His power creates as well as destroys power that is not of Him and from Him. His power is Divine in nature and nothing is more powerful than divine power.
1. Have a constant, moment by moment, right personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
He should be number one in our life. He should be the King, the Lord, the Savior of our life 24/7. In John 15:7-8, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciple.” Every time I read this passage in the scriptures, a feeling of tremendous excitement starts to “well up” within me.
2. Be an imitator of Christ.
In other words, we should strive to be like Jesus in every way. As a matter of fact, this should be the number one goal of a Christian. This necessitates for us to talk like Jesus, think like Jesus, act like Jesus did, have an attitude like that of Jesus and do what He commands us to do. Furthermore, it means “dying to self” so that we will be truly “alive in Him”(cf. Romans 6:11). I believe it is not impossible to achieve. Yes, we can achieve all of these through the power of the Holy Spirit. With God, nothing is impossible at all. In Philippians 4:13, Saint Paul states, “I can do all things with Christ who strengthens me.”
3. Constant, day-to-day, communication with God.
This is what prayer is—communication with God. We can do it with our eyes closed or our eyes opened. We can do it kneeling down or sitting down or standing up or walking around or even lying down. We can do it anywhere we are. We can do it with verbal outburst of emotion or without verbal words. Jesus said, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you. For everyone who asks, receives; and for the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Now, how many Christians do you think pray but do not really have faith that God is going to do anything great? On the other hand, how many Christians have faith but do not have the discipline to pray? If we want to see the supernatural take place in our lives, we need to live a lifestyle that is focused on constant communication with God. In Phillipians 4:6, Saint Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing. But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” In James 4:2-3, we read, “Yet, you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”
4. Be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Saint Paul says in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Every day, we should ask the Holy Spirit in faith to fill us with His presence, His power and His grace. In Luke 11:13, Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
5. Obey the Lord’s commands and the promptings of His Holy Spirit.
In 1 Samuel15:22, the word of God says, “Obedience is better than sacrifice, submission than the fat of rams.” Our obedience to the Lord and His commands for us really moves the heart of God. Once, I was praying over a man born blind in a Catholic Coptic Church in Bethlehem, Holy Land, during a Healing Rally. This Arab Christian, named George, was 58 years old and I could only see “the white flesh” in his eyes. I could not even see his pupils because they were covered with this “white flesh.” As I was praying over George, I heard the Lord’s voice in my heart, telling me to command the “spirit of blindness” to leave him in Jesus’ name. I obeyed what the Lord was telling me to do.
Minutes later, he said he could see “shadows,” then, as I continued to pray over him, he said he could see “lights” and finally he said he could see “everything” around him. George was totally healed of blindness that day! Only in obedience to the Lord and His commands can we experience the miracles unfolding before our eyes. The following year, I went back to the Holy Land as a tour leader for 48 pilgrims. We went to Bethlehem and I came to the same Church looking for George. But Father Yacob the Parish priest told me “You can no longer see him here. George has been out there sight-seeing ever since he was healed of blindness.”
6. Saturate your entire being with God’s words.
Jesus said in John 6:63, “My words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life. “Psalm 109:105 tells us, “Your word, oh Lord, is a lamp for my feet and light to my path.” Indeed, God’s word is power! In Revelations 12:11, the Word of God says, “We conquer Satan by the word of our testimony and by the blood of the Lamb.” The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (CCC) 104, states, “In sacred scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, “but as what it really is, the word of God.” “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet His children, and talks with them.” Saint Jerome, one of the Doctors of the Catholic Church, says that “ignorance of scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
7. Let us avail ourselves of the sacraments of the Catholic Church,
especially the sacraments of reconciliation or confession and the Eucharist. CCC 1422 states, “Those who approach the sacrament of penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against Him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.” It further maintains, “Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” In the Church’s preaching this call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and His gospel. Also, baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the gospel and by baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life (CCC 1427). In order for God’s power or anointing to remain in us, we should also avail ourselves with the Sacrament of the Eucharist daily, if possible.
The Holy Eucharist, The Documents of Vatican Council II tells us, is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen gentium, number 11; cf. CCC 1324). “At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. This He did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace and a pledge of future glory is given to us’” (CCC 1323). We encounter Jesus in a very special way through the sacraments of the Church. Needless to say, the sacraments are also great sources of power in a person’s life.
8. Have an expectant faith, a kind of faith that can move mountains.
What is the Biblical definition of faith? Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrew 11:1). Jesus said in Luke 17:6, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.” “And without faith, it is impossible to please God.”(Hebrew 11:6). Faith is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s will for us to have a supernatural kind of faith, a faith that can move mountains. We are all unworthy to be used by the Lord. Early in my ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, I reminded the Lord that I am unworthy and I feel unworthy to be a vessel of His power. He spoke into my heart. He said, “My son, I shed my precious blood for you on the Cross in Calvary. By doing so, I made you worthy of my love for you.” I, then, asked Him to grant me the faith that can move mountains. Faith can move the heart of God.
1. Use it in the Name of Jesus and by the power of His Holy Spirit.
In Ephesians 2:9-11, Saint Paul says, “For God has highly exulted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend of those of heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord for the glory of God the Father.” In November 2007, a lady called from Michigan asking me to pray with her for the dead fetus in her womb. She said, “I’m four months pregnant, but tomorrow, the doctors will have to remove the dead fetus from my womb. I am very scared of the doctor’s procedures and very distraught over what happened to my baby.” She said all the tests had confirmed the demise of the baby in her womb.
As we started to pray, I sensed that the Lord wanted me to speak life into the dead fetus. I followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I spoke life into the baby at least three times in the mighty name of Jesus. But I did not hear from the lady again until February 2008, which was five months later. She told me that she just delivered a healthy, eight-pound baby girl. When I asked her what happened, she said that on the day when the “dead” fetus was to be removed, the doctors were startled to detect heartbeats in the ultrasound. Truly, there is power in the Name of Jesus if we invoke it with love and reverence and with expectant faith.
2. Use it for God’s glory.
In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Saint Paul says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” All honor and glory rightfully belong to God alone, for, without Him, we are nothing and we cannot do anything.”(cf. John 15:5). When I pray for the sick, for instance, I always ask the Lord for His name to be glorified through the healing of the person.
3. Use it with humility.
There is nothing except pride that can block, warp or dilute the power of God. Psalms 18:27 says, “For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.” Therefore, the more humble we become, the more power and anointing from God that will reside upon us. 1 Peter 5:5 reads,” Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Jesus Himself is the model of humility par excellence. According to Saint Paul in Phillipians 2:5-8, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
4. Use it with boldness.
We should always remember that “the Kingdom of God is not only a matter of words but of power” (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:20). The power of God should be used with boldness in the Holy Spirit. When the power of God is unleashed in our midst to further the Kingdom of God, it will always accomplish its intended purposes. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Saint Paul wrote, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self discipline.” In Acts 4:31, the word of God says, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” My brothers and sisters, because of their boldness in the Holy Spirit, the apostles and the disciples had turned this world “upside down” and “inside out” and this world has never been the same. The good news is that we are also called by the Lord to do the same by virtue of our baptism.
5. Use it in love.
Love is the key that opens the Kingdom and the heart of God. In 1 Corinthians 13:13, the word of God says, “So faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” For sure, if we use God’s power with love, everything will be possible for us. In John 4:16, we read, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
God bless you all!
© is a council member of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS) representing the English-speaking North and Central America as well as the Caribbean countries. He is one of the 14 Council members who represent ICCRS to all the continents in the world. Canton also founded the Robert Canton Ministries, a non-profit organization aiming to evangelize the entire world through teaching, preaching and healing in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. He and his family have been residents of Stockton, California, since 1973.
We all know what it is like when you begin your rosary and you have to say the same mysteries again. Mary sees an angel, Jesus gets born; by the time you get to the finding of Jesus in the temple you are wondering, “What can I possibly think about that I have not already thought?” Of all the Mysteries of the Rosary please do not skip this one, because the Fifth Joyful Mystery in particular has a huge amount of relevance for many people's lives. There are many parallels that can be drawn between the Fifth Joyful Mystery and each of our spiritual lives. At the beginning of the story Joseph and Mary were happy. They finally were able to visit the holy city of Jerusalem—after a span of what was probably several years—to worship God, whom they loved above all else. They were traveling with dear friends and family; people they loved and for whom they cared. Not only that, but their little Jesus was now a young man old enough to make the journey to Jerusalem; you can imagine their pride in having such a son. It was a joyous occasion—they were surrounded by God in His Holy City with His precious Son. They were filled with God's peace and joy and they were happy. This is how we are when we ourselves are close to God and His Church, our new Jerusalem. As they started the journey home, you can be sure Mary and Joseph did not believe they were growing further and further from Jesus. Just as we and many of our fallen brothers and sisters do not realize that through our actions we are actively leaving Jesus behind. If that most holy of couples had realized the separation, they would have rushed back at once—but they did not, and every step they took led them further and further away. Distracted as they were by the joys and comforts of life—such as sharing good times with family and relaxing around the campfire—they did not realize Jesus was not there. Too often, we get distracted by what seem to be good things when, in reality, we are walking away from what is most important. Do not get me wrong—family is one of the most precious things we have in this world, sharing an amiable conversation with a neighbor is a beautiful thing and relaxation is wholesome and good, but not when they get in the way of your relationship with Jesus. These things are not bad in themselves; they cannot be condemned or shunned by good and holy people, which is why so many people get confused. We know to avoid lying at any cost. We know it is wrong to kill and hate. We know adultery is a mortal sin. These things are easy to distinguish and avoid because they are cut and dry, plain and simple, easily identifiable. These are outside actions. Things we can see and feel. It is harder to recognize when something is taking over your interior life because we honestly do not pay much attention to it. This is why Jesus told us to pray—so that we could actually learn to pay attention to a very important part of ourselves that is often neglected. When you do take a moment of interior reflection you are jolted into shock just as Mary and Joseph were when they exclaimed, “Where is Jesus?!” Because you honestly thought He was there and He was not. You did not notice the growing miles that separated you with every footstep and now Jesus is lost, or rather, you are lost. Jesus has been where He will always be—at His father's house. So what should you do when you discover this alarming void in your life? You should be like Mary and Joseph and frantically scramble to recover what you have lost. However, take a note from Mary and check the temple first. Mary and Joseph searched all over trying to fill the gap in their life—trying to find Jesus. When people first begin to get that nagging feeling that something is missing, they often do not know what is causing it and that makes them uneasy. So they search everywhere for it. Just like Mary and Joseph they check the market stalls, the side street entertainment, the food vendor—and after three days or months or years or sometimes even longer, they finally think of checking the temple. They find Jesus, sitting exactly where He was supposed to be the entire time. When it feels like something is missing from your life and you get a nagging feeling that you forgot something, take the time to stop and look around for Jesus. You may just find He is back in that temple and you have been busy walking in the opposite direction. If you discover this separation do not lose heart! After all, this mystery is called the finding of Jesus for a reason.
“It is cancer.” His voice trembling, my husband brought me the news of my new reality. Breast cancer, I have breast cancer. The thought just kept replaying in a terribly painful loop. This is so hard to write about. I do not want any reminders of cancer or the painful treatment required to save my life. I do not want the physical reminders still left on my body in the form of scars and fatigue and lymphedema. I do not want to be reminded of what I lost and what I cannot now recover. My body, both the source of life for so many children is also my betrayer. Having allowed this cancer to grow and spread, my body betrayed me. How can I see it any other way? Only, I need to see it differently. I must in order to heal. How can the scene of such pain and suffering, my body, become in my eyes something worthy and good again? How can any such contradictions ever be reconciled? For a time, I was resigned to ignore the problem. I hoped that with enough distance from the trauma of treatment that these feelings would go away. However, two years later, I realized that scars do not fade that much, especially to the eyes of the afflicted. In fact, the more I tried to distance my thoughts from cancer’s assault on my body, the more distance I felt from God. I hated the physical part of His creation in me. I became disembodied in my relationship with God. Somehow in wanting to avoid the trigger for my pain (my body), I blinded myself to my faith’s mystical and unique ability to reconcile the contradiction of love and suffering. Ours is a bodily faith, a Eucharistic faith, a faith that exalts the Cross of Christ. The Cross is the greatest of all contradictions; an instrument of both death and salvation. The source and summit of our faith is the sacramental reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. His Body and Blood upon the Cross. His wounded and scarred body. His sacred Blood that flowed for my sins. Ours is a mystical and yet also a bodily, tactile faith. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 195) wrote, “He [Jesus] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be His own Blood, from which He causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, He has established as His own Body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.” According to this early Church father, it is the Eucharist that causes “our blood to flow” and “gives increase to our bodies.” A mystical marriage of the supernatural and corporal indeed! Saint Irenaeus was writing before the third century to dispel the heresy of a disembodied faith–a faith divorced of the supernatural grace of the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood! His words ring true today! Modernity promotes a spirituality devoid of the sacramental life. Modern culture is content to be “spiritual but not religious,” forgetting the heart from which the spiritual lifeblood flows–the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist! Even within the Church Jesus established, Catholics are ignorant of Our Lord’s True Presence in the Eucharist–Ignorant of Our Lord waiting for you in the sacrament of His sacrifice and love. God who is all–powerful chose the Cross for our salvation. He could have chosen another form, right? He can do anything. Instead, Christ’s spiritual and physical obedience onto the Cross was God’s perfect means for our salvation, both a physical and spiritual surrender to God the Father. The physical, the bodily has become a perversion in today’s culture. We separate the body from the soul in order to abuse one another. We deny the personhood/soul of the unborn to crush the life of the most helpless. This “freedom” is dehumanizing, dividing what God designed in His work of creation. We are meant to be body and soul and both are “very good” in His eyes. We are meant to be fully alive in Christ in body and soul. This life flows from the Eucharist. My Lord Jesus gazes back at me from the Cross, as I adore Him in the monstrance. His spiritual and physical presence radiate Love. Knowing that He would ascend to the Father, my beloved left Himself as the Eucharist here on Earth. He left this gift of Himself for me to adore and receive into my body as food for my spiritual and physical life. In fact, because Christ holds my body in such high esteem, making it the means through which I am able to receive Him in the Eucharist, I am no longer disembodied. I have reconciled the contradiction of cancer in this body. I accept that which God loves and uses to come near to me–the Eucharist in me. By the Cross of Christ, I have begun to reconcile physical suffering with love even as I struggle physically each day. Humanity cannot artificially divide body and soul or sacrifice and love. This is the lie of modernity and it separates us from God. God wants us body and soul just as He offers us His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. The greatest mystery of our faith is that to experience His amazing nearness in the Eucharist is to truly possess Love Itself. The Gospel of John is clear; “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). He is waiting for you in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Can a Catholic woman get married, be twice divorced, give birth to eight children with two different men, become a nun, and eventually found a new religious order? The answer is “Yes!” In fact, this same woman would, on Mother’s Day in 1990, walk the stairs alone to present the gifts to then Pope John Paul II for the Mass he was offering during his visit to Mexico and, in return, receive his blessing. After all, with God, all things are possible. I am writing about Mother Antonia Brenner who came to be known as the “Prison Angel” of La Mesa Prison. Mother Antonia died on October 17, 2013. I believe history will show that this woman was one of the greatest among Catholic women of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Mary Clarke was born in Beverly Hills on December 1, 1926. Her dad, Joe Clarke, was a successful businessman and Mary and her two siblings grew up surrounded with affluence and the glitz of the movie world. Their neighbors included luminaries such as William Powell, Hedy Lamarr and John Barrymore. Joe Clarke had a deep love for all people. No matter how good life was for his family, he made sure that his kids were always taught to help the less fortunate. That desire to help others, nurtured by her father, would blossom in Mary and was destined to explode. However, before the "explosion," Mary embarked on a circuitous life journey. She married at eighteen years of age and had three children, the first dying shortly after birth. That marriage ended in divorce. As a divorcee, Mary now felt distanced from her Catholic upbringing. She married again, this time in a civil service in Las Vegas. It was to a man named Carl Brenner. She and Carl had five children together, but ultimately, that marriage also ended in divorce. God “writes straight with crooked lines” and apparently the Holy Spirit had His eye on Mary Clarke Brenner her entire life. He was about to shower His grace all over His daughter. Mary became more and more involved in charity work. In 1965, she met a priest by the name of Father Henry Vetter. He took her along on a delivery of food, medicine, and clothing to the prisoners at La Mesa Penitentiary in Tijuana. The plight of the prisoners at La Mesa (considered among the worst in Mexico) impacted her greatly. As time went by, her growing compassion and love of neighbor would become focused on these people. They would become her specialty, her ministry, her purpose in life. Mary Brenner spent the next ten years traveling back and forth to La Mesa Prison bringing needed supplies, but mostly love and mercy. Her presence became well known and the prisoners, both men and women, began looking forward to her visits. They began calling her “La Mama.” The warden even gave her accommodations so that she could sleep over. Mary took the name of Antonia (after her mentor, Monsignor Anthony Bowers) and became Mother Antonia Brenner. She sewed together a nun’s habit, put it on, and went to see Bishop Leo Maher of San Diego, California. She got down on her knees and told him her story. He had heard all about her and gave her his blessing, validating her ministry. She would even start a new order—the Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour, an order for women forty-five years old and older who wanted to serve the less fortunate. In addition to the blessing from Bishop Maher, Mother Antonio also received the blessing of Bishop Juan Jesus Posadas of Tijuana. She had Church authorization for her ministry from bishops in two separate countries. After her kids were grown, Mother Antonio gave away her belongings, moved out of her home in Ventura and headed to La Mesa Prison. She had received permission to live there. Her new home was to be a 10 foot by 10 foot cell in the women’s section of the prison. She would live as any other inmate, sleeping in a concrete cell and having only cold water and prison food. The amenities in her room included a Crucifix on the wall, a Bible, a Spanish dictionary, and a hard prison bed. In the mornings, she would line up with the other prisoners for roll call. This was to be her home for the next thirty-two years. "La Mama" also became known as "The Prison Angel." She moved freely among the drug traffickers, thieves, murderers, rapists and others, touching cheeks and offering prayers. Many of these people were among the most violent and desperate of both men and women. Yet she happily walked with them and comforted and consoled them, dried their tears and held their heads between her hands as they were dying. She even single-handedly stopped prison riots. Mother Antonia Brenner truly saw the face of Christ in each and every prisoner she came in contact with and extended God’s mercy and love to them all. Why else would hardened criminals, some of whom who had never loved or been loved, call the diminutive woman who hailed from Beverly Hills, "La Mama"? They loved her in return. I believe that one day Mother Antonia Brenner will be canonized a saint. She is an example for each and every one of us, showing us how to selflessly love our neighbor no matter who our neighbor might be. Her life also shows all of us that no matter who or what we are or where we have been or what we have done, God is always calling us. Mother Antonia, please pray for us to be merciful like our Heavenly Father!
You probably know the pattern. A smart and gifted boy leaves home for school. He makes new friends. They spend most of their time partying, chasing girls, and embracing new philosophies. The son becomes drawn to a trendy religious cult. Eventually, he moves in with his girlfriend and they have a child, without being married. The boy's mother can only sit by in despair, heartbroken over his choices and helpless. The only thing she can do is pray. That is the story of many Catholics today—and maybe your story. Parents think that they are alone in facing these sorts of troubles, but this pattern is not a new one. It stretches back for centuries, and in the above case, even more than a millennium. It is the fourth-century story of Saint Monica and her young wayward son, Augustine. It is worth remembering how she led her son back to the Faith. Monica was raised as a Christian, but like many people today, she married someone from a different faith. In her case, the man, Patricius, was an atheist politician. They had three sons together but their marriage was rocky. Patricius was a violent man and regularly abused her. He also was unfaithful to her throughout their marriage. But Monica remained patient. Other wives with marriage problems came to her for advice and she became a source of comfort for anyone suffering through difficult marriages. She served Patricius with selfless love and devotion, and she prayed for him every day. Eventually, her prayers bore fruit. A year before Patricius died, he converted to Catholicism—due mostly to Monica's prayers and powerful example. Although the conversion of Monica's husband pleased her, she still worried about her son, Augustine. Though brilliant and gifted, he spent most of his time carousing the streets with friends, stealing food, and living promiscuously. He even fathered a son out of wedlock. Yet Monica refused to give up on her son, just as she committed to her husband. She prayed daily and intensely for Augustine, fasted for his sake, and begged God to help him return to faith. When Augustine traveled to Rome and Milan for his education, Monica followed him and continued praying. While in Milan, she met Ambrose, the local bishop who would later be canonized a saint. Ambrose became a spiritual guide to her. He noted her restless longing for her son and the hours she spent praying for him. He promised her, "Surely the son of so many tears will not perish." His prediction would eventually prove correct. Augustine and Ambrose struck up a friendship and began discussions about Christianity. Ambrose was the first high-level Christian thinker Augustine had met. As a result of their many back-and-forth dialogues, Augustine finally decided to convert to Catholicism. Ambrose baptized the 32-year-old Augustine, who would eventually grow into one of the most influential thinkers in Western history, and one of the greatest saints in the Catholic Church. Monica could hardly contain her enthusiasm after Augustine's baptism. She and her son began sharing beautiful conversations about God and heaven. As she lay on her deathbed, content at having seen both her husband and her son come back to the faith, she felt her whole life's mission had been accomplished. Today, the Church celebrates Saint Monica and Saint Augustine right next to each other in the liturgical calendar, with her feast day on August 27 and his on August 28. Saint Monica exemplifies the power of a praying parent. She was not able to convince Augustine with words, and in fact, whenever she tried to talk to him about religion, he brushed her away. But through her daily, committed intercession, over more than fifteen years, Augustine was able to journey into the Church. What can we learn from Monica's example? First, do not stop praying for your child. When Monica complained that Augustine would not listen to her admonitions that he become a Catholic, Ambrose urged her, "Speak less to Augustine about God and more to God about Augustine." She took his advice and never gave up, even when things looked dark. Eventually, her persistence paid off. Jesus tells of a widow who was upset that a judge refused to hear her case. The widow kept coming to the judge with her request, over and over, until he finally relented, saying, "While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me." Jesus explained the parable, saying, "Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them?" (Luke 18:1-8). In other words, God loves persistent prayer. He never tires of your requests, even if you bring the same needs to Him every day. Joan Hamill knows that from experience. Joan prayed weekly for fifteen years for different family members to return to the Church. "I prayed for Saint Monica to intercede for our family members," says Hamill. "As a result I had two brothers come back to the Church as well as my sister and brother-in-law." So, do not give up praying for your child. Like Saint Monica and the persistent widow, have confidence that God will reward your perseverance. The more resilient your prayer, the more likely God will answer it. The second thing to learn from Saint Monica is not to just pray for your child—you should also pray for an "Ambrose" to step into your child's life. Perhaps there is just too much baggage between you and your child so that he will no longer hear truth from your lips. That is understandable. Pray that God will bring someone else into his path, someone with just the right combination of personality, interests, motives, and heart. Just as Ambrose stepped in to help Augustine, so you might need someone to nudge your child along. (Also, keep in mind that while you are praying for someone to step into your child's life, other parents are praying the same thing for their child. And you may be that person! Even if your child tunes you out, do not be closed off to helping other children return to faith. You could be the Ambrose for someone else's Augustine!) The third takeaway is that you can ask Saint Monica's intercession for your child. A recent survey asked Catholic parents, "When you pray, how often do you pray to or ask the intercession of..." and then listed several options. By far, the most common responses were "God the Father" (74% prayed to him always or most of the time), "God the Son, Jesus Christ" (59%), and "God the Holy Spirit" (45%). But you know what the least common response was? The saints ... Only one-in-five Catholic parents regularly asked the saints' intercession. That means the most Catholic parents are missing out on some of the greatest spiritual support available to us. For Catholics, the saints are not dead and gone. Saint Monica did not cease to exist when she died in 387. Her body may have stopped functioning when her soul departed, but she remains alive in Christ, residing with Him in heaven for all eternity. And because the Church is one, indivisible body (1 Corinthians 12:12), which neither death nor life can break apart (Romans 8:38), we can still connect with those holy men and women who have already passed into the next life and ask for their prayers. Among all the saints in heaven, few know the gutwrenching pain of a wayward child more than Saint Monica. Reach out to her and ask her to pray for your child, just as she did for Augustine. We regularly ask our friends on earth to pray for us, and we can do the same with the saints. In fact, the saints' prayers are generally more powerful than ours here on earth since they are closer to the mind and heart of God—the saints are already in heaven! So next time you pray, offer a short request to Saint Monica such as this: "Saint Monica, I need your prayers. You know exactly how I'm feeling because you once felt it yourself. I'm hurting, hopeless, and in despair. I desperately want my child to return to Christ in His Church but I can not do it alone. I need God's help. Please join me in begging the Lord's powerful grace to flow into my child's life. Ask the Lord Jesus to soften his heart, prepare a path for his conversion, and activate the Holy Spirit in his life. Amen." In all these ways, Saint Monica offers not only example but help in drawing our children back to the Church.
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