Saint Francis of Assisi once had a great fear and abhorrence of lepers. He confessed that the sight of a leper was so repugnant to him that he refused to even approach their dwellings. If he chanced to glimpse one in his travels or pass by the leprosarium, he turned his head away and blocked his nose.
As he became more serious about his faith and took on Christ’s admonition to love others as you love yourself, he became ashamed of this attitude. So one day when a man afflicted with leprosy crossed his path, he overcame his feelings of horror and disgust and, instead of turning away, leaped off his horse, kissed the leper and pressed money into his hand.
But when Francis remounted and looked back, he could not find the leper anywhere. With dawning excitement, he realized that it was Jesus whom he had kissed. After gathering some funds, he went to the leper hospital and gave alms to each one, kissing their hands with reverence as he did so. What had formerly seemed distasteful to him—the sight or touch of a leper—was transformed into sweetness. Later Francis wrote, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God Himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I became acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became the source of spiritual and physical consolation for me.”
Today, we often see people around us who are stricken with spiritual leprosy. Mostly we try to keep away from them, but we fail to realize that it has crept into our own hearts as well. So instead of judging and pointing fingers at others, let’s cleanse ourselves off the crippling mind and hardness of heart. In the first place, God bestowed His grace and mercy upon us though we are broken and wounded. Let’s reach out to others with this mercy and compassion which we received unconditionally.
For years Margaret Fitzsimmons endured deep pain and shame—until she heard the four words that changed her life forever… Broken Childhood I came into the world in 1945, when war-torn Germany was struggling with damaged infrastructure and millions of displaced people. As a single mother going through a series of relationships, my mom struggled to raise me up. To help pay the rent, my mother would take on extra jobs like sweeping the stairs of the building we lived under, and I would be there with the dustpan trying to help. My favorite pseudo-Dad was a policeman, a nice man. They conceived a child together, but she didn’t want the baby, so she had an abortion, then left that relationship and started working in hotels. While Mum was downstairs working and drinking with the customers, I was usually alone in the attic bedroom. When she was drunk my mother got cantankerous, and found fault for no reason when she got home. She always left a long list for me, but I could never complete it to her satisfaction. Things got worse, and she ended up in jail one night after fighting with the policeman’s new girlfriend. From Bad to Worse After her younger brother emigrated to Australia, my granddad thought it would be good if my Mum and uncle were in the same country. So we followed him to Australia in 1957, and lived with him for a while. Mum got a job as a cook, and I washed all the pots and pans. If she caught me not concentrating on the work, she would throw things at me, like a barbecue fork. Since I was only twelve and often made mistakes, I ended up with scars all over my body. When she was in a drunken stupor, it was even worse. I started to hate her. We were living at a boarding house by then, and she had met a lot of new people who liked driving into the countryside and sitting under the trees to drink. I was nearly thirteen by then, so she wouldn’t leave me at home, but she would go off into the bush and leave me sitting with whoever was around. On one of those nights, I was gang-raped, but I was too scared to say anything to Mum. Another night, driving along the highway, a car kept overtaking us and finally pulled us over. It turned out to be undercover police. They took us back to the police station and questioned us individually. When they found out I had been interfered with, a doctor came to examine me. They gave Mum a court summons for a day or two later. But as soon as we got home, she started packing and caught the next train out of town. We ended up in a small town where she got another job as a cook, and I was put on as house maid. It was a hard life, but I learned to survive. Desperate for Hope Mom hooked up with a fellow called Wilson, and we went to live with him in Tully. He had been in a mental institution after his first wife died. Mum soon corrupted him, and they started fighting when they were drunk. I hated being in the middle of their fights. When Mum fell pregnant, she said, “Let’s take Wilson’s car and go down to Sydney and start a new life. I don’t really want to get married or have this baby.” I felt terrible. I was tired of being on my own, and had wanted a brother or a sister for years. So, I went and told Wilson. After he confronted my Mum, they ended up getting married, but she held me responsible. She told me I had to look after the baby because she didn’t want her. My baby sister was my world until the day I met Tom. I was sick of all the fighting, and Tom promised to marry me when I was old enough, so I left home. I thought life would be fantastic after that, but it wasn’t. Tom’s mother was lovely. She really tried to look after me, but Tom would get drunk, then come home and abuse me. He kept getting drunk and getting sacked job after job, so we moved constantly. We did marry, and I hoped he would settle down and start treating me better, but he kept beating me and having affairs. I had to escape this misery, so I cleared out and moved to Brisbane where I got a job washing dishes. Late one night after work, I got off the bus and saw someone standing across the road. I knew it was Tom. Although I was terrified, I stayed near the light in case he tried something stupid. He followed me, but I told him I wouldn’t go back and wanted a divorce. A New Beginning When I got home, I packed my bags, took a train to Sydney, and got on a bus out of town. For months, I had nightmares about him chasing me. I buckled down and got a job as a domestic helper at the hospital, where I made new friends. There was another young girl with poor English who was a lot like me. We got along well, and started our nursing training together, then worked at a hospital after our training. She knew a chap that was doing National Service in the army. When he invited her to a ball, she got me, a blind date so we could go together. I wasn’t impressed with the date, but it was a way to get out. One of the army caterers serving the meal started paying me attention. I thought he was better than the blind date, so we had a few dances and got on well. We kept on seeing each other, but after a few weeks Peter told me he was being sent to do an aviation course. I felt terribly disappointed. We had shared our life stories, so he knew what was going on, but he didn’t give up on me and kept in contact. The more I got to know him, the more I liked him, but I didn’t want to get married again after the first disaster. Eventually, he introduced me to his family, and we got engaged before he finished his training. He was posted to Townsville, where I had lived with Tom. Though I didn’t want to revisit the horrors of the past, I couldn’t say no to Peter. We lived together for nearly two years before we were able to marry legally. Peter had grown up Catholic but stopped practicing in the hurly burly of military training, so we got married in our backyard. Words That Changed Everything Sometimes I was lonely because Peter was often away servicing helicopters in the field. I got a job as a high school lab assistant, but we came to realize there was something missing in our life. We had everything, but there was still an emptiness. Then Peter suggested, “Let’s go to church.” The first few times, we sat in the back pew, but as our hearts opened to the presence of the Lord, we got more involved. We heard about a Marriage Encounter weekend and signed up. It was a real eye opener for both of us. Our hearts were stirred. On that weekend we learned how to communicate by writing things down. I had never been able to put what I felt into words. Mum had always told me to shut up, so I learnt not to talk, and became unable to share my emotions. When I first heard the words, “God doesn’t make junk,” I knew those words were meant for me. A wave of emotion overcame me. “God made me. I am okay. I am not junk.” All those years, I had been putting myself down, blaming myself for the awful things that had happened—the rape, marrying someone who drank when I should have known better, the divorce, my mother’s abuse …. I was coming back to life. My heart changed for the better every time I went to Mass or a prayer meeting. I was so in love with God and my husband. Replacing Hate With Love Up to this point, I hadn’t ever forgiven anyone. I had put my hurts in the background, and locked them away as if they never happened. When Peter and I got engaged, I wanted to let Mum know. I sent letters, but she returned them “to sender,” so I gave up. Then, I dreamt that I saw my mother hanging from a tree. Her stark blue eyes were open and staring down at me. I looked at her with pity and said, “God, I dislike her, but not that much.” Somehow, that dream taught me not to hate. Even if I strongly disliked what someone had done, hate was wrong. I forgave Mum completely, and that opened other doors to grace. I softened and reached out again to my mother until she finally responded, and we stayed with her for a couple of days. When my sister called to tell me she had died suddenly of a heart attack, I burst into tears. After her death, I felt I hadn’t forgiven Mum properly, but counseling and prayers with a good priest helped restore my peace. When I uttered the words of forgiveness, the light of the Holy Spirit penetrated my being, and I knew I had forgiven her Forgiving Tom was something I had to keep taking back to prayer. It took quite a while, and I had to say aloud more than once that I forgave Tom for the times he abused me, his affairs, and for not looking after me properly. I know I’ve forgiven him. It doesn’t take away the memories, but it does take away the hurt. Wiping the Slate Clean Forgiveness isn’t a one-time thing. We must forgive whenever resentment resurfaces. We must continually give up the desire to hold on to grudges, and surrender them to Jesus. This is how I pray: “Jesus, I surrender everything to you, take care of everything.” And He does. I feel totally at peace once I have prayed that a few times. It took a long time before I felt strong enough to bring healing forgiveness to the rape. I just pushed it aside. I didn’t even want to think about it. Yet even that was healed once I had presented it to Christ and forgiven my rapists. It doesn’t affect me anymore. God has wiped it clean, because I asked God to come and take away anything that is not of Him. Now, I hand things over to God as they happen, and a peace washes over me. We have an awesome God, who is forgiving, morning, noon, and night. Whatever darkness we have in our lives, God is there waiting for us to repent and ask for His forgiveness, so that He can cleanse us and make us whole. ARTICLE is based on the testimony shared by Margaret Fitzsimmons for the Shalom World program ‘Seventy times Seven.’ Margaret lives with her husband in Brisbane, Australia.
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.
Nilakandan Pillai was born into a Hindu family in South India in 1712. His parents were devout upper caste Hindus. Nilakandan’s family was closely associated with the Royal Palace, and he served the King of Travancore as a palace official in charge of accounts. In the Battle of Colachel, fought in 1741 between Travancore and the Dutch East India Company, the Dutch naval commander Captain Eustachius De Lannoy was defeated and captured by the King. De Lannoy and his men were later pardoned and served the Travancore army. Official work brought Nilakandan and De Lannoy together and a close friendship formed between the two. During this period, Nilakandan faced many misfortunes, and was beset with doubts and fear. De Lannoy consoled his friend by sharing his Christian faith. The story of Job from the Bible greatly comforted Nilakandan, and their conversations drew him to Christ. Nilakandan decided to receive baptism, though he knew this decision would mean sacrificing his social status and the service of the King. On 14th May 1745, at the age of 32, Nilakandan was baptized into the Catholic Church, taking the name Devasahayam, the Tamil rendering of the biblical name Lazarus. Devasahayam experienced immense joy in living his faith and strived to be a true disciple of Jesus. He thanked God every day for the grace of conversion and eagerly shared his Catholic faith with others. He soon persuaded his wife and several of his military colleagues to confess their faith in Christ. Devasahayam had no regard for the caste system and treated the so-called “low caste” people as equals. Soon the palace officials who opposed his newfound faith turned against him. They conspired to have him arrested. The King asked Devasahayam to renounce his Christian faith, and promised him a prominent position in his court. But despite the allurements and threats, Devasahayam stood firm in his faith, which further enraged the King. Regarded as a criminal, Devasahayam endured inhuman tortures for the next three years. He was whipped daily, and endured having chili powder rubbed onto his wounds and into his nostrils. Given only stagnant water to drink, he was paraded around the Kingdom on a buffalo with his hands tied behind him — an infamous punishment reserved for traitors and meant to discourage future conversions. Devasahayam endured the humiliation and torture with great patience and trust in God. His gentle and kind demeanor surprised the soldiers. Every morning and night he spent time in prayer, and continued preaching the Gospel to all who came to listen. The ministers who had conspired against Devasahayam obtained permission from the King to execute him in secret. On 14 January 1752, he was then taken to a deserted mountain to stand before a firing squad. Devasahayam’s only request was for time to pray, which the soldiers granted. As he prayed, shots rang out and he died with the names of Jesus and Mary on his lips. Devasahayam was declared a Martyr and Blessed on December 2, 2012. In February 2020, Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Devasahayam, and on May 15th, 2022, he was canonized, becoming India’s first layperson to be declared a saint. Shalom World has made a program based on the life of this great saint, whose courageous witness and martyrdom continues to inspire the faithful of today. To learn more about St. Devasahayam, watch the episode of ‘Glorious Lives’: https://www.shalomworld.org/episode/devasahayam-the-faithful-layman-from-india
Each of us have weaknesses that we struggle with. But the Holy Spirit is our Helper! Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12) Patience was not my strong point before I was renewed in my faith. I am ashamed when I recall moments when I lost my temper, such as the time I blasted someone at the shop for being “racist” to my mom; the incident at work in the Philippines when I stormed into the general’s office demanding justice for the employees; the many occasions when I’ve stuck up the rude finger to someone who overtook me (maybe this is why the Lord did not allow me to continue driving!); and the many pathetic little episodes of intolerant, rude behaviour, or sullen sulkiness when I did not get my own way. I was so impatient. If someone didn’t turn up on the dot at the time we had agreed to meet, I would leave immediately, justifying that they were not worthy of my time. When the Lord beckoned me, patience was one of the first fruits that I gained from the Holy Spirit. The Lord impressed upon me that I could not be a good servant if I did not have a compassionate, patient, and understanding heart. Learning to Wait Recently, my husband took me to Melbourne’s Eye and Ear Hospital for an emergency check. It brought back memories of the years when I travelled daily to the Central Business District (CBD), joining thousands of city workers who looked so unhappy but comforted themselves with the thought that they had the job of a lifetime. I even worked a lot of overtime, thinking I would get rich by doing so (I didn’t). Working in the corporate sector, the only joy I got was running over to lunchtime Mass at St. Patrick’s or St. Francis’. If I was really bored, I would wander aimlessly down the Myer Mall, meaninglessly shopping for things that gave me temporary happiness. Every day, I asked the Lord when He would “release” me from the tiresome daily commute and the unfulfilling jobs. I would have said it was a waste of my valuable time if not for the daily Masses, the good friends I met, and the way I used the time on the train—praying, reading good books, and sewing tapestries. As I look back, it took many years for Him to answer my prayer—to give me meaningful work within my locality, just fifteen minutes’ drive from home. I had persisted in my prayer, never giving up hope and trust that He would have mercy on me and heed my request. When I finally said goodbye to city work, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I was finally free from that daily drudgery. Although I was grateful for the experience, I felt refreshed, looking forward to a more peaceful pace of life. With an ageing body, my mind was slowing down, and my coping mechanisms were becoming more limited. When I returned to walk down those familiar streets again, it seemed that nothing much had changed—the street beggars were still there; some corners still smelt of urine and vomit; people paced and up down, walking, running or chasing the next train; people queued to order at the restaurants which had proliferated; and retail stores still jostled to display their wares enticingly to loosen wallets. The sound of sirens abounded. Police presence was strong, and I prayed for my daughter, wondering how she was coping with her job protecting city life. It was all so familiar that it felt like déjà vu, but the only comfortable refuge I found was in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where I had been a lector at lunchtime Mass, and St. Francis’ where I had knelt before Mother Mary to light a candle on my first arrival in Australia. My fervent prayer for a good husband was answered in three weeks. God knows when things are urgent. Much-Needed Virtue The IBelieve website shares this wonderful teaching. The popular saying "patience is a virtue" comes from a poem around 1360. However, even before then the Bible often mentions patience as a valuable quality. Patience is commonly defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. In other words, patience is essentially "waiting with grace." Part of being Christian is the ability to accept unfortunate circumstances gracefully while having faith that we will ultimately find resolution in God. In Galatians 5:22, patience is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit. If patience is a virtue, then waiting is the best (and often most unpleasant) means by which the Holy Spirit grows patience in us. But our culture does not value patience in the same way that God does. Why be patient? Instant gratification is much more fun! Our increasing ability instantly to satisfy our wants may be taking away the blessing of learning how to wait well. How, then, do we wait “well”? I recommend you read the entire article. Patience is waiting quietly; it is waiting eagerly. Patience is waiting until the end; it is waiting expectantly. Patience is waiting joyfully; it is waiting with grace. But the one thing we shouldn’t wait for and not postpone for another second is acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. In the twinkle of an eye, we could be called to surrender our life. Pursuing Patience Since the Feast of Pentecost 20 years ago, I have been renewed in my faith. I am deeply grateful to the Holy Spirit for giving me the virtue of patience, changing me from a miserable, angry sinner into someone who has the ability to wait for His leading and help. This is the mystery of this gift. You cannot do it alone—you need Divine Grace. I did not turn into a gentle, patient person over night, and every day is a testing ground for me. Patience is said to be the “banana” of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, as it can quickly rot. I continue to be tested, but the Holy Spirit hasn’t let me down. While I was writing this article, I managed to wait on the phone for 4 hours to get an issue resolved! The world never ceases to beckon me to hurry on. The devil is always trying to lure me into another trap by annoying me until I lose control. My egocentric self is always demanding that I should come first, so I am very much in need of the Holy Spirit to help me to maintain my patience with self-control. However, to truly exercise patience to everyone around us, Saint Francis de Sales tells us that we must first be patient with ourselves. A word of caution though. Patience is not about allowing ourselves to be a victim of abuse or enabling sinful behaviour. But that is a topic for another time, so I ask for your patience. “The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” – Arnold Glasow
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