My name is Jessica Braun. Today, I am sharing my faith story to give you hope that it doesn’t matter whether you are a cradle Catholic or have no faith at all—God is revealing Himself to you, through your very life lived.
I come from a nonreligious, loving family. We were raised very morally, following the golden rule, but I never felt that religion was for me nor had the faith that there was a God. I grew up in San Francisco as one of the three children. I remember we rarely went to church; but when we did go it was for a celebration. We would get dressed up and celebrate the holidays or weddings, but it was never a spiritual event.
When I was in high school, we had a family friend who was an Indian. Upon retirement he began to facilitate a small village school in India by taking graduate students from Europe, specifically England, to help teach English in that school. One day he asked my parents whether I would be interested in going. My parents were very supportive but the only condition they had was that I had to earn the money to pay for the trip, or get admitted into college. I didn’t have to think twice when I deferred to the college admission. I was so excited to go to India, but I really had no concept of what was involved in being 18 and away from home for the first time. It was really a wake-up call to how bizarre life is.
In India I experienced the gravity of poverty, suffering and beauty. It hit me like a tidal wave to the sense of what I had. I felt lost while I was there. The experience I had at the village school was quiet and serene; but I was really puzzled when I traveled to other parts of the country. I was lost in the swing of things when faced with how many people there were and how crazy everything seemed. Finally I settled into the notion that my little life did not matter at all—I could not comprehend that there was an individual soul, much less an individual relationship to be had with God.
After we had traveled for a long time, my friends moved back to the United Kingdom. I had time remaining on my visa, but I did not know what to do. Rishikesh Ashram was said to be a safe and quiet place, so I spent my time there until my flight home. It was a silent ashram, where we focused on doing service and meditating. I went along and somehow I began to feel that maybe there was someone. I had an inkling that God watched over me. Unfortunately, I did not have a community of people to help foster what I felt deep in my heart.
When I came back from India I felt as if I had a grip on things. I went to college and when it came to meeting Christian groups on campus, I thought, “You must be kidding me! These people haven’t seen what I have seen. So they don’t understand.” I could not see then that my life was just unfurling; it was still growing. I now realize that the real danger exists when people think that they have arrived in life, and draw to a conclusion. The truth is that life is all a journey in which we never know how things will work out.
After two years in college, I felt disconnected and wanted to be back out in the world. I received a small scholarship opportunity to study in Madrid, Spain. There I met other college kids who were travelers and adventurers. We lived it up while in Madrid and I felt that everything was great. One morning while I was walking home, I thought about how I was in Madrid, travelling on my own and feeling very confident. All of a sudden, a man who had run out from the bushes assaulted me.
Lying on the path with a broken collarbone, all alone—I was thinking to myself, and a sort of anger surged in me. Even though I did not believe in God, a part of me did think that perhaps someone was looking out for me. That moment when I was so helpless and lonely, I felt the world telling me “No, you are alone. There’s nobody looking out for you. You are responsible for yourself.”
Often one battles such thoughts while going through bad events. I had a broken collarbone, of which I told my roommate but no one else, not even to my parents. I felt that this was the only way to cope. I thought my strength was my ability to carry on despite bad things happening. I did not believe then that I need God or that there was anything greater than me.
It was a dark time in my life. I was dating someone who was not right for me. When that relationship ended, I was again feeling very lonely. So I decided to move home to California. And shortly before going home, I met my future husband! Sadly I had to tell him that I was moving in three weeks. We still had a long-distance relationship. Eventually, he proposed, and we were talking about our wedding. Even though we had been to church together, it was important to him that we were married in the Catholic Church, just like others in his family had been.
It was a beautiful Catholic church, and there was a beautiful priest who knew our story and married us. I was not planning to become a Catholic, but I was certain that I would raise a Catholic family. It was important to my husband that our children be raised Catholic. I also wanted that for my children. I have witnessed faith in my Jewish friends. In India I saw tremendous faith—Buddhist faith, Hindu faith. It was a beautiful thing, but I felt it was not for me because of who I was, the way I thought and my life events. I felt that faith was a beautiful thing given at birth, so I thought that when my kids are born, I would raise them Catholic.
Ten years later we had three beautiful children, and my oldest daughter was a precocious child. She never believed in Santa Claus, Easter bunnies, the tooth fairy and so on. It was all about “I need proof.” This made it a lot more difficult raising her in the Catholic faith and getting her to believe in God, especially when she was not listening to these messages from me. Thus, we enrolled her in religious education at Saint James Church.
I never believed in God, and I did not know how to steerher toward a belief. I asked my mother- in-law for advice, but she would say, “Oh, I don’t really know… the Catholic teaching has changed’. Then one day she put it under my nose that Saint James had an RCIA program to teach adults about the Catholic faith. I went for it, but did not know what to expect. I was blown away. I remember our RCIA leader saying on the first day that all of us were not there by accident. We were called there. In a nutshell, he made it clear that we were all here because of love.
Someone had loved us enough to bring us here to be with each other. For me, it was my mother-in-law, my husband and my children’s love that had brought me there, along with the love of Jesus Christ, which was already in my life. If you open your heart, then you open yourself to this experience and let love show you the way.
As the weeks went on, we continued attending church, participating in ministries, and for my kids, going to religious education. Things started to change in my life, like the song “Amazing Grace.” You hear it a million times and suddenly you feel that the song is
about you. You begin to see God reflected in everything, more than ever before.
I was hesitant to share this experience. Sometimes you hear stories where it all lines up perfectly. I am not sure which pieces of my past led me to this point. I do believe that every day prepares you for the next and that God was speaking to me through all those experiences, whether or not I was listening. I hope others can recognize God’s presence by being open to the possibility that whatever they are going through in life, all these pieces are God’s way of preparing them for today,
and today is preparing them for tomorrow.
In essence, you can live out a faithful life and be the light of the world. Every time I receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I feel like I am walking through a door that is taking me closer to God. Most of my life was anonymous, but I feel all those experiences helped in sculpting the way to accept Jesus as my Savior. Since becoming a Catholic, the world is open to an entirely new dimension, a life that feels much more real.
©Article is based on the Shalom World TV program “My Jesus My Savior” featuring Jessica Braun. To watch the episode visit: https://www.shalomworldtv.org/videos/index/1897
Q : I want to have a closer relationship with God, and I know that I need to pray if I want to get close to Him. But, I find prayer so boring! How can I make prayer more interesting? Answer: First, let us look at a common misconception of prayer. Prayer is NOT just reciting words. Many people think the only way you can pray is by saying “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys.” While these pre-written prayers can help us to pray with others and they can give us a lot to meditate on, merely reciting words is not what prayer is about! Saint Therese of Lisieux defined prayer as, “an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy!” What a far cry from a dry, boring experience! It is a living relationship with the God who is madly in love with you. In order to grow in any relationship, one should speak from the heart. Share with God your joys and sorrows. Thank Him for His blessings, ask for the grace to carry out His will. Tell Him of the good things and unburden your sorrows onto Him. Most of all, tell Him of your love for Him and let Him tell you of His love for you. We can converse with Jesus as if we were speaking with a close friend. Yes, it is possible for us to have that kind of conversational intimacy with God! Once we have spoken to God we must listen to Him. He often speaks in silence by guiding your thoughts, feelings, memories, and desires. At times He will place a thought in your mind that seems to be a genuine inspiration from the Holy Spirit—a word, phrase or image that will either console you or challenge you. Sometimes He will fill you with a desire to repent of a sin or to grow in a certain virtue. At times He will bring a memory or an image to your mind, speaking through that. He also speaks through other means. In fact, He has written a love letter to you—it is called the Bible! If we want to know what is on God’s heart, read His word! He sometimes speaks through other spiritual books—I recommend “Introduction to the Devout Life” by Saint Francis de Sales, “Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis or any lives of the saints. God has also spoken to me clearly through music—listening to Christian music has often been a powerful time of prayer! Nature has revealed God’s loving Heart to me as has the rosary, which helps us look at the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary. Of course, the best way to pray is at the Mass, where we hear His words in scripture and receive His body in the eucharist. A wise priest once told me, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t!” There are so many ways to pray—all we need to do is pick one that we can stick with and meet the Lord there!
Stop Fretting Over What You Can’t Do. Instead, Focus on What God Can Do. Last December, I was in India traveling by train. I got a sleeper-class ticket which secured me a seat for the four-hour journey. Not very long after the train began to move, the ticket examiner came and checked my ticket. He then headed to an elderly man who was sitting right beside me. This man had an economy class ticket and was not supposed to sit in the sleeper class. The ticket examiner asked him to go to the economy class. Knowing that the economy coach was usually full and that he might have to stand throughout the journey, the the man requested the ticket examiner to allow him to sit where he already was; but to no avail, the ticket examiner insisted him to shift to the economy coach. The man stood up and reluctantly walked to the economy class. After the man had disappeared, a disturbing thought came to my mind: “Why didn’t I offer the extra payment for him?” The extra payment required for that man to continue in the sleeper-class seat was very much affordable for me. I did not do what I could have done at that moment! Throughout the journey this thought kept pricking my heart. However, toward the end of the journey, I heard a soft voice of consolation deep inside my heart! Listen, the hundreds of good deeds you have done so far need not be the proof of the presence of the LORD in you; but, if a good deed that you did not do brings tears to your eyes, it is a sign that the Carpenter (Jesus) has started His work in you. It was not the first time I had this kind of experience. I have fallen short many times in similar situations because of my inability to act quickly. However, when I took those failings to the Lord during my quiet time with Him, I was given some insights. Intentions of the Heart God always looks at our heart. Rather than what we do, God is more concerned about the intention of our heart. He does not expect us to be perfect in our deeds but to be truthful. God wants us to do all things with love. Anything that does not come out of love is not acceptable to Him. Saint Paul makes this point very clear in his letter to the Corinthians. “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). This explains why Jesus disregarded large sums of money from rich people but appreciated the two small copper coins from a widow (Mark 12:43). Take the case of Mother Teresa. She had done everything with great love and passion. She was able to see Christ in everyone she served. Instead of trying to do great things, she tried to do small things with great love. This is what makes her very special. Worldly recognition can be deceiving. People always look at the result, but God sees much more! A doctor, who coincidently discovered a lifesaving medicine and saved the life of his enemy while trying to poison him, may be recognized with a Nobel prize by the world, but is a murderer in the eyes of God! A doctor who took a risk during his failed attempt to save his patient may end up behind bars but might be well rewarded by God! We need to ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to lead us in the right path. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalms 139: 23-24). Let Go & Let God God loves everyone. Our shortcomings do not prevent Him from blessing His children. We are all instruments in His hands, and He has an infinite number of alternatives when we have failed to fulfill our duty. In the above incident, it is not difficult for Him to arrange a seat for the man in the economic class. What we can do is to give our worries to Him and accept the fact that He is always in charge. On a similar note, in my workplace, I often feel guilty when someone leaves the company before I get a chance to effectively share my faith. I feel like my prayers for the person went unanswered. But that is not true. No prayer ever goes unanswered. God, in His infinite wisdom, has the perfect way to do things in His perfect time. Evangelization is His business! We just need to cooperate!! It is important to trust Him always and know that He can make good things out of our shortcomings. In fact, He already knew we were going to fall short. Dear Lord, we surrender all those shortcomings and failures in life completely into Your hands. We trust that You know more about our life and You will get us through it all. Take control, O God that we may never feel dejected or lonely, but always find true solace and peace in you. Amen.
See To It That You Are Not Deceived! A Living Miracle It strikes me as ironic, that in this age of science and technology, traditional Catholic views are regarded as being old fashioned, out of date and out of touch with modern life, but instead, people are turning to witchcraft and magic for answers. It seems to me, that these are much more a superstitious activity than believing in Jesus. If you are looking for facts, we know for a fact that Jesus lived, and we believe he is the Son of God. However, this is not a new phenomenon. Take the case of the Eucharistic Miracle of Santarem in Portugal. A woman had doubts about her husband’s fidelity, so she consulted a sorcerer to perform some kind of magic and make her husband fall in love with her again. She paid a big price, a sacred consecrated Host. The irony of this tale is that this Sacred Host is still performing miracles to this day. Nobody remembers the name of the sorcerer or the woman for that matter, but the Host remains and is still attracting thousands of people to Santarem even after 800 years. The Choice is Yours People turn to witchcraft for a myriad of reasons, but the one thing they all have in common is that they want to decide the outcome of a situation. They want to make things happen their way. These people forget one very important little piece of detail. The only person who can change the course of their future is their creator, God. Our creator, who flung the stars in the sky, created time itself is the only one who knows what the future holds and how life pans out. God created the past, the present and the future. He sent his only Son Jesus to carry out burdens and save our souls, because of His love for us. Jesus is our Savior. He came to bring us the good news. Why don’t we trust Him? He told us that God loves us. He also told us that He is the Way, the truth and the life and the only way to reach the Father is through Him. Why don’t we follow him? We all have been given free will to make choices. When we put our faith and trust in Jesus, we know that the choices we make will be for the right reasons. Jesus will guide us. Just before he ascended into Heaven, he told his disciples, who were distraught at the thought of his leaving, that he would never leave us. He would send the Holy Spirit. How comforting is this? We are never alone, and we will be guided through all our necessities and difficulties...if we choose to place our trust in Jesus. If a situation arises in our lives that throw us from our comfort zone, we should immediately turn to Jesus, our Saviour. He conquered death, surely he can help us in all our anxieties and necessities. Deception of Occult Life today is very complex. There are demands striking each one of us from all angles. Social Media decides what we are to think, the media dictates what we are to believe and society is controlled. If we believe and think something other than mainstream, we are deemed to be old fashioned, conservative and non- progressive. Some vulnerable people, who may not want to be viewed in this light, will look for answers elsewhere. They will consult the occult or dabble in witchcraft. Do they get answers? Do they feel loved? Do they get security? Do they feel a connection with God who created them? I think not. I think they are hoodwinked into a false world that only creates mental anguish. Saint Padre Pio has tens of thousands of miracles associated with him. In his novena he uses the words of Jesus “Truly I say to you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you”, “Truly I say to you if you ask anything of the Father in My name, He will give it to you” and “Truly I say to you, heaven and earth will pass away but My words will not pass away”. Encouraged by these words, uttered from the mouth of Jesus when he came to this world to save us, we should put our faith and trust in Him for everything. We should make that choice today and it will be the best decision of our life!
Did You Know That Your Sickness Can Become a Greater Blessing? Be encouraged by the inspiring testimony of Colleen and John Willard as they share their life story of miraculous healing, which took place at Medjugorje in 2003. The story begins in January of 2001. John and Colleen Willard were living a good Catholic life with their three sons, in the suburbs of Chicago. It was then when Colleen developed a back pain for which she had to consult a doctor. John: The doctor said Colleen had a herniated disc, which was causing pain down her left leg and foot. She needed surgery and the operation was successful. But six weeks later, I found her in intense pain—in her entire body. We rushed her to the emergency room and spent the next 10 days in the hospital. They did every test you can think of but they could not figure out from where the pain was coming. On the 10th day, the doctor came into the room and was going through all the paperwork. On one page she stopped abruptly, looked over the top of her glasses and said, “By the way, did you know that you have a brain tumor?” Colleen: It was as if something hit me like a brick ... John: We immediately tried to get admission into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. There was a lot of paperwork to do. Somehow all these were done in a smooth way ... Colleen: I was wrapped in 24-hour pain. Our family room now was a hospital bed and the livelihood in our family was totally down the hill because “Mom was sick all the time.” I had metabolic bone disease, adrenal insufficiency, severe osteomalacia, lymphedema, and pulmonary disease, while the 24-hour pain was extreme. Very quickly I was put on the highest doses of narcotics— nearly 8o times more addictive than heroin—but it still was not alleviating the pain. For me, the most important thing was to find out about my brain tumor. I knew from the neurosurgeons in Chicago that it was one thing that I was not going to be able to live with at all. Sadly, we learned the tumor was inoperable. Located in the center of the brain, the tumor was in an area that tells your heart to beat, lungs to breathe and where the motor system of the entire body is. Moreover, it was wrapped around a major blood vessel. It was too risky to even do a biopsy. When we came home that day, I had to be lifted and put in the hospital bed as I was very tired. I remember asking my little son to bring the crucifix and hang it at the foot of my hospital bed. Born and raised in a Catholic home, I had looked at many crosses in my life. Unlike any other, this time I looked at Jesus and said to Him, “I know that You haven’t given this to me as a punishment. You must see something in me that I do not—I put my faith in You.” Then I asked my son to open the Bible and read it to me. My son opened to the writings of Saint Paul where He talks about “How carrying the cross is a joy” and I prayed, “Lord, there must be joy in carrying this cross. This is scripture; there are no lies in there.” I realized I needed to do one thing: to offer all my pain, sorrow and everything else up to Jesus and unite it to Him. I began to pray the rosary 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I got my house in order, wrote notes to my children and got all the things done that one does when one knows life is ending. The next day, our Blessed mother sent someone home who had been taking pilgrims to Medjugorje. She told us about her upcoming trip. At this point my voice was raspy and low. One night when John came home I asked him, “Would you like to take me to Medjugorje?” The desire to go was very strong. John: I knew I was going to hear that voice for the rest of my life and so I said, “Sure, we will go to Medjugorje,” but I knew we would not be able to go because we did not have enough money. Colleen: I answered the phone to talk with a man from the Knights of Columbus. Our Lady opened had up all the connections; the man on the phone had enough money to pay for two airline tickets and $200 left for souvenirs. I said to John, “Guess what?! Our lady is calling us to Medjugorje!” We had no idea what to expect at Medjugorje ... we were going there to pray but the first day ... (Colleen looks at John.) John: The first day we were supposed to go to the hill of apparitions. There was some confusion and we were led to a talk by Vicka the visionary. Colleen: In the meantime, John took me in a wheelchair. There were nearly 350 people gathered in a porch-like area in Vicka’s home. She was telling the story of how Our Lady took her to see heaven, hell and purgatory. I had heard from the testimony of Vicka that the Blessed Mother held her hands. I said a prayer quietly, in my own heart: If only I could see the visionary then it would be like seeing you, dear Blessed Mother because you took her to heaven. My prayer got greedier and I said to Our Lady, if only I could touch the hands you held then it would be like holding yours. All of a sudden I heard the words through the microphone “moment, momento” and I didn’t know what it meant. The next thing I saw was the crowd separating just like how Moses divided the sea and Vicka was walking toward me, smiling at me, as if I was a long- lost friend. She only said two words to me: “Praise God.” I simply admitted that I had not come for myself but for all those who had asked me to pray for them, for those who I said I would pray for, even those I had not seen since I was a baby. I pleaded to her, “Please, would you ask our Lady to answer the desires of their heart?” and she said, “Yes, I will.” Suddenly, she made a sign of the cross on my forehead; the minute she put her hand on my head, I could no longer hear any outward sound, nor sense any movement or anyone around me. There was intense heat, unlike anything I had ever felt. It was like heated coils going all through the inside of my head. However, that was secondary to the presence of God. John: After that, we went for the 10:00 am holy mass and were sitting at the back of the church. Colleen: And right before the consecration of the Holy Eucharist, before the bread was turned into the body of Christ and wine into the blood of Christ, I heard the most the beautiful voice of Our Lady—it was so clear and audible. “Now will you give your whole heart and your whole soul to my Son?” I said “Yes.” “And will you give your whole heart and your whole soul to Our Father?” she asked and there was such an emphasis on the word “Your.” I said, “Yes, I will.” “And will you give your whole heart and whole soul to my spouse the Holy Spirit?” Again, I said, “Yes, I will.” Then she said, “Now, my daughter, you are my daughter.” When I opened my eyes, a priest was standing, in front of me with the Holy Eucharist. The minute The eucharistic host was placed on my tongue, I experienced the same thing that had happened to me when Vicka had prayed for me; I could not hear a sound or anything around me; everything became silent and then I realized Our Lady was asking me to give everything to Jesus. At the moment when the Eucharistic host was placed on my tongue, all the heat that had been with me when Vicka had prayed over me was leaving and, with it, all the 24-hour pain ... John: And all the pain she felt ... the 24-hour pain had left her completely by then ... Colleen: It left as soon as I received the Holy Communion. Later that evening I got out of the wheelchair for the first time. I remember the first two words I wanted to say and those were, “Praise God!” I had back my voice back as well. I was able to swallow, eat and be touched; I was able to stand on my own without assistance. When we got back and met the doctors, including the pulmonary specialist who said, “There’s no way that your oxygen level has can go from where it was at to where it is at now—without divine intervention.” And we went to Mayo clinic ... (Colleen beaming at John now.) John: It was the same ... The doctors were in a sort of precarious position because they were the ones who diagnosed Colleen’s condition. None of the things she had were reversible. Suddenly they had to explain what happened and it was beautiful. (Smiling) Colleen: We cried along with doctors. The blood work came back normal, with no more adrenaline insufficiency, but what I was waiting to find out was about the brain tumor. It was then that the neurosurgeon came, put his arms around me and said, “Mrs. Willard, you are the third miracle I have seen from Medjugorje ...” I felt Jesus telling me, “You were not healed because your illness was greater than anyone else’s. You were healed for your family, the community and the entire world.” That is why we are sharing this testimony with you. We hope your heart will be drawn closer to the love of God and the Blessed mother’s intercession will be there always in your life. We would like to close this testimony with two words that Vicka said to us; we pray that the world resounds with these words—“Praise God!”
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