Make Your Best Choice Today!
Making the right decision is pivotal; What’s your choice?
Forty years ago, Bob Dylan immersed himself in exploring Christianity, which was evident in his Slow Train Coming album (1979). In the following lyrics, Dylan asks the question ’To whom do you give your ultimate allegiance?’:
“Yes, you’re goin’ to have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
We can’t avoid this question because we are in fact constituted “to serve somebody.” Why is that? Why can’t we just drift along from one experience to another without giving our allegiance to anything or anyone? The answer comes from our human nature: we have a Mind (reflective consciousness) and a Will (that which desires the good). Our Mind has the inherent capacity to seek meaning in our human existence. Unlike other creatures, we don’t simply experience; rather, we take a step back and interpret, we give meaning to what just transpired. In our process of making meaning from our experiences, we must face Dylan’s question: Whom will I serve?
Heading for a Dead End?
Jesus, as was his custom, simplifies the choice when he says, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (emphasis added; Matthew 6:24).
Jesus knows that we either seek fulfillment by being in relationship with God, the source of our being, or we seek happiness apart from God. We can’t have it both ways: “…it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The choice we make determines our destiny.
When we give our allegiance to ‘mammon’ we reject our True Self, which is meant to be in genuine relationship with God and neighbor. In choosing ‘mammon’ we shift to a consuming self, which finds its identity in property, prestige, power, and pleasure. When we do this, we objectify ourselves. In contemporary terms, we call this the ‘commodification of the Self.’ In other words, we are what we possess.
The path of property, prestige, power, and pleasure leads to a dead end. Why? Because they are…
– scarce—not everyone has access to wealth, acclaim, pleasure, and power. If having the goods of the world is the gateway to happiness, then most human beings have no chance at happiness.
– exclusive–which is a consequence of their scarcity. Life becomes a zero-sum game with society divided into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ As Bruce Springsteen sings in his song “Atlantic City”: “Down here it’s just winners and losers and Don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line.”
– transitory–which means our needs and wants change; we never reach an endpoint because there’s always something else out there to desire.
– ephemeral–their chief drawback is superficiality. While materialism, acclaim, status, and being in control can satisfy us for a time, they don’t address our deepest yearning. In the end, they pass away: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2b).
Pursuingthe riches and pleasures of this worldcan have devastating psychological and spiritual implications. If my self-worth depends on my possessions and achievements, then lacking the latest gadgets or experiencing some failure means I not only have less than othersdo or that I have failed in some effort, but that I have failed as a person. Comparing ourselves to others and expecting perfection of ourselves explains the anxiety experienced by so many young people today. And as we age and become less productive,we can lose our sense of usefulness and self-worth.
Jesus tells us that our other alternative is to “serve the Lord” who is Life itself and who wants to share His Life with us so we can become like Him and reflect the wonder of his being. The False Self, the Old Self, the Commodified Self leads to self-absorption and spiritual death. But by “serving the Lord” we enter into His very Being. The New Self, the True Self is Christ living in us; it’s the self that is ordered to love because, as Saint John reminds us, “God is love” (1 John 4:7b). Saint Paul adds that when we have that True Self, we are being renewed in the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:1-4).
Knowing who we are makes it much easier to know what to do. Who we are matters infinitely more than what we have because knowing who we are tells us what to do.We are God’s beloved children created to rest God’s love. If we focus on that truth, knowing who to serve is no longer a difficult decision. Echoing Joshua, we can confidently say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He is a teacher of Theology and serves in adult faith formation and spiritual direction.
May 18, 2023
May 18, 2023
I could make out the head and shoulder of a man with shoulder-length hair, and something spiky above his forehead.
It was late in the evening. I sat in the improvised chapel we had set up for the annual diocesan youth retreat. I was tired. Tired and spent from organizing the weekend, in my role as a youth ministry worker, and additionally from being in the first trimester of pregnancy.
I had volunteered for this hour of Eucharistic Adoration. The opportunity for 24-hour adoration was a huge drawcard of the retreat. It was always edifying to see young people spending time with Our Lord.
But I was tired. I knew that I should spend the time here, and yet, the minutes dragged by. I couldn’t help but scold myself for my lack of faith. Here was I in the presence of Jesus, and I was too tired to do anything but think about how tired I was. I was on autopilot, and I began to wonder if my faith was more than just intellectual. That is a case of what I knew in my mind, not what I knew in my heart.
Turning on a Dime
In retrospect, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I’ve always been somewhat academically minded—I love to learn. Reading and discussing the weightier matters of life is something that stirs my soul. Listening to the thoughts and opinions of others always gives me pause to consider or reconsider the world we live in.
It was precisely this love of learning that resulted in my deeper immersion into the Catholic faith. I hesitate to call it a ‘reversion’ because I never left the practice of the faith, but I was certainly a surface-level cradle Catholic.
During my first year after high school, my life’s trajectory turned on a dime. A religious order took over my childhood parish, and their zeal for catechesis and evangelization—in both their homilies and their regular conversations—challenged what I thought I knew about being Catholic.
Soon I was a voracious and curious student of Catholicism. The more I learned, the more I realized I needed to learn. This both humbled and energized me.
I added weekday Masses and regular Adoration and started attending retreats, culminating in attending an international World Youth Day. I reveled in the ceremonies of priestly ordinations, the Mass of the Oils, and so on. More often than not, I attended these on my own.
The Missing Link?
I grew in knowledge of my faith and discerned a call to ministry—through journalism and youth ministry. I changed university degrees, met my now husband, and embarked upon a new vocation, motherhood.
And yet, five years after the genesis of my ‘immersion’, my faith was more academic than practical. The knowledge I had acquired had not yet begun to seep into my soul. I did what needed to be done, but I didn’t ‘feel’ that deep love for God in my heart.
So, there I was. Doing what needed to be done. Worn down by exhaustion, I did what I should have done from the start. I asked Jesus for His help. Help my faith, my love for you, to be real and tangible, I prayed.
The shadows lengthened, and candles flickered on either side of the ornate gold monstrance. I gazed upon Our Lord, trying to keep my mind focused on Him alone.
Basking in His Presence
As the shadows stretched across the monstrance, a picture began to emerge on the right-hand side of the glass panel which sheltered Our Lord. It was like looking at one of those old Victorian profile pictures; shadows created the image of a face in profile.
I could make out the head and shoulder of a man, his head lowered, gazing to the left. Some of the background shadows created indistinct shapes, but there was no doubt that this man had shoulder-length hair and something spiky above his forehead.
It was Him. During His crucifixion. There, on the monstrance, overlapping the Real Presence, was the shadowed profile of My Savior, pouring out His love for me on the Cross.
Rooted in Love
I was so overcome and overawed that I spent more time with Him than scheduled. My tiredness dissipated, and I wanted to bask in His Presence. I can never love Jesus as much as He loves me, but I don’t want Him to ever doubt my love for Him.
On that evening fifteen years ago, Jesus demonstrated a vital truth about our faith: it is not fruitful if it is not rooted securely in the love of Him.
For while it is worthwhile to do things because they are correct, it is infinitely better to do those same things out of love for God. Even when we may not ‘feel’ it.
May 14, 2023
May 14, 2023
What’s the key to joy in this life? If you realize this, your life will never be the same.
There are a number of things that continue to strike me about the story of Christ’s healing of the ten lepers. As we all know, leprosy was a horrible disease that tore victims away from their families and into isolation. “Have pity on us”, they call to Him. And he does. He gives them their lives back. They can return to their families, work again, and worship; the joy they experienced would be incredible. But only one returns to give thanks.
Behind the Gift
I do not intend to judge the nine who did not return, but the one who returned to Jesus understood something very important about “gifts.” When God gives a gift, when He answers a prayer, for example, and we are given some “thing,” some blessing, etc., always contained in that gift is the Person. It is the giving of the Person that is primary, the essential point of a gift; and the ultimate point in receiving the gift is to receive the Person who gives it. Things eventually break down, disintegrate, rust, etc., but the point in receiving a gift is to receive the person who gave it. This is the case for all gifts, but this is especially the case with God; for He gives us gifts because He wants us to receive Him, who will never break down, disintegrate, rust, or decay. The spoiled child takes the gift but fails to recognize the person in the gift, so he’s ungrateful. The leper who returned clearly understood this; he returned in a spirit of gratitude.
The spirit of gratitude is the root of the religious spirit. Our entire life, every moment of it, is a sheer gift. When we look around and see that our lives are filled with His blessings, what is He saying to each one of us individually? He’s saying: “I love you; love me back.” If we don’t discover the Person within and behind the many gifts that surround us, they are not going to mean much after a while. They will “get old,” and we will continue on with life with a restless spirit, always searching for more.
Locked Doors & Block Walls
One of my first assignments after ordination was the Queen Street Mental Health Center (psychiatric hospital), and it really was a wonderful experience. I also had the opportunity to regularly visit a nearby prison.
At the hospital, every unit is a locked unit. We are given a key to get in, except for one unit in particular. At this unit, patients are a bit more dangerous, so there is no key. Security sees you on camera. They let you in through one door, and once that door closes, the other door is unlocked, and you proceed through. One weekend, I spent a lot of time on that unit, and also on the schizophrenic unit. After two days of being surrounded by locked steel doors, cinder block walls, security guards, and cameras, I was free to leave, and drive home.
On the highway, 20 minutes into my drive, I looked up at the beautiful sky. Suddenly, I was overcome with a deep sense of joy. It was a profoundly euphoric experience to realize I am free. I could take any exit, stop wherever I wanted, go to a drive thru, buy a coffee or a donut, etc., and no one would stop me, no one would follow me or watch me. I could stop at an empty soccer field, just lie down in the middle of it, and look at the beautiful sky for a while. The rich and beautiful experience of being free struck me like it never had before, and it was a profoundly euphoric experience.
I realized that I take many things for granted. I fail to notice my daily blessings.
It’s an interesting expression: “taking for granted.” It means to fail to notice something, to fail to notice that something has been “given,” and when something is given, there’s a giver, a person, doing the giving. The key to joy in this life is coming to the realization that everything is a sheer gift and becoming aware of the Person that is behind and in the gift, namely God Himself.
Not Fully Understanding
The next significant point in the story of the healing of the ten lepers has to do with the manner of their healing. Jesus said to them: “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (who will then certify that they are clean, so they can return home). But the gospel says they were “healed on the way.” In other words, when Jesus told them to go show yourselves to the priests, they had not been healed as of yet. They were healed “on the way.” Imagine the dilemma. “Why should I show myself to the priest, you haven’t done anything yet. I still have leprosy.” They had to trust, they had to act first, obey first, and only after that are they healed.
That’s how things work with God. We only really come to understand the Lord as a result of choosing to live the faith, to follow him first, to obey him in the dark, so to speak. There is no such thing as coming to understand first, and acting on it after we are assured that we have full understanding. Those who insist on that order always fall away, because they are left without understanding.
We know what God said to us, i.e., keep the commandments. At the Last Supper, he said: “Do this in memory of me.” He also told us not to worry about what you are to wear, eat, or drink. “The Lord knows you need them. Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be provided.” (Matthew 6:32-33). If we act first, we will eventually understand; we will be given the light of faith. But most people will not act unless they can be assured there is no risk. Thus, they go through life in the dark, without the joy of really knowing the Lord. Healing follows the decision to act first, even without understanding.
By: Deacon Doug McManaman
Apr 29, 2023
Apr 29, 2023
I was at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, LA, not far from New Orleans. I was there to address about thirty Benedictine abbots from around the country who had gathered for some days of reflection and retreat. Covering the walls of the abbey church and the refectory of the St. Joseph monastery are marvelous paintings executed by Fr. Gregory de Wit, a monk of Mont César in Belgium, who worked for many years in our country at both St. Meinrad in Indiana and at St. Joseph’s before he passed away in 1978. I have long admired his very distinctive, quirky, and theologically informed art. In the apse of the abbey church, de Wit depicted a series of magnificent winged angels who hover over images of the seven deadly sins, conveying the profound truth that the right worship of God overcomes our spiritual dysfunction. But a novelty of de Wit’s painted program is that he added an eighth deadly sin that he felt was particularly destructive within a monastery—namely, gossiping.
He was right about monasteries, of course, but I would say he would have been right about pretty much any type of human community: family, school, workplace, parish, etc. Gossip is poison. Period. De Wit’s painting prophetically anticipated the magisterium of our present pope, who has often made gossip the object of particular opprobrium. Listen to this from a recent discourse of Francis: “Please, brothers and sisters, let’s try not to gossip. Gossip is a plague worse than COVID. Worse! Let’s make a big effort. No gossiping!” And lest we somehow missed the point, he continued, “The Devil is the biggest gossiper.” This last remark is not just colorful rhetoric, for the pope well knows that the devil’s two principal names in the New Testament are diabolos (the scatterer) and Satanas (the accuser). I cannot think of a better characterization of what gossip does and what it essentially is.
Not long ago, a friend sent me a YouTube video of a talk by Dave Ramsey, a business and finance consultant. With the vehemence of Pope Francis, Ramsey spoke out against gossip in the workplace, specifying that he has a no tolerance policy in regard to the practice. Helpfully, he defined gossip as follows: discussing anything negative with someone who can’t solve the problem. To make things a bit more concrete, a person in your organization would be gossiping if he were grousing about IT issues with a colleague who had no competence or authority to resolve IT matters. Or someone would be gossiping if she expressed anger at her boss to people down the chain of command who were in absolutely no position to respond constructively to her criticism. Ramsey provides a pointed example from his own experience. He recounts that he had a meeting with his entire administrative team, outlining a new approach that he wanted them to adopt. He left the gathering, but then realized he had forgotten his keys and so made his way back to the room. There he discovered that “a meeting after the meeting” was taking place, led by one of his staffers who, with her back to door, was loudly and vociferously denouncing the boss to the others. Without hesitation, Ramsey summoned the woman to his office and, in accord with his zero-tolerance for gossiping policy, fired her.
Mind you, none of this is to say that problems never arise within human societies, still less that complaints should never be voiced. But it is indeed to say that they should be expressed nonbelligerently and up the chain of command, precisely to those who can deal constructively with them. If that method is followed, gossip is not in play. I might supplement Ramsey’s insight with one from John Shea, a former teacher of mine. Years ago, Shea told us that we should feel utterly free to criticize another person precisely in the measure and to the degree that we are willing to help the person deal with the problem that we’ve identified. If we are utterly committed to help, we should criticize as vigorously as we like. If we have a moderate willingness to help, our critique should be mitigated. If, as is typically the case, we haven’t the slightest inclination to help, we should keep our mouths shut.
To direct a complaint nonbelligerently up the chain of command is to be helpful; to direct it down the chain of command and in meanness of spirit is to gossip—and that’s the devil’s work.
Might I make a friendly suggestion? We are on the cusp of Lent, the Church’s great season of penitence and self-discipline. Instead of giving up desserts or smoking this Lent, give up gossiping. For forty days, try not to comment negatively to those who have no ability to deal with the problem. And if you feel tempted to break this resolution, think of de Wit’s angels hovering over you. Trust me, you and everyone around you will be a lot happier.
By: Bishop Robert Barron
Apr 29, 2023
Apr 29, 2023
Practice this and you will never regret…
One antiphon struck me in the final days of last Advent: “Let us see His Face and we shall be saved.” Yes, I prayed, Jesus, let me see Your Face. I think of Mary and Joseph looking at Your Face for the first time as they gently hold You and kiss that Face, and lay You on the straw covered with a warming blanket. How beautiful You are, even before Your eyes open and You look back at me.
Rekindle Your Love
Around this time, I read from a book by Sister Immaculata, a Carmelite nun, (The Pathways of Prayer: COMMUNION WITH GOD published by Mount Carmel Hermitage, 1981) something that also touched my heart. She spoke of how we can keep our love for You, Jesus, which we profess in our formal times of prayer and at Eucharist as we receive You into our bodies and souls. I eagerly read about this, as I had been struggling with feeling led to get one more thing to eat or drink in the nearby kitchen. As I sat there in my prayer corner, I realized the truth of a saying someone posted on her refrigerator: “What you are looking for isn’t in here.” Yes, I could turn to You instead of going to my fridge, couldn’t I? So I wanted to read what Sister Immaculata had to say about rekindling my Love.
She affirmed: “Constant conversing with God in His living presence is the generator of the soul. It keeps the heat and blood flowing…There must be a great fidelity to the practice of this loving recollection with God in faith.” She showed how “there must be special care that this interior glance at God, however brief, precede and conclude every exterior action.” She began to share how the great mystic, Saint Teresa of Avila, spoke of this with her nuns:
“If she can, let her practice recollection many times daily.” Saint Teresa understood that it would not be easy at first, but that “if you practice it for a year, or perhaps for only six months, you will be successful in attaining it”—so great a benefit and treasure. The Saints “teach us that this constant communion is a most efficacious means of arriving quickly at a high degree of holiness. These loving acts dispose the soul for an awareness of the touch of the Holy Spirit and prepare it for that loving infusion of God into the soul which we call contemplation…that enables us to fulfill our Christian obligation to pray everywhere and always.”
Into the Habit Loop
These are a few ways that I have been incorporating this practice. When going up and down stairs, or even when walking on certain paths, I say in rhythm with my steps: “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love You. Save souls.” When sitting for a meal, I ask Jesus to sit with me. When finishing my eating, I thank Him. The hardest practice was to pray before taking any snack or bite when not at a meal, or when preparing for one; I undertook this for Lent, and finally am forming a new habit.
When I pass a Church or Chapel, I say some variation of “Jesus, thank You for Your presence in Eucharist. Please bless all from this holy place.” When passing up a sweet during Lent or on Fridays, I pray for someone or some country in great need.
Sister Immaculata assures us: “God will reveal Himself. He is thirsting to do so, but He cannot unless the heart and mind are prepared to receive Him. Our life of prayer does not really begin until we have laid the foundations of a pure conscience, detachment, and the practice of remaining in His presence.”
“True freedom is the freedom from selfishness. The habit of constant recollection and continual prayer in the presence of God is the remedy for that fear of dying to self and selfishness which is so ingrained in us…Prayer and self-denial are so inseparably linked... because the love of Jesus makes a person despise himself.” This chapter ends with a quote from the Imitation of Christ: “Be humble and peaceful and Jesus will be with you. Be devout and quiet and Jesus will stay with you…You must be naked and carry a pure heart to God, if you will attend at leisure and see how sweet the Lord is” (Book II, chapter 8).
As I focus on areas where I am indulging without first praying, I feel inspired to find a prayer to draw me closer to the Lord whom I love, serve, and pray to already for hours each day. Jesus, yes, please help me grow in the practice of living in Your presence, seeking to see Your Face more and more”.
By: Sister Jane M. Abeln SMIC
Apr 13, 2023
Apr 13, 2023
Wanna experience a breakthrough in life? Here’s what you are looking for!
It certainly doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know, that prayer is central to the life of every Christian. The importance of the call to fasting is less spoken about, so it may be unknown or unfamiliar. Many Catholics may believe they are doing their part by abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but when we look at the Scriptures, we may be surprised to learn that we are called to more. Jesus was asked why His disciples did not fast, when the Pharisees and John the Baptist’s disciples did. Jesus responded by saying that when He was taken away from them, ‘they will fast in those days’ (Luke 5:35).
My introduction to fasting came in a powerful way around 7 years ago, as I lay on my bed reading an article online, about starving children in Madagascar. I read how a desperate mother described the harrowing situation; she and her children were in. They woke up in the mornings hungry. The children went to school hungry and so they were unable to concentrate on what they were learning.
They came home from school hungry, and went to bed hungry. The situation was that bad that they began to eat grass to trick their minds into thinking they were consuming something sustaining, to take away their thoughts of hunger. I learnt that the first few years of a child’s life are crucial. The nourishment they receive or don’t receive, can impact the rest of their lives. The part that truly broke my heart was a photograph of the backs of three young children in Madagascar, with no clothes on, clearly and visibly showing the extreme lack of nourishment. Every single bone in their body seemed to be visible. This had a profound impact on my heart.
‘What can I do?’
After reading this article, I went downstairs, in a bit of a daze with such a heavy heart and my eyes full of tears. I took the breakfast cereal out of the cupboard, and as I went to the refrigerator to take out the milk, I noticed a fridge magnet of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. I held the milk in my hand, and as I shut the door, I stared again at the picture of Mother Teresa, and said in my heart ‘Mother Teresa, you came to help the poor in this world. What can I do to help them?’ I felt in my heart an immediate, gentle and clear answer; ‘Fast!’. I put the milk straight back in the fridge, and the cereals back in the cupboard, and felt such a joy and peace in receiving such clear direction. I then made a promise, that if I thought about food that day, if I got hungry, smelt food, or even saw it, I would offer that small self-denial for those poor children and their parents, and all starving and hungry people across the world.
It was an honour to be called into God’s divine intervention in such a simple but obviously powerful way. I did not think about food or even feel any hunger that day until later that night, when I attended Holy Mass. Moments before receiving Holy Communion, my stomach rumbled and I felt so hungry. As I knelt back down after receiving the Eucharist, I felt like I had just finished the best meal of my life. I certainly had; I had received the ‘Bread of Life’ (John 6:27-71). The Eucharist not only unites each one of us to Jesus personally, but also in turn to each other, and in a powerful way ‘commits us to the poor’ (CCC 1397). Saint Augustine describes the greatness of this mystery as a ‘sign of unity’ and ‘bond of charity’ (CCC 1398). Saint Paul helps us to understand this by further explaining, ‘Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ (1 Corinthians 10:17). Therefore being ‘one body in Christ’ makes us ‘individually members of one another’ (Romans 12:5).
I began to pray each week, asking the Lord who He wanted me to fast and pray for. Before I began to fast, I would somehow come across somebody; a homeless person, a prostitute, an ex-prisoner etc. I felt truly guided. One particular week, however, I went to bed unsure of what intention the Lord wanted me to fast and pray for. As I went to sleep that night, I prayed, asking for direction. The following morning as I finished my morning prayer, I noticed I had a text message on my mobile phone. My sister had texted me the tragic news that a friend of hers had committed suicide. I had my answer. I then began to fast and pray for this girl’s soul. Also, for the people who had found her, her family, and all suicide victims, and anybody who currently may had been contemplating taking their own lives. When I came home from work that day, I prayed my daily Rosary. As I prayed the last prayer, on the very last bead, I felt clearly in my heart the words, ‘When you fast’ (Matthew 6:16-18). As I pondered these words, the emphasis was clearly on ‘When’, not ‘If’. As much as we are expected to pray as believers, the same is clearly true for fasting, ‘When you fast’. As I finished the Rosary and stood up, my phone immediately rang. A beautiful elderly lady I know from church rang me, in a desperate state and told me some of the things that were going on in her life. She told me she was thinking of committing suicide. I knelt down and we prayed together on the phone and by the grace of God she felt peace by the end of the prayer and conversation. The power of prayer and fasting! Glory to God.
Fly and Fight back
I have had the great blessing of visiting the Marian pilgrimage site of Medjugorje, a number of times in my life and have grown deeper in appreciation of this most beautiful weapon against evil. There the Blessed Virgin has continued to call Her children to penance and fasting, often requesting that they take only bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays. It was once said by a late Medjugorje priest, Father Slavko that ‘Prayer and fasting are like two wings’. We surely can’t expect to fly very well with only one wing. It’s time for believers to truly embrace the whole Gospel message and live radically for Jesus, and really fly.
The Bible clearly shows us time and again the power of prayer when accompanied with fasting (Esther 4:14-17; Jonah 3; 1 Kings 22:25-29). In a time where the battle lines are clearly drawn, and the contrast between light and darkness is unmistakably evident, it’s time to push back the enemy, recalling the words of Jesus, that some evil ‘cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting’ (Mark 9:29).
Mar 30, 2023
Mar 30, 2023
Despite growing up as a Baptist, alcohol, drugs and college life threw John Edwards into a whirlwind, but did God abandon him? Read on to find out.
I was born and raised in a Baptist family in midtown Memphis. I never had a lot of friends in school, but I had a lot at church. That's where my community was. I spent every day with these guys and girls, evangelizing and enjoying all the things that you did as a young Baptist. I loved that period of my life, but when I turned 18, my friendship group dispersed. I was still uncertain about what I wanted to do with my life while most of them went off to college leaving me, for the first time in my life, without a community. I was also at the point in my life where I had to decide what to do. I enrolled at the University of Memphis, a local university, and joined a fraternity. It was then I began to get involved in drinking, drugs, and chasing women. Unfortunately, I filled this void with all the activities that you see in a lot of movies and started drinking and chasing women. One night I made a bad decision--one of the worst decisions of my life--to do cocaine. It plagued me for the next 17 years of my life.
When I met Angela, my future wife, I overheard her say that the man she would someday marry had to be Catholic. I wanted to be her man. Even though I had not been to church for over 10 years, I wanted to marry this wonderful woman. Before we married, I went through the RCIA program and became a Catholic, but the truth of the Catholic Church never took deep roots in me because I was just going through the motions.
As I became a successful salesperson, I had a lot of responsibilities and stress. My income was entirely dependent on the commissions I made on sales and I had very demanding customers. If a fellow worker made a mistake, or caused an issue, I could lose our income. To relieve the pressure, I began to throw myself into drug use at night, but I managed to hide this from my wife. She had no idea what I was doing.
Shortly after the birth of Jacob, our first baby, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She had just two weeks to a couple months to live and that really threw me over the edge. I remember asking God: “How can You let a lying scumbag drug addict like me live, but let someone like her, who has loved You without fail her whole life, die? If that's the kind of God You are, then I don't want anything to do with You!” That day, I remember looking up at the sky and saying: “I hate You and I will never worship You again!” That’s the day when I fully turned away and walked away from God.
The Turning Point
I had some customers who were very difficult to deal with. Even at night, there was no respite, with texts threatening to take their business away. All the stress overwhelmed me, and I threw myself into the drugs more and more each night. One night, around two in the morning, I suddenly woke up and sat up in bed. It felt like my heart was going to blow out of my chest. I thought: ‘I'm gonna have a heart attack and die’. I wanted to call out to God, but my proud, selfish, stubborn nature would not give in.
I didn’t die, but I resolved to throw out the drugs and pour out the alcohol…I followed through with that in the morning…only to buy more drugs and beer in the afternoon. The same thing happened over and over again—customers texting, using drugs to fall asleep, and waking up in the middle of the night.
One day, my desire for drugs was so great that I stopped to buy cocaine on my way to pick up my son, Jacob, from my father-in-law's house! As I drove away from the drug dealer’s house, I heard a police siren! The drug enforcement agency was right behind me. Even while I sat in the police station being questioned with my leg chained to a bench, I still thought I was going to get out of this. As a super salesman, I believed I could talk my way out of anything. But not this time! I ended up in jail in downtown Memphis. Next morning, I thought it was all just a nightmare, until I hit my head on the steel bunk.
When it dawned on me that I was in jail and not in my home, I panicked. This can't be happening…everybody's going to know…I’m going to lose my job…my wife…my kids…everything in my life…” Very slowly, I began to look back over my life and think about how this all began. That's when I realized how much I had lost when I walked away from Jesus Christ. My eyes filled with tears and I spent that afternoon in prayer. I would later realize that this was no ordinary day. It was Holy Thursday, 3 days before Easter, the day when Jesus chided His apostles when they could not watch one hour with Him as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. While I talked to Him in prayer, I received a deep sense of certainty that Jesus had never left me, even when I had walked away from Him. He had always been with me even in my darkest moments.
When my wife and my mother-in-law came to visit, I was filled with anxiety. I was expecting my wife to say: “I’m done with you. I'm leaving you and taking the children!” It felt like a scene from Law and Order where the prisoner talks on the phone to his visitor on the other side of the glass. As soon as I saw them, I burst into tears and sobbed, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” When she spoke, I could hardly believe my ears. “John, stop…I’m not going to divorce you. It has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with the vows we made in the Church…” However, she told me that I couldn't come home yet, even though she was bailing me out. My sister was supposed to pick up that evening from jail to take me to my father's farm in Mississippi. It was Good Friday when I walked out of jail. When I looked up it wasn’t my sister waiting for me but my father. I was nervous to see him but we wound up having the realest conversation we had ever had on the hour and a half car ride down to the farm.
A Chance Encounter
I knew that I had to do something to change my life and I wanted to start with Mass on Easter Sunday. But when I pulled up at the church for the 11 o'clock Mass, no-one was there. I began to hit the steering wheel with my fists in disappointment and anger. For the first time in 10 years, I wanted to go to Mass and nobody was there. Did God care at all? The next moment, a Sister pulled up and asked if I wanted to go to Mass, then she redirected me to the next town where I found the church filled with families. This felt like another crushing blow because I wasn't with my own family.
All I could think about was my wife and how I longed to be worthy of her. I recognized the priest. The last time I saw him, many years ago, I was with her. When Mass finished, I remained in the pew asking God to heal me and reunite me with my family. When I finally got up to leave, I felt an arm on my shoulder which surprised me, since I didn’t know anybody there. As I turned around, I saw that it was the priest who greeted me warmly, “Hello, John”. I was stunned that he remembered my name because it had been at least five years since our last meeting, and that had lasted for about 2 seconds. He took my hand and told me, “I don't know why you're here alone or where your family is, but God wants me to tell you that everything's going to be alright.” I was flabbergasted. How could he know?
I made up my mind to change my life and go to rehab. My wife came with me when I was admitted and returned to bring me home after 30 days of outpatient care. When my children saw me walk in the door, they cried and threw their arms around me. They jumped all over me and we played until it was time for bed. As I lay in my bed, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to be there--comfortable in my house with air conditioning and a TV that I could watch whenever I wanted to; dining on food that wasn't prison slop; and lying in my own bed again.
I smiled as if I was king of the castle until I looked over to Angela’s empty side of the bed. I thought to myself: “I need to change my whole life; stopping the drugs and alcohol isn’t enough.” I opened my bedside table, looking for a Bible and found a book that Father Larry Richards had given me at a conference. I had only read 3 or 4 pages back then, but when I picked it up that night, I couldn’t put it down until I had read it cover to cover. I stayed up all night and was still reading when my wife woke at 6 am. The book quickened my understanding of what it meant to be a good husband and a father. I earnestly promised my wife that I was going to be the man she deserved. That book set me on a course to start reading Scripture again. I realized how much I’d missed in my life and wanted to make up for lost time. I started leading my family to Mass, and prayed for hours on end each night. In the first year, I read over 70 Catholic books in that first year. Little, by little, I began to change.
My wife gave me an opportunity to become the man God called me to be. Now, I’m trying to help other people do the same through my podcast ‘Just a Guy in the Pew’.
On Holy Thursday, Jesus prepared to die, and I chose to die to my old self. On Easter Sunday, I felt that I was also resurrected with Him. We know that satan may be quiet when we're on a path far away from Jesus. It's when we start coming closer and closer to Christ that he starts to get really loud. When his lies start to surround us, then we know that we are doing something good. Never give up. Keep on persevering in the love of God, all through your life. You’ll never regret it.
Mar 10, 2023
Mar 10, 2023
Sudden shifts and changes in life can be harrowing but take heart!
You are not alone…
Explaining the moment I became aware of my relationship with God is like asking me to remember when I started breathing; I can’t do it. I’ve always been conscious of God in my life. There is not a defining “Aha” moment that made me aware of God, but there are countless moments that remind me He is always present. Psalm 139 says it beautifully: “For You formed my inward parts, You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14).
The Only Answer
While God has always been a constant presence in my life, many times other things have not been as consistent. Friends, homes, health, faith and feelings, for example, can change with time and circumstances.
Sometimes change feels new and exciting, but other times it is frightening and leaves me feeling weak and vulnerable. Things ebb and flow rapidly and I feel like my feet are planted on the edge of a windy, sandy beach where the tide constantly shifts my foundation and causes me to find my balance once again. How do we manage the daily changes that throw off our equilibrium? For me, there has been only one answer, and I suspect the same is true for you: Grace—God’s own life moving within us, God’s unmerited and undeserved gift which we can’t earn or buy, and which leads us through this life to eternal life.
Relocation without Respite
On average, I’ve moved approximately once every 5 or 6 years. Some moves were more local and temporary; others took me much farther away and for longer periods. But they were all moves and changes just the same.
The first major change came when my father’s job required us to move across the country. Our family had deep roots in a state that was vastly different geographically and culturally from the new state. The excitement of something new temporarily eased my fear of the unknown.
However, when we arrived at our new home, the reality that I’d left everything I ‘d known—my home, our relatives, friends, school, church and all that was familiar—engulfed me with a heavy sadness and emptiness.
The relocation shifted our family dynamic. While everyone was adjusting to the changes, they became absorbed in their individual needs. We didn’t feel like the same family. Nothing felt safe or familiar. Loneliness began to settle in.
During the weeks following our move we unpacked and sorted our belongings. While I was at school one day, my mother unpacked a crucifix that had previously hung on the wall above my bed since I was born. She unwrapped it and hung it in my new bedroom.
It was a little thing, but it made a big difference. The cross was something familiar and beloved. It reminded me of how much I loved God and how I’d often talked with him in my former home. He’d been my friend since I was a little girl, but somehow, I thought I’d left Him behind. I took the crucifix from the wall, held it tightly in my hands and wept. Something began to change in me. My best friend was with me, and I could talk with Him once again. I told Him how strange this new place felt and how I longed to go back home. For hours I told Him how lonely I’d become, the fears that gripped my heart, and I asked for His help.
Little by little, the tears that ran down my cheek washed away the bits of darkness that had gripped my heart. Peace, I hadn’t felt in a long time, settled in my heart. The tears gradually dried, hope entered my heart and, knowing God was with me, I was happy again. God’s presence in my room that day changed my disposition, my heart, and my outlook. I could not have done that on my own. It was God’s gift to me…His grace.
The Only Constant in Life
In scripture God tells us not to fear because He is always with us. One of my favorite verses helps me deal with my fear of change: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
I’ve moved and changed many times since I was that little girl, but I’ve come to realize that I am the one who moves and changes, not God. He never changes. He’s always there with me no matter where I go and what is shifting in my life. God has restored my balance after every move, every change, and every shift in the sand. He has been part of my life ever since I can remember. Sometimes I forget Him, but He never forgets me. How could He? He knows me so intimately that “even the hairs of (my) head are numbered” (Matthew 10:30-31). That too is grace.
The day I took that cross off my bedroom wall and held it tightly symbolized the relationship I would have with Him for the rest of my life. I need His constant presence to lift the darkness, to give me hope, and to show me the way. He is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), so I hold onto Him as tightly as I can through prayer, reading scripture, attending Mass, receiving the Sacraments, and sharing with others the graces He gives me. I need my friend to be with me always as He promised. I need all His amazing graces and I ask for them daily. I am sure I don’t deserve such gifts, but He gives them to me anyway because He is Love and wants to save a ‘wretch like me.’
By: Teresa Ann Weider
Feb 27, 2023
Feb 27, 2023
Last week, I met with the deans of our diocese to discuss a number of issues, the most prominent of which was the ongoing process of merging some of our parishes and reorganizing others into clusters. These moves, which have been happening over the past several years, are necessitated by a number of factors: the diminishing number of priests, demographic shifts in our cities and towns, economic pressures, etc. Even as I expressed my approval for some of these changes, I told the deans that, for every strategy of consolidation, I want a strategy for growth as well.
I simply refuse to accept the proposition that I, or any other bishop, should be presiding over the decline of our churches. By its very nature, Christianity is centrifugal, outward-tending, universal in purpose and scope. Jesus didn’t say, “Preach the Gospel to a handful of your friends,” or “Proclaim the Good News to your own culture.” Rather, he said to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18–19). He also instructed his followers that the very gates of hell would not prevail against the fighting Church that he established. Therefore, maintaining things as they are, or managing decline, or treading water is absolutely not what Jesus wants or expects of us.
Permit me to say, right away, that the expansion of our Church is by no means the exclusive responsibility of bishops and priests. As Vatican II clearly teaches, every baptized Catholic is commissioned to be an evangelizer; so we’re all in this together. Therefore, what are some of the strategies of growth that can be employed by any Catholic? A first one I would highlight is simply this: every family that comes regularly to Mass should make it their evangelical responsibility to bring another family to Mass this coming year. Every faithful Mass-goer reading these words knows people who should be going to Mass and aren’t. They might be your own children or grandchildren. They might be coworkers who were once ardent Catholics and who simply drifted away from the practice of the faith, or perhaps people who are angry at the Church. Identify these wandering sheep and make it your evangelical challenge to bring them back to Mass. If we all did this successfully, we would double the size of our parishes in a year.
A second recommendation is to pray for the expansion of the Church. According to the Scriptures, nothing great is ever accomplished apart from prayer. So ask the Lord, insistently, fervently, even stubbornly, to bring back his scattered sheep. Just as we have to beg the harvest master to raise up workers to gather in his harvest, so we have to beg him to increase his sheepfold. I would encourage the elderly and the homebound in a parish to take on this specific task. And I might ask those who regularly do Eucharistic Adoration to spend fifteen or thirty minutes a day asking the Lord for this specific favor. Or I would suggest that liturgy planners include petitions for the growth of the parish in the prayers of the faithful at Sunday Mass.
A third enjoinder is to invite seekers to raise their questions. I know from lots of concrete experience over the past twenty years that many young people, even those who claim hostility to the faith, are actually deeply interested in religion. Like Herod listening to the preaching of John the Baptist in prison, even the seemingly anti-religious will go on religious websites and attend carefully to what is being discussed. So ask those who have disaffiliated why they no longer come to Mass. You might be surprised by how ready they are to tell you. But then, you have to have followed the recommendation of St. Peter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pet. 3:15). In other words, if you elicit questions, you better be ready to give some answers. This means that you have to bone up on your theology, your apologetics, your Scripture, your philosophy, and your church history. If that sounds daunting, remember that in the last twenty-five years or so there has been an explosion of literature in just these areas, focusing precisely on the kinds of questions that young seekers tend to ask—and most of it is available readily online.
A fourth and final suggestion that I would make is simply this: be kind. Sherry Waddell, whose Forming Intentional Disciples has become a modern classic in the field of evangelization, says that a crucial first step in bringing someone to the faith is the establishment of trust. If someone thinks that you are a good and decent person, she is far more likely to listen to you speak about your faith. May I be blunt? Even the most casual glance at Catholic social media reveals a plethora of obnoxious behavior. Far, far too many seem intent upon trumpeting their own correctness, focusing on narrow issues that are unintelligible and irrelevant to most people, and tearing down their enemies. I fear that this reality on social media may be an amplification of attitudes in the Church outside of the digital space. These attitudes are inimical to evangelization. A colleague of mine has related that in his conversations with the alienated and unaffiliated that what keeps them away from the Church is their experience of what they describe as meanness from believers. So both online and in real life, be kind. No one will be interested in hearing about the faith life of obviously bitter and unhappy people.
So, we have our marching orders: proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ to all nations. Let us start with our own parishes, our own families. And let us never settle for maintenance of the status quo.
By: Bishop Robert Barron
Feb 04, 2023
Feb 04, 2023
Ever wondered why bad things happen in life? The reason may surprise you
Often, when we are faced with severe trials and sufferings, we are tempted to blame God: “Why is God doing this to me,” or “Why does a loving God not come immediately to my aid?” In the process, we conveniently forget the Bible tells us that there is also a mysterious evil Force at work in our world whose only purpose is “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Jesus called this evil power the Devil and described him as “a murderer from the beginning… a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
“An enemy has done this” (Matthew 13:28). Jesus specifically taught us that we must never blame His/our “Abba” for our sufferings! In His insightful parable, when questioned by the servants about the appearance of weeds among the good wheat given them to sow, the Master replied categorically, “Some enemy has done this, not I.”
Choose Your Victory
God is not a moody, tyrannical, or uncaring deity who causes cancers and marital breakdowns and tsunamis to plague His beloved children! The cause lies in the mysterious spiritual battle raging between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil that involves every human being! The precious gift of free will, given to us by the Creator, allows each of us “to choose life or to choose death” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), to stay happily on the side of Good or to cross over to the Enemy’s side.
And this choosing is done not only by individuals, but by systems as well. In addition to individual sin, there is systemic sin—well-organized oppressive systems and institutions which perpetuate social injustice and religious persecution. The Bible tells us that Jesus has won the victory over all the Forces of Evil, and that in the “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21, 22) whatever turned creation away from its original purpose will be destroyed for the sake of the new creation, which will fulfill the Lord’s prayer: ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.
In his 1986 Encyclical Letter on the Holy Spirit, Saint John Paul II explained this cosmic spiritual warfare when he explained how the sin of Adam and Eve allowed “the perverse genius of suspicion” into the world. This apt phrase expresses correctly that the Enemy is a genius (as a fallen angel, his intelligence is superior to ours), but a perverse genius (he uses his intelligence for evil purposes rather than for good), and his (successful) strategy has been to sow suspicion in the minds of God’s creatures (us!) against God the Creator Himself! The real Enemy goes scot-free:
“For in spite of all the witness of creation, the spirit of darkness is capable of showing God as an enemy of His own creature, and in the first place as an enemy of man. In this way, Satan manages to sow in man’s soul the seed of opposition to the One, who from the beginning would be considered as man’s enemy—and not as Father. This analysis of sin indicates that throughout the history of humanity there will be a constant pressure on man to reject God, even to the point of hating Him. Man will be inclined to see in God primarily a limitation of himself, and not the source of his own freedom and fullness of good” (Dominum et vivificantem, n.38).
Reason for Suspicion
Don’t our own personal experiences bear this out? Throughout history, a constant pressure has indeed been exerted on humanity to suspect God! And because of this, Saint John Paul II explains, “there is in the depths of God an unimaginable and inexpressible pain. This inscrutable and indescribable fatherly ‘pain’ will bring about, above all, the wonderful economy of redemptive love in Jesus Christ, so that love can reveal itself in human history as stronger than sin” (Dominum et vivificantem, n.39).
When I was the Parish Priest at Holy Family Church, Mumbai, I was surprised to learn that I was expected to insure my church against God! The insurance contract which I had to renew, contained this line: “We insure this building against floods, fires, earthquakes and such acts of God!” I protested to the agent that my God, the God revealed by Jesus Christ, could never be blamed for natural calamities, but was instead a God of surpassing love. (I eventually signed the contract, but only after crossing out the offending words).
The incident taught me how a “perverse suspicion of God” has become so ingrained in human customs and traditions that a good God gets represented as a moody, tyrannical deity! Instead of recognizing that the cause of the misery and suffering that plagues our world is man’s refusal to be an obedient steward of God’s creation (see Genesis 1:28) the secular (and often even the religious) world prefers to make God the scapegoat for everything amiss!
However, we cannot blame God for our human ills resulting from global warming, terrorism, wars, poverty, unforgiveness, contagious diseases, etc. On the contrary, from the mystery of His own Son’s terrible crucifixion and resurrection, we must conclude that God always desires our good, and that “wherever evil abounds, His grace super-abounds” (Romans 5:20).
There is a spiritual battle being waged imperceptibly between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. Even in 2023, humanity needs to be reminded that, despite all its technological progress and scientific achievements, this spiritual battle continues, and involves every human being!
“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
So please, let’s put the blame where it belongs and never blame Jesus’ and God, our Father!
By: Father Fiorello Mascarenhas SJ
Jan 31, 2023
Jan 31, 2023
Beginning the first day of my incarceration, I have been building a relationship with God. I often feel regret that it took such a tragedy for me to submit to my need for Him, but even more often I feel grateful that I have found a burning passion for life in the Lord. My desire to seek Him sprang from prayer. I prayed intently for those suffering the crushing consequences of my dangerous actions driven by addictions. It was during this prayer time that God revealed His unconditional love for me and called me into kinship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. My journey, building a relationship with God during these years in prison, reminds of the techniques needed to build the foundation for a camp-fire, a skill I had developed in the past when I was free to spend my time enjoying the outdoors. I cleared the ground to make room for my new love.
Like the stones I placed around the fire pit, I surrounded myself with others seeking self-improvement via divine guidance. Church became the bedrock on which my foundation was laid. I listened carefully to The Word, and did my best to apply it in my daily activities. But my fire pit was empty. I set out to add elements to build my fire pit.
Small portions of time were dedicated to communal prayer, Bible study gatherings and group recovery sessions. These small additions, like kindling were needed to start the fire burning, but I knew that I needed something more substantial to add, or my fire would be sure to burn out quickly. I fervently sought for something I could dedicate my life that would consolidate my bond with God. The answer came in the form of service work.
It was service to others, whether in the simple form of a listening ear, or working in leadership positions dedicated to teaching my peers, that brought me true joy. I piled the giant logs of service positions onto my nest of kindling. Now I needed something flammable for ignition.
Much to my surprise, unique accelerators were express delivered by the Lord Himself. Counselling sessions with our Chaplain, professional mentoring with my work supervisor, and the loving support of my family back home, gave me the encouragement I desperately needed to ask forgiveness for my past and believe in my future. I poured all their loving guidance onto the firewood with eager expectation. The time had finally come to set my constructed masterpiece ablaze.
I found the perfect spark in the Living Word. For an entire year I cupped this crucial element. I fed it oxygen while digesting God’s teaching, direction and wisdom and carefully placed the spark near the base of my structure. God assisted by gently blowing against the spark, and a fire of love for Jesus roared into life in my heart.
Today, this fire burns warm and bright. The love I share with the Lord has satisfied all that I have ever longed for. Prior to incarceration, I was lost and distracted by worldly pleasures, trapped in its pitfalls, feeling desperately drained and directionless. As someone lost in the wilderness of life, there is no survival without fire. My life is meaningful in the Lord, and it is so much easier to see hope in opportunity by the light of this fire.