It takes courage to start a 1000-piece puzzle and finish it; so is it with life.
Last Christmas, I received a 1000-piece puzzle from my Kris Kringle at work featuring the Twelve Apostles of the famous Great Ocean Road (a spectacular group of rock formations in Southwestern Victoria, Australia).
I was not keen to start. I had done three of them with my daughter a few years ago, so I knew the hard work they entail. However, as I looked at the three completed puzzles hanging at home, in spite of the inertia I was feeling, I felt an inner drive to meditate on “the Twelve Apostles.”
I wondered how the Apostles of Jesus felt when He died on the cross and left them. Early Christian sources, including the Gospels, state that the disciples were devastated, full of disbelief and fear that they went into hiding. They were not at their best at the end of Jesus’ life.
Somehow, this is how I felt as I started the year—fearful, uneasy, sad, broken-hearted, and uncertain. I had not fully recovered from the grief of losing my dad and a close friend. I must admit my faith was standing on shaky ground. It seemed as if my passion and energy for life had been overtaken by lethargy, lukewarmness, and a dark night of the soul, which threatened to (and sometimes succeeded in) overshadowing my joy, energy, and desire to serve the Lord. I could not shake it off despite great efforts.
But if we do not stop at that disappointing episode of the disciples fleeing their Master, we see at the end of the Gospels, these same men, ready to take on the world and even to die for Christ. What changed?
The Gospels record that the disciples were transformed on witnessing the Resurrected Christ. When they went to Bethany to witness His Ascension, spent time with Him, learned from Him, and received His blessings, it had a powerful effect. He did not only give them instruction but a purpose and a promise. They were not only to be messengers but witnesses as well. He promised to accompany them in their mission and gave them a Mighty Helper at that.
This is what I have been praying for lately—an encounter with the Resurrected Jesus once more so that my life will be divinely renovated.
As I started the puzzle, trying to put together this scenic marvel of the Twelve Apostles, I recognized that every piece was significant. Every person whom I will encounter in this New Year will contribute to my growth and color my life. They will come in different hues—some strong, others subtle, some in bright pigments, others grey, some in a magical combination of tints, while others dull or fierce, but everyone necessary to complete the picture.
Jigsaw puzzles take time to put together, and so does life. There is much patience to be asked for as we connect with one another. There is gratitude for when the link is done. And when the pieces don’t fit, there is hopefully a trusting encouragement to not give up. Sometimes, we may need to take a rest from it, come back, and try again. The puzzle, like life, is not covered by splashes of bright, happy colors all the time. The blacks, the greys, and the dark shades are needed to create a contrast.
It takes courage to start a puzzle, but more so to finish it. Patience, perseverance, time, commitment, focus, sacrifice, and devotion will be demanded. It is similar to when we start to follow Jesus. Like the Apostles, will we hold on till the very end? Will we be able to meet our Lord face to face and hear Him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23), or as Saint Paul says: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)?
This year, you might be asked too: Are you holding that piece of the puzzle that could make someone’s life better? Are you the missing piece?
Dina Mananquil Delfino works at an Aged Care Residence in Berwick. She is also a Counsellor, Pre-marriage facilitator, event organizer, community and church volunteer, and a regular columnist for the Philippine Times newspaper magazine. She resides with her husband in Pakenham, Victoria.
As a teenager, I did what every teen tries to do—I tried to fit in. I had this feeling, though, that I was unlike my peers. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was my faith that made me different. I resented my parents for giving me this thing that made me stand out. I became rebellious and started to go to parties, discos, and nightclubs. I didn't want to pray anymore. I just wanted the whole excitement of putting on makeup, dressing up, daydreaming about who's going to be at the parties, dancing all night long, and most of all, just ‘fitting in there.’ But, coming home at night, sitting on my bed all by myself, I felt empty inside. I hated who I'd become; it was a total paradox where I didn't like who I was, and yet I didn't know how to change and become myself. On one of those nights, crying by myself, I remembered the simple happiness that I had as a child when I knew that God and my family loved me. Back then, that was all that mattered. So, for the first time in a long time, I prayed. I cried to Him and asked Him to bring me back to that happiness. I kind of gave Him an ultimatum that if He did not reveal Himself to me in that next year, I would never return to Him. It was a very dangerous prayer but, at the same time, a very powerful one. I said the prayer and then totally forgot about it. A few months later, I was introduced to the Holy Family Mission, a residential community where you come to learn your faith and know God. There was daily prayer, Sacramental life, frequent Confession, daily Rosary, and observation of the Holy Hour. I remember thinking, “That is way too much prayer for a single day!” At that point, I could hardly even give five minutes of my day to God. Somehow, I ended up applying for the Mission. Every single day, I would sit in prayer in front of the Eucharistic Lord and ask Him who I was and what the purpose of my life was. Slowly but surely, the Lord revealed Himself to me through the Scriptures and from spending time in silence with Him. I gradually received healing from my inner wounds and grew in prayer and relationship with the Lord. From the rebellious teenage girl who felt totally lost, to the joyous daughter of God, I underwent quite the transformation. Yes, God wants us to know Him. He reveals Himself to us because He faithfully answers every single prayer that we raise to Him.
By: Patricia MoitieMore
Caught in a spiral of drugs and sex work, I was losing myself, until this happened. It was night. I was in the brothel, dressed ready for “work.” There was a gentle knock at the door, not the big bang by the police, but a truly gentle tap. The brothel lady—the Madame—opened the door, and my mother walked in. I felt ashamed. I was dressed for this “work” that I had been doing for months now, and there in the room was my mom! She just sat there and told me: “Sweetheart, please come home.” She showed me love. She didn't judge me. She just asked me to come back. I was overwhelmed by grace at that moment. I should have gone home then, but the drugs would not let me. I sincerely felt ashamed. She wrote her phone number down on a piece of paper, slid it across, and told me: “I love you. You can call me anytime, and I'll come.” The next morning, I told a friend of mine that I wanted to get off heroin. I was scared. At 24, I was tired of life, and it felt like I'd lived enough to be done with life. . My friend knew a doctor who treated drug addicts, and I got an appointment in three days. I called my mom, told her I was going to the doctor, and that I wanted to get off heroin. She was crying on the phone. She jumped in the car and came straight to me. She'd been waiting… How it all began Our family shifted to Brisbane when my father got a job at Expo 88. I was 12. I was enrolled at an elite private girls’ school, but I just didn’t fit in. I dreamed of going to Hollywood and making movies, so I needed to attend a school that specializes in Film and TV. I found a school renowned for Film and TV, and my parents easily gave in to my request to change schools. What I didn't tell them was that the school was also in the newspapers because they were infamous for gangs and drugs. The school gave me so many creative friends, and I excelled in school. I topped a lot of my classes and won awards for Film, TV, and Drama. I had the grades to get to University. Two weeks before the end of grade 12, someone offered me marijuana. I said yes. At the end of school, we all went away, and again I tried other drugs... From the kid who was laser-focused on finishing school, I went on a downward spiral. I still got into University, but in the second year, I ended up in a relationship with a guy who was a heroin addict. I remember all of my friends at the time telling me: “You're going to end up a junkie, a heroin addict.” I, on the other hand, thought I was going to be his savior. But all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll ended up getting me pregnant. We went to the doctor, my partner still high on heroin. The doctor looked at us and immediately advised me to get a termination—she must have felt that with us, this child had no hope. Three days later, I had an abortion. I felt guilty, ashamed, and alone. I would watch my partner take heroin, get numb, and be unaffected. I begged him for some heroin, but he was all: “I love you, I'm not giving you heroin.” One day, he needed money, and I managed to bargain some heroin in return. It was a tiny bit, and it made me sick, but it also made me feel nothing. I kept on using, the dose getting higher and higher each time. I eventually dropped out of University and became a frequent user. I had no idea how I was going to pay for almost a hundred dollars’ worth of heroin I was using on a daily basis. We started growing marijuana in the house; we would sell it and use the money to buy even more drugs. We sold everything we owned, got kicked out of my apartment, and then, slowly, I started stealing from my family and friends. I didn't even feel ashamed. Soon, I started stealing from work. I thought they didn’t know, but I eventually got kicked out of there too. Finally, the only thing that I had left was my body. That first night I had sex with strangers, I wanted to scrub myself clean. But I couldn't! You can't scrub yourself clean to the inside out...But that didn’t stop me from going back. From making $300 a night and spending all of it on heroin for my partner and me, I went to make a thousand dollars a night; every cent I made went into buying more drugs. It was in the middle of this downward spiral that my mother walked in and saved me with her love and mercy. But that wasn’t enough. A Hole in My Soul The doctor asked me about my drug history. As I went over the long story, my mum kept on crying—she was shocked by the fullness of my story. The doctor told me that I needed rehab. I asked: “Don't drug addicts go to rehab?” He was surprised: “You don't think you are one?” Then, he looked me in the eye and said: “I don't think drugs are your problem. Your problem is, you have a hole in your soul that only Jesus can fill.” I purposefully chose a rehab that I was sure to be non-Christian. I was sick, starting to slowly detox when, one day after dinner, they called us all out for a prayer meeting. I was angry, so I sat in the corner and tried to block them out—their music, their singing, and their Jesus everything. On Sunday, they took us to church. I stood outside and smoked cigarettes. I was angry, hurt, and lonely. Begin Anew On the sixth Sunday, August 15, it was pouring rain—a conspiracy from Heaven, in hindsight. I had no choice but to go inside the building. I stayed at the back, thinking that God couldn't see me there. I had started to become aware that some of my life choices would be considered sins, so there I sat, at the back. At the end however, the priest said: “Is there anyone in here who would like to give their heart to Jesus today?” I remember standing in front and listening to the priest say: “Do you want to give your heart to Jesus? He can give you forgiveness for your past, a brand new life today, and hope for your future.” By that stage, I was clean, off heroin for almost six weeks. But what I didn't realize was that there was much difference between being clean and being free. I repeated the Salvation prayer with the priest, a prayer I didn’t even understand, but there, I gave my heart to Jesus. That day, I began a transformation journey. I got to begin anew, receive the fullness of the love, grace, and goodness of a God who had known me my whole life and saved me from myself. The way forward was not one without mistakes. I got into a relationship in rehab, and I got pregnant again. But instead of thinking of it as a punishment for a bad choice that I had made, we decided to settle down. My partner said to me: “Let's get married and do our best to do it His way now.” Grace was born a year later, through her, I have experienced so much grace. I've always had the passion to tell stories; God gave me a story that has helped to transform lives. He has since used me in so many ways to share my story—in words, in writing, and in giving my all to work for and with the women who are stuck in a similar life that I used to lead. Today, I am a woman changed by grace. I was met by the love of Heaven, and now I want to live life in a way that allows me to partner with the purposes of Heaven.
By: Bronwen HealyMore
All that Tom Naemi could think of, day and night, was that he needed to get even with those who put him behind bars. My family immigrated to America from Iraq when I was 11 years old. We started a grocery store and we all worked hard to make it successful. It was a tough environment to grow up in and I didn’t want to be seen as weak, so I never let anyone get the better of me. Though I was going to church regularly with my family and serving on the altar, my real god was money and success. So my family was happy when I married at 19; they hoped I’d settle down. I became a successful businessman, taking over the family grocery store. I thought I was invincible and could get away with anything, especially when I survived being shot at by rivals. When another Chaldean group started another supermarket nearby, the competition became vicious. We weren’t just undercutting each other, we were committing crimes to put each other out of business. I set a fire in their store, but their insurance paid for the repair. I sent them a time bomb, they sent people to kill me. I was furious, and decided to get my revenge once and for all. I was going to kill them; my wife begged me not to but I loaded a 14-foot truck with gasoline and dynamite and drove it toward their building. When I lit the fuse, the whole truck caught fire right away. I was caught in the flames. Just before the truck exploded, I jumped out and rolled in the snow; I couldn’t see. My face, hands, and right ear melted. I ran away down the street and got taken to the hospital. The police came to question me, but my big-shot lawyer told me not to worry. At the last minute though, everything changed, so I left for Iraq. My wife and children followed. After seven months, I quietly came back to San Diego to see my parents. But I still had grudges I wanted to settle, so trouble started again. Crazy Visitors The FBI raided my mom’s house. Although I escaped in the nick of time, I had to leave the country again. As business was going well in Iraq, I decided not to go back to America. Then, my lawyer called and said that if I turned myself in, he’d make a deal to get me a sentence of only 5-8 years. I came back, but I was sent to jail for 60-90 years. On appeal, the time was cut to 15-40 years, which still seemed like forever. As I moved from prison to prison, my reputation for violence preceded me. I often got into brawls with other inmates and people were afraid of me. I still used to go to Church, but I was filled with anger and obsessed with revenge. I had an image stuck in my mind, of walking into my rival’s store, masked, shooting everyone in the store, and walking out. I couldn’t stand it that they were free while I was behind bars. My kids were growing up without me and my wife had divorced me. At my sixth prison in ten years, I met these crazy, holy volunteers, thirteen of them, coming in every week with priests. They were excited about Jesus all the time. They spoke in tongues and talked about miracles and healing. I thought they were crazy, but I appreciated them for coming in. Deacon Ed and his wife Barbara had been doing this for thirteen years. One day, he asked me: “Tom, how is your walk with Jesus?” I told him it was great, but there was only one thing I wanted to do. As I walked away, he called me back, asking: “Are you talking about revenge?” I told him that I simply called it “getting even.” He said: “You don’t know what it means to be a good Christian, do you?” He told me that being a good Christian didn’t just mean worshiping Jesus, it meant loving the Lord and doing everything that Jesus did including forgiving your enemies. “Well”, I said, “That was Jesus; it’s easy for Him, but it’s not easy for me.” Deacon Ed asked me to pray every day: “Lord Jesus, take this anger from me. I ask you to come between me and my enemies, I ask you to help me forgive them and to bless them.” To bless my enemies? No way! But his repeated prompting somehow got to me, and from that day, I started praying about forgiveness and healing. Calling Back For a long time nothing happened. Then, one day, as I was flipping through the channels, I saw this preacher on TV: “Do you know Jesus? Or are you just a Church-goer?” I felt he was talking directly to me. At 10 PM, as the power went out as usual, I sat there on my bunk and told Jesus: “Lord, all my life, I never knew you. I had everything, now I have nothing. Have my life. I give it to you. From now on, you use it for whatever you want. You will probably do a better job of it than I ever did.” I joined Scripture study, and signed up for Life in the Spirit. During Scripture study one day, I saw a vision of Jesus in His glory, and like a laser from Heaven, I felt filled with God’s Love. The Scripture spoke to me, and I discovered my purpose. The Lord started talking to me in dreams and revealed things about people that they had never told anyone else. I started calling them from prison to talk about what the Lord had said, and promised to pray for them. Later, I’d hear about how they’d experienced healing in their lives. On a Mission When I was transferred to another prison, they didn’t have a Catholic service, so I started one and began preaching the Gospel there. We started with 11 members, grew to 58, and more kept joining. Men were getting healed of the wounds that had imprisoned them before they ever got into prison. After 15 years, I returned home on a new mission—Save souls, destroy the enemy. My friends would come home, and find me reading the Scripture for hours. They couldn’t understand what had happened to me. I told them that the old Tom had died. I was a new creation in Christ Jesus, proud to be His follower. I lost a lot of friends but gained a lot of brothers and sisters in Christ. I wanted to work with youth, to deliver them to Jesus so they wouldn’t end up dead or in prison. My cousins thought I had gone mad and told my mother that I would get over it soon enough. But I went on to meet the Bishop, who gave his approval, and I found a priest, Father Caleb, who was ready to work with me on this. Before I went to prison, I had lots of money, I had popularity, and everything had to be my way. I was a perfectionist. In my old days of crime, it was all about me, but after meeting Jesus, I realized that everything in the world was garbage compared to Him. Now, it was all about Jesus, who lives in me. He drives me to do all things, and I can’t do anything without Him. I wrote a book about my experiences to give people hope, not just people in prison, but anyone chained to their sins. We’re always going to have problems, but with His help, we can overcome every obstacle in life. It is only through Christ that we can find true freedom. My Savior lives. He is alive and well. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!
By: Tom NaemiMore
From being a faithful Muslim praying to Allah three times a day, fasting, almsgiving, and doing Namaz, to being baptized in the Pope’s Private Chapel, Munira’s journey has twists and turns that might surprise you! My image of Allah was of a stern master who would punish my slightest error. If I wanted anything, I had to buy Allah’s favor with fasting and prayer. I always had this fear that if I were to do anything wrong, I would be punished. The First Seed A cousin of mine had a near-death experience, and he told me that he experienced a vision of plunging through a dark tunnel, at the end of which he saw a bright light and two people standing there—Jesus and Mary. I was confused; shouldn’t he have seen the prophet Mohammed or Imam Ali? Since he felt so sure that it was Jesus and Mary, we asked our imam for an explanation. He replied that Isa (Jesus) is also a great prophet, so when we die, he comes to escort our souls. His answer didn’t satisfy me, but it began my search for the truth about Jesus. The Search Despite having lots of Christian friends, I didn’t know where to start. They invited me to a Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, and I started attending the novenas regularly, listening carefully to the homilies explaining the word of God. Although I didn’t understand much, I believe that it was Mary who understood and eventually led me to the truth. In a series of dreams through which the Lord would speak to me over the years, I saw a finger pointing out a man dressed as a shepherd while a voice called me by name, saying, “Munira, follow Him.” I knew the shepherd was Jesus, so I asked who was speaking. He replied: “He and I are one.” I wanted to follow Him, but I didn’t know how. Do You Believe in Angels? We had a friend whose daughter seemed to be possessed. They were so desperate that they even asked me for a solution. As a Muslim, I told her that we have these Babas they could go to. Two months later, I was astounded when I saw her again. Instead of a thin, puny ghost of a figure I had seen earlier, she had become a healthy, radiant, robust teenager. They told me that a priest, Father Rufus, had delivered her in the name of Jesus. After several refusals, when we finally accepted their invitation to join them at Mass with Father Rufus, he prayed over me and asked me to read a verse from the Bible; I felt such peace that there was no turning back. He spoke about The Man on the Cross—who died for Muslims, Hindus, and all mankind throughout the world. It awakened a deep desire to know more about Jesus, and I felt that God had sent him in answer to my prayer to know the Truth. When I came home, I opened the Bible for the first time and started reading it with interest. Father Rufus advised me to seek out a prayer group, but I didn’t know how, so I started praying to Jesus on my own. At one point, I was alternately reading the Bible and the Quran, and I asked Him: “Lord, what is the Truth? If you are the Truth, then give me the desire to only read the Bible.” From then on, I was led to open only the Bible. When a friend invited me to a prayer group, I initially said no, but she insisted, and the third time, I had to give in. The second time I went, I took my sister along. It turned out to be life-changing for both of us. When the preacher spoke, he said that he’d received a message, “There are two sisters here who have come searching for the Truth. Now their search has ended.” As we attended the weekly prayer meetings, I slowly started to understand The Word, and I realized that I had to do two things—forgive and repent. My family was intrigued when they noticed a visible change in me, so they started coming too. When my dad learned about the importance of the Rosary, he surprisingly suggested that we start praying it together at home. From then on, we, a Muslim family, would kneel down and pray the Rosary every day. No End to Wonders My growing love for Jesus prompted me to join a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Before we went, a voice in a dream told me that although I held fear and anger deep within me, it would soon be released. When I shared this dream with my sister, wondering what it could all mean, she advised me to ask the Holy Spirit. I was puzzled because I didn’t really know who the Holy Spirit was. That would soon change in an amazing way. When we visited the Church of Saint Peter (where he had that dream showing him all the animals that God now permitted them to eat (Acts 10:11-16)), the Church doors were closed because we were late. Father Rufus rang the bell, but nobody answered. After about 20 minutes, he said, “Let us just pray outside the Church,” but I suddenly felt a voice within me saying: “Munira, you go ring the bell.” With the permission of Father Rufus, I rang the bell. Within seconds, those huge doors opened. The priest had been sitting right beside them, but he only heard the bell when I rang it. Father Rufus exclaimed: “The Gentiles will receive the Holy Spirit.” I was the Gentile! In Jerusalem, we visited the Upper Room where the Last Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit had taken place. As we were praising God, we heard a roar of thunder, a wind blew into the room, and I was blessed with the gift of tongues. I couldn’t believe it! He baptized me in the Holy Spirit in the same place where Mother Mary and the apostles received the Holy Spirit. Even our Jewish tour guide was astonished. He fell to his knees and prayed with us. The Sprout Keeps Growing When I returned home, I was longing to be baptized, but my mom said: “See Munira, we follow Jesus, we believe in Jesus, we love Jesus, but conversion...I don’t think we should do it. You know there will be many repercussions from our community.” But there was a deep desire within me to receive the Lord, especially after a dream in which He asked me to attend the Eucharist every day. I remember imploring the Lord like the Canaanite woman: “You fed her the crumbs from Your table, treat me like her and make it possible for me to attend the Eucharist.” Shortly afterward, while I was walking with my dad, we unexpectedly arrived at a church where the Eucharistic celebration was just beginning. After attending the Mass, my dad said: “Let us come here every day.” I feel that my road to baptism started there. The Unexpected Gift My sister and I decided to join the prayer group on a trip to Rome and Medjugorje. Sister Hazel, who was organizing it, casually asked me if I would like to get baptized in Rome. I wanted a quiet baptism, but the Lord had other plans. She spoke to the Bishop, who got us a five-minute appointment with a Cardinal that lasted two and a half hours; the Cardinal said he would take care of all arrangements to be baptized in Rome. So we were baptized in the Pope’s Private Chapel by the Cardinal. I took on the name Fatima and my sister took on the name Maria. We joyfully celebrated our baptismal lunch with many cardinals, priests, and religious over there. I just felt that right through it all, the Lord was telling us: “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8). Soon came the Cross of Calvary. Our family experienced a financial crisis that people in our community blamed on our conversion to Christianity. Astonishingly, the rest of my family went the other way. Instead of turning their backs on us and our faith, they also asked for baptism. Amid adversity and opposition, they found strength and courage, and hope in Jesus. Dad expressed it well, “There is no Christianity without a Cross.” Today, we continue to encourage each other in our faith and share it with others whenever we have the opportunity. When I was speaking to my aunt about my conversion experience, she asked me why I addressed God as “Father.” God, for her, is Allah. I told her that I call Him Father because He has invited me to be His beloved child. I rejoice to have a loving relationship with Him Who loves me so much that He sent His Son to wash me clean from all my sins and reveal the promise of eternal life. After I shared my remarkable experiences, I asked her if she would still follow Allah if she were in my place. She had no answer.
By: Munira MillwalaMore
Blessings were abundant: friends, family, money, vacations—you name it, I had it all. So how did it all go so wrong? I didn't really have a wonderful storybook childhood—tell me someone who has—but I wouldn't say it was terrible. There was always food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head, but we struggled. I don't just mean we struggled financially, which we definitely did, but I mean we struggled to find our way as a family. My parents were divorced by the time I was six, and my father turned to heavier drinking than ever before. Meanwhile, my mother found men who were into the same drugs and habits as she was. Though we had a rough start, it didn't stay that way. Eventually, against all statistical odds, both of my parents and my now stepfather, by the grace of God, got sober and have stayed that way. Relationships were rebuilt, and the sun began to rise in our lives again. A few years went by, and there came a point when I realized that I had to do something productive and different in my life so that I could avoid all of the pitfalls of my childhood. I buckled down and went back to school. I got my barber’s license and worked myself into a nice career. I made plenty of money and met the woman of my dreams. The opportunity eventually arose, and I started a second career in law enforcement in addition to cutting hair. Everyone liked me, I had friends in very high places, and it looked as if the sky was the limit. So how'd I end up in prison? Unbelievably True Wait a minute, this isn't my life…this can't be real…HOW IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?! You see, despite everything I had, I was missing something. The worst part of it was that I knew all along exactly what that something was, and I ignored it. It's not like I didn't ever try, but I just couldn't give God my everything. Instead, I lost it all…or did I? This is how it is: Whatever sin you're holding onto will eventually work its roots deep down into the core of your soul and choke you out until you can't breathe anymore. Even seemingly insignificant sins demand more of you, little by little, until your life is upside down, and you're so disoriented that you don't know which way is up. That's how it started for me. I began giving in to my lustful thoughts somewhere around middle school. By the time I was in college, I was a full-fledged womanizer. When I did finally meet the woman of my dreams, there was no way I could ever do what was right anymore. How could someone like me be faithful? But that's not all. For a while, I tried to go to Mass and do all the right things. I went to confession regularly and joined clubs and committees, but I always kept just a little bit of my old sins for myself. It's not necessarily that I wanted to, but I was so attached, and I was afraid to let go. Time went on, and I slowly stopped going to Mass. My old sinful ways began to fester and creep back into the forefront of my life. Time moved fast, and pleasures swirled all around me as I threw caution to the wind. I was high on life. On top of it all, I was very successful and admired by many. Then it all came crashing down. I made some terrible choices that left me serving a 30-year prison sentence. More importantly, I left behind people who loved and cared for me with a lifetime of pain. You see, sin has a way of convincing you to go further than you've gone and making you more depraved than you once were. Your moral compass becomes confused. Worse things seem more exciting, and the old sins don't cut it anymore. Before you know it, you've become someone you don't even recognize. Fast forward to the present day... I live in an 11x9 ft. cell, and I spend twenty-two hours a day locked inside of it. There is chaos all around me. This is not how I imagined my life would turn out. But, I found God within these walls. I have spent the last few years here in prison praying and seeking the help I needed. I have been studying Scripture and taking lots of classes. I've also been sharing the message of God's mercy and peace with all the other inmates who will listen to me. It took an extreme wake-up call before I finally surrendered to God, but now that I have, my life has been totally different. I wake up every morning thankful to be alive. I am grateful every day for the shower of blessings that I receive despite my incarceration. For the first time in my life, I experienced peace in my soul. It took me losing my physical liberty to find my spiritual freedom. You don't have to go to prison to find and accept God's peace. He will meet you wherever you are, but let me warn you—if you hold anything back from Him, you may very well end up being my neighbor in prison. If you recognize yourself in this story, please don't wait to seek professional help and guidance, starting from, but not limited to, your local parish priest. There is no shame in admitting you have a problem, and there is no better time than NOW to get help. If you're in prison and you're reading this, I want you to know that it's not too late for you. God loves you. He can forgive whatever it is you've done. Jesus Christ shed His precious blood to forgive all of us who come to Him with our pain and our brokenness. You can start right now, this very moment, by recognizing that you are powerless without Him. Cry out to Him with the words of the tax collector: "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13). I leave you with this: "What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Matthew. 16:26)
By: Jon BlancoMore
Are there doors in your life that refuse to open, no matter your efforts? Know the secret behind those closed doors through this heartfelt experience. Opening the door to the Cathedral of Saint Jude, my husband and I found our seats amidst a large crowd gathered for the funeral of a woman I had met long ago when I was only 20 years old. She and her husband were the pastoral leaders of a Catholic Charismatic Prayer Community at the time. While she and I had not been close personal friends, she had touched my life in significant ways when I was involved with this dynamic faith-filled group. Her middle son, Ken, was now Father Ken, and that day was also the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Scanning the congregation revealed many familiar faces from both my past and present. Father Ken’s touching tribute to his mother and the loving eulogies by his siblings reflected the impact the prayer group had on their own family, as well as many in attendance that day. Their words prompted memories to course through my mind—of how the Holy Spirit used this community to change many lives, especially mine. Dragged into Love I had been raised by two very devout Catholic parents who attended Mass daily, but as a teen, I only grudgingly participated in the life of the Church. I felt resentful of my father’s insistence on family Rosary every night and saying grace not just before meals but after as well. Attending the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on a Friday night at 10 PM didn’t bode well for my social status as a 15-year-old, especially when my friends asked what I had done over the weekend. Being a Catholic, for me then, was just about plenty of rules, requirements, and rituals. My experience each week was not one of joy or fellowship with other believers but rather one of duty. Still, when my sister invited me to join her at her college’s weekend retreat the fall after I graduated from high school, I agreed. My small town offered little in the way of new experiences, and this would definitely be out of the norm for me. As it turned out, this retreat would set the trajectory for the rest of my life! Between the warm camaraderie of the participants, as well as the huge smile that covered Father Bill’s face when he shared about the Lord with us, I saw something I had never seen in my home parish, and I knew that was what I truly wanted in my life: JOY! Near the end of the weekend, during the quiet time outdoors, I offered my life to God, not knowing exactly what that really meant. Hopeless Cases Less than two years later, my sister and I moved from the east coast of Florida to the west, first due to her job and later, because of my acceptance to a college in Saint Petersburg. Our efforts to find a place to live within our means were thwarted time and again due to the unwillingness of numerous apartment managers to rent a one-bedroom unit to two girls—even though we had shared a bedroom our whole lives and were sisters! Discouraged after yet another refusal, we stopped at the Cathedral of Saint Jude to pray. Knowing nothing about this Saint, we spied a prayer card and discovered that Saint Jude was the ‘patron of hopeless cases.’ After a bumpy search for affordable housing, our futile situation seemed to qualify as a hopeless case, so we knelt down to invoke Saint Jude’s intercession. Lo and behold, after arriving at the next apartment complex on our list, we were again greeted with the same hesitance. However, this time, the older woman looked at me, paused, and said, “You remind me of my granddaughter. I don’t rent one-bedrooms to two women, but...I like you, and I’m going to make an exception!” We came to find out that the nearest Catholic Church to our new home was the Holy Cross, where a group called 'Presence of God Prayer Community' met each Tuesday night. Had we been able to rent any other apartment, we would not have been led to this group of joy-filled people we soon came to call 'family!' It was clear that the Holy Spirit was at work, and His presence was revealed time and time again in the 17 years I was actively involved in the group. Completing the Circle Returning to Saint Jude’s, the celebration of life that day was not only of our long-ago pastoral leaders, but it was also very much my own! Remembering my brokenness as a young adult and the loneliness and insecurity I felt at that time, I marveled at how the Lord had changed my life. He used His Spirit and His people to heal me emotionally and spiritually, filling my life with deep and rich friendships that have stood the test of time. He helped me discover the gifts He had given me—the community offered me a place to serve in various ways until I realized that my natural abilities, like that of organization, could be used for spiritual purposes. After several years, I was invited onto a new Pastoral Team whose dynamic leader mentored me by example. Through his encouragement and support, I developed leadership skills that resulted in beginning new ministries to serve the 'household of faith' in the prayer community and the 'least of these' outside the doors of the church. When a new parish began nearby some years later, I was asked to join the music ministry there, and with the Spirit’s prompting, I also participated in various other ministries. Bringing in all that I had learned and experienced over the years, I was able to set up many events that offered opportunities for healing, conversion, and growth within our parish community. For the last 14 years, I have been blessed to organize a women’s fellowship group begun by myself and a friend, who, like me, was changed by the love and care of Christian communities. I have found all of God’s promises in the Scriptures to be true. He is faithful, forgiving, kind, compassionate, and a source of joy deeper than any I have ever thought possible! He has provided meaning and purpose in my life, and with His grace and direction, I have been able to partner with Jesus in ministry for over 40 years now. I didn’t have to 'wander in the desert' for those years, as did the Israelites. The same God Who led His people by the “pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night” (Exodus 13:22) has led me day by day, year by year, revealing His plans for me along the way. A song from my prayer group days lilts through my mind, “Oh how good, how wonderful it is when brothers and sisters live as one!” (Psalm 133:1). Looking around that day, I saw clear evidence of that. The Spirit at work in Father Ken’s mother brought much fruit from the seeds she planted, both in her home and in our community of faith. That same Spirit then brought forth a harvest from the seeds planted and watered in my life over the years. The Apostle Paul said it best in his letter to Ephesians: “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen!” (3:20-21)
By: Karen EbertsMore
A winning combination is cooking within. Do you want a taste? In 1953, Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote, “The vast majority of the people in Western civilizations are engaged in the task of getting.” These words still hold so much truth even today. Let’s be honest. These days, there is a whole subculture of influencers whose lavish lifestyles are funded by a successful swaying of their followers to purchase particular products that they advocate. Influence, consumerism, and greed abound. We desire the newest model of smartphones even before they hit the shelves. We want to get our hands on the trendiest items whilst they are still in vogue. We know that given the ever-changing trend pattern, it would not be too long before these same products are advertised through alternate media labeled ‘In Excellent Used Condition’ or, worse, ‘Brand New With Tags.’ “The massing of wealth,” observes Sheen, “has a peculiar effect on the soul; it intensifies the desire of getting.” In other words, the more we get, the more we want to get. This endless quest for gratification through wealth drains us and causes fatigue in our very being, whether we realize it or not. So then, if amassing wealth is essentially an unquenchable desire, how do we find happiness, self-worth, and contentment in the consumeristic world that we live in? Grit and Gratitude Saint Paul directs us, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18). Most of us would admit that this is easier said than done. But does that mean it is impossible? Despite living a life of peril and strife, Saint Paul, one of the forefathers of Christianity, led by example. Was he imprisoned for promoting Christianity? Absolutely. Was his life in danger? Constantly. Was he shipwrecked, stoned, and ridiculed? Without a doubt. And despite all of these—and more—challenges, Saint Paul regularly exhorted Christians, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). In fact, gratitude and giving due thanks and praise to God was a recurring and, dare I say, constant theme of his correspondence to the Churches. From Rome to Corinth, Ephesus to Philippi, the early Christians were encouraged to give thanks—to be grateful—in all circumstances, not just the good ones. Then, as now, this encouragement is both timely and confronting. However, being grateful in all circumstances requires prayer, effort, and perseverance. Grateful and Giving If we were to follow Saint Paul’s example and examine what we have with gratitude, what would that look like? Would we be grateful to have: a roof over our heads, money to pay the bills and feed the family, and enough to spend on little luxuries along the way? Would we be grateful for the family and friends we have around us, the vocation, and the talents that God has blessed us with? Or would we still desire to blindly follow what’s trending and fritter away our money, energy, and happiness on things we don’t need and appreciate? Or could it possibly result in a more ordered and prudent approach to what we have and what we spend our money on? Of course, the measure of our success in practicing gratitude is offset by the energy we put into it. Like any spiritual endeavor, we are not going to become proficient at gratitude overnight. It is going to take time and effort. Slowly but surely, gratitude will color the way we see the world. In appreciating and being thankful for what we have and not chasing after more than we need, we are much better disposed to give to others rather than to receive ourselves. This combination of gratitude and giving is a winning combination. Once again, Bishop Fulton Sheen agrees, “The reason it is more blessed to give than to receive is because it helps to detach the soul from the material and the temporal in order to ally it with a spirit of altruism and charity which is the essence of religion. There is more happiness in rejoicing in the good of others than in rejoicing in our own good. The receiver rejoices in his good; the giver in the joy of others, and to such comes the peace nothing in the world can give.” Give gratitude a Go Expressing gratitude involves the growth mindset. To grow in gratitude is to grow in self-knowledge, knowledge of God, and His plan for us. In separating ourselves from the cyclic nature of amassing wealth and the futile pursuit of happiness, we open ourselves up to finding happiness where we are. We also ensure the right ordering of ourselves and our benefits as a result of God’s goodness. Like Saint Paul, we can recognize, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36). This attitude of gratitude—which rolls rhythmically and poetically off the tongue—also helps us to see the silver lining in things that do not always turn out the way that we want them to. And this is the most poignantly beautiful aspect of gratitude, the spiritual aspect. As Saint Augustine explains, “God is so good that in His hand, even evil brings about good. He would never have permitted evil to occur if He had not, thanks to His perfect goodness, been able to use it.”
By: Emily ShawMore
When everything around you turn to chaos, have you ever asked, “What does God want?” My life, like each of ours, is unique and irreplaceable. God is good, and I am thankful for my life, even with all the ups and downs. I was born to Catholic parents and baptized Catholic on the Feast of Christ the King. I attended a Catholic grammar school and one year of Catholic High School. I couldn’t wait to be confirmed and become a soldier for Christ. I remember telling Jesus I would never miss Mass. I married a Catholic man and raised our children Catholic. My faith, though, was in my head and hadn’t yet moved to my heart. Tracing Back Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of Jesus as my friend. As a young, newly married woman, I remember missing Mass a few times because I thought I would enjoy doing whatever I wanted. I was so wrong. I thank my mother-in-law’s unwitting intervention: on one of those Sundays, she asked me how Mass was. I managed to ignore her question and change the subject, but God reached me through her question. The next Sunday, I went to Mass and resolved never to miss again. Like many moms, I was busy with family life, volunteering at school, teaching religious education, working part-time, etc. Frankly, I did not know how to say “no” to anyone. I was exhausted. Yes, I was a good woman and tried to do good things, but I did not know Jesus very well. I knew He was my friend and received Him at Mass every week, but I realize now I was simply going through the motions. When my kids were in junior high, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and experienced constant pain. I would come home from work and rest. The pain caused me to stop doing many things. One day a friend called to ask how I was. All I did was complain about myself and my pain. Then my friend asked me, “What does God want?” I became uncomfortable and began to cry. Then I got angry and quickly hung up. “What does God have to do with my pain,” I thought. My friend’s question haunted me. It was all I could think about. Though to this day, I can’t remember who invited me to the women’s weekend, the minute I heard about a retreat at my parish called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP), I immediately said, “Yes!” All I could think about was a weekend away from home, catching up on sleep, and having someone waiting on me. Again, I was so wrong. Practically every minute of the weekend was planned. Rest? I got some, but nothing like I had expected. Notice the focus on “me, myself, and I.” Where was the Lord? Little did I know that my “yes” to this Spirit-filled weekend would open the door to my heart. Overwhelming Presence During one of the talks, I was moved to tears. I felt compelled to pause, and in my heart, say directly to God words that would change my life, words that I meant with all my heart, words that opened the door for Jesus to enter and began to move my knowledge of God from my head to my heart! “Lord, I love you,” I said, “I am all yours. I will do whatever you ask of me, and I will go wherever you send me.” My heart needed to expand so I could learn to love like God loves me. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). That conversation sparked a conversion, a metanoia, a turning of my heart toward God. I had experienced the unconditional love of God, and suddenly God became first and foremost in my life. It’s just so hard to describe, except that I will never forget it. I felt like God took my hand in the darkness and ran with me. I was on fire and happy and surprised at what the Lord was doing and continues to do in my life. Shortly after my conversion and following a Life in the Spirit seminar, I was healed of my fibromyalgia. I looked at my life and asked the Lord to help me become more like Him. I realized that I needed to learn forgiveness, so I asked God to show me who I needed to forgive or to ask forgiveness from. He did, and little by little, I learned how to forgive and accept forgiveness. I experienced healing in one of my most important relationships - my relationship with my mom. I finally learned how to love her as God did. My family experienced healing, as well. I began to pray more. Prayer was exciting to me. Silence was where I met the Lord. In 2003 I felt God calling me to Kenya, and in 2004, I volunteered at a hospice orphanage for three months. Since CRHP, I had felt called to become a spiritual director and went on to be a certified spiritual director. There is so much more. There is always so much more when you come to know Jesus Christ. Looking back at my life, I wouldn’t change a thing because it has made me who I am today. However, I do wonder what may have happened to me had I not said those life-changing words. God loves you. God knows you completely —good and bad— but still loves you. God wants you to live in the light of His love. God wants you to be happy and bring all your burdens to him. “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). I encourage you to say this prayer from the depths of your heart: “Lord, I love you. I am all yours. I will do whatever you ask of me, and I will go wherever you send me.” I pray your life will never be the same and that no matter what is going on around you, you will find rest and peace because you walk with the Lord.
By: Carol OsburnMore
This family’s story seems like a bad movie, but the ending is sure to startle you Our story starts at home, where I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, with my two younger brothers, Oscar and Louis. Dad was the music minister at our church, while Mom played the piano. Our childhood was happy– all about church and family, with my grandparents living nearby. We thought everything was fine, but when I was in sixth grade, Mom and Dad told us they were getting divorced. We didn’t know what that meant at first because nobody in my family had been divorced, but we soon found out. We were bounced from house to house as they fought for custody. About a year later, Dad went out of town for the weekend. My brothers and I were supposed to be with Mom but ended up staying with some friends at the last minute. We were surprised when Dad flew home early and came to collect us but devastated when he told us why. Mom had been found dead in her car in a deserted parking lot. Apparently, two men had robbed her at gunpoint and stolen her purse and jewelry. Then, both of them raped her in the back seat before shooting her in the face three times and leaving her to die on the floorboard of her car. When Dad told us, we couldn’t believe it. Why would anybody want to kill Mom? We wondered if they were going to come after us. Fear became part of our young lives. The Aftermath After the funeral, we tried to return to normal life with Dad, but I’ve learned that normal never returns for victims of serious crime. Dad had a construction business. A year after Mom’s murder, Dad was arrested with two of his employees and charged with capital murder and criminal solicitation for hiring these two men to kill Mom. The three of them were all blaming each other. One of the employees claimed he overheard Dad hiring the other guy to commit the murder. Dad proclaimed his innocence, and we believed him, but his bail was denied, and everything changed for us. When Mom was killed, we were the victim’s kids. People, especially at church, wanted to help us through the process. They were giving and kind. However, after Dad was arrested, we suddenly got treated differently. There’s a stigma about being an offender’s kid. People described us as damaged goods who wouldn’t amount to anything. We moved in with my aunt and uncle, and I started high school in Austin, but kept visiting Dad in the county jail because we loved him and believed in his innocence. Two and a half years later, Dad was finally put on trial. It was really hard for us seeing all the details splashed all over the news, especially for me because I shared the same name. When he was found guilty, we were devastated, especially when he was sentenced to death and transferred to Huntsville to await execution. If you’re the family member of an inmate, it’s like your life is on hold. Shocking Confession During my senior year in college, there was a new development in the case. The secretary to the District Attorney disclosed that the prosecutor had altered evidence to prove Dad was guilty. We had always believed in Dad’s innocence, so we were overjoyed. Dad was taken off death row and sent back to the county jail to await a new trial which took place four years later. My brothers and I testified for him, and the jury found him not guilty of capital murder, which meant he would never be executed. I can’t express the relief I felt to know that I wasn’t going to lose Dad like that. However, they found him guilty of the lesser charge of murder, which came with a life sentence. Despite this, everyone knew that he would be released on parole soon. We had done all we could over all these years to get Dad home, so we were so excited that it was about to happen and that he would come and live with our family. While I was visiting him before his release, I asked him to clarify some of the issues that had come out during the trial. He said I could ask him anything, but when I got to this one particular question, he looked me right in the face and said, “Jim, I did it, and she deserved it.” I was shocked. He was confessing, and he wasn’t even sorry about what he had done. He was blaming it on Mom. He thought he was the victim because he was in prison. I was furious. I wanted him to know that he wasn’t the victim. My mom, who was buried, was the victim. I can’t describe how betrayed we all felt that he had been lying to us for all this time. It felt like we were all grieving for Mom for the very first time because when Dad got arrested, it all became about him. My family protested his parole, so the parole board denied it. I went back to see him in jail to tell him that he would go back to prison, not to Death Row, where he was safe from other prisoners, but to a maximum security prison for the rest of his life. I told him that he would never see any of us again. We had been visiting him all these years, writing to him, and putting money in his prison account. He had been a big part of our lives, but now we were turning our backs on him. Letting the Hook Off After four years of no contact, I went back to see Dad in prison. I had my own son now, and I couldn’t comprehend ever hurting him, especially since I’d learned that Dad had also hired the men to kill my brothers and me as well. I wanted some answers, but the first thing he did was apologize to me for what he had done to Mom, my brothers, and me. He was a man who had never said sorry for anything. I didn’t believe it, but I learned that when you hear somebody say they are sorry, you start healing. The next thing he said was, “Jim, I finally gave my life to God and became a Christian after I hit rock bottom in prison.” For the next year, I visited Dad once a month. During that time, I went through a forgiveness process. On the face of it, it seems impossible to be able to forgive your dad for killing your mom. I work with a lot of crime victims. What I have learned is that if you don’t forgive an offender or someone who has hurt you, you become bitter, angry, and depressed. I didn’t want Dad to control me any longer, so I forgave Dad, not to let him off the hook, but to let myself off the hook. I didn’t want to be that bitter, angry, depressed man. In this process of reconciliation, I spoke up for Mom, who had had her voice taken from her. Over that year, as we talked through the issues, I saw a life change in Dad. About a year after I resumed contact, I got a call from the prison chaplain telling me that Dad had suffered a brain aneurysm. He was brain-dead, so we had to make the decision to take him off life support, which sounds easy, but it wasn’t. Despite everything, I still loved him. We claimed his body so we wouldn’t have the legacy of having our father buried on prison grounds. We were surprised to see the warden and prison chaplain at the funeral, and they told us that, for the first time, approval had been given to have a memorial service for our dad at the prison chapel. When we attended, we sat in the front row with 300 prison inmates seated behind us, surrounded by guards. For the next three hours, the men came up to the microphone, one by one, looked us straight in the face, and told us their stories of how they had turned to Christ because Dad had shared his faith with them and changed their lives. By admitting and repenting his bad choices, taking responsibility for his actions, and asking God for forgiveness, he had taken his life in a new direction and led others with him. When you hear one person say that, it is powerful–300 is overwhelming. I started speaking in churches, in prisons, and in restorative justice programs - to victims and to offenders wanting to rehabilitate, sharing our story of restoration after a forgiveness process. I have witnessed over and over how people can change. When I tell our story, I get to honor both our parents–Mom for the positive impact she had on our lives and Dad for his decision to truly repent of his sins. The ending of our story is that we have been able to see how God can take horrible situations and turn them into good. What we have learned about repentance and forgiveness has made us much better husbands and fathers because we were intentional in giving our families something better. We have learned through bitter experience that to truly repent, you have to keep repenting, and to truly forgive, you have to keep forgiving, not once, but constantly.
By: Shalom TidingsMore
A story about how a verse from the Bible changed the life of a Hindu girl and her transformative journey. Don’t miss to read on… I was born and raised in a Hindu family in India. Growing up in a religious family, I was always encouraged to spend time in prayer. As a kid, I never went to school without a tilak (tilak is a mark, generally made on the forehead of a Hindu, indicating a person's sectarian affiliation). I believed in Hindu gods and goddesses, but it was a very transactional relationship. My prayers to them were limited to the week before school exams. Ironically, I went to a Catholic school where I was introduced to Christianity, but I always viewed Christianity as having nothing to do with me. Despite twelve years in a Catholic school, I never understood who Jesus really was nor what He did for me. I graduated high school with flying colors. I was extremely happy that my prayers to the Hindu gods had been answered. I secured admission to the best college in the city. Paradoxically, this was a Catholic college run by the Jesuit fathers. Dumb Struck During my first year of college, I attended a mandatory class on religion, where people spoke about their faith. I observed that while the Christian students had a lot to say about Jesus, the Hindus like me were mute when it came to professing their faith. I knew nothing about the Gita (the Bhagavad Gita is one of the holy scriptures of Hinduism). All I knew was how to ask God for my wishes to be fulfilled. I felt embarrassed to call myself a Hindu. Then a Christian professor played a video about Jesus from the movie, The Passion of Christ. I saw how brutally He was scourged and how much He suffered when He was nailed to the cross. I had tears in my eyes. I could barely watch the crucifixion. Sadly, even then, I did not know the real reason why he had died on the cross at Calvary. But after watching that video, I started taking an interest in knowing more about Jesus. I visited public libraries to search for the Bible but with little luck. Then I decided to read the PDF version of the Bible available on the Internet. I started with the book of Genesis but did not find Jesus there. Then, I randomly searched for Bible verses on Google. A verse from the book of Matthew struck me: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). This verse teaches us not to judge others. A few weeks later, we had another religion class taught by a different professor. He asked each of us to share our beliefs and thoughts about our respective religions. Out of nowhere, I raised my hand and explained the verse above from Matthew—a shy Hindu girl sharing her thoughts about a Christian Bible verse! I believe my boldness was the work of the Holy Spirit. The professor had no idea that I was a Hindu. He liked my explanation and encouraged more people to speak up about their religion. This incident was a stepping stone in my conversion to the Catholic faith. Moments of Truth During this time, when I was coming to know Jesus and Christianity, I often asked myself, “Why do I always feel so peaceful in a church?” My experience in Hindu temples was quite different. There I found myself distracted by the shouts of vendors, the clanging of the temple bells, the priests chanting the mantras, and the rush of people pushing through large crowds to view the face of the gods. The peace I found in a church presented a stark contrast. One day during the Covid lockdown, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube in which a priest explained in a lucid manner that no matter how many sins we have committed in our lives, we can still be reunited with God because His Son paid the price for our sins. Jesus Christ, Son of God, became human, lived among us, loved us, healed us, forgave sins, died on the cross and rose again from the dead, and now lives with us until the end of time. Coming to know the Gospel changed my life. I learned that Jesus knows me and would love me even as a Hindu. Before, I had viewed Jesus as one of the many gods people worshipped, but now I realized who the true God is. None of the Hindu gods I had known had suffered and died for my sins. My heart filled with love for Jesus, and from that day, I considered myself a follower of Christ Jesus. Tears of Joy The Holy Spirit guided me to learn more about Jesus. I bought a Bible and started reading it. I was filled with admiration and love for Jesus. Previously, my relationship with God had been transactional. The fact that God loves me just as I am was a foreign concept to me. I learned that Jesus wants to talk to me every day and to have a personal relationship with me. He loves me even when I am sinful. He is willing to forgive all my sins and accept me lovingly into His arms. I was not worthy of His love, but He loved me nonetheless. Today, my personal relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in my life. While I was on this journey of establishing a personal relationship with Him, I had a dream in which I saw a man dressed in a brownish-red cloak walking in front of me on a road. The road was flanked by monsters on either side. The monsters wanted to harm me and made terrifying noises. However, these creatures started losing their vigor because of the man who was walking ahead of me. Because he was so powerful, they could not scare me or hurt me. I felt protected and safe in His presence. I did not understand what the dream was about. But much later, a nun I knew from the Missionaries of Charity helped me interpret the dream. The man walking ahead of me was Jesus. He came to me to strengthen my faith in Him and protect me from the devil. I cried tears of joy after realizing that the creator of the sun, moon, and stars knows and cares for me. It took me two years to convert to the Catholic faith, but when God opens a door, no person can close it. The Holy Spirit put angels disguised as men and women on my path to Catholicism. On June 25, 2022, I received the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Today, I tell people about what Jesus did on the cross for them. I see Christ in every person I encounter. I wish to continue sharing the joy of the Gospel everywhere I can.
By: Sarina Christina PradhanMore
I was driving home when I noticed two street signs that seemed incongruous. The train station and shop signs were pointing in the wrong directions; the exact opposite ones, to be precise. If I were a tourist, a traveler who is not familiar with the suburb, I would have followed the sign and got lost. I guess somebody had moved the street signs as a prank or even as an intentional deception. In our walk with the Lord too, we need to know who is navigating us—God, ourselves, others, or the evil one. If we are not aware of our surroundings, we can easily get lost or misled. This Lent, whose voice will we listen to? Judas…the crowd…Pilate…or Jesus…?
By: Dina Mananquil DelfinoMore
To be good at anything, we have to put time, effort, and practice into it. The same applies to our preparation for eternity. How well are we going to do at the end of year exams if we have put little or no time towards studying during the year? Similarly, how well will we stand up on judgment day when we are held accountable for our lives? In our preparation period on earth for eternity, how much of our life was spent in prayer, good works, and sacrifice? Our Lord paid the ultimate price for our salvation, but we have to play our part. As He has graciously allowed us to be part of that sacrifice, let us not waste this valuable opportunity. He, through Calvary, has given us a chance to be part of His redemption, to be part of His sanctity, consequently allowing mere humans to be called into sainthood. What a privilege! As my mother would always remind us, children, this life of ours on earth, short or long, is but a preparation period, the springboard to eternity. How we fare in the structure of eternal life will be determined not only by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but by every thought, word, and deed we perpetrated during the time we spent on earth.
By: Sean HampseyMore
If your sacrifices are dragging you down and causing you to dread Lent—take heart. Our Lady at Fatima gave the children a prayer which offers compelling reasons to sacrifice. Her words may help dispel your Lenten dreads. The prayer begins: “O Jesus, it (this sacrifice I am making) is for love of You.” Why not borrow those words and make them your own? Telling Jesus you are doing this hard Lenten thing for love of Him may remind you why you are denying yourself in the first place: you are making room in your heart, so that you may love Him more. Further, the prayer helped the children offer their sacrifices for “the conversion of sinners.” You can do the same. When you make a Lenten sacrifice, offer it for a specific loved one who is living far from God. “O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of......” Praying in Our Lady’s words will not lessen the difficulty of your sacrifices; but, because it sweetens them with love for Jesus and for lost souls, her words may truly help to dispel your Lenten dreads.
By: Margaret Ann StimatzMore
I am not one of those holy souls who look forward to Lent. However, I do have a few friends and family members who do. So, I try to take note of why that is the case. Just last week, my mom mentioned she was looking forward to Lent so she could invite her band, who are all senior citizens, to her parish fish fry. She said she’s really looking forward to it, since most of them aren’t Catholic but have mentioned that they like attending fish fries. After enjoying their traditional fish and chips, my mom is planning on reserving a room in the parish hall so the band can make music together after dinner. They call themselves the Silver Foxes and often visit nursing homes together to spread a little joy. My mom is a joyful evangelist, even at age 80! And she has unlocked the secret that Lent is for more than making penitential acts, but it is a time for growing the Kingdom of God by growing the Body of Christ.
By: Denise JasekMore