I come from a little village in Cork, Ireland. Although I grew up in a Catholic family attending Sunday Mass and receiving the sacraments, we didn’t practise our faith very well. The Church and a relationship with God wasn’t at the heart of our everyday family life.
From a very early age, I felt rejected and worthless because I was bullied a lot at school. In College, I looked for God in the wrong places, like alcohol, nights out, and other people. To remove that feeling of rejection, I tried to fill the void with something other than God, but I didn’t realize that all those passing pleasures would never satisfy me.
One night, when I returned from a night out, I was really tired and depressed. My mother gave me a little “Miracle” prayer card. I felt drawn to it by the Holy Spirit, although I didn’t realize that at the time. After I read it, I said to God, “If you really exist… if you are really there—please answer me. Please turn my life around. I feel very low. Please I need your help…”
I didn’t think about it again until a few months later when I felt compelled to renew the prayer. Soon after, my parents invited me to go to Medjugorje in Croatia. My motivation for going was to enjoy a free holiday in the sun and have a few drinks. I heard there was something religious there, but I wasn’t really interested.
At Medjugorje, I was greeted by people who radiated an amazing freedom and joy. They kept talking about Jesus and Mary, as if they knew them. They told me amazing things about the Catholic faith that were foreign to me. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I truly I desired the joy, freedom and love which emanated from them. They kept urging me to go to Confession. ‘No way!’ was my first reaction, because I was very against Confession at the time. I was worried about what the priest would think of me, that he would judge me and kick me out! However, I longed for this freedom, joy and sense of belonging. I wanted to know where I was meant to be and who I can be. Eventually, I felt convinced to go.
On my way to the confessional, a prayer came into my heart. It was the Creed that I had learnt during Mass. I didn’t know it all by-heart, but the power of the Holy Spirit helped me out. With each word, I really felt the Holy Spirit encouraging me. When I knelt down to confess, I poured my heart out to the priest about all the things that I had done wrong in my life. The mercy of God flowed over me and peace filled my heart. When I came out, I was a new woman, walking joyfully in faith, because I finally had a deep conviction that God really loved me.
On my return, I asked the Lord why He had revealed Himself to me, despite the many wrong decisions I had made in life. All of a sudden, I saw the words of the “Miracle prayer” clearly in my mind and I realized how the Lord answered my prayer. I felt incredible joy knowing God had been making this plan for months, preparing for the day when I would realize His love for me at Medjugorje.
I needed to make a lot of changes, but God helped me pull away from many people and things that were not bringing me closer to God and brought amazing friends and opportunities into my life. The Holy Spirit gave me a greater understanding of, and reverence for, Mass and the Scriptures. When I heard the Scriptures being read, I was deeply moved, because the message wasn’t just for people who lived 2000 years ago. It was for me living in this moment. God wanted those words spoken to me right now.
After reading the Scripture and immersing myself in faith, I had a great desire to learn more, know more, understand more and love God more. This wasn’t from my head but from my heart. God Himself sowed the seed of great love in my heart.
God led people to me who had endured similar suffering. He asked me to speak with them about how I had experienced the power of prayer and confession. It was incredible to see how God worked through those simple one on one conversations, just as those amazing witnesses at Medjugorje had led me to faith. Sometimes, He would simply ask me to be silent and pray for that particular person.
One of the messages Our Lady conveyed at Medjugorje is to “Pray! Pray until prayer becomes a joy for you.” I never understood that until l persevered in prayer. Now I absolutely love praying and it has truly become a joy for me. I thank God every day for the gift of the Holy Spirit who is working through me. There is no way that I would stand firm in faith today without the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially Perseverance.
O Holy Spirit, teach me to pray well. Assist me to live a holy life and to grow in goodness and grace. Amen.
is deeply involved with the Holy Family Mission; a residential Catholic community for young people aged 18-30 who desire to become effective Disciples of Christ in the world. She lives in Cork, Ireland. Article is based on the testimony shared by Anita for the Shalom World TV program “My Best Pal”. To watch the episode visit: https://shalomworld.org/show/my-best-pal.
In the midst of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic life as we knew it continues to change. We are stripped of so many things that were once a part of our everyday lives. And we stand amidst it all figuring out who we really are in this new normal. Typically, we spend our lives working hard to shape our own identity, to brand ourselves. We want to control the kind of person we appear to be. Depending on our interests, we pour our time into specific activities, sports, hobbies, and into whatever work has helped shape the perception of “who we are” for the rest of the world. We desire to be seen and known as a certain kind of person and sometimes we even flaunt our special achievements or successes. We buy into the idea that the things we have, do, and accomplish are what make us who we are--that they create our identity. And then all of a sudden, the whole world stops. No more sports. No more concerts. No more large social gatherings. No more intimate get-togethers with friends. No more travel. No more sense of security. And for some, a loss of money. a loss of employment. a loss of business. a loss of health. a loss of loved ones. a loss of life. We have been stripped. Stripped of much of what we thought we were, and much of what we thought we needed. Such a process of detachment is hard and painful and sometimes very scary. Sometimes, even without a world-wide health crisis, God allows us to go through a process of detachment from the things and ways we use to identity ourselves so we can discover our true identity. Inevitably, if we don’t know the source of who we are and what we’re worth, we attach our identity to earthly things that are fleeting and can be pulled out from under our feet at any time. Our sure and solid source is God and God alone. And we need to know him intimately. When we do, we’ll know how much he values us. You and I, my friend, are first and foremost beloved children of a loving Father. That is our true identity. That is the only identity that matters. The world will try to tell you otherwise. Your friends might try to tell you otherwise. The Tempter surely will try to tell you otherwise. But nothing changes the Truth of who you are. It’s your Truth and it’s my Truth, and it’s every person’s Truth. And it doesn’t matter whether or not we come to own it and believe it. Nothing we say or do can change that Truth. Our identity rooted in the Father is where we find life. And in the irony of the Kingdom Jesus established, it is only when we feel we have nothing left that we can recognize we actually have everything we need. Now, in the midst of this crisis, when each one of us is being stripped of some aspect of our former lives, now is the time to dig deep and claim our true identity. So I’ll start. I am Jackie Perry, a beloved daughter of our merciful Father. Who are YOU?
The simple and tender words of Jesus instructing us to “love one another as I have loved you” have taken on a deeper meaning for me over the past few weeks as the coronavirus has spread throughout the globe. I have witnessed love of neighbor in action from every end of the earth, and in my own backyard. And if this love had a sound, that sound would be silence: quiet classrooms, empty offices, and desolate parks. The silence is powerful. It is the sound of love. It is the sound of Isolation, sacrifice, and self-denial for the health and safety of humanity. What a beautiful movement in a defining moment. Odd as it may sound, there is an immeasurable amount of beauty in all this suffering we face. As I look in my daughter’s closet and see her dresses for prom and graduation hanging up, now never to be worn, I can’t help but feel a twinge of pain and sadness for the memories she and so many others will never create. But she is living in a moment she will never forget. A moment that none of us will ever forget --when the world came together and love spread faster than a virus. That is the most extraordinary memory to keep. That is what makes this time of pain and loss extraordinarily holy. Like many people, I hope that when love and prayer and science conquer this pandemic, life does not return to normal. I pray kindness and compassion will continue to overflow this earth. I pray the pain, sacrifice, and hardships we are all enduring softens us – softens our hearts, our actions, our thoughts. I pray that each of us will appreciate our blessings in life a little more, that our faith will become a little deeper, that our love for each other will grow a little stronger. My hope is that the little things in life become the bigger things in life, as our appreciation for everything around us flourishes. I pray that we fully understand what it means to love each other as Jesus loves us and actively live this love, because we are all in this beautiful life together.
“You touched my coffee!” the customer screamed at the young barista, who burst into tears as she helplessly tried to offer a new cup to the angry woman. We sensed she was not a local and the loyal patrons rallied to defend the young girl. “If you are so worried about contamination, you should not even go out!” shouted one patron. “Stay home!” another butted in. As a pastoral worker, I offered her a word of comfort. While she made my cuppa between sobs, I reminded her that the current environment made everyone tense, so she shouldn’t take it personally and let the incident ruin her day. Just a few minutes later, I had to take my own advice. When I accidentally overstepped the 1.5 meters mark at the grocery store, an elderly gentleman admonished me with disgust: “Stay in your spot!” adding a poke in the arm for extra emphasis. Then, when I took my little granddaughter out for a much-needed exercise, she was berated by a passerby, shouting “1.5 meters!” as he huffed away. Whew!!! Many of us have similar incidents to recount as the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll. We are all so full of fear and anxiety that we seem to have lost the love, joy and graciousness of life. Hardly anyone smiles now as we walk past them. Heads are bowed, as eyes flit about, alarmingly vigilant but spaced out. The body language signals, “Stay away from me”. This is easily understandable as we face a dangerous, invisible enemy and we do not know who will fall by its sword before the pandemic ends. Thousands of lives and livelihoods are being lost or impaired. Although we all know that social distancing and self-isolation are necessary shields, we all suffer its effects – some catastrophically. Everyone has been affected, especially the dedicated front-line health workers, who heroically continue their care despite the risks. Sadness over the loss of loved ones, for any cause, becomes overwhelming when mourners are unable to receive the comfort of friends and family. My heart breaks for them as I pray for the souls of the dead and for comfort for their families. Government and health authorities are doing everything they can to enforce what they believe to be the best measures to control and prevent it. Many of them compare it to warfare. And indeed, there are casualties. Every nation is at its knees. But what has been its impact on me personally? When the lockdown and the shutdown were imposed, I looked at the projects I was supposed to be working on. At that moment, they seemed irrelevant. I decided to put them away in the garage, knowing that I would not be able to work on them now. My perspective has quickly shifted as I live moment by moment, prioritizing health and safety. I needed to visit the doctor for a medical issue. I implored the Lord to spare me from needing hospital care, as I dreaded the atmosphere there at present. I am forced to be more reflective and examine which parts of my life need to change. Every day I pray on my knees to ask the Lord for help. At every hour, I pray my favorite psalm 91 for the Lord’s protection for everyone, and the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I usually get excited about future projects, but with COVID-19, the future is a blur. The unknown has become my daily reality. Because I am accustomed to a busy life, I needed to find activities to help me cope. I cook for the family more. Since my daughter and son-in-law work from home, I have taken on substantial duties in the kitchen. Family life has become our foundation. The first few weeks of staying home 24/7 were trying, but things improved as family solidarity was given greater importance and we appreciated each other more. Each of us contributed more to home duties. The daily laundry has become a consolation; its gentle whirring a sound of normality. Having ample time to clean cupboards and sort the house has given me a purpose. Sleeping-in became an escape at first, but then I also realized how exhausted my body had been over the years and I welcomed the rest and the slowing down. My shower in the morning has moved to an afternoon ritual as I rush to the shops for our essentials in the morning, while stock is still available. Simplicity has become a norm – no make-up, no perfume, just my unmade self. Little miracles happen. When I was desperate for toilet paper, hand wipes and disinfectant sprays and none was found at the shelves, some were left in an abandoned trolley! Reports from some parts of the world reveal that nature is taking a recuperative rest as pollution reduces and sky, oceans, forests revive. The closure of our churches during Lent and Easter was particularly difficult, and I wonder what message the Lord is revealing to us. Where is God in all of this? many people ask. Spiritual messages are plentiful. Most of them are encouraging, affirming that God is not the source of this, as He knows no evil, but He is travelling with us on this painful journey, just as He did when He suffered here on earth with us and His Resurrection gives us hope that we will endure this trial. Our prayer group that has been meeting weekly for the last 22 years was not discouraged by the lockdown. Led by the Holy Spirit, we conduct our prayer meeting and spiritual fellowship by phone conference every Friday and, gather prophetic messages and exhortations to see us through these difficult times. By embracing the use of technology, we can remain connected to our priests who continue to celebrate Mass for us. The blessing from this is that many people who were not previously present at Mass have joined us in tuning in to church gatherings and teachings, paving the way to a deeper, inner recollection and understanding of the faith. Never again will I take the gift of the Eucharist for granted. It is the most profound fast I have ever experienced. Recently, I got a call from a friend who is battling serious illness every day – at any moment she could die from heart and kidney problems. When she came out of hospital after another bout of complications, she told me that her outlook is one day at a time. I reflected that we are all in the same boat now. COVID-19 is teaching us an important lesson – to value each moment and be full of gratitude to God, from the instant we wake and all through the day. Words and deeds of love need to be spoken and performed right now, right here – not tomorrow. And have we ever said a genuine thank you to someone who served us today? “New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world. Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and all your creation, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.” Amen. (A Liturgy for Morning Prayer, Upper Room Worship book)
I had the most extraordinary experience of love of neighbor with a Hindu family. A gentleman came to our house and said, “Mother Teresa, there is a family who has not eaten for so long. Do something.” So, I took some rice and went there immediately. When I saw the children, their eyes were shining with hunger. I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger, but I have seen it very often. The mother of the family took the rice I gave her and went out. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go; what did you do?” She gave me a very simple answer: “They [a neighbor family] are hungry also.” What struck me most was that they were a Muslim family. And she knew. I did not bring any more rice that evening, because I wanted them - Hindus and Muslims - to enjoy the joy of sharing. Those children were radiating joy - sharing their joy and peace with their mother because she had the love to give until it hurts. You see this is where love begins - at home in the family.” [Excerpt from “A Call to Mercy” by Mother Teresa] This happened at a time when religious violence was prevalent in India, and thousands of people died in the riots between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The unselfishly generous gift this poor woman unhesitatingly gave to her hungry neighbors, who happened to be a Muslim family, deeply touched Mother Teresa. She often looked to the poor; for their love was simple and their hearts were full of joy. Mother Teresa invites us to learn from the poor and receive their joy by sharing our blessings generously. “Not all of us are called to do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
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