People are often surprised when I tell them that my closest friend at the monastery is Fr. Philip, who happens to be 94. He being the oldest monk of the community, and me being the youngest, make quite the duo; another fellow monk affectionately refers to us as the “alpha and omega.” In addition to our discrepancy in age, there are numerous differences between us. Fr. Philip served in the Coast Guard before entering the monastery, studied Botany and English, has lived in Rome and Rwanda, and is fluent in several languages. In short, he has much more life experience than me. That said, we do share some things in common: we’re both California natives and converts from Protestantism (he Presbyterian and me Baptist). We enjoy opera immensely, and more importantly, we lead a life of prayer together.
It is only natural to select friends who share our common interests. But as we get older and our situations in life transition, we find ourselves losing some friends while gaining new ones. Aristotle says that all friendships must share something in common. Enduring friendships are those that share long-lasting things. For example, friendship between two surfers persists as long as there are waves to be caught. However, if there is no swell or if one surfer gets injured and can no longer paddle out, the friendship will fade unless they find something new to share. Therefore, if we wish to have lifelong friends, the key is to find something that can be shared for a lifetime, or better yet, eternity.
The high priest, Caiaphas, accused Jesus of blasphemy when He claimed to be the Son of God. Far more blasphemous than this statement was when Jesus told His disciples, “You are my friends.” For what could the Son of God have in common with fishermen, a tax collector, and a zealot? What can God possibly have in common with us? He is much older than we are. He has more life experience. He is both Alpha and Omega. Whatever we share in common must have been given to us by Him in the first place. Among the many gifts He shares with us, Scripture is explicit about which lasts the longest: “His steadfast love endures forever.” “Love…endures all things.” “Love never ends.” As it turns out, being friends with God is quite simple. All we have to do is “love because He first loved us.”
Brother John Baptist Santa Ana, O.S.B. is a monk of St.Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo, CA. Presently he is pursuing MA in Theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. His interests include martial arts, surfing and drawing.
Scared and alone on a boat in the middle of a stormy sea, little Vinh made a bargain with God... When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, I was still a child, the second last of 14 children. My wonderful parents were devout Catholics, but since Catholics suffered persecution in Vietnam, they wanted us children to escape to a different country for a better life. The refugees usually left in tiny wooden boats, which would often capsize at sea, leaving none of the passengers alive. So, my parents decided that we would try to leave one at a time, and they made great sacrifices to save enough to pay the tremendous costs. The first time I tried to leave, I was only nine. It took me two years and fourteen attempts before I finally managed to escape. It would take another ten years for my parents to make it across. The Escape Crowded onto a small wooden boat with 77 others, 11-year-old me was on my own in the middle of nowhere. We faced many hazards. On the seventh night, as a huge storm battered us, a lady beseeched me: “We may not survive this storm; whatever your religion is, pray to your God.” I responded that I had already prayed. I had, in fact, set a bargain: “Save me, and I’ll be a good boy.” As the wind and waves whipped over the boat that night, I promised to dedicate my life to serving God and His people for the rest of my life. When I woke the next morning, we were still afloat, and the sea was calm. We were still in dire peril, however, because we had run out of food and water. Two days later, my prayers were answered when we finally landed in Malaysia after ten days at sea. Starting a new life in a refugee camp, I set out to be faithful to the bargain I had made with God. Without parents, without anyone to take care of me, without anyone to tell me what to do, I put my total trust in God and asked Him to guide me. I went to church every day, and the priest soon asked me to be an altar server. Father Simon was a French missionary priest who worked really hard, helping refugees with all their needs, especially their immigration applications. He became my hero. He found such joy in serving others that I wanted to be like him when I grew up. With the challenges I faced in starting a new life, I forgot my old promise. At the end of Year 10, as I thought about what I’d really like to do with my life, our Lord reminded me of my desire to become a priest. They arranged work experience for me with our parish priest, Monsignor Keating. I loved it so much that I decided to join the seminary once I completed high school. As my parents had immigrated to Australia by then, I joined Saint Charles Seminary in Perth. Keeper of Promises For the past 26 years, I have been serving as a priest for the Archdiocese of Perth. Like Father Simon, I have found great joy in serving God’s people. My biggest challenge was being appointed to found a new parish on the outskirts of Perth in 2015. I was at a loss. There was a school but no church or facilities, so we started by meeting to say Mass in a classroom. I sought advice from my fellow priests. Two of their remarks stuck with me. One said: “Build a church, and then you will have people,” another said: “Build a community. When you have the people, you can build a church.” I asked myself, “Do I have the chicken, or do I have the egg?” I decided that I needed both the chicken and the egg, so I built both the community AND the church. A Vietnamese refugee with scant chances of surviving persecution in his home country, who feared he wouldn’t live through the night of a terrifying storm in the middle of the ocean, building a church community in the Australian bush—I am still amazed at the marvelous works of the Lord!! The Dominican Sisters helped me to build the community and also in fundraising to make Saint John Paul II Catholic Church a reality. Scores of generous hearts from other parishes in Perth and all over the world extended us a helping hand, and I am thankful to God for all their support. Instances like these repeatedly remind me that the word ‘Catholic' means universal—no matter where we are in the world, we are the people of God. Our church, which started with a dozen people, now has over 400 parishioners. Our members come from 31 different cultures. Every week, I see new faces. As I come to learn about these diverse cultures and people who share a common faith, it helps deepen my relationship with God. Receiving Begets Giving Although I enjoy my life and ministry in Australia, I have not forgotten my roots in Vietnam. The Lord has been using me to support an orphanage run by Dominican Sisters. Along with fundraising, I also bring people on mission journeys to help the nuns take care of the orphans. The youth immerse themselves in the missionary work, feeding them, teaching them, doing whatever is needed, and forming a relationship that continues beyond the length of our visits. No one goes home without experiencing a profound shift in their outlook on life. It has been over 40 years since I was on that little boat where I made a promise to God. My relationship with God had been nurtured by my parents to reach that point of surrender. When they taught me to say the Rosary, I thought it was boring. I would complain, “Why do we have to say the same prayers over and over again? Can’t we say them once and then say the same, the same, the same so I can go out and play.” But I came to appreciate that the Rosary is a summary of the entire Bible, and the repetition of prayer enables me to meditate upon the mysteries. I tell people now that BIBLE stands for Basic Information Before Leaving Earth. My parents had given me the formation to be faithful to the promise I made on the boat, and God, in His mercy, took care of me when my parents could not. They continued to pray for their children, entrusting us to the Lord, and it was a delightful surprise for them when I became a priest. Now, it is my job to support families in nurturing faith and counseling anyone who comes to me for advice: “Do not be afraid to discern a call from God. Take time to talk to God and allow God to talk to you. You will slowly get to know what God would like you to do in your life.” I continue to pray every day that I will truly be faithful to that promise I made to God—to be His child forevermore.
By: Father Vinh DongMore
I am still in awe of Reverend Sebastian’s account of a miraculous escape from deadly danger. Surely you would be too, as I share it here in his own words. It was the coolest autumn night of October 1987, nearly 3 AM, and I had an hour left before boarding my flight to London. I decided to head to the airport lounge and grab a cup of hot coffee, which helped me shake off my sleepiness. I had taken some medication for a slight fever, but the effect was already wearing off. So, I took another one, and as I boarded the flight, I requested the air hostess, who introduced herself as Anne, for a free row in the middle so that I could get some rest during the long flight. My priestly collar must have touched her because when the seatbelt sign was turned off, Anne approached me and led me three rows back to where four seats were unoccupied. I then arranged the seats like a small couch and settled in. Disturbing News My comfortable slumber was broken by the erratic movements of the aircraft. My eyes shot open; the cabin was dimly lit, and most passengers were either asleep or glued to the screens in front of them. I couldn't help but notice the swift movements of the cabin crew as they hurried along the narrow walkways between the rows of seats. Assuming that someone was ill and needing assistance, I asked Anne, who was passing by my seat, what was happening. "It's just turbulence, Father. Everything is under control," she replied before quickly moving forward. However, her panicked eyes suggested otherwise. Unable to sleep, I walked towards the back of the plane to request a cup of tea. A crew member ordered me to return to my seat but promised to bring me the tea later. I sensed that something was amiss. As I patiently waited for my tea, a male crew member approached me. "Father Sebastian, there is a fire on one of the engines, and we haven't been able to contain it yet. We have a full tank of fuel, and we've been flying for almost two hours. If the fire reaches the fuel tank, the plane could explode at any time," he paused before looking me directly in the eyes. My body froze with shock. "The captain has a special request—please pray for all 298 souls on board and for the fire to be extinguished. Both captains know that we have a priest on board and have requested that I convey this message to you," he finished. Taking his hands in mine, I replied: "Please tell the captains to remain courageous, for Jesus and Mother Mary will protect us from this dangerous situation, just like how Jesus saved His disciples from the stormy sea. There is nothing to worry about, and the Holy Spirit will take control of the situation from this point forward. They will be guided wisely by Him." I heard a weary voice in front of me asking if the flight was going to explode. It was Sophie, a woman in her late years whom I had met on the plane earlier. She had overheard some of our conversation and had become hysterical. Crew members warned her not to make a scene; she calmed down a bit and sat next to me, confessing her sins to me 30,000 feet high. Holding On However, I had great faith in Mother Mary, who had helped me overcome similar situations before. I took my rosary and began to pray, closing my eyes and reciting it with utmost devotion. Mid-flight, I was informed that the captain was trying to make an emergency landing in a non-busy airport and that we needed to hold on for another seven minutes. Eventually, as the situation was still not under control, the captain informed the passengers to prepare themselves for an emergency landing. John, the crew member who had spoken to me earlier, informed me that the fire had reached gate 6, leaving only one more gate till the engine. I silently kept on praying for the safety of everyone on the flight. As the situation continued without improvement, I closed my eyes and continued praying, finding strength and courage in my faith. When I opened my eyes, the plane had landed safely at the airport, and the passengers were applauding. Relief at Last! “My dear friends, this is Rodrigo, your captain from the deck!” He paused for a moment and then continued. “We were in an extremely dangerous situation in the past hours, and we are good now! A special thanks to the Almighty God and Father Sebastian. He was praying for all of us and gave all of us great strength and courage to overcome this situation and…” he paused again, “we did!” John and Anne walked with me as we were greeted by the crew and dignitaries at the airport terminal. I was told that a replacement aircraft would arrive soon and that all passengers would be transferred to the new plane in an hour. After the harrowing experience on the flight, I couldn’t help but reflect on the power of prayer and the importance of trusting God in any situation. I remembered the words from Mark 4:35-41, where Jesus calmed a storm on the sea and asked his disciples: "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" As we boarded the new flight, I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for the miraculous escape and a stronger faith in God's protection. ***** Father Sebastian has since shared his story with many people and encouraged them to put their trust in God during difficult times. He reminds them that with faith and prayer, they, too, can overcome any storm and find peace in the midst of chaos.
By: Shaju ChittilappillyMore
I was going through my old prayer journal, wherein I had written prayer requests. To my amazement, every single one of them was answered! Anyone taking a cursory look at the news these days may find themselves despairing, wondering where God is, and needing hope. I know I have found myself in this position on certain days. We feel out of control, and we wonder what we can do about all of the horrible things we see. I want to share with you a story. A few years ago, I started keeping a journal of prayer requests of the people and things I was praying for. I often prayed a Rosary for these things, as I still do today for prayer petitions. One day, I came across an old journal of my written prayer requests. I began to peruse the pages of what I had written long ago. I was astounded. Each prayer had been answered—maybe not always in ways I thought they would be answered, but they were answered. These were no small prayers. “Dear Lord, please help my aunt stop drinking alcohol. Dear Lord, please help my infertile friend have children. Dear Lord, please heal my friend from cancer.” As I scrolled down the page, I realized that every single prayer had been answered. Many in a bigger and better way than I imagined. There were a couple that, at first glance, I thought had not been answered. One friend who needed healing from cancer had passed away, but then I remembered that she had confession and anointing of the sick before she died. She died peacefully in the mercy of God, surrounded by His healing grace. But other than that, the majority of the prayers were answered here in this world. Many prayer requests had seemed like impossible mountains, but they had been moved. God’s grace takes our prayers and our perseverance in prayer, and He moves all things toward good. In the quiet of my prayer, I heard a whisper: “I have been working all these things throughout time. I have been writing these stories. Trust me.” I believe we are in perilous times. But I also believe that we are made for these times. You may say to me: “Your personal prayer requests being answered seems great, but nations are at war.” And my response to that is, again, nothing is impossible with God, not even stopping war by using our prayers. I remember it happening in the past. We should believe that God can act that big right now. For those not old enough to remember, there was a scary time when it looked like a blood bath was coming. But through the power of the Rosary, things changed. I was in 8th grade, and I remember hearing about all the turmoil in the Philippines. Ferdinand Marcos was the dictator of that country at the time. It was shaping up to become a bloody battle with a few people already dead. A staunch critic of Marcos, Benigno Aquino, was assassinated. But it didn’t become a bloody battle. Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila had asked people to pray. They went out in front of the military, praying the Rosary aloud. They stood in front of tanks praying. And then, a miraculous thing happened. The military laid down their weapons. Even the secular media, the Chicago Tribune, reported how “Guns fell to Rosaries.” The revolution was over, and the glory of God was seen. Don’t stop believing in miracles. Expect them. And pray the Rosary every chance you get. Lord knows our world needs it.
By: Susan SkinnerMore
The burdens of life can weigh us down, but take heart! The Good Samaritan waits on you In the past few years, I have traveled from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, literally crisscrossing the country, speaking and leading women’s retreats. I love my work and am often humbled by it. To travel and meet so many faithful women on their knees, seeking the face of the Lord, is one of the greatest graces of my life. But earlier this year, my work came to a halt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my second bout. Thankfully, we caught it very early; it had not spread. We weighed our options for treatment and settled on a double mastectomy. We had hoped that following that surgery, no further treatment would be required. But when they got a good look at the tumor under a microscope, it was determined that my recurrence rate would lower significantly with a few rounds of preventative chemo. With a heart full of dread and pictures of me nauseated and going bald running through my head, I called the oncologist and made an appointment. Just then, my husband walked in from work and said: “I just got laid off.” Sometimes, when it rains, it is monsoons. Mayday, Mayday So, with no income and the prospect of overwhelming medical bills about to assail our mailbox, we prepared for my treatments. My husband diligently sent out resumes and garnered a few interviews. We were hopeful. Chemo, for me, it turned out, was not too nauseating but terribly painful. The bone pain had me in tears at times, and nothing alleviated it. I was grateful that my husband was home and could help take care of me. Even in the moments when there was nothing he could do, just having him nearby was a great comfort. It was an unexpected grace in his having been laid off. We trusted in God’s plan. The weeks went on. My hair decided to take an extended vacation, my energy waned, and I did what little work I could. No job offers came in for my talented husband. We prayed, we fasted, we trusted in the Lord, and we began to feel the strain of the season. Struck to the Core This year, my women’s prayer group is praying through the masterwork Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene. One Sunday, when I didn’t feel l could carry these burdens another step, his reflection on the Good Samaritan struck me to the core. You recall the beloved parable from Luke 10 when a man is robbed, beaten, and left on the side of the road. A priest and Levite pass him by, offering no aid. Only the Samaritan stops to tend to him. Father Gabriel reflects: “We, too, have encountered robbers on our way. The world, the devil, and our passions have stripped and wounded us … With infinite love [the Good Samaritan par excellence] has bent over our open wounds, curing them with the oil and wine of His grace … Then He took us in His arms and brought us to a safe place.” (Divine Intimacy #273) How keenly I felt about this passage! My husband and I do feel robbed, beaten, and abandoned. We’ve been stripped of our income, our work, our dignity. We’ve been robbed of my breasts, my health, even my hair. As I prayed, I had a strong sense of the Lord stooping over us, anointing and healing us, and then taking me into His arms and carrying me while my husband walked along with us, taking us to a place of safety. I was flooded with tears of relief and gratitude. Father. Gabriel goes on to say: “We should go to Mass in order to meet Him, the Good Samaritan … When He comes to us in Holy Communion, He will heal our wounds, not only our exterior wounds, but our interior ones also, abundantly pouring into them the sweet oil and strengthening wine of His grace.” Later that day, we went to Confession and Mass. We had a beautiful visiting priest from Africa whose reverence and gentleness washed over me at once. He prayed for me in confession, asking the Lord to give me the desires of my heart—dignified work for my husband—and to heal me. By the time it came for Communion, I was weeping on my way up to meet the Good Samaritan, knowing He was carrying us to a place of safety—in Him. Never Pass Me By I know this may or may not mean my husband gets a job, or I get through chemo without too much pain. But there isn’t a doubt in my mind, heart, or body that I met the Good Samaritan in that Holy Eucharist. He would not pass me but would stop and tend to me and my wounds. He was as real to me as He has ever been, and even though my husband and I are still feeling beaten, I thank the Lord for being so present to us as the Good Samaritan who stops, tends, heals, and then gathers us up to a place of safety. His safety is not the world’s safety. To stand and wait in the midst of this “attack,” this robbery, is some of the hardest spiritual work I have ever been invited to do. Oh, but I trust our Good Samaritan par excellence. He is waiting there to carry me—to gather up anyone who feels robbed, beaten, and abandoned—and, through the Blessed Sacrament, set his seal of safety upon our hearts and souls.
By: Liz Kelly StanchinaMore
Q – Why did Jesus Christ have to die for us? It seems cruel that the Father would require the death of His only Son in order to save us. Wasn’t there some other way? A – We know that Jesus’ death forgave us of our sins. But was it necessary, and how did it accomplish our salvation? Consider this: if a student in school were to punch his classmate, the natural consequence would be a certain punishment—perhaps detention, or maybe being suspended. But if that same student were to punch a teacher, the punishment would be more severe—perhaps being expelled from the school. If that same student were to punch the President, they would likely end up in jail. Depending on the dignity of who is offended, the consequence would be greater. What, then, would be the consequence of offending the all-holy, all-loving God? He Who created both you and the stars deserves nothing less than the worship and adoration of all Creation—when we offend Him, what is the natural consequence? Eternal death and destruction. Suffering and alienation from Him. Thus, we owed God a debt of death. But we could not repay it—because He is infinitely good, our transgression caused an infinite chasm between us and Him. We needed someone infinite and perfect but also human (since they would have to die to settle the debt). Only Jesus Christ fit this description. Seeing us abandoned in an unpayable debt that would lead to eternal doom, out of His great love, He became man precisely so that He could pay back our debt on our behalf. The great theologian Saint Anselm wrote an entire treatise entitled, Cur Deus Homo? (Why did God become Man?), and concluded that God became man so that He could pay back the debt we owed but could not pay, so to reconcile us to God in a Person Who Himself is the perfect union of God and humanity. Consider this too: if God is the source of all life, and sin means that we turn our back on God, then what are we choosing? Death. In fact, Saint Paul says that “the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). And sin brings about the death of the whole person. We can see that lust can lead to STDs and broken hearts; we know that gluttony can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, envy leads to dissatisfaction with the gifts God has given us, greed can cause us to overwork and self-indulge, and pride can rupture our relationships with one another and with God. Sin, then, is truly deadly! It takes a death, then, to restore us to life. As an ancient Holy Saturday homily put it from the perspective of Jesus, “Look at the spittle on my face, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.” Finally, I believe that His death was necessary to show us the depths of His love. If He had merely pricked His finger and shed a single drop of His Precious Blood (which would have been enough to save us), we would think that He didn’t love us all that much. But, as Saint Padre Pio said: “The proof of love is to suffer for the one you love.” When we behold the incredible sufferings that Jesus endured for us, we can never doubt for a moment that God loves us. God loves us so much that He would rather die than spend eternity without us. In addition, His suffering gives us comfort and consolation in our suffering. There is no agony and pain that we can endure that He hasn’t already gone through. Are you in physical pain? So was He. Do you have a headache? His Head was crowned with thorns. Are you feeling lonely and abandoned? All of His friends left Him and denied Him. Do you feel ashamed? He was stripped naked for all to jeer. Do you struggle with anxiety and fears? He was so anxious that He sweat blood in the Garden. Have you been so hurt by others that you cannot forgive? He asked His Father to forgive the men driving nails into His hands. Do you feel like God has abandoned you? Jesus Himself cried out: “O God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” So we can never say: “God, you don’t know what I’m going through!” Because He can always respond: “Yes, I do, my beloved child. I’ve been there—and I am suffering with you right now.” What a consolation to know that the Cross has brought God near to those who suffer, that it has shown us the depths of God’s infinite love for us and the great lengths He would go to rescue us, and that it has paid back the debt of our sins so that we can stand before Him, forgiven and redeemed!
By: Father Joseph GillMore
They say that pearls are formed around an intrusion, an unwanted foreign object that finds its way into its deeply protected shell. Once a foreign object enters the oyster shell, it secretes layers of the same luminous substance that is used to create the innermost part of its own shell. It continues to do so in concentric layers, eventually forming a shiny round pearl. Oysters are not much to look at, and producing a pearl is not an oyster’s ultimate purpose. Yet, in the course of survival, as a device of self-protection, the oyster builds itself around an unexpected intrusion to bring forth beauty. Amid the peace of a smooth-going life, when unwanted intrusions enter my heart and soul and threaten to eat me from within, does the oyster give me a lesson worth trying out? When failures, insurmountable barriers, any and every burden that was not mine in the first place end up within me by chance or by choice, can I secrete around it a thin layer of my innermost being? I have found that if I try hard enough to point myself to The Giver of Eternal Love, my innermost being will be slowly filled with His being. As I gaze at the Eucharist for endless hours with nothing but gratitude, as I receive The Host into my soul with the greatest desire, as I sit down at His feet and listen with trust, that self-giving Love will slowly fill my soul. Henceforth, with every little piece of disturbance that enters and threatens to disturb my peace, this Love within will cover it, one layer at a time. Eventually, precious pearls of saintly luminosity will be pried forth by The Expert Hand and adorn many lives with it.
By: Maria Teres SebastianMore
Trials in life can be exhausting...but life offers us signs to help us fight and survive Over the years in spiritual direction, as I have listened to people share their struggles, one thing often repeated is the sense that God has abandoned them or is distant and aloof when they are going through trials. “What am I doing wrong? Why has God put me through this? Where is He in all of this?” Often people think that once they have had a serious conversion and get close to Jesus, their life is going to be problem-free. But the Lord never promised that. In fact, God’s Word is clear on this. Thorns and Thistles In Sirach 2:1, it says, “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials” (that whole chapter is a great one to read, by the way). The apostles also tried to prepare new Christians for this truth as they spread the Gospel. We read in Acts 14:22, “They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many trials to enter the Kingdom of God.’” As we grow in our relationship with God and get more serious about obeying His Word, we are going to be faced with some serious challenges and hardships. We are going to have to make decisions and take stands that make us unpopular. People are going to misunderstand us. Not everyone is going to like us. If you want everyone to like you, forget trying to follow Jesus. Why? Because to live the Gospel life as Jesus preached it to us is to go against our culture. Jesus Himself warns us of this “If the world hates you, realize that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). So yes, we must pass through many trials and hardships in this life. But as I remind people in spiritual direction, God never leaves us on our own in those difficult times. He wants to give us encouragement and help along the way so that we persevere and come through the storms of life stronger and more convinced of His deep and abiding love for us. God is trustworthy! Reading the Signs Think about the example of the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. He went against the crowd and took a strong stand against idolatry when he confronted the false prophets of Baal. After the dramatic and wildly successful confrontation, Queen Jezebel was furious and determined to kill Elijah. Fearing for his life, Elijah fled in haste to the desert. He collapsed under a broom tree, exhausted, depressed, and wanting to die. That’s when God sent an angel to bring him food and water. The angel said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you” (1 Kings, 18 and 19). God knows exactly what we need. He knew that Elijah needed to sleep, eat, and recover after a stressful event. The Lord knows what you need. God wants to meet our needs and encourage us. However, we have to be attentive to how He might be doing that. Many times I think we miss His attempts to communicate with us. The Lord did not speak to Elijah in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. But in the “sound of sheer silence,” is when Elijah encountered God. Lilies Everywhere Some years ago, I was going through a time of difficult trials and desolation. Life felt very heavy and burdensome. One Saturday, a young friend of mine went out horseback riding and found a white lily-like flower in the desert and brought it back and gave it to me. The next day, I was walking down the street in El Paso and saw an artificial white lily lying on the ground. I picked it up and took it home with me. The following day I came across another white lily-type flower growing near a sidewalk. Three white lilies in three days. I knew there was a message in this from the Lord, but I did not know exactly what He was trying to say. As I reflected on it, a memory suddenly came back to me. Many years ago, when I was a new missionary in our community, we were having Mass at our Youth Center. After Communion, I was praying with my eyes closed. Someone tapped me on my shoulder. Startled out of my prayer, I looked up and saw the priest standing there. He said to me, “The Lord wants you to know that you are a lily in His eyes.” And then, the priest went back to the altar and sat back down. I did not really know that priest yet, and he never shared any other message like that with me again. But I stored it in my heart as a special word from the Lord to encourage me. Now, all these years later, that memory came back to me, and now I understood the lilies. The Lord wanted to encourage me during the tough time I was going through. He was reminding me that I am His lily and that He loves me very much. It filled my heart with some much-needed peace and reassurance that I was not going through the storms alone. God was faithfully going to see me through them. Pay Attention God knows you by name. You are His beloved child. He sees you and knows all that you are going through. He wants to communicate His love to you, but usually, the signs come softly and gently. We can miss them if we are not paying attention. I could have missed that message of love with the lilies. I could have thought they were just a coincidence. But I knew it was more than a coincidence, and I wanted to know the message. God revealed it to me as I pondered in my heart what the meaning might be. And when I understood it, it gave me consolation and strength to endure. So I encourage you—persevere through the trials. Don’t quit! And look for those little signs of God’s love and encouragement along the way. I guarantee you they are there. We just need to open our eyes and ears and pay attention.
By: Ellen HogartyMore
Does your struggles seem endless? When desperation clutches your heart, what do you do? I was sitting in an over-sized chair wringing my hands and waiting for the Psychologist to enter the room. I wanted to get up and run. The Psychologist greeted me, asked a few basic questions, and then the counseling session began. He held a tablet and pen. Every time I said something or made a hand gesture, he jotted notes on the tablet. After a short time, I knew from the bottom of my heart that he would determine I was beyond help. The session ended with the suggestion that I take tranquilizers to help me cope with the mess of my life. I told him I would think about it; but instinctively I knew that was not a solution. Desperate and Lonely At the receptionist desk to schedule another appointment, I rambled on and on to the receptionist about the mess of my life. She had a kind listening ear and asked if I had ever considered going to an Al-Anon meeting. She explained that Al-Anon was for family members whose lives are being affected by someone's alcoholism. She handed me a name and phone number and told me that this Al-Anon lady would bring me to a meeting. In my car, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I stared at the name and phone number. Having gotten no relief from the psychologist, and with my life in a mess, I was desperate to try anything. I also concluded that the psychologist had already diagnosed me as beyond the help of anything but pills. So, I called the Al-Anon lady. That is the moment God entered the mess of my life, and my journey of recovery began. I would like to say it was smooth sailing after beginning recovery in the Al-Anon 12-step program, but there were steep mountains and dark, lonely valleys to traverse, though always with a ray of hope. I faithfully attended two Al-Anon meetings per week. The Al-Anon 12-step program became my lifeline. I opened up to the other members. Little by little, a ray of sunshine entered my life. I began to pray again and to trust in God. After two years of Al-Anon meetings, I knew I needed additional professional help. A kind Al-Anon friend encouraged me to enter a 30-day inpatient treatment program. Letting go Because I was angry at alcohol, I did not want to be around any of the “drunks” in this treatment program. During the intensive program, I was indeed surrounded by many alcoholics and drug addicts. It seems God knew what I needed to heal: my heart began to soften as I witnessed the personal pain of my fellow addicts and the deep pain they had caused their families. It was during this time of surrender that I also came to terms with my own alcoholism. I learned that I drank to cover my pain. I came to realize that I too had been abusing alcohol and that it would be best if I refrained from drinking altogether. During that month I let go of my anger towards my husband and placed him in God's hands. After I did that, I was able to forgive him. After my 30-day program, by the grace of God, my husband entered a treatment program for his alcoholism. Life was getting better for me and my husband and our two teenage boys. We had returned to the Catholic Church and our marriage was healing one day at a time. Heart-wrenching Pain Then life handed us an unimaginable blow that shattered our hearts into a million pieces. Our seventeen-year-old son and his friend were killed in a devastating car wreck. The accident was caused by excessive speed and drinking. We were in shock for weeks. With our son violently ripped from us, our family of four was suddenly reduced to three. My husband and I and our 15-year-old son clung to each other, to our friends and our faith. Taking it one day at a time was more than I could manage; I had to take it a minute, an hour at a time. I thought the pain would never leave us. By God's grace, we entered an extended period of counseling. The kind and caring counselor, knowing that each family member deals with the death of a loved one in their own way and in their own time, worked with each of us individually to process our grief. Months after my son's death, I was still consumed with anger and rage. It was frightening for me to realize that my emotions were so wildly out of control. I wasn't angry at God for taking my son, but at my son for his irresponsible decision the night he died. He chose to drink alcohol and to be a passenger in an automobile that was driven by someone who was also drinking. I became enraged at alcohol in any form. One day at our local supermarket, I spotted a beer display at the end of an aisle. Each time I passed the display, I felt myself rage. I wanted to demolish the display until there was nothing left of it. I rushed out of the store before my anger exploded into uncontrollable rage. I shared the story with our family counselor. He offered to take me to the shooting range where I could use his rifle to aim, shoot, and demolish as many empty beer cans as I needed to safely release the powerful anger that controlled me. Love that heals But God in His infinite wisdom had other gentler plans for me. I took a week off from work and attended a spiritual retreat. On the second day of the retreat, I participated in an inner healing meditation in which I pictured Jesus, my son, and I in a beautiful garden surrounded by colorful flowers, rich green grass, and magnificent trees filled with softly chirping blue birds. It was peaceful and serene. I was overjoyed to be in the presence of Jesus and to be able to hug my precious son. Jesus, my son, and I strolled leisurely hand in hand, silently feeling an immense love flowing between us. After the meditation, I felt profound peace. It wasn't until after I returned home from the retreat that I realized my anger and rage had evaporated. Jesus had healed me of my uncontrollable anger and replaced it with an outpouring of His grace. Instead of anger, I felt only love for my precious son. I was grateful for the love, joy, and happiness my son had given me throughout his much too short life. My heavy burden was becoming lighter. When tragic death strikes a family, every member can be overcome with grief. Processing the loss is challenging, requiring us walk through dark valleys. But God's love and His amazing grace can bring rays of sunshine and hope back into our lives. Grief, saturated by God's love changes us from the inside out, transforming us little by little into people of love and compassion. Unfailing Hope Through many years of dealing with the effects of addiction and the craziness that brings, coupled with grieving the death my son, I have clung to Jesus Christ, my rock, and my salvation. Our marriage suffered tremendously after the death of our son. But by the grace of God and our willingness to seek help, we continue, one day at a time, to love and accept each other. It takes daily surrender, trust, acceptance, prayer and clinging to the hope we have in Jesus Christ, our Savior, and our Lord. We each have a story to tell. Often it is a story of heartache, challenge, and sorrow, with a mix of joy, and hope. We are all seeking God, whether we acknowledge it or not. As Saint Augustine said: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” In our search for God many of us have taken detours that led to dark and lonely places. Some of us have avoided the detours and sought a deeper relationship with Jesus. But no matter what you are going through currently in your life, there is hope and healing. At every moment God is seeking us. All we need do is reach out our hand and let Him take it and lead us. “When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you. I, the Lord, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.” Isaiah 43: 2-3
By: Connie BeckmanMore
Freelance artist Holly Rodriguez had been an atheist all her life and never thought about God or considered joining a religion or even going to church, but one day… It was December of 2016, I had woken up one winter morning wanting nothing more than my usual cup of coffee. I had been an atheist all of my life. I had never thought about God and certainly never considered joining a religion or going to church. However on that day, for no reason at all, I felt a sudden desire to go to church. There was nothing unusual going on in my life to bring about this sudden change of heart. I had been living a fairly normal, quiet life as a freelance artist in a small seaside town in Kent, England. I searched for the closest church that was open that day and found a Roman Catholic church within walking distance. That was a surprise.Although I had passed that area many times, I had never noticed a church there before. It’s amazing how blind we are to the presence of God, and how near He is to us, when we walk the path of life with a closed heart. Ringing Back I phoned the church and a kind lady answered the phone.She introduced herself as the parish secretary and I asked her some questions which she was happy to answer. She told me the church was Catholic and that she would let the priest know I had phoned and we said our goodbyes. I was shy and didn’t know what to expect. I’ve always been one of those people who likes to know everything about a situation before making a decision. I didn’t know what a Catholic Church was, and had never met a priest before. I decided to take the day off work and learn about the Catholic faith, so did a lot of reading on Wikipedia for a few hours. Then my phone rang.On the other line was a kind voice—a priest who introduced himself as Father Mark. He was very friendly and enthusiastic which came as a shock to me. I had never in my life met someone so eager to meet me and welcome me. We scheduled a time for me to visit the church the next day. When I had arrived, Father Mark was there in his cassock to greet me. It was the first time I’d seen a priest in person and I remember being really fascinated by his cassock. I guess I’d never thought about what a priest looks like. I had only seen the Pope briefly on the television news occasionally, but never anything beyond that. Father Mark sat with me and we talked for a couple of hours, then he invited me to join the “RCIA” classes. He also suggested that it was a good idea to start going to Mass right away, so I did. I can recall the first Mass I ever went to. It was Gaudete Sunday and I sat in the very front pew, absolutely clueless to the etiquette. Everyone around me was standing and then sitting and then standing again and sometimes kneeling, and reciting the creed and other prayers. I was new and found this a bit intimidating, but also fascinating and intriguing. I followed what everyone else was doing to the best of my ability. The priest was wearing a beautiful rose vestment that looked very ornate and delicate. He chanted at the altar and I watched and listened closely as incense filled the chapel. It was a very beautiful English Mass, and from then on I knew I’d come back. Straight to the Heart I liked it so much that I kept going back every weekend and even started attending daily Mass. My love for Jesus grew at every encounter. During my first Christmas Eve Mass, the priest tenderly carried the Christ Child statue, wrapped in his ivory satin cope the way that priests hold a monstrance.As he processed around the chapel with the Infant Christ to the crib, accompanied by the chanting of prayers, I was moved to tears. I thought that was so lovely. Never in my life had I seen anything like it before. As I prepared to be received into the Catholic Church, I spent a lot of time reading at home, especially from the catechism given to me by the priests of the parish. A week before my baptism that I was told I’d need to choose a Saint for my confirmation. There were thousands of Saints however, and didn’t know how I’d choose from them all. I knew nothing about them except for Saint Philomena because the priest did a homily on her one Sunday morning. By divine providence I came across a fascinating book, “Interior Castles” while I was volunteering in the parish café. It was written by a Spanish Saint I’d never even heard of before—the Carmelite nun, Saint Teresa of Avila. Since my family is of Spanish heritage, I chose her as my patron although I didn’t know much else about her. Finally, during the Easter vigil Mass on April 15th 2017, I was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church. I was so excited that I could now receive the Blessed Sacrament at the altar rail, instead of a blessing that I was up bright and early on Easter Sunday to sing with the choir at the main Mass. Soon after, I joined the Legion of Mary and began praying the Rosary, making Rosaries and doing mission work around the town to bring the lapsed Catholics back to Mass and pray the Rosary with people at home. Saint Teresa remained a guiding influence in my life, teaching me to love Jesus more and more, but I had no idea who the Carmelites were until I joined our parish on a day pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Simon Stock at Aylesford Priory, a historic home of the Carmelite friars. A Radical Change Years later, I would stumble upon another Spaniard, Saint Josemaria Escriva who also had a great love for Saint Teresa of Avila and the Carmelites. He was the founder of Opus Dei, a prelature within the Catholic Church, which I joined as a co-operator, with a mission to pray for the members and priests. I felt God calling me to a deeper commitment, but didn’t know if that was with Opus Dei, or in religious life as a nun.A priest friend told me that I had to make up my mind and choose which path to take, that I couldn’t stay suspended in uncertainty forever. He was right, so I began to pray and fast, listening to God’s call. My life had gone through a lot of changes in a short period of time and I suffered a dark night of the soul. My Cross felt very heavy, but I knew that if I kept persevering in my faith, all would be well. I had to let go of the need for total control, allow God to lead the way and stop fighting against His will.I had been too caught up in my own ego and desires to really listen to Him. When that epiphany came, I decided to let go and live each day as it came to me, as a gift from God and to let Him lead the way. I adopted the philosophy that God places us where we are in life because that is where He needs us at that specific time. I made myself an instrument to His divine will. When I abandoned myself to Him, God showed me that everything had happened that way because He was calling me from the very start. Lead Kindly Light I kept receiving gifts from the Saints which were leading me to Carmel. One day, I was entranced by a bright pink rose growing out of the cement. Later I discovered that it was the birthday of Saint Thèrése of Lisieux who said that she would send people roses as a sign from Heaven. That same day, I was in a secular incense shop when I came across a box of pretty rose scented incense sticks with an image of St Thèrése of Lisieux on the box. These little signs helped plant seeds of vocation and seeds of faith. As I write this, I am about to celebrate my 6th anniversary as a Catholic and preparing to enter the sacred garden of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Accepting this vocation to be a cloistered nun, if God wills it to be so, I spend my life praying for the Church, for the world, and for priests. It has been a long journey, and I have met so many wonderful people along the way. Saint Thèrése of Lisieux referred to Carmel as her desert where Our Lord spent forty days in contemplation and prayer, but for me it is the garden of Gethsemane where Our Lord sat among the olive trees in agony. I join Him in His agony with unbridled love, and walk with Him on the Via Dolorosa. Together we suffer for souls and offer the world our love.
By: Holly RodriguezMore
Saying “Yes” to God is the best decision you can ever make! “Please help,” pleaded the church lady making the announcements after Mass, “we desperately need teachers for the junior high religious education program.” I pretended not to hear. We had just moved back to Arizona from Illinois, and the oldest of our five children was entering high school. Each Sunday, the same simple entreaty. God must have been working on me week after week. I knew I was adding five kids to the roster; after all, maybe I should help. My resolve faded, and I signed up. I’ve always said that I wasn’t born with a “no” gene, and organizations can see me coming a mile away. This newest yes is a point in case. “I’m a cradle Catholic; how hard could teaching kids be?” Over the next couple of years, youth ministers popped in and out. After the most recent departure, our Pastor approached me and stated that my fellow volunteer teachers had recommended me to take over as youth minister. Me? Are you willing to try? Again, that missing no-gene failed to save me. God works in mysterious ways, and within a few weeks, I was the new junior high church lady. I previously assumed that only Priests and Nuns could work for the Catholic Church. I remember thinking how awesome it would be to work in such a holy environment with like-minded co-workers in the Lord’s Vineyard. It did not take long for that fantasy to be eradicated. Shortly into my new gig, I had the distressing realization that someone who worked for the Church must be someone who had answers to tough questions and possessed theological smarts. That thought terrified me. I had no background or education in anything churchy. The reality that I was dumb as dirt when it came to faith invaded me every waking moment. Over forty years of being a Catholic and I knew squat. I was unaware of the often quoted line in which God equips those he calls. It was that very fear; however, that propelled me into action. Attending college was not an option. This meant I needed to get creative. I came across a cassette from Sister Gloria when one son was in her kindergarten class. For eight years, I never made the time to listen to it. Something compelled me to do so now. It was called “The Conversion Story of Dr. Scott Hahn.” I had no idea who Dr. Hahn was, but in a quiet moment, I pushed play. This Presbyterian minister’s journey for truth was fascinating, which brought him into the Catholic Church. I craved more. About that time, we were made aware of a Catholic family conference in California happening that summer. I had never heard of most speakers, but Dr. Hahn would be there. My husband was intrigued as well, and we brought the whole family. Speakers such as Tim Staples, Jesse Romero, Steve Ray, and so many other converts inspired us, fanning the embers of our hearts. We bought books and cassettes on many topics, including apologetics and the art of defending the faith. The kids were excited, and so were we. A passion was starting to burn in us that we simply did not have before. Year after year, we would invite other families to join us at the family conference, and they too would be set aflame. I needed to be certified as a youth minister. Once again, God provided, and I attended the St. John Bosco summer conference at Franciscan University. This was all a new adventure to me. I had never experienced God through prayer, worship, adoration, catechesis, and incredible speakers. I hungered for more with a voracity previously inexperienced. With every precious morsel I consumed, I desired more. How could I be this old and so ignorant of God and my faith? Contrary to what people imagine, expanding your knowledge and love of God isn’t boring. It was stimulating and inspiring. My relationship with God was finally being fed. The Mass came alive for us. The joy and increase in faith were evident to all I encountered. My enthusiastic passion invaded all aspects of my life, especially ministry work. God generously blessed my, yes, and the fruit was abounding. All along, God had been moving me closer to Him, laying the breadcrumbs that brought me closer step by step. Twenty-one years later, I still work for the Catholic Church but am now in Marriage Preparation. I still pursue many avenues of continuing to stoke that fire that was set ablaze so many years ago. My endless gratitude goes to those converts who, at all costs, pursued truth and were open to where God led them. They will never know how many lives God impacted by their yes, and by extension, mine. And those five little kids were married in the Church and are raising their children to know God and love their Catholic faith. My husband, too, has been a Deacon for ten years. All glory to you, oh Lord. You are so generous and good to us; you knew the best route to set my heart on fire. I cannot thank you enough. “Moreover, God can make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8) Through suffering and prayer, everything you have given me has led me ever closer to you and all those whom you have placed on my path. Thank you Lord!
By: Barbara LishkoMore
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