22 years of torturous wait for a baby could not diminish Victoria’s filial devotion to Our Lady. And then Mary smiled
I grew up not knowing much about Mother Mary because my parents didn’t say much about her, but when I began Catechism classes and went to school at a Salesian convent, I came to know her better, especially the devotion to her as Mary, Help of Christians. Thanks to the nuns who taught me to pray the Rosary, I learned that reciting the Rosary is not just a repetition of prayers, but a meditation on the Word of God enabling us to get closer to Jesus. From then on, I never hit the bed without reciting a Rosary.
Where’s the Good News?
Once I finished my studies, I became a teacher in a good Catholic school, where I became closer to Our Lady through the nuns who taught there and the spiritual retreats they organized for the staff. When I wanted to settle down and find a life partner, I sought her powerful intercession and soon I met my husband, Christopher at a faith education seminar. Thanks to Our Lady, we have been happily married for the past 28 years.
The initial days of our marriage were filled with fun, frolic and love but as the months passed by, people around us began to ask, “Why isn’t there any good news?” I assured them that “In God’s own time there will be.” That saved me from further questions, but as the years went by, a fear crept into my heart as no good news resulted. Medical investigations only found that my uterus was retroverted, which might be delaying pregnancy, but the doctor advised us that this would change if we followed their guidelines. But still, month by month passed by without change. There were days when I felt very gloomy and sad, but the love of Mary and my husband lifted me at those low points.
Pouring Out My Heart
I spent a lot on different medications based on advice from my friends and family, but to no avail. Then I began to approach Mary rather than visit more doctors, taking up all kinds of novenas suggested by my friends. I walked 24 kilometers for nine days to Saint Mary’s Basilica, but still there was no sign of pregnancy, although I was given an inner strength that kept us moving forward. We were blessed to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where we continued our petitions. I remember visiting the grotto of Our Lady (or Milk Grotto) where, according to tradition, the Holy Family sought refuge on their way to exile in Egypt. A drop of milk is said to have fallen from Our Lady’s breast as she fed baby Jesus, turning the cave from reddish stone into chalky white. Many women come here to pray for a child, or a better milk supply. Standing there, I wept bitterly, overwhelmed by a deep sense of loss. None of the other pilgrims could console me.
My husband and I decided to seek work abroad, so that we could afford to visit other pilgrimage sites, like Lourdes and other beautiful places in the world. Resigning from such a wonderful school after 14 years of service was the hardest part, but we wanted a change because we hadn’t quite given up hope. Somewhere in the corner of my heart, I still believed, although I couldn’t see how. We picked up jobs in Dubai where we totally entrusted our lives to the care of our dear Mother Mary, asking for her intercession as we continued our journey of life in this new soil. Although the church was a long way from where we lived, we never missed Holy Mass.
At Mass on New Year’s Eve, 2015, a tray with promise cards was passed around. My promise card had the verses from Genesis, chapter 30, verse 23, which speaks about Rachel’s barrenness and how God removed her disgrace. I just smiled. When Sarah heard the angelic visitors say that, “This time next year Sarah will bear a child,” she laughed because it seemed so impossible. I felt the same way, but I went back home and read through the entirety of Genesis, chapter 30.
It related the story of the two sisters – Leah, who was able to bear children, and Rachel who could not. She beseeched the Lord to open her womb and He heard her prayer, enabling her to bear two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. We went back to India to visit our families for a vacation but on our return, I felt unwell. So I went to the doctor for a check-up, thinking that my blood pressure was fluctuating.
The doctor ordered tests, which revealed the astonishing news that I was pregnant!
This was both exciting and disconcerting. We had both signed five-year contracts, so we would have to pay a hefty penalty if we broke them. Due to my advanced age, there was no insurance coverage for my maternity either, so if we stayed in the Gulf for my husband to work, it would be very costly, and we couldn’t bear to be parted just as our prayers for a child had finally been fulfilled after 22 long years. So, once again, we turned to our dear Mother Mary to pray for a solution to our dilemma.
One day, the Chairman sent a car to our flat asking us to come to her residence. Wondering what this could possibly be about, we were amazed to hear her cheerfully say, “It’s better that both of you resign and go back to India.” We were so delighted and astonished that we could hardly believe it, but we didn’t forget to give thanks to the Lord and to our beloved Mother for being with us in prayer for all that time.
Waiting for a Miracle?
My doctors in Bangalore expected a difficult pregnancy at my time of life, but thanks to Mary’s powerful intercession, I had a wonderful pregnancy without any complications. Of course the doctors were surprised that I was heading towards a normal delivery, but they still wanted to perform a caesarean section because I was pregnant with twins at an advanced age. We cooperated and on Easter Sunday, we were delighted to thank God for blessing us with our twin babies— Carlton and Vanessa—a better gift than any Easter egg. If you have been waiting for a miracle in your life, I want to encourage you to be strong in faith. Don’t give up. Keep going back to God with your petitions and ask Mary to join you in prayer. God always hears our prayers and never denies us an answer.
Ave Maria! All Glory to God!
This ARTICLE is based on the testimony shared by Victoria Christopher for the Shalom World program “Mary My Mother”. To watch the episode visit: shalomworld.org/show/mary-my-mother-2
Feb 23, 2023
Feb 23, 2023
Nothing makes him so proud as to be called a ‘Mummy’s boy’. Rob O’ Hara narrates his beautiful life story of living close to the Mother of God
Where did it all begin?
Many years ago as a little boy, I grew up in Dublin as an only child with fantastic parents. They loved to pray the Rosary every single day without hesitation. Father Patrick Payton’s motto, “The Family that prays together, stays together” was the catch cry of my home life.
I first remember encountering Our Lady when I was a little boy. Mum and Dad had invited people over to pray the Rosary in the month of May, Mary’s month. It didn’t mean much to me, but all of a sudden, as I sat among the crowd of people praying the Rosary, I felt a strong desire to pray. The scent of roses filled the air and I felt the presence of Our Lady. When the Rosary was finished, I felt the urge to keep praying and urged people to stay for longer, “Let’s pray another Rosary, Our Lady is here.” So, we prayed another Rosary, but that still wasn’t enough. People began to leave, but I stayed there and prayed another 10-15 Rosaries in the company of Our Lady. I didn’t see Her, but I knew She was there.
When I was four or five years old, I experienced Our Lady’s grace and help for the first time in a tangible way. Back in the 80s, unemployment was high. My father had lost his job, and since he was in his mid-forties it wasn’t easy to get another one. I heard this story many times growing up, so the details are clear in my mind. My parents turned to Our Lady with trust. They started praying a Rosary Novena and at the end of the novena, my Dad got the job he really wanted.
When I hit my teens, I started noticing that faith, prayer and even talking about Our Lady was not “cool”. So I stopped praying the Rosary and found excuses not to be there when my parents prayed it. Sad to say, I fell into the secular world and really threw myself into that. I forgot about the peace, joy, and fulfillment I had found in prayer as a young boy and into my early teens. I threw myself into sports, socializing, and eventually, into my career. I was successful and popular, but I always had a gnawing emptiness inside me. I was longing for something, but I didn’t know what it was. I would come home to see my Mum and Dad praying the Rosary, and would laugh to myself and walk past.
When this nagging emptiness continued to blight my life, I wondered why this void wouldn’t leave me, no matter what I did. Although I had a good job, I was being bullied so badly, I was falling into depression. One day, after another terrible day, I came home to see my parents on their knees, praying the Rosary as usual. They turned to me with delight and asked me to join them in prayer. I couldn’t think of an excuse, so I said, “Okay.” I picked up the rosary beads that were once so familiar to my touch and I bowed my head in prayer.
Under Mary’s Mantle
I went to Mass where some old friends noticed me sitting at the back of the church, so they invited me to join them at a prayer meeting. When I went, I was surprised to find other young people praying the Rosary. As I knelt to pray, all these delightful childhood memories of me praying this beautiful prayer flashed through my mind. Since I had broken that relationship with my “Mother” I had not talked with her for a very long time. I started pouring out my heart to Our Lady, regularly praying the Rosary on the way to work.
Back in the motherly embrace of Mother Mary, all the dark areas of my life and the heaviness started drifting away and I started to have a great time at work. When I realized just how much Our Lady loved me, I started pouring out more and more of my heart to her. I felt enveloped in her blue mantle surrounded by peace and calm.
People started to notice how happy I was and asked me what had changed. “Oh, I’m praying The Rosary again.” I’m sure my friends thought this was a little strange for a young man in his early 20s, but they could see how happy I was. The more I prayed, the more I fell in love with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the Eucharist. As my relationship with Jesus grew and I turned more and more to Jesus, I started getting involved in Catholic youth movements in Ireland like Pure in Heart and Youth 2000. I devoured books like “Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary” and “True Devotion to Mary” by Saint Louis De Montfort. His motto “Totus Tuus” which Saint Pope John Paul II had adopted, struck me deeply. I also said to Our Lady, “I give myself totally to you.” My faith grew as it was nurtured by these great organizations and I felt a superabundance of joy. I thought, “This is Heaven, this is great!”
Finding “the one”
I knew in my heart that I had a vocation to get married, but I just wasn’t meeting the right lady at that time. So I turned to Our Lady and asked her, “Help me find the perfect wife for me so that we can pray to you and love your Son together more deeply.” I prayed this prayer every day and I started thanking Jesus and Mary for my future wife, and the children I hoped we would blessed with. Three months later, I met my future wife, Bernie.
On my first date I said to her, “Let’s go into the church and pray the Rosary to Our Lady.”
Bernie could have said no, but she said, “Yes, let’s do that” and we knelt down before the statue of Our Lady and prayed the Rosary together. That was the best first date I have ever had and the last first date I ever had! Throughout our courtship we prayed the Rosary everyday to Our Lady and Saint Joseph to help us prepare for the sacrament and to be with us in our marriage. We got married in Rome and it was the best day of our lives. Shortly afterwards, Bernie conceived. When our little girl, Lucy was born, we consecrated her to Our Lady on her Baptism day.
In the early years of our marriage, I left my job in the corporate banking world. It wasn’t the place for me for many reasons. While I was unemployed, trying to pay the rent and raise a young child, we prayed the Rosary for the right job to come. Eventually, our prayers were answered with a wonderful job for a charity organization called Human Life International. Glory to God and thanks to Our Lady!
We were further delighted when Bernie conceived twin boys, however sixteen weeks into the pregnancy, we rushed into the hospital with Bernie in pain. Scans revealed that the twins wouldn’t survive. But instead of despairing, we turned to Our Lady. She was with us, encouraging us to really lean on her. We prayed that she would intercede for a miraculous healing. The week we spent in hospital, we were joyful, joking and laughing. We were so full of hope and never in despair.
The hospital staff were amazed that this young couple going through such a difficult time were somehow keeping their joy and hope. I would kneel down at the bed and we would pray the Rosary, entreating Our Lady to be with us. We entrusted the twins to the care of Jesus and Mary, but on the 6th day we miscarried, and we entrusted our boys into their loving care. It was a difficult day. We got to hold them and bury them. But Our Lady was with us in our sorrow. When I felt weak, like I was crumbling on the ground, Our Lady held me up. When I saw my wife cry and knew that I had to stay strong, it was Our Lady who helped me.
While we were still grieving, we went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. On the first day, we unexpectedly discovered that the Mass celebrant was our very good friend, Father Rory. Although he didn’t know we were there, his homily seemed to be directed at us. He described how a celebrity coped by picking up his Rosary when he tragically lost his young friend. The Rosary took him through that dark place. For us, that was a confirmation—a message from Jesus and Mary; we could get through this difficult time by turning to them and praying the Rosary.
Two years later, we were blessed with another lovely little girl, Gemma. Afterwards, my father took ill and while he was on his death bed, my wife encouraged me to ask him who his favorite saint was. When I asked him, a beautiful smile lit up his face as he answered tenderly, “Mary…. because she is my mother.” I’ll never forget that. It was very near the end of his life and joy just radiated from him at the thought of what awaited him.
Jan 18, 2023
Jan 18, 2023
On August 6, 1945 during World War II, an atomic bomb was dropped on the town of Hiroshima, Japan. 140,000 people were killed or injured. In the midst of the devastation, near the hypocenter of the attack, eight Jesuit missionaries who were in their rectory survived.
None suffered hearing loss from the explosion. Their church, Our Lady of the Assumption, suffered the destruction of its stained glass windows but did not fall; it was one of only a few buildings left standing in the midst of widespread destruction.
Not only were the clerics kept safe from the initial blast — they suffered no ill effects from the harmful radiation. Doctors who cared for them after the blast warned that radiation poisoning to which they had been exposed would cause serious lesions, illness and even death. But 200 medical exams in the ensuing years showed no ill effects, confounding the doctors who had predicted dire consequences.
Father Schiffer, who was only 30 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, told his story 31 years later, at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia in 1976. At the time, all eight members of the Jesuit community who had lived through the bombing were still alive. Before the gathered faithful, he reminisced about celebrating Mass in the early morning, then sitting down in the rectory kitchen for breakfast. He had just sliced and dug his spoon into a grapefruit when there was a bright flash of light. At first, he thought it might be an explosion in the nearby harbour. Then he described the experience:
“Suddenly, a terrific explosion filled the air with one bursting thunder stroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me, whirled me round and round like a leaf in a gust of autumn wind.”
Next thing he remembered was that he opened his eyes and found himself on the ground. He looked around, and saw there was nothing left in any direction: the railroad station and buildings in all directions were gone.
Not only did they all survive with (at most) relatively minor injuries, but they all lived well past that awful day with no radiation sickness, no loss of hearing, or any other visible long term defects or maladies. Asked why they believe they were spared, when so many others died either from the explosion or from the subsequent radiation, Father Schiffer spoke for himself and for his companions:
“We believe that we survived because we were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home.”
Nov 12, 2022
Nov 12, 2022
The Rosary Stops a Serial Killer
Much has been written about the notorious serial killer, Ted Bundy. But here is a story that is only now gaining wide attention. And it gives powerful witness to the miraculous power of the rosary.
On January 15, 1978, after taking the lives of two college students living in the Chi Omega sorority house of Florida State University, Bundy began combing the house for more victims. Carrying a bat, Bundy entered the room of his intended next victim, but suddenly stopped where he stood. Then he suddenly dropped the bat and left.
The police wanted to know why this girl had survived the attack—why had Bundy stopped just inside her room and fled? The girl agreed to speak with the police, but only if there was a priest in the room. So,the officers called a nearby parish. Though he was not the priest on call that night, the phone rang in the room of Fr. William Kerr (later Msgr. Kerr) and he quickly rushed to the scene.
The traumatized girl told the priest of a promise she had made to her grandmother when she had left home to start college. Each night, no matter how late she went to bed, she would pray the Rosary, to invoke the protection of the Blessed Mother. Yes, every night, even if she fell asleep after just a few decades. And in fact, that’s what had happened the night of the killings. Though sound asleep, she still clutched the rosary in her hands when Bundy entered her room. She stirred and saw a bat-wielding man standing over her. Without thinking, she opened her hands, exposing the rosary. Bundy saw the beads and immediately left.
Weeks later, Fr. Kerr received another late-night call, though again he was not the priest on duty. This time, the caller was the warden of the nearby prison. Bundy had just been apprehended and requested to speak with a priest. Fr. Kerr met with Bundy that night and continued to receive regular calls from him up to and including the night before Bundy’s execution, when he thanked Fr. Kerr for the help he had given him.
Bundy confessed to having committed over thirty murders in his lifetime. But one life, the life of a young girl who had made a promise to her grandmother, that life he didn’t take. Was that life spared because rosary beads fell from her hands? Bundy never said. But we can be sure that there is power in the Rosary, that there is safety under the mantle of Mary’s protection, and that there is spiritual growth and sustenance that comes from praying the mysteries of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
Oct 08, 2022
Oct 08, 2022
Want to know the easiest way to Heaven?
My mother and grandmother had a great devotion to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart. As children, we prayed often to Mary for the many things we needed. Even when we were trying to find a lost doll or a bike that was stolen, we turned to Our Lady. My father used to work in the construction sector. When work was scarce, which it often was, my mother prayed to Mary, and inevitably, a short time later, a contractor would call offering work for my father.
Because we thought it was too long, most of us kids ran and hid whenever we heard the word “Rosary”. But our mother would eventually find us and bring us together to pray. Unfortunately, as we got older, Our Lady became less important to us than when we were children.
Back in Mary’s Arms
In 2006, the Saint Patrick’s Community came to our parish to give a mission. Each day consisted of Holy Mass in the morning, and talks and testimonies in the evening. Towards the end of the week, I found my heart was beginning to change. A wave of childhood memories of praying to Our Lady washed over me, and I recalled the important role she played in our lives. I longed to recapture my childhood relationship with Mother Mary.
On the final day of the Mission, we celebrated a beautiful Holy Mass. Afterwards, the children of the parish gathered round lighting candles to Our Lady. We adults joined them. While we were lighting candles and praying, the children asked many questions about the Blessed Mother: “Where she is now?” they wanted to know, and “How can we talk to her?” They prayed fervently, with eyes closed and hands joined. Again, I felt the desire to recapture my childhood piety. I started speaking to Our Lady in the same way I did as a child. We adults are sometimes content to speak to her but not with her. We don’t speak to her as we would to our mothers. During the parish mission, I relearned how to relax with Our Lady and let my prayers flow out of me.
In the car one day with my young daughter Sarah, I said that I’d love to see Our Lady. She replied that it would be “so cool.” Then she said, “Hold on Mommy, we do see Our Lady. We see her every day, but nobody takes the time to really see her or speak to her.” I was so astonished by her comment that I nearly drove off the road. What Sarah said felt wise. When I turned to ask her to explain, she was back playing with her doll. I was convinced her comment was inspired by the Holy Spirit. “Although you have hidden these things from the learned and wise, you have revealed them to the childlike” (Matthew 11:25).
Holding Mary’s Hands
Of course, my devotion to our Blessed Mother includes recitation of the Rosary. Though it’s an important and beautiful prayer, for many years I struggled to pray it because I hadn’t yet gotten over my childhood complaint that it was too long. But I began to recognize the importance of the Rosary when I started to meditate on the life of Jesus. Before that, the Rosary was a prayer I rushed to get over and done with. But as I reflected on the life of Jesus, Our Lady taught me that the Rosary brings us deeper into His heart. Because she is the Mother of God and our mother, too, we can rely on her taking us by the hand, and leading us into that deeper walk with Christ that only she fully understands.
As we move through life, the difficulties we encounter can cause us to doubt God’s love or distance us from Our Lady. My sister-in-law died of cancer when she was only forty-two, leaving behind a husband and three children. At such times, it’s natural to ask, “Why did this happen?” But who can understand our trials better than Mary? She stood at the foot of the Cross and watched her Son suffer and die. She can be a companion for us on any road we walk, including the road of suffering.
The Shortest Way to Christ’s Heart
It was through Our Lady that God led me to my heart’s desire. But it took some time. Through her I came to understand the importance of the Eucharist. Sometimes people's devotion to Our Lady doesn’t lead to greater knowledge of Christ. But Our Lady is all about her Son, and about bringing us into a deeper relationship with Him. Through Our Lady I have made the total consecration to Jesus. It’s a personal journey with Mary to her Divine Son. Mary is a guide always leading us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In 2009, I went to Medjugorje after hearing that Our Lady was appearing there to six young children. It’s a simple but beautiful place where peace is tangible. There was a statue of the Sacred Heart in Medjugorje around which many pilgrims gathered to pray. When it was my turn to approach it, I drew close, closed my eyes, and prayed with my hand on the shoulder of the statue. But when I opened my eyes, I found that my hand was resting not on the shoulder but on the heart of Jesus! My simple prayer had been, “Jesus, I don't know you as well as I know your mother.” I believe Our Lady was telling me, “Well, now it's time. It's time you go to my Son's Heart.” I was unaware that the following day was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus!
A New Ministry Is Born
In August 2009, a visiting priest inspired me to start the Divine Mercy devotion in my parish. I had expected to do something related to the Rosary, but in hindsight I see that Our Lady was bringing me straight to her Son.
I also scheduled Divine Mercy talks throughout Ireland, and prayers for the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration. Eventually, I was invited to help plan the International Eucharistic Congress held in Ireland—all things I never imagined doing!
It was at the end of the Eucharistic Congress that the seed of my ministry was planted in my heart. Because I had found so much joy and grace flowing from the Eucharistic Congress, I asked myself, “Why does this have to end after one week of grace? Why can't this continue?” Through God’s grace, it didn’t end. For the past ten years, I have been coordinating The Children of the Eucharist, set up under the auspices of the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration in Ireland. The objective of the ministry is to enhance the faith of our children and bring them closer to Christ through Adoration. This ministry was born when I recognized the need for children to learn more about Eucharistic Adoration and to experience it regularly in a child-friendly way. After piloting the program at our local primary school, the program quickly spread to many schools throughout Ireland.
As a youngster, I had hoped eventually to pursue nursing or some other profession, but those dreams faded when I married young at 22. After starting the Children of the Eucharist Apostolate, a priest told me, “Maybe if you had become a nurse, you wouldn’t be nursing souls now. You are nursing children in Adoration, helping them, and guiding them.”
Not only did Mother Mary lead me closer to her Son, but she inspired me to help children draw closer to Him as well. When we give our fiat, our deepest “yes” to Our Lady, a journey begins. She moves within our fiat, bringing us into a deeper union with Jesus and fulfilling His plans for our lives.
By: Antoinette Moynihan
May 13, 2022
May 13, 2022
Q –I know that we are supposed to have a devotion to Mary, but sometimes I feel like it distracts me from my relationship with Jesus. I just don’t feel very close to Mary. How can I have a deeper devotion to Our Lady without taking away from my love for Jesus?
A – In my own life, I struggled with that very question. I grew up in an area of the United States that was mostly Protestant, and none of my Protestant friends ever had a devotion to Mary. One time when I was a teenager, I got into a conversation with someone in a checkout line in Wal-Mart, and when she found out I was studying to become a priest, she asked me why Catholics worship Mary!
Of course, Catholics don’t worship Mary. God alone is worthy of worship. Rather, we honor Mary with the highest honor. Since she was closest to Jesus on earth, she is closest to Jesus in Heaven. She was the perfect follower of Jesus, so imitating her will help us to follow Jesus more faithfully. We ask her to pray for us, just as we might ask our own parents or a friend or a priest to pray for us—and Mary’s prayers are far more effective, for she is far closer to Christ!
To grow in a healthy devotion to Mary, I recommend three things.
First, pray the Rosary daily. Pope John Paul II said that the Rosary is “looking at the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary.” It is a Christ-centered prayer, loving Him through the Heart that loved Him best (the Immaculate Heart). The Rosary changed my life—I took it on as a Lenten penance when I was a teen…and I dreaded it every day. To me, it seemed so boring…all those repetitive prayers. But once Lent was over, I found that I couldn’t put it down. The repetition was no longer boring but calming. I imagined myself in the scenes of Christ’s life and encountered Him there.
Second, consecrate yourself to Mary. Saint Louis de Montfort has a rich 33-day consecration to Mary, or you can use the more recent “33 Days to Morning Glory” consecration program. When we offer Mary our lives, she cleanses and purifies us, and then presents our lives beautifully to Her Son.
This is how Saint Louis answers your question in True Devotion to Mary: With Preparation for Total Consecration: “If then, we establish solid devotion to our Blessed Lady, it is only to establish more perfectly devotion to Jesus Christ, and to provide an easy and secure means for finding Jesus Christ. If devotion to Our Lady removed us from Jesus Christ, we should have to reject it as an illusion of the devil; but so far from this being the case, devotion to Our Lady is, on the contrary, necessary for us…as a means of finding Jesus Christ perfectly, of loving Him tenderly, of serving Him faithfully.”
Finally, turn to Mary in your daily needs. One time I was leading a wedding rehearsal for a very holy couple when we realized, to our horror, that they had forgotten the marriage license! I couldn’t marry them without the civil license, but it was too late to get it before the wedding the following day. I brought the bride and groom into the sacristy and broke the news to them—I couldn’t marry them unless a miracle happened. They were devastated! So, we prayed to Our Lady, who herself was married and who has a special love for engaged couples. We entrusted this problem to Her—and She performed a miracle! A parishioner happened to know a town clerk who came in early on her day off to give them a marriage license and the marriage took place as planned. She is a mother—we should bring our Mother all our problems and concerns!
Never forget—true devotion to Mary doesn’t lead us away from Jesus, it leads us to Jesus through Mary. We can never honor Mary too much because we can never honor her more than Jesus honors her. Come to Mary—and trust that She will lead you to her Son.
By: Father Joseph Gill
May 12, 2022
May 12, 2022
Struggling to break that cycle of sin in your life? Gabriel Castillo was into all things the world said were good — sex, drugs, rock and roll--until he decided to give up sin and confront the biggest battle of his life.
I was raised in a single parent household with practically no religious education. My mother is an amazing woman and she did the best she could to provide for me, but it wasn’t enough. While she was out working, I was home alone in front of cable television. I was raised by television networks such as MTV. I valued what MTV told me to value: popularity, pleasure, music, and all things ungodly. My mother did the best she could to steer me in the right direction, but without God I just went from sin to sin. From bad to worse. This is the story of more than half the people in this Country. Children are being raised by the media and the media is leading people to misery in this life and in the next.
Our Lady Steps In
My life began to dramatically change when I went to the University of Saint Thomas in Houston, Texas. At UST I took theology and philosophy courses that opened my mind to objective truth. I saw that the Catholic faith made sense. In my mind I came to believe that Catholicism was objectively true, but there was just one problem… I was a slave to the world, the flesh, and the devil.
I was becoming known as one of the best of the bad kids and one of the worst of the good kids. Amongst my bad friends, a lot of them were going through the RCIA program to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and I thought “Hey I’m a bad Catholic…I should be able to get confirmed too”. On the required Confirmation Retreat we made a holy hour, I had no idea what a holy hour was, so I asked a professor who advised me to simply look at the Eucharist and repeat the Holy Name of Jesus. After about 10 minutes of this practice God stuck His finger into my soul and overwhelmed me with His love, and my heart of stone melted. For the rest of the hour, I cried. I knew Catholicism was true not just in my head, but also in my heart. I had to change.
One Lent, I resolved to go all in and give up mortal sin. Just 2 hours after my resolution, I realized how messed up I was when I had already committed a mortal sin. I realized I was a slave. That night God gave me true contrition for my sins and I cried to Him for mercy. That is when a demon spoke up. His voice was audible and scary. In a high pitched growl, he repeated my words mockingly, “God forgive me. I am so sorry!” Immediately I called upon Saint John Vianney. The second I made that invocation, the voice went away. The next night I was too terrified to sleep in my room because I feared hearing that voice again.
So I pulled out a Rosary, which had been blessed by John Paul II. I opened a Rosary pamphlet, because I didn’t know how to pray the Rosary. When I said the word, “I believe…” a force grabbed me by the throat, pinned me down and began choking me. I tried calling my mother, but I couldn’t speak. Then a little voice in my head said, “Pray…Hail Mary.” I tried, but couldn’t. The voice in my head said “Say them in your mind.” So in my mind I said “Hail Mary”. Then I gasped the words aloud, “Hail Mary!” Immediately everything went back to normal. I was totally freaked out and realized that this demon had been with me throughout my entire life. At the same time I realized that Mary was the answer. Even just calling upon her name liberated me from the literal grips of a demon. After a little research, I identified several reasons why I was infested with demons. My mother had New Age books, I had sinful music, I had rated R movies, I had been living in mortal sin my entire life. I had belonged to the devil, but Our Lady crushes his head. I now belong to her.
Failing to Convert Sinners
I started to pray the Rosary every single day. I found a good priest and began going to Confession frequently, almost daily. I couldn’t keep that up, so I had to start taking little steps with Mary to break all of my addictions. Mary helped free me from slavery and inspired the desire to be an apostle. When I prayed the Rosary, she helped me break my addictions and purified my mind. I ended up getting a degree in theology and a minor in philosophy because of my radical change and hunger for righteousness. I recited many Rosaries a day and saw Mary everywhere and the devil nowhere. After college, I entered the Catholic school system as a Religion teacher; I began to teach the young people everything I knew. Although they were in a Catholic school they had even greater struggles than I did. With the advent of smartphones they had new opportunities to have hidden habits and hidden lives. I was a great teacher and trying my best to win their hearts for God, but failing.
Two years in, I went on a retreat by a VERY holy priest known for having spiritual gifts of discernment of spirits and reading souls. We were encouraged to make a general confession. Looking back on the sins of a lifetime, I wept when I saw how horrible I had been in spite of God’s goodness and mercy. The priest asked, “Why are you crying?” and I sobbed, “because I’ve hurt so many people and led so many astray by my bad example.” He replied, “Do you want to make effective reparation for the damage you have done? Resolve to pray all the mysteries of the Rosary every day for an entire year, asking Our Lady to bring good out of every one of your bad actions and for every person you hurt. After that, never look back. Consider your debt paid and move on.”
Winning with Mary
I had prayed many daily Rosaries before, but never as a rule of life. When I made the entire Rosary part of my daily routine, everything changed. God’s power was with me all the time. Mary was winning through me. I was reaching souls, and my students were changing dramatically. They were begging me to put videos on YouTube. Those were early days and I lacked confidence, so I uploaded other people’s talks with pictures.
Mary led me to work at a neighboring parish that better aligned with my zeal for souls. The pastor really encouraged me to stir the pot, so with his support, I did. I began making videos on touchy topics. I entered a film contest and won a free trip to World Youth Day and $4,000 worth of video equipment. I am telling you, Our Lady is a winner. At World Youth Day in Spain, I went to Holy Mass at Saint Dominic’s Church. I was praying before a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary when I felt an overwhelming sense of Saint Dominic’s presence. It was so strong that I almost felt that I was standing before a statue of Dominic and not Our Lady. I can’t describe the exact words, it was more of a deep interior understanding that I had a mission to promote the Rosary because that has answers to the world’s problems.
I resolved to do that with the help of tools he didn’t have. I began to research everything about the Rosary—its history, its composition, its elements, the saints who prayed it. The more I studied it, the more I realized how much it provided answers. Conversions and victory in the spiritual life were fruits of the Rosary. The more I promoted it, the more I succeeded.
As part of this mission, I developed a YouTube channel, Gabi After Hours, which also has content on raising children in the faith, fasting and deliverance. The Rosary is the fuel for my apostolic work. When we pray The Rosary, we can clearly hear Our Lady. The Rosary is like a sword that severs the shackles with which the devil has bound us. It is a perfect prayer.
I currently work full-time in youth ministry with kids just like myself. The majority of them come from underprivileged families, many with only a single parent in the household. Since most of these children are fatherless, with mothers working two jobs, some fall into bad habits behind their parents’ backs, like smoking marijuana or drinking. However, when they are introduced to the Virgin Mary, the scapular, the miraculous medal and the Rosary, in particular, their lives radically change. They go from sinners to saints. From slaves of the devil to servants of Mary. They don’t just become followers of Jesus, they become apostles.
Go all in with Mary. Go all in with the Rosary. All of the great Saints agree that following Mary leads you on the fastest, most secure, and efficacious path to the heart of Jesus Christ. According to Saint Maximilian Kolbe, it is the goal and the role of the Holy Spirit to form Christ in the womb of Mary perpetually. If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, you must become like Mary. The Holy Spirit flies to Marian souls. This is the model for victory that Our Lord desires. We give ourselves to Mary, just like Jesus did. We cling to her, like baby Jesus did. We remain small so that she can live in us and bring Christ to others. If you want to win the battle go with Our Lady. She brings us to Christ and helps us to become like Christ.
By: Gabriel Castillo
Apr 01, 2022
Apr 01, 2022
The pain was excruciating but I still held on to this anchor of hope and I did experience a miracle!
I was 40 years old when I was diagnosed with Charcot- Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT), an inherited progressive peripheral neuropathy (damage to the peripheral nervous system). I finally knew why I always dreaded going to my PE class at school, why I fell so often, why I was so slow. I always had CMT; I just didn’t know it. By the time I was referred to a neurologist, the muscles in my legs had begun to atrophy, and I couldn’t climb steps without pulling myself up.
The relief of having an answer was clouded by concern about what the future would hold. Would I end up in a wheelchair? Would I lose the use of my hands? Would I be able to care for myself? With the diagnosis, darkness came over me. I learned there is no treatment, no cure. What I heard between the lines was, ‘there is no hope’. But little by little, like the morning sun peeking through the blinds, the light of hope gently woke me from the stupor of grief, like a miracle of hope. I realized nothing had changed; I was still the same. I grabbed on to the hope that the progression would continue to be slow, giving me time to adjust. And it did…until it did not.
I experienced a slow, gradual progression of the disease for four years, but then, one summer, it suddenly got worse. Tests confirmed that my condition had inexplicably progressed. When we went out, I had to be in a wheelchair. Even at home, there was little I could do. I couldn’t stand up for more than a couple of minutes at a time. I couldn’t use my hands to open jars or to cut or chop. Even sitting up for more than a few minutes was difficult. The level of pain and weakness forced me to spend most of my time in bed. I was filled with enormous grief as I dealt with the reality of losing the ability to care for myself and for my family. Yet, I had an extraordinary grace during that time.
I was able to attend Daily Mass. And, during those drives, I began a new habit…I prayed the Rosary in the car. For some time, I had wanted to pray the Rosary daily, but I could not get into a routine and make it last. These daily drives fixed that. It was a time of great struggle and pain but also a time of great grace. I found myself devouring Catholic books and stories of the lives of the Saints.
One day, doing research for a talk on the Rosary, I came upon the story of Venerable Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., who was healed from tuberculosis after asking Mary for her intercession. He spent the rest of his life promoting family prayer and the Rosary. I watched clips on YouTube about these massive rosary rallies he would hold…sometimes, over one million people would show up to pray. I was deeply moved by what I saw, and in a moment of zeal, I asked Mary to heal me too. I promised her that I would promote the Rosary and do rallies and marathons, like Fr. Peyton did. I forgot about this conversation until a few days after I had given my talk.
It was a Monday morning, and I went to Mass as usual, but something was different when I returned home. Rather than going back to bed, I went to the living room and began cleaning up. It was not until my perplexed husband asked me what I was doing that I realized all my pain was gone. I immediately recalled a dream I had the night before: A priest robed in light came to me and administered the Anointing of the Sick. As he traced the Sign of the Cross in my hands with oil, warmth and a deep sense of peace enveloped my whole being. And then I remembered…I had asked Mary to heal me. The miracle of hope did happen and after five months in bed, all my pain was gone. I still have CMT, but I was restored to where I had been five months before.
Since then, I have spent my time in thanksgiving, promoting the Rosary and telling everyone about God’s love. I believe Mary sent this priest to anoint and heal me, though in a different way than what I thought. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I grabbed on to hope, I was really grabbing on to God. He healed my body, but He also healed my soul. I know He hears me; I know He sees me. I know He loves me, and I am not alone. Ask Him for what you need. He loves you; He sees you…You are not alone.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
Feb 23, 2022
Feb 23, 2022
After nearly ten and a half years of marriage, Susan Skinner’s prayer was finally answered. Read how she witnessed a true miracle
When my husband and I married, he was not Catholic. He had been raised attending Baptist and Presbyterian churches, but his love for Jesus and for me, and the way we complemented each other as a couple drew us together. Shortly after we married, he converted to Catholicism. He told me that he knew I would never join another church, but we needed to go to church together, so it made sense to him that he join me in the Catholic Church. He believed in the Eucharist and together we raised our family as Catholics.
A Story within a Story
During this time period, though, I sometimes referred to him as a “Baplic,” because he had some issues with Catholic teaching, and truly did not understand our honor of Mary. I considered myself the spiritual head of our household, in that I got everyone up for Mass, and I did most instruction of the children. I felt blessed that we all went to church together and that he supported raising our children Catholic, but I longed for him to be the leader, and I begged for Mary's intercession. One day, as we discussed spiritual things, the topic of Mary came up. I was struggling to explain to him about Mary when I remembered a video by Father Stephen Scheier that a friend had recommended. He relates his near-death experience, and how he felt that Mary saved him. That video had a powerful impact on my husband, opening his mind to the idea that there was a lot more to Mary than he had ever considered. The sequence of events that happened next was something of a small miracle. He has decided to tell his story in his own words:
I’m generally a reserved person, not inclined to share private affairs outside of a very small circle of friends. However, I’ve come to feel that my story could offer inspiration to others, and that if one soul is moved to say, or keep saying the Rosary as a result, then this is well worth the effort.
In January of 2011, I decided to learn how to say the Rosary. Using a cheat-sheet with all the mysteries and prayers, I said my first five-decade Rosary.
One evening, Susan mentioned that many people who are new to the Rosary are frequently granted one of their petitions and one shouldn’t be afraid to ask for something big. I was amused, but honestly didn’t give it a lot of thought. Anyway, most of my petitions were not for specific items that could be noticeably granted. They were for more general things, such as keeping my family safe from harm and evil, helping the children to do well in school, etc.
A few days later, I learned that my employer was giving away luxury-box tickets for the Ringling Brothers Circus to some lucky employees. Thinking that this would be a great treat for my young boys, I entered my name, in competition with many other entries for the Friday and Saturday events.
That night, I made my usual Rosary petitions and Susan made hers. After the final Sign of the Cross, we put our rosaries away, and got up to leave when I stopped and said, “Oh yeah, one more thing…it would be really nice if I could win those tickets to the circus. The Saturday show would be great. Amen.”The next afternoon, I received an email announcing that I had won four tickets to the Saturday circus event. I sat there in disbelief for a few moments and re-read the message. It felt like Mary was saying, “Did you ask for something? Boom! Here you go.” I was stunned and thrilled at the same time. Now, I’m a logical finance guy and thought to myself that these things happen. My chances were perhaps 1-2%, and somebody had to win. It wasn’t like it was the lottery. However, not only had I won, but it was for the Saturday show that I had requested. To me, it was more than a chance. Mary had my attention.
Before winning the tickets, I said the Rosary most days, but not every day. Afterwards, I committed myself to five decades daily, continuing to read and learn about Mary and the Rosary, especially from Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. I also decided to do the five first Saturdays encouraged by Our Lady of Fatima.
This devotion entails making reparations for the sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary by saying the Rosary, going to Confession, receiving Communion at Mass, and praying in the presence of Jesus for at least 15 minutes every first Saturday of the month for five consecutive months.
On the first Saturday, I went to church for Confession before Mass. Now, this was only my third Confession ever, but I approached this one with much more thought and seriousness. I really dug deep, painfully confessing sins even and especially from my distant past. After receiving absolution for my sins, I felt a huge burden lifted from my soul. In reparation for sins against Mary’s Immaculate Heart, I plunged my heart into fulfilling all the obligations. It had been difficult—especially the Confession—but it felt good.
That night, I was suddenly awakened from sleep by intense warmth that moved in a wave through my whole body. Then, in the pitch-black room, before I could even try to process what was happening, an image appeared in my closed eyes—similar to the way you might stare briefly at a brightly-lit object and then see the object’s shape imprinted in light under your eyelids. It began as a point of light that expanded quickly into the shape of a rose. The image remained for about 3 seconds, and it immediately expanded again into a new image of many smaller roses like a bouquet in the shape of a heart and then expanded into the final image of roses linked together as a crown.
When it was over, I opened my eyes in the dark room and sat up, amazed and trying to process what had just happened. Part of my logical brain wants to rationalize this as some natural, dream-induced occurrence. But I’ve never encountered anything remotely like it in my life before or since, and it happened after the first of the five Saturdays. As I see it, this was Mary’s special acknowledgement and encouragement to continue. The first rose clearly represented the Rosary. I really didn’t comprehend the full significance of the last two images at the time, but upon later reflection, they are related to Her Immaculate Heart.
This is my husband’s story. And just like that, after ten and a half years of marriage, my prayer had been answered. My husband became the spiritual leader in my household. This was truly a miracle in my midst. Being the human that I am, I was very grateful, but also a little spiritually jealous. I had prayed the Rosary on and off for years, but he was the one to get a “vision.” I knew that was selfish so I quickly overcame that, watching him transform into a new person. He is still the same man I married, but he is a softer, gentler, more generous person whose heart changed as he became involved in activities at church. We are still on this journey together, and have a long way to go, but I am forever grateful to Mary, the Mother of God, for interceding in our lives.
Jan 01, 2022
Jan 01, 2022
I looked up and hugged her, pressing my face into her apron that smelled like apple pies; quickly I ran off to show my brother the treasure that Nonna found for me
The house was old and belonged to my great grandparents. It was a small solidly built house where they raised many children. It’s rickety parts and musty smells often betrayed the facade of the freshly painted wood siding. It was a home with a history of family memories, stories and heirlooms. When guests came to call, the graying splintered wooden back door would release wafts of heavenly aromas from freshly baked apple pies cooling on the kitchen table. It’s a home that makes me reflect fondly on my grandmother. It’s funny how recalling one simple memory can lead to another memory and then another until a whole story floods my mind. Instantly, I’m taken back to another place and time that was part of the foundation of my life.
I grew up in a historical area of Kentucky, in a simpler place and time. It was a time when the mundane routines of the day were treasured as if they were family traditions. Sunday was a day of church, rest and family. We owned functional things and wore simple clothing which were either fixed or mended when they were worn out. Family and friends were relied on when we couldn’t fend for ourselves, but charity was not accepted unless it could be repaid at the first possible opportunity. Caring for another’s children was not charity, it was a necessity of life and the closest relatives were asked before friends or neighbors.
Mom and Dad regarded their parental responsibilities as their primary duties. They sacrificed to provide for us and rarely had time for themselves. However, every so often, they planned a special evening out and they looked forward to time together. My grandmother, whom we called Nonna, now lived in that old house, made those heavenly pies and cheerfully cared for my siblings and me while my parents were out together.
Mom’s heels clicked along the cobblestone walkway that led to Nonna’s backdoor, Daddy smelled of a freshly starched shirt and the break in our family routine filled the air with a sense of excitement on the evening when Mom and Dad went out together. Just as the old gray wooden door opened and my grandmother greeted us in her faded worn apron, I felt I’d stepped back into another time. A brief catch up conversation with Nonna was followed by a strict warning to behave ourselves and a kiss that left a waft of her cologne on our clothes and lipstick on our cheeks. When the door closed behind them, we were left to play in the adjoining room with a bag of toys we brought from home. While Nonna tidied up the kitchen and tended to an elderly sister who lived with her, we contently colored in the new coloring books bought for this evening.
It wasn’t long before the sense of excitement wore off and the toys no longer held much interest. There wasn’t a television to entertain us and the antiquated parlor radio played only old static country music. The aged furnishings, fixtures, sounds and smells of the house occupied my attention for a little bit. Then, as if on cue, I heard Nonna’s house slippers shuffling along the creaking wooden floors. She stopped in the doorway to see if we were okay or needed anything. The growing idleness of the evening made me call out, “Nonna, find me something”.
“What do you mean? She asked.
“Mom said when she was a little girl, she would ask your sister to find her “something” when she was bored. Then your sister would find her a treasure”, I replied matter of factly. Nonna looked away to ponder my words. Without much ado she turned back and gestured, “follow me”.
I scurried along behind her into a dark, cold, musty bedroom that contained some old furniture, including a beautiful, antique, wooden wardrobe.
She flipped on a light and glass knob handles on its doors glistened. I’d never been in this part of her house, nor had I ever been with Nonna all by myself. I had no idea what to expect. I tried to contain my excitement, wondering what treasures could be waiting behind those doors, which seemed to beckon us to open them. This unplanned moment, filled with firsts, was almost too much for a seven year old little girl to absorb, and I didn’t want to ruin this special memory with my grandmother.
Nonna reached for a glass knob, the door creaked when opened and revealed a stack of small wooden drawers. She reached into a drawer, pulled out a gently used brown leather coin purse, handed it to me and told me to open it. My little hands, nervous with anticipation, shook as I snapped it open. Tucked down into the corner of the leather was a small white pearl bead rosary with a silver crucifix. I just looked at it. Then she asked if it was a good treasure. I’d seen my Mom’s rosary, but didn’t have my own or know how to use it. However, for some reason, I thought it was the best treasure ever! I looked up, hugged her legs, pressed my face against the apron that smelled like Nonna and apple pies, then happily thanked her before I ran off to show my brother the treasure Nonna found for me.
The following year I was enrolled in a Catholic elementary school where I learned more about Jesus and His Mother Mary. I received my First Holy Communion and learned to pray the Rosary. The seeds of love for Jesus and Mary took root as I continued to pray the Rosary. In time that little white pearl rosary became too small for my hands and I acquired a simple wooden rosary. I always carry the wooden one in my pocket and it too has become a treasure to me. Through the years, spending time in prayer developed a love for the Blessed Mother and her rosary. These days, before I begin my rosary prayers, I quietly ask the Blessed Mother to “find me something”. Every story exemplifies a virtue to be gained. So, I often ask her to explain the details and stories contained in the daily mysteries in order to develop those virtues in my life. She never fails to open the doors to her Son, Jesus, so that I can grow closer to Him. After meditating on what she graciously reveals, I’ve discovered that’s where the “treasures” are found.
Fast forward. Today, I’m about the age of Nonna when she gave me that little white pearl rosary. When I recall the day she “found me something”, I wonder, as she paused to ponder my request, did she know the ramifications of the treasure she gave me or if she knew she was opening more than an old wardrobe door for me? In that leather coin purse, she opened a whole world of spiritual treasures. I wonder if she’d already discovered the treasure of the rosary for herself and wanted to pass it on to me. I wonder if she knew her words were prophetic when she told me to open the case myself and discover the treasure within. Nonna has long passed on to be with Jesus. I still have that brown leather coin purse with the little pearl rosary inside. From time to time I take it out and think of her. I can still hear her ask me, “Is this a good treasure?” I still happily answer her, “Yes Nonna, it is the best treasure ever!”
By: Teresa Ann Weider
Oct 16, 2021
Oct 16, 2021
What happens when a Protestant Pastor finds a great treasure in the Catholic Church?
Becoming a Catholic was not easy for me. Like many converts, I had my share of misconceptions, and obstacles. My biggest obstacle was that my faith/ church perspective was also my career. At 20, I entered into full-time ministry as a Youth Pastor. Throughout my 22 year career in ministry, I have performed many roles—Senior Pastor, Teaching Pastor, Worship Leader, Missions Coordinator etc.
My faith was my life, and the idea of leaving it all behind to become a Catholic was something that I wrestled with. I never would have thought it could happen. I had no Catholics in my family. Growing up as the son of a United Methodist pastor, my only exposure to the Catholic faith was from people who hated the Catholic faith. When I met my wife, I asked her if she went to church. She replied, “I’m a Catholic but I don’t go to church”, so I took her to my church and she loved it! We were married in the United Methodist church where I worked; and never looked back. Until…
Like many others who ultimately convert, my first experience with a Catholic who actually practiced his faith proved to be life changing. His name is Devin Schadt. He was a graphic designer. I hired him to create a logo for our youth ministry which led to some interesting conversations about faith, church and eventually his Catholic faith. My first impression of him was that he loved Jesus and had a vibrant faith. This seemed very strange to me, because as I sat in his dining room, I was intrigued by the icons, paintings and other “Catholic looking” stuff he had in his house. Who does that? I had to press him on this. I had never heard a Catholic talk about Jesus in the way Devin did. I had assumed that he just hadn't read the Bible enough to see that his Catholic faith contradicted the Scriptures. I was licking my chops at the idea of sharing some verses with him and explaining the Gospel. I was certain that after a few minutes of this, he would be ready to become a “real” Christian, pray the sinner’s prayer, and become a Protestant like me. I asked him, “Devin, when were you saved?” I wanted to see how a Catholic would answer this question. I did not expect much. I was so wrong.
Not only did Devin have an answer to that question, but he had his own questions for me. Questions that I was not at all prepared for. For example, “Keith, where did your Bible come from?” “Why are there so many Protestant denominations?” “How do we know who is accurately teaching the truth of Christianity when there are so many differences between Protestant denominations?” And so many more!
I had never heard any of these ideas before, but although I was intrigued, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility that the Catholic Church could be the one true Church founded by Christ. Even the idea that there was one true Church founded by Christ was a new idea to me. I had always believed that what mattered was a person’s faith and belief in the scriptures, not any connection to an institution. Devin was helping me to see that the Bible itself shows that Jesus not only founded a Church, but that it still existed today through the authority of the apostles as they had handed down the faith. However, this was not something I could easily accept.
When God Called Me
Devin and I would go on to have many conversations over the years. We would take a pilgrimage to Rome and Medjugorje together. We would argue passionately. During this time, my ministry and my family were growing. I loved my role in my church. God was moving and things were great. Although there were many things Devin had showed me that challenged my Protestant thinking, I was still too afraid to seriously entertain the idea of converting. However, there was one night in particular where God called me out.
I was at a church camp and one of my friends was leading the youth in a communion service. It was nothing new to me, but as he worked his way through the service and held up the bread and juice and said “this represents Jesus”, I knew that this was not what Jesus said, and I also knew this was not what the Christian Church believed for 1500 years.
It was as if God was calling to me “Come home and I’ll show you more...” I broke down and left the room. I called Devin and confessed to him that I was feeling called to become a Catholic. I was terrified that he would rub it in my face that he was right (only because that is what I would have done), but he did not. He simply said he was there to help.
I wish that this was the part of my story where I converted, but it is not. I was too afraid. I bailed because I could not wrap my mind around how this could work. What would I do for a job? What would my family think? How could I explain this? All of these questions overpowered the leading I felt and I put this whole Catholic thing behind me for many years. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life.
More than 10 years later, eventually God’s call home would become something I could no longer ignore. I had been the “Pastor to Youth and Mission” at a United Methodist Church for a couple years when a good friend of mine named Greg invited my wife and me to attend a screening of “Apparition Hill”. This movie was a documentary that followed seven strangers on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. I had not thought about that trip in quite a while, but when Greg called I thought I’d better go, since he was the one who originally took me on that trip all those years ago. The movie brought so many things back into my mind and had me in tears a few times. This film was clearly used by our Blessed Mother to reach out to me.
I had been in a bit of a storm in my church. Although my local church was great, our denomination was a mess. It had become clear to me that without an authoritative voice to not only interpret Scripture, but even history, chaos and schism were inevitable. For the United Methodists, the cultural issues of the day surrounding Marriage and Scripture were unraveling what was once a strong denomination. I found myself at odds with many people who wanted the church to change with the times. It did not seem to bother them that the scriptures clearly defined things like marriage and human sexuality. “That’s just one interpretation”. “The church has had it wrong all these years and we will fix it”. “God doesn’t hate. He/she loves everybody so you can’t judge anyone”. These were just some of statements I wrestled against all the while knowing that I really did not have a leg to stand on without some kind of external God-given authority to tell me otherwise. During one of my conversations with a very liberal pastor friend, she said to me, “Keith if you believe all that Church authority stuff, why aren’t you a Catholic?” Great question!
I had begun to reopen that idea. It seemed that the more I thought about everything Devin and I had argued about, the more it made perfect sense. I was in a different place. I had learned that not listening to God is the worst thing you can do. I still had objections. I still had issues, but I had begun to feel a new sense of calling and a new presence in my life. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but it all became clear to me as I was preparing to preach a sermon on the Annunciation. (It was Advent—so we could talk about Mary.) As I worked on this message in my office, I became overcome with emotion. The more I thought about Mary, the more I became aware of not only how amazing she was, but how connected to the Holy Spirit she continues to be. I felt her presence. When I preached that sermon, I could feel the Holy Spirit moving. I talked about how Mary was the “New Eve” and the “New Ark of the Covenant.” I talked about how amazing she must have been for the angel, Gabriel to greet her “Hail, full of grace”. The people were so intrigued by this.
One man came forward afterwards in tears, saying he had never heard anything like that before. There is so much more I could say about this, but the bottom line is: My doctrinal objections were solved not by arguments, but by The Blessed Mother capturing my heart. However, I still had the issue of what my life would look like if I converted. My dad had told me once, “Keith you can’t just quit your job and become Catholic, there needs to be a way”. He meant that I needed to know how I would feed my family. What would I do for a job? What about my ministry?
A Step of Faith
The answers to those questions would not be revealed to me for some time, but one night as I prayed before a crucifix, I said to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to become Catholic, but I need you to make a way.” With as much clarity as I have ever had from God, Jesus spoke to me from the crucifix. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. You don’t need Me to make a way, you just need ME”. I knew what this meant. I had just received my blessing during the Mass (because I could not receive the Eucharist). Jesus was showing me that He was not only truly present in the Eucharist, but also that my primary need was not for God to make things easy or fully revealed, but rather to take a step of faith like I had never taken before. He was showing me that what I truly needed was not control, or assurance. What I needed was Him.
I was realizing that even if I lost everything I have in this world, but gained Jesus, I had won! I had to get to the place where I did not need it all to work out perfectly in order to convert. I had to be willing to sacrifice it all for Jesus. Once I was able to take that step, it all became clear. There was no looking back. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) After all these years, I was finally ready to buy the field. I am so happy I did. Since becoming a Catholic, things have not been easy. I have lost friends, money, security, stability and more. But what I have gained has been more valuable than I could ever have asked for. The blessings I have received are incomparable with what I sacrificed. God has been true to his word. I know that no matter what happens in this life, I will never leave the Church.
When you follow the call of God, it does not mean life will become easy, but it does become more meaningful. I am so grateful for the grace he has given to me, and I can only dream, about where this journey will take me from here.