An Exclusive Interview with Antonia Salzano, mother of Blessed Carlo Acutis by Graziano Marcheschi, the Contributing Editor of Shalom Tidings as she speaks from her heart of what it’s being like to be a Saint’s mom.
At age seven he wrote, “My life plan is to be always close to Jesus.”
By the time he was fifteen, he had gone home to the Lord whom he had loved throughout his short life.
In between, is the remarkable story of a remarkably ordinary boy.
Ordinary, because he was not a standout athlete, nor a handsome movie star, nor even a brilliant scholar who finished graduate school when other kids are struggling through junior-high. He was a nice kid, a good kid. Very bright, to be sure: at age nine he read college textbooks to teach himself computer programming. But he did not win awards, nor influence people on Twitter. Few outside his circle knew who he was—an only child, living with his parents in northern Italy, who went to school, played sports, enjoyed his friends, and knew how to handle a joystick.
As a very young child he fell in love with God and from then on, he lived with a singular focus, with a hunger for God that few ever achieve. And by the time he left this world he had made an indelible mark on it. Always a boy on a mission, he wasted no time. When people could not see what he saw, even his own mother, he helped them open their eyes.
Via Zoom, I interviewed his mother, Antonia Salzano, and asked her to explain his hunger for God, which even Pope Francis described as a “precocious hunger”?
“This is a mystery for me,” she said. “But many saints had special relationships with God from an early age, even if their family was not religious.” Carlo’s mother speaks from her heart openly about having attended Mass only three times in her life before Carlo started dragging her there when he was three-and-a-half. The daughter of a publisher, she was influenced by artists, writers, and journalists, not popes or saints. She had no interest in matters of faith and now says she was destined to become a “goat” rather than a “sheep.” But then came this marvelous boy who “always raced ahead—he spoke his first word at three months, started talking at five months, and began writing at age four.” And in matters of faith, he was ahead even of most adults.
At age three, he began asking questions his mother could not answer—lots of questions about the Sacraments, the Holy Trinity, Original Sin, the Resurrection. “This created a struggle in me,” Antonia said, “because I myself was as ignorant as a child of three.” His Polish nanny was better able to answer Carlo’s questions and spoke with him often about matters of faith. But his mother’s inability to answer his questions, she said, “diminished my authority as a parent.” Carlo wanted to engage in devotions she had never practiced—honoring the saints, putting flowers before the Blessed Virgin, spending hours in church before the cross and tabernacle.” She was at a loss about how to deal with her son’s precocious spirituality.
The unexpected death of her father from a heart attack led Antonia to start asking her own questions about life after death. Then, Father Ilio, an elderly holy priest known as the Padre Pio of Bologna, whom she met through a friend, set her on a journey of faith on which Carlo would become her primary guide. After telling her all the sins of her life before she confessed them, Father Ilio prophesied that Carlo had a special mission that would be of great importance for the Church.
Eventually, she began studying Theology, but it is Carlo whom she credits with her “conversion,” calling him “her savior.” Because of Carlo, she came to recognize the miracle that occurs at each Holy Mass. “Through Carlo I understood that the bread and wine become the real presence of God among us. This was a fantastic discovery for me,” she said. His love of God and appreciation of the Eucharist was not something young Carlo kept to himself. “The specialness of Carlo was to be a witness,” she said, “…always happy, always smiling, never sad. ‘Sadness is looking in toward the self;’ Carlo would say, ‘happiness is looking out toward God.’” Carlo saw God in his classmates and everyone he met. “Because he was aware of this presence, he gave witness to this presence,” she said.
Nourished daily by the Eucharist and divine Adoration, Carlo sought out the homeless, bringing them blankets and food. He defended classmates who were bullied and helped those who needed homework assistance. His one goal was “to speak about God and help others get closer to God.”
Perhaps because he sensed his life would be short, Carlo made good use of time. “When Jesus came,” Antonia commented, “he showed us how not to waste time. Each second of his life was glorification of God.” Carlo understood this well and emphasized the importance of living in the now. “Carpe diem! (Seize the day!),” he urged, “because every minute wasted is one less minute to glorify God.” That’s why this teenager limited himself to but one hour of video games per week!
The attraction that many who read about him instantly feel toward Carlo characterized his whole life. “Since he was a young boy, people were naturally attracted to him—not because he was a blue-eyed fair-haired child, but because of what was inside,” said his mother. “He had a way to connect with people that was extraordinary.”
Even in school he was beloved. “The Jesuit fathers noticed this,” she said. His classmates were competitive kids from the upper classes, focused on achievement and success. “Naturally, there is lots of jealousy between classmates, but with Carlo none of that happened. He melted those things like magic; with his smile and purity of heart he conquered everyone. He had the ability to enflame the hearts of people, to turn their cold hearts warm.”
“His secret was Jesus. He was so full of Jesus—daily Mass, Adoration before or after mass, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary—that he lived his life with Jesus, for Jesus, and in Jesus.
“Carlo genuinely felt God’s presence in his life,” said his mother, “and this completely changed the way people looked at him. They understood there was something special here.”
Strangers, teachers, classmates, a holy priest, all recognized something unique in this boy. And that uniqueness was most evident in his love of the Eucharist. “The more we receive the Eucharist,” he said, “the more we will become like Jesus, so that on earth we will have a foretaste of Heaven.” All his life he looked toward Heaven and the Eucharist was his “highway to Heaven… the most supernatural thing we have,” he would say. From Carlo, Antonia learned that the Eucharist is spiritual nourishment that helps increase our capacity to love God and neighbor—and grow in holiness. Carlo used to say “when we face the Sun we get a tan, but when we stand before Jesus in the Eucharist we become saints.”
One of Carlo’s best known accomplishments is his website chronicling Eucharistic miracles throughout history. An exhibit developed from the website continues to travel the world from Europe to Japan, from the US to China. Besides the amazing number of visitors to the exhibit, numerous miracles have been documented, though none as significant as the many it has brought back to the Sacraments and the Eucharist.
Carlo is beatified and his canonization is assured, pending the authentication of a second miracle. But Antonia is quick to point out that Carlo will not be canonized because of miracles but because of his Holy life. Holiness is determined by the witness of one’s life, by how well they lived the virtues—faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. “Living the virtues heroically”—which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as ‘a habitual and firm disposition to do the good’—is what makes one a saint.”
And that’s exactly what Carlo strove to do. He tended to talk too much, so he made an effort to talk less. If he noticed himself overindulging, he’d strive to eat less. Nightly, he examined his conscience about his treatment of friends, teachers, parents. “He understood,” his mother said, “that conversion is not a process of addition, but of subtraction.” A profound insight for one so young. And so Carlo worked even to eliminate from his life every trace of venial sin. “Not I, but God,” he would say. “There needs to be less of me so I can leave more room for God.”
This effort made him aware that the greatest battle is with ourselves. One of his best known quotes asks, “What does it matter if you win a thousand battles if you cannot win against your own corrupt passions?” This effort “to overcome the defects that make us spiritually weak,” observed Antonia, “is the heart of holiness.” Young as he was, Carlo knew sanctity lies “in our efforts to resist the corrupt instincts we have inside us because of Original Sin.”
Of course, losing her only child was a great cross for Antonia. But fortunately, by the time he died, she had already found her way back to her faith and had learned that “death is a passage to true life.” Despite the blow of knowing she would lose Carlo, during his time in the hospital the words that echoed inside her were those from the Book of Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21).
After his death, Antonia discovered a video Carlo had made of himself on his computer. Though he knew nothing of his leukemia at the time, in the video he says that when his weight goes down to seventy kilos, he will die. Somehow, he knew. Yet, he is smiling and looking at the sky with his arms upraised. In the hospital, his joy and peacefulness belied a chilling insight: “Remember,” he told his mother, “I won’t leave this hospital alive, but I will give you many, many signs.”
And signs he has given—a woman who prayed to Carlo at his funeral was healed of breast cancer without any chemotherapy. A 44-year-old woman who had never had a child prayed at the funeral and one month later was pregnant. Many conversions have occurred, but perhaps the most special miracle “is the one for the mother,” says Antonia. For years after Carlo’s birth Antonia had tried to conceive other children but to no avail. After his death, Carlo came to her in a dream telling her she would become a mother again. At age 44, on the fourth anniversary of his death, she gave birth to twins—Francesca and Michele. Like their brother, both attend Mass daily and pray the Rosary, and hope one day to help further their brother’s mission.
When his doctors asked if he was in pain, Carlo replied that “there are people who suffer much more than me. I offer my suffering for the Lord, the Pope (Benedict XVI), and the Church.” Carlo died just three days after his diagnosis. With his last words, Carlo professed that “I die happy because I didn’t spend any minutes of my life in things God doesn’t love.”
Naturally, Antonia misses her son. “I feel Carlo’s absence,” she said, “but in some ways I feel Carlo much more present than before. I feel him in a special way—spiritually. And I feel also his inspiration. I see the fruit his example is bringing to young people. This is a big consolation for me. Through Carlo, God is creating a masterpiece and this is very important, especially in these dark times when people’s faith is so weak, and God seems to be unnecessary in our lives. I think Carlo is doing a very good job.”
Graziano Marcheschi serves as the Senior Programming Consultant for Shalom World. He speaks nationally and internationally on topics of liturgy and the arts, scripture, spirituality, and lay ecclesial ministry. Graziano and his wife Nancy are blessed with two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren and live in Chicago.
The world’s greatest treasure is within the reach of every person! The reality of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist is something great and marvelous. I know that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist from my own experience not just because the Church teaches this truth. The First Touch One of the experiences I had that helped increase my faith in the Lord was after I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in my early days in the Catholic Charismatic renewal. I was still not a priest at that time. I was leading a prayer meeting and during this meeting, we were praying over people. We had the Eucharist exposed for Adoration and then people would come one by one to be prayed over. A woman came asking me to pray over her with folded hands and I thought she was praying. She asked me to pray for her husband who had a problem with his foot. But as I was praying, I felt in my heart that the Lord wanted to heal her. So I asked her if she needed any kind of physical healing. She told me, “My hands are like this because I have frozen shoulder.” She had a problem of mobility with her hands. As we were praying for her healing she said that a great heat came out from the Eucharist, descended on her frozen shoulder and she was healed then and there. That was the first time I actually saw such healing taking place through the power of the Eucharist. It’s exactly as we have in the Gospels—people touched Jesus and power came out of Him and healed them. Unforgettable Moment I have had another powerful experience of the Eucharist in my life. Once I was praying with somebody who was involved in the occult, and she needed a deliverance. We were praying as a group and there was a priest with us. But this woman, who was on the floor couldn’t see the priest who was bringing the Eucharist inside the church to the sacristy. The exact moment the priest brought the Eucharist, from her mouth, a male violent voice said these words: “Remove Him whom you’ve got in your hands!” It choked me because the demon did not say ‘it’- a piece of bread, but “Him”. Satan recognizes the living presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I will never forget that moment of my life. When I became a priest later, I kept those two incidences in my heart to really believe and preach the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Unspeakable Joy As a priest I had one another experience which I will not forget. I attend prison ministry when I am not preaching around. Once I was giving communion to a particular division in the prison and had the Eucharist with me. Suddenly I felt in my heart the joy of Jesus in giving himself to the prisoners. This is something I cannot explain to you. If you could only experience and know the joy Jesus has in the Eucharist to come into each and every one of us! Another experience I have had of the Blessed Sacrament was a personal, emotional healing for myself. Once somebody who was in the church really hurt me with his words. It wasn’t easy and I was starting to get angry. Although I am not aggressive by nature, this hurt stirred up a lot of feelings and bad thoughts against this person. I fled to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and just cried. In that moment I felt His love, for that person who hurt me, radiating out from the Eucharist and entering into my heart. Jesus in the Eucharist healed me, but more than that, as a priest it helped me to realize where the real source of love and healing is in our lives. Not only for me as a priest, but for married persons and young people - who can really give the love that we are looking for? Where can we find love that is greater than sin and hatred? It’s in Him, present in the Eucharist. The Lord gave me so much love for the person who hurt me. On the eve of the day I was going to make my first vows, a sudden darkness entered into my heart. I went straight to the tabernacle instead of finding my new room in the community. Then from the depths of the heart I heard the Lord telling me, “Hayden, you are coming here for me.” And suddenly all the joy came back. In the Eucharist Jesus taught me one very important thing about my life as a Franciscan priest—He has called me for Him, I exist for Him. The Eucharist teaches every one of us that we can do nothing apart from Jesus—it’s not about us, it’s JUST ABOUT HIM. We are in the Church to be with Him! As a priest, celebrating the Eucharist is the most wonderful moment I have with the Lord and it also brings me closer to the Christian community. It is Jesus in the Eucharist who is the source of communion between us. As a priest, I cannot live without the Eucharist. What is the greatest thing we can ask Jesus when we receive Him in our hearts? It is asking Him to fill us with His Holy Spirit once again. When Jesus was resurrected, He breathed the Holy Spirit into the Apostles. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, He gives us once again the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Ask Him to fill you with the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit. Broken for you Once when I was lifting up the Host and breaking it, I got this deep conviction regarding the priesthood. We look at the people through the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which is a broken body. A priest should be like that. He breaks his life so that he can give it to the community and the rest of world. One can also discover this beauty in the married life. Love is like the Eucharist. You have to break yourself in order to give yourself. The Eucharist has taught me how to live a celibate life, how to be Jesus for the community, giving my whole life for them. The same thing has to happen in married life. Finally, I can tell you that whenever I have felt lonely or down, just going near him—is enough to receive all the strength that I need, even if I am tired or sleepy. I can’t count the number of times I have experienced this in my travels and in my preaching. The best rest is to get closer to Him. I can assure you; He can renew us physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Because in the Eucharist Jesus is ALIVE—He is there for us!
Today if you clearly hear what God wants you to do...dare to do it! “Become a monk first.” Those were the words I received from God when I was 21 years old; 21 years old with the sort of plans and interests that would be expected of an average 21-year-old. I had plans to graduate from college within a year. Plans to serve in youth ministry, while working as a stuntman in Hollywood. I fancied I might move to the Philippines one day, and spend some time living among tribes on a remote island. And of course, marriage and children had a very strong appeal. These aspirations among others were arrested swiftly when God spoke those four unmistakable words. Some enthusiastic Christians express envy when I tell them about how God made His will explicit for my life. They often say, “I wish God would speak to me that way.” In response to this, I wish to offer some clarification on God’s pattern of speech based on my personal experience. God does not speak until we are ready to hear and receive what He has to say. What He has to say may determine how long it takes before we are ready. Until we can hear and receive God’s word, He will simply wait; and God can wait a very long time, as illustrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son. More importantly, those who wait on Him are esteemed throughout Scripture. I should preface my calling to become a monk with details about how my vocation really began, when I started reading the Church Fathers as an adolescent, or more accurately, when I started reading the Bible daily. Factoring in these details shows that it took seven years of discernment before I could receive just four words from God. Digging into Books I hated reading as a child. Sitting in a stuffy room with a book for hours on end made no sense when endless adventures were lying just outside my door. However, the imperative to read my Bible daily posed an unresolvable dilemma. Every Evangelical knows that any Christian who allows dust to collect on the Good Book is not much of a Christian. But how could I study Sacred Scripture as someone who hated reading? By the influence and example of a youth pastor, I gritted my teeth and set myself to the task of laboring over God’s Word one book at a time. The more I read, the more I began to ask questions. More questions led me to reading more books for more answers. Teenagers are intense by nature. Subtlety is something they learn later in life, which is why the Church Fathers left me so enamored as a young man. Ignatius was not subtle. Origen was not refined. The Church Fathers were extreme in every sense, renouncing earthly goods, residing in the desert, and often sacrificing their lives for the Lord. As an adolescent with proclivities toward the extreme, I found no one who could rival the Church Fathers. No MMA fighter could compare with Perpetua. No surfer was gnarlier than the Shepherd of Hermas. And yet, what these early radicals cared about was nothing other than imitating the life of Christ as modeled in the Bible. Furthermore, all were in consensus on leading a life of celibacy and contemplation. The paradox was striking to me. Being extreme like the Church Fathers entailed a lifestyle that, on the surface, appeared rather mundane. More questions to ponder. Talking Back With graduation on the horizon, I was torn by a couple job offers that would determine denominational affiliation, as well as prospective institutions for further education after college. At the time, my Anglican priest advised me to bring the matter to God in prayer. How I should serve Him was ultimately His decision, not mine. And what better place to discern the will of God in prayer than a monastery? On Easter Sunday, a woman I had never met approached me at St. Andrew’s Abbey, saying “I am praying for you, and I love you.” After asking for my name, she advised me to read the first chapter of Luke, saying “this will help you determine your vocation.” I kindly thanked her, and did as she instructed. As I sat on the chapel lawn reading about John the Baptist’s origin story, I noticed several parallels between our lives. I will not stray into all the details here. All I will say is that it was the most intimate experience I ever had with God’s Word. It felt like the passage was written for me in that very moment. I continued to pray and wait for God’s direction on the grassy lawn. Would He direct me to accepting a position in Newport Beach, or back home in San Pedro? Hours passed by as I patiently listened. Suddenly, an unexpected voice popped in my mind; “Become a monk first.” This was startling, as it was not the answer I was looking for. Entering a monastery after graduation was the last thing on my mind. Besides, I had a vibrant and colorful life to live. I stubbornly pushed God’s voice aside, attributing it to be some wild idea that rose from my subconsciousness. Returning to prayer, I listened for God to make His will evident to me. Next, an image captured my mind; three dry river beds appeared. Somehow, I knew that one represented San Pedro my hometown, another represented Newport, but the river bed in the middle signified becoming a monk. Against my will, the riverbed in the middle began overflowing with white water. What I saw was completely out of my control; I couldn’t not see it. At this point I became afraid. Either I was going mad, or God was calling me to something unexpected. Undeniable The bell tolled as tears trickled down my cheeks. It was time for Vespers. I shuffled into the chapel along with the monks. As we chanted the Psalms, my weeping grew uncontrollable. I could no longer keep up with the chanting. I remember feeling embarrassed about the mess I must have looked like. As the brethren filed out one by one, I remained in the chapel. Lying prostrate in front of the altar, I began to weep harder than I ever have in my entire life. What felt strange was the complete lack of emotion to accompany the weeping. There was neither sorrow nor anger, just sobs. The only explanation I could attribute to the downpour of tears and snot, was the touch of the Holy Spirit. It was undeniable that God was calling me to the monastic life. I went to bed that night with eyes swollen but peace knowing God’s path for me. The next morning I promised God I would follow His bidding, seeking to become a monk first and foremost. I am Not Done Yet? Although God is punctual at times, as with Moses on Mt. Sinai or Elijah on Mt. Carmel, more often than not, His words are inopportune. We can’t presume that by putting our lives on hold, God will be forced to speak up. He is not manipulatable in the slightest. Thus, we are left with no choice but to carry on with our humdrum tasks until we nearly forget about Him—this is when He shows up. Young Samuel heard God’s voice precisely when Samuel was attending to his daily (mundane) duties, i.e., ensuring the tabernacle candle remain lit. There are vocations within vocations; callings within callings. Thus, a student may very well hear God speak in the middle of attending to her algebra problem. A single mother may receive a word from God while quietly sitting in traffic on the 405 freeway. The point is to watch and wait always, for we do not know when the Master will appear. This gives rise to a question; Why is a word from God so infrequent and ambiguous? God gives us just the amount of clarity we need to follow Him; no more. The Mother of God received a word without much clarification. The prophets, who constantly received revelations from Him, were often perplexed. John the Baptist, who was the first to recognize the Messiah, second guessed himself later on. Even the disciples, Jesus’ closest kin, were constantly confused by the words of our Lord. Those who hear God speak are left with more questions, not answers. God told me to become a monk, but He did not say how or where. Much of my own vocation He left up to me to figure out. It would take four years before my calling was realized; four years (within which I visited eighteen other monasteries) before I was granted entry to St. Andrew’s. Confusion, doubt, and second guessing, are all part of the lengthy process of discernment. Moreover, God does not speak in a vacuum. His words are preceded and followed by the words of others. A youth pastor, an Anglican priest, an oblate of St. Andrew’s—these acted as God’s vassals. Hearing their words was essential before I could receive God’s. My vocation remains incomplete. It is still being discovered, still being realized every day. I’ve been a monk for six years now. Just this year I professed solemn vows. One might say I’ve done what God told me to do. Be that as it may, God is not done speaking. He did not stop speaking after the first day of Creation, and He will not stop until His magnum opus is complete. Who knows what He will say or when He will speak next? God has a history of having very strange things to say. Our part is to watch and wait for whatever He has in store.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, a sinner.” These words have been the battle cry of my life. Even in my earliest years, they were my motto, when I didn’t even realize. Mercy. If God had a middle name, it would be “Mercy”. Mercy held my hand every time I walked into the confessional. Mercy saved me time and time again, while enveloping my soul and pardoning me. My faith journey began decades ago when my parents chose for me what I couldn’t yet choose for myself—baptism into the Catholic Church. I was raised to know right from wrong. And I suffered the consequences when I veered off track. My parents took their roles seriously and took pride in teaching me about Jesus and the Church. They were God’s hands in my life, forming my conscience through His grace. As I grew, I hungered and thirsted for more of Him. Yet, the world and my own struggles with fear and anxiety got in the way. Vacillation between good and bad plagued my life for years. I called it “walking a tightrope between heaven and hell.” During college, I recall standing drunk at 1 AM in a bar bathroom, downing my drink while I prayed the Rosary, afraid that I would miss even a day of praying it. As I look back on moments like this that illustrated my internal tug of war, I am reminded of Mercy. I knew who I belonged to, but I was tempted to wander. An innate struggle caused by original sin permeates our lives whether we can name it or not: Our deepest desire for Christ is opposed by the allurements of the world and the evil one. Yet Mercy has pulled me out of the gutter of sin, cleaned me of the muck and washed me anew. Mercy has waited for my call, sitting by the phone at all hours of the night until I was ready to be picked up and brought home. Mercy has pulled me from going under, supporting me like a life vest. Mercy has listened to the screaming, the tears, the angry words, and held me close as I settled. Mercy has held me patiently as I fought back again and again. Mercy is the end. The beginning. My everything in between. The God of Mercy has waited for me, pursued me, and forgiven me for as long as I have known him. And by His grace, He has assured me that He is always there, arms outstretched, loving and forgiving again and again.
When troubles come, how quick are we to think that nobody understands what we are going through? In almost every church, we find a crucifix hanging above the altar. This image of our Savior does not present Him crowned with jewels sitting on a throne, nor descending on a cloud carried by angels, but rather as a man, wounded, stripped of basic human dignity, and enduring the most humiliating and painful form of execution. We see a person who has loved and lost, who has been hurt and betrayed. We see a person just like us. And yet, in the face of this evidence, when we ourselves suffer, how quick we are to lament that nobody understands us, nobody knows what we’re going through? We make quick assumptions and sink into a place of isolation bound by inconsolable sorrow. A Change of Course A few years ago my life changed forever. I had always been a healthy child, a ballet dancer with dreams I had already begun to realize by the time I turned twelve. I had regularly attended Sunday school and felt drawn to God but had never done much about it, so I went on enjoying my life, my time with friends, and dancing lead roles at top ballet schools. I was content with my life. I knew God was there, but He was always over there. I trusted Him, but never thought very much about Him. Yet in eighth grade, at the peak of my childhood dance career, my health started to plummet, and four years later I still have not recovered. It all began just one week after performing in a ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House, the day after I received the sacrament of Confirmation, and two weeks before I was to attend a summer intensive at the second most prestigious dance school in the United States. A bad strain of ligaments in my foot aggravated a previously undiscovered break in my ankle bone which now required surgery. Then I developed appendicitis, requiring another surgery. The two surgeries in close succession caused severe damage to my neurological and immune systems and weakened me to a point that no doctor could treat or even fully understand my situation. As I continued to push my body to continue ballet, my body pushed back and I ended up fracturing my spine, ending my ballet career.” Throughout the year leading up to my Confirmation, I experienced Jesus in ways I never had before. I saw His love and mercy magnified through study of the Gospels and discussions of His ministry. I started going to church every Sunday and experienced the power of the Eucharist. Before the confirmation classes with my parish priest, no one had ever taught me so clearly about Jesus’ love for me. His instruction clarified my growing understanding of who God truly is. Jesus, who I’d always known to be my Savior, was now my dearest friend and becoming my greatest love. He wasn’t just a statue hanging in the church, a character in stories; He was real, and He was the embodiment of Truth, Truth I had never known I was seeking. Through that year of study I made the decision to fully live my life for Jesus. I wanted nothing more than to become more like Him. Since my injury, as my health bounced up and down and took me off the path I expected to be on forever, I struggled to remain hopeful. I lost ballet and even some friends. I could barely get out of bed to go to school, and when I did make it, I couldn’t stay the entire day. The life I had always known was crumbling and I needed to understand why. Why did I have to suffer so much and lose so much? Did I do something wrong? Would it lead to something good? Each time I started to heal, some new health issue arose and knocked me down again. Yet even at my lowest points, Jesus always pulled me back to my feet, and back to Him. Finding Purpose I learned to offer my suffering to God for the sake of others and watched it change their lives for the better. As things were taken away, space was made for better opportunities. For instance, not being able to dance ballet gave me the space to photograph the dancers at my ballet school and showcase their talent. I finally had spare time to attend my brother’s football games and started taking photos of him in action. I soon ended up photographing the whole team, including boys who never had anyone come out to watch them play, let alone capture their skills in a photograph. When I could hardly walk, I would sit and make rosaries to give to others. As I began to feel worse physically, my heart grew lighter because I was given the chance not merely to live for myself, but to live for God and see His love and compassion at work in others and in my own heart. Listening to Jesus Yet it is not always easy for me to find the good in suffering. I often find myself wishing the pain would be taken away, wishing I could live a normal life without physical agony. Yet one evening last March I received clear insight into my eternal questions. I was in adoration, sitting on the hard wood of the church pew, gazing at the crucifix in the dull candlelight and for the first time I wasn’t just looking at the crucifix—I was truly seeing it. My body ached all over. My wrists and ankles throbbed painfully, my back hurt from the latest injury, my head was tender from a chronic migraine, and every so often, a sharp pain pierced my ribs and knocked me to the ground. Before me, Jesus hung from the cross with nails through His wrists and ankles, wounds from the whips lacerating His back, a crown of thorns painfully thrust upon His head, and a gash between His ribs where the spear had pierced His side–a spear that was meant to ensure He was dead. A thought struck me so forcefully, that I nearly fell over in the pew. Every pain I felt, even the smallest suffering, my Savior felt as well. My back pain and headaches, even my conviction that nobody else could understand, He understands it all because He experienced it too, and continues to bear it with us. Suffering is not a punishment, but a gift we can use to grow closer to God and to shape our character. While physically I have lost a lot, spiritually I have gained. When all that we think is so important gets stripped away, then we can see what truly matters. That night in adoration as I looked at Jesus’ wounds so similar to my own, I realized that if He bore it all for me, then I can bear it all for Him. If we want to be more like Jesus, we’re going to have to walk the same journey He did, Cross and all. But He will never leave us to walk alone. We need only to look at the Cross and remember He is right there walking beside us through it all.
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