Your life will never be the same if you do this…
Words are all around us and are used to make us feel or react to things and events. Words are powerful tools to lift us up or bring us down. In this fast paced internet age of communication, it is more important than ever to look for words that inspire and give hope. Years ago, there were bumper stickers and signs that simply read “John 3:16”. I had no idea what these words were referring to. One day, a friend explained that it was a Bible verse. After finally getting around to looking up that verse, I can honestly say they were the most powerful uplifting words that I have ever read. This scripture has become so popular, that most people can recite some, if not all of it from memory. Why would so many people memorize this verse and print its simple reference in public places? It’s simply because these words are packed full of love, hope and salvation.
John tells us in his Gospel that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This passage not only gives us hope for our salvation, it is a message of immense love. Read it again…God so loved the world! Let that sink in a few minutes. God loves ALL of us and EVERYTHING in the world that He has created. This is a powerful message worth unpacking, but I must backtrack a little to explain how the depths of John 3:16 was revealed to me, in my own corner of the world.
One morning, many years ago, my husband had gone to work, our children had left for school, and the house was QUIET! Still in my pajamas, I sat at my kitchen table with a warm cup of tea, planning to settle in with my sweet Lord to complete a weekly Bible study lesson. It was a cool, cozy California winter day. It would rain for a while, then the sun would peek out from behind the clouds just long enough to make everything glisten before another cool fragrant wave of rain would follow. The rhythm of rain and sun in northern California makes the most delightful rainbows that tend to remind me of God’s covenant with us. “He is our God and we are His people. He is my God and I am His…. (happy sigh!).” What a delightful way to start a Bible study session.
I have heard that God has a sense of humor, but this morning I was not in the mood to indulge His wit. I had just opened all my books, readied a pen, and sipped a bit of tea when I felt a soulful urging. Suddenly the rain stopped and the sun appeared. I tried to ignore the urgent prodding, but it became stronger. “But Lord,” I moaned, “I am still in my pajamas!” We had 2 small dogs and I felt that God wanted me to change quickly, leash the dogs and take them for a walk while it was sunny. I was not to take anything with me. I felt a peaceful but strong sense of urgency. I was out the door within minutes. I thought God had given me a brief window of time to soak up the sun since I was recently diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency. Sunshine, my doctor informed me, would help reverse that. But little did I know that God was about to facilitate a unique kind of Bible study.
At the round end of my neighborhood cul-de-sac there is an entrance to a labyrinth of walking trails. Approaching the entrance, I noticed a large white unmarked cargo van parked ahead. Although my stomach started to tighten in anticipation, God seemed to prod me onward. Close to the van stood an armed corrections officer standing at the ready. “Oh Lord, what are you up to? This isn’t funny,” I thought. I tried to act casual as I walked past the guard. I nodded at him, but kept walking.
Parallel to the trail, there’s a creek that fills with water when it rains. Looking down into the creek I saw 6-8 men in orange jumpsuits, the kind worn by prisoners from the local prison. Two beavers had recently decided to dam up the creek and caused a drainage problem. The men in the orange jumpsuits were low security prisoners sent to clean the debris from the creek. However, they were guarded by armed security. I clutched my Rosary and kept moving.
The prisoners stopped working as I walked by and a few of them made barely audible comments about my little dogs. Just then, one of my dogs decided it was time to answer nature’s call. She stopped in full view of the workers. Suddenly another correctional officer appeared from nowhere and approached my dogs and I. For some reason I felt guilty for lingering, but I was at the mercy of my dog’s timing. I wanted nothing more than to hurry along.
As the second armed officer drew near, my insides started to tense. But then I heard myself asking, “What are you guys doing?” I was surprised to hear my own voice break the silence. I already knew what they were doing. Where did that question come from? The officer confirmed my assessment and we exchanged a few quick pleasantries. I cleaned the area and continued my walk.
As I walked, I wondered why God had wanted me to leave the house so urgently. I thought again about the sunshine being a gift for me and settled into a peaceful walk. God’s presence was all around me and in the comfort of His presence, I decided to take a longer walk than I had intended. The Rosary in my hand became our conversation as I prayed the mysteries of the day. About two decades into the Rosary, the wind began to pick up and a light mist kissed my face as if God’s lips had gently brushed my cheeks. The gentle mist, however, soon turned into a light rain, which in turn became a heavy downpour that soaked me and my dogs. “Very funny…” I thought. I had not taken an umbrella. “You told me not to take anything with me!” I laughed at God’s sense of humor, thanked God for the rain and hurried home. But God was not done yet.
Were the guards and the prisoners still there? Approaching the trail exit I noticed the white van. For some reason, I felt relief that they had not left yet. Stranger still, I was suddenly convinced that I needed to give them something. But what? Water? Cookies? What? What did I have? My mind raced. I had made banana bread that was cooling on the kitchen counter.
Yes, that was it…quickly now…get inside and cut it up! The sense of urgency intensified. Don’t dawdle! Something was guiding me. Hastily I cut up the bread, put it on a plate, covered it and briskly left my house just as the white prison van was passing my driveway.
As if on cue, I waved to the driver with a smile. He recognized me and cautiously rolled to a stop. I held up the bread as if an offering. He rolled down the window and I said, “I just thought you might like the men to have this. They worked so hard.” I barely completed my words, when the officer smiled and nodded to accept my offering. I could not see any faces, but I heard a man in the back seats exclaim “Aah.” The officer took the bread and just before he rolled up his window, a prisoner poked up his head and with a toothless, godly smile said, “Thank you! Thank you!” I said, “God bless you” and one by one they echoed back the same sentiment to me. As they drove away, I slowly walked back into the house and sobbed tears of joy. I had been blessed.
I believe everything that happened that morning happened for a reason. Every word had purpose. Every second counted. The rain and sunshine performed on cue. Even my dogs’ cuteness and the call of nature played a role. God had set the stage and gave me a role to play in a powerful Bible study lesson that reminded me He loves us all and He never forgets any of us. He loves all of us no matter where we are, what we look like or what we have done. He loved me, He loved the compassionate officers, He loved the prisoners, He loved my dogs. He even loved and played with the wind, the sun, the rain, and the rainbow that day.
I may never see those men again in this life. I gave them banana bread to fill their stomachs for a brief moment, but God loves them so much that He gave His only begotten Son, the true and everlasting bread from Heaven. When God sent His Son for our salvation, it was because He loves! He loves All His creations. Everything God created has His love in it and through His Son Jesus Christ He will give us everlasting life. I have never looked at John 3:16 the same since that day. I see God’s love in everything now. I have also become fond of the expression, “Make hay while the sun (Son) shines.” But I have added something to it: “because you don’t want to miss God’s lessons or blessings!”
Loving Father I praise and thank You for loving me beyond all measures. Every moment I am in Your sight and You know the deepest recess of my heart. Today I firmly resolve to love You with all my heart and to never leave the light of Your unceasing love. Amen.
© serves the Church remarkably through her active involvement in various ministries over the years. She lives with her family in Folsom, California, USA.
Did you know you have an ever-present father? Read on if you are longing for his love. When you turn back Sixteen years ago I was facilitating a catechist class at Folsom Prison, a maximum security prison in California, preparing some of the inmates for Confirmation. An inmate named Juan, was telling his story. He shared that his biological father had abandoned his family when he was an infant and that his stepfather was aloof and abusive. In so many words, he said that his connectedness to a father of any kind was “messed up”. That might be the reason, he said, why he is drawn to his childhood faith--he is still seeking his father. I said, “Juan, God IS your Father and Jesus invites you to call him ‘Abba’.” “What does ‘Abba’ mean?” he asked. “It means ‘Dad’, ‘Papa.’ Jesus gives you permission to call God ‘Papa’,” I said. With tears welling in his eyes, Juan slowly and reverently recited the Our Father. He said it with such power and conviction that it seemed like he was saying it for the first time. The simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer and our own familiarity with it can mask what a phenomenal breakthrough it was in the history of religion. Jesus doesn’t address God as ‘Judge,’ or ‘Omniscient One,’ or ‘Great Power in the Sky’, or some other title that that would point to God’s transcendence. Instead, Jesus calls God ‘Father’ which evokes a sense of familiarity, reminding us how a child turns towards his or her father, trusting that they are loved by him. Filling the void If some experience their fathers as absent, judgmental, or harsh, it is possible they may project these qualities onto God. If they have grown to expect little of their fathers, they may also expect little or nothing of God. If their father was generally non-communicative, they may project that onto God. But Jesus taught us to call God “Abba” which means “my father” and evokes a sense of intimacy, of warmth, safety, and love. Such an understanding of God as loving parent can be found in the prophet Hosea, who captures this intimate Father-child relationship that Jesus invites us to: When Israel was a child, I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me, sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, With bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks. (Hosea 11:1-4). What a tender image of our loving God as one “who raises an infant to his cheeks.” That’s the image that melted the heart of a prisoner named Juan and filled his eyes with tears. Many people go through life seeking their father. But Jesus tells us we have a father who loves us more than any earthly parent ever could. We simply have to come before him and with the simplicity of childhood say, “Abba!” Heavenly Father I surrender myself completely into Your hands just like a child, and I trust in Your Divine providence. Each day let me feel those invisible bands of love which draw me close to You. Amen.
In 1926, as the Cristero war began, Mexicans had suffered religious persecution for many years. Churches were confiscated and closed. Religious education and gatherings were banned. Religious and priests were forced into hiding. One night, plainclothes policemen staked out a home where they suspected people were gathering to receive Communion. A man approached and quickly flipped the lapel of his suit jacket, as if to show a lieutenant’s badge. “What’s going on?” he asked. “We think a priest is inside,” they replied. “Wait here while I check,” he commanded. They kept watch as he went in to boldly distribute Holy Communion to the faithful waiting inside. Father Miguel Pro was famous for his impersonations. Using a variety of clever disguises, and often in the dead of night, he bravely ventured out to baptize infants, bless marriages, celebrate Mass, hear confessions, anoint the sick and distribute Holy Communion. On more than one occasion, he penetrated a jail disguised as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to Catholics awaiting execution. Dressed as a stylish businessman, he even frequented the neighbourhoods of his greatest enemies to collect for the poor. Arm in arm with a young lady, or dressed in the rags of a beggar, he cheerfully brought spiritual and material relief to beleaguered Mexican Catholics at the risk of his life. Renowned for his ready wit, he laughed in the face of death, “If I meet any long-faced saints in Heaven, I will cheer them up with a Mexican hat dance.” After little more than a year of this clandestine ministry, his enemies were desperate to eradicate his influence. Falsely accusing him of an assassination attempt, he was sentenced to death without trial, immediately after capture. President Calles invited world media to witness his execution, expecting Father Pro to break down and deny his faith in front of the firing squad. Instead their photos captured him peacefully forgiving and praying for his executioners, refusing a blindfold and welcoming the bullets with arms outstretched in the form of a cross, shouting, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long Live Christ the King!)
Want to be the best version of you? Take the first step! Missing Link My testimony is not about a powerful conversion, a life changing moment or a miraculous healing. It is a journey of small steps—a journey where I continually stumbled and fell, but God always picked me up and walked with me. I was born and raised Catholic. However, as many people could attest, this does not always amount to much. I participated in the Sacraments and went to Church regularly, but a personal relationship with Jesus was lacking. During my university life, whenever I encountered difficulties, I turned to God for comfort. He was always there for me, but I was not always there for Him. I put God in a compartment and I turned to Him only when I needed. He was certainly a part of my life, since I continued to go to Church on Sundays and pray frequently, but He was not central to my life. My own interests and desires were at the forefront of my mind. I never really paused to think about God’s will. Six months before graduation, my whole world turned upside down. I went through a really deep depression and for a long time, there was only darkness. The despair and hopelessness I felt is hard to convey in words, but I think that many of you reading this will have felt it at some point. When it happens, we go one way or another. We run towards God seeking refuge in Him or run away from Him in anger. Sadly, I chose the latter. I could not understand why God would put me through something so horrific if He loved me. For the best part of a year, I completely isolated myself. I stopped attending Church. I stopped going anywhere at all. I was caught up in feelings of shame and worthlessness. Thoughts like ‘you’re a burden’ and ‘everyone would be so much better off without you’ constantly invaded my head. My mind was like a prison that I just could not escape from. Thankfully, that was not the end of my story. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose”. This reassures us that, whatever may happen in our lives, God will work it out for our good. It also lovingly reminds us that we have been chosen by Him and we have a purpose through Him. This became evident in my life when I slowly returned to the faith with the help of various people and incidents that God surely orchestrated. Baby Steps This time, it was different. I attended daily Mass and retreats as I truly sought God’s love. However, my mental health struggles kept recurring. There was not any progression or recovery, so my future looked bleak. I was fed up with life constantly. The hope and peace Jesus promised seemed far away. As I said before, there was not a magical moment when things turned around for me as I would have liked. I had to wait for God’s timing. Nevertheless, some small steps helped me progress to a more positive state. My family is my biggest blessing. They have stood by me through the darkest times and I am truly grateful to God for them. About two years ago, we started reading the Bible for thirty minutes daily—something we continue to do. Even though it can be arduous, especially when delving into some of the Old Testament, it is definitely worth persevering. When we appreciate that the Bible is the living Word of God, we realize that there is an answer in there for everything. “Satan’s target is your mind and his weapons are lies. So fill your mind with the Word of God”—Greg Locke. This quote emphasizes how the devil uses lies against us as weapons. My struggles were mainly with my mind and I felt trapped. I wrestled with many sins that kept coming up again and again. The devil told me that I was unloved, broken and worthless when in actual fact, I am a child of God, who is infinitely loved. These are a few affirmations that the Word of God gives each of us: “I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works that He has prepared for me to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) “The Spirit of God, who is greater than the enemy in the world, lives in me.” (1 John 4:4) “I am chosen by God who called me out of the darkness of sin and into the light and life of Christ so I can proclaim the excellence and greatness of who He is.” (1 Peter 2:9) Flawless Love One of my favorite things about the Catholic faith is the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation). Being able to run to Confession and pour out my heart to Jesus has been immensely valuable. Receiving His forgiveness frees us from the guilt and shame which the devil condemns us to. The Holy Spirit helps us realize when we are on the wrong path, needing to repent and turn back to God. As long as we do this, there is nothing to worry about, although we may have to do it over and over again. The further we have strayed from God, the more He rejoices when we come back, just as the father celebrated when the prodigal son returned. This took me a while to realize and I still have not grasped it fully; I do not need to do anything at all to earn God’s love. It is an unconditional gift that He pours out on us. His love is not dependent on me or my flawed self. It is dependent on His nature which is all loving and merciful. Even through my darkest times and yours, this love gives us hope. In the book of the prophet Hosea, God proclaims that He will “transform the Valley of Trouble into a Gateway of Hope” (Hosea 2:15). This beautifully portrays what happened in my life. Through His love, God transformed my troubles into an opportunity to have hope and share that hope with you. Step by Step In hindsight, my pain led me to ultimately get closer to God. He is the only one who has truly been there for me through everything. He is not only the majestic, all powerful God, He is my comforter and friend. I have learned to be more accepting of God’s will and His timing. My life definitely didn’t pan out the way I planned, but that is not a bad thing because God’s ways are higher than my ways. “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9) Many small factors contributed over time to increasing my faith. It led me to a deeper appreciation and understanding of God. I also truly believe that the power of prayer has helped me survive life’s many challenges. I humbly request that you keep me in your prayers and that we all adopt a mentality of praying for each other. As my testimony shows, we do not necessarily have to do ‘big’ things to get closer to God. Small steps are all it takes. I hope you are able to take a small step towards God today. He is waiting lovingly with open arms. Dear God, I firmly believe and hope in You. Each day I rise up to take one more step closer to You. All I ask is for the grace to know You and love You. Let me be enfolded in Your loving arms. Amen
On August 18, 1996, when Mass concluded in the Church of Santa Maria y Caballito Almagro, a woman reported that a consecrated Host had been abandoned on a dusty candle holder at the back of the Church. Since it was not in a fit condition to be consumed, the priest followed normal protocols by placing the Host in water and storing it in the tabernacle. The following Monday, when the tabernacle was opened, the Host appeared to be suffused with a bloody substance. This was reported to Bishop Jorge Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis, at that time auxiliary bishop and soon to be archbishop of Buenos Aires). The Host was then moved to a secure location where the appearance of the Host continued to change until it was flesh alone. Archbishop Bergoglio led an investigation into the miracle after the host-turned-bloody was miraculously preserved for several years. On October 5, 1999, in the presence of the Archbishop’s representatives, a scientist took a sample of the fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. The origin of the sample was not revealed to the scientists. Dr. Frederic Zugiba, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist, determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA taken from the heart of a living person who had been tortured. He testified that “the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle which is responsible for the contraction of the heart. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”
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