Even though I was adopted into a non-churchgoing Anglican family, I always believed in God and my mother had faith. There was, however, a lot of brokenness in my family because my father came from a broken family and Dad’s way of coping was drinking. This led to a lot of instability and even violence.
When I was 11, my parents split up and my Mum, younger brother and I moved to Australia, with my three older brothers following later. When I was 18, I joined the army and remained there for seven years. For the last couple of years, I worked in career advising, then went to Sydney University and studied Psychology.
I had always wanted to be in control of my life and tried everything to make myself happy. But the older I got the more miserable I became and, because I was adopted, I was insecure about whether I was loved. While I was in the army, I fell in love with a young man and we had a serious relationship with a view to marriage, but one day I found out he was seeing another girl and this broke my heart. After that, I became more insecure and I would do everything to make myself lovable, including never eating sweets or anything fattening; I was very disciplined, always exercising and spent a lot of time trying to look perfect. However, instead of feeling lovable, I felt more insecure. When I was about 27, I met someone who loved me. He wanted to be very successful in life and, even though I wasn’t in love with him, I thought I would marry him because he would give me security. During this time, would often spend a lot of money at expensive restaurants and lots of drinking. It felt so superficial with everyone trying to outdo each other. I was carrying a lot of hurt, which caused me to put up walls, so most of the time I only really felt good when we were drinking. I would feel horrible afterwards.
On a good note, his mother had a deep faith and his parents really loved each other. This gave me security because I hadn’t seen a stable marriage before. Although I was living in a highly sought-after suburb, I was very unhappy. The more worldly I became, the more insecure I felt. I believed that I needed to impress people to be lovable. When I met my natural mother and sister, I discovered they were both highly educated, with my sister being a doctor. My natural mother said that she thought that I would have gone to a better family and been educated. This hurt me. One of the reasons I went to University was to show her I was smart. Nevertheless, I only felt more insecure because I realised that I was doing it to be accepted.
In 1998, my mother had a physical healing and I remember thinking, “I will never deny God after this.” My boyfriend’s mother asked if I would take him to church on Good Friday and although I didn’t know what Good Friday was, I said, “Yes”. On Holy Thursday, we went out and got really drunk, so I was feeling really ashamed of myself when we went to the Good Friday service. Afterwards, I got on my knees and prayed, “Dear Lord, help me to stop drinking and help me to be good.” Well, God certainly answered that prayer and He gave me His mother to help me.
The next day, at my boyfriend’s house, I felt a great desire to pray the Rosary and asked his mother to teach me. I wasn’t a Catholic. I’d never even heard the Rosary, so I didn’t know where that came from. (Now, I know that it was the Holy Spirit). She was busy making dinner, so she gave me a set of plastic rosary beads and a rosary card and showed me how to pray. So, I went into the spare room and spent about an hour praying my first Rosary.
I felt an astounding peace that I hadn’t felt since childhood. Wow! I knew Catholics had something extraordinary here. I beseeched Mary, “Help me to be like you.” I didn’t realise what I was saying, but the Holy Spirit, in His great love, prompted that prayer. God gave me His beautiful mother to teach me how to pray and discover Jesus through the Rosary. After that day, I never stopped praying it.
Six weeks afterwards, I visited England to see a close friend who wasn’t doing well mentally. I also thought that my boyfriend might realise how much he missed me. I arrived very early on the morning of my 30th birthday, so I was really looking forward to going out to celebrate my birthday with her. Unfortunately, she didn’t turn up at the airport. After waiting for a few hours, I rang her parents. Her Dad didn’t know where she was, so he told me to catch a bus. As I sat at the bus station, I said to myself, “I’ve got nobody – nobody loves me.” Before this, I would always pretend I had it together. I couldn’t stop crying as I faced the truth for the first time.
At that point, I heard a beautiful voice inside me say, “You’ve got me. I love you”. Instantly my tears dried up, I felt completely loved and I was filled with joy. In fact, I couldn’t stop smiling. I had never felt so complete and secure. All my life, I had been searching for love, but even when I hadn’t thought of Him, Jesus, in His mercy, came into my heart. From that moment on, I just wanted to know Jesus. Who is this God who would love me? I remember thinking, “This is the best birthday present I could ever have!” It was the beginning of my life.
On the 1st of September 1998 I became a Catholic. When I made my first Confession, I felt like a weight lifted off my chest. All the mistakes and sins I’d made and the shame I’d felt completely fell off me. The first time I received Jesus, I was a little bit worried because I didn’t ever want to sin ever again.
This experience completely changed my life. I returned to Australia and gave my life to God. I started off by wanting to know my faith and did various Mission Schools and formation programs. God gave me a heart for youth formation, parish renewal and evangelisation. Through this, a lay community evolved. During World Youth Day in 2008 I felt a strong call to be a Sister. I had previously felt this, but when I visited various religious communities the call disappeared. This time it was a very strong call and I knew it wasn’t from me. Archbishop Porteous, then auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, suggested starting a community under his authority and guidance, with the charism which had already evolved in the lay community.
In our community, we desire to become saints, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves, under the banner of the Immaculate Conception. The charism of the Immaculata community is Spiritual Renewal through Adoration, the Rosary and Faith Formation in parishes and in Mission. At the heart of renewal is love. Jesus said to love one another as He has loved us. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Love is particularly needed in our world and is the greatest way to evangelize. We want to help people to love the sacraments and their Catholic faith, to bring back a sense of prayerful devotion which fosters a love for Jesus. In our devotion to Our Lady, we teach youth to pray the Rosary and lead them into Eucharistic Adoration. Our Lady brings them to the feet of Jesus. Because Jesus gave us Mary at the foot of the Cross, she helps us stay close to Jesus and points the way to holiness. It was this experience of Mary which brought me close to God.
As Religious, we seek to imitate Christ in his poverty, chastity and obedience, so that we may have an undivided heart completely given to Christ for the service of His Church. We seek to follow Christ through the example of Mary’s fiat – “Let it be done unto me according to Thy Word.” – giving ourselves completely to the will of the Father through our vows. Through our consecration, we commit to always remaining faithful, with the Cross before us and the world behind us, at His Mother’s side. We also take a fourth vow of charity because Christ commands us to love one another and love is sorely needed in the world.
Mother Mary Therese
also appeared on the Shalom World TV program “Mary My Mother”. To watch the episode visit: https://shalomworld.org/episode/ sr-mary-therese. You can join Mother Mary Therese and the Immaculata Sisters in a live-streamed Rosary with meditations on their Facebook page every day at 10 am AEST.
In the midst of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic life as we knew it continues to change. We are stripped of so many things that were once a part of our everyday lives. And we stand amidst it all figuring out who we really are in this new normal. Typically, we spend our lives working hard to shape our own identity, to brand ourselves. We want to control the kind of person we appear to be. Depending on our interests, we pour our time into specific activities, sports, hobbies, and into whatever work has helped shape the perception of “who we are” for the rest of the world. We desire to be seen and known as a certain kind of person and sometimes we even flaunt our special achievements or successes. We buy into the idea that the things we have, do, and accomplish are what make us who we are--that they create our identity. And then all of a sudden, the whole world stops. No more sports. No more concerts. No more large social gatherings. No more intimate get-togethers with friends. No more travel. No more sense of security. And for some, a loss of money. a loss of employment. a loss of business. a loss of health. a loss of loved ones. a loss of life. We have been stripped. Stripped of much of what we thought we were, and much of what we thought we needed. Such a process of detachment is hard and painful and sometimes very scary. Sometimes, even without a world-wide health crisis, God allows us to go through a process of detachment from the things and ways we use to identity ourselves so we can discover our true identity. Inevitably, if we don’t know the source of who we are and what we’re worth, we attach our identity to earthly things that are fleeting and can be pulled out from under our feet at any time. Our sure and solid source is God and God alone. And we need to know him intimately. When we do, we’ll know how much he values us. You and I, my friend, are first and foremost beloved children of a loving Father. That is our true identity. That is the only identity that matters. The world will try to tell you otherwise. Your friends might try to tell you otherwise. The Tempter surely will try to tell you otherwise. But nothing changes the Truth of who you are. It’s your Truth and it’s my Truth, and it’s every person’s Truth. And it doesn’t matter whether or not we come to own it and believe it. Nothing we say or do can change that Truth. Our identity rooted in the Father is where we find life. And in the irony of the Kingdom Jesus established, it is only when we feel we have nothing left that we can recognize we actually have everything we need. Now, in the midst of this crisis, when each one of us is being stripped of some aspect of our former lives, now is the time to dig deep and claim our true identity. So I’ll start. I am Jackie Perry, a beloved daughter of our merciful Father. Who are YOU?
The simple and tender words of Jesus instructing us to “love one another as I have loved you” have taken on a deeper meaning for me over the past few weeks as the coronavirus has spread throughout the globe. I have witnessed love of neighbor in action from every end of the earth, and in my own backyard. And if this love had a sound, that sound would be silence: quiet classrooms, empty offices, and desolate parks. The silence is powerful. It is the sound of love. It is the sound of Isolation, sacrifice, and self-denial for the health and safety of humanity. What a beautiful movement in a defining moment. Odd as it may sound, there is an immeasurable amount of beauty in all this suffering we face. As I look in my daughter’s closet and see her dresses for prom and graduation hanging up, now never to be worn, I can’t help but feel a twinge of pain and sadness for the memories she and so many others will never create. But she is living in a moment she will never forget. A moment that none of us will ever forget --when the world came together and love spread faster than a virus. That is the most extraordinary memory to keep. That is what makes this time of pain and loss extraordinarily holy. Like many people, I hope that when love and prayer and science conquer this pandemic, life does not return to normal. I pray kindness and compassion will continue to overflow this earth. I pray the pain, sacrifice, and hardships we are all enduring softens us – softens our hearts, our actions, our thoughts. I pray that each of us will appreciate our blessings in life a little more, that our faith will become a little deeper, that our love for each other will grow a little stronger. My hope is that the little things in life become the bigger things in life, as our appreciation for everything around us flourishes. I pray that we fully understand what it means to love each other as Jesus loves us and actively live this love, because we are all in this beautiful life together.
“You touched my coffee!” the customer screamed at the young barista, who burst into tears as she helplessly tried to offer a new cup to the angry woman. We sensed she was not a local and the loyal patrons rallied to defend the young girl. “If you are so worried about contamination, you should not even go out!” shouted one patron. “Stay home!” another butted in. As a pastoral worker, I offered her a word of comfort. While she made my cuppa between sobs, I reminded her that the current environment made everyone tense, so she shouldn’t take it personally and let the incident ruin her day. Just a few minutes later, I had to take my own advice. When I accidentally overstepped the 1.5 meters mark at the grocery store, an elderly gentleman admonished me with disgust: “Stay in your spot!” adding a poke in the arm for extra emphasis. Then, when I took my little granddaughter out for a much-needed exercise, she was berated by a passerby, shouting “1.5 meters!” as he huffed away. Whew!!! Many of us have similar incidents to recount as the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll. We are all so full of fear and anxiety that we seem to have lost the love, joy and graciousness of life. Hardly anyone smiles now as we walk past them. Heads are bowed, as eyes flit about, alarmingly vigilant but spaced out. The body language signals, “Stay away from me”. This is easily understandable as we face a dangerous, invisible enemy and we do not know who will fall by its sword before the pandemic ends. Thousands of lives and livelihoods are being lost or impaired. Although we all know that social distancing and self-isolation are necessary shields, we all suffer its effects – some catastrophically. Everyone has been affected, especially the dedicated front-line health workers, who heroically continue their care despite the risks. Sadness over the loss of loved ones, for any cause, becomes overwhelming when mourners are unable to receive the comfort of friends and family. My heart breaks for them as I pray for the souls of the dead and for comfort for their families. Government and health authorities are doing everything they can to enforce what they believe to be the best measures to control and prevent it. Many of them compare it to warfare. And indeed, there are casualties. Every nation is at its knees. But what has been its impact on me personally? When the lockdown and the shutdown were imposed, I looked at the projects I was supposed to be working on. At that moment, they seemed irrelevant. I decided to put them away in the garage, knowing that I would not be able to work on them now. My perspective has quickly shifted as I live moment by moment, prioritizing health and safety. I needed to visit the doctor for a medical issue. I implored the Lord to spare me from needing hospital care, as I dreaded the atmosphere there at present. I am forced to be more reflective and examine which parts of my life need to change. Every day I pray on my knees to ask the Lord for help. At every hour, I pray my favorite psalm 91 for the Lord’s protection for everyone, and the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I usually get excited about future projects, but with COVID-19, the future is a blur. The unknown has become my daily reality. Because I am accustomed to a busy life, I needed to find activities to help me cope. I cook for the family more. Since my daughter and son-in-law work from home, I have taken on substantial duties in the kitchen. Family life has become our foundation. The first few weeks of staying home 24/7 were trying, but things improved as family solidarity was given greater importance and we appreciated each other more. Each of us contributed more to home duties. The daily laundry has become a consolation; its gentle whirring a sound of normality. Having ample time to clean cupboards and sort the house has given me a purpose. Sleeping-in became an escape at first, but then I also realized how exhausted my body had been over the years and I welcomed the rest and the slowing down. My shower in the morning has moved to an afternoon ritual as I rush to the shops for our essentials in the morning, while stock is still available. Simplicity has become a norm – no make-up, no perfume, just my unmade self. Little miracles happen. When I was desperate for toilet paper, hand wipes and disinfectant sprays and none was found at the shelves, some were left in an abandoned trolley! Reports from some parts of the world reveal that nature is taking a recuperative rest as pollution reduces and sky, oceans, forests revive. The closure of our churches during Lent and Easter was particularly difficult, and I wonder what message the Lord is revealing to us. Where is God in all of this? many people ask. Spiritual messages are plentiful. Most of them are encouraging, affirming that God is not the source of this, as He knows no evil, but He is travelling with us on this painful journey, just as He did when He suffered here on earth with us and His Resurrection gives us hope that we will endure this trial. Our prayer group that has been meeting weekly for the last 22 years was not discouraged by the lockdown. Led by the Holy Spirit, we conduct our prayer meeting and spiritual fellowship by phone conference every Friday and, gather prophetic messages and exhortations to see us through these difficult times. By embracing the use of technology, we can remain connected to our priests who continue to celebrate Mass for us. The blessing from this is that many people who were not previously present at Mass have joined us in tuning in to church gatherings and teachings, paving the way to a deeper, inner recollection and understanding of the faith. Never again will I take the gift of the Eucharist for granted. It is the most profound fast I have ever experienced. Recently, I got a call from a friend who is battling serious illness every day – at any moment she could die from heart and kidney problems. When she came out of hospital after another bout of complications, she told me that her outlook is one day at a time. I reflected that we are all in the same boat now. COVID-19 is teaching us an important lesson – to value each moment and be full of gratitude to God, from the instant we wake and all through the day. Words and deeds of love need to be spoken and performed right now, right here – not tomorrow. And have we ever said a genuine thank you to someone who served us today? “New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world. Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and all your creation, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.” Amen. (A Liturgy for Morning Prayer, Upper Room Worship book)
I had the most extraordinary experience of love of neighbor with a Hindu family. A gentleman came to our house and said, “Mother Teresa, there is a family who has not eaten for so long. Do something.” So, I took some rice and went there immediately. When I saw the children, their eyes were shining with hunger. I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger, but I have seen it very often. The mother of the family took the rice I gave her and went out. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go; what did you do?” She gave me a very simple answer: “They [a neighbor family] are hungry also.” What struck me most was that they were a Muslim family. And she knew. I did not bring any more rice that evening, because I wanted them - Hindus and Muslims - to enjoy the joy of sharing. Those children were radiating joy - sharing their joy and peace with their mother because she had the love to give until it hurts. You see this is where love begins - at home in the family.” [Excerpt from “A Call to Mercy” by Mother Teresa] This happened at a time when religious violence was prevalent in India, and thousands of people died in the riots between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The unselfishly generous gift this poor woman unhesitatingly gave to her hungry neighbors, who happened to be a Muslim family, deeply touched Mother Teresa. She often looked to the poor; for their love was simple and their hearts were full of joy. Mother Teresa invites us to learn from the poor and receive their joy by sharing our blessings generously. “Not all of us are called to do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
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