The Tempestuous Road to the Altar
When God calls us, He also gives us the strength to overcome any obstacles that come the way. Read the amazing story of how Father Peter Tran clung to God when assailed by the storms of life
In April 1975, the lives of Vietnamese people who live in the South were changed forever when Communists took over the country. More than a million South Vietnamese soldiers had been captured and imprisoned in concentration camps throughout the country, while hundreds of thousands of clergy, seminarians, nuns, monks and brothers were detained in jails and re-education centers so they could be brainwashed. About 60% of them died in the camps, where they were never allowed to receive visits from their families or friends. They lived as though they had been forgotten.
A War-Torn Nation
I was born in the 1960s, during the war, just after the Americans arrived in my country. I was brought up during the fight between the North and the South, so it formed the backdrop of my childhood. By the time the war ended, I had nearly finished secondary school. I did not really understand what it was all about but I was very sad to see so many people grieving for all their loved ones who had been killed or imprisoned.
When the Communists took over our country, everything was turned upside down. We lived in fear under constant persecution for our faith. There was virtually no freedom at all. We did not know what would happen to us tomorrow. Our fate was totally in the hands of Communist Party members.
Answering God’s Call
In these inauspicious circumstances, I felt the call of God. Initially, I reacted against it strongly, because I knew it was impossible for me to follow that call. First of all, there was no seminary where I could study for the priesthood. Secondly, it would not only be dangerous for me, but also for my family, who would be punished if the government found out. And ultimately, I felt unworthy to become a disciple of Jesus. However, God has His own way to bring about His plan, so I joined the (underground) seminary in 1979. Sixteen months later, the local police discovered that I wanted to become a priest and so I was conscripted into the army.
I hoped that I might be released after 4 years, so I could return to my family and my studies, but during my training a friend warned me that we were being sent to fight in Kampuchea. I knew that 80% of the soldiers who went to fight in Kampuchea never returned. I was so terrified at the prospect that I made plans to desert, despite the perilous risks. Although I escaped successfully, I was still in danger. I couldn’t endanger my family by returning home, so I was continually on the move, in constant fear that somebody would see me and report me to the police.
Fleeing for Life
After a year of this daily terror, with no end in sight, my family told me that, for the safety of everyone, I must attempt to escape from Vietnam. One day, after midnight, I followed secret directions to creep to a small wooden fishing boat, where fifty people had gathered to squeeze on board to run the gauntlet of the Communist patrols. From young children to the elderly, we held our breaths and each other’s hands until we were safely out in the open sea. But our troubles had only just begun. We only had a vague idea of where we wanted to go, and had little idea of where to head to get there.
Our escape was full of hardships and perils. We spent four days in terrible weather, tossed about in a rough sea. At one stage, we had given up all hope. We doubted that we would be able to survive the next storm, and believed that we would never arrive at our destination, as we were at the mercy of the sea which seemed to be driving us nowhere, and we couldn’t work out where we were. All we could do was entrust our lives to God’s Providence. All this time, He had us under His protection. We couldn’t believe our good fortune when we finally found refuge on a small island in Malaysia, where I spent eight months in a refugee camp before being accepted into Australia.
Having endured such terrors, I finally discovered that “After rain comes sunshine”. We have a traditional saying, “a flow will have an ebb”. Everyone in life must have some gloomy days to contrast with the days of joy and contentment. Perhaps it is a rule of human life. No one from birth can be free of all sorrows. Some are physical, some are mental, and some are spiritual. Our sorrows differ from each other, but almost everyone will have a taste. However, sorrows themselves cannot kill a human being. Only the lack of will to continue in surrender to God’s will can discourage someone so much that they seek shelter in illusory joys, or choose suicide in a vain attempt to escape from sorrow. I feel fortunate that I have learnt, as a Catholic, to trust God entirely with my life. I believe that He will assist me whenever I am in trouble, especially when it seems that I am out of options, encircled by enemies. I have learned by experience to seek shelter with God, the shield and stronghold of my life. Nothing can harm me when He is by my side (Psalm 22).
New Life in a New Land
When I arrived in Australia, I threw myself into studying English so that I could follow the longing in my heart to keep studying for the priesthood. It was not easy for me in the beginning, living in such a completely different culture. Often, I couldn’t find the right words to convey my thoughts without being misunderstood. Sometimes I felt like screaming loudly in frustration. Without family, or friends, or money, it was difficult to start a new life. I felt lonely and isolated, with little support from anyone, except God.
He has always been my companion, giving me strength and courage to continue persevering despite all the obstacles. His light has guided me through the darkness, even when I failed to recognize His presence. Everything I have achieved is by His grace and I will never cease to be grateful to Him for calling me to follow Him.
Father Peter Hung Tran has a doctorate in Moral Theology, and is currently working at the University of Western Australia and St Thomas More College as a Catholic Chaplain.
Mar 14, 2023
Mar 14, 2023
Saying “Yes” to God is the best decision you can ever make!
“Please help,” pleaded the church lady making the announcements after Mass, “we desperately need teachers for the junior high religious education program.” I pretended not to hear. We had just moved back to Arizona from Illinois, and the oldest of our five children was entering high school. Each Sunday, the same simple entreaty. God must have been working on me week after week. I knew I was adding five kids to the roster; after all, maybe I should help. My resolve faded, and I signed up.
I’ve always said that I wasn’t born with a “no” gene, and organizations can see me coming a mile away. This newest yes is a point in case. “I’m a cradle Catholic; how hard could teaching kids be?”
Over the next couple of years, youth ministers popped in and out. After the most recent departure, our Pastor approached me and stated that my fellow volunteer teachers had recommended me to take over as youth minister. Me? Are you willing to try? Again, that missing no-gene failed to save me. God works in mysterious ways, and within a few weeks, I was the new junior high church lady. I previously assumed that only Priests and Nuns could work for the Catholic Church. I remember thinking how awesome it would be to work in such a holy environment with like-minded co-workers in the Lord’s Vineyard. It did not take long for that fantasy to be eradicated.
Shortly into my new gig, I had the distressing realization that someone who worked for the Church must be someone who had answers to tough questions and possessed theological smarts. That thought terrified me. I had no background or education in anything churchy. The reality that I was dumb as dirt when it came to faith invaded me every waking moment. Over forty years of being a Catholic and I knew squat. I was unaware of the often quoted line in which God equips those he calls. It was that very fear; however, that propelled me into action. Attending college was not an option. This meant I needed to get creative. I came across a cassette from Sister Gloria when one son was in her kindergarten class. For eight years, I never made the time to listen to it. Something compelled me to do so now. It was called “The Conversion Story of Dr. Scott Hahn.” I had no idea who Dr. Hahn was, but in a quiet moment, I pushed play. This Presbyterian minister’s journey for truth was fascinating, which brought him into the Catholic Church.
I craved more.
About that time, we were made aware of a Catholic family conference in California happening that summer. I had never heard of most speakers, but Dr. Hahn would be there. My husband was intrigued as well, and we brought the whole family. Speakers such as Tim Staples, Jesse Romero, Steve Ray, and so many other converts inspired us, fanning the embers of our hearts. We bought books and cassettes on many topics, including apologetics and the art of defending the faith. The kids were excited, and so were we. A passion was starting to burn in us that we simply did not have before. Year after year, we would invite other families to join us at the family conference, and they too would be set aflame.
I needed to be certified as a youth minister. Once again, God provided, and I attended the St. John Bosco summer conference at Franciscan University. This was all a new adventure to me. I had never experienced God through prayer, worship, adoration, catechesis, and incredible speakers. I hungered for more with a voracity previously inexperienced. With every precious morsel I consumed, I desired more. How could I be this old and so ignorant of God and my faith?
Contrary to what people imagine, expanding your knowledge and love of God isn’t boring. It was stimulating and inspiring. My relationship with God was finally being fed. The Mass came alive for us. The joy and increase in faith were evident to all I encountered. My enthusiastic passion invaded all aspects of my life, especially ministry work. God generously blessed my, yes, and the fruit was abounding. All along, God had been moving me closer to Him, laying the breadcrumbs that brought me closer step by step.
Twenty-one years later, I still work for the Catholic Church but am now in Marriage Preparation. I still pursue many avenues of continuing to stoke that fire that was set ablaze so many years ago. My endless gratitude goes to those converts who, at all costs, pursued truth and were open to where God led them. They will never know how many lives God impacted by their yes, and by extension, mine.
And those five little kids were married in the Church and are raising their children to know God and love their Catholic faith. My husband, too, has been a Deacon for ten years. All glory to you, oh Lord. You are so generous and good to us; you knew the best route to set my heart on fire. I cannot thank you enough. “Moreover, God can make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Through suffering and prayer, everything you have given me has led me ever closer to you and all those whom you have placed on my path. Thank you Lord!
Sep 09, 2022
Sep 09, 2022
Overwhelmed by life’s burdens? Find out how you can heave a sigh of relief
For many years of my marriage, I carried the burden of being married to a spouse who didn’t share my faith. As parents, many of us carry the burdens of our children and family members. But I would say to you, trust in God’s plan, trust in His perfect timing for His divine providence. Psalm 68:18-20 says, “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” What should we do with our burdens?
Firstly, don’t despair. When we are discouraged, it is never of the Lord. We know that the Bible tells us in Mathew 6:34, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” Scripture also says, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” When we are at peace, it’s of God, but when we are worried, it’s of the devil. There is no worry in Heaven, only love, joy and peace.
My beloved husband, Freddy, developed Alzheimer’s disease in the last eight and a half years of his life. Through this period of living with a husband who had Alzheimer’s, I found that the Lord’s grace was amazing in my life. He gave me the grace not to carry the burden of his illness. This could have destroyed me. I found myself in a position where I had to pray and continually give everything to the Lord, on a moment by moment basis. When you live with someone who has Alzheimer’s life is constantly changing. Every morning when I get up, I go to the Bible. I make it the first fruits of my day. I know that my Jesus already carried every one of our burdens when He died on the Cross for us. He has paid the price for each one of us, and He waits for each of us to appropriate the many blessings that He has purchased for us through His death on the Cross.
Promises That Sustained Me
In that season I learned many lessons. I learned that sometimes God doesn’t want to change our circumstances, but He wants to change your heart through the circumstances that you are going through. That is exactly what happened to me. I learned more in the valleys than I did in the promised land and on the mountain tops. When you face challenging situations, you learn to swim or you flop to the bottom. You learn that God can find a way where there is no way.
I would continually ask the Lord, “Give me the grace like Paul to be content in all circumstances.” In the letter to the Philippians, Paul writes that he has learnt to be content regardless of the circumstances. Then he made this statement, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We have to know it is the Lord’s strength and not our strength that carries us. We have to trust in the Lord and not depend on our own understanding. We have to cast our burdens onto Him and allow Him to sustain us. When we start to go into worry mode, we just spiral downwards. That’s when we need to come to the Lord and give Him our burdens. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29) is a fantastic scripture verse that has carried me all through the eight and a half years. That’s a promise! So each of us in faith have to be prepared to throw the whole weight of our worry and anxieties for ourselves and our loved ones onto the Lord.
Take a moment now to give to the Lord all those people that you carry in your heart. It might be your spouse, your children, or someone else who has gone astray or is rebellious. Take a leap of faith now and give it all to the Lord because He cares for you. Give to the Lord all those areas where the enemy of your soul has robbed you of your peace. It took twenty-eight long years of waiting before my husband came to know Jesus. I would give him to the Lord all the time. I would say that he is a “testimony-in-the-making,” and I never gave up. God converted him and healed his soul through a dream. God’s timing is so different from ours. Luke 15:7 says, “there will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” I can tell you, there was a full-blown party in Heaven when my Freddy converted! The Lord showed me that he was one of my great missions. Who is your great mission? Is it your husband, your wife, son, or daughter? Ask the Lord to touch them and He will grant these prayers.
It’s Never Too Late
My Freddy went home to glory on May 14th, 2017. I know that he is up there now, and he is looking down on me. In Luke 5:32 Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” So, God’s mercy is FOR sinners, and we are all saved by His grace.
The Lord says in Isaiah 65:1, “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.'”
In Saint Faustina’s Diary we read about God’s mercy towards the dying: “I often attend upon the dying and through entreaties obtain trust in God’s mercy for them, and implore God for an abundance of divine grace, which is always victorious. God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illuminated by a ray of God’s powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God’s mercy!” (Paragraph 1698)
Let’s pray: Lord we come to the throne room of grace where we will find grace in time of need. We bring before you the ones who are treasured in our hearts. Grant them the grace of repentance and conversion. Amen.
Jul 27, 2021
Jul 27, 2021
Sometimes it’s the little miracles that bolster our faith and prepare us for the hard moments in life.
In our mid-twenties, when my wife and I were discerning a call to move from Chicago to Eureka Springs, Arkansas with members of our Catholic Charismatic community, we decided to visit Eureka to see what kind of housing was available. Two of our community members hosted us and showed us around. After a week, excited about our future in this picturesque town, we started our return trip to Chicago to make final preparations for our move to the Ozark mountains.
Twists & Turns
A few hours into our trip, engine trouble forced us off the road. The service station had good news—it was not a major problem, and bad news—they couldn’t get the replacement part till the next day.
We had to get a room at a nearby motel. The next day, with our car in good working order, we headed out a good bit lighter—money-wise that is. The motel room and the repair work used up most of our cash. We’d barely have enough for food, and since Nancy was pregnant, skipping a meal was not an option. I had no credit cards in those days.
We were sailing down the road when we were stopped by a state trooper. He flagged us down, along with five other cars, for speeding. One car after another, we pulled to the side of the road awaiting our tickets. I knew nothing about how to pay an out of state ticket nor, more importantly, how to dispute the speeding charge. Very politely, the officer said, “You can go to the courthouse if you want. Get off at the next exit, follow the signs into town, and you’ll see the courthouse.”
The year before, Nancy and I took a delayed honeymoon to the Italian town where I was born. On the way there, we stopped at Assisi to visit our favorite Saints, Francis and Clare. In the basilica of Santa Chiara (Clare’s Italian name) we saw her actual golden yellow hair preserved in a glass case. Nancy turned to me and said, “If we ever have a girl, I want to name her Chiara.” I heartily agreed and looked forward to the day Saint Clare would have a namesake in our family.
As we neared the exit, knowing we couldn’t pay the traffic ticket, Nancy and I turned to Santa Chiara. “Dear Saint Clare,” we prayed, “help us get out of paying this ticket. Please help us.” Half-jokingly I added, “Saint Clare, we’ll definitely name our baby after you… even if it’s a boy!”
Immediately, the sign pointing to the town came into view. We could not believe our eyes. The officer had not told us he was sending us to St. Clair, Missouri! Not till recently did I learn it was named for a Revolutionary War general. But our naïve eyes saw the “St” followed by “Clair” and Saint Clare filled our hearts. We did not notice the difference in spelling of what we assumed was our beloved Saint’s name. This town of 4,000 in the American Bible-belt, we thought, was named for the Saint of Assisi! Overjoyed, we were convinced we had chosen well in turning to our dear Chiara.
I rushed toward the courthouse hoping to beat the other drivers so I could plead to the judge for mercy, but immediately the others pulled into the parking lot alongside us. When the courthouse clerk asked how I wanted to pay my fine, I said I didn’t think I was speeding and asked if I could speak with the judge. Though surprised, she said I could and nodded to a man seated at a desk across the room. As he took a long black robe from a nearby hat-stand, the clerk motioned us toward the courtroom where the man I had just seen was already sitting behind the bench wearing judges’ robes.
He called the first “speeder.” She insisted she had not been speeding and, to my delight, the judge was understanding, even agreeing that sometimes police officers make mistakes and innocent drivers get wrongly ticketed. I was much encouraged until he said, but he is the police officer and I must take his word. Your fine is seventy-five dollars.
The second defendant tried the opposite tack; all sugar and kindness, she explained the good officer must have made a mistake. Again, the judge indulged, conceding that officers are not perfect and sometimes even the radar equipment fails. But again, he turned on a dime reminding us that the officer is the duly appointed officer of the law. Her fee was eighty-five dollars.
I was next, and I started with a question. “Your honor, is it possible for me to be found not guilty here today.” “Oh no,” he said. “The clerk said you wanted to speak with the judge, so I’m happy to listen. But no, I can’t find you not guilty. We would need a jury trial for that.”
My only choices, it turned out, were to plead guilty and pay my fine or plead not guilty and pay my fine. There was no leaving without paying the fine. If I wanted a trial, I would have to return to St. Clair.
When Hopelessly Lost
“My wife and I are moving to the area in September,” I told him. “I’m willing to return for a trial.” The look on his face told me I was making progress. But suddenly Nancy rose to her feet, protruded her pregnant tummy, and called out for all to hear, “Oh honey, don’t try to reason with him. He doesn’t care about us. He doesn’t care that our car broke down and we spent all our money on a motel room and repair costs. Don’t try to reason with him, he just wants our money.” Try as I did to hush her lament, she forged on.
When I turned back toward the judge convinced hope was lost, he motioned to me to approach the bench. As I neared, he asked, “You’re planning to move to this area?”
“Yes, your honor. We’ll be moving to Eureka Springs in September.”
He reached under his robe into his pants pocket and pulled out a business card. Handing it to me he said, “The next time you drive past St. Clair, give me a call.”
I stood there, uncertain what to do. He gestured for me to go. I still did not understand. He motioned again, more forcefully. Tentatively, Nancy and I slowly left the courtroom.
As we approached the counter, the clerk asked, “What did the judge say?”
“He told me the next time we drive through town I should call him.”
She looked annoyed. “What’s your fee?” she asked.
“He didn’t give me one,” I said.
She looked as befuddled as I had been. “This has never happened before,” she said. “I don’t know what to do with your ticket.” She looked at us and said, “Ok, I guess you can go.”
Nancy and I entered our car in disbelief, stunned by what had happened.
But we knew who to thank. When we are young and less mature in faith, God often blesses us with small signs, like this, that strengthen our faith and ready us for the challenges life inevitably brings. Nancy and I received many small signs in those early days with the Lord. They persuaded us that God cares even about the smaller things in life—not just the cancers or heart attacks, not just the foreclosure or lost job. And God uses his faithful ones, the Saints, to be channels of his grace. As we grow in the Lord and our faith matures, we may see fewer signs because those early ones have built a foundation of solid faith that enables us to “walk by faith and not by sight (or signs)” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
But on that day long ago, in a town we were sure bore her name, we prayed that Santa Chiara would help us. And we have no doubt she did. Five months later our daughter was born in the Eureka Springs, Arkansas hospital. She was christened Chiara Faith.
By: Graziano Marcheschi
Jun 16, 2021
Jun 16, 2021
“I walk by Faith, not by sight” chuckles Mario Forte as he shares an astonishing life witness
I was born with glaucoma, so at the beginning of my life, I only had partial sight in my left eye and none at all in my right eye. Over the years I have had more than 30 surgeries—the first when I was only three months old...At the age of seven, the doctors removed my right eye in the hope of preserving the sight in my left eye. When I was twelve years old, I got hit by a car while I was crossing the road on my way home from school. After becoming airborne—thought I was superman there for a bit—I landed with an almighty thud and ended up with a retinal detachment, among other things I had three months off school recovering and undergoing more surgery, so I had to repeat Grade Seven.
Everything is Possible
As a child, blindness was normal to me because I could not compare it to anything else. But God gave me an insight. From a very early age, before I had received any official instruction, I would talk to God, just like any other person because I was so used to communicating with people that I could not see.
I could only tell the difference between light and dark, but one day, in the blink of an eye, everything went black—like a light switching off. Although I have been in total darkness for more than 30 years, the grace of God gives me the courage to keep going. Now, it is not the physical light I see, but God’s light within. Without Him, I would not be any better than a piece of wood. The Holy Spirit makes everything possible.
Sometimes people even forget that I am blind because I am able to move around the house, operate a computer and look after myself. This is thanks to my parents who always encouraged me to do things by myself. My father was an electrician who took me on site with him to help me understand his trade, even getting me to install power points and switches. He taught me how to think logically so I could adapt and improvise when things went wrong. My mother, with her caring, loving nature, sowed the seeds for my faith. She made sure that we prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet together every day, so those prayers are engrained into my memory.
They enabled me to successfully graduate with an IT degree. With their support, I would get in touch with the individual lecturers to get the course outline before the term started. Then we would go to the library to copy all the relevant materials so the Royal Blind Society could transcribe them for me.
A Higher Call
In my teens, I had a remarkable experience of God calling me. At that stage, I still had some sight in my left eye. While I was praying in the church one day, the main altar was suddenly illuminated with an intense light and an interior voice spoke tenderly, saying, “Come, Come to me.” This happened three times. Ever since, I have felt His hand protecting me with a love and mercy which I don’t deserve.
This calling led me to consider if it were possible for me to become a priest or a deacon. That proved to be unrealistic but my Theology studies deepened my faith. I began to lead devotion to the Divine Mercy in a charismatic prayer group with the support of the parish priest. Despite all the setbacks I have suffered, I am grateful that I can be of service to the Lord and the people that I have met through the events I organize—the Divine Mercy devotions, overnight adoration and 40 Days for Life—have also assisted me after the deaths of my parents, my sister and my niece.
They have become my family and help me weekly with domestic duties and special transport needs.
Deep in My Heart
The most tragic events in my life are not the lack of my sight but the loss of my closest relations, so I am especially grateful that these friends come with me to the cemetery to have a meal by the gravesides of my loved ones and pray the Divine Mercy chaplet for their souls. I try to focus on the positives—what I have, rather than on what I lack. I strive to do the best I can to carry out God’s commandments to love. Every day, I am determined to put God’s will first and put the Gospel into action.
Saint Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) I often joke that I literally do this. That little verse speaks volumes. We will not see the fruits of our labour in this life. It is such a joy to work in God’s vineyard. Jesus suffered and died for me. Every single person can say this. Anyone who wants to know Him can come to receive the Lord. I give thanks and praise to the Lord that He has given us the opportunity to receive His glorious presence into our being. His living Word can revive us with the hope of the Resurrection, so that we can live each day in His presence and carry out His command to love. In my heart, I sing Alleluia!
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible; look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy that in difficult moments we might not despair, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself. Amen.
May 20, 2021
May 20, 2021
Little did I know that a simple family hike would help me decipher a life-changing strategy...
Last year, my son wanted us to visit his college campus. Though I had seen the expansive university grounds and the mountains cradling them, his father and siblings had not. As restaurant owner/operators, scheduling the five-hour road trip and time away presented challenges, but I determined to make it happen. Since we could not manage more than a one-night retreat, I told my son to make the best use of our limited time. He chose a family hike.
Will Over Ability
I admit that at 49 I am more soft than firm. My regular exercise includes moving laundry bins, bending to pick up stray socks and forgotten books, and climbing the three sets of stairs in our house. When I planted my first step on the trail, I knew my will, not my ability, had to propel me forward.
Quickly I fell to the rear as the others had greater stamina and lung capacity. A few yards into the ascent, my breathing became shallow and labored, and my calves stung from the contraction of my out-of-shape muscles. I realized I needed a strategy to complete the hike.
I decided to let go of the big picture and focus on the details. Rather than concentrate on the three-mile trek, I would think about the next step. Often big-picture thinking makes me anxious, but attention to details tethers my mind to the present moment. I resolved to savor each observation and not stew in the what if's (what if my legs quit? what if I run out-of-steam? what if I can’t keep up?…).
The Unseen World
Soon, my mind became enraptured with the beauty of creation, I forgot the big picture altogether. I heard the gentle whistle of the wind and the rustling of leaves beneath the joyful chatter of my children. As I worked to keep pace and my lungs adapted to the exercise, a flush of warmth radiated across my skin. The soft green hue of plants still in bloom on the mountain floor caught my eye, as did the puzzles of bare, twisted vines in the fall canopy. My mind's eye opened to the unseen world above, below, and beside me. Stepping on the hard soil, I conjured images of insect armies marching nearby. I day-dreamed about the lives of the many creatures that inhabit our world: birds nesting in bare trees, rodents burrowing underground, and countless bugs climbing, flying, and marching. I thanked the all-good God for every single creature and every inch of the magnificent landscape he had placed me into that afternoon.
At one point, I stopped to photograph a tree stump in order to remember that the now-decaying tree was part of God's plan for this mountain. In time, the stump will disappear, and its donation will be absorbed into the mountain itself. As I focused my camera on the dying tree, a rainbow streamed across the image. I remembered the covenant between God and humanity. I recalled that it continues today, and I thanked God for his faithfulness.
My steps came easier when I wasn't counting. The journey became light when I laid down the yoke of what-ifs and invited Christ to walk alongside me. When temptation pushed in, I drew closer to Jesus. Rather than denying the challenge or becoming overwhelmed, I offered a prayer of surrender and entrusted my walk to his care.
At the start of 2021, what I learned on that mountain hike is still unfolding. As the world spins into chaos anew, I am understanding the value of the present moment. While big picture thinking is important for mapping directions and establishing goals, it can rob us of the beauty, peace, and fellowship of the present moment.
Had I focused on the length of the hike and my insufficient capabilities, I might have sat it out. Instead, I discovered a treasury of beauty and blessing. Instead of obsessing over the big picture I am now focusing on the present moment. Snuggling on the couch with a loved one, reading a book aloud, pouring myself a mug of coffee and inhaling the aroma, or calling a friend and laughing together. I am becoming more attentive and finding more ways to put my love into action.
My simple hike up a hill resulted in a new strategy for my life: being attentive to the present moment and expressing gratitude for the blessings in it.
This strategy is making my journeys easier (whether hiking up a mountain, completing a daily task, carrying a heavy cross, or living through this unprecedented time in history). Living in the present has become the key to unlocking freedom, a freedom no one can suppress. Christ is in the present moment. Let’s look for Him there where we are sure to find Him.
By: Tara K. E. Brelinsky
Dec 30, 2018
Dec 30, 2018
How often do we run through the motions of life, unaware of who we are and what God is trying to convey to us? Saint Catherine urges us to become who God created us to be. As we become, we will set the world on fire. For many years, I had been going through the motions of life, just taking care of responsibilities. Then God intervened.
An Ordinary Day
I was putting on my tie, getting ready for work. It was an ordinary work day. I was a mortgage manager at a bank. I made a good enough living to provide for my wife and four young children. We lived in a comfortable home in a well-planned neighborhood. We belonged to a good church with a large community of friends. At first glance, life was good.
Something happened on this particular day that I did not expect. While looking into the mirror, my eyes began to leak. Yes, that is right, this 6’4” 250-pound ex-football player began to cry. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last. This was not my normal daily routine while preparing to go to work. I was caught by surprise.
The Heart Speaks Up at Odd Times
My heart was trying to convey something that my mind was unable to comprehend. “What is going on?” I asked myself. “Why are tears flowing down my face at a time like this?” I did not have time for this, I had to get to work. So, like many previous days, I pushed these feelings aside and went to work.
Lion in the Ocean?
A few days later, Glenn, who worked for me, randomly offered: “Bart, you are like a lion in the ocean.” “What?” I questioned, “Lions don’t belong in the ocean!” Glenn shrugged his shoulders and quipped, “Yep,” then walked off.
This stayed with me for days: “Lions don’t belong in the ocean!” Something deep within my heart was being stirred, but I did not know what it was. I offered up this quick prayer: “What are you saying to me, Lord?”
Beginning of the End
A few months later, the mortgage industry took a nose dive. Perhaps you may have heard about the financial crisis of 2008. In the early 2000s, the mortgage industry achieved its best years ever. Within about seven years, the industry was at its worst. Those happened to be the seven years I was in the industry. I was a firsthand witness to the industry’s best and worst years. Fortunately, I was not part of the problem, but I certainly was among those who were deeply impacted by its collapse.
I hung on as long as I could, fighting to adequately provide for my young family, yet my dissatisfaction grew with each passing day. The grace that had carried me for the previous six and a half years had run out. I grew deeply discontent. I found myself longing to find a vocation that was more suited to my desires. Glenn’s words resonated deeply within my heart: I felt like a “lion in the ocean,” longing to find the “safari” for which my heart yearned.
A Way Out
I desperately wanted out, but I could not see a way. Where was I going to find a job that offered me this much opportunity? I felt like I was the lion Glenn spoke of, stuck swimming in an endless ocean of despair. I saw no way out.
Within a few months, a representative from human resources showed up at my desk with a box. My time in this ocean had come to a sudden end. I had no idea how I would provide for my family, yet I felt an unusual peace and grace in this time of difficult transition. I had renewed hope of things to come. I was eager to find my safari.
It was not an easy transition by any stretch of the imagination. I went without work for far too long. We had to sell our house and my family went through some very difficult times. Yet, at the end of this crooked road, there was a safari awaiting me.
I Found My “Safari”
For many years, I had longed to do ministry, yet opportunities would come and go and financial responsibilities increased as my family grew. For nearly seven years I put on a suit and tie and pushed aside my passions in order to provide for my family. That season had come to an abrupt end.
My heart finally caught up to me. The tears that leaked out that day where my heart’s way of saying, “Hey, remember me?” My heart was crying out in hopes of discovering my safari.
We were all created for a unique purpose. A lion does not belong to the ocean any more than a shark belongs to land. Everything is created to be who and what it was created to be.
We will not thrive outside of being what we were meant to be: a baseball was not created to be a light bulb any more than a light bulb was created to be a baseball. Each is created to be what it was meant to be. A light bulb would make for a terrible baseball yet walk into any dark room and turn on the light switch. Are you not glad someone did not put a baseball in the lamp? We find great comfort in knowing that a light bulb is in its intended spot. It was created to fill the room with light. So are we.
Launched into Fulfillment
While the circumstances were far from ideal, this closure in the mortgage business served as a catalyst to launch me into what God had for me next.
Since this time, I have stumbled upon my heart’s passion. I now work full time doing what I love. I travel the country doing conferences and retreats with my brother, seeing countless lives transformed before our eyes as the Father encounters the hearts of His people with His love and presence.
It was a tough swim in those choppy ocean waters, but today I am enjoying life in the safari.
Where is Your “Safari”?
Perhaps you are wondering where your safari is. If so, ask the One who created you. He will direct your steps.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
What about the journey on the way to our safari? Is it wasted? Was my time in the mortgage business a mistake? Not at all, it was God’s tool to do a deeper work within my heart and prepare me for days to come. It also served as a means to provide for my growing family. God promises to work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God used every bit of that season to prepare me for this one. There was grace for that season, yet when the time for change had come, the grace dried up. It was time to seek the next season.
Every step of the way prepares us for God’s greater purposes.
Know the Times and Seasons
There are times when God will open doors and there are times when He will close them. There are even times when He will dry certain things up in order to redirect our steps.
The key I have found is to take the time to listen; it makes things so much easier when we hear the voice of God within our heart (instead of human resources showing up with a box).
Time to Hear from the Heart
What do we do when God is stirring our hearts for a change? Will we listen?
What does the Church say about the Heart?
According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (“CCC”) 2563, the heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live; According to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," the heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place "to which I withdraw" (2563). The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter because, as an image of God, we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.
Time of Silence
There are times when God will call us aside so He can speak to us in silence:
“contemplative prayer is silence, the “symbol of the world to come” or “silent love.” Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In this silence, unbearable to the “outer” man, the Father speaks to us His incarnate Word, who suffered, died and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus. ("CCC" 2717). Time for Adventure Perhaps I am not the only one stuck swimming in an ocean of despair. Remember, lions do not belong in the ocean. They were created for a wild adventure in the safari. So were we. A Greater Lion We are not alone. Revelation 5:5 states, “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep not; lo, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered …’”
Jan 18, 2018
Jan 18, 2018
It seems like a pretty insensitive question. The disciples come across a person who had been blind from birth and ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus, of course, sets them straight. This guy is not blind because he sinned. He is blind so that the work of God might be made manifest in him. And then—BOOM—Jesus heals him. Blindness, disease, misfortune—when we encounter these things it is not God sending down his wrath because we have been bad. God does not work that way. Jesus comes to bring life, to breathe healing. In this fallen and imperfect world, God allows us to experience trials and misfortune so that His work might be made manifest in us.
But what about when Jesus does not heal?
Redemptive suffering, you say. It is the correct answer, but it is not an easy one. The whole point of this Christianity thing is that the path to heaven is the cross. We will all come to Calvary. We will all suffer. Yet, because of the Cross—because of Jesus— our suffering can have meaning. Our suffering is a part of our sanctification. It is meant to be offered up to Jesus in order to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).
Knowledge of this fact may not make the chemo easier or the grief hurt less, but at least, because of Jesus, we can do something with our suffering. We can give our hurt to Jesus. Not to make it hurt less, but to allow it to be used for good. Still, it is a bit difficult grappling with the fact that the same Jesus who healed the blind man sometimes allows us to continue in our blindness, our sickness or our pain without manifesting His power through a miraculous healing. Yet I also know that Jesus does not owe me anything. I know that on this side of heaven there will always be suffering. I really do not presume God to grant me miracles to reward my good behavior, and I know my struggles are not Jesus punishing me for bad behavior. Sometimes bad things just happen.
But if I am being totally honest, sometimes my “God doesn’t owe me anything” attitude has less to do with faith than it does with just not trusting God all that much. I spout off fancy, two-dollar phrases like, “Redemptive Suffering,” while on the inside, I am asking with the disciples, “Jesus, who sinned? Why did this have to happen?” After all, God causes it to rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike? What, then, is even the point in praying? Is it all just essentially “points” and chugging along so that you can end up in the right place when you die? When my knee-jerk reaction to suffering or trials is, “Well, God doesn’t owe me anything,”
I think there is something sort of “off” in my relationship with God. The statement itself is true. God does not owe me anything. He has already given me everything and then some. Yet, God loves me with the love of the Father. When I am crushed in spirit, His response is never simply, “Well, remember, I don’t owe you anything, Mary.” It might not be in His perfect will to take my suffering away in the way that I am praying for, but it is not out of contempt or forgetfulness on God’s part that miracles appear to not come. It is out of love.
God understands my pain. He wants me to draw near to Him in times of trial, not as some kind of test of my love for Him, but because He has a plan and purpose for every moment of my life. God causes all things to work together for my good—my ultimate good, yes, but the seldom spoken truth is that my ultimate good and my immediate good are actually not in opposition to one another. I once heard a priest (I think it was Father John Riccardo) say that the only thing that is going to happen at the end of our lives/at the end of time is that the veil separating us from seeing things as they truly are will be pulled away. It will not be that we suddenly will not remember the events in our lives that caused us great pain, we will just finally see them in their fullness. We will see where God was and what He was doing in our lives’ greatest trials. We will see that God never abandoned us, not even in our weakest moments, He was drawing us closer to Himself.
We will finally see all the ways in which God has made His work manifest in us, even in those times in which it seemed He left us in our blindness. We should never tire of praying for miracles; we can be assured that God is always, always at work within us.
Jan 18, 2018
Jan 18, 2018
Do you know what really bugs me about Advent? Or rather, the way people approach advent? Everyone skips to the end. We are happy about the fact that Jesus was born but even then we are honoring His birth mostly in terms of how His life ended. It makes sense that we do. Freeing us from sin is the reason He came to earth in the first place, so it is understandable to want to skip to the part where He fulfills this purpose. We have all of lent for that. What is there to take out of advent?
Something that really hit me recently is that Christ’s first miracle was becoming a baby.
His First Sacrifice
He performed a lot of miracles, but the first was to become a child. He gave many sacrifices, but the first thing He sacrificed was self-sufficiency.
When I was a little kid, my two goals in life were to be an adult and to be perfect. Easy, right? I went out of my way to show my teachers and my parents that I was more than capable of taking care of everything myself. My proudest moment in kindergarten was being left in charge of a classroom of my peers at five years old. I had decided that grownups were self-sufficient, as they should be, and as such, if I wanted to be mature, I could never ask for help. From anyone. Ever.
Something I was missing was that there was a lot more to Jesus’s life prior to public ministry and death. Just like what many do with advent, I glanced over the beginning and wanted only the end. Heaven was the goal, but I forgot that the journey still happens on earth.
Jumping to the End
I wanted to be like the saints who so often seem strong and tough, ready to die a martyr for God. I wanted to make the biggest sacrifices and fight the roughest battles. Though I had good intentions, this quickly turned into an intense fear of needing people. I told myself that things like friendship and love were luxuries, so I hardly needed them; I could accomplish more and be stronger with independence. Slowly but surely, I began pushing things down, believing this was a necessary sacrifice to make in order to be who God wanted me to be.
But I could not sustain it. Eventually, this strategy of mine began to crumble as the secrets and unexpressed emotions piled up and up until they burst. When they finally did, I found myself on my knees, sobbing to God, begging Him to help me. I needed my Father.
Since that prayer, God has been slowly teaching me that it is okay to be vulnerable sometimes and it is okay to need help. Even so, I still fall into the old trap. I look at the cross and I want so badly to emulate Him right now that I put the weight of the world on my shoulders. Four years after that desperate prayer, I found myself on my knees again, this time filled with anxiety and crying to God that I cannot do it—I cannot be holy, I cannot be like Him. In my mind, I replay all the times I failed. All the times I had been selfish. All the times I had snapped at my friends. All the times I had sinned.
I wanted to spread joy, but sometimes I needed help with my own problems. I wanted to be kind, but I still snapped at people. One day I could not imagine putting anything before heaven and the next I spent hours preoccupied with temptations. One day I thought I would never waver and the next it took an hour to convince myself to pray. I believed that God had a plan for me, but the plan was too unattainable; I was never going to get it right. Inevitably, I would let Him down.
Awaiting Baby Jesus
Then I thought of Baby Jesus—long before His miracle working, long before His preaching, long before His passion, He chose what His first act would be and He chose to become a child, a child that would need to slowly grow up, nurtured by the love of His family. Christ did not jump straight to the Passion, so why do I? I might not be holy enough to die for Him but, fortunately, He gave me a much more attainable first step.
I remember to go back to the beginning and always start with the first step. Who I am can be pretty messy and, yes, vulnerable, but that is who God made me to be. If vulnerable is where Jesus started, then it is a pretty great starting place for me.
Jan 13, 2018
Jan 13, 2018
I am five years old. I am sitting in my bedroom, pondering as I tend to do at this age. “God, I just want You to know that I am here when You need me,” I silently pray as I gingerly caress a favorite image of Our Lady. “I want to do great things for You one day.” This was not an uncommon prayer for me as a little girl, though I later discovered that it was unusual for most kids to be thinking in such a way at such a young age. For me, it was a fire that had been planted in my heart at Baptism. That fire awakened when I began Catholic grade school, and it only emblazoned all the more fiercely as I grew older, received the sacraments of First Holy Communion, First Confession and confirmation.
The Holy Spirit set His seal upon my heart. It was time for me to discover my purpose on earth. We are all anointed, brothers and sisters. Our Baptism seals us as God’s beloved ones. As such anointed people, we are all called to greatness, to do great things for God as I once prayed as a youngster. Your calling differs from mine, but they are all from the same great source: the Holy Spirit.
How do we live as God’s anointed ones when life is so hectic and seems to get in the way of all we long for and dream of? I am not sure I have an exact answer, but I do know that it involves the risk of vulnerability. When you and I are vulnerable—that is, open to authentic and wholehearted living—we become clay in God’s hands. First, we must become broken, and that brokenness is what we feel on a daily basis: lost, alone, afraid, overwhelmed, exhausted, confused. Maybe we just feel nothing, a sort of numbness that has led us to a place of complacency or apathy as we maintain the daily drudgery of life.
God wants more from you and me, my friends. He is calling us every day to continually hand Him our brokenness, our weakness, our littleness. How can we truly serve Him when we are still serving ourselves? Living our anointing means that we become totally His—Totus Tuus, as was Saint John Paul II’s personal motto—and belonging to another means we no longer live for ourselves. That is why we feel broken and alone in such a cold and calloused world.
To move beyond where you are, you must allow that brokenness to reach a place of His wholeness. Recall how He allowed Himself to suffer and die an unthinkable death so you and I might live eternally. His brokenness became our wholeness. That is why being broken ourselves and living in total dependence on God each day is a necessary first step in living our anointing, or our calling on earth. I have come to understand that living our anointing extends beyond what we expect. It is more than going to work every day. It is more than doing the laundry. It is more than taking the kids to soccer practice or piano lessons. It is beyond the mundane. Even if your life ends up being one that is hidden, like Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s was, when you live your anointing, you are moving beyond the ordinary into the eternal. Doing the laundry becomes an opportunity to pray the rosary. Taking the kids to soccer practice becomes a way to discuss with them how life is going and what kinds of issues they are encountering in the real world. Going to the office is a place where countless opportunities arise to evangelize others.
Live your anointing. It will not be easy, friends. It will challenge you. It will change you. But you, in turn, will encourage others. You will, one by one, change the world through the influence of your life: through every conversation, every smile, every act of kindness. Do not underestimate the simple ways you are called to be Jesus today and to encounter Jesus in others.
Be open. That is the first step. When your heart is open, you are ready to become malleable clay in His hands. Even should He choose to shatter you when you are a finished clay pot, you will not be dismayed but, rather, overjoyed. For a life lived in and for Christ is a life fulfilled. There will be no greater way you can give back to Him than by giving Him everything, starting today.
Aug 01, 2017
Aug 01, 2017
Every driver knows that one of the worst places you can find yourself in—is the "blind spot" of another driver. That is the little space in the line of sight between the coverage of the rear view or side mirror and the actual car next to us.
I think we have all had the experience of checking our mirrors and then changing lanes, only to hear the mad blast of a horn as a car that was previously unseen to us speeds past. While our heart races over the near collision, we practically break our necks double checking the next twelve lane changes.
And then sometimes the collision does happen. We could have sworn there was no car next to us but the accident happens and the problems and trauma ensue.
One of my friends noted that this is true in our personal lives as well. How many times have we "run into or over" others simply because we did not "see them." It is the boss who regularly becomes angry and screams at his employees because "that's just how he is." It is the meddling mother-in-law who cannot get through a conversation without saying something cutting or judgmental, when "trying to be helpful." It is the spouse who is more concerned about him or herself than the marriage or family. Often no one wants to confront these issues and so the problem continues. Self-awareness is minimal and the pain it inflicts on others pours forth.
Most of the time, our ‘blind spots’ come not from an area of malice, but simply from a lack of self-awareness. We do not know ourselves or our story well enough to understand what it might be like to interact with ourselves on a daily basis. I am often personally convicted when I complain about others because people have to live with me as well! They have to work, interact and relate to me—broken, fragile person just the same.
But there is also another aspect to ‘blind spots’—we often do not see ourselves as we truly are in our deep lovingness to God. As Saint Paul writes in the context of speaking about authentic love, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We all long to see face-to-face. Our deepest desires involve loving and being loved, knowing and being known. This is an ache for eternity. When we see God face to face, we will finally see, know and love in fullness.
Until then, we undergo this process of revelation, of knowing only parts and pieces as we move towards the whole. It is beautiful and sorrowful, wounding and life-giving. It is the path of true love—to behold ourselves and others as unique, precious and unrepeatable creations of God Himself.
We could ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our ‘blind spots’—that He reveals the areas where we “run over” and miss people because we just do not see them.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to speak to our true identity, our true lovingness, and live in that reality rather than relating to ourselves and others from our masks, our wounded and skewed vision.
We often do not know what we do not know. Let us ask to see clearly, all the way around.
By: Sister Miriam James Heidland S.O.L.T.