“I am ready to go to Hell,” I thought. “Why not? God hates me. I hate God. I hate everyone. Most of all, I loathed myself. I wished I had never been born. My life was devoid of hope, joy, and meaning. Every year was worse than the last. I felt trapped. Eternity in Hell was not a future destiny for me. It was an ongoing, present reality. I believed the pains of Hell would be awful, but living with pain, although horrific, can become tolerable. After all, some people live with chronic pain their whole lives. So, I convinced myself that I could deal with being in Hell forever. Life is full of suffering, so I thought Hell would just be more of the same. At least, in Hell, I could finally be free from God.
I did not believe that God was a personal, loving God. I believed God’s involvement in the universe was like winding up a clock and walking away. I did not want to love or serve Jesus because I did not trust Him. I made my own plans to be successful and happy, but they did not include God. As time passed, my dreams failed to come true. Although I worked harder, life got worse. I was doing things my way, but I was miserable.
So, I started praying earnestly for God’s help, but only for the great cosmic Santa Claus to give me what I wanted. Despite my prayers, my life became a long series of failures. God did not submit to my desires, so I became angry and bitter. I asked God for help, but He always seemed to say,“No.” I concluded that God was mean and selfish. I exhausted myself trying to follow my dreams, but instead of achieving success, I kept losing jobs. Every year, I made less money. My life and my dreams were disintegrating. The harder I tried, the further I got from my goals. I blamed God for making my life as miserable as possible.
I gave up on God, the Church, my family and myself. Hate stormed within me like a hurricane. My relationships with my wife and children collapsed. I began to drink heavily, and I isolated myself from everyone because I could not stand people. I would spew torrents of criticism, profanity, sarcasm, ridicule, and contempt at my wife and children. Self-contempt and anger became my closest friends. As my life became darker, I stopped praying altogether, and I started to blaspheme.God was the enemy. He was responsible for my horrible life. My selfcentred life was spiralling into the abyss.
Next, my health started to fail. In the space of two years, I developed low thyroid hormones, lymphoedema, and sleep apnoea. I began to lose vision in both eyes, so ended up havings even eye surgeries. I lost depth perception, became claustrophobic, had trouble walking, and had panic attacks. Eventually, I was no longer able to work. I was a broken man, reduced to a fearful wait for death.
I told my wife I was ready to go to Hell. To her credit, she remained calm. She told me that if I was going to Hell, I should do some research on Hell. Thank God for YouTube, I found a talk given by Father Ripperger on Hell entitled The Four Last Things: Hell, Heaven, Death and Judgment. Before hearing this lecture, you could have written my knowledge about Hell on a post-it note.
As I listened, I had to pause at the twelveminute mark. I needed a break because I was overwhelmed. I did not want to hear another word and sat with head bowed head, covering my face with my hands. Eventually, I screwed up my courage to continue listening. If I intended to become a permanent resident of Hell, I needed to brace myself for whatever was coming next. It got worse, much worse. After forty-one minutes and forty-nine seconds, Father Ripperger finally concluded.
I closed my eyes and begged God for mercy. Father Ripperger literally scared the Hell out of me. I came to a stark realization that all the sufferings of my entire life were not equal to being in Hell for a few seconds. I begged God to allow me to live long enough to receive the Sacrament of Penance. However, the earliest opportunity for Confession was three long days and four very dark nights later. Since it had been a while since my last Confession, I divided my sins into categories and wrote them down on a full sheet of paper, so I could remember them all.
When I was finally able to relieve my anxiety by confessing everything, the newly ordained priest who heard my Confession quietly murmured, “Wow.” As he absolved me from my sins, the amazing grace of God cascaded abundantly over me, filling my heart with peace and love towards God, freeing me from the crushing fear of hell.
I finally realized that I was the source of my suffering, not God. My suffering led me back to God. If I had been granted a quarter of what I wanted, I would have continued on my merry way, forgotten God altogether and wound up in Hell. Mercifully and lovingly, God allowed me to self-destruct, so that I could receive the greater gift of His mercy. I thank God now for all my suffering. It was a gift from God.
God’s grace changed my life completely. Instead of intense hatred in my heart, I now have love for Jesus and all people. Although my dreams have not come true – I am still unemployed; my health has not improved much; relationships with some family members are still damaged; I still have bouts of anger and struggle with depression – now that I trust in God, I have hope for the future and for my eternal destiny. I am better than I used to be, but I have a long way to go. By God’s grace, I will become the person He wants me to be. I cannot do it without Him. Even though my past sinful conduct was never what God wanted, He can take the ruins of my life and rebuild something more splendid than anything I could ever imagine.
Many people have suffered much more than I have. My adversities pale in comparison. For people who suffer so profoundly that it can seem that the sole purpose of life is to suffer and die, I do not have any good answers for you other than to say, “I am sorry.” Am I saying that horrific torment is your fault? No, but your tribulation is not in vain. It can be offered in union with Christ’s unspeakable and undeserved agony. Our earthly life can be cruel and incredibly painful, but although it seems that our misery will last forever, we are only here on this earth for a very short time. Put your trust in God who will render justice for every evil ever committed and restore those who suffered with infinite love and grace.
God will make all things new again (cf Revelation 21:5). “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
Although none of us want to endure any sort of pain, there is no way to avoid it. Some people disobey God’s commands in a vain attempt to evade discomfort or enjoy some dubious pleasure. Often, the consequences of their decisions cause them greater anguish. We would like our lives to be continuously happy and easy, as it will be when we go to Heaven. If our lives on Earth were blissful all the time, we could become apathetic and forgetful of God. “If God loved us, He would not let us suffer” is a lie from the pit of Hell. We are often willing to endure hardships in our professional lives, or for a sporting goal, while expecting that our faith lives will be easy and problem free all the time.
I am not trying to minimize your pain. I pray for people who suffer. However, Peter’s words resonate with me, “Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Without God’s love, we will have no joy or peace.
Do not leave the Church. Hold on to your faith. Keep praying and talking to Jesus who knows your hardships better than anyone. No matter what comes your way, do not abandon the source of love, peace, hope and joy. In the eternal darkness, there is only hate, fear, despair and torment.
It is not easy to endure misfortune, but in Heaven all sorrow will vanish, and eternity will be gloriously filled with unimaginable happiness. I remember in the past being irritated by those happy Christians talking about finding joy in the Lord Jesus, and I thought they were a bunch of hollowheads. Listen to someone who has hated God. Jesus is the answer and His Church’s sacraments bring us hope and healing for our distress. Suffering does not get the final word.
Lord God, we thank you for your unending grace and mercy which you lavish upon us. Help us to face the battles of life with strong faith in you. As we bear the sufferings of this life, we look to a future filled with hope. Amen.
converted to the Catholic faith at twenty-three. After twenty-six years as a “practicing” Catholic, he officially re-converted to the faith at forty-nine. He attends St. Monica Catholic Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Jon was a Special Education teacher until he had to resign due to medical issues. Jon has been married for twenty-six years and has five children who range in age from fourteen to twenty-four. He can be reached at [email protected]
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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