There’s no greater relief than to discover that someone is paying close attention to you all the time!
The other day I decided to walk outdoors to clear my head of worry. When I went out, I discovered a partly sunny, partly cloudy day. By the time I reached the sidewalk, a brisk breeze discovered me! I laughed as I said, “You don’t need to push me! I can walk on my own!”
As soon as I spoke to that wonderful breeze, I remembered that I was not alone. And I am never alone. I looked upward as I continued down the street and prayed: “Dear God, you know precisely when I need you to push me and when I’m able to walk on my own. Thank you for paying such close attention!” With that, I continued to enjoy the familiar scenery that is my neighborhood. With every step, a sense of belonging replaced the angst which had urged me out of the house.
I had been anxious because news reports from around the world offered little to smile about. Even the heroic athletes at this summer’s Olympics failed to distract us from the planet’s sorry state. When some of these healthiest of us humans contracted the COVID variant, I wondered if we will ever be rid of this virus. As I considered that possibility, I thought about everyone around the world who has always wondered whether they would ever be rid of injustice and poverty, war and oppression, disease and natural disasters.
The gospels speak of a young boy who was in the crowd on the day when five thousand came to hear Jesus, without thinking about their dinner. Realizing that those gathered must be very hungry, Jesus turned to his disciples and asked where they might get food to feed them all. The Gospel tells us that there was nothing available except the basket of five barley loaves and two fish which that young boy had brought along.
Since childhood, I have wondered how that boy managed to protect his food in the midst of that hungry crowd. I have also wondered what Jesus did to ease that basket from the boy’s hands and into His own. What made the boy give up what might have been his only meal that day or a source of income if he had sold the loaves to someone in the crowd? I think the answer lies in the familiar scenery which was that boy’s neighborhood- -the hillside, perhaps his parents and neighbors in the crowd and, of course, Jesus. Although he might not have met Jesus before, he had certainly heard His stories and he surely felt His love.
Although I enjoy the trees and flowers and homes that line the streets of my neighborhood, my favorite aspects of this familiar scenery are the people whom I meet along the way. In each one, I see the joy that makes them smile and the tears which accompany their sadness. I see soft hands which hug children and calloused hands which earn enough to clothe and feed a family. I see strong legs which run to help an elderly neighbor capture her escaped dog and gentle arms which embrace a grieving neighbor.
In every person I meet, I see someone who needs to be pushed a bit at times, and I see someone who at other times can walk on his or her own. In every person I meet, I see a soul about whom God says, “I know precisely when to push you and when you are able to walk on your own. I pay very close attention to each one of you because I love you!”
Knowing that God loves me makes all the difference. Knowing God is with me urges me on. Knowing God pays close attention to my joy and to my sorrow strengthens me to face it all because I am not facing it alone.
If there is anything we can do for one another while we dwell in this world-full-of-trouble, it is to remind one another that we face these things together, with one another and with God at our side. Because God loves us and always pays attention to us, nothing is too great to bear!
Mary Penich is a wife, mom, grandma and inspirational writer. After retiring from her career as a reading teacher and administrator, Mary began writing daily reflections at marypenich.com. She and her deacon husband serve at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Gurnee.
A Special Interview with renowned exorcist Father Elias Vella OFM, from the Archdiocese of Malta, who shares his incredible ministerial journey As an exorcist for the Diocese of Malta and at healing and deliverance retreats all over the world, I have been blessed to witness the healing and deliverance of many souls from demonic possession, oppression and temptation. I come from a small Catholic country, the Island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. As a Theology lecturer in the seminary for 24 years, I did not always believe in the existence of the Devil because I was influenced by Dutch and German theologians who doubted the reality of Satan. However, when I became involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, people began to come to me with problems that were connected with the occult, satanism and the Devil. I didn’t know what to do. I could see it wasn’t all in their mind and I wanted to help them, so I went to the bishop and asked if I should send them to him. He told me to go and study the issue and discern what God was calling me to do. The more I examined the issue, the more I could see the workings of the Devil and I no longer doubted. I was interested, not for myself, but because people were in need, so the Bishop asked me to become the exorcist for the diocese. Possession is when a demon takes control of someone, so that they are no longer free to think for themselves. Their will, emotions and intelligence become subject to demonic influence. However, a demon cannot take over the soul and cannot force someone to sin because you can only sin if you are free to do as you will, you know what you are doing and you want to do it. During an exorcism, a person can make sinful gestures, for example call out blasphemies or break a rosary, but these are not sins because the person is not in control of their body. In an exorcism, the exorcist (who is a specially trained priest) orders the demon to leave the body of the person in the name of God and by the power of the Church. It is often a struggle because the demon does not want to leave the body where he has made a home, but God is more powerful than the Devil, so he must leave in the end. Not all demonic attacks involve possession. Although, I have personally encountered many cases of demonic possession requiring exorcism, this is because I am an exorcist, so they come to me. It is actually very rare. Many people who think they need exorcism do not. They need other spiritual, psychological and physical help. Although I often visit other countries, I can only perform an exorcism outside my diocese with the permission of the local bishop. If I don’t have that, then I can pray a deliverance prayer, but not the exorcism liturgy. Every exorcism is unique. The Devil is intelligent and cunning, so varies his techniques to elude and deceive us. These are a couple of the people that have been successfully delivered from possession during an exorcism. During a healing Mass in the Czech Republic, I invited the congregation to wash their faces with holy water to remind them of their need for purification. After washing her face, this girl took a crucifix and started to beat me with it. I couldn’t respond violently, but when others had restrained her, we offered her an exorcism. It was very difficult because her father had consecrated her to the Devil in a satanic ceremony where she was smeared with the blood of animals. In Brazil, a fragile 16-year-old girl went into a trance during the Mass. When we prayed over her, she became so violent that she could break a chair with no effort and a strong man couldn’t hold her. Her possession had begun with superstitious use of idols, but despite the difficulty, she was able to be delivered with the aid of Our Lord in the Eucharist. We are all tempted or oppressed. Even Our Lord and Our Lady were tempted many times not to do the will of the Father, but did not succumb. Oppression is when the Devil targets our weak spots with an attack. It is not the same as possession. Often, someone who is spiritually attacked also suffers from psychological problems. It isn’t always easy to understand what originates from a spiritual problem and what is a psychological problem. Often, it needs a multi-pronged response. Prayer, grace from the sacraments, therapy and appropriate medical help may all be needed to fully recover. I pray for both healing and deliverance. The sacraments are the most powerful weapons against the Devil’s attacks. The Devil fears the sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of Penance because it directly confronts sin and the temptation to sin. When penitents acknowledge and renounce their sins, and ask for forgiveness from a loving God, they are rejecting the deceptions of the Devil who tries to entice us into thinking that our sins are not wrong; or that we don’t need forgiveness; or that God does not love us; or that He would not mercifully forgive us. Receiving absolution delivers a fatal blow to the Devil’s hold over us. This is why we must not neglect regular Confession. The Eucharist is a powerful weapon against the Devil because Our Lord is giving Himself to us in humility and love. These are two things that Devil make the devil suffer. He is the opposite, full of pride and hate. Because Satan has an insatiable desire for power, he will never understand how God could offer Himself to us. Therefore, when we receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, or adore Him in front of the Eucharist, the Devil flees, because He cannot bear it and wants to escape. So, when there is no exorcist to help people who are disturbed, they should seek the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. Protection Prayer Lord God almighty, grant me Your grace by the merits of the passion, death and resurrection of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ. I accept Him as my Lord and Savior. Protect me, my family, and all the surroundings I live in, by the Precious Blood of Jesus. I renounce and bind all the evil influences that disturb me, by the powerful name of Jesus and by the power of His Precious Blood and chain them at the foot of the Cross. Amen.
Before you fly away from your humdrum life into another romantic vampire story, consider this... As such, you can imagine that I am very fond of romance. A lot of us are. I am also single. Not being a hideous goblin (no girl is), I could get a boyfriend easily enough. The question is: what are my standards? I am a soldier of Christ and willing to fight to defend the truth. An important part of this truth is Christian marriage and sexuality. This topic is scorned by society at large, hence my lack of male companionship. If I am going to date, my minimum requirement is respect for my faith and boundaries. This is hard to find, but I’m not lowering my standards. I’ll tell you why. Shocking Truth! Forgive my bluntness. Girls my age are turned into easily- accessible entertainment for any male with eyes. In the name of empowerment, women are told to “dress how they want”. Translation: dress in the way those creepy guys on the street like. Virginity is a shameful secret. Any who dare suggest a sense of the sacred around women, marriage, or sex are evil misogynists. Poor female minors, enslaved by self-respect and safety. One useful tool for turning women into commodities, products, or slaves is young adult fiction. Every time I open a YA book, I see this: “McKayla is just an ordinary, plain girl with flawless skin and hair. Except she has a dark, mysterious past. ~insert stereotype. Evil or negligent parents are preferable.~ Then she meets... Brad. He’s dark, brooding, and impossibly hot (of course). What will happen, and will their mysterious connection win out against all odds?!” Next, you get to watch McKayla describe Brad in agonizing detail every three pages. She inevitably gets mixed up with him. He’s an assassin, a vampire, or preferably both. McKayla gets sucked into a dangerous relationship. Vampire cults are encouraged. Brad will attack her, pressure her, and attempt a seduction. He will go through periods of cruelty, the silent treatment, and possessiveness, interspersed with passionate statements about his love for her. Because of this passion, our heroine will gladly cut out every healthy influence in her life, following her “true love” like a lamb to the slaughter. Something about this feels just the tiniest bit off, doesn’t it? No? Is it only me who thinks it’s a romanticization of abuse? Alas, I am not exaggerating or joking. Here’s a paraphrase of a random page from a teen novel I picked up: “I couldn’t quite forget that he had tried to stab me with a knife ten minutes ago, but I couldn’t take my eyes off how hot Jason looked in those white jeans. His hair was... his muscles were...” Etc., etc., etc., another uncomfortably detailed ogling of our darling attempted murderer. I started the next book at the beginning. Page one was from the perspective of a male vampire prostitute. A girl comes and gives him money. She bares her throat for him to bite. He begins rubbing her thighs and pretending to groan in excitement. I close the book. Finally, in a very popular YA novel, the male lead breaks into the girl’s house and watches her sleep. Oh, how romantic! No Compromise Books like this groom young women to be the slaves and tools of evil men. Nothing is sadder than a young girl staying with a man who abuses her because he “loves” her. She thinks she can change him, or worse, sees nothing wrong at all. In a way, these men really are vampires. They will drain a girl of her self-respect, her virginity, and anything else they convince her to fork over. They leave their victims sucked dry in the dust. Where does this start? What makes women believe the lies? The shameless and evil romanticism attached to abuse, seen in the media, in movies, in the teen section of the most innocent public library. There isn’t even any bad logic in it, just malice. Marriage and sexuality are created by God and built on love. Love is built on respect, self-sacrifice, and honesty. Marriage is a union of equals, not a predator-prey relationship. Here’s a hint: this should be obvious. Still not convinced of the damage this attitude causes? Well, no hard feelings. I mean, I’m just a teenager watching this happen. Who can we ask about this? Hey, what about Mom and Grandma? They’re pretty experienced... oh wait. Everyone knows that no one born before the 2000’s can have anything useful to say on this (or any) topic. Of course today’s youth know better than to honour their father and mother. My bad. Alright, No more complaining. This shouldn’t be all problems and no solutions. We can still make progress in the right direction. The world might be dark, but luckily for us, the light of Christ is easier to see in the dark anyway. We, as Christians, need to fight for the concept of true love. It still exists. My parents show it. When you see an eighty-year-old couple still holding hands, remember. When you go to a wedding, remember. When you see a couple choosing children over wealth, remember. And hey, girls like me—Christian teenagers who just can’t seem to find a partner who will respect you! Don’t give up. Don’t settle for a dark, brooding guy who’ll suck you dry. Look for true love, cheesy as it might seem. It’s real. We have it every Sunday in the Eucharist. We deserve this self-respect. We deserve a partner willing to honor Christ and see Christ in us. It will be worth it. And quit reading those vampire novels.
Q –I know that we are supposed to have a devotion to Mary, but sometimes I feel like it distracts me from my relationship with Jesus. I just don’t feel very close to Mary. How can I have a deeper devotion to Our Lady without taking away from my love for Jesus? A – In my own life, I struggled with that very question. I grew up in an area of the United States that was mostly Protestant, and none of my Protestant friends ever had a devotion to Mary. One time when I was a teenager, I got into a conversation with someone in a checkout line in Wal-Mart, and when she found out I was studying to become a priest, she asked me why Catholics worship Mary! Of course, Catholics don’t worship Mary. God alone is worthy of worship. Rather, we honor Mary with the highest honor. Since she was closest to Jesus on earth, she is closest to Jesus in Heaven. She was the perfect follower of Jesus, so imitating her will help us to follow Jesus more faithfully. We ask her to pray for us, just as we might ask our own parents or a friend or a priest to pray for us—and Mary’s prayers are far more effective, for she is far closer to Christ! To grow in a healthy devotion to Mary, I recommend three things. First, pray the Rosary daily. Pope John Paul II said that the Rosary is “looking at the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary.” It is a Christ-centered prayer, loving Him through the Heart that loved Him best (the Immaculate Heart). The Rosary changed my life—I took it on as a Lenten penance when I was a teen…and I dreaded it every day. To me, it seemed so boring…all those repetitive prayers. But once Lent was over, I found that I couldn’t put it down. The repetition was no longer boring but calming. I imagined myself in the scenes of Christ’s life and encountered Him there. Second, consecrate yourself to Mary. Saint Louis de Montfort has a rich 33-day consecration to Mary, or you can use the more recent “33 Days to Morning Glory” consecration program. When we offer Mary our lives, she cleanses and purifies us, and then presents our lives beautifully to Her Son. This is how Saint Louis answers your question in True Devotion to Mary: With Preparation for Total Consecration: “If then, we establish solid devotion to our Blessed Lady, it is only to establish more perfectly devotion to Jesus Christ, and to provide an easy and secure means for finding Jesus Christ. If devotion to Our Lady removed us from Jesus Christ, we should have to reject it as an illusion of the devil; but so far from this being the case, devotion to Our Lady is, on the contrary, necessary for us…as a means of finding Jesus Christ perfectly, of loving Him tenderly, of serving Him faithfully.” Finally, turn to Mary in your daily needs. One time I was leading a wedding rehearsal for a very holy couple when we realized, to our horror, that they had forgotten the marriage license! I couldn’t marry them without the civil license, but it was too late to get it before the wedding the following day. I brought the bride and groom into the sacristy and broke the news to them—I couldn’t marry them unless a miracle happened. They were devastated! So, we prayed to Our Lady, who herself was married and who has a special love for engaged couples. We entrusted this problem to Her—and She performed a miracle! A parishioner happened to know a town clerk who came in early on her day off to give them a marriage license and the marriage took place as planned. She is a mother—we should bring our Mother all our problems and concerns! Never forget—true devotion to Mary doesn’t lead us away from Jesus, it leads us to Jesus through Mary. We can never honor Mary too much because we can never honor her more than Jesus honors her. Come to Mary—and trust that She will lead you to her Son.
Struggling to break that cycle of sin in your life? Gabriel Castillo was into all things the world said were good — sex, drugs, rock and roll--until he decided to give up sin and confront the biggest battle of his life. I was raised in a single parent household with practically no religious education. My mother is an amazing woman and she did the best she could to provide for me, but it wasn’t enough. While she was out working, I was home alone in front of cable television. I was raised by television networks such as MTV. I valued what MTV told me to value: popularity, pleasure, music, and all things ungodly. My mother did the best she could to steer me in the right direction, but without God I just went from sin to sin. From bad to worse. This is the story of more than half the people in this Country. Children are being raised by the media and the media is leading people to misery in this life and in the next. Our Lady Steps In My life began to dramatically change when I went to the University of Saint Thomas in Houston, Texas. At UST I took theology and philosophy courses that opened my mind to objective truth. I saw that the Catholic faith made sense. In my mind I came to believe that Catholicism was objectively true, but there was just one problem… I was a slave to the world, the flesh, and the devil. I was becoming known as one of the best of the bad kids and one of the worst of the good kids. Amongst my bad friends, a lot of them were going through the RCIA program to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and I thought “Hey I’m a bad Catholic…I should be able to get confirmed too”. On the required Confirmation Retreat we made a holy hour, I had no idea what a holy hour was, so I asked a professor who advised me to simply look at the Eucharist and repeat the Holy Name of Jesus. After about 10 minutes of this practice God stuck His finger into my soul and overwhelmed me with His love, and my heart of stone melted. For the rest of the hour, I cried. I knew Catholicism was true not just in my head, but also in my heart. I had to change. One Lent, I resolved to go all in and give up mortal sin. Just 2 hours after my resolution, I realized how messed up I was when I had already committed a mortal sin. I realized I was a slave. That night God gave me true contrition for my sins and I cried to Him for mercy. That is when a demon spoke up. His voice was audible and scary. In a high pitched growl, he repeated my words mockingly, “God forgive me. I am so sorry!” Immediately I called upon Saint John Vianney. The second I made that invocation, the voice went away. The next night I was too terrified to sleep in my room because I feared hearing that voice again. So I pulled out a Rosary, which had been blessed by John Paul II. I opened a Rosary pamphlet, because I didn’t know how to pray the Rosary. When I said the word, “I believe…” a force grabbed me by the throat, pinned me down and began choking me. I tried calling my mother, but I couldn’t speak. Then a little voice in my head said, “Pray…Hail Mary.” I tried, but couldn’t. The voice in my head said “Say them in your mind.” So in my mind I said “Hail Mary”. Then I gasped the words aloud, “Hail Mary!” Immediately everything went back to normal. I was totally freaked out and realized that this demon had been with me throughout my entire life. At the same time I realized that Mary was the answer. Even just calling upon her name liberated me from the literal grips of a demon. After a little research, I identified several reasons why I was infested with demons. My mother had New Age books, I had sinful music, I had rated R movies, I had been living in mortal sin my entire life. I had belonged to the devil, but Our Lady crushes his head. I now belong to her. Failing to Convert Sinners I started to pray the Rosary every single day. I found a good priest and began going to Confession frequently, almost daily. I couldn’t keep that up, so I had to start taking little steps with Mary to break all of my addictions. Mary helped free me from slavery and inspired the desire to be an apostle. When I prayed the Rosary, she helped me break my addictions and purified my mind. I ended up getting a degree in theology and a minor in philosophy because of my radical change and hunger for righteousness. I recited many Rosaries a day and saw Mary everywhere and the devil nowhere. After college, I entered the Catholic school system as a Religion teacher; I began to teach the young people everything I knew. Although they were in a Catholic school they had even greater struggles than I did. With the advent of smartphones they had new opportunities to have hidden habits and hidden lives. I was a great teacher and trying my best to win their hearts for God, but failing. Two years in, I went on a retreat by a VERY holy priest known for having spiritual gifts of discernment of spirits and reading souls. We were encouraged to make a general confession. Looking back on the sins of a lifetime, I wept when I saw how horrible I had been in spite of God’s goodness and mercy. The priest asked, “Why are you crying?” and I sobbed, “because I’ve hurt so many people and led so many astray by my bad example.” He replied, “Do you want to make effective reparation for the damage you have done? Resolve to pray all the mysteries of the Rosary every day for an entire year, asking Our Lady to bring good out of every one of your bad actions and for every person you hurt. After that, never look back. Consider your debt paid and move on.” Winning with Mary I had prayed many daily Rosaries before, but never as a rule of life. When I made the entire Rosary part of my daily routine, everything changed. God’s power was with me all the time. Mary was winning through me. I was reaching souls, and my students were changing dramatically. They were begging me to put videos on YouTube. Those were early days and I lacked confidence, so I uploaded other people’s talks with pictures. Mary led me to work at a neighboring parish that better aligned with my zeal for souls. The pastor really encouraged me to stir the pot, so with his support, I did. I began making videos on touchy topics. I entered a film contest and won a free trip to World Youth Day and $4,000 worth of video equipment. I am telling you, Our Lady is a winner. At World Youth Day in Spain, I went to Holy Mass at Saint Dominic’s Church. I was praying before a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary when I felt an overwhelming sense of Saint Dominic’s presence. It was so strong that I almost felt that I was standing before a statue of Dominic and not Our Lady. I can’t describe the exact words, it was more of a deep interior understanding that I had a mission to promote the Rosary because that has answers to the world’s problems. I resolved to do that with the help of tools he didn’t have. I began to research everything about the Rosary—its history, its composition, its elements, the saints who prayed it. The more I studied it, the more I realized how much it provided answers. Conversions and victory in the spiritual life were fruits of the Rosary. The more I promoted it, the more I succeeded. As part of this mission, I developed a YouTube channel, Gabi After Hours, which also has content on raising children in the faith, fasting and deliverance. The Rosary is the fuel for my apostolic work. When we pray The Rosary, we can clearly hear Our Lady. The Rosary is like a sword that severs the shackles with which the devil has bound us. It is a perfect prayer. I currently work full-time in youth ministry with kids just like myself. The majority of them come from underprivileged families, many with only a single parent in the household. Since most of these children are fatherless, with mothers working two jobs, some fall into bad habits behind their parents’ backs, like smoking marijuana or drinking. However, when they are introduced to the Virgin Mary, the scapular, the miraculous medal and the Rosary, in particular, their lives radically change. They go from sinners to saints. From slaves of the devil to servants of Mary. They don’t just become followers of Jesus, they become apostles. Go all in with Mary. Go all in with the Rosary. All of the great Saints agree that following Mary leads you on the fastest, most secure, and efficacious path to the heart of Jesus Christ. According to Saint Maximilian Kolbe, it is the goal and the role of the Holy Spirit to form Christ in the womb of Mary perpetually. If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, you must become like Mary. The Holy Spirit flies to Marian souls. This is the model for victory that Our Lord desires. We give ourselves to Mary, just like Jesus did. We cling to her, like baby Jesus did. We remain small so that she can live in us and bring Christ to others. If you want to win the battle go with Our Lady. She brings us to Christ and helps us to become like Christ.
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