Vulnerability: A Pillar of Charity

By Helen West

I was sitting in front of the face of Jesus in adoration one morning several years ago, desperately seeking direction in my walk with Him. I cried out to the LORD to tell me one thing, anything that He willed for me to do. He responded with a command to, “Love others as I have loved you.”

“Okay, a little cliché, but I can work with that, Lord,” I thought, and I set out to radically spread God’s love to those around me. However, I soon discovered what felt like a dam surrounding my heart, holding back the flood of love and mercy God had poured into me. I found myself being hypercritical towards others and making snap judgments of people, distancing myself from them if they behaved a certain way, said profanities, or expressed an opinion I disagreed with.

This plight went on for years as I wondered, “God, what is keeping me from loving the way you have called me to?”

It wasn’t until I was given the opportunity to attend a leadership retreat in the Fall of 2021 that it began to dawn on me what this commandment entailed. One of the activities with our small groups was to share life events that had shaped who we were in the present. They encouraged us to get vulnerable, and I was ready to stay within my comfort zone, sharing the same testimony I had in the past. However, as the first person in my small group began to share the inner workings of her story, my heart was broken wide open. I began to cry with her, rejoice with her, and found that many of her struggles resonated with me.

Seeing the humanity in the people surrounding me, I was able to take a deeper look at my hardships I had endured on my own path with the Lord, share them, and be met with receptiveness and compassion in return. It was in this communion with my small group that I found a greater ability to love others as God has loved me.

Coming off of that weekend, the Lord left me with a considerable truth: everyone has past wounds and experiences that have shaped them into who they are today and may not be detectable from the surface. Everyone has the same deep desires to be known and loved, and those needs can be neglected or wounded in many different ways. We may think that our struggles are unique or that another person doesn’t struggle at all— both of which are assumptions the devil loves to see us make because they foster isolation and resentment.

Contrarily, God challenges us to embrace individuals in their woundedness just as He has embraced us. Although everyday environments do not always allow for the deep intimacy I experienced at this conference, the Lord still calls us into relationships with others in the day-to-day. We have so much to learn from those around us and their crosses, as they can speak to the recesses of our hearts as well in unexpected ways. We can only reach the possibility to see God through others if we approach them with a tender heart that is abundant in love and forgiveness.

This is not a one time decision or a demeanor developed overnight. Radically loving others takes time, patience, strength, and trust. It takes spending time with the One who loved us into existence, learning from His experiences with rejection and hatred. This call to love our neighbors as He loves us requires us to stay close to Him who is Love and allow ourselves to be open to the ability to learn more about our God’s heart through authentic connection with others.

Christ is Born: Joy Conquers Despair

By Rosemary Sikora

Christmas is almost here- the best time of year. As this time approaches, we may find ourselves reflecting and analyzing our lives and seeing what makes us happy. This brings us joy, but for many, it can bring sadness as we cannot reach our own expectations of joy. We cannot see what there is to be happy about.

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St. Gertrude Prayer

“1000 souls? One simple prayer? Can I do that?”

The questions of an inquisitive little girl had begun. As a child, my parents would gather at my Nana’s home with a group of others to recite the rosary every Wednesday night. Most of the time, I would tag along, happily taking on the job of passing out papers to ensure that everyone had copies of the prayers to be said throughout the evening. Little did I know how much this role served as a precursor for another special mission that I would take up for a lifetime. 

As my Nana’s blue handouts spread throughout the room, my eyes would gaze upon each prayer, long before I could even understand the words. The Saint Gertrude’s prayer was among the many listed. I initially did not know of its significance, since to me, it was simply a routine prayer that I would try to join in saying. One night, I decided to ask Nana what this prayer was all about and what she told me will forever remain in my mind. She explained that Saint Gertrude was a woman who received visions from the Lord. Through her prayers and writings, we can learn about the depth of God’s love for us and for the salvation of all souls. God gave Saint Gertrude this specific prayer for the specific purpose of releasing 1,000 souls from Purgatory each and every time it is prayed with love and devotion. 

“1000 souls? One simple prayer? Can I do that?” I asked Nana in return. I was and still am so amazed at how one little prayer can have that much power. Whoa. Talk about mind-blowing! From that day forward, I began to pray this prayer every night, every time I struggled, and honestly, at every moment possible. I can’t explain why I had a sudden love and devotion to this prayer and its mission of saving souls, but something within me held on tight and hasn’t let go since. 

Maybe it’s because this prayer charges us with a clear purpose in a world full of confusion and ever changing expectations. Maybe it’s rewarding to know that “help is on the way” for those deceased who can no longer pray for themselves or have anyone to pray for them. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s personal: feeling a humble honor to be able to help the souls of my passed loved ones to enter eternal life. No matter what the reason, prayer changes things, and the Saint Gertrude prayer indeed changes the state of a soul! Best of all, we all have an incredible mission and part to play in helping to expedite their purification, alleviate their suffering and quench the longing these souls have for heaven!

For whatever reason I started praying the Saint Gertrude prayer, I know now that I have a strong desire to help souls. My prayer is that one day I will be able to greet the souls that I have prayed so hard for, face to face, and together, we can glorify and praise our Creator for all eternity! The Saint Gertrude prayer has helped me to realize the truth that it is “a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sin.” (2 Macabees 12:46). In fact, when souls reach their heavenly home, they then pray for those who prayed for them, out of gratitude! It is this reciprocating gift of prayer and intercession that makes the mission of prayer mighty! 

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home, and within my family.

The Saint Gertrude Prayer

Seeing People Through the Eyes of God

By Sarah Deluhery

Looking back as I have been working in retina ophthalmology the past few years as a Ophthalmic Technician, I remember quickly realizing in my first couple months on the job, just how many people have to carry the daily cross of having poor vision. In retina ophthalmology, low vision for patients is generally related to a variety of ocular diseases or ocular trauma. It can be difficult to care for post-op patients from retinal surgeries and witness the struggles patients have with their visual needs because it requires seeing your patients suffer.

It would be amazing if everyone in this world could have healthy, clear 20/20 vision. However, because this is not the case, the doctors and technicians jobs are to improve and medically treat and care for patients to reach their best vision possible. Fortunately with advancing medical treatments and surgery in the ophthalmology field, there are many treatment options available for patients.

Evidently, ocular vision is different from “faithful vision,” but I believe they can relate to one another. Helping others along with their faith journey takes practice and patience, but we all want to see each other grow in our relationship with God and the Catholic Church.

One of the greatest ways we can assist and help others is by having the mindset of seeing others through the eyes of Christ. This can be done in all aspects of our everyday lives— with family members, close friends, colleagues, peers, or even complete strangers. Engaging with other people who come from different backgrounds is part of life, and it makes life much more interesting.

Working in the healthcare and medical field that is very much people-based, I enjoy talking and getting to know the patients. Especially during this past year of the pandemic; there were patients who have not spoken to people in person in weeks to months. Many times we can learn from others, if we take the time to listen. Keeping in mind that everyone was raised and brought up differently, not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye on things. Showing others who you are and holding onto your morals and values are important. Being kind, genuine, honest and down to earth are characteristics that will not be left unnoticed. If anything, these faithful characteristics will make you stand out.

Again, not everyone in this world is going to agree or have the same beliefs as you, and that’s okay. The way we handle ourselves, and our actions towards others makes the bigger difference in showing others the example of how we can live out a faithful lifestyle. The best thing we as Catholics can do is to show love and kindness towards others; and strive to see others through the eyes of Christ. What comes to mind here is a quote from one of my favorite saints:

Do small things with great love.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Small acts of love and kindness to others may feel little, but the impact it leaves is meaningful. Our hearts do not have a maximum capacity for love; there’s always room to grow. This is a principle I believe both my parents instilled in my siblings and I from a very young age— openness for growth and love. Having that mindset of loving, being caring towards others, and being open-minded can open your eyes and heart to a new or different perspective. Our goal is to bring the essence of God to others with love.

I recently was talking to my mom, and in our conversation she said, “God only asks us to be the best version of ourselves we can be.” That statement is a good reminder to take to heart! I am grateful for the importance of the Catholic faith in my family life and the insights my career, experiences, and people have taught me so far. There is always room to strive for continual growth with your “faithful vision” through the journey of your life and your relationship with Jesus.

Flowers of Forgiveness

“How can you be friends with him after he hurt you?” another friend asked me recently.

I could tell she was looking for peace, and so I gently assured her with my smile that it is indeed possible to genuinely enjoy and love someone even with a history of pain between your heart and theirs.

I replied simply saying, “It is just no longer worth it to me to spend even one day not loving.” 

I have been reflecting on the story of manna; and in my own desert life, I see the moments when I was busy storing up instead of spending my day simply being grateful for the daily bread God was giving to me. The Lord told Moses,

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.”

Exodus 16:4

God wants me to cherish the people in my life just for today. I am not promised any other future except a life with Him, where pure love will be the law, and I will never hesitate to follow its perfect commands. And until I arrive to that eternal home, the purpose for my journey through this world is to prepare me with various tests to see if I can receive each day’s graces and respond with love, gratitude and forgiveness, just as My God has demonstrated for me time and time again after I have hurt Him. 

Love also reminds me of the servant who owed a large debt. His Master forgave his offense, even after there was an obvious sever of trust. Who among us has a boss that would let us off the hook for not coming in for a shift, let alone supply us more hours if we continued to fail in following through, especially with matters of money?

Yet here, this Lord removes any guilt, any shame or embarrassment, and allows his servant to take more time preparing what was owed. I imagine this servant to be feeling the most relaxed he has ever been, having basically just escaped imprisonment. Yet, his appreciation bears no fruit: when he in turn is financially slapped by one of his own slaves who had also forgotten that it was payday, he did not show the same Mercy to one whose debt was much smaller than his own offense.

I, too, am posed with the question of my own handling of offenses. How can I not share the great love given to me, day to night, for every stumble and sin, at every stopping point, constantly poured out after I have pierced the Heart of My Beloved? If He continues to overflow with graces of healing for my thirsty soul, then I refuse to be a dam preventing His Mercies from reaching those who are most in need of water. 

But on my own, I cannot love anyone. I am merely dust. Only God can love and then use me for His purpose of love. It is my brokenness that nurtures the demand my human heart has for His Love. Without the example of Grace from my Master, my encounters with another’s offenses would bear no fruit of forgiveness.

His Grace is the water. My sins are the seeds, and from their evil, His Goodness is manifested and His Flowers of Mercy are delighted in. These sins and grievances set in motion for my soul’s garden a necessary death, and I return weeping after having rejected His Goodness. In this death, Love raises me out of My Pride to His Selfless Heart—this is where I learn how to be forgiven and forgiving.

His Heart is where I learn how to love with no agenda. His Heart teaches me how to love someone after both of our human hearts have caused damage. In the classroom of His Heart, I come to know where my own choices have made my Savior Sorrowful. But also in this sorrow, I enter His Mercy. And my heart can only pray, “Dear Jesus, teach my heart how to love and forgive like you.”

Letting God Heal You from Trauma

By Caroline van der Wegen

When hearing the word “trauma” the first thing that comes up in my mind are terrible accidents, extreme injuries or emotional hurt due to horrific things that I have heard happened to people. I never thought that I would be in a situation where I would have to go to seek out help due to a traumatic experience. But this did happen, and I had to seek out help. And help came.

Let me take you back to March 1st, 2018. It was a Thursday, 3pm. I was working in Minnesota as a missionary for NET ministries. I am originally from the Netherlands in Europe, and I moved to the US in 2016, as I felt the call to be a missionary. My family was still back in the Netherlands, which made that it was 9pm for them when I got the call. On the other side of the phone, I heard my sister in complete panic telling me that my mom just had had two seizures within a timeframe of about half an hour. A bit later, I received the diagnosis that no one wants to hear: Brain tumor.

There and then, I thought that I was going to loose my mother very soon. I cried on my roommate’s lap, cried in the chapel, cried at home. Being on the other side of the world, I tried to support my siblings and my dad as best as I could over the many video connections. In the days that followed, I prayed, I cried, I prayed more, took some walks, and cried again.

I had planned on continue serving with NET ministries the following year. But after receiving the message of my mom, I changed my plans and decided I would go home to support my family. I did not want to leave, as I felt very called to continue to serve as a missionary, but now I had come into a situation where my family also needed me. I prayed about the decision and had some conversations with my supervisors. I told God that if He wanted me to stay another year, He needed to be very clear. A few hours later, just before I had to let my final decision be known, my dad called me and encouraged me to stay to continue to serve as a missionary.

So I did stay in America and continued my work as a missionary. After this traumatic experience, I went to seek out professional help. I found a counselor who was Catholic, and she asked me often about my own personal prayer life. This held me accountable to dedicate some time every single day for personal prayer, during which I pray and simply sit with God. I started to see that the Lord was inviting me to let Him heal the wounds that this traumatic experience had left. He invited me to reflect on every wound, on every part of the experience, and to entrust these to Him.

Reflecting back, I can now see that God had placed me in a loving Catholic community so they could be a huge support during that difficult time. I can now see more clearly that God is leading me along the path of His great plan for me, even though this plan is sometimes difficult for me to see. I learned to rely on God in a deeper way, trusting that He will never ever leave my side.

God truly comforted my heart by inviting me to lean into His love, by providing the loving community for me and giving me clarity on what to do next. He cared for me by providing me with a great professional counselor. He healed my heart through His invitation to lay down my burdens into His hands.

And my mom, she received surgery and is currently stable and doing very well! All glory to God!

If you have gone through a hard experience, a mental health professional, such a counselor or a therapist, might be able to help you. Besides that, I want to invite you to turn to God in prayer and to ask Him to show you His unconditional and abundant love for you. Ask Him to heal you. He is right here with you, by your side and He will never let you down if you just let Him. Ask someone can to pray over you for healing. Be open to be healed. God wants to restore you, He is waiting for you. Now it is your turn to run to Him.

Becoming a Parent

By Rosemary Sikora

Becoming a mom was the best decision of my life. From the first yes I said to my husband to now saying yes to life has brought me closer and closer to God by accomplishing what I have always been called to do. Every day I feel the greatest sense of peace and accomplishment of my life in fulfilling my vocation.

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Hard Christmas

By Rebekah Hardy

Christmas can be such a dreamy time of year: houses and churches take on new beauty with the lights and garlands, love seems to be in the air as couples post romantic pictures, we give and receive gifts–all of this is bright and merry and beautiful.

What happens when the most wonderful time of year is crossed with suffering? With loss? How can we navigate a time of great joy when it is overshadowed by great sorrow?

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Strength in Vulnerability

By Kylie Mann

Junior and senior year of high school were rough. I was in a dark place–alone–and my family was disconnected.

When you have depression, you just really don’t care. You don’t care much about yourself, let alone your family dynamic. Because if you don’t really care about yourself, why would you think others care about you?

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