Sunday, October 2, 2011

Transformed by Love - Our Testimonies, Part 4

Dana Garber

Going into World Youth Day, I did not have many expectations.  I knew it would be a fun, blessed trip, but I really did not know the extent of what I would experience.  Our first stop was in Lourdes.  I figured that I would like Lourdes, but had no idea of the impact it would make on my life.  I did the 33 day consecration to Mary and was able to say the final consecration prayer in the grotto at Lourdes on our last day with our whole group.  It has always been difficult for me to surrender my life fully to God with complete trust.  On this day, I was able to consecrate myself to Mary and by doing this, surrender everything to Him through her.

Next came World Youth Day in Madrid.  Every night, we gathered with over 1.5 million youth, all there for the same reason.  Everywhere we  went, we would see people with flags from their different countries. The first night that Pope Benedict arrived, we were all lined up and down the streets.  Flags were waving, people were cheering.  When we were waiting for the Pope to get there, everyone was screaming, "Benedicto!" and "Esta es la juventud del Papa!"  (This is the youth of the Pope!).  Sometimes back at home, living out your Catholic faith can be hard, especially when there aren't many people your age doing the same thing.  It can be lonely and discouraging.  Being at World Youth Day with so many others your age, desiring the same thing, excited for the same reason, really helps to increase your faith.  I realized that we are not alone.  I can go anywhere in the world and I will find the Church.  No matter where I am, I have support, I have my faith, and I have people who will help me live that out.  No other church in the world can do this.

The last event of World Youth Day was the all night vigil at Cuatro Vientos.  It was hot, dirty, then rainy and cold.  Despite all the  hardships that came with this pilgrimage, we received so many graces.   There were almost 2 million youth at Cuatro Vientos.  It was crazy and loud, but the moment that the Eucharist was brought out for Adoration, 2 million people were completely silent.  We all fell to our knees in Adoration of our Lord with Pope Benedict XVI.  The Pope gave us several messages.  First, that he was proud of us.  On the last day, he told all of us that he is counting on us.  He is counting on us to bring back the gospel, the message, the grace that we received from World Youth Day.  He also told us to not let him down.  How powerful and beautiful a message.  Pope Benedict XVI is counting on us to bring about the new evangelization.  To be hope, love, and light to a world that desperately needs it.  This message is the same for all of us, still over a month later.  We must bring Christ to a world in need, Pope Benedict XVI is counting on us!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Transformed by Love - Our Testimonies, Part 3

Noelle Curry

Last year, on Tuesdays, I started praying the Rosary while reflecting on the image of the Sacred Heart at the Newman Center. I grew up with the same picture of the Sacred Heart in my home, and it always scared me. I decided that I would sit there until it didn’t scare me anymore. As I reflected on the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I would pray that I too could understand more and become a part of the Heart of hearts. One Wednesday in Adoration, I was prayed over, and as I held this desire in my heart, I fell to my knees and knew God was moving in me. In all of this I didn’t know what I was really asking or still quite fully understand, but I believe it all to be God’s desire.
We prepared for the pilgrimage with St. Louis de Montfort’s 33 day preparation for the Consecration to Jesus through Our Lady. In Lourdes, France we met Our Mother in the grotto and consecrated ourselves to her on August 15. I now have more understanding that everything I have is no longer mine and that is such a relief. In Madrid, our holy father, Pope Benedicto, consecrated us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on August 20. It really happened! And Pope Benedict did not just bless us but he sent his love and blessings to our families and friends. Then we went on to the Holy Family Basilica where God brought us together as a family. Then again we went to see Mama Mary at the Miraculous Medal, then onto the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and then to the home of St. Therese where Our Lady of the Smile smiled upon us and all of those in our life. To Jesus, through Our Mother, to let His love be shown unto our family, the world.
One of the messages I received on WYD was very simple: Jesus says, “Come just as you are.” His invitation is open to all of us no matter how broken we are or how much we don’t believe in Him. This is just the beginning. From here God’s graces will continue to unravel and there will be more climbs. Oh man! Praise the Lord!

Ali Lundstrum

Firstly, to prepare for pick-pocketing I put miraculous medals in my pockets in the hope that our Blessed Mothers love would move their hearts to conversion! The most powerful moment(s) was the 3 times I was dipped into the waters at Lourdes (and seeing Pope Benedict!!!) It was profoundly peaceful, I felt very close to Mother Mary in those moments – as if I was resting in her Immaculate Heart! The second time I went in the baths, Sister Faustina and I were walking past and saw the line was really short (hour wait instead of 3 hour wait), so we rushed to get in line and she started calling the other Sisters on her radio and I sent my guardian angel (Demetrius) to get the other pilgrims - Padre Pio would totally approve. Then about 20 minutes later Kristi comes walking by, and she gets in line with us. When I told her I sent Demetrius to get her and asked her what made her walk past the baths, she laughed and said that she wasn’t going anywhere specific: she actually was asking her guardian angel (Joy), “Where are we going?!”

The most beautiful part about the trip was the transformation the Blessed Mother made to my heart. Ever since I made the consecration to Mary, she has been giving me her heart in little ways – I’ve noticed my desires becoming more beautiful: desiring Mass, adoration, the rosary, self-denial for the conversion of sinners, and the blossoming of her virtues in my life. And when I was prayed over by Dana before NK42, she had an image of the Blessed Mother giving me her heart for mine (and I was so happy because the Blessed Mother loves Jesus with all her strength and that’s all I want to do!) Also, ever since Mother Adela encouraged me at the charismatic conference to ask for the Blessed Mothers heart, I knew Mary would do something powerful at Lourdes – and she did! She truly is the Mother of Mercy!!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Transformed by Love - Our Testimonies, Part 2

Cassie Kowaleski

When I first heard we could drink the holy water at Lourdes I was confused.  In my mind Holy water was only for exorcisms and blessing things.  It was sacred, and I guess to me sacred meant special, unique, rare, definitely not for me.   Holy and sacred were words that described something other-worldly, from biblical times, about saints, and Jerusalem - not something I could experience in normal life in something so simple as taking a sip from my water bottle.  Holiness was something to be admired from afar, it wasn't something I could achieve.  Sure, two of the holiest people from our modern times, Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta both agreed holiness is for everyone.  But this sinner thought that was easy for super holy people to say.

On our trip, the Sisters taught us about purity, both in words and by their actions.  They explained that saints had pure hearts, and having a pure heart meant loving only 1 thing.  Saints loved Jesus Christ and sought Him as their only desire, putting Him above all else, trusting Him in all circumstances.  Accepting every gift He gives you, understanding that our understanding is limited and His wisdom is infinite.  Saints say yes to everything Christ asks of them and always seek to know Him better.  I learned God is infinite, we can always know Him better and love Him more.  There is no end to His love!  Wow! 

When the Sisters asked us to think about our favorite miracle story, I didn't have to think long.  Mine has always been when Christ walks on the water.  Perhaps I can identify so strongly with Peter walking across the water with my eyes on Christ, wanting to be close to Him, but easily distracted.  When I look away from Christ and see the evil in the world and the sin in my own heart, I get discouraged and I start to sink.  I always used to think I was sinking because God was punishing me for not looking at Him, but I was wrong.  God is like any good father, he disciplines His children so that we understand what is good for us.  A two-year old may want to hold a knife and may cry if you take it from him, but every good parent takes the knife anyway.  Otherwise their child would hurt himself.  My sinking is my reminder of what I really desire, of where my eyes should be. God disciplines us because He knows exactly what we need and don't need.

Still unsure about drinking the water, I decided the water from the grotto in Lourdes was at least going to be colder than what I had brought.  So I got in line and watched horrified as people were wasting the water, letting it just pour out onto the ground.  It seemed a flawed design plan: people should be able to turn the tap off and on so that no water would be wasted.  And then my eyes were opened and I realized, God is infinite.  He didn't give us just enough water, He gave us much more than we need.  John 6:13 tells us that when Jesus fed the 5,000 there was enough bread left over to fill 12 baskets.  God is constantly trying to explain to us that He is not just enough for us, He is more than enough.  This doesn't mean we should take His gifts for granted or purposely waste them, but in this instance watching the water pour out, I could hear Him smile at me and remind me that all of the containers in the world can not contain Him.  It doesn't matter how organized I get or how carefully I plan, God gives His gifts as He pleases, and it pleases Him to pour His love lavishly upon us all.  Whether we choose to receive it is up to us.

I thought God was distant because I was asking Him to be.  I wanted control of my life, I wanted to be my own God, and good as God is, He lets us choose that.  But when we invite God into our hearts He comes!  He wants to be intimately associated with each of us!  He desires to be part of us, to be involved in every aspect of our lives, even the simple, everyday acts such as drinking water.  He is the best friend we've always wanted, He's always listening, always there, always in love with you.  Holiness isn't for other people, in other places, in times way past and over.  Holiness is for each of us, right here, today.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Transformed by Love - Our Testimonies

 Kristi Bergman

Scripture tells us, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 24:25).” In order to live life abundantly, Jesus tells us that we must die to ourselves, and like a seed, St. Paul tells us that we must be planted in Jesus Christ (Col 2:7)  In a beautiful way this pilgrimage was a sweet fulfillment of where I am to be planted and a sweet reassurance of the cultivation of my “seed offering”. With the Pope’s words of consecration I was planted in the Sacred Heart of Jesus by the hands of our Lady.  She tenderly prepared this seed and washed me clean in Lourdes.  On the feast of the Assumption, I was granted the graces to confidently renew my consecration at her feet in the grotto our Lourdes.  One year ago to that date I gave Our Lady My heart in Guadeloupe.  I believe in special way she brought me to Lourdes again to show me how she has been preparing the seed of my heart the whole year long to be planted in her Son’s heart. 

When I was in 4th grade I fell in love with a particular picture of Jesus that I cut out from a book and tapped it above my bed.  The black-and-white photo-like picture was Jesus with outstretched arms and His visible Sacred Heart burning in his chest.  Even to this day, this picture remains close at hand, and while I have seen many Sacred Heart images, I have never seen this particular picture.  That is, until we entered the Visitation Convent in Madrid, and my heart leapt as I saw the original colored version hanging in the chapel.  It was as though my Lord had been preparing me most my life for the events that were to come.  Our Lord also prepared our hearts for the consecration to His Heart through our providential circumstance in which we were able to celebrate the votive Mass of the Sacred Heart back at the Visitation chapel.  Of course the days following the Consecration the Lord offered opportunities for thanksgiving at the Sacred Heart Church in Barcelona and Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris.

Our trip began with our Lady’s preparation and ended with her maternal reassurance that we could trust her in cultivating the seed she planted in Her Son’s Heart.  Kneeling on the stairs before our Lady in the Basilica of the Miraculous Medal, I opened my heart to receive every grace streaming forth from her hands and enrolled myself in the school of Mary.  Finally, I wept with joy before Our Lady of the Smile in Liseux. The healing prayer of Our Lady of the Smile had begun our pilgrimage and, here she had brought us back to reassure us of her protection.  Never before had I felt her maternal love as tenderly as at that moment.  She sweetly wiped away all tears, replaced fear with joy, and in a graced-filled moment revealed her heavenly maternity as more authentic than my human perception of the relationship with my own biological mother. I have such confidence in my dear Mother that she will cultivate my dying seed into the fruitful flower God has intended me be. 
Immaculate Heart of Mary, I hope in you!
Oh Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you!

Claire Kunkel

What hit me the most was the people that I went to WYD with. God works through every single one of them in a different way. Whether it was in praise and worship or just how they reacted to different things on the trip and especially how they brought out the best in me. They helped open my heart and feel so welcome and loved. My faith has grown a lot and I know what I need to work on in my spiritual life. By the end of the trip I was on speaking terms with God again and began a relationship with Momma Mary. The experience was amazing and I can't say thank you enough to God for calling me to go on the trip, and to everyone that went on the pilgrimage. I love you all so much. You have become part of my family.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Final Day...

We began our final day of pilgrimage with anticipation to see what the Lord would do through the intercession of St. Therese in these last hours. We were not disappointed, for our "little" Saint interceded very powerfully on our behalf. 

On our way to Lisieux we again enjoyed the gift of hearing more testimonies from those who had not spoken in the days before. Again, it was very moving to here everyone proclaim the glories of the Lord in their lives, and in a special way on this trip. 

We arrived in Lisieux early in the afternoon and needed her intercession immediately as we did not have a Mass scheduled.  We entered asking about the possibility and were immediately granted a chapel where we could have Mass. T our great joy, our dear Saint spoke volumes to our hearts by allowing us to end where we began....

On our first day in Lourdes, before we entered into the baths, we knelt before Our Lady in the grotto and prayed the prayer to Our Lady of the Smile that asked for the healing of our hearts, lives, and souls through the miraculous baths. It was the first significant moment in our trip. Much to our great joy, the name of the chapel today, in which we were to celebrate our final Mass was named none other than "Our Lady of the Smile!" We were very moved to see how St. Therese and Our Lady were again coming to seal the graces in our hearts that we had received throughout these days, and to bring about another grace of healing that we all so need. 
Mass was very sober and powerful, containing a profound grace that we could all sense but could not put into words. Fr. Adam in his homily spoke about our call to be a sign of contradiction for the world - just as St. Therese and St. Louis of France, whose feast we celebrated today. After Mass Sr. Silvia spoke to everyone very movingly about the Lord's desire to fill us; about how He really is our only peace and anything else that proposes to be our happiness is only a lie; about how "commitment is our freedom." Are we willing to truly give it all to Him? To trust that He can satisfy? To trust that He has a plan that is the best and most fulfilling? Are we willing? After taking some time of silence to answer this question in the depths of our hearts, we came before the image of Our Lady of the Smile and prayed again the prayer to her, asking her to heal our hearts of all that prevents us fully from being loved and loving. It was a very special moment and a fitting end to the whole of our trip. 

After lunch, we then proceeded to visit les Bouissonnets, the house in which St. Therese spent most of her life. Then we visited the Carmel Convent, in which St. Therese spent all of the nine years of her religious life. Finally, we ended our day in Lisieux with our visit to the Basilica built in her honor about 30 years after her death. The grand Basilica is certainly an apt and beautiful tribute to her truly grand life. There we were able to have some time to pray, meditate, and walk around the beautiful grounds. 
We then departed back to Paris. We finished with out testimonies and also shared more stories - some funny, some serious - of events that had occurred during our time here. Upon arriving many of us went out for a final meal together here in Europe. 

Our time here now comes to an is bittersweet. It has been a time filled with truly a multitude of graces and gifts from the Lord - both seen and unseen. It has been a time of great fraternity, in which we have truly grown to  become a family. It has been a time of falling in love...with the Lord, his Mother, his Vicar the Pope, and his bride the Church. He brought us first to the Heart of Mary to prepare our hearts for an encounter with Peter, his Church and his Sacred Heart. Hopefully, we are now "more firm in the faith, planted and built up in Jesus Christ," willing to give our lives over, in love, to Him and his Church. The path has ended, but only to continue in some form for all our lives. 

Each one of us holds a deep gratitude to the Lord for how He called us here, how He brought us here, what He has done in us, and what He will continue to due into the future. May He be praised forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day in Paris

Another day of travel began in the morning as we flew from Toulouse to Paris. We arrived in the early afternoon and had the great gift of being given a bus tour around Paris by our wonderful bus driver, and longtime friend, Alain. He took us to see all the major sights of downtown: Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, Champ de Élysées, the Eiffel Tower, and much more. It was a gift because we would have never been able to see so much in the short time we have in the city.

After our tour, we were dropped off in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Here, over 150 years ago, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Laboure and revealed the miraculous medal to her, asking her to spread it throughout the world. It became named so because of the many miracles that would continually happen through its presence and the intercession of Our Lady. Today the Lord and Our Lady promise a flood of many graces to all those who come with confidence before her and this image. We had the immense gift of celebrating Mass in the Chapel of Apparitions. Afterwards we were able to go kneel before the altar and the image and the actual chair in which she sat during her apparitions. It was a moment of great grace for our hearts. The Lord desired to do miracles in us today....He only needed our faith. 

As always, Our Lady prepared the way for her Son, for after leaving Rue du Bac and the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, we went onto Montmartre and the church of Sacre Couer (Sacred Heart). Very beautifully, this Church dedicated to the Sacred Heart, just like in Barcelona, sits atop the highest point in Paris and over looks the city. Here in this extremely beautiful and majestic Church, the Blessed Sacrament has been exposed and adored in perpetual adoration for 125 years. How powerfully and how beautifully enthroned was our Eucharistic Lord in that place! We were all very moved at how powerfully we were able to sense the Lord's presence in this place. Yet again, the Lord brought us to his Sacred Heart and called us to enter there and remain. What another powerful confirmation of his call and invitation for our hearts and lives. May we be always be planted firmly within his Heart. 

Finally, we finished our day with a trip to the Eiffel Tower. We went down at night to the beautiful tower and were thrilled to see a light display coming forth from the tower. After taking pictures, we gathered in the grass at its base and enjoyed the scenery as we sang praise and worship music. 
Overall, it was a very joyful day in which we simply enjoyed being together and being a family, experiencing together the profound graces both from the Heart of our Mother in Rue du Bac and the Heart of our Lord in Sacred Heart. We simply pray that all the graces we have received remain and bear fruit. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Into His Sacred Heart

Another beautiful day in which the Lord continues to guide us into his Sacred Heart....

We began our day in Barcelona with a morning visit to Tibidabo, the highest mountain in the city on which was built a temple dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Atop the church, is an enormous statue of Jesus and his Sacred Heart with his arms outstretched. It was placed here so that the Sacred  Heart would look over the city, being both a beacon of light and hope, as well as a protection and guardianship over the city. The beautiful church sits atop the city, and from its heights we were able to see many miles in all directions. 

What is most beautiful about our visit here is that it was another unplanned part of trip that the Lord wanted to bring about. Originally, we had planned to go to Montserrat, but it was not possible, and the Lord brought us to Tibidabo. It became clear that this was his plan all along. Continually along this trip the Lord had been leading us closer to his Sacred Heart:

1. Twice we were taken to the Visitation Convent in which was given the revelation of the Sacred Heart.
2. The Holy Father consecrated all the youth at the WYD Vigil despite a great attack to prevent it.
3. Today the Lord diverted us to Temple specifically dedicated to the Sacred Heart.

Our visit there was very beautiful. We sensed the
Lord's desire to bring us into his Heart, individually and as a family. We were able to celebrate Mass there, which was another beautiful gift. Before Mass, one of the priests there gave us a tour in which he explained the history of the place. Originally, it began with some men trying to preserve the place for the Lord. They bought the land and then gave it to St. John Bosco as a gift. St. John Bosco prophesized at that moment that there would be a great church built that would glorify God in that place. This was the beginning of the sanctuary. We were grateful to have had the opportunity to be there for a short time. 

After that we departed from Barcelona and drove to Toulouse, France where we will spend the night. Our bus ride was very beautiful as we had a time of sharing and testimonies. It was very moving to see all that the Lord had done in all of our hearts. After dinner at the hotel, we had a time of good-byes as the Miami group will be flying home tomorrow. It was a bittersweet moment for all....we have become a family and it was sad to see some of our members go. The Lord has done great things in us, and we know that He will only continue this into the future....