Teresa Hodal: Lose yourself, find yourself

Teresa Hodal (second right) and fellow ESM participants offer hot food to the homeless in New York.
Teresa Hodal (second right) and fellow ESM participants offer hot food to the homeless in New York.

I decided to do the year-long Emmanuel School of Mission in New York in October last year.

The School is run by the Emmanuel Community, one of the new ecclesial movements in the Church which was established in France in the 1970s and emerged out of the charismatic renewal.

It seemed like a great opportunity for many reasons.

I wanted to strengthen my faith, learn how to be a missionary and spread the love of God with everyone I met.

It also sounded like a great year to be formed more in the Catholic faith and to serve the poor – in this case (and especially) in the Bronx.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but when all the doors opened and I couldn’t find any more reasons for not doing it, I quit my job, moved out of my house and tried to prepare myself for what lay ahead.

Within six weeks I flew halfway across the world and found myself in what seemed like a different universe.

Settling in, I learned to love things such as community Praise (which I had never experienced before) and even the ceaseless background noise of the Bronx.

We were nine missionaries from eight different countries, with two priests. We lived in community – one of the best experiences of ESM.

ESM participants in Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament in New York.
ESM participants in Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament in New York.

Yes, it was at times challenging and, despite the initial language barriers (especially between myself and the French speakers) we spent nine months laughing, cooking, cleaning, leading missions, studying, eating and praying together. Life-long friendships were made and now I have friends all over the world.

A big part of the year was obviously mission life. We were based in the South Bronx in New York – one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the city that never sleeps.

Yet it was probably the best place for us to be because many people there were poor and hungry – physically hungry but especially spiritually hungry.

We visited the Missionaries of Charity in their mother house, a five minute walk from where we lived, and volunteered in their soup kitchen a couple of days per week.

There, the Missionaries feed 40-80 homeless people everyday. We also did street evangelisation in the Bronx every week where we had so many beautiful conversations with people from every possible background.

I definitely felt more evangelised by the end than the people we went to evangelise. I especially remember one lady I spoke to who told us she was dying of cancer and that she had lost hope. She then took a Word of God from us which was about hope and trusting in God.

She started to cry and told us that we were God’s messengers sent to her and that we had given her hope. This is just one of many stories of the people who Christ touched through us in the Bronx.

We also went on various missions overseas and within the US, from running retreats in highschools, to leading ‘Mercy’ nights and parish missions.

Through daily Mass and adoration, plus retreats throughout the year, I learnt to love prayer and have a deeper love of God. You can’t go to daily Mass and have an hour of adoration everyday and not be changed.

Teresa Hodal (second right) and fellow ESM participants offer hot food to the homeless in New York.
Teresa Hodal (second right) and fellow ESM participants offer hot food to the homeless in New York.

I also learnt many new things through our intellectual formation and the classes that we received every week on various topics from Moral Theology, Scriptures, Spirituality and Art History, to name a few.

When I arrived at the beginning of the year, I didn’t know what to expect.

Looking back now on an amazing nine months I can say that ESM was an amazing opportunity to serve others and to be a witness to the Faith. It completely changed my life.

It also taught me the need and duty for every Catholic to be a missionary.

Somewhere along the way, I received more than I ever knew I could. When you get out of your comfort zone and are open to what God is asking you, many beautiful things happen.

I learnt during these nine months how wonderful it is to be Catholic. ESM taught me the importance of friendships in a way I never fully experienced before. It helped me to pray and to always incorporate God into every aspect of my day.

The motto of the school is ‘Give all, get more!’ This, I found, was so true.

Looking back I can say ESM will change your life. My life will never be the same and for that I will be eternally grateful. A year given fully to serve God through everyone you meet is abundantly rewarded. I have met Jesus this year and come to know Him like I never knew Him before.

If anyone is ever thinking of doing a mission year I would highly recommend it.


With permission. This article first appeared on www.catholicweekly.com.au

Parents are the greatest teachers

One of the greatest joys priests have in their work is being asked to baptise children.

Like most parishes, we always take time with the parents beforehand to get to know this new family in our parish, to learn how we can best serve their needs, and, obviously, help the family prepare for the baptism.

We usually go over a few areas together. We always take time to find out why the parents would like their children baptised.

We also have a look again at what baptism is: the action of God, acting through his body the Church, reaching down to save the child from the Evil One, remove the stain of original sin, and integrate them into the life of the Holy Trinity – the life of God himself! – as a member of His Body.

One thing some parents tell us they are surprised to learn is that schools, even Catholic schools, are not the principal educators of our children.

We have some truly excellent schools, and parents would have had the experience of encountering some truly marvellous teachers. But no school would suggest they are the main educators of any child.

There is a very simple reason for this: God himself made that choice. He did not entrust the child to the school, or the parish or the priests or consecrated or even the state.

While all these obviously have a responsibility to actively care for and protect children, these do not come remotely close to the centrality of parents as children’s most influential and credible teachers.

The role of the rest of us, including the school, is simply to support the parents in what is the most noble and beautiful vocation in the world.

The way we pray as Catholics reflects this reality. It’s only the parents, and no one else, who twice – in the marriage ceremony, and on the day of the baptism – commit, with God’s infinite help, to educating their children in the Catholic faith. They are the ones God has equipped to do so.

I’m not sure I can overstate this.

In our priestly work we are often accompanying parents who are going through a time of being overly critical, unhappy or anxious about their own parenting skills.

Three fundamental reminders I have always responded with are: you are infinitely loved by God, and have nothing to prove to anyone; whatever it looks like from the outside, there is no such thing as a family without major sufferings and problems; and that in entrusting any child to a parent, God not only gives all the grace needed to be the kind of parent a child needs, but also shows the confidence he has in that person to do so.

Questions are also about the elements specific to a Catholic education. As priests we feel it’s important to stress that as each child is unique, each family also needs to find the ways that best suit their situation.

Being Catholic of course means we can have recourse to certain unique resources that parents can use to help on their journey to raise and educate their children. These include:

What worked for the parent when they were growing up. What are the Catholic traditions they received which they can pass on to their own children?

To pray with them daily. Things like a Hail Mary before bed, or a decade of the rosary, singing Christian songs, grace before meals or simply naming prayer needs and saying together an Our Father for them are all opportunities for children to encounter God who is Pure Love.

Making the most of little occasions to teach them about who God and the Church are, the sacraments, and the Commandments. As Jesus says, the commandments are the foundation of our whole Christian moral life. Examples I’ve seen in families include reading from the Bible at night, accompanying children to confession, and sticking the commandments on the fridge.

Doing little things together to care for the poor, the elderly, the sick and those on the margins. Examples can include doing Project Compassion as a family, visiting isolated neighbours (or Nanna) regularly, or acts of solidarity with refugees.

Sunday Mass, where God comes to meet us in his Word, in the Church of the parish community, and above all to give himself totally to us and become part of us in Holy Communion. I’ve seen where this has been enormously helpful, especially where families are struggling or parents are fighting a sense of isolation due to suffering or social/economic/personal circumstances.

The most important of course doesn’t need to be said because it is the one thing all parents try to do: to love them. As we ourselves experienced, a child’s experience of God’s love is coloured by how our parents loved us. Prayer and the sacraments is an enormous help here: when we are finding it hard and pushed to the limits of our patience and fatigue, we can lean on this supernatural love which helps us go beyond our limits.


With permission. This article first appeared on www.catholicweekly.com.au

Path to leadership is via ‘littleness’

Character is everything: Steve Lawrence holds his latest book at the Mustard Seed Bookshop. Photo: Peter Rosengren
Character is everything: Steve Lawrence holds his latest book at the Mustard Seed Bookshop. Photo: Peter Rosengren

From footy to Faith

At six foot something, Steve Lawrence is a giant of a man. His height, combined with his sporting abilities were what saw him end up playing AFL football for Hawthorn from 1987 to 1998, including as a member of the brown and gold’s premiership-winning team of 1991.

Part of that AFL experience saw him playing against – and alongside – legends of the game. He’s the sort of bloke thousands of Aussie AFL fans would love to meet, be in the presence of and – these days – have a selfie taken with. Married to wife Annie, the couple have raised six children.

However one thing that sets the former ruckman aside is that he served as Director of the Emmanuel School of Mission in Rome from 2000 to 2003 before being drawn upon by the Archdiocese of Sydney to become Director of Evangelisation and Catechesis for World Youth Day 2008.

For this former sports star faith is his number one priority. These days he runs his own successful speaking and coaching business, Altum Leadership Group.

Cover of Make your Mark by Steven Lawrence

The clue is in the name. Altum is Latin, and means ‘high’ or ‘deep’ or both.

The concept of authenticity or true depth in leadership is what drove him to write a book on what he sees as the five key secrets of real leaders, launched in NSW at the Mustard Seed Bookshop in the heart of Sydney’s CBD last week.

True leadership, he told The Catholic Weekly, comes from winning interior battles and in small, even tiny, daily ways.

An example that clearly resonates deeply with him is Nelson Mandela, the first post-apartheid President of South Africa, whose example is explored in his book Make your Mark – 5 hidden keys to great leadership.

“Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison,” he said. “Yet he emerged to be able to unite a nation on the verge of civil war.

“[years before release] he chose to forgive, he chose not to bring about recrimination and retaliation when there was clearly the mood for it among many black Africans.”

“The only reason he was able to do that was that he chose to forgive, and that was an interior victory … that meant that when he was released from prison and became the President of South Africa he could unite the nation, both white and black, because of his interior freedom.

“We all have these interior battles we have to fight. We stumble and fall along the way and we have to win them.”

Steven Lawrence speaks at his book launch about what he sees as the five key secrets of real leaders at the Mustard Seed Bookshop in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. Photo: Charbel Azzi
Steven Lawrence speaks at his book launch about what he sees as the five key secrets of real leaders at the Mustard Seed Bookshop in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. Photo: Charbel Azzi

Failures and success of leadership fall on character

Yet if anyone walks into almost any bookshop in Australia they’ll find hundreds of titles, all claiming to reveal the secrets of true and effective leadership. Asked what makes his book different, there was a long pause.

“One of the key differences is I focus on leadership as character,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

“Other books focus on strategy and technical issues. I believe failures of leadership tend to be failures of character. So the question is: how do we draw people’s attention to this and how do we help people of character be given more responsibility?

“I conclude with an example, that most leadership is ‘tiny’, it happens at the very lowest level or smallest level.

“Everyday leadership, I think, is what people are called to live in the most simple and unexpected moments. It’s about readiness to do what’s right, readiness to step through doors that open, readiness to recognise that our life is not actually for us but for others, readiness to find collaborators who we can help become great.

“It’s in the small things that help us to become better people – that’s what leadership is about.”


With permission. This article first appeared on www.catholicweekly.com.au

The power of the Spirit

Emmanuel members gather for dinner on the Community’s retreat.

On Pentecost retreat with the Paraclete

The power, inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit was the focus during a two-day Pentecost retreat run by the Emmanuel Community from 8 to 9 June at St Joseph’s Conference Centre in Bringelly.

About 70 people attended the event which featured celebration of Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Confession, praise and sharing groups.

“The Holy Spirit was working in powerful ways during the time at the Pentecost retreat. One thing that I was reminded of was the need to ‘lean on the heart of Jesus’,” said retreat participant, Yoko.

The theme of the weekend was the power of the Spirit as a force which can destroy both death and sin. The charisms of the Emmanuel Community — compassion, adoration and evangelisation — were also discussed.

“The Spirit really shone a light on the areas of my life that I need to bring to Him for healing,” another participant, Eli van Rensburg, said.

Several talks were given on the workings of the Spirit throughout the history of the Church, in the emergence of New Ecclesial Communities, and in the hearts of the faithful.

Sharing groups met each day to reflect on how the Spirit speaks to each person. Later, participants were given the opportunity to ask for an outpouring of the fire of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

“I came to this retreat because I wanted to learn to forgive. I was told by the Holy Spirit that I need to forgive myself and other people in my life,” Clare Carrington said.

“The other thing I was shown was that we bloom where we are planted.”

The Emmanuel Community was founded in France in 1972, emerging out of the charismatic movement.


With permission. This article first appeared on www.catholicweekly.com.au

International Session starting soon

Every summer in France, the Emmanuel Community welcomes thousands of pilgrims from all over the world to the small town of Paray-le-Monial. Jesus appeared to St Margaret Mary here and Paray is now regarded as the heart of the Emmanuel Community as Pierre Goursat regularly organised prayer groups for the Charismatic Renewal here.

This year the International session at Paray-le-Monial will be from 23-28 July 2019

If you need help you can contact Marie-Line (in English): +33 3 58 42 20 51

For more information and to register – see https://emmanuel.info/en/emmanuel-sessions-summer-2019/