Photo credits to Laura Anne via CCO
Editor's Note: Rise Up is a conference run by Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) that takes place over New Years annually in Canada. This year, it also marked the beginning of an amazing pilgrimage: the right hand of St Francis Xavier's voyage across the country. This huge privilege has drawn tens of thousands of Canadians, bringing innumerable blessings to each place the pilgrimage team stops.
This year, I attended Rise Up for the first time and had the amazing opportunity to venerate the relic of St. Francis Xavier. I have talked with my friends who were also there, as well as my parents, and I feel the need to share my experience on a larger scale, so here I am! A little bit about my background: I was born and raised Catholic in a supportive, faith-filled home my entire life. I attended youth group, was very involved in my parish, continued to go to Mass every Sunday, and had experienced spiritual moments, but I did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. This changed only a few months ago when I began reading scripture and journaling my prayers; I could finally hear the Lord speaking to me through His word and see which of my prayers were or weren't being answered. I have been to the Philippines on a mission trip, World Youth Day in Poland, and I actually had the opportunity at the end of 2017 to go to Belize on a mission trip organized through the Archdiocese of Regina, but I had already registered for Rise Up and didn't want to have my money for flights go to waste, so I decided to stick with Rise Up. Oddly I wasn't feeling called to this mission, I felt like I had to be at Rise Up. That choice felt insignificant at the time, and I really only made the choice for logistical reasons, but the Lord sure followed through with His plan and I can finally see the very beginning of the outcome.
Leading up to the evening of veneration, we were told to come with great expectations for the Lord. We were told of the three specific graces that were being asked for, which were healing, vocations, and mission. I didn’t think any of these things applied to me and honestly I was really nervous about what to expect. I was pretty freaked out by the relic to begin with; the idea of a weird, old arm creeped me out. I thought of it as more of a historical experience, almost like a museum exhibit, rather than a spiritual experience. Basically I didn’t know what to expect.
During the evening of veneration, we began by hearing a talk from Bishop Scott McCaig. He said a lot of very meaningful, touching things and stressed the idea that we should not be afraid to ask big things of God because for Him nothing is impossible. I was very moved by Bishop McCaig's words; I was in a space of vulnerability with the Lord. The time came when we were invited to write down something we would commit to do in the next year on commitment cards we received, and I didn't know what to write. However, while praying the CCO Apostle's Prayer, I came across the lines "I will go anywhere you want me to go. I will do anything you want me to do. I will say anything you want me to say," and I felt the Lord calling me to mission. I was naturally resistant and tried to ignore it; I figured I would wait for the next thing, but He was persistent, so my commitment was that I would apply for a mission of some sort.
After we had filled out our commitment cards, we were invited to bring our cards forward to be blessed by a bishop and then go up to the relic and touch our card to the glass. I got in line to venerate almost immediately after, and was able to spend my time in the line-up praising the Lord with an openness I have never felt. When I got my card blessed and could finally stand in front of the relic, I had to consciously tell myself not to stand there with my mouth hanging open. I was in total wonder and awe at this connection that I felt to both St. Francis and Jesus, and I went back to my seat feeling stunned and shocked. When I sat down and started to process what I had just done--that my commitment to apply for a mission had been blessed by a bishop and witnessed by both St. Francis and the Lord--I honestly felt that I had been set on fire with a missionary heart.
However, the Lord didn't stop there. In fact, that was just the beginning of the fruits that I have seen come out of that night. I was diagnosed last year with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and 2017 was a very difficult year for me. My mental health struggles took a toll on me emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and I couldn't see things getting any better. That changed when I started reading scripture. My anxiety started to lessen as I started to actually give my burdens to Jesus and trust that He would take care of me. I could tell I still wasn't giving Him my whole heart though, and I didn't know how to do that. The night of veneration changed everything for me. I felt the most peace I have ever felt. I expected it to go away the next day and for my anxious thoughts to return, but they didn't. And I wasn't anxious the next day. Or the next. And today I still feel that peace. I can't even describe what a blessing that has been these past few days. I truly feel the Lord comforting me. I used to be so worried and confused about my vocation and what I was supposed to do next in my life; I still don't know what will happen next, but now I don't feel worried or afraid. Instead I feel curious and excited for what He will call me to next. I really truly believe that this was because of St. Francis' intercession for me. St. Francis knew I wouldn't say yes to mission if I felt so worried. I'm having trouble even putting into words how absolutely transformative that night of veneration was for me. The Lord is speaking to me in a new way and I feel a renewed and deepened connection to him; my heart is His. I feel so peaceful and I can finally feel that deep, inner joy that I've heard about a million times but was never able to feel before.
You may be thinking that I am only one person out of an enormous crowd that had such a profound experience, but I am one of many. I went with three other friends to the conference and we all experienced change in very different ways from the Lord. My one friend received clarity in her vocation and is feeling called to be a sister. Another is feeling called to mission by joining CCO Staff as a missionary. The other is feeling a renewed hope for evangelization and revitalization in Regina and she now has the three of us to journey with. People can see a change in us and I fully believe that this is only the beginning of what Jesus has in store for us. Aside from the graces received by the people who attended Rise Up, I have seen healing happen in my own family. My mom’s cousin was in a coma for several weeks with swelling in the brain and the doctors were almost 100% sure there would be some form of brain damage, IF he ever woke up. A few days ago, on January 6th, he woke up. He knew who my aunt was and was able to answer questions. He also lives in Ottawa where this transformative night took place exactly one week earlier. I don’t think this was a coincidence. I said a prayer for him during veneration and my entire family, as well as many of our close friends were praying for him, and I fully believe that St. Francis had a hand in his healing. This is nothing short of a miracle and I am overwhelmed in the best way possible by all of the amazing ways I can see the Lord working.
I feel so lucky to be here in Regina, because the relic will be coming here in a few short weeks; I am encouraging as many people as I can to come venerate, pray, and soak in the graces of the Holy Spirit. I am going to share my experience with anyone who will listen because I am totally sold on the fact that miracles and healing can occur in the presence of this relic. Miracles and healing DID occur in the presence of the relic. The energy and presence of the Lord in that room was tangible in such a profound way, and if someone could experience even a fraction of the goodness and mercy that I experienced, I want them to feel that.
I’d like to take a moment to pray for everyone who was involved in the organization and execution of this Canada-wide tour; I know it's not any easy feat by any means, but Jesus is just waiting to give his graces. I am so beyond grateful, I don't even have a word for how grateful I am that I was able to have that opportunity and experience, so I pray that the relic team understands how much grace they are spreading to people. I feel called, changed, and loved, and for that I am so thankful. St Francis Xavier, pray for us all. Let our hearts be set on fire with love for the Lord and help us to live with missionary hearts in our own lives.