November 3, 2023

God makes his presence known in special way at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House

(Editor’s note: The Criterion invited our readers to share their stories of how God has made his presence known in their lives. Here are the first two stories in a series.)

By Natalie Hoefer

When I reflect on how God has made his presence known to me, the answer comes in the form of a place: Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis.

I like to go there when they offer silent retreats. So often have I heard God at those times that I have come to call the place “my own Mount Tabor.”

One year during a silent retreat there, I was struggling with believing in God’s love for me. I “knew” he loved me, but I didn’t feel loved. Rather, I had long come to see God as a cold and distant judge who always found me lacking.

I had brought with me a book of retreat talks based on the teachings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux called I Believe in Love by Father Jean du Coeur de Jesus D’Elbee. I had read a few pages already, which to that point had addressed God’s love for all people.

“God, I just don’t understand how you could love me,” I prayed, curled up in the recliner in my private room for a three-day stay.

I heard an internal voice distinctly say, “Get the book.”

I didn’t question the fact that I heard a voice, but I did question its command.

“But all it’s talked about is how you love others. I need to know you love me,” I whined.

Again the words, spoken a bit more insistently: “Get the book.”

So I did. I opened it up and continued to read where I had left off.

The very next words in the book were God’s direct answer to my concern:

“We have spoken of his love for everyone,” I read. “Let us now talk about his love for you, personally.”

The next seven pages are now so covered in underlines, stars, exclamation points and notes that the words of the text are almost obscured.

That was day one of the retreat.

On day two, I sat in the chapel listening to the priest’s homily during Mass. I was paying attention, my mind for once not adrift, when again I heard a voice.

“I haven’t changed,” it said.

Just like that, out of the blue, unsolicited and completely unrelated to the Scripture readings or homily.

As I prayed about the experience after Mass, understanding washed over me: “God doesn’t change. God is love, so if he doesn’t change, then he is still love. Therefore, I’m the one who has changed my perception of him.”

God addressed that revelation further through the guidance of the spiritual director I’d been assigned for the duration of my retreat. I met with him shortly after Mass, and I shared with him the two God-moments I’d experienced.

“If God is telling you he loves you and that he hasn’t changed, then who is the one really judging you so harshly?” he asked.

An image instantly flashed in my mind. It was someone wearing a mask of God. The mask was pulled off, and the unmasked person standing there—was me.

I’d struggled so long with feeling judged by God that I was convinced he was the one critically judging me—I never questioned it.

But with that one question by the spiritual director, God revealed the truth to me. He really did love me. I needed to believe and trust in that truth—and hold it up against any voice that told me otherwise.

God has made himself present to me in many ways during my life. But the lengths he went to assure me of his unchanging love for me during that silent retreat at Our Lady of Fatima sealed the deal for me: If you seek him, he won’t just find you—he’ll reveal that he never left your side.

(Natalie Hoefer is a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis and is a reporter for The Criterion.)


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