Ace Your Exams: Study Tactics of the Successful

6 12 2019

by Brett & Kate McKay

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When 160,000 undergraduates in the University of California system were asked to name the obstacles that impeded their academic success, the students listed things like work, stress, and depression. But the number one reason, which was given by 33% of the students, was that they simply didn’t know how to study.
When I first arrived at college, I was one of those 33 percenters who really didn’t know how to study. I was a stellar student in high school, but during during my first semester of college I nearly flunked Business Calculus, got a C- in Intro to Logic, and barely scratched by with a B in Spanish. I ended the semester with a 2.75 GPA.
Knowing that I was headed down the path of academic ruin if I didn’t change something, I threw myself into learning all I could about how to learn and study effectively. I read anything I could get my hands on. The effort paid off. After that initial semester, I earned straight A’s throughout the rest of my college career, even while working 20-30 hours a week. When I went on to law school, I managed to graduate ninth in my class while also working, starting the Art of Manliness, and writing a book during that time.
I share this not to brag, but to show that there’s a ton you can do to turn your academic career around, even if it’s had an inauspicious start.
Many of our readers will be heading back to school for the start of a new semester next week. So I thought it would be helpful to offer some friendly study advice for those young men who might find themselves among the 33% of students who don’t know how to study effectively and might be struggling like I did. Even if you have some solid study skills, you’ll hopefully get something out of this article too.
The advice I provide is based on my own experience in college and law school. Maybe it will work for you as well. Of course, if you already have a study system that works for you, then use it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Note: Fair warning. This post is long. Double the length of a normal article long. I thought about breaking it up into multiple posts, but then decided it would be more useful to create a one page, single resource article that would be an easy reference to return to. So take it slow–you don’t have to read the whole thing in one go–although doing so wouldn’t be bad practice for your studies!

Time & Energy Management
In high school, your schedule is pretty well set for you, and your parents are always around, looking over your shoulder.
Then you get to college and each day is an ocean of time that is all yours to decide what to do with.
This is both a wonderful, glorious freedom and a great challenge. But mastering that challenge by learning how to successfully manage your time will reap you great benefits not only in school, but for the rest of your life.
Following the advice below, it’s possible to excel in school, while working part-time, and while still having a social life.
Create a master weekly study schedule before every semester. In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey introduces the idea of “Big Rock” planning. The gist of it is that you should set aside time for your most important things first (your Big Rocks) and then plan everything else in your life around them. Watch this video to see Covey explain it.
When you’re young and in school, your biggest Big Rock is your education. You should (ideally) plan everything else around your schooling. To ensure that you actually make school a priority, block off the time during the week that you’ll devote to class and studying before the semester starts. During the semester, plan around these blocked off times. Here’s what I suggest blocking time off for:
1. Block off your class and lab times. The most important appointments of your week. Schedule everything else around your class time.
2. Block off reading time for each of your classes. If you have a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, you’ll probably want to block off an hour or two on Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday for reading.
3. Block off time for note review/outlining/homework for each class. You’ll want to set aside time so you can synthesize class notes, do some outlining, and complete any homework assignments you might have. I typically blocked off an hour right after each class for this. If a class was lecture heavy, like ancient Greek philosophy, I’d use that hour right after class to review my notes and update my class outline. If the class was heavy on problem sets, like calculus or symbolic logic, I used the hour to do that day’s assignment and any additional practice problems.
The amount of time you need for note review/outlining/homework will vary. I recommend setting aside at least one hour for each hour spent in class. If you need more time, schedule it.
4. Other possible permanent time blocks. If your work schedule is the same throughout the semester, you might as well block it off on your master schedule. I also blocked off time for exercise on my master schedule.
Make these times re-occurring events in your calendar. You should only change or modify them in extreme cases. Treat them like doctor’s appointments. If a friend wants to get together during your reading time, tell them you have a prior engagement and suggest another time.
Plan weekly. Once you have your master weekly schedule set up, every week set aside time for planning out the week’s variables–those activities that change from week to week. Write down in your schedule when you have to work or the times for any extracurricular meetings. Remember, try to plan around your Big Rocks if possible.
Reverse engineer big projects and final exam prep. Throughout the semester, you’ll probably have big projects like term papers to turn in. One thing that helped me complete these tasks on time and with little stress was reverse engineering the task. As soon as I knew the due date for a paper, I marked it in my calendar. Working backwards from that due date, I established mini-deadlines for myself. For example, a week before the actual due date, I might have a deadline to complete the rough draft. Two weeks before the actual due date the mini-deadline might be to write half of the paper. Three weeks before the actual due date, the mini-deadline might be to have the research complete. And so on.
I did this sort of reverse engineering for my law school finals as well. About mid-way through the semester, I sat down and planned out my finals prep for the subsequent six weeks, working backwards from the final exam and creating tasks for myself to complete as I got closer and closer to finals.
This takes some discipline, but this approach is much less stressful than waiting until the last minute to complete a project or study for a final.
Apply the 45/15 rule. People can focus on something for a solid 45 minute block before their brains start getting pooped and antsy, and their mental performance starts to diminish. To keep your brain running on all six cylinders, implement the 45/15 rule, or Pomodoro Technique. Under the 45/15 rule, you work nonstop for 45 minutes, and all your focus is on the task at hand for that block of time. When the 45 minutes is up, take a break for 15. Surf the web or get up and go for a quick stroll outside. As soon as the 15 minutes are over, get back to work. Just knowing that you always have a set break coming up can keep you on task. Check out these nine free online timers that help you implement the 45/15 rule easily.

Reading Assignments and Homework
Try to get ahead on reading. If your schedule permits, try to get ahead on your reading by reading the entire week’s assignments on the weekend. I did this in law school and it freed up a bunch of time for me during the week. On Saturdays and Sundays, I’d devote a couple of hours to completing all the reading assignments for the coming week. That allowed me to devote more time to outlining, memorization, and even working on The Art of Manliness and writing our first Art of Manliness book during the week.
Read actively. When you read, read actively. Highlight, underline, and write notes in the margins. This will ready you for any class discussion or questions from the professor. Also, actively reading simply helps you better retain the information.
Learn to speed read. Speed reading is a skill that I suggest all college students learn. It’s a huge help in getting through those 100 page reading assignments. As with any tool, you should use speed reading with discernment. Some class material might require slow, concentrated reading. My philosophy classes in college were like that. Other classes you can speed read right through the text and be in good shape.
Quickly skim your reading notes and highlights before class starts. Before class starts, take a few minutes to quickly scan over any notes and highlights you made in your book. You want to be ready to answer any questions that come your way.
Do all your homework (even if it’s not graded). Your professors assign homework for a reason: to help you learn the material so you can pass the final exam. One big difference between high school and college is that professors will often assign homework problems but won’t pick them up for grading. For many college freshmen, it’s tempting to just skip this homework altogether. Don’t do this.
I succumbed to this temptation my first semester of college. My calc class had homework problems assigned every class. As soon as I learned that the assignments weren’t graded, I pretty much stopped doing them. Result? My first (and, thankfully, only) D grade.
Make the Most of Class Time
Attend all your classes. Another temptation that new college students face is regularly skipping class. Unlike high school, you don’t have parents or truancy laws making sure your butt’s in a classroom desk every day at college. It’s completely up to you whether you go to class or not. My advice is to make it a goal to go to every class during the semester.
Learning requires constant reinforcement. Class time is part of that reinforcement process. More importantly, attending class simply saves you time. Every time I missed a class, I often spent double the amount of time studying to make up what I missed. If you want a life outside of studying, go to class.
Sit near the front. Yeah, it’s cliché, but it really works. You’re more likely to stay focused and pay attention to the professor when you’re sitting near the front.
Take notes. I remember seeing so many students come to class without bringing anything to take notes with. They just sat there expecting information to download to their brain like Neo from The Matrix. While you might have been able to do this in high school and still succeed, it’s harder to do so in college and graduate-level classes. Learning is an active process and note-taking is one of the steps in that process. Moreover, taking notes forces you to pay attention in class. Even in the most boring of classes, taking notes will keep you awake and alert.
How should you take notes? For advice on note-taking strategies, see this post.
Ask questions. As you’re doing your reading or working through problem sets, write down any questions that you have about the material. Bring these questions with you to class, but don’t ask them right away. You’ll pay more attention in class as you listen to see if the professor will answer your question during his prepared lecture. If he doesn’t answer your question, ask it. Don’t feel embarrassed. Chances are somebody else has the same question. If you’re still having trouble understanding a concept, show some respect for the professor’s and your classmates’ time by waiting until after class to ask for more clarification.
Participate in discussions. Many liberal arts classes focus on classroom discussion. Participate! Don’t be the guy who sits in the back with his arms folded and doesn’t say a word. Discussing in class engages you with the content and helps reinforce what you’ve read and heard. Also, more and more college professors are making participation in classroom discussion a part of your overall class grade. Don’t miss out on an easy 10% of your grade. Speak up.
Eliminate all digital distractions. Turn off your cellphone when you’re in class and put it in your backpack. If you’re using a computer to take notes, eliminate the temptation to surf the internet mindlessly while in class by disabling your computer’s wireless router.
Getting Extra Help
Go see your professor during office hours. Want to guarantee success in your class? Go talk to your professors during their office hours. You won’t believe how much professors want to help students that they see making an effort to learn (and how often this effort is reflected in your final grade). To make your visit with your professor as efficient and as effective as possible, have a list of specific questions you need help with. Don’t just show up and say “I need help,” thus forcing the professor to spend 30 minutes figuring out what exactly you need help with.
Attend review sessions. As final exams draw near, many professors or teaching assistants will offer optional review sessions. Go to them! In my experience, the professor will pretty much tell you exactly what will be on the exam. Definitely worth the time.
Attend workshops and tutorials. Throughout the semester, departments offer workshops and tutorial sessions to provide students extra help. For example, my calculus class had a daily workshop manned by brainy math graduate students to help you with your homework. At the time, playing Call to Power 2 seemed much more important, so I didn’t go to these workshops, and it bit me in the butt. Any chance you have to get free extra help, take it.

Create an Outline or Study Guide
Create your OWN outline and study guide throughout the semester. When I was in college, studying for finals simply involved looking over my hodgepodge of class notes. It worked fine, but it was inefficient. My notes weren’t very organized, so I spent a lot of time thumbing back and forth through them, trying to figure out how different sections of content related with each other.
When I arrived in law school, I learned about the power of outlining. And I wished someone had taught me this skill as an undergrad. Creating an outline for your class does a few things that help with learning. First, it helps you synthesize information and understand how everything fits together. Second, it keeps your content organized for easier studying later on in the semester. Sometimes professors give important insights about a concept you studied earlier in the semester towards the end of the semester. Those bits of information can be easy to lose if you don’t have a master outline you can plug them into.
It’s important that you create your OWN outline. Don’t rely on somebody else’s. The simple act of creating an outline for your class will do wonders in helping you learn the material for the exam.
Many students like to wait until the end of the semester to create their outline. If that works for you, do it. I preferred outlining throughout the semester so I could spend more time reviewing my outline and going over practice questions right before the exam instead of spending time creating my outline.
A Short Guide to Creating an Outline
Use the syllabus or textbook to create the backbone of the outline. Here’s the easiest way to create your outline. At the beginning of the semester, take a look at your textbook’s table of contents. Create the backbone of the outline using chapter titles. The teacher’s syllabus is also a good source for creating your outline’s backbone. In fact, the syllabus is often presented in the form of an outline.
Fill in with class notes. After every class, fill in your outline with your class notes. You’ll really have to think about how to organize your notes and what to put where, but the mental struggle means the info is anchoring deeper and deeper into your brain.
Supplement the outline with professor handouts and other students’ outlines. If your teacher provides any handouts, supplement your outline with that content. Also, feel free to supplement your outline with outlines prepared by other students or a publisher. Sometimes it helps to see how somebody else organized the information in order to understand a concept more fully.
Memorizing
Memorization is an important skill that you need to master in order to succeed academically. Because many exams are closed book, you’ll need to know everything backwards and forwards in order to answer the questions. Below, I provide some memorization techniques that I used during school to help me ace my exams.
Memorization is necessary, but not sufficient for academic success. One thing to keep in mind as you read through this section is that most college professors won’t simply test you to see if you can remember and regurgitate information to them. Sure, some do give those kinds of tests, but most actually want to see if you can apply your knowledge. So while memorizing facts, figures, ideas, formulas, and concepts is necessary for success on your exam, knowing how to synthesize and use that information is even more important.
Long-term memory should be the goal. Your goal for every class should be to commit the material to your long-term memory. Your brain’s short-term memory can only hold so much information at one time. Overloading it by cramming it full the night before will ensure that you’ll forget whatever it is you tried to memorize. Creating long-term memories takes time, so you should commit to memorizing information at the beginning of the semester.
Get a change of scenery. Traditional learning advice says you should study in the same quiet place every time you hit the books. But psychological research has found that just the opposite is true. In one study, college students who studied a list of vocab words in two different rooms performed much better on a vocab test than students who studied the words twice in the same room.
Researchers think that our brains make subtle associations between what we’re studying and what’s in the background while we’re studying. Those unconscious associations help you remember what you’re learning. For example, you might associate one fact with the leather chair in the student union and another fact with the smell of coffee in the cafe. By changing locations where you study on a regular basis, you’re giving your brain more material with which to create these associations.
Bottom line: mix up where you study for more effective memorization.
Space out review sessions. In 1885, German scientist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered the spacing effect. In a nutshell, the spacing effect shows that humans remember facts and figures for longer periods of time when the information is reviewed in sessions strategically spaced out over time instead of crammed in one setting.
He also discovered that we all have a “forgetting curve.” The rate at which we forget things depends on several factors, but the amazing thing is that it’s actually possible to figure out how long it will take to forget something. Knowing how long it takes you to forget new information allows you to strategically plan your next review session for maximum information retention.
One really cool computer program that figures out your forgetting curve and when you should review content is SuperMemo. You create flashcards of stuff you want to memorize and work through them on your computer. SuperMemo then uses an algorithm to figure out when you should be presented with the material again after you review it. I used this badboy for all my foreign language classes in college and it’s kind of scary how well it worked.
Review and synthesize notes right after class. Remember, our goal is to transfer information from our short-term to long-term memory so that we can easily access it come finals time. One habit that will help kickstart the transfer is reviewing and synthesizing notes right after class. Many learning researchers suggest that you should do this initial review within 24 hours of first learning the new information. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that the information will disappear from your short term-memory. After you do this initial review, take advantage of the spacing effect by reviewing this info a few days later.
Teach someone what you’re learning. I’ve found that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to somebody else. I did this all the time in law school. If I was having trouble with a particular concept, I’d sit down with Kate and try to explain it to her. The effort to make the ideas clear to someone else ends up clarifying them for yourself as well.
Talk out loud. Studies show that talking out loud when you’re learning something aids in memorization. Called “the production effect,” it only works if you talk about some of the things you’re studying, while looking over other parts silently; that which you speak out loud gets stored in your memory because it becomes distinct in your mind from the rest of the material. So save this technique for the important bits that you’re really struggling with.
Take a nap after a study session. Recent research shows that taking a nap after learning something can help strengthen memory retention. While in law school, I made it a habit to take a quick power nap after an intense study session. I don’t know how much my naps helped, but they certainly didn’t hurt my academic performance.
Brute Force Memorization. The above tactics require a long period of time to be truly effective. But sometimes you won’t have the luxury of having an entire semester to memorize something for class. If you’re short on time and need to memorize something fast, try my Brute Force Memorization technique.
Self-Testing: The Master Key to Academic Success
Take frequent practice tests. To really commit information to long-term memory, you need to test yourself on a regular basis. Research shows that tests are not only good for assessing how well you know something, they actually help you learn and retain information for the long-term. The process of retrieving information to answer a question fundamentally changes the way it’s stored in the brain. The more difficult it is to retrieve the answer, the more securely it will anchor in your mind.
Instead of just passively memorizing information, create practice tests for yourself throughout the semester. Your textbook usually has study questions at the end of each chapter. Answer them. And by answer them, I mean write out your answer just like you would for a real exam. To get the full benefit of this technique, you can’t just answer the questions “in your mind.”
Ask your professor if she has any old exams she’d be willing to share with you. Take those old exams under real test taking conditions. If they’re essay questions, write out the answers. See if your professor will take a look at your answers and offer any feedback.
Flash cards are another way you can quiz yourself.
Studies show that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes, so make sure that after you complete any self-test, you go back and review your answers and find out why you got something wrong.
Practice tests. Do them.
Study Groups
Use study groups with care. I used study groups very sparingly while in college and law school. I found that most study groups were a waste of time because they lacked focus and direction. Instead of talking about the class material, we often ended up discussing Sooner football.
If you’re going to do a study group, follow these general guidelines:
Keep it focused. Every study group session should have a pre-determined purpose. Never show up to a study group without an agenda. Setting a time limit for your study group also helps keep people focused and on task.
Get the right kind of people. Study groups should be mutually beneficial. Everybody should contribute. If freeloaders infiltrate your study group, abandon ship.
Great Resources on Improving Your Study Skills
For more information on how to improve your study skills, check out the following resources:
Study Hacks. By far the best blog I’ve found on study skills. The author of the blog has also written two books on the subject.
How to Study: A Brief Guide. Written by a college professor. No frills, practical advice.
SuperMemo’s Article Bank. Lots of great stuff here. You can spend hours reading through this material





12 Tips for Writing Clearly

2 12 2019

by Simcha Fisher

On Tuesday, I insisted that people learn how to write well.  Today, I’m offering some practical tips that I have found useful.  Most of these apply to less formal pieces, like blog posts, short articles, or even comments—anything where you’re trying to make a point.  If you’re working on a research project, though, you’re on your own.

APPROACHING THE TOPIC

1.  Make sure you know what the heck you’re talking about.  You don’t have to be an expert: often, the things that need to be said are the things that people already know, but have forgotten—or things they don’t realize that other people are thinking.  So it’s okay to be simple, as long as you know exactly what it is you want to say.

If you’re still hashing it out in your mind, be upfront about that, and ask questions of the reader.  Don’t pretend to be more sure than you actually are.

2.  Make it clear why your topic needs to be addressed.  You’ll look silly if you get all worked up clarifying something that no one was confused about.  If you are righting a wrong, introduce your piece by summing up the wrong, citing at least one example.  One easy trick is to literally ask a question, and then answer it.  Or start with a short anecdote which explains what started your train of thought.

3. Don’t resort to defensive writing.  Nobody wants to read about what you’re not saying.  Say what you do mean.  Say it as clearly and firmly as you can —and then let it go.  After a certain point, if people hear what you’re not saying, then it’s their problem, and not yours.  You don’t owe them a second essay restating your point.  Do your best, and move along.

4. Don’t be afraid of trivial ideas.  Don’t hold out for the obviously profound.  If you are an intelligent person, then an image, idea, or phrase rings your bell for a reason.  Go ahead and write about it—you may be onto something.

5.  Be honest.  If you’re afraid your idea isn’t holding up, your readers will notice, too, so don’t force it.  On the other hand, “I used to think so-and-so, but I’ve changed my mind—here’s why” essays are always interesting.

6. Have you noticed that you write about the same three ideas over and over and over again?  That’s okay.  The best writing comes from insatiable fascination with a particular theme, not from fleeting infatuations with passing ideas.

EDITING

1. Editing should make you sweat.  It’s okay to write down every last thing you can think of . . . on your first draft.  Often “covering the page” is the only way to figure out what you’re actually trying to say, and sometimes your main point doesn’t emerge until you’ve written around it for several hundred words.  But don’t leave it that way.  Even if a passage is brilliant, funny, and flows sweet and clear like Grade A honey—it may not belong in this piece.  Every word must work in service of your point, or else it’s gotta go.

Even if I’m delighted with what I wrote, I cut out about 10% just on principle.

2.  Read it out loud. This is the best way to root out dumb phrases, snootiness, babbling, repeated words, and pronoun trouble.  If it’s an important piece, ask someone else to read it, and be ready to accept criticism.

3. Often, an essay doesn’t sit well because the right elements are all there, but are out of order.  Try putting your last paragraph at the beginning, and see how that settles.  If I’m really muddled, I make an outline that describes what I’ve written.  Reducing it to bare bones often shows the flaws hiding in the verbiage.

4. Not sure if you have a unified idea?  Try coming up with a descriptive title for the finished piece.  If this is hard, then you may not have said anything, or tried to say too much.

5.  Clarity before fanciness.  It’s fun to write the occasional sentence that makes people go, “Whoa, let me read that again—it sounds cool, but I’m not quite sure what it means.”  But that must be the very rare exception.  Most of what you say should be plain as plain can be.  You’re supposed to be drawing attention to your ideas, not your fancy, fancy self.

6.  Remember the Five B’s:  Be Brief, Boy, Be Brief.  I love to read, but I’m lazy, I’m tired, I’m distracted, and I rarely read a piece that’s longer than 1,000 words.  Most of your readers are even lazier.  Try breaking up perfectly good paragraphs into mini-paragraphs, just to make them easier to swallow.  Cheap, but it works.

BONUS TIPS:

Try to make the sentence structure express emphasis, rather than resorting to italics.

Pretend exclamation points and ellipses cost you $65 per use.

If you find yourself using emoticons, chop your hands off.

I believe in splitting infinitives, writing incomplete and run-on sentences, and generally murdering the language from time to time, if it gives the writing more punch or better flow.  So sue me.





Pop star, had it all, felt empty and this happened –

25 11 2019

His music group has sold over 50 million records worldwide.

At twenty years old he was a teenage sensation, a huge rock star and lived in a 17th century castle in Europe He had all the riches, fame, fortune and the adulation of millions.

His name is Paddy Kelly.

His band, The Kelly Family, sold out the huge Westtaleanhalle in Dortmund, Germany nine times in a row. A feat no other musician has since accomplished. They filled football stadiums, some shows with over 250,000.

He was born in Ireland to American parents. He has eleven brothers and sisters and most of them sang in the band. They started out singing in the streets of Europe, but quickly their incredible singing talents took them to the top. Paddy Kelly became a huge idol with adoring female fans. He needed body guards in public. He was hounded by paparazzi where ever he went and traveled by private jet and helicopters. He was recognized everywhere.

He “had it all.” But despite the fame and money he began to feel empty and isolated.

He felt lost. He felt his soul was dying.

Even with the love of his family, he began to fall into depression, even despair. He lost the sense of who he was and all his ideals and false securities began to break down. He felt like he wanted to end his life. Nothing made sense to him anymore. Material goods and money, not even his music made him happy.

This was when a deep search for the truth began. He asked himself, “If all this doesn’t make me happy then what is the sense of life. Why do I exist?” He eventually asked the question, “Who can tell me who I am? Who has the true answers to my questions?”

At a moment of deep crisis, standing on a ledge of his room, ready to kill himself, he sensed in him a voice telling him to “hold on, hold on,” and after this moment passed, he wept bitterly at what he had almost done.

Soon, after he began to search his spiritual side. He read about eastern religion like Buddhism, and even the Koran, but it was the Gospels that seemed to pull him in a new direction. He felt the Gospels were alive. At a chance meeting with a gathering of priests near his palatial home, he felt his spirit grow. Still, he struggled with depression and sadness.

Then one day, he was “zapping” his television and by chance he came across a program about Lourdes, the shrine dedicated to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

His first thought was that shrines of the Virgin Mary were “only for blue-haired grandmothers and naive people who believe anything”. But he felt pulled to Lourdes like a magnet. He decided to go. But he was certain that the town would be filled with “horrible plastic statues” and would be no place for a “rock star” to find God. When he arrived at Lourdes, to his surprise not only were “gray haired grandmothers” praying the Rosary, but many young people dressed in a way he thought was “cool” and they liked rock and roll. He therefore joined the youth program.

Then that evening hanging out with the youth group there came a moment of “Prayer and Silence” and during that moment he felt a simple, yet deep peace in his heart. He was experiencing a deep presence of someone inside of him. Wow! He thought God is accessible and this came to him through the Blessed Virgin Mary. He realized that Mary was not some Christian myth, but a person.

He felt she was asking him to give life a second chance. He felt she wanted to help him and he no longer felt alone. He had grown up Catholic, but now he knew that he could meet God and that night he gave life a new chance. He decided to live his life according to God’s will. He knew Mary had planted the seed of faith in Lourdes and now he also knew only through prayer could his faith grow. As his spiritual quest moved forward, he found his brothers and sisters also saw that money and fame did not bring happiness.

A few years ago, he and two of his brothers and sisters decided to go to the youth festival in Medjugorje. Here he met Fr. Jozo and quickly through his words, counsel and abundance of graces a deep movement of conversion with God came to his brothers and sisters and in the months and years to follow. Through Mary, through Medjugorje, he finally came to know Jesus.

He believed that God existed, but he had not yet experienced the Holy Spirit in a deep and powerful way. He wanted to know if Jesus was truly the Son of Man. He wanted to believe it and not just tell himself so or because the Church said so. He wanted to feel the interior confirmation of the Holy Spirit. Then one morning the Holy Spirit entered his heart in a real way.

On a quiet sunny morning, the Holy Spirit came to him. He believed and then with great excitement he called his brothers and sister that he loved so much and said to them “Jesus is God, Jesus is God, Jesus is God!”

Today Paddy Kelly tours with his band bringing his joyful music and love of Mary to happy audiences around the world.





Gay man finds God Watching TV Nun

20 11 2019

Paul Darrow went to his first gay beach when he was 15.

Soon after, he hitchhiked his way to New York, where there was a thriving gay scene and where he could pursue a career in modeling. Once there, he landed a high-end job as an international model and rubbed elbows with celebrities at clubs in the city.

When he wasn’t at the studio or at the gym, Darrow spent his time looking for partners. He found himself going through dozens, and then hundreds, and then thousands of lovers.

“It became frantic, and it was never my intention…but I became insensitive to what it means to be with a partner, both body and soul,” he said in the documentary film, “Desire of the Everlasting Hills.”

But after the AIDS epidemic claimed around 90 percent of his friends, a disease he himself narrowly and miraculously escaped, Darrow decided to move to San Francisco for a fresh start. He met his partner, Jeff, there and they moved to a cabin in Sonoma County.

It was in their shared home that Darrow accidentally discovered a one-eyed, straight-talking “pirate nun” wearing an eye-patch who would change his life forever.

“It was so strange that I said ‘Jeff Jeff come in here! You gotta see this!’” he said, pointing to the image on the T.V.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, it was Mother Angelica on EWTN. She had just had a stroke, which pulled the left side of her face into a slump and required her to wear a black eye patch over one eye.

“So (Jeff) comes in and I’m laughing mockingly at this nun with a patch over her eye, a distorted face…and a complete old fashioned habit,” Darrow said. “We both mocked her and laughed at her, you know, ‘Gosh these crazy Christians.’”

Jeff left the room and Darrow was about to change the channel, when Mother Angelica “said something so intelligent, so real, and so honest, that it really struck me,” he said.

“You see God created you and I to be happy in this life and the next,” Mother Angelica said through slumped lips, her good eye still twinkling behind her glasses.

“He cares for you. He watches your every move. There’s no one that loves you can do that.”

Mother Angelica’s words struck a chord with Darrow that day, and he found himself secretively snatching glimpses of her episodes every chance he got.

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), passed away on March 27 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years old.

“She really had…a huge influence on my life, and I learned to love her,” he said, “but at the same time, I had to hide her.”

“So when I turned off the TV, I would always change the channel so that when Jeff or whoever was watching that TV came in, they would never see that I was watching Mother Angelica. And it reminded me as I was doing this of when I used to turn the channel when I was watching porn because I didn’t want Jeff or anyone else to see a porn station come up.”

Eventually, Mother Angelica’s influence convinced Darrow to go back to church after decades of absence. It was a move that made Darrow very wary; he was sure he would lose friends and clients if they saw him going into a Catholic Church.

And in some ways, he was right.

“I lost clients, I lost friends,” he told CNA in a 2014 interview at the premiere of the documentary.

“People were in shock that an educated, relatively intelligent man could believe in Jesus Christ. These were the few friends that were aware that I was back in the Church.”

But it’s a move that he’s never regretted. Since his conversion, Darrow has shared his experience through talks and conferences. Mother Angelica also led Darrow to discover Courage International, the
Vatican-approved apostolate that reaches out to Catholics with same-sex attraction with the goals of growing closer to God, engaging in supportive friendships, and learning to live full lives within the call to chastity.

It was through Courage International that Darrow became involved with the film “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which he saw as a chance to share his story and to give others the same hope that he found in the Catholic Church.

“I was not discriminated against at the beginning of my journey back to the Catholic Church, I was never told that I was a bad person, that I was doing something wrong, even in confession,” he said.

“The Catholic Church really is, according to its teachings, open to everybody.”

Darrow said he felt he owed it to God to share his story through courage and through the film because of all that God had done in his life.

“I wanted to express my love to God and my appreciation for all that He has done for me,” Darrow said, “that He had never forgotten me during the decades that I had forgotten him or turned against him.”

The full documentary is available for free online at everlastinghills.org/movie/.

Originally posted on Catholic News Agency





Most inspiring Woman in 2019 spent 35 yrs in death row

15 11 2019

As we near the end of 2019, people are beginning to look back on the year at the individuals and events that have defined it. The BBC, for example, has compiled a list of 100 women considered inspirational in a multitude of different contexts.
Among the 100 women proposed by the BBC, one has been completely hidden and silent for 35 years, in order to protect the success of her mission. She is a Catholic nun from Singapore and her name is Sister Gerard Fernandez. She spent a good part of her life on death row—that is, accompanying prisoners condemned to death, doing her best to open their hearts to ask for and accept forgiveness, and preparing them to meet God. The story of this religious sister takes us into the most sordid depths of the human soul where, indeed, only the power of God’s mercy can reach.

A truly black sheep
Today Sister Gerard is 81 years old. She finished her mission in prison in 2017, which is why her story can now be told; for all the years she was at the side of those condemned to death, she too was “dead to the world,” that is, she performed her mission in secret and in silence.

It probably makes sense to tell this story starting with the most shocking episode: In 1981, Singapore was shaken by a terrible event: the killing of two children in order to perform a magical ritual at the hands of an alleged medium, Adrian Lim, with the collaboration of his wife Catherine Tan and another woman. All three were sentenced to death. Sister Gerard was deeply affected by the tragedy, because she knew one of the victims, who was only 9 years old, and she also know the father of Catherine Tan, one of the murderers.

She wrote to Tan, who replied from prison after six months, signing the letter as “Catherine, a black sheep.” The nun went to visit her in prison, where she says was met by the culprit’s sad eyes that said to her: “You haven’t condemned me. Please help me change.”

Going after the lost sheep
The parable of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to follow the one that is lost could almost be called romantic. What it means to accept the request for help of a murderer who killed two children pulls us to the brink of a cliff that not all shepherds, however good, would be willing to go down.

With a serene voice that patiently measures out her words, Sister Gerard explains to a journalist, with amazing candor and radical humility: “There is still hope in their hearts, and this has changed me.” The starting point is not the will to change someone who is “bad,” but the fact of being changed by a glimmer of light glimpsed in eyes of a person no one would like to meet.

She stayed seven years praying at Catherine Tan’s side, until the day she was hanged. Starting then, Fernandez’s place was on death row (executions in Singapore continue to increase in number). Throughout her 35 years, she came to know many different stories, but with one common denominator: “They begin to face death, to know a day will come when they will be told, ‘This is your last week. On Friday, you will be hanged.” Now, I’ve walked with them, preparing them for that moment. And when that moment came, their hearts were ready.” (from The StarTV)

Using a rather inadequate image for such a serious context, we might think of a bouncer stationed at the entrance of a chic night club, who selects who may enter. Sister Gerard is the “anti-bouncer”: she throws souls in, not out. She has made herself available to accompany and encourage those sincerely open to returning to God, even under a thick blanket of sin. There is no sinner willing to take the step who cannot be guided to repentance.

“Don’t make me out to be a saint”
Sr. Fernandez has been too much in touch with the realities of life and death to be flattered by the attention she is now getting. She says, “Don’t make me out to be a saint, because I’m not. My ego can be as big as a satellite. But I try to use the dark moments to become better.” (from The Straits Times)

Calling her a saint could be taking the easy way out. Yes, she’s admirable, but her example is not beyond reach. Her life teaches us that God can lead us, little by little, to places we never would have imagined in His service. Some are called to live their Christian mission to the extreme, on the peripheries, but sometimes those peripheries are within us. All of us carry inside us certain dark corners of our heart that we don’t want to open to God, because we deem them too shameful, too unsightly. Yet, there is no dark corner that God cannot illuminate with the light of his grace and forgiveness. We are all called to conversion, and we are all called to recognize that God’s mercy is greater than any sin — ours or someone else’s.





Inside story of a death bed convert

8 11 2019

One of the sweet things about being a priest is being able to minister at a person’s deathbed.

The veil between this world and the next is very thin at that point, and you can see so much. When I say you can “see” so much what I mean is that so much is revealed. At that point the person who is dying is usually very vulnerable and open. Their worldly facade is fading. Their accomplishments and pride are forgotten. They realize that all the stuff of this world will soon be left behind.

Often the person is quietly sleeping. The family is gathered around and there is no response as the last rites are given. On the other hand, sometimes the process is very conscious. More than once I’ve been called to visit a man or woman who has called the parish office specifically because they know they are dying and they want to see a Catholic priest.

So I once made my way to a small apartment in a not so good part of town. I was admitted to find a man in his sixties with a haggard expression gasping for air. Call him Ralph.

“Are you a Catholic priest?”

“I am.”

“It’s about time. I’ve been calling all around town for the last three weeks trying to get hold of a Catholic priest.”

“I’m sorry. It looks like you’re pretty sick.”

“Yep. I’m dying. Doctor says only a few more weeks. They can’t do anything for me.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Lung cancer. It’s my own damned fault. I couldn’t give up smoking,”

“Uh huh. Why haven’t you seen a priest up til now?”

“I was in the hospice and when I asked they sent some old guy around wearing a blue shirt. That made me suspicious so I asked him and he said he was a Methodist. I told him to get lost. I want a Catholic priest. So off he went and a few days later I asked again and they sent some woman around wearing one of those shirts priests are supposed to wear. I knew she wasn’t a Catholic priest, so I told her to get out and go find me a Catholic priest.”

“Why didn’t you send for your parish priest? What church do you go to?”

He laughs, then starts coughing. Coughing really bad. I think he’s going to cough his lungs up—what’s left of them. Finally he stops laughing-coughing and says, “Hell, Father I haven’t been to church for fifty years.”

“Then why start now?”

“Because the nuns told me when a Catholic is dying you’re supposed to call the priest. Right?”

“Right.”

“And I’m a Catholic and I’m dying so I called a priest. What next?”

“Well, are you prepared to make your confession and receive the sacrament of healing?”

“Is that the same as last rites?”

“Yes. Do you want to make your confession?”

“That might take a long time….” starts laughing-coughing again.

“I’ve got as much time as it takes.”

So I began to hear his sad old confession of a wasted life and tragic losses. There were tears on his side first, then on mine. I gave him absolution and promised to bring him communion the next day, and that communion was one of the sweetest things I can remember. He was like a little child. He had faith. In fact he had nothing but faith.

Then after communion and a blessing he lit up a cigarette. “You shouldn’t smoke.” I said. “Those things are going to kill you.”

He thought that was hilarious.

A week later his carer called and I went to see Ralph again. This time he was in bed in a darkened room. There were no family members there. He’d screwed his friends, alienated his kids and divorced his wife. He was alone.

I sat by his bedside. “Ralph, who is with you right now?”

“Nobody Father. Nobody, and it’s my fault. I admit it.”

I took out my rosary. “Do you remember this?”

“Sure. The nuns taught me to say the rosary.”

“That’s who is with you now, Mother Mary.” I give him the rosary. “You’re going to die soon, but I want you to hold on to this rosary as you go. She and your guardian angel will see you across the river. Are you good with that?”

He whispers, “Sure I’m good with that.”

Do you want me to say the prayers for passing?

He nods. I pray. He goes to sleep, and a few days later at his funeral his people are surprised to see a Catholic priest show up. Nobody knew Ralph was a Catholic.

When I told them how Ralph died there was total silence and reverence, and in some strange way Ralph, who was a pretty lousy Catholic in life, bore a radiant witness to Christ the King in his death

This article originally appeared on Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog

Visit his website, browse his books, and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.





Stones would cry out: Kanye praises Jesus

31 10 2019

I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!” Confound me if I am wrong, but are not these prophetic words of Jesus being fulfilled before our eyes. When so many Christians have denied their love for Jesus and embraced adulterous paganism; when christian celebrities shriek with horror when someone tries to associate them with Jesus in public for the sake of the worldly glamour, stones, men you least to expect are praising Jesus, in public and at the top of their voices. A lesson for all to see. Watch notorious Kanye West, rapper and songwriter and Chicago bad boy praising Jesus








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