No matter how broken and wounded you are, no matter how sinful you are, God loves you. He simply loves you.
That’s the message Lalith Perera wants to give the world.
The founder of the Community of the Risen Lord—part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement—says he received this revelation in the midst of addiction and despair when he was just 23 years old.
Recently in Sydney, the lay preacher who has spoken to massive gatherings around the world says his aim is to convey God’s love to Australians.
“The central message is, come as you are, we love you.”
Referring to the current crisis following the clergy sex abuse scandal in Australia, he urged the Church to “return to the Lord.”
“Get off any high-horse or pedestal, humble ourselves before God. When you do that, God can do something better.”
After being raised in a traditional Catholic family in Sri Lanka, Lalith says he had doubts about Catholicism by the time he was 15 and was a convinced atheist by age 19.
By the time he was 23 he was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes and was an active evangelist for atheism. During his university days in Colombo he would stand outside churches and accost people as they came out, telling them there is no God.
“Although I spoke about the liberation of the world and the socialist understanding of reality, within myself I was addicted and a prisoner. I was not happy.”
After nearly drinking himself to death while suffering from Typhoid, Lalith became terrified by the prospect of death.
He was so frightened that, despite his staunch atheism, he started attending talks and retreats run by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal after a local nun kept inviting him to the events. During one of the retreats, he went to the sacrament of Confession for the first time in years.
“I found such peace. I never knew such a peace existed in the world.”
But it was when he was prayed over during the retreat that God really made his presence felt.
“During the second day of the retreat they were praying over people for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Three old ladies laid hands on my head and prayed for me. I had all these intellectual arguments [against the existence of God] but as they prayed over me the love of God simply flowed right through my being.
“I was loved. And here was the conflict now—in my mind there was no reason to believe in God but in my spirit I was experiencing His intimacy and His peace and His love. It really shattered me. It completely bowled me over.”
On that day, Lalith gave up cigarettes for good. “I never seriously thought I’d be able to give it up but from that day God just took it away. It’s not that I gave it up, He took it.”
His drinking problem however continued to plague him.
One night the 24 year-old found himself drunk and alone on the city streets after leaving a party.
“My mind is telling me, go back to your old life. My inner voice is saying, seek God.”
He saw a Catholic church and went in, seeking solace. It just happened to be the church of St Phillip Neri—the 16th Century Italian saint who used to pick up drunkards from the streets of Rome.
He sat in a pew at the back of the church and rested his head on the pew in front.
“I clearly heard the voice of God. It was the first time a revelation came to me. It was so clear. It said, ‘I love you not because you tried to give up drinking. I love you not because you tried to change. I simply love you.’ Now I didn’t have a theological concept of that kind of love.
“This was a revelation I didn’t have any kind of knowledge of, but I knew it was true. It broke me deep inside. I was loved. I was deeply loved in my brokenness, in my weakness.”
“That day, when I left that place, I had left alcohol. Not that I had left it, He took it from me. It was 18 September 1976 and I haven’t drunk since that day.”
Lalith says he “fell in love with God” and offered himself in service to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. When he was only 27, he was made one of the five elders of the CCR in Sri Lanka. At that time, the movement consisted of 20,000 people.
He went on to study theology and founded his own prayer community—the Community of the Risen Lord—in 1984.
In 1990 when he was in his early 30’s Lalith was made Leader of the entire CCR movement. It was then that everything began to fall apart. He says he became proud and arrogant and began to lose “the original experience of God.”
His wife Mercia, who is a co-Leader of the movement, said Lalith had “lost the first love of Jesus.”
“Earlier he used to pray, have a lot of peace and joy in him but I started feeling that was getting less and less,” she said.
At the same time he fell into conflict with the other leaders of the movement and his computer business was failing.
It was during this crisis that Lalith says God spoke to him a second time while he was on retreat in India in the year 2000. “That voice was telling me, surrender your life to me,” he said. “I said, Lord I surrendered in 1976. Can you remember that church, I knelt down and offered myself to you? He said, ‘Yes, it was true then – but not now. You’re actually afraid of Me.’
“I said, ‘Lord, I’m serving you every day.’ He said, ‘Yes, you’re serving Me but not on My terms but on your terms.’ That shook me. Then He said, ‘If you continue like this, there isn’t much I can do with you. You will do little, little things, grow old and die. But if you surrender to Me tonight, you can’t imagine what I will do with your life.’
“I said, ‘Lord I surrender myself and my family into Your hands.’ The moment I said it there was like an energy bolt that went right through my body. I knew God had moved in, in a new way.”
Following this second major conversion, the Community of the Risen Lord exploded. It went from being a community of 13 people to global community of thousands. He recalls one prayer meeting in Sri Lanka attended by 8,000 people.
Today, the CRL is active in the UK, Australia, Canada and USA. Lalith regularly shares his scripture-based teachings via Skype from Colombo with Australian CRL communities in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Wagga Wagga and Cairns.
Despite everything the Church here in Australia is going through Lalith says there is always hope in the Lord, in letting Him take charge of the situation.
“What do you do? Return to the Lord. That’s the basic thing.”
“God can restore the Church. The credibility of the Church will be restored when we humble ourselves. The need for divine intervention now, you’ll see this miracle, God [will] intervene… Hold on to God. Let Him manifest.”