Category Archives: Prayer

Entries dealing with prayer.

Is the Holy Family a realistic model for us?

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"The Holy Family with the Infant St. John" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

“The Holy Family with the Infant St. John” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The Holy Family was the happiest family in the history of humanity, not because they were given special privileges, but because of their faithfulness and humility. We might expect the mother of God and his foster father to live as royalty as they cared for the child Jesus. However, they had the same living conditions, concerns and trials as any other working-class family. As faithful Jews, they did not consider themselves above the law, but instead were obedient to the letter of the law. Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the Word of God was their source of hope. They in turn would teach Jesus to be obedient even as he was beginning to discover his purpose in the plan of his Heavenly Father.

This faithfulness and obedience that was the source of happiness for the holy family is also God’s plan for each of us. The holy family is an example of how we all should live our lives close to God. It’s in our family that we should first learn about God and the importance of daily prayer.

The most important gift that parents can give their children is that their children know without a doubt that their parents love each other and that they are loved by their parents. This gives the children the security they need, especially in their developing years. It is also important that children see their parents pray together and are taught by their parents how to pray.

How Can We Join God’s Family?

When a child is baptized, the parents agree to be the first teachers of the way of our faith. In baptism, we all become children of God and part of His family, which is the Church. The Church that Jesus Christ founded is also called our Mother because it is in her that God’s specific plan of salvation unfolds for His family. It is through this Church that we receive the Word of God and the sacraments which allow us to encounter Jesus Christ in an intimate and personal way, especially when we receive him in the Holy Eucharist.

"The Last Communion of St. Joseph Calasanz" by Francisco Goya (1819)

“The Last Communion of St. Joseph Calasanz” by Francisco Goya (1819)

Now that we are adults – no matter if we are married or single – whether we live alone or as a family, we are members of the family of God. We call ourselves Christian because we claim Jesus Christ as our Savior and we agree to be his disciples. This is no casual thing; it requires each of us to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.” No matter if we should gain the whole world, we can only be truly happy now and for all eternity by being a faithful witness to what Christ has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

The wonderful thing about God Our Father is that no matter who we are or what we have done He longs for us to come to Him with a humble heart so that we may experience His mercy and love. It is for this purpose that He has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yes, it does take humility to confess our sins to Jesus Christ through his minister the priest, but then it is Jesus Christ who through his priest says, “Your sins are forgiven,” and then gives us grace to help us overcome sin.

Making Our Home a Domestic Church

In the month of October, we began the Year of Faith which continues until November 2013. The purpose of this year is to help all of us to re-focus our lives on what is really important so that we can be filled with hope and peace. We are encouraged to follow the example of the Holy Family and live our lives in communion with God. Our homes should become a domestic church where we pray with the people we love and grow together in the faith by reading the Scriptures, the lives of the saints, and the teachings of our Mother the Church, given to us for our sanctification.

There is no one on this earth who has a greater possibility of having the experience of being a member of the family of God than those of us who belong to the Church He founded. We have everything we need to live a life close to God if we so chose. It begins with the desire to place God first in our lives and then follow the example of Mary, Joseph and all the saints who have gone before us. There is no shortcut to becoming holy; the path is the same as it always has been.

Mary and Joseph, pray for us that we will receive the desire to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ, so that we may be truly happy now and for all eternity.

This blog was originally preached by Deacon Tom Fox as his homily for The Feast of the Holy Family (C) at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.

The Ultimate Gift

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Star marking the birthplace of Jesus, in Bethlehem

Star marking the birthplace of Jesus, in Bethlehem

When my husband Tom and I first visited Bethlehem several years ago, we were so surprised when we saw the marked birthplace of our Savior, Christ the Lord. He was born in a very simple place – a Grotto that is around seventeen feet long and nine feet wide. Grottos were used by families in the Bethlehem and Jerusalem area.

The Grotto of our Lord’s birthplace has a large Church, the Church of the Nativity, built over the site in order to preserve it. Upon entering this ancient Church built by Constantine in the 4th century, you need to walk several yards to reach marble steps taking you down around ten feet to the Birthplace. Many oil lamps hang over a niche of marble and a silver Star with fourteen points marks where Jesus was born. The middle of this large star has an opening where you can see the original ground. One has to imagine a bit how it must have been at the time of Jesus…simple, quiet, the opening of the Grotto looking out into the village of Bethlehem. The experience of standing and seeing the birthplace of Jesus is very powerful! You can’t help but want to touch the Star, to bend low and almost crawl down to kiss the Star!

Yes, then I can imagine how it must have been. Mary knew her baby was Jesus. Mary could see His face and contemplate His face. Mary and Joseph looked with amazement at the infant Jesus.

Then the Shepherds came to see what the Angels told them: They went to Bethlehem and see what had taken place – they would find Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger. (cf. Luke 2:15-20). The Shepherds were considered the ‘poorest’ in the community at that time. They lived in caves with their flock and they lived simple lives. Why would the Heavenly Angels come to Shepherds in a field near Bethlehem to tell them the good news of Christ’s birth?

Fr. Marie Dominique-Philippe, O.P. (founder of the Congregation of St. John) writes:

He (Jesus) is not born in the temple of Jerusalem, but at Bethlehem in Judea, in a cave reserved for animals and poor, homeless people. He wants His first visit to be really for the poor, for those who have nothing. He wants to rebuild everything, starting from the nakedness of the crib. …Their praise becomes the same as that of the Angels – glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men and whom he is pleased.

Depiction of shepherds receiving announcement of Christ's birth (Chapel of the Angels at Shepherds' Field, Bethlehem)

Depiction of shepherds receiving announcement of Christ’s birth (Located inside Chapel of the Angels at Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem)

The Shepherds have nothing to give to this newborn King; they were too poor. What they gave was their time, their adoration, their belief in the message of the Angels.

I would like to be like the Shepherds – simple and trusting in a Heavenly Message to run and see the newborn babe in the manger. To spend time in adoration of this incredible mystery – the Word of God made flesh through Mary!

However, if we really think about it –we ALL can be like the Shepherds now, today! By approaching Christ in the crib – in prayer, in adoration, presenting ourselves to Him and giving Him the gift of our time. The Christ Child came for everyone – He wants us to come to Him first in adoration and in doing so, we receive the ultimate gift – His peace and His joy!

Every day can be a Christmas in our hearts, as we too sing on Christmas Day and everyday – “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)

“The Word who found a dwelling in Mary’s womb comes to knock on the heart of every person with singular intensity this Christmas.” – Blessed John Paul II

Blessed and Merry Christmas!

Mary’s fiat: “Bring it on!”

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"Annunciation" by Vasily Surikov (1914)

“Annunciation” by Vasily Surikov (1914)

It is only recently I took the time to appreciate the mother of Jesus.

I was born in the 1960s, came of age in the 1970s and soaked in the culture that can best be summed up with the song lyric, “I am woman, hear me roar.”

I never questioned if I had a voice because I just assumed I did. I did not know the woman whose only place was in the kitchen. My Mom was a very happy homemaker but never modeled that stereotypical 1950s version. My parents raised five daughters with the idea that our world was open to whatever we wanted to achieve.

My mother has always had a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother, but somewhere along the way I grew in the opinion that she was too meek and timid and no model for modern women like myself. It didn’t help that she was just too perfect and I was far from it. I remember thinking, “It’s easy to be Mary. If I was born ‘full of grace’ and without original sin, I would be holy too.”

Detail from "Missal of Bernhard von Rohr,Archbishop of Salzburg"(1481)

Detail from “Missal of Bernhard von Rohr, Archbishop of Salzburg” (1481)

I discovered the true Mary one day while meditating on the Joyful Mystery of the Annunciation and on her fiat – her yes to God.

I compared her life to Eve’s, the first woman born without original sin. I believed Eve had gotten a bad rap, “How can a woman who had no idea about sin or evil know that the serpent was conning her?” Yes, she was gullible and naïve, but culpable?

My Catholic faith teaches that Eve’s choice evicted mankind from paradise and Mary’s choice restored the dignity of mankind; but I wondered, “Who had the easier choice?”

I imagined the culture Mary lived in and saw a young woman living 2000 years ago in violent and masculine Judea. Much like many cultures in that same region today, Mary possessed no rights or status as far as society was concerned. True, she was sinless and full of grace but must have observed all her life the inhumanity of man to one another and the consequence of sin in her world. She knew Scripture but also had to know what justice her society would dole out to an un-wed girl with child. But with no assurance of what the future brings and only a knowledge and trust in God’s love for her, Mary makes her choice, “May it be done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

In Eden, Eve did not have to work for food, shelter or clothes. She felt no shame and had all of nature at her disposal. She did not know sin because there was no sin. The only rule is that God forbade her to eat or touch the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden or “You will die.” (Genesis 3:3) Her trust in God’s love and care for her should have been rock solid but, “She took some if its fruit and ate it,” (Genesis 3:6) choosing instead to trust the words of the lying serpent, “You certainly will not die.” (Genesis 3:4)

I had it all backwards. Eve was the meek and timid one; allowing the opinion of another creature to question her intelligence and knowledge.

"The Virgin of the Rosary" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1650)

“The Virgin of the Rosary” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1650)

Mary knew what those around her would think, but secure in her value as a daughter of God, drew on this knowledge and with real courage gave her fiat what in today’s vernacular could have been, “Bring it on!”

Mary was a woman who defied what the culture said about her womanhood and stood erect in her personal dignity as a creature made in the image and likeness of God who loves her unconditionally. She was fearless, she was courageous; a true model for the woman of today.

I regret my former opinion of our Mother. I now know she would have been a great companion along my path of singlehood, newly married and young mother. What hurt, guilt, sin and obstacles to happiness I could have avoided had I just drawn on the strength of this woman secure in her womanhood.

With Mary as my model for the modern woman, I grow in the confidence to defy this culture of lies and give my own “Bring it on!” fiat. With every Hail Mary I recite, she encourages me to have courage in who God created me to be, to be fearless in expressing my femininity and to welcome a life pregnant with the Way, the Truth and the Life in her Son, Jesus Christ.

How to Have a Better Christmas: Don’t Forget to Wait

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by Daniel Quintero, former Media Ministry Assistant

As we begin the second week of Advent, we are reminded again of this time of anticipation. I must admit, there was a time where it was spiritually and mentally difficult for me to fully embark on the Advent Journey. Don’t get me wrong, I loved and appreciated the coming of Christ. Yet there is something about this season I had not fully grasped, something about it that made it difficult to appreciate the excitement of Advent.

The Solution is in the Anticipation

This problem plagued me for many years. Why was I not fully partaking in the spirit of Advent? Then I realized it was obvious: I wasn’t fully embracing Advent, because, I, like the rest of the world, wanted Christmas to come even earlier.

Advent is concealed, hidden away from a world that cannot wait. The world’s celebration of Christmas advances sooner and sooner each year — not because of Christ, but rather for products.

When Advent is Forgotten

Stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day for Christmas shopping; an irony, considering that gifts are supposed to represent love we have for friends and family. Yet on a day meant for families to be together to build that love, the lure of products keeps them apart. Cardinal Timothy Dolan expressed this as a time of  “a further descent into a highly privatized, impersonal, keep-people-at-a-distance culture, one that values having stuff and doing things over just being with people whom we love, cherish and appreciate.”

This was indeed my mindset when I was a younger. At that time, Christmas meant presents, a long break from school, and eggnog. As I grew more in my faith, I started to fall in love more with the real meaning of Christmas. Despite that, I still had difficulty growing in the spirit of Advent. Why? I had to learn the value of patience.

The Beauty of Being Ready

Good things come to those who wait. Just as a dating or engaged couple abstaining from physical intimacy continually offers that up and, through that, grows in love day by day — until the glorious splendor and bliss of their marriage unites them in body and soul, so too is the time of Advent meant to bring us closer in excitement and love to greet the One who is Love. When Advent is decreased, Christmas is decreased.  Advent is a time of preparation; I like to compare it to the season of Lent in anticipation for Easter Sunday. In our Advent time, we can sacrifice in order to grow. As a community, we sacrifice the beautiful prayer of the Gloria (“Glory to God in the highest…”). In our personal faith, we can fast and pray.

In this time of preparation, the Church offers numerous holy days to shape our anticipation. How disappointing it is for the secular world to only know one day of the holiday: December 25th, the first day of Christmas. The Catholic Church has the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Feast of Saint Nicholas, the Feast of Saint Lucy,  Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent), and the Hispanic tradition of posadas. These days help advance our salvation narrative, culminating in the arrival of our Savior. There are also the candles on the wreaths, the readings during Mass, the hymns in our songbooks which separate Advent music from Christmas music. Advent is the gem of waiting; the gem that propels Christmas to be understood as fully special and unique. Christmas is so magnificent, it has to be prepared for.

United with Mary 

In conclusion, I invite you to share in the beauty of Advent with the Virgin Mary. I am in awe when I reflect on the beauty of Our Virgin Mother bearing God in her womb.  I often wonder what she was thinking during that preparation. Perhaps she imagined how her Son would look, maybe what activities she would like to do with Him. Mary experienced the first Advent. We too are eagerly anticipating His Second Coming. Let us continue this season in hope and anticipation.  Happy Advent.

Take a Daily Spiritual Dump: 3 Steps You Shouldn’t Go Without

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Two weeks ago, I met a man who made a lasting impression on me. What struck me so deeply about this man was his unshakeable conviction that God loves everyone. He said,

[God] loves us in an intimate and personal way. He has a passionate love for each one of us.

God loves me? As you might, I wrestle with this idea, because I am imperfect, flawed, and wounded. At times, I experience pain, sickness, challenges and frustrations…and then I wonder, Does God really love me? Well, I’ve recently remembered the answer. All I had to do was go to Confession.

Wooden outhouseHOW I LEARNED ABOUT THE ‘DAILY DUMP’

When I recently walked into the Confessional “box,” the priest asked me how I was doing. My heart was very heavy with many things, so I cried, confessed my sins, and Father listened very patiently. He told me that—from my own words and disposition, he could see that I’d forgotten how much God loves me. For my penance, he wrote down some Scriptures on which I should reflect.

Then, he told me something I’d never heard before: Just like we have to go to the bathroom every day, we also need that spiritually! (I almost chuckled when he said this.) The truth is that our souls have to daily get rid of all the junk: the lies we have believed about ourselves, about others, and about God.

In other words, we need to take a daily ‘spiritual dump.’

THE THREE-STEP CHALLENGE

This made perfect sense to me. We can all get very down on ourselves (I’m such a failure, I’m no good, I’m worthless, Why aren’t I like her/him?) and we play the blame game toward others & God. What we need is a fresh start. Here’s how Father explained this process to me.

STEP ONE: Remember and affirm who you are in God’s eyes.

Open up your BibleDust off your Bible, open it up, and write down the Scriptures that especially speak about God’s love for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in this process. Here’s what Father recommended to me:

  • 1 John 3:1-3
  • Romans 8:1
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • Galatians 2:19b-20
  • Psalm 23:4

Then, Father recommended I write my own “litany” of reminders about who I am in God’s eyes. For example: I am a new creation. I am a daughter of God. I am God’s beloved child. I am desired by the King of Heaven. I am a precious temple of the Holy Spirit. I am redeemed by Christ’s cross…(etc.) Base your “litany” on the Scriptures you find.

Every day, begin your ‘Daily Dump’ by praying this litany. Give thanks to God for His love and goodness!

STEP TWO: Examine your conscience.

After declaring who you are in God, reflect back on your day: When were the times that I lived up to this litany? When were the times that I failed?

STEP THREE: Repent, reject, and praise.

Repent of your sins and failures — these are the times you failed to live as God’s beloved child, temple of the Holy Spirit, etc. Ask God for his mercy.

Rest in ChristThen, the dump: Reject in Jesus’ name the evil and lies which have led you into sin. For example: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I reject the lie that I am a failure. In the name of Jesus Christ, I reject the lie that [Person's Name] is lesser than me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I reject the lie that [Person's Name] is the object of my lust. In the name of Jesus Christ, I reject the lie that I do not have time for prayer… (etc.)

Finally, say a few words of thanks and praise to God — maybe pray the “Glory Be” and say, “Thank you, Lord! I love you. Help me to live for you.

GET GUARANTEED RELIEF

While this daily process takes only a few minutes and helps us combat sin, there’s a place where we can get guaranteed relief.

Both outhouses and confessionals are awkward little boxes where we dump the junk that’s weighing us down. Neither box looks particularly appealing! But confessionals are unique; if we enter them sincerely willing to give all the grime to God, we’ll get guaranteed relief.

Yep, confessing our sins and failures can be terribly embarrassing. But we often forget that Confession is not merely confessing sins. It is a sacrament — tailor-made by God, to give us new life! Humbling ourselves and admitting our failures in Confession, we slowly conquer our pride — and God gives us sacramental grace to become stronger against temptation. Through the priest, he listens to us, speaks to us, forgives us, fills us with his love, and unites us to himself. Don’t wait any longer — go to Jesus in the Sacrament of Confession!

Whoever confesses his sins … is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear “man” — this is what God has made; when you hear “sinner” — this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made. … The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light. (Saint Augustine)

‘Belonging to the Truth’ – What Did Jesus Mean?

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This Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. We’re also in the last week of the liturgical year, and so we are reminded of the last things; Jesus will come again in glory and power.

This Sunday’s Readings:

In the first reading, Daniel prophesies that One like a Son of man is coming and he will receive dominion and kingship which will last forever and all people and nations will serve him. The Book of Revelation speaks of Jesus Christ who freed us from our sins by his own blood and has made us into his kingdom. He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and is to come, the Almighty.”

In the Gospel we see Jesus, the King of Kings, being judged by Pilate. In his response to Pilate he says, “You say I am a king. For this was I born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” It isn’t included in this Gospel, but Pilate replies, “What is truth?”

“What is truth?” This is a question for time.

Do we really want to know the truth about how God wants us to live our lives on this earth? There is an objective truth based upon natural law and on the law of God given to us by way of His revelation and His Church. We live in a time when the majority of the people live as if there is no objective truth. They believe they can decide for themselves the truth which they chose to live by.

In the 1950s there was a television program called Truth or Consequences. It became so popular that a town in New Mexico was named after it. These words have much meaning. If we do not live by the truth as God has revealed it, there will be consequences – and we can see those consequences all around us. Is there anyone who does not believe there has been a moral decline in our country in the past fifty years? Fifty years ago, over 70% of the population in this country worshiped God every weekend; now it is closer to 25%. The largest religious denomination in this country is inactive Catholics. There are more Catholics who are inactive than those who are active; that is going to Mass every weekend and being involved in the life of their parish. Further, much of what is currently called music and entertainment is not only immoral, it is degrading to the dignity of humanity. It appears things will be getting worse before they get better.

In today’s Gospel Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” To listen to Jesus is not only to hear the Gospel; it’s to belong to the Gospel, to the truth. To belong to the truth is to allow the truth of God’s revelation in the Scriptures and the Church to shape our lives. If our faith does not influence all of the important decisions we make, then we are not truly Christian.

Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. This is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. Jesus did not only come into the world at his birth in Bethlehem 2000 years ago which we celebrate each Christmas. He will come again in glory in a time unknown to us; for which he wants us to be prepared. The way to prepare is to invite him into our lives everyday, throughout the day, by opening up our hearts to him. He wants a personal relationship with us that we develop through a commitment to daily prayer, living the sacramental life, reading the Scriptures and being faithful to his revelation. In Mass, he comes to us in the Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine. In this sacrament and the other sacraments of our Church – along with her teaching authority and the Scriptures – we have all we need to belong to the “Truth” which is Jesus Christ, Our King and Our Savior. The consequence of belonging to the “Truth” is to reach our potential for happiness now, and for all eternity.

What?? Christians living in Israel and Palestine?

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As we hear news on missiles hitting Gaza and Israel, mass media are telling us about who is shooting missiles and so on. Meanwhile, there are a group of people living in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in Israel, that are suffering; they are the Christians of the Holy Land.

Tom and I have traveled to the Holy Land 42 times since 1984, most of those times were leading groups of pilgrims. Through our experiences of presenting talks on the Holy Land to various church and school groups, we continue to discover the majority of Americans do not know there is a Christian presence in the Holy Land and that this Christian population has been living there since the beginning of Christianity. They are called the Mother Church, because from her Christianity spread throughout the world.

Celebrating Sunday Mass with Palestinian Catholics in Beit Jala, West Bank, Palestine

Who Are They?

For 2,000 years, Christian families have lived and worshiped in the land where Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. These Christians are not converts, immigrants or foreigners…they are the descendants of the first followers of Jesus as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2:11. The Christians in the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine, Jordan) are Arab Christians (their mother tongue is Arabic). They are not converts from Islam; Islam did not arrive in Jerusalem until 638 A.D. These Christians are Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Protestant. They are also called Palestinian Christians because they live in Palestine and have been living there before Israel became a state.

Fr. Firas Arideh, a diocesan priest living in Palestine, says: “We are thinkers, we are theologians, we are philosophers, we are teachers, we are believers in the Bible and in Jesus Christ and we are rolling up our sleeves and are making a difference by shedding light in a bleak situation because nothing will stand between us and the Lord.”

Why is it Important to Be Aware of Mother Church?

They are active members of parishes in Jerusalem, Cana, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Gaza, and other villages throughout the Holy Land. These cities are biblical, and their very stones mark the holy sites of our Lord’s life – the Christians are the living stones!

  • They are part of a 2,000 year unbroken legacy of Christianity in the Holy Land.
  • They are the first to tell you they are the living church, helping sustain the holy sites through their presence, active participation in the Church and the community.
  • They receive pilgrims, own restaurants and religious souvenir shops and are proud to speak about their Land, the Land of the Lord! Their warm Middle-Eastern hospitality is always impressive and delightful!

In the last 60 years, the Christian population has gone from 18% of the population to less than 1.5% of the population. This is a serious concern for the Church. If the Christians continue to dwindle, the Churches built over the Holy Sites will be vacant and may become museums!

Why Such a Small Number Now?

  • According to sociological surveys, military occupation of the West Bank (Palestine) by Israel has caused a dramatic and steady decline of the Christian community to what is now an “endangered” population. Respondents made it clear that this decline is not due to Islam.
  • The Christians are a minority. As one Palestinian Catholic priest said: “We are rejected by the Israeli Jewish people and government because we are Arabs.”

What Can I Do For Them?

  •  Tell others what you have read.
  • Pray! Pray for the Mother Church of the Holy Land. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are united with us in the Christian solidarity of the mystical Body of Christ – the Church: “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
  • Go to the Holy Land on pilgrimage! Join a Pilgrim Center of Hope pilgrimage during this Year of Faith. Experience the Land of the Bible and the “living stones!” Visit our website to see the various dates offered: www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org
  • Read! We strongly recommend a book written by a Palestinian Catholic priest, now an Archbishop in the Holy Land, Elias Chacour. The title is Blood Brothers. Chacour writes about his life growing up around the Sea of Galilee, the strong Christian community, and life in Israel today. Obtain a copy through our offices, or online.
  • Stay in touch with the Diocese of Jerusalem, called the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem: www.lpj.org
  • Host a presentation on the Holy Land for your organization or parish. Contact us to set a date.

Pope John Paul II, in his homily in Bethlehem in March 2000 during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, told the Christians: “Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian presence and heritage in the very land where the Savior was born.”

Why don’t we just give it ALL to God?

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“Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.” Ps. 130:1,2

When the bottom has fallen out of our life and we stand helpless to fix it or face it, then in our suffering and pain we instinctively cry out to God. It is in the depths, when we can no longer manage life on our own, that we rediscover that we were never meant to manage life on our own.  We are, by design, dependent on God. And it is in the depths that our need for God is most passionately felt and expressed.

Prior to my conversion experience in the fall of 2010 that lead me full throttle on the road to becoming Catholic, I was in a period of darkness.  Everything that had defined my life up to that moment came to a screeching halt.  Having neither the strength nor clarity to move forward, I became completely dependent on God.  Day by day, I learned what it means to turn it all over to God.  And the results were astonishing.  Never in my wildest imagination, could I have dreamed that within two years I would be moving from Houston to San Antonio, taking RCIA classes to become Catholic and working for a Catholic evangelization ministry.  I now have everything I didn’t even know I was looking for.

Unfortunately, it is often only at our weakest moments that we truly let go and let God.  Rather than dividing our life into: (1) That which we think we can handle by ourselves and (2) That which God can handle – why don’t we just give it ALL to God?  What ARE we waiting for? Life is full of choices, but none as fundamental as the choice to put God first and at the center of our lives!

What Are We Supposed to DO During the Year of Faith? Pope Benedict XVI’s Road Map.

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If you haven’t already heard, Pope Benedict XVI has announced a Year of Faith for all Catholics, which began October 11 and runs through November 24, 2013. If you have heard, you’ve probably guessed that we’re supposed to grow stronger in our faith this year…but, how?

Our Holy Father didn’t just say, “Year of Faith. Tag…you’re it!” and expect us to go our own way. As a good pastor, he wrote us a letter called The Door of Faith (Porta Fidei). In this letter, he gives us a road map for this special Year.

Here are the basics:

REDISCOVER. Our Holy Father says this Year is a time to rediscover the journey of faith, “rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves” on the Scriptures (as they are given to us by the Church) and on the Eucharist, “rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith,” rediscover God’s love “day by day,” and “rediscover and study the content of the faith.”

Since that’s a lot to swallow, he breaks it all down further into bite-sized chunks.

1. BE RENEWED. We’re called to renew commitment to our Catholic faith, but true renewal only comes by God’s grace. Our transformation and turning towards God is supernatural! We can’t do it on our own; we have to cooperate with God. The Pope reminds us: “To the extent that he freely cooperates [with grace], man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed” (6). So, we need God’s grace! How do we receive it? As Catholics, we especially receive grace through the sacraments. “Without the liturgy and the sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness” (11). How will you commit to receiving Confession and Holy Communion more often this Year?

St. Augustine

2. REFLECT. Even when we receive the sacraments, we need to be open to receiving the graces. Are you keeping up walls that have become obstacles to God? This Year, our Holy Father calls us to “reflect on the act of faith” (9). He reminds us that we cannot have any certainty in our lives unless we abandon ourselves into God’s hands (7). We need to reflect: How am I clinging to my wants, fears, and habits? Why am I not trusting God with everything? How can I begin to shed the obstacles that are keeping God out of every area of my life?

3. REPEAT & RECALL. When we allow God in, He can give us the supernatural gift of faith. But we need to cultivate this gift by repeating and recalling the Creed. The Holy Father point us to words by St. Augustine—the former sinner extraordinaire—who tells us that reciting the Creed in church isn’t enough. “In your minds and hearts you must keep it ever present, you must repeat it in your beds, recall it in the public squares and not forget it during meals: even when your body is asleep, you must watch over it with your hearts” (9). And Pope Benedict reminds us, “A Christian may never think of belief as a private act” (10). You might start by discovering ALL that our Church teaches, even one paragraph of the Catechism at a time. Perhaps find a letter by a pope on a subject you find interesting. Then, commit to repeating and recalling our Faith in every area of your life.

4. RETRACE. We learn how to constantly “repeat and recall” our faith from the lives of faithful people who’ve gone before us. The Pope says retracing our Faith’s history “will be of decisive importance in this Year” (13). We can do this in a variety of ways. Here are just a few examples:

  • Sign up for a Scripture study about the Old Testament or the Early Church.
  • Read the lives of the saints – buy a book, check out some from your local library, or search online.
  • Attend a presentation on Church history – ask your parish or diocese for ideas.
  • Participate in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or other holy site – we’re organizing several.

5. RECOGNIZE. Inspired by these models of faith, we are called to “recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love” (14). This means giving ourselves in service to others. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the Scriptures say, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2), and that Jesus asks us to care for him through “the least” among us (Matthew 25). How will you commit to recognize and serve Christ in others this Year?

6. RELATIONSHIP. Our Holy Father ends with two more pointers. First, that “this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm” (15). Interestingly, he writes in this section about the suffering and joyful experiences in our lives. As with anyone, our relationship with Jesus strengthens when we share our joys and our sufferings with Him—and when He’s the cause of our joy and suffering! When you truly live your Faith, you’ll “have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…is tested by fire” (1 Peter) like gold. So, how will you commit to share your joys and sufferings with Jesus? You might schedule regular prayer time, keep a journal, practice Lectio Divina, drop into a Eucharistic Adoration chapel, or even place a picture of Jesus in a special place at home or work.

7. RECONCILIATION. Finally, every time we fail to do all of the above, God offers us mercy. Pope Benedict reminds us that the Church is “the visible community of (God’s) mercy” (15). We cannot be the Body of Christ all by ourselves; we are each members who are part of the whole Body (1 Corinthians 12)! This Year of Faith, accept God’s gift of mercy by going to Confession frequently, The Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then, commit to being an active member of your local parish—one who offers the peace and forgiveness of Jesus to everyone.

What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end. (Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei 15)

Why do Catholics need a “New Evangelization”?

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On October 11, 2012 Catholics began The Year of Faith with an emphasis on the “New Evangelization.” This was also the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (a.k.a. “Vatican II”), which was primarily an effort to facilitate greater involvement of the laity in the life of the Church.

The mission of the Church is not only to bring men the message and the grace of Christ but also to permeate and improve the whole range of the temporal. The laity, carrying out this mission of the Church, exercise their apostolate therefore in the world as well as in the Church, in the temporal order as well as the spiritual. These orders are distinct; they are nevertheless so closely linked that God’s plan is, in Christ, to take the whole world up again and make it a new creation, in an initial way here on earth, in full realization at the end of time. The layman, at one and the same time a believer and a citizen of the world, has only a single conscience, a Christian conscience; it is by that he must be guided continually in both domains. (Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, 772)

Demonstration for the legalization of abortion. Haarlem, The Netherlands, 1981.

A Pope’s Prophecy Fulfilled

About the same time as the Second Vatican Council, there was a general rebellion by many against any recognized authority; civil and religious. This coincided with the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. It was at that time when Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) and predicted that if society would accept artificial birth control as a desirable way to eliminate pregnancy, there would be severe consequences. He said artificial birth control seeks to eliminate the possibility of procreation from sexual union; reducing it to an experience of pleasure only. He said the result would be an increase in abortions, divorce, and rape, violence against women, pornography and homosexuality. His predictions have come true.

First of all, adultery and fornication became acceptable and then unfaithfulness in marriage, which has led to a high divorce rate. And presently, there is an all-out effort by many in the entertainment industry, media, educational system and politicians to accept homosexuality as a legitimate alternative lifestyle.

The family has been decimated. In this country, more than half of marriages end in divorce and only one-third of children will live with both biological parents. Even children who live with both parents often have little quality time with them because both parents work. Psychologists tell us that if children do not bond with their parents in their formative years, they will likely develop psychological problems, some very serious. Children need to bond with both their mother and their father. The number-one reason why young girls find themselves in troubling situations is because they never bonded with their father. God has a great plan for families, but He must be part of the plan. When a husband and wife pray together, pray with their children and spend quality time with them, the children have a much better chance of doing well in school and in life.

Are We Free, or Enslaved?

More than two hundred years ago Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

Because of the moral decline in this country we find that the government is becoming our “master” and our religious freedoms are being taken away. Many who call themselves Christian do not recognize the danger of the direction in which we are headed.

This is why we need a “New Evangelization.” To be evangelized is to become a new creation in Christ so that we can “…know, love and serve God in this life and be happy with Him for all eternity.” It is in a faithful relationship with God that we reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity. When we are evangelized, we will have a desire to form a truly Christian conscience that will be our guide in all matters—secular and spiritual. Only then will we be able to fulfill our task of “making this world a new creation.”

The promises that Jesus gives us in Holy Scripture are true, but we, for our part, must undergo conversion and surrender our lives to Christ. It is in the plan of God that every person goes through this process, so that we can live in His love and mercy.