What’s a Jubilee Year? Come and See!

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San Fernando Cathedral Holy Door of Mercy

Do you sometimes hear something about our Catholic Faith and wonder, “I’ve been Catholic all my life and I was never taught that?!”

I believe this happens for two reasons: the Catholic Faith is…

  1. So rich and full a treasure of teaching, it is not possible to live a generation and hear it all.
  2. An invitation to enter. It requires not passive hearing, but a walking into and an active discovery.

When I walked into my parish last month and discovered, erected in the Gathering Space, a beautiful door decorated with a Franciscan Cross and an invitation to walk through the Door of Mercy, I thought, “What is this all about?” Our pastor told us that Pope Francis has called this year between December 8 and November 6 a Jubilee Year of Mercy, and invited us to enter the door as often as we want, to experience God’s endless mercy.

This is a perfect example of our Catholic Church taking action, but leaving the discovering and following for us to choose. It is done this way for a reason, and was so from the beginning, when Jesus invited His disciples to “Come, and you will see.” (Jn 1:39)

The highlight of my Catholic journey to date is going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was there I discovered our God as One who came looking for us; traveling by foot, hundreds of miles over rough terrain, to tell us of the Father’s mercy and how this mercy is for every one of us, if we choose to accept it.

When I heard my pastor speak of the Door of Mercy, and how we can physically go through it and experience for ourselves the mercy of God, I became intrigued to discover, “What is a jubilee year?” and “How I may take this opportunity to make a spiritual pilgrimage?”

A little journey on the Internet brought the discovery that the celebration of a Jubilee as a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon has its origins in the Biblical book of Leviticus, in chapter 25, verses 8-55. A Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fifty years, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.

Pope Francis has called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy at the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II and announced special indulgences, which our Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as a “remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church […] and can be applied to the living or the dead.” (CCC 1471)  To which I enthusiastically respond . . . Cool!

Just a week before, I’d had no idea that our Church had a history of jubilee years, or that a pope can call a special one, or that we disciples and our family and loved ones – living or dead – may benefit eternally from our participating in it! These are just a few jewels in the infinite treasure chest of our faith, and what I love is, just like Jesus did with His Apostles, we are invited by God to walk with God to God . . . a pilgrimage!

For my own personal Year of Mercy pilgrimage, I have chosen to visit one of the sixteen Holy Doors of Mercy in the Archdiocese of San Antonio each month and receive God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I want to experience what the door symbolizes, which is the passage from sin to grace and slavery to freedom with the One who said, “I am the gate [door]. Whoever enters through me will be saved…I came so they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”(Jn 10:9-10)

Does the idea of a pilgrimage intrigue you? Then contact us at the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Through our Institute of Pilgrimages, we offer international and local pilgrimages, as well as pilgrimage presentations. Contact us at 210-521-3377 or our website for more information.

Most Powerful Woman In the World

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When you think about powerful women, who first comes to your mind?

A CEO? A queen? A ruler? A military leader?

National Geographic magazine’s December 2015 issue calls Mary, Mother of God, “The Most Powerful Woman in the World”, with an image of Mary on the front cover. Imagine that: Mary, the Mother of God, on the front cover of National Geographic magazine! The feature article is quite extensive. In it, the reporter travels to some Marian apparition sites, and writes about the impact that Mary has had on the world since the beginning of Christianity.

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The New Testament records Mary’s visit with Elizabeth, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, her part in the miraculous changing of water into wine at Cana, her presence at the foot of the cross on which Christ died, and with the Apostles in the upper room on Pentecost.

Let’s think about her time in Bethlehem. We know from Scripture that she and Joseph had to stay in a stable, a manger, because there wasn’t any room in Bethlehem due to a census that had brought in an influx of people.  She gave birth to the Son of God in a humble, simple manger—where animals were kept. She lay on hay, and the baby Jesus lay in a trough. Here we see the love and mercy of God; to give us His Son through a young woman (a virgin), born like us—human in the midst of disarray. Can we imagine that stable with Mary and the baby Jesus?  With Joseph looking on, caring for them? Would you imagine an incredible peace there?

Mary is with Jesus throughout his life—from the wood of the trough/manger to the wood of the Cross, where she stands and Jesus says to us, “Behold you mother.”

Do you think of Mary as a woman whose name has come down to us in history merely because she happened to be the mother of Jesus Christ?  Is that all that she means to us in this day and age?

Let us hope that we can discover what the saints and popes through the centuries have discovered about Mary.

We know that there are a few passages in Scripture that speak to us about Mary. Beyond that, there have been volumes written about her by numerous faithful authors throughout the history of the Church. There are thousands of churches named after her, all over the world. The saints all had a great love and devotion to her.

Mary is the crowning glory of God’s creation, the most favored of all humans, and yet she did not live in luxury and comfort. She lived a relatively poor life, only wanting to be “the handmaid of the Lord”. In Mary, we see God’s wisdom in His plan for humanity. For, as with Mary, God also expects to be first in our lives; that we totally trust in Him in all things—especially those things we don’t understand.

This brings us to Mary at the foot of the cross. Before Jesus dies, he says, “Woman, behold your son.” And to John, “Behold your Mother.” The Church has always taught that, when Jesus gave his mother to John, he was—in reality—giving her to the Church; to you and me. Mary was present in the upper room with the apostles when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and the Church was born. Mary is the Mother of the Church according to the order of grace. It is God’s will that all grace come to us through the Mother of Jesus, whom Jesus has given to us, to be our mother. It is Mary’s desire that we approach her as our mother to receive the help that she wishes to give us. This is confirmed in her apparitions, especially when she appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico in 1561. She said:

Do not fear…Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.

Read the National Geographic article here.

Would you like to “meet” Mary? The Pilgrim Center of Hope offers Evenings with Mary on specific dates in various Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. For a list of those dates and locations, visit our website.

R.I.P. David Bowie

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Yesterday, I read the morning news with palpable dread: rock legend David Bowie had died.

I was late to love his music, first introduced to Bowie at age 15 via the soundtrack covers in the 2004 Wes Anderson flick, The Life Aquatic. Even cooled by the unclad, mellifluous strumming and voice of Seu Jorge, the essence of Bowie blinked through: searing pain, open-veined longing, and a fearless dazzle in the dark.

After college, I picked Bowie up directly after hearing “Rebel Rebel”. I fell quite flatly for the alien mystique of Ziggy Stardust, one of the alter egos Bowie took up throughout his musical career. There was something rigorously, honestly cool about this man, this character, who could pretend to be from outer space, on a mission to share rock ‘n roll with the waiting coasts of the world. Completely out there. And yet the focus of his music was always other people’s lives. His art expressed the anxieties and flops, and yearnings, of the denizens of Earth.

Immediately after Bowie’s death, praise began to circulate with an emphasis on his out-there-ness. Simcha Fisher at Aleteia admitted that, in fact, Bowie’s extraterrestrial persona was never what she appreciated about his music:

“That voice. Alien? No. It sounded like wood weathered to silver by the ocean; it sounded like steel corroded into intricate designs; it sounded like crazed glass that had cracked but not shattered. Pain and anger and weariness and wit — these are not alien or martian or otherworldly. They are human, and so was he.”

In a world of hackneyed artists, David Bowie’s songs had nothing of the poisonously insipid malaise that makes up so much of mainstream culture. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano paid tribute to Bowie, calling him artistically rigorous and “never banal”.

The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, tweeted fitting lyrics from Bowie’s song Space Oddity:

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Is it crazy that I find Jesus Christ in this? No. Christ is the most sublime, transcendent. He entered the world from eternity, from glory unfathomable, from the very arms of the Creator–and he became human. “Pain and anger and weariness and wit” – these are things that describe Christ’s life. Shaped in the waters of Mary’s womb, his bones would become pressed to the point just before breaking, for our sake.

For love of us, Christ carried our agony and angst, our nostalgia for a world of seamless joy and peace, and then poured that love out for everyone on the cross. I believe some of that love entered into David Bowie, and made his art possible.

Perhaps Kristen Walker Hatten said it best when she wrote,

We are all creators, because we were made by a Creator, and He made us something like Himself. David Bowie … took his pain and loneliness and … his experience on this planet and made it Art. He made Music. He was a human. He tried to be on this earth in a way that was beautiful and made sense. … This sinner created beauty on earth that wasn’t here before he got here, and he shared it with the whole world, and he let us all see his pain and loneliness and brokenness and weirdness so we would feel a little bit better about ours.

To take a little bit of pressure off us. Was David Bowie a saint? No. But he was a soulful weirdo, a beneficent genius, an incredible showman. He was a child of God who worked tirelessly to give his audience the gift of good music up until the very end. He died of cancer two days after releasing his latest album, Blackstar.

That same day, his wife Iman posted an image to her Instagram with the words, “The struggle is real but so is God.” Indeed. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace, Starman. Amen.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope works constantly to help those who are seeking the light of Christ, especially those most in need of hope. One way of doing this is by hosting pilgrimages throughout each year, in which pilgrims are immersed in the culture of the historical Church and the lives of the saints. To learn more about our various ministries, visit PilgrimCenterofHope.org.

Confessions of a Lector

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The entire room stared at me.  They had never heard this before.  I saw a spark in their eyes grow into a bright light.

I was just explaining the ambo.

Do you know what an ambo is?  Most people don’t.  In a Catholic church, the ambo is one of the most important and meaningful furnishings representing Christ’s threefold identity.  Ambos continue an ancient practice, mirroring the Jewish synagogue.  They are sacred places reserved for God’s Word.  But for most people?  The ambo is just a podium or pulpit, where a “reader” stands.

How tragic!

A while ago, when I was asked to give a ‘crash course’ in lectoring to my parish youth ministry team, I realized how much profound, beautiful meaning has been lost on almost every Catholic, related to the first part of Mass.  Now is a perfect time to learn more.  Until January 10, the Church still celebrates the Christmas Season, when God’s Word became flesh.

We often hear about the flesh of God during Mass… but what about the Word?  How much are you missing?  Let’s get a taste!

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of good news!
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Cry out, do not fear!
Say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
– Isaiah 40:9

The word ambo comes from the Greek for an elevated or high place, such as a mountain.  Elevated places have always been associated with the proclamation of God’s word.  Remember Moses bringing the Commandments down from the mountain?  Or Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount?  You will find dozens of similar examples in Scripture.

If you’ve ever visited a Jewish synagogue, you’ve seen the bimah, which is the ancestor of the Christian ambo.  (Bimah and ambo are the same word, just in different languages.)  The bimah is the elevated platform from which the Torah is read.  As early as the Book of Nehemiah (400’s B.C.), people stood on a bimah and read God’s words for all the people to hear.

So, the next time you see this at your parish, think about what an ancient tradition you are witnessing!

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Synagogue in Padua, Italy.  Notice bimah on righthand side with steps leading up. Photo by Olivier Lévy.

 

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Ambo – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in San Antonio  (See how it juts out into the congregation?)

For Christians, the ambo is particularly important.  As I mentioned, it is one of three key furnishings within the church building that represent Christ’s threefold identity: priest, prophet, and king.  When we are baptized, each of us is “incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king” (Catechism CC, no. 1241).  The altar represents Christ as priest, the presider’s chair represents Christ as king, and the ambo represents Christ as prophet.

This is why, especially in older cathedrals or basilicas, the ambo is not only a simple ‘podium’ but actually juts out into the congregation’s seating.  This represents Christ the Prophet who goes out to the people, proclaiming the Good News!

The official instruction manual for Mass confirms how important this part of the Mass truly is:

When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel. Therefore, the readings from the Word of God are to be listened to reverently by everyone, for they are an element of the greatest importance in the Liturgy. – GIRM, no. 29

Typically, the person who reads the Scriptures during Mass is called a lector.  This word comes from the Latin which means “chosen reader”.  Consider all that we’ve learned about the Scriptures’ amazing role during each Mass. It may not surprise you, then, to discover that Lector is not just a job description, but is actually a ministry instituted by the bishop.

On a typical Sunday, you would probably hear a priest see me and say, “Oh, hi, Angela.  Are you the lector today?”  That use of “lector” is actually shorthand, because I am not an instituted Lector.

However, a dear friend of mine, Brother Sean Stilson, BBD, is truly a Lector.  He received the ministry of Lector from Archbishop Gustavo almost two years ago, because he is a seminarian on the way to becoming a priest.  It is most appropriate for instituted Lectors to proclaim the Scriptures during Mass* because of the importance, sacredness, and tradition in that moment.  However, when instituted Lectors are not available, the Church appoints lay people (like me) to proclaim the readings.  *The Gospel reading is the exception.  As the highest point of the Liturgy of the Word, it is proclaimed only by a deacon or priest.

My responsibility to proclaim the Scriptures during Mass has deepened my love and appreciation for Scripture—an appreciation which developed naturally in my childhood and progressed as I grew.  Every day, I spend time with the Scriptures.  They are ancient stories of my spiritual family.  They are my heritage as a Christian.  The Scriptures are God’s living words; every time I read them, they pierce my heart and speak to me about my life and identity.

I hope and pray that this little “confession” of mine will entice you to learn more about the Scriptures, both inside and outside your parish walls. After many years of study, I am still learning!

What treasures await us!

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Here is a fond memory from 2010: I proclaimed the readings during Mass at the birthplace of the greatest prophet, St. John the Baptist, in Ein Karem.

Journey’s End – Dying the Catholic Way

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Mom's Refrigerator

I am no expert on dying nor on the dying process, but I have been blessed to witness what I know is a ‘Catholic’ death.

In the 89 years my Mother spent on Earth, she totally practiced her Catholic faith.

Until sickness prevented her, this woman went to Mass every Sunday, every Holy Day of Obligation, every First Friday in devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and First Saturday in devotion to our Lady of Fatima. She kept every Lenten fast (even fasting from cigarettes during her smoking years!) and abstained from meat every First Friday of the month. She prayed the Rosary each morning, the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3pm and offered intercessory prayers daily placing the needs of her family and the world at the throne of God. She spoke often to anyone who would listen of her deep love of our Blessed Mother and her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mom totally lived the Catholic faith.

Along with my Dad, she loved and sacrificed for their five daughters and the fruits of their witness to life is nineteen grandchildren and coming up to eighteen great-grandchildren. She was always generous with us and had several charities that she made sure she kept up with, even as her health declined. Mom insisted ‘my charities’ get paid asking me to write checks that she would slowly and painfully sign each month. As her unexplained dizziness and nausea increased, she vocally offered her suffering to the Cross and I heard repeatedly, “Jesus, You suffered so much. Help me to suffer for You.”

Not that my Mom was perfect. She could be very unforgiving of those she believed hurt her family or her country. She was extremely stubborn and proud. It was this part of her that made me fear for her salvation.

As my sisters and I tried to coax her unsuccessfully to move in with one of us, she stubbornly refused hanging on tightly to her control and independence. When I mentioned it was difficult for us to come to her all the time she said, “Too bad. You girls just have to deal with it!” Frustrated with her obstinacy, I once told her, “Mom, you better do something about that pride of yours. You are not getting into Heaven with that!”

One day, my sister and I were visiting Mom and she collapsed. We called EMS and my Mom went to the hospital. In a matter of hours, she went from a woman who was able to live alone (though admittedly not well) to a woman who could not even sit up without help, gasping for breath despite the oxygen flowing into her. No diagnosis could explain her drastic condition and no treatments or medicine was able to return her to independence. In the remaining nineteen days of Mom’s life, she was forced to surrender her independence and I was blessed to witness God’s mercy at work. It was a gentle tug-of-war between God and Mom. I saw grace guide reality from Mom’s intellect to her heart and knew it had found its destination when she asked, “Will I ever get to live by myself again?” I responded, “No, Mom, you won’t.” Her eyes showed sorrow then resignation and if they could talk, they would have said, “Not my will Father, but Your will be done. ”

That very day, I stopped by her apartment. In Mom’s kitchen is her refrigerator covered with pictures of her family. Looking at years of birthdays, vacations, births, special events captured on film, I began to weep when I heard the Lord speak to my heart, “You see, I take care of the pride. This is what matters . . . Life! Your mother has spent a lifetime saying yes to Me, saying yes to life.”

Our Catholic faith teaches that “by Baptism all sins are forgiven, original and personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God . . . ]” (CCC 1263)

On Mom’s last day, she received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick also known as Last Rites. Before the priest arrived, I heard her whisper, “Lord, please forgive me!” After Father Rudy gave her the Sacrament, Mom asked if she needed to go to confession. Father said this Sacrament takes care of that. He told Mom, “You are as clean as the day of your Baptism. Your daughter and I are looking at a saint!”

My worries of Mom’s salvation due to pride and lack of forgiveness vanished. I stood in that little apartment in awe of the greatness of God.

Thanks to what I was blessed to witness with my Mom, I am convinced our Lord stops at nothing to bring every single soul home to Him. He is very personal, using our personalities, life circumstances and the graces we receive at Baptism to achieve this. She hated medicine and when the hospice nurse offered her a pill for pain Mom said, “Not another pill.” Those were the last words Mom spoke, but I believe in her soul she also said, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46) because at that moment Mom left us to go to Him who paved the way.

I am also convinced of the graces we receive in living as a faithful Catholic. All who came into contact with Mom from doctors, nurses, friends and family received an outpouring of grace thanks to what I believe are her years of prayers and obedience in devoted practice of the Catholic faith.

What I now understand is that one of the joys of faithfully living and practicing the Catholic faith is that God uses the buckets full of merited grace from our devotions, prayers and sacrifices to pour down grace when we most need it. As our Lord promised in Luke 6:38, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

We so benefited from Mom’s gifts given. They flowed from her lap into all of ours.

I know it was this outpouring of grace that gave me the eyes to see our Lord at work so that I could put away my own needs for Mom. Feeling so inadequate to the many tasks of caring for her, I nevertheless found myself doing and saying exactly what Mom needed. I sensed in each and every circumstance, our Lord working not only in what was best for my Mom but for each one of us. My sisters and I grew closer to Mom and to each other. Our extended family and even the doctors and nurses all worked together for the good of Mom and were inspired in the process.

The day after her funeral, exhausted from the past four weeks, my son asked me to sew a shirt he would need for work. I wanted to say no, but to my delight found a little bit more grace left in my lap to say yes instead.

As I sewed, I praised God and thanked Mom for showing me the way to fill my own buckets full of grace for the days my family and I will need them most.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope offers beautiful ways for seniors to know the hope in Christ and to bring that hope to others. Please consider joining us on March 5, 2016 for our annual Catholic Seniors Conference and/or becoming a Pilgrim Center of Hope Prayer Intercessor. Go to pilgrimcenterofhope.org to learn more.

The Importance of Tradition

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Christ blesses Bartholomew by Mikhail Nesterov

My parents were recently visited by their young adult grandson, who lives in another city. My mother shared with me that when he was leaving their home he asked her for a blessing. You see, for years, my parents would make the sign of the cross on his forehead and ask for God’s blessing and protection upon him. Recalling those moments, she was very happy he had remembered!

As my mother relayed the experience (with a smile on her face as if to say, “He remembered, he remembers our faith, our family tradition!”) it also made me smile, be proud of our faith and tradition.

This small, familiar spiritual custom became a tradition in our family with my great-grandparents. It’s a sign of our faith and family unity.

This time of the year, as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, we can remember our traditions or start new ones!

Tradition consists of beliefs, heritage, and customs that can help us focus on what is important in our lives.

Catholic Tradition is called Sacred because it was given by Christ.

“This is the most basic meaning of Catholic Tradition: it is the true Faith itself, given to the Apostles by Christ and faithfully transmitted to each new generation.”   (Catechism, 77-78)

This is the reason we use Tradition with a capital “T”, because it is from Divine Revelation, handed down from God Himself. St. Paul wrote,

“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess 2:15)

I am so glad we have our Catholic Tradition to remind us of our rich heritage passed down by the apostles, saints, and present role-models; helping us to live our daily lives with faith and hope.

And I am grateful for family traditions that remind us of our unity and respect for one another.

Want to learn more? The Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Institute of Pilgrimages teaches about Sacred Tradition through various presentations, and local and international pilgrimages.

Catholic Response to Terrorists

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Fear grips the heart.  My personal experience has confirmed that fear—terror—is swift to grab a hold.  It thrives in darkness and secrecy, multiplying confusion, nursing anger.

Fear is sweeping our country and many others, following recent attacks by domestic and international terrorists.  More than ever, I find myself recalling the Day America Changed, September 11, 2001.  More than ever, I marvel at my response.

I was an eighth-grade girl in computer class. Our teacher turned on the TV, and we watched. My own uncle worked at one of the sites that was hit.  We were stunned.

During lunch, a friend and I sat on a bench in the school courtyard.  “Do you think it’s the end of the world?” she asked.

I looked up at the sky, almost as if looking for heavenly signs. “I don’t know,” I quietly replied.

We decided to pray.  And that’s what we did—two middle schoolers on a bench in a San Antonio public school. Two children, responding to frightful events.

Isn’t it amazing?  If my adult self were to guess how a child might respond to such a Day, I would have imagined a child stricken with fear.  Yet, my own child-self was not distracted by fear.

Like any adult, we children certainly wondered what would happen next. We weren’t completely lacking in anxiety. (My uncle made it alive.)  But we were not buzzing with fear.  We decided to take our concerns to Our Father.

These days, adults around the world are wondering, “How should we respond to terrorists?”  As Catholics, we are wondering all the more, “How does my faith call me to respond?”

When Jesus revealed to his disciples that he would die (cf. Luke 9), Scripture tells us that “they did not understand” and “were afraid”.  They proceeded to argue about which of them was the greatest.

I can’t help but wonder if the disciples began to argue precisely out of that confusion and fear: How could the Master be put to death?  What will happen next?  Whom will we follow?  Which of us is fit to lead?

Suddenly, finger pointing and side-taking begin. From confusion and fear arise arguments and chaos.

Jesus responds to this mess by placing a child in front of them. In Matthew’s gospel, he tells them, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

When the disciples encounter Terror itself in the arrest, torture and crucifixion that Jesus had foretold, only the youngest of them all, John, remained at the cross.  I can’t help but wonder if this was the reason that only John died of natural causes.  As martyrs, the other apostles had to once again look fear in the eyes and instead respond with childlike trust in their Father.

Turn on the news, pick up a newspaper, or read a Facebook timeline; you’ll see that, in the face of terrorism, we’re acting like the disciples.  We want immediate answers. We want to live by the sword.  We’re pointing fingers and taking sides.  But how many of us are listening to the Master?

How many of us are actually approaching our Father with childlike trust, rather than just talking about how important God is to us? How many of us are sincerely praying for his Love to conquer?  Forgiving those who wrong us? Welcoming the least among us?

When Blessed Miguel Pro looked his executioners in the eye, he said, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. […] With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”  Then, raising his arms in cruciform, he shouted for the victory of the God who appeared weak as He conquered evil with love and mercy: “¡Viva Cristo Rey!”

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Waiting in Joyful Hope

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The Visitation (1910) by Henry Ossawa Tanner

There will be great signs in the heavens when the Son of Man comes in his glory. Will you be ready? It isn’t likely that the end of the world will happen during our life time, so we shouldn’t be too worried should we? Wrong! God will come for everyone of us at a time we do not know. We will receive our first judgment at that time, and that time may be within a year for some of us. Are we ready?

Of course we hope to be ready when the Lord comes for us, but our real desire should be to live in a faithful relationship with Him right now. Our lives are different when we try to remain close to God. We should ask ourselves this question: Do I truly want to be faithful to God? If I try to live my life close to God, being faithful to what He has revealed through the Scriptures and the Church, will I be more happy or less? I guess we should ask the question: What does it mean to be happy?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about happiness

“The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement- however beneficial it may be- such as science, technology, and art, or in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and all love.” (CCC #1723)

A friend of ours, Fr. Bruce Neile, told us that if he was ever feeling a little discouraged he would visit a friend of his who was a quadriplegic. He said this man was always filled with great joy because of his love of God. No matter what we have to go through on the worst day of our life, there will always be someone who has it much worse and yet is filled with peace because of their relationship with God.

If we have the capacity to think, we have the capacity to be faithful to God.

God has given us the commandment that we must love Him with all our mind, heart and strength, because He created us to discover our happiness in Him. He is the source of all Love and all that is good, and we can only reach our potential to love others by loving God above all else. Of course we don’t just naturally love God above everything else.

Our temptation is to only look at ourselves and what we need or want. However, we have not been created for ourselves, but for God and for the others in our lives. Jesus tells us, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25). In other words, if we just live for ourselves and what we want, we are lost and bound to be unhappy. We fall into a routine that robs us of our joy and peace.

The Church has given us this season of Advent to help us refocus on what is most important. Our Lord wants us to ask him for the grace we need to grow closer to him so that we might experience the joy and peace that only he can give, and then share it with the people we love.

The way to be prepared for Christ when he comes for us is to live each day close to him; being faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church, intimately connected to him in our prayer.

If you have a spouse, pray together as husband and wife. If you have children, pray with them. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Begin with an Our Father or Hail Mary and then mention some things that you are grateful for or concerned about. Prayer brings security to the family and is necessary to live a life of faith along with the sacraments. When the Lord comes we will not only be ready. We will be happy.

The Joy of the 99

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Shepherd and Sheep (1888) by Camille Pissaro

Shepherd and Sheep (1888) by Camille Pissaro

Being a disciple of Christ means being always for the Other.

The problem is we often do not like the other. The mere thought of putting someone else first repulses us. We think it means we will lose out. Our culture is steeped in the ‘me’ and has promoted for decades that ‘I’ come first. It is a societal belief that we have to look out for ourselves because no one else will. Especially in the United States, where clichés such as “Looking out for number one,” “Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps,” and “ God takes care of those who take care of themselves,” is the power that drives the engine of our culture. We may serve homeless meals to the sick, we may visit seniors in nursing homes, but if we are honest with ourselves, we still view these people as separate from us.

But this is not how disciples of Christ are to be. We are to be one with our brothers and sisters, no matter how annoying or repulsive. This is our calling. I confess, I have often fallen short of this call.

I love the idea of just Jesus and me. I love thinking of myself as the lost sheep in the Gospel (Lk 15:1-7). I imagine our Lord searching through the thorns of my life and scooping me up. There I am safe and secure on His strong shoulders high above those other smelly sheep. I am afraid if He puts me down and looks for another, He will forget about me.

Thanks to one of the treasures of our Catholic faith, the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I am growing into our Christian calling. In a prayer series based on the exercises called, Lord, Teach Me to Pray, a group of women and myself weekly share about our personal prayer life. Each day we are given Scripture or a mediation to pray alone with God from between 15 to 60 minutes.

Once a week, we gather as a group and share what has happened in our personal prayer life, our daily encounters with Christ. We do not comment on each other’s sharing; we only share what the Holy Spirit is doing in our own life. This dynamic is transforming as it offers the freedom to witness and share faults, sinfulness and weakness in the Light of God’s Love. We discover the joy of the 99 sheep that brings us closer to Christ and to each other as we realize every single one of us is infinitely and personally loved – and every single one of us smells! We discover that though He constantly searches for the lost, He never takes His gaze off of us, His found.

None of this is possible without encountering each other and ourselves in Christ through a daily time devoted to personal prayer. In a culture that loves to separate, it is imperative that we spend each and every day talking with God who desires only to bring us all together as one. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are just one of the many ways our Catholic faith offers encounters with Christ.

I want to share Consuelo’s testimony from this year’s Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Women’s Conference. I am so encouraged by her story of how she brought her obstacle to ‘being repulsed by the other’ to prayer and discovered in this encounter with Christ, the beauty of the 99.  Here is her story

To learn more about Lord, Teach Me to Prayer, go to lordteachmetopray.com.

To learn more about the variety of ways the Pilgrim Center of Hope answers the call to the New Evangelization by providing encounters with Christ, visit us at pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

Praying to Save Souls

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The Souls - Joža Uprka (1897)

“The Souls” by Joža Uprka (1897), from a series of paintings depicting Czech All Souls Day prayer

“Jesus, I love you, save souls!” My husband, Tom, and I often say this prayer because we love Jesus and because we, too, are concerned for the salvation of souls.

Why should I care about others – whether they know about God? Whether they go to Hell or Heaven?

My answer has two parts: one is based on the two greatest commandments given to us by Jesus:

When a doctor of the law approached Jesus asking him “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”, he said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the fist commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40).

The second part to the answer is knowing Jesus Christ! Once you have encountered Jesus, Son of God, Lord and Savior, you want others to meet Him! You begin to have a desire for others to have the opportunity of receiving healing, peace, and hope.

I remember when I first began my search for God, it wasn’t long after that initial decision that I met Jesus through prayer, and a group of people who took time with me to speak about Him and pray with me. If you can only imagine the immense peace and joy I received when I pictured Jesus before me, extending His hand towards me. Yes, it was the grace of God.

“Grace is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit in our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1999).

This encounter with Christ brought about a desire to learn more about Him, the Scriptures and about the Catholic Church.

“Jesus, I love you, save souls!” It can be your prayer as well.   Do you think your faith isn’t strong enough? Don’t underestimate your prayer!

St. Therese of Lisieux said, “The Creator of the Universe awaits the prayer from a simple soul to save other souls.” So true! Our prayers (short and simple but prayed often) can help other souls. Susan Tassone, author of Prayers, Promises and Devotions for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, writes in her book, “More than 150,000 people die each day worldwide – through natural disasters, accidents, sickness, wars, and sudden deaths. How many die unprepared, not knowing the mercy and love of our Heavenly Father?”

Offer short, simple prayers for others – trusting the Lord will save souls.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope is a Catholic Evangelization Apostolate founded for the purpose to help people encounter Jesus and get connected to the Church through various ministries. Find out more about those opportunities by visiting www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org.