Seeking Jesus

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Today, we share Part One of a personal story about seeking Jesus. We thank Sonja Harris, a professional photographer and our recent Holy Land pilgrim, for these words and images…

How does one go about Seeking Jesus? This is a story that I feel must be shared because at one time or another, I believe, all Christians seek truth, seek Jesus. Bill and I had some choices to make in June. We had selected either a Mexico City tour of the museums, or Washington DC to be at the opening of the ‘Art of Engagement’ Exhibit, where one of my images was going to be on display.

It was an unexpected chance: A friend of many years, Mary Jane Fox, announced on Facebook that there were only three spots left on Pilgrim Center of Hope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was not going to be a sightseeing tour; no, it was going to be a pilgrimage. We were to attend Mass every day and read Scripture at each holy site.

It was an epiphany (an experience of sudden and striking realization)… we knew instantly that this was where we needed to go, where we needed to be. No hesitation, no discussion; just a strong awareness of knowing that this was what we had to do—Seek Jesus.

It was a journey of a lifetime. We visited many holy sites, but I will focus on those holy places that moved me, that confirmed that being a cradle Roman Catholic was my gift from my parents. The Roman Catholics and the Greek Catholics are the two main groups of Christians in the Holy Land. What surprised me was how few Christians live in Israel. Approximately 1.5% of the people that live in the Holy Land are Christians. On this pilgrimage, I learned that the Catholic Church is the vital force in caring for and maintaining the holy churches—be they from Germany, France, Belgium or Mexico.

We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is built over ancient Nazareth. It was overwhelming to see the dwelling where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to a child named Jesus. The image I took is the place where the angel appeared to Mary. As you can see, an altar has been added for the purpose of Mass and for the Angelus to be said.

Before I go any further, it never, ever occurred to me that caves were the homes of the Holy Family, the apostles, and many of the people living in Nazareth and throughout the area, during the time when Christ walked this ancient land. Today, these caves are called grottos.

The gospels mention Capernaum many times, and I often wondered about this particular place. Where is Capernaum, and why is it so relevant? Capernaum became a real place for us, not just a place written in the Bible. It is the Town of Jesus, because his own people in Nazareth did not accept him. He settled in Capernaum with Simon Peter, his apostle, in Simon’s mother-in-law’s house. The new church is built over the ruins of this house where Christ stayed.

Near St. Peter’s House, we visited the ruins of the Synagogue where Christ preached and taught. In this image, you can see Deacon Tom Fox from Pilgrim Center of Hope reading Scripture to us (Matthew 8:14-15).

We next sailed the Sea of Galilee in a wooden boat. The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake, 8 miles by 17 miles and is 120 feet deep. The sea is clear blue and glistens in the sunlight. We were reminded of the Calming of the Storm at Sea (Matthew 8:23-27). The sea had a relaxing effect on me, as I was able to photograph the Sea of Galilee with the Valley of the Wind in the background—where Christ walked from town to town, Cana, Capernaum, and Nazareth. Not only was this a magnificent photographic visual, but also so much to mentally absorb.

Our lunch at a local restaurant was “St. Peter’s fish” served whole. It was totally delicious, and was my number one meal because of the significance, taste, and presentation.

We then traveled to the Church of the Primacy of Peter, located a few feet from the Sea of Galilee. Upon entering the church, the Mensa Christi (the Table of the Lord), a huge rock, is located just before the altar. It is this precise place that Christ, after His resurrection, met with Peter and others, and cooked fish breakfast for them. This is a moment that can give you so much to think about: Christ preparing breakfast for Peter, who had earlier denied him three times (John 21:1-19, John 21:17). “Do you love me?”

How are you seeking Jesus today? No matter what your life is like right now, Jesus wants to journey with you.  He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Matthew 20:)

Let us pray: Jesus, show me yourself. I open entire myself and my life to you. Help me to discover all the gifts you are offering me at each moment. I ask this in your powerful Name, Jesus. Amen.

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The Experience that Put Me More In Touch with Jesus

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Are you wanting to rekindle or strengthen your relationship with Jesus? Perhaps it has been put to the side after many responsibilities, or weakened over time. Today, we share Pablo Garcia’s story; how God surprised him and helped strengthen his personal connection with Jesus – as he journeyed with us to the Holy Land in 2012.

I was praying to go to a pilgrimage to Rome…

“God, please please!”

…and all of a sudden, I had an opportunity to go to the Holy Land.

“Huh? I didn’t pray for that!”

As always, it’s not what we want; it’s what God has planned for us. The opportunity came, but still I had that yearning inside of me (I wanted to go see Padre Pio in Italy!). I went to the Holy Land not knowing what to expect. I just said, “Yes, I’m going,” and when you add it all up, it was a great blessing. It helped me resolve to actually walk in the footsteps of Christ. We had a great spiritual team and spiritual director.

6830173208_663fc64701_zWhat changed me was, in the mornings at the Mount of Beatitudes, staying at the hotel, early in the morning I’d walk as far down as I could to the shore. There was a big, flat rock there. Just sitting there, praying the Rosary, waiting for the sunrise to come up, you heard the birds chirping through the groves.  You could hear men or somebody down by the shoreline. I would realize, “Oh wow… it’s fishermen.” As I closed my eyes, praying the Rosary, I thought, “I’m right next to Jesus!” You could actually feel him, right by the shore, and smell it… That put me more in touch with Jesus. Just watching the first rays coming out of the mountain… that’s what did it for me.
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We got to rest two hours at the Gethsemane Hermitage. Even before I came on pilgrimage, I thought, “That’s going to be my number one spot.” When you went in there, it had all these different levels. I thought, “Oh wow. Where am I going to go?” I just let myself go and prayed, “Just guide me.” I went around… everyone else went to different places. I saw this bent olive tree, hanging over, and there was a nook and cranny. I sat on the ground and leaned against it. For two hours, I just sat there and reflected on Jesus, overlooking the wall of Jerusalem. That was the number one spot for me, right there. It was fabulous.

What experiences have put you in touch with Jesus? It’s important that we take time to re-visit these experiences every now and then. Take 10 minutes this week to sit and reflect on a time you encountered Jesus deeply: Remember the sights, environment, smells and/or tastes. What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Thank God for that experience. Ask Jesus to renew your desire to walk in his footsteps, as you move forward in your daily pilgrimage.

We Invite You…

  • ‘Come and See’ Informational Meeting – (Thurs., September 21, 2017 at 7pm) Join us to learn about our unique Ministry of Pilgrimages’ next Holy Land Pilgrimage (Summer 2018) and get your questions answered personally.
  • Our Lady of Fatima Veneration – (Weds., September 13, 2017) Grow closer to Jesus by opening your heart to his Mother, Mary. Pray with Our Lady at Pilgrim Center of Hope, in honor of her 100th Anniversary at Fatima. A statue from Fatima, Portugal will be available for veneration. Information about the Plenary Indulgence approved by Pope Francis for this special occasion will also be available.
  • Afternoon Tea with St. Thecla – (Thurs., September 21, 2017 at 2pm) Our role models and heavenly friends are virtuous women and men who’ve walked their pilgrimage before us. Learn about Saint Thecla and how she can help us grow closer to Jesus in our daily lives.

September: Month of Mary’s 7 Sorrows

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Did you know that the month of September is dedicated in the Church’s calendar to the Seven Sorrows of Mary? Let’s explore why an entire month is dedicated to these events.

  1. Prophecy of Simeon – When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus to the temple according to Jewish law, they encountered Simeon. He prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart.
  2. The Flight to Egypt – With their child endangered by the local authorities, Joseph and Mary sought refuge in Egypt. Refugees in a foreign land, they remained there until God revealed to them that it was safe to return to Galilee.
  3. Jesus Goes Missing – Returning home in a large caravan from their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph realize that the child Jesus is missing. For three days, they search anxiously for him. Finally, they find him in his Father’s house, the Temple.
  4. Jesus Carries the Cross – Always by her Son’s side, Mary witnesses his pain as he is mocked. She must stand by as her Son experiences the most horrible and shameful punishment, reserved for the worst criminals.
  5. Jesus’ Crucifixion – Mary watches as the soldiers nail her Son’s body to the Cross. What torture she must have felt, watching him die.
  6. Jesus’ Death is Confirmed – A centurion pierces Jesus’ heart to finalize his death, but He is already dead. Simeon’s prophecy is fulfilled as Mary receives her Son’s lifeless body taken down from the cross.
  7. The Burial of Jesus’ Body – Perhaps not even 50 years old herself, Mary experiences her own Son’s brief funeral just a few steps away from the site of his bloody torture and death.

As we meditate on the Sorrows of Mary, we can see just how much the Blessed Virgin Mary understands about our own sorrows. She was a simple, young mother who experienced tremendous suffering.

Our journeys to the Holy Land have helped us to grow even closer to Our Blessed Mother. The video below shows a glimpse of what pilgrims see after climbing Mount Calvary today. Right next to Calvary is an altar dedicated to Jesus’ Sorrowful Mother.

“Mary gave her consent in faith at the Annunciation and maintained it without hesitation at the foot of the Cross. Ever since, her motherhood has extended to the brothers and sisters of her Son ‘who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.’ Jesus, the only mediator, is the way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she ‘shows the way’, and is herself ‘the Sign’ of the way, according to the traditional iconography of East and West.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2674)

Let us pray: Dear Mother Mary, help me on my daily pilgrimage of life. Through your experiences of sorrow, help me to see God’s grace amid my own sorrows. Teach me to reflect on all these things in my heart, and to seek the Father’s will in everything. Jesus, I want to follow you today. Holy Spirit, remind me of your constant presence. Amen.

Join Us this Month for:

  • “Come and See” Marian Shrines – 9/9 – All are welcome to this Informational Meeting about our 2018 Marian Pilgrimage (April 3-14) to Fatima, Lourdes, Paris, and Lisieux. Learn about the Marian shrines in these locations, and discover what is important to consider when discerning a pilgrimage. More details here.
  • Our Lady of Fatima Veneration – 9/13 – Pray with Our Lady at Pilgrim Center of Hope, in honor of her 100th Anniversary at Fatima. A statue from Fatima, Portugal will be available for veneration. Information about the Plenary Indulgence approved by Pope Francis for this special occasion will also be available. More details here.
  • “Come and See” Holy Land – 9/21 – All are welcome to this Informational Meeting about our 2018 Holy Land Pilgrimage (June 25-July 7). Learn about the holy sites, and from our 30 years of experience, what’s important when discerning a Holy Land pilgrimage. More details here.

Battling Cancer, We Found Peace from the Divine Physician

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Oftentimes, illness can rob us of our peace. Today, we share Gene and Terri’s testimony about their journey with cancer, and how they see Jesus’ hand in it all. Terri reflects:

Last fall, my husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and I thought my world had been crushed. I had recently retired from nursing, and was very much aware of the implications of bladder cancer. A nun friend of mine was going to the Holy Land, and I asked her to take a prayer intention for me and give it to a caregiver at a holy site. While she was on pilgrimage, my husband underwent surgery for bladder cancer (stage 2) and was prepared for the worst—from bladder removal, stents, and possible metastasis. I prayed Rosaries during his surgery.

The surgeon finally came out with a smile, and I said, “Thank you, Mother of God, and my Lord.” He informed me that it was cancer and did not appear invasive. The pathology report confirmed it as non-invasive carcinoma. It is being followed every 3 months with cystoscopy for reoccurrence. He will undergo this procedure for 2 years.

My husband and I were signed up for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May 2017 with Pilgrim Center of Hope; something I had long prayed that we would be able to do.  A few weeks before our pilgrimage, I had a severe dizzy spell (vertigo) just out of the blue. I could not walk without holding onto something. My husband took me to the Emergency Room, where labs and scans were done. I appeared to be in good health, except for a significant thyroid nodule. After multiple needle aspirations to check for thyroid cancer, the results were inconclusive, unable to determine if it was cancer. I, for one, could not believe that both my husband and I could have cancer at the same time. I informed the endocrinologist that I was going to the Holy Land regardless. He agreed that would be fine and could follow up when I returned. I said, Jesus will figure it out, and I trust in Him.

Upon our return from our pilgrimage, I ran into a friend of mine, an ENT surgeon. I told him what was going on, and he sent me to a pathologist friend of his to do the needle aspirations and biopsy. It was benign. Jesus took care of us again, as we trusted Him again. I often recall sitting by the Sea of Galilee in peace, praying and splashing water on my neck. It was a wonderful moment, because I felt at peace. After all, I was in the Holy Land walking in the footsteps of Jesus; our Loving Jesus and Great Physician.

Since our pilgrimage, we have more peace, no matter what the circumstances. The mysteries of the Rosary are alive and more meaningful than ever. Family gatherings with our busy, married children have become more frequent and more special than ever.

Yes, Christ heals today! But the greatest miracle is not bodily healing. Jesus reminds us that what is most important is our peace and union with God (cf. Mt 10:28). We often focus on our worries and wounds. Today’s saint, Augustine, directs our attention past these things, to Jesus: “Have confidence, you who are infirm. Such a physician has come, and you despair? Serious was the sickness, the wounds were incurable, the pain was hopeless. Do you consider the seriousness of the evil, and not the omnipotence of the Physician? You are despairing but he is omnipotent; those who made known the Physician and were the first to be cured are witnesses to this” (Comm. Ltr. Jn., 8,13). Jesus, come and heal me where I most need healing.

Pilgrim Center of Hope Ministry of Pilgrimages – We invite you to see our upcoming journeys of faith.

Mary, Joyful Mother – A Bishop’s Jerusalem Reflection

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During his 2015 pilgrimage with us to the Holy Land, Archbishop Paul Etienne blogged his experiences! He welcomed our sharing his words with you:

One place from our visit that is connected with the Blessed Mother is the Dormition Abbey. This Church is located on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. It is believed to be the site of the home of the Apostle John. As we know from Sacred Scripture, from the cross, our Lord entrusted the care of his mother to the Beloved Disciple, John. It would be easy to believe that Mary lived here with John after the resurrection and ascension. Even though the greater tradition is that after Pentecost, John and Mary went to Ephesus and that Mary was assumed into heaven from there, there is also a lesser tradition that says that eventually, John and Mary returned to Jerusalem, and her Assumption took place in this location.

So, dormition means ‘sleeping.’ One of the dogmas of the Church regarding our Blessed Mother is that she did not undergo death and the corruption of the grave, but rather fell asleep and was assumed into heaven and crowned Queen of heaven and earth.

DormitionHave you ever wondered what a bishop thinks about during Mass? Archbishop Etienne recalled:

Our group also celebrated at Mass at this beautiful church, which is now entrusted to a group of German Benedictine monks. Here I reflected upon just how much the Church needs a Mother; our Mother Mary. I was also very aware of just how much Mary wants and desires that we turn to her in our need. She is anxiously waiting to help us, and of course her deepest maternal instinct is to lead us to her Son, Jesus…

Besides Mary’s desire to lead us to her Son, there also exists a close association between Mary and the Holy Spirit. Mary and the Holy Spirit desire us to know Christ more intimately. They are constantly working so that we can all serve God, serve the Church, and God’s people with greater intensity and joy.

As beloved disciples of Jesus alongside John, we receive Mary from Our Lord, to become our spiritual mother. Today’s saint, Pius X, explained, “Nobody ever knew Christ so profoundly as she did, and nobody can ever be more competent as a guide and teacher of the knowledge of Christ” (Encyclical ‘That Most Happy Day’ pp. 7).

Prayer: Dear Mary, be my guide today. I need your maternal guidance. Guide my daily pilgrimage so that I always walk in the way of your Son, listen to the Holy Spirit, and live in the Father’s love. Amen.

Would you like to take a faith journey that helps you grow closer to Mary? We invite you to see our Ministry of Pilgrimages’ upcoming dates.

Transforming Our Work: From A Burden to A Blessing

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Even if we work in a secular environment, can our work actually be holy? The answer may surprise you.

The Work Room

When you visit Pilgrim Center of Hope, you’ll notice that every room is named after a saint or holy person. We do this as a reminder that we’re always surrounded by, and supported by, our fellow members of the Communion of Saints.

Our Work Room is entrusted to Saint Maximilian Kolbe, whose photo hangs on a wall with his quote, “Only love creates, only love triumphs.” He is sitting at his messy desk, writing with a pencil.

Today being his feast day, you may hear his heroic story of martyrdom at Auschwitz; dying in the place of a husband and father, inspiring fellow inmates to hope in the midst of immense suffering. You may hear about his dedication to Our Lady, Mary Immaculate. But today, we want to share why he hangs on our Work Room wall…

Not A Burden

In many cases, work is burdensome. But when God created humanity, it was not so!

“The sign of man’s familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden. There he lives ‘to till it and keep it’. Work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 378) Only after sin enters the picture do we begin to see our work as a burden, instead of what it truly can be: a calling from God that allows us to collaborate with God in creation!

When Father Max Kolbe returned home after a year of tuberculosis treatments, he saw that anti-religious sentiment and atheistic Communism were rising. In 1922, he responded by adopting the modern printing press to publish Knight of the Immaculate monthly magazine, which peaked at 600,000 copies per issue. In 1930, he arrived penniless in Japan with fellow Franciscan friars, and within a month was printing a Japanese version of the Knight. He soon began a daily newspaper (circulation 1,000,000). Numerous books and pamphlets were distributed freely by the friars. In addition to his printing ventures, Father Kolbe established “Cities of the Immaculate,” consisting of large numbers of Franciscan friars working in mass media.

These friars were true missionary disciples; working boldly and with a sense of urgency in sharing the Gospel. Yet, not every job was obviously “Christian”: some friars manually labored at maintaining the press, others edited, researched, delivered, and still others cleaned up after everyone!

Transforming Work: From Burden to Blessing

During his 1965 visit to Nazareth in the Holy Land, Pope Paul VI visited the Basilica that is built over the Virgin Mary’s home, just a few steps away from the Holy Family’s house and Saint Joseph’s workshop. The Holy Father called Nazareth a ‘school of the Gospel’…

The lesson of work: O Nazareth, home of “the carpenter’s son,” We want here to understand and to praise the austere and redeeming law of human labor, here to restore the consciousness of the dignity of labor, here to recall that work cannot be an end in itself, and that it is free and ennobling in proportion to the values – beyond the economic ones – which motivate it. We would like here to salute all the workers of the world, and to point out to them their great Model, their Divine Brother, the Champion of all their rights, Christ the Lord!

How can we transform our work into something holy? How can it be, rather than a burden, a blessing? As Paul VI said, our model is Christ Jesus. In the tiny, backwater town of Nazareth, he spent thirty years learning, working for his foster father’s business. He adopted our way of life. By taking on the ‘burden’ of work with his own hands, God the Son transformed work back into a blessing; a way by which we answer our calling in daily life.

For us at Pilgrim Center of Hope, St. Maximilian Kolbe reminds us that only by infusing our daily work with love, can our work become God’s Work. “Only love creates, only love triumphs.”

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

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Finding a Home on Mount Tabor

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In honor of the Transfiguration…

The Pilgrim Log

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At the top of Mount Tabor, on the path to the Church of the Transfiguration, there is a canopy of sweet-smelling shady Eucalyptus trees that lead into a lush courtyard garden. Low and high stone walls topped with ornate iron work and cascading vines separate a patchwork of gardens full of a variety of plants and colorful flowers. Statues and garden objects dot the landscape, the most magnificent being the life-size statue of Christ on the cross bending down towards St. Francis, whom He made custodian of His Holy Land.

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All my life I have been attracted to gardens. As a child I loved collecting rocks and little statues, and as an adult living in New Orleans, I loved touring the ironwork in the French Quarter. I can spend hours at a plant nursery just looking and dreaming of my perfect garden. The garden of my dreams is always filled…

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August: Month of Our Mother’s Heart

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Did you know that the month of August is dedicated in the Church’s calendar to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, recalling the Virgin Mary’s desire to serve God in his ongoing plan to save us? As we begin this special month, we share with you the testimony of Norma Garza. In 2011, Norma journeyed with us on pilgrimage to Marian shrines.

It’s totally different than going on vacation. Being a pilgrim, you feel like you’re going on a retreat – but it’s an extended retreat, and you have to realize that you’re with other people. You can learn from the other people, and hopefully they learn from you. Also, you’re there for a different purpose: to increase your faith, to see things in a different light.

It makes me want to cry… My relationship to Mother Mary has brought me to a place where I never would have been before, because Mother Mary takes you by the hand and she shows you her Son, personally. My relationship with Mother Mary just increased a thousand-fold by going to the places where she appeared, hearing her messages, and understanding why it’s so important for her, as a Mother, to take us to Heaven and to get us closer to Jesus.

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold intercession, continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. … Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church… (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 969)

This month, we invite you to reach out to Mary as a mother who cares for you. At his crucifixion, Jesus gave Mary as a mother to “the beloved disciple.” The Church not only interprets this passage of Scripture to mean Saint John, but also to all of us who are Jesus’ beloved disciples. Here are some ways to grow closer to Mary this month:

  • Evening with Mary: Power & Promises of the Rosary (August 7 @ St. Benedict Church) – A mini conference about Mary and her relationship to us
  • Evening with Mary & Joseph (August 25 @ St. Matthew Church) – A mini conference about the Holy Family and our families
  • August 13 marks the 100th anniversary of one of Our Lady’s apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Pray the Rosary on this day, asking Mary to help you be an instrument of peace in the world.
  • Marian Shrines Pilgrimage 2018 – Ask us about our next pilgrimage focused on growing closer to Jesus & Mary by visiting the places where she appeared in Lourdes and Paris, France, as well as Fatima, Portugal.
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe Pilgrimage 2018 – Inquire about our next pilgrimage focused on growing closer to Jesus & Mary by visiting her famous shrine in Mexico City.

“This ministry [of pilgrimages] is a way to evangelize in a particular way, personally, to each person that goes on pilgrimage; and, in turn, that person brings back home their evangelization to their family and friends and coworkers… and it just keeps spreading!”
– Norma

Who Will Never Leave Me?

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As a pilgrim with us to the Holy Land, Nan Balfour touched the very Tomb of Christ and Rock of Calvary. She walked where Mary Magdalene became the Apostle to the Apostles, spreading the unbelievable news that Jesus is alive! In celebration of Mary Magdalene, and of Our Lady of Fatima who said, “I will never leave you,” we share this reflection by Nan:

Following an encounter with Jesus Christ, I heard these words, “I love you! You are exactly who I created you to be. I promise, you will never feel alone again. I am with you always.” With those few words, God reached through my pain, my sins, my past, deep inside my dark, cold loneliness. I took hold of His Hand allowing our Lord, my Savior, to pick me up, put me on His shoulders and Shepherd me back to the fold of His Catholic Church that I had wandered away from years ago, believing it held no place for me.

Sacrifice of MassOver these past 14 years, I have challenged our Lord to keep His promise and He has answered me through the Treasures of His Church:

Jesus in the Sacraments – Our Lord is Really, Truly Present in the Sacraments. I can be in and with our Creator, our Savior every day by participating at Mass, receiving Communion and through Reconciliation. Anytime day or night, I can sit/kneel and just be in the Presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit through Adoration of the Eucharist.

Fellow Disciples in The Body of the Church – Though raised Catholic, I grew up in what is now called the poorly catechized ‘lost generation’ of post-Vatican II Catholics born between 1960-1978. When I returned to the Church in my early forties, I met many beautiful priests, sisters and lay women and men facilitating Scripture studies, Prayer Groups and Catechism classes at area Catholic parishes . . . and I took advantage of them.

Through the honesty and sincerity of the women in faith sharing and prayer groups, I discovered I was not the fraud I thought. To my joy, I discovered each of us is flawed; sinners all, helping each other in fellowship work out our salvation together! Many of them have become true, genuine friends for life.

Our Blessed Mother – Like many people, including Catholics, I had a problem with Mary. Even though I believed when Jesus told St. John at the Cross, “Behold Your Mother,” that He was saying the same to all of us, I would not go to her for help. My deep feelings of inadequacy made me think she was disappointed in me because of all my faults, or worse, blamed me in my sins for the suffering of her Son. Blessedly, though God will not overstep our free will, He has given His Mother Mary, who is fully human, no such impediment. Like any good mother, she knows her children, what is best for them and takes her vocation to womanhood very seriously. She will do everything in the power given her by God, to bring us to her Son. I know, because it happened to me.

Heavenly Friends – Communion of Saints – One morning following daily Mass and my weekly prayer group, a woman I have never seen before or since came right up to me, stopped, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are going to see the relic of St. Mary Magdalene today aren’t you?” Startled, I responded, “I don’t know, maybe.” She walked on saying behind her, “It’s going to be great!” and left a prompting in my heart that I am being told what to do. Looking back, I believe she was my guardian angel, but at the time, I resisted intent on tackling my long ‘to do’ list for the day. Like a whiny daughter being dragged by her mother, I found myself a few hours and many promptings later in line to look at the shin bone of the ‘sinful woman’ who knelt at the Cross on Calvary. Once inside the cool, quiet of the Church, this friend of Jesus and Mary, whispered in my heart, “When our Lord and Lady looked at me, I did not see disappointment or blame in their eyes, I saw gratitude. They wanted me with them, just as they want you.”

From Mass, my prayer group and my encounters with heavenly friends that day, I learned what it means to be embraced in the arms of the Mystical Body of Christ. I have never felt alone again. My guardian angel was right, “It was great!”

Every year, close to 3,000 women who help make up the Mystical Body of Christ, come to Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Women’s Conference and we encounter Jesus where He is Truly, Really Present in the Eucharist, in the Mass and in Reconciliation. We offer the Rosary with the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother. We find new friends in the saints through the speaker presentations and this year, perhaps even sitting next to us! And, we enjoy fellowship with other flawed, sinners as we all help each other work out our salvation.

Feeling alone? I invite you to come join us . . . It’s going to be great!

A Story of Joy: When I Prayed with People from All Over the World

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Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘Faith is caught rather than taught’? While many family members struggle to communicate faith to loved ones or friends who no longer practice it, perhaps we should pause to consider that simple saying.

When Mary Cook decided to go on a Marian Pilgrimage with us in 2011, she had been Catholic all her life. While on pilgrimage, however, she experienced unique moments that deeply impacted her faith. Here is a bit of that story:

The first place we went was Fatima in Portugal. We had Mass at the little chapel where Mary first spoke to the children (in her apparitions of 1917), and my husband and I had gotten to read during Mass. We stood right where Mary stood when she appeared to the three children.

At night, we said a Rosary in that same chapel. We were all holding a candle, and it made for a very holy feeling. I counted probably eight or nine different languages that were spoken that night. Someone from each country would lead a decade of the Rosary, and it was beautiful. It helps you realize how the Catholic Church is really a universal Church; a worldwide Church, and we could pray with people from all over the world. We can’t talk to each other—we can’t have a conversation, but we could pray with each other and understand what we were praying.

While we were in Paris visiting a basilica there, a group of nuns approached us and invited us to lunch! They live there, and as part of their ministry, they fix a meal and invite pilgrims to lunch. So, we went to lunch; a very simple, French meal—but it was a lot of food! They served us, and what struck me about them is that they were so joyful. They were so happy whisking around and serving the different people.

The pilgrimage really brought me closer to Mary. I was born and raised Catholic; Mary’s always been there, but I never had a special relationship with her. I got to know her better. I grew closer to her. I consider her my spiritual mother. Catholics are really, really blessed that we have Mary. Everybody else does, too, but they don’t know it.

Going on a pilgrimage is like going on a vacation in Heaven! It’s different from a regular vacation; it’s a pilgrimage—very prayerful, with Mass, praying the Rosary every day, with a group of likeminded people. You get to know the people really well. It’s a lot of fun! I absolutely loved it. I took lots of pictures, but I have so many memories ingrained in my mind. I can go back to those places in prayer anytime.

Witnessing the unity and joy of the Church, and the love of the Blessed Mother and her fellow pilgrims, helped Mary’s faith to deepen. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses,” wrote Pope Paul VI in 1975. How true this rings today! Ask the Blessed Mother to pray for you, that the Holy Spirit would help you grow as a witness of your relationship with God.

We invite you to consider journeying with us on a Marian Pilgrimage April 3-14, 2018. Learn more on our website.

“A Pilgrim Center of Hope pilgrimage is a faith journey. You’ll never regret it. You will grow in your faith. What you experience in that time period that you’re on pilgrimage, you will carry with you for the rest of your life.” – Mary Cook