The Secret to Finding Mr. or Mrs. Right

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What eligible man or woman has not asked the question, “How do I know if insert name here is the person I should marry? Increasingly, the young adult generation is asking a more despairing question, “Why should I marry at all?”

According to statistics, 40-50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The percentage is even higher for subsequent marriages, which proves that most who divorce did not learn from their mistakes how to either select a good spouse or how to be one.

It is no wonder that a growing majority of people are choosing not to marry. Many are the result of broken homes and they know the pain of their parents separating. It has caused deep wounds and they are not willing to enter into the same situation that has already caused them so much suffering.

Our Catholic faith discerned through Scripture, however, professes marriage as God’s will and is clearly stated through this encounter between Jewish authorities and our Lord Jesus Christ:

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying,
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Mat 19:3-9.)

So, how can God expect us to marry and stay married when it is so very difficult?

Because as always, God never asks of us what He does not provide as a way for us to succeed; and this way is the way of virtue.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself (CCC 1803.) St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.”

So, imagine if that man or woman you are dating or are already married to had the goal to always give the best of himself or herself to you. Imagine if you did the same in response. Your marriage would grow in perfection, in holiness!

Sarah Swafford, author, speaker, one-time college dormitory resident manager, and one of our speakers at this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference has listened to hundreds of young men and women lament their romantic relationships and the dearth of worthy partners to date, let alone marry.

couple walkingAfter listening to countless conversations, she began to ask them, “What traits and characteristics do you find most attractive?” Whether she asked men or women, the responses were very similar and the list of attributes lined up with a life lived in virtue.

Sarah has made a chart of the simply irresistible virtuous woman and man and encourages us to take the virtue challenge. What she discovered from the many men and women who have strived to live out the virtues of this challenge, is a movement away from self and towards the other. This human effort striving for good formed characters rich in kindness, confidence, honesty, responsibility, humility, sensitivity, forgiveness and compassion. Who wouldn’t want to be married to someone like that? Who would not want to be someone like that?!

The success of this virtue challenge is that it draws us into the work of God; and whenever we cooperate with His plan for our lives, His grace kicks in perfecting our nature. In other words, our human efforts become super-charged!

Scripture confirms this in 1 Thessalonians, 4:7-8, “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy Spirit to you.

The secret to finding Mr. or Mrs. Right is to become Mr. or Mrs. Right, or as Sarah says, “Become the man or woman of your dreams and you will attract the man or woman of your dreams!” And this is true whether you are looking to marry or are already married. What joy to wake one day and discover that through your human effort combined with God’s grace, the one sleeping next to you for the last 5, 10, 20 years is growing once again attracted to you and you to him/her!

I encourage you to go to emotionalvirtue.com and take the virtue challenge, and I invite women to see Sarah speak and share more at this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference on September 9-10th!

Painting by Artist, Leonid Afremov “Misty Mood”.

Authentic Christianity

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They did not tell people that God would make things better for them in this life; the focus was on eternal life, the salvation of their souls. As we know, some disciples gave up everything to be in the company of the Apostles and follow the “New Way” of being in relationship with God. Many disciples were persecuted and some were martyred.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles Peter and Paul,
“…strengthened the spirits of the disciples
and exhorted them to persevere in the faith saying,

‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to
enter the Kingdom of God.’”

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This message from Peter and Paul was not only for the Christians of the early Church, it is also for us today.

Are we willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary in order to be faithful to the Gospel?

Jesus himself tells us we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. We cannot allow our appetites and desires to dominate our life. If we live only for our self, we close our self off to the graces God wishes to give us and are destined for unhappiness. If our lives are not ordered to God, they are disordered.

What are some of the hardships you have endured? What is your most difficult trial?

No matter how bad we had it on our worst day, there will always be others who will have had it much worse and yet experience great joy. Others will allow their trials to overwhelm them. They continue to look at their problems and in their imagination they become bigger than reality, bitter and depressed.

The challenge is to experience our hardships in the light of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. If we unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ it becomes redemptive for us, and others as well. Not only that, Christ also lessens the weight of our burdens just as he promises. Hardships are necessary because they help us to become dependent upon Jesus Christ; to discover “his strength in our weakness.” There are some people who would never have turned to Christ except for their hardships.

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you,
so you also should love one another.”

What is the desire of your heart?

When Jesus tells us we must love one another, he makes it a new commandment because he says we must one another as he has loved us. In other words, we must love with a supernatural, sacrificial love. It is only possible to love in a supernatural way, if we love God first above everything else, because He is the source of all love and everything that is good. If God is our first love it will be possible for us to reach our potential in loving ourselves and others.

We can only love as Christ has loved us if that is the desire of our heart. If that is our desire, we will ask for the grace to be faithful to what has been revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We will make a commitment to pray every day, to live the sacramental life and to continue to be formed in the Faith.

What is your destiny?

God has great plans for all of us that require us to surrender our will to His will. In His will we experience unconditional love and mercy which lead to happiness now and forever. If our will is in opposition to His will we are destined for unhappiness.

Lord, give us the grace to put our total trust in you so that you may be our hope in adversity and we may be victorious in our struggles.

To learn more about your Catholic faith, tune into Catholicism Live! It is a weekly series connecting issues of the faith and Church teachings to daily life. Visit CatholicismLive.com to see our upcoming topics.

Practical Ways to Overcome Worry

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Worried?  It seems we all worry about something.  I’m an expert!

Worry is not just a ‘downer’; it’s dangerous.  Saint Francis de Sales, one of the greatest writers on the spiritual life and a Doctor of the Church, wrote, “With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul. […] If our heart is inwardly troubled and disturbed it loses both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy.”

Besides presenting our worries to God in prayer and asking Him for peace (which are called prayers of petition), how else can we fight the temptation to worry?

WorryHoly Reminders

One practical way that has helped me overcome worry is surrounding myself with ‘holy reminders’ at home and work; such as this art that I made for my home, or images of Christ—especially of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Divine Mercy image. Even my cell phone ring tone is the chorus to the popular song, “Don’t You Worry Child“:

My father said,
Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child.
Heaven’s got a plan for you...

‘Holy reminders’ encourage me to trust God. If I am a person of faith, I must put my faith into action. If I profess belief in an All-Good, All-Powerful, and All-Loving God, I must live according to that belief and surrender my worries to him. “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Learn to Savor

Last week, I repeatedly came across a Scripture verse that embodies another way to overcome worry: “Learn to savor how good the Lord is. Happy are those who take refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8) I had always heard the alternate translation, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord…” but the phrase “Learn to savor” struck me deeply.

When we taste a delicious ice cream or steak, it’s good.  But when we savor it, we spend more time appreciating it. When we savor something, its goodness becomes richer and more meaningful.

Once, my spiritual director instructed me to write down things for which I was grateful. This daily practice was meant to be a prayer of thanksgiving, but it became just another task. I was “tasting” those good gifts rather than savoring them. Take time to marvel at God’s gifts in your life!  This savoring is a weapon against worry, because our meditation on God’s Providence re-builds our confidence in his goodness and trustworthiness.  Scripture repeatedly commands that we celebrate and remember “the good things” that God has done for us.

Praise Is Powerful

For me, one of the most powerful ways to fight worry has been praise.

Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS. […] By praise, the Spirit is joined to our spirits to bear witness that we are children of God, testifying to the only Son in whom we are adopted and by whom we glorify the Father. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2639)

The power of praising God is why the apostles, saints, and popes have instructed us to praise God unceasingly.  Saint Augustine’s famous quotation is often half-quoted: “You (God) yourself encourage [humans] to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” When we worry, we are preoccupied with many things. When we praise God, however, we focus our whole being on his Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Prayers of praise fulfill our deepest identity: to be united with, and to ‘rest in’, God.

I have found that the more I praise God, the more quickly my worries vanish.

So, how does one praise God?  The highest form of praise is the Holy Mass, the “sacrifice of praise”.  Besides active participation in Mass, I most often praise God through hymns and spiritual songs. However, we can praise God everywhere; even when we cannot sing or speak. We simply raise our hearts and minds to God, and rejoice in who He Is.

“Holy, Holy, Holy” sung by Audrey Assad

God commands you to pray, but he forbids you to worry. – St. John Vianney

I invite all women to join me in conquering worry, receiving holy reminders, savoring God’s goodness, and praising Him at the annual “spa for a woman’s soul” – the fifteenth Catholic Women’s Conference in San Antonio (Sept. 9-10, 2016). Registration will be opening very soon! Sign up for the email list to be notified at CWCSanAntonio.com.

From “Do not touch me,” to Wounded Healer

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Easter Sunday was a little over two weeks ago, but we’re still in the Easter Season. This means you can eat as much candy as humanly, even professionally possible until Pentecost. It also means we still get to savor the triumph of Christ’s Easter resurrection in a liturgically focused way.

The Reaction

That said, there’s one small detail about the Easter narrative that always holds my curiosity until well after the celebrations have ceased. When Mary Magdalene, the first witness of Christ’s resurrection, turned startled toward him outside the tomb, she was understandably overjoyed. She must have thrown her arms around him, because Jesus surprisingly told her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.”

Do not touch me? From Jesus? Just a few days ago, Mary Magdalene was anointing his head with oil. Christ even rebuked Judas, who objected that the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Why, in the midst of Mary’s exuberance, would Jesus rebuff her touch?

It Takes Time

Jesus offers the explanation, “I have not yet ascended to my Father,” but I wonder if that was only because he thought his wounds would be less sensitive in Heaven. Perhaps his wounds–though glorified in his resurrected body–were still too tender to be touched. In fact, after some time passes, Jesus invites Thomas to place his hand inside his open wounds.

Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine, and it’s human nature to need some time after suffering a trauma for the pain to become less raw. Like Jesus, Christians are called to become wounded healers–people whose wounds become glorified pathways of healing for others. But not right away! Not right after the wound is inflicted. Like Christ, we often need time to process the pain, to manage its lingering effects, to gradually have our experiences take on a deeper meaning that we can then share with others.

If you are suffering from a past or ongoing trauma, consider seeing a Catholic therapist that can help you heal from the damage and turn your wounds over to the Divine Physician. God desires our healing, our joy and our wholeness in Him. CatholicTherapists.com has a useful search engine that can find a professional Catholic counselor near you. To learn more about various topics in relation to Catholicism, visit CatholicismLive.com.

 

 

Discovering Peter’s Joy

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GalileeSunrise copyWhen my fellow pilgrims and I disembarked from our ‘fishing’ boat on the Sea of Galilee (it was really a tourist boat operated by a group of Jewish men who lived on the nearby Kibbutz), I received a revelation from God that inspired me to more actively practice my Catholic faith.

The Total Person

From where I was standing on the shore, I could see on one side, Tiberius (the old Roman city still in existence) and another side where stood, Decapolis, the ten ancient cities of the Greeks and to the North, Capernaum, where we had just visited the ruins of a synagogue where Jesus taught. It occurred to me that these places represented the total person: Tiberius/Roman/Body, Decapolis/Greek/Mind and Capernaum/Jewish/Soul and with this realization, I heard our Lord speak to my heart and share with me His desire to unite all three in every human person: body, mind and soul.

Gone Fishing

I recalled this memory as I heard the opening to today’s First Friday Gospel from John 21:1-14, “Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius.” It was here that Peter had chosen to just go back to what he knew, fishing, because Jesus was gone, and probably thinking even if all the rumors about him being seen by others were true, they cannot be true for him, who denied His Lord and ran away. Isn’t it interesting, I thought, that even John calls it the Sea of Tiberius . . . forget what I knew (mind), what I believed(soul), just go back to what I do (body) . . . fish!

What is so beautiful about this Gospel, and what I learned myself on pilgrimage, is that our Lord and God comes to us where we are. In this Gospel story, Jesus makes the first move towards Peter and even affirms his choice by providing the fish he spent all night trying to catch. He does the same for each of us.

You Are Invited

Pope Francis confirms this in his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium – “Joy of the Gospel” when he writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Waiting For You

Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.” (3)
It was this joy Peter discovered which tells us that God’s love and mercy for us has nothing to do with who we are and everything to do with who He is.

Our response should be to give freely of our mind, body and soul as our Lord asks of us,

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27)

Walking Catholic

One of the greatest joys of going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land is to see for yourself all the miles our Lord Jesus walked toward His people. One of the greatest joys of being a Catholic, is experiencing through the gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, how He still does!

The Sacraments of the Catholic Church, established by Christ, is our Lord’s promise to never leave us . . . to continue to come to us! We can be united with Christ, mind, body and soul by frequenting the Sacraments (body), learning the teachings of the Church (mind) and believing what the Church professes (soul.)

And when we fail, we can have confidence that the joy that was Peter’s is ours as well!

The Pilgrim Center of Hope provides opportunities to encounter Christ through pilgrimages, conferences and a variety of outreach events. Find out more at pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

A Religion Celebrating an Empty Tomb

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A Religion Celebrating an Empty Tomb

Christianity; the only religion that celebrates an empty tomb.

The holiest site for all of Christianity is the Holy Sepulcher Church, because it is built over tomb of Jesus Christ from where he resurrected. Our faith is founded on the reality that Jesus rose from the dead, and the reality of our own resurrection.

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.”   1 Cor. 15:13-14

However, since Christ has been raised from the dead; our faith has flourished for two thousand years!

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Deacon Tom venerating the tomb of Jesus.

From the fourth century, the tomb of Christ has been the destination for millions of pilgrims, many of whom made the journey at great expense, for some even the cost of their lives.

It is truly one of the great experiences of a life time to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher Church; to have Mass in the tomb where Jesus resurrected and to kiss the stone above where his body laid.

On Easter Monday, we will lead a group of forty persons on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and look forward to repeating that experience in the tomb again, as well as visiting other sites important to our faith. The Holy Land continues to be a place where people can experience a divine presence.

“He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” Luke 24:6

The Institute of Pilgrimages we founded is based on over 25 years of experience in organizing and leading pilgrimages to the Holy Land (we have been there 46 times!), to Rome, Shrines of Italy, Marian Shrines such as Fatima, Lourdes and others. The Institute of Pilgrimages also offer presentations to schools, organizations, groups and ministries on these destinations marked by the history of the Church.

One of our favorites? “The Holy Land – the Fifth Gospel” (of course). Give us a call for a presentation. We would love to share more of all that we have discovered with you! May God bless you as you continue on your own faith journey.

Deacon Tom & Mary Jane Fox

Turn to Me

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Turn to Me

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember how Jesus was gloriously received as he entered Jerusalem amidst the shouts of “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

It was the only time that Jesus was received with great jubilation by the crowds as he entered Jerusalem. However, we have just read the “Passion of Christ,” and we know that these same people who shouted Hosanna will also shout “crucify him.”

Today, during the reading of the Passion we also shouted “crucify him” and it is fitting that we did. It was our sins also that he bore on the way to Golgotha. He carried the weight of the sin of all humanity for all time with him to his death. He died for my sins and for yours, so that we might be saved from eternal death.

Even though he died for all humanity, all humanity will not receive the same benefit from his death. He, himself, has told us the condition of discipleship,

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow after me.” Mk 8:34.

We can’t just live for ourselves. He has entrusted his plan of salvation to his Church. He expects those who believe in him to be a light in the world, sharing the Good News of salvation with others, so they might also believe in him, and their lives be transformed by his grace. We each have a free will and we each must make the choice to turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel.

Next weekend during the Easter Vigil, there will be thousands of people received in the Church throughout the world, including many here in our own parish. In a way, it will be a little like Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As these people joyfully welcome Jesus into their minds, hearts and souls, the whole community will proclaim, “Alleluia!” as it was proclaimed for each one of us as we were baptized. During the Easter liturgy, we all will renew our baptismal vows together as a reminder of what Christ has done for us, what we believe, and our need to put our total faith in him.

The reading of Christ’s Passion today reminds us that our baptism is not only about the joy of welcoming Jesus Christ. It is about believing in him, trusting in him, and being faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church.

Our purpose in this life is to know, love and serve God, so that we can be happy now and forever. Jesus Christ shows us how to live our life close to God, so that our faith will influence all the decisions we make. When we refuse to be faithful to Jesus Christ, and what he has revealed to us, we once again say, “crucify him.” We invite you to become more aware of Christ’s presence in your life. Find ways to encounter Christ by visiting our website, pilgrimcenterofhope.org

How much time should I spend praying?

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Do you feel that you don’t pray enough?

As modern-day Christians, we’ve become quite scrupulous about how much time we spend “in prayer” versus tending to our daily tasks.  I’ve frequently heard catechists send folks on guilt trips: “How much time every day do you spend in prayer?  Look at everything God has done for you!!  How much are you doing for God??”  Not enough, their tone of voice seems to say.

While it’s true that we tend to forget the Lord or take his gifts for granted, it’s also true that our Western culture has completely ripped apart what is sacred from what is profane, so that they are 100% separate.  But it is that right?

Magic

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me stories about a magic bubble.  This wonderful, enormous, magical bubble would float into someone’s backyard and whisk them away on adventures.  Mom’s stories opened wide the endless depths of my imagination.

Every so often, we’d visit Mimi, my mother’s grandmother.  She was over ninety years old, but with a mind as sharp as ever.  Mimi convinced me that every Irish grandmother is a master storyteller. Her stories transported us from her sitting room. Toward the end of each visit, she would scoot over to her piano keyboard and sing—frequently that resounding hymn, “How Great Thou Art”: Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands hath made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy pow’r throughout the universe displayed…

On lazy afternoons, I used to walk around my neighborhood and observe everything around me. I’d marvel at the colorful veins in the rocks, and the patterns in the leaves.  As the breeze would blow through and rustle the trees, I’d whisper a prayer, because I certainly knew that God was there.

That innocent sense—of magic, imagination, and seeing the sacred in everything—is one of the greatest gifts that I’ve received from my Celtic heritage, and a great gift that we as Church have received from the Celts. I’ve heard it said that a strong example of Irish spirituality is this: A simple woman in her home, churning butter, conversing with Our Lord and the saints.

Delight

“I spent eight hours at my job, an hour driving, six hours sleeping, two hours eating…”
“I spent an hour vacuuming, dusting, and washing, another hour mopping, and an hour laundering.”

Kitchen_ButteringBreadWhy do we assume that God is not pleased with our everyday activities?  That God is not present in these mundane moments?  Or that God does not delight in our care for our bodies, our families, and our homes?  Why do we act as if prayer is always a completely separate activity that God demands from us?  The truth is: God is pleased with you.  God delights in your daily chores. God is present there.  Saint Patrick said, “Our God is the God of all things.”  He is as assuredly the God of St. Peter’s Basilica as he is the God of your dirty dishes, the God of your car keys, and the God of a good night’s sleep.

Throughout Scripture, God insists, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to the LORD’s command? Obedience is better than sacrifice, to listen, better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

“You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

“…Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

“…Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

Yes, it is good and right to set aside time to give God the worship he rightly deserves. Yet at the same time, the number of minutes that we spend reciting prayers or reading spiritual books pales in comparison to the amount of time God desires that we spend united with him in everyday moments.

Perhaps rather than asking ourselves, “How many times today did I say my prayers?” we should ask, “How many times today was my heart open to God and neighbor?  How did I seek to listen to God, rather than the voice of temptation?  How did I encounter God today?  When did I give God thanks?”

Remember our God’s omnipresence. Enter into his delight with you. Marvel wide-eyed at his gifts. Seek God, and live as his beloved child. This is Christian prayer.

For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit […] all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. […] And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 901

To help you keep the faith alive in daily life, the Pilgrim Center of Hope produces a weekly broadcast series, Catholicism Live!  You can access the live shows or watch/listen to past episodes at CatholicismLive.com.

Your Name Here…”Do You Love Me?”

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“Do not forget: In front of us, there is no sin, just the repentant sinner, a person who feels the desire to be accepted and forgiven.” Pope Francis to the ‘Missionaries of Mercy’

I will be honest, for a long time I did not understand when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” (Mk 12:31) because for a long time, I hated myself. It made no sense to me because I thought either Jesus wanted me to hate my neighbor or the second greatest commandment did not apply to me.

Thanks to many people, conference experiences, a pilgrimage and much grace, our Lord has convinced me that He totally loves me!

What finally convinced me of this reality was when I visited the Holy Land with the Pilgrim Center of Hope. One day, we sailed on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus chose His Twelve Apostles. We walked along the shore and came to the place Jesus sat and asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love Me?” (Jn 21:15-19)

At that spot, there are three heart-shaped stones leading from the shore and ‘out to the nations’ reminding us that with every, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you,” confessed by Peter, Jesus told His friend and denier, “Feed My sheep.” Our Lord’s decision to build His Church upon the rock of Peter had not changed despite the reality that this ‘rock’ denied our Lord three times.

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Photo of the 3 heart-shaped stones located along the Sea of Galilee outside the Primacy of Peter chapel, custody of the Franciscans.

What Peter discovered that day was Mercy.

Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

For many of us, if not all of us, the hardest one we find to be compassionate towards and to forgive is ourselves. This is why looking at Peter’s ‘conviction’ is such a great help in understanding how God teaches us to approach Him in our sinfulness.

When we go to confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are not going just to face God’s justice; though we will face Him in ‘Persona Christi’ through the priest. We are not going so we can tell our sins to a priest, though that is certainly part of it. We go because we understand that we are not able to save ourselves. We need grace, and our faith teaches that the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides special graces not at our disposal outside the Sacrament and this grace washes us clean and gives us the armor to fight future sinning.

There is a final reason and the verb we use is so telling. We ‘visit’ the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can sit with Jesus, one-on-one, and tell Him we love Him, exactly how Peter did.

Christian ‘conviction’ is when a sinner stands guilty before God, knows he cannot save himself and that He is totally loved. It is this last part that we need to embrace.

For many Catholics, including myself, it is very difficult to kneel in the confessional and confess our sins. But if we can view the encounter as our way of loving, praising and thanking Jesus who took the punishment for us, it may help us to see the Sacrament of Reconciliation for what it is: an encounter with Mercy.

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has commissioned thousands of priests to be ‘missionaries of mercy.’ In the February 21st edition of The National Catholic Register, journalist Father Raymond J. DeSouza reporting on their commissioning ceremony at the Vatican writes,

“We often have the pious thoughts that we leave our sins in the confessional, but the truth is that we don’t carry them into the confessional in the first place. It is not sin itself that presents itself to Jesus in the person of the confessor. Sin cannot stand in God’s presence. Rather, it is the repentant sinner, a person in the image and likeness of God who comes before Christ in the person of the priest. The reality is that the penitent, even if burdened by shame, is already close to God simply by coming to confession, for the person desiring to be close to God can be confident of God’s closeness.”

When Jesus answered the question, “What is the greatest commandment,” with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” (Mk 12:30-31) we can now better understand that to love our neighbor as our self, we must first love God through the reality of His Mercy.

Peter discovered this very thing that day on the shore of Galilee and this revelation of God’s unfathomable love gave him the confidence to lead the Catholic Church as our first pope.

Let Peter’s confidence in God’s love inspire us to take advantage of this rich treasure of Mercy instead of dreading it. We are obligated to receive this Sacrament once a year, but why not ‘visit’ monthly so you can spend time with our Lord telling Him how much you love Him?!

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Archdiocese of San Antonio is offering more opportunities to encounter Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If the idea of walking where Jesus walked intrigues you, consider a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Visit pilgrimcenterofhope.org and discover the many pilgrimage opportunities available.

Our Weakness. His Strength.

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Our Weakness. His Strength.

Throughout salvation history, God has chosen to accomplish great things through men and women whom he calls into his service beginning with Abraham. In today’s first reading God calls Moses to lead the Chosen people out of their slavery in Egypt. To get Moses’ attention God speaks from a burning bush and reveals his name as “I am who am.” Moses is speaking with the Almighty, He who is without beginning or end and he must take off his shoes in His presence.

Weakness

In the next chapter of Exodus, we will see that even though Moses has heard the voice of God and is given miraculous powers, he still doubts his ability to carry out the mission God has given him. He was focused on his own weakness instead of the power of God.
Especially, in matters of faith, we can be like that.

In baptism, we received the gifts of faith, hope and charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, we all start out equal as children of God. We become members of His body, which is the Church, and in this Church we have every means to grow in our faith and discover the gifts that God has given us. Which will be necessary for our vocation and for the building up of the Body of Christ. God expects that the gifts He has given us will bear fruit, but we can stifle those gifts by just living for ourselves and whatever makes us comfortable.

Planted

This brings us to the Gospel and the parable of the fig tree. The purpose of the fig tree is to bear fruit. The owner of the tree wants to cut it down because it does not produce fruit, but the vine dresser asks for more time to cultivate the tree hoping that it will produce fruit. Jesus is the patient vine dresser and we all are fig trees in this parable. In baptism, we are planted in the kingdom of God through water and the Holy Spirit. We receive equally everything we need to come into full maturity and produce fruit according to God’s plan for us. Through the Eucharist and Confirmation, we receive nourishment to sustain us. We are pruned through the sacrament of reconciliation and the sacrifices and reparations that make up our life’s experiences.

Nourished

No matter what our career is, our most important purpose is to produce fruit for the kingdom of God and for this we all have an equal opportunity. Our fruitfulness depends upon our own desire to be faithful to what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We cannot produce fruit on our own; we must be connected to God. By having a personal relationship with Him by daily prayer, reading the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, living the sacramental life, and being involved in our faith community.

Fruitful

This is where we discover and use the gifts God has given us and by continuing to be formed in the faith. When we live our lives close to God in this way, we become witnesses of His presence so that others might come to believe in Him. God’s only plan for the salvation of the world is that those who believe in Him will live and share their faith, so that others will come to believe in Him.

Like Moses, we may not feel adequate to play a role in God’s plan of salvation, but like Moses we must say yes anyway, take our eyes off ourselves, keep focused on God and allow him to work through us. It is only in God that we will find the strength we need to carry us through the painful circumstances of our lives and the grace that will enable us to make the difficult choices we know we must make.

This is when our faith truly bears fruit, so that we can experience the peace and hope that only Christ can give! Are you seeking to learn more and grow in your faith? Tune in to Catholicism Live to hear more on Wednesday evenings from 8-9pm on CTSA Channel 15 and on the Guadalupe Radio Network 89.7 FM or grnonline.com! More information can also be found on our website. PilgrimCenterOfHope.org