First Sunday of Lent

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Madonna

“Madonna of Charity” by El Greco. c. 1604

Our readings today are short and to the point. We have just begun our forty days of Lent and the first reading recalls for us the first event in Scripture that lasted forty days: the purification of the earth by the waters of the Great Flood. Humanity had been decadent, so God decided to make a new beginning with Noah, his family and with all the creatures with him. Then He formed a covenant with Noah saying, “…never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by waters of a flood.” The sign of the covenant of course was the rainbow.

In the second reading, a connection is made between the purification of the earth by the Great Flood and the purification of our souls by the waters of baptism. In baptism we become children of God and He makes a new beginning with us. He makes it possible for us to enter into an intimate, personal relationship with Him so that we might reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity. The sign of this covenant is water and the sign of the cross. We are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as water is poured over us. The cross is traced on our forehead by the minister, our parents and our godparents.

In the Gospel we are reminded of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his public ministry. The temptations he experiences are symbolic of the temptations we experience. Even though we have been claimed by God in baptism, the same one who tempted Jesus in the desert will tempt us. The devil knows our weaknesses and he knows how to discourage us, but he does not have power over us unless we give it to him.

Wednesday, ashes were placed on our heads in the form of a cross and we heard the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” the very words of Jesus. What does it mean to repent? It means to have a sincere sorrow for our sins because we have offended an all loving God, and we have offended ourselves and others. It means we want to change for the better. If we do not repent, our sins become habitual and begin to shape our lives in a selfish, disordered way which leads to sadness at the very least and possibly to hopelessness.

Again, the words of Jesus: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” What does it mean to believe in the Gospel? It means to accept Jesus, the Word of God, as our Lord and Savior and to faithfully follow him and all he has revealed to us. It means that there is nothing in our lives more important than God and our relationship with Him, and no matter how difficult our circumstances might be, we put our total trust in Him, because He is God and has proven His love for us by sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.

These forty days are a time for all of us to take God seriously and to make a new beginning with God, whom we often take for granted. There are three focal points to help us during this Lenten season: prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

First there is prayer. No prayer means no faith. One measurement of our faith is the amount of time we spend in prayer. We should begin our day in prayer and pray throughout the day because prayer is our connection to God. We need His help in all we do. We should pray in private, but we also should pray with the people we love. It is critical that husbands and wives should pray together because in Holy Matrimony two became one in Christ, and it is Christ who will help your marriage and your family. And of course we should pray together with our faith community. The highest form of prayer is the Mass because it makes present to us the Paschal mystery and gives us the opportunity to receive the real presence of Jesus Christ. If daily Mass is not part of your routine, Lent is a good time to make the effort; you will be glad you did.

Next there is almsgiving. This is not just dropping a dollar in the collection basket. Almsgiving is having a generous heart because you realize the source of your blessings, and we trust that if we are generous, God will continue to be generous with us. Almsgiving helps us overcome our temptation to be selfish as we become more aware of the needs of others. Almsgiving helps us to learn the great lesson of divine providence and develop a profound trust in God.

Finally, we have fasting, denying our selves of something. The purpose is to take charge of our senses; to gain control of our passions. Without self control we will never reach spiritual maturity. When we think of fasting we usually think of food, but it could take other forms. We could fast from television, from excessive computer time, from things we enjoy but do not need. We could fast from being impatient with the people we love, and with others as well. We could even drive the speed limit as a form of conquering our impatience. Jesus said that if we are to be his disciples we must deny ourselves, and that is exactly what fasting is about.

The Church has given us this season of Lent because she knows we need it. Jesus knows we need it. We all need a new beginning with God. If we take God seriously during these forty days, and from our heart we “repent and believe in the Gospel,” these could be the best days of our lives, because we will certainly draw closer to God. There is nothing more important than being connected to God, because He is the source of our happiness and our eternity.

Touching the Place Where Jesus Fed the Multitudes

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In the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 14, there is a beautiful account that took place at the Sea of Galilee. It is one of Jesus feeding the thousands who had gathered to listen to Him. When evening came, the apostles were concerned for them and asked the Lord to send them away for food. What was Jesus’ response? He told the Apostles, “Give them some food yourselves.” They only had two fish and five loaves, and so they presented these to Jesus. After ordering the crowds to sit on the grass, he looked up to heaven, said a blessing, and distributed the loaves and fish – and miraculously, all those who were gathered ate. Jesus multiplied what was brought to him.

There is a Church called Tabgha in the Holy Land by the Sea of Galilee built over the area this event happened. As you enter the Church, the foundation is mostly mosaic, some of it dating to the 5th century! The main altar is made of limestone, very simple; however, under the Altar is a large stone that was part of the original ground marking the area where the multiplication of the fish and loaves took place. Alongside the stone is a mosaic from the 5th century of two fish and a basket with several round loaves of bread.

When we lead pilgrimages to the Holy Land, the pilgrims want to venerate this rock. To kneel and touch this area where our Lord performed this miracle is something one cannot forget. Imagine reading that scripture account and standing at the very place it happened!

Kissing

Pilgrim kissing, venerating the rock.

A Franciscan living in the Galilee area told me that I should I do the same: offer my fish and loaves to the Lord, asking Him to multiply it according to His will. This miracle can still happen today.

Jesus waits for us to present Him our fish and loaves: our gifts, our talents, our desire to improve our relationships, our love, and yes, our concerns as well. All can be brought to Jesus.

He will receive them as He received the two fish and loaves and grant us the graces needed for what we ask according to His will. Through our prayer, Jesus will help us to know what he wants to multiply in us.

As we begin the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday, consider these 40 days as a journey with Jesus. Read the stories about Jesus in one or all of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Then imagine yourself in each time and place with Jesus. For me, this has helped to ponder the scriptures and seek a deeper knowledge of Christ.

An addition to reading the scriptures, praying the Gospel Prayer, the Rosary, is a way to ponder the scriptures. You might especially focus on the sorrowful mysteries, those related to the Lord’s Passion and Death.

My husband, Deacon Tom, has written a Holy Land Rosary Booklet with meditations related to the holy sites in the Holy Land. The cost of $6.95 for each book goes directly to support this ministry of evangelization. You can order yours through our website or call (210) 521-3377. Booklets can be picked up at the Pilgrim Center of Hope or shipped to you for an additional $1.75.

“Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life…”
— Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Getting to Know the Holy Spirit

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"Pentecost" by Titian (c. 1545)

“Pentecost” by Titian (c. 1545)

Last weekend, I was privileged to assist at a retreat for teens preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Although I began working in high school ministry about eight years ago, I experienced something on this retreat that I’ve never encountered.

Our parish is involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, colloquially known for its “Pentecostal” style of prayer.  I, however, am still quite new to ‘extraordinary’ manifestations of the Holy Spirit, since I was raised without exposure to charismatic prayer, and have only recently begun attending this parish.

The teens had gone to Confession, and after celebrating Mass, our retreat had reached its climax.  Four teams of adults and youth leaders were to pray over individual retreatants, invoking the Holy Spirit.  Not five minutes after this began, I was asked to lead one of those prayer teams!

My mind became a bit scrambled.  We’d all received instruction for this moment, but I’d never been in such a position, and I don’t consider myself “a charismatic Catholic”.  Nevertheless, I pushed aside my qualms and trusted that God knew what He was doing.

That’s when it began to happen.

I raised my hand over a teen’s forehead, and began to praise God.  Slowly, I felt like God was whispering words into my heart, and my mouth would speak them: prayers for healing, prayers for joy, words of encouragement and love.  Sometimes, our team would stand and wait for a retreatant to approach us.  In that silence, I would “hear” God speaking to my heart.  “The next teen has fear—much fear—in their life. Assure them that my family is their family.”  These words stirred in my heart until a teen approachedand asked us to pray for his incarcerated family member.

I received many such “words of knowledge” in my heart.  Sometimes, the truth of those words were confirmed by the teen’s specific prayer request.  Other times, I saw confirmation only in their tear-filled eyes.  Several teens initially seemed astonished at what had just occurred.  That would quickly morph into an incredibly peaceful smile, and they’d hug us in gratitude.  Some of them would “rest in the Spirit” as I prayed, falling down or backwards, and my husband would gently catch them.  Many later testified that they’d seen beautiful visions or experienced a release of their anger, pain, worries, or fears — a feeling they described as “light” and having been touched by Jesus’ love.

Perhaps this all seems strange to you.  If so, I understand!  From that night, I learned several truths experientially which I had previously known intellectually:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) – Interpersonal communication intimidates me; especially with people I don’t know well.  Yet, the Holy Spirit made up for my weakness 1,000-fold!  While prayers came from my heart and mouth, I knew without a doubt that it was God working through me.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit…To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4,7) – God gave me extraordinary gifts that night.  Those gifts were not meant for me to keep; they were meant for me to share.  I felt as if God’s goodness flowed through me.  I didn’t know why I said certain things, but I trusted that God had placed those words in my mouth for that teen.  Other leaders exhibited other spiritual gifts; only God knows why!

All of us who have received one and the same Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, are in a sense blended together with one another and with God.” (St. Cyril of Alexandria) – A profound unity grew among the teens. We saw imaginary lines created by stereotypes and cliques, dissolve, as they comforted and cared for one another. I myself felt exactly as Cyril describes: “blended together” with everyone.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) – As I prayed, I exhibited all of these.  No words can describe exactly what that felt like.  All I could do was praise and thank God.

If you’re in need of hope, comfort, joy, patience, or anything… pray to the Holy Spirit.  Open yourself to the Holy Spirit.  Say a simple prayer and invite the Holy Spirit into your heart.  As someone who once felt unsure when speaking about the Holy Spiritand who considered charismatic prayer downright strange, I want to encourage you to not be afraid of the Spirit.   The Holy Spirit is the Father & Jesus’ gift to us.  You received this same Spirit when you were baptized.  Don’t be afraid… don’t hesitate any longer: unwrap your gift!

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“The Calling of Peter and Andrew”, Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255 – 1318)

 

Why are the first two readings relevant to Sunday’s Gospel? They speak of the need for conversion and the attachment to things of God instead of the things of this world, which will pass away. We all must make choices that not only affect our lives, but also the lives of others. If we only live for ourselves and what the world has to offer we are destined for sadness and we will have a negative impact on our families and on the Body of Christ.

In the Gospel we see Jesus call the first Apostles. What compelled Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to immediately leave everything and follow Jesus? They were already disciples of John the Baptist who was preparing the way for the Lord and they were prayerful men looking for the Messiah who was to come. They had set their hearts on something greater than what the world had to offer them. They were given the grace to see that in Jesus the longing of their hearts would satisfied.

The question to each one of us is; on what have we set our hearts? What is most important in our lives? Of course there are a lot of things that are very important, but what is most important for us as Christians? As the Lord commands us, we must love the Lord our God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength and our neighbor as our self. This is what is most fundamental and affects all our relationships, especially with family.

Because of our fallen nature, we have a tendency make our needs and wants our priority, which is destructive. Jesus says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk 8:35-36). In other words, when our relationship with God is our priority we are not only destined for eternal life, we also have the possibility of reaching our potential for happiness in this life.

Of course this demands an effort on our part. “We must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ.” We can’t just do everything we want to do. We cannot allow our appetites and desires to control our lives. To be a Christian is not a casual thing. If we are truly Christian we cannot be attached to the things of this world. Certainly we must plan for our future and that of our loved ones, but only by being good stewards of what Our Lord has given us. We must remember that all good things come from God and He expects us to be generous with what we have received from Him as he is generous with us. Our resources are important, but they are not as important as our dependence on God, which is the fruit of our conversion and a desire to fulfill his will in our lives. Even those who have amassed great material wealth are not secure from the tribulations of this life. During our time on this earth, Our Lord expects things from us that we can only accomplish with the help of his grace which he makes available to us through the Sacraments of our Church. Our only true security is a complete trust in God which is a consequence of faithful discipleship.

Peter, Andrew, James, and John embraced the message of John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Lord through a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So when Jesus said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel,” they immediately followed him. Because they put their total trust in Jesus, they became the first Apostles and the foundation of his Church.

We are not called to be Apostles, but we are called to be faithful disciples, which require us to make the Kingdom of God our priority. We received our call in baptism when we received the gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That is why a child at an early age may think that God has a special plan for them. I have heard priests say that even as early as age four they believed they were called to the priesthood. This is why parents and godparents should encourage children to think about their relationship with God and the possibility of the religious life.

At a pilgrimage reunion a few months ago one of the pilgrims said that when he was sharing his experience with his family he noticed that his grandson was showing a lot of interest. He felt the notion to ask him if he ever thought about being a priest. He said he had not, but now that it was mentioned to him he would. We just need to plant the seed and let God do the rest. There may be girls and boys among your family or friends for which God has a special vocation that will help them to find great happiness in this life and for all eternity as they respond to his call. Maybe they just need your invitation.

Our readings today are about conversion and discipleship, both of which are necessary for real happiness in this life and for all eternity. The path is the same for us as it has been through the ages; faithfulness to what God has revealed through the Church and the Scriptures, daily prayer, living the sacramental life, and continuing to grow in the Faith by being good stewards of our time, talent and treasure. Only in God can we find real and lasting happiness and peace.

The Spiritual Battle

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“St. Michael dedicating his weapons to the Virgin” by the Le Nain Brothers

Sometimes I wonder whether to turn on the news …it’s just so gloomy: terror strikes the heart of Paris, forces of Isis gathering strength, etc. It serves to remind me that this precious life we have been given is a gift to be cherished and lived well, but it is not all fun and games. There are lessons to be learned, souls to be saved, and battles to be won.

But still we cry, “Why Lord? Why do you allow these things to happen?” God does not fed-ex His grace ahead of time to alleviate the discomfort of what we ourselves must do.   In fact, we are called to action. Did you ever notice how our Lord never seems to show up too soon but “just in the nick of time”? That is, not until we are on the verge of moving forward in His will for us does He send His assistance.

We are called upon to make a better world better, to actually engage in spiritual combat with the forces of darkness; seeking to rescue, through the power of God, lost souls held captive by the enemy of our souls. Pray – and never underestimate the power of prayer.

We only have one opportunity for all eternity to attack the gates of hell: Right here…right now. But so many of us underestimate this high calling that is entrusted to all the people of God and not limited to the clergy and religious.

In Holy Spirit’s perfect timing, as I was writing this blog, I received an email from the office of Alan Ames (Catholic mystic, writer and healer) with a similar message:

“It is in this spiritual battle where we persevere with our prayers for peace and for the conversion of others that he (the evil one) is losing and this he hates. So his hatred is poured out on the world through those he can get to do his will. Let us not be cowered by evils actions in the world. Let us all stand firm in our love of God and of others as warriors of faith who fight for the eternal souls of our brothers and sisters around the world. Our weapons are love of God and of others; the Sacraments, Holy Scripture, prayer, forgiveness and obedience to God’s will no matter what the cost.” – Alan Ames

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

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culvers

A few Friday nights ago saw me with a couple of friends at Culver’s - a sort of cross between Dairy Queen and Carl’s Jr. and the new Heaven and new Earth, specifically the new Wisconsin. The menu features “ButterBurgers”, frozen custards and concretes, and fried cheese curds. They offer a freebee “daily flavor” of frozen desserts, which is really a combination of syrups and mix-ins rather than a single flavor, in addition to your choice of candies or cookies or whatever you may want to add. Yes, it was my idea to go.

In some of the circles I travel in, the conversation always turns to spirituality at some point. So I wasn’t surprised when we rounded the corner from Niagara Falls to a light chat about spiritual growth. My friend to the left, I’ll call him Ray, had been to the falls as a seminarian in New York, before deciding to return to his native Texas. He said he had been too young to make that decision for life; he wanted to stay open for a while. Now he is in love and taking a second glance at college.

To my right, our mutual friend, I’ll call him John, talked about his life with addiction. He no longer felt gripped by the physiological craving and mental obsession that had plagued him and plunged him into chaos. He thanked God for helping him through his ongoing recovery. We nodded and laughed, and continued making small talk of the more ridiculous decisions we’d all made.

But the longer we stayed, the more I noticed a nervous, restless affect sprouting in John’s appearance. He was more eager to share from his own experience, strength and hope than Ray and I. His insistence on telling his story and wisdom-won was more than we invited by our own relaxed demeanors.

He reminded me of my younger self, all gung-ho passion and opinion and roiling impatience. Back then, I was much worse than being a little emphatic. Sometimes I’m still this way, but life has worn many of the harder edges of my prematurity into good ol’ nubular immaturity.

John said that now that he has some recovery under his belt, he notices the difference between someone who’s “egoistical” and someone who’s “spiritual” by the way they talk. Which set off a small alarm in me.

Early convert’s mistake, I thought. And isn’t it? As Catholic author and speaker Simcha Fisher has said:

“The human heart is a strange and tangled jungle of motivations and desires. We keep things hidden even from ourselves, and only God knows who is guilty and who is only wounded.”

Initial conversion, whether explicitly religious or to a better way in general, often makes temporary zealots of people. It’s like taking off sunglasses after wearing them for so long you’d forgotten how vivid the world really is. Do you see this tree? Look at it! Oh my gosh, the leaves are so green, not yellowish brown at all! PEOPLE, STOP STARING AT YOUR PHONES!

Which is good. Never begrudge the enthusiasm of a convert. But people tend to make the mistake of embracing a sublime new life by tamping their perspectives with fresh, wonderful, incomplete knowledge. We resist the mellowing and chock-full gradualness of life, which always requires responsibility for keener discernment and deeper relationships.

This is rooted in both ignorance and fear. Ignorance of some aspect(s) of the Gospel. Fear, for example, of “backsliding” into the bad old ways, or of not doing our conversion right and therefore being a failure. Old insecurities and selfish desires have yet to be worked through. We’ve only begun to take up our cross, but now we have something to help us feel better.

Leticia Adams, Round Rock blogger at Ramblings of a Crazy Face, host of a Real Life Radio show bearing the same name, and self-described “hot mess convert who loves Jesus”, said of her neophyte blunders:

I was just walking around as if life was great and acting so “high and mighty” as I’ve been told, as I arrogantly proclaimed how my life was so wonderful because I knew all the rules and was following them while other people suffered because they weren’t following them. When the hard times started coming I had the nerve to look at Jesus on the Cross and accuse Him of abandoning me when I was “doing everything right”. No I wasn’t. I was doing it all to impress everyone around me. Maybe even to impress myself. I wrapped myself in every single political cause that I could and made it my life’s mission to be outspoken about them all even if it meant losing close friends, because if they left then I could add that to my persecuted complex while patting myself on the back for being such a good Catholic.

On her radio show, she’s commented that she initially pushed (and pushed and pushed) her newfound faith on her family. Her husband eventually complained that he felt he couldn’t be himself around her. Her oldest son recently told her that he’s an atheist, which she sees in part due to her using religion to control him (at the time wanting her family to measure up to other Catholics’ perceived expectations).

At Culver’s, I was reminded of this quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Eventually, we learn that our cross only partially consists of everyone else’s failures to do things right, to love us enough. Mostly it’s bearing our own sinfulness, being brought to our knees again and again, becoming dependent upon God rather than being self-sufficient, and yielding to a narrow road for ourselves. There are times for teaching and correcting others, sure. Parents have the responsibility to raise children in the truth. Spouses and singles have the responsibility to love in the truth. With children, sometimes a little nagging is required.

But the truth should not be used to effect submission. When the latter is habitually done out of fear or laziness or the desire for us to be loved, it injects the poisonous aspect of domination into relationships. Because so many people are codependent, seeking unhealthy relief from past wounds, it may take a long time to realize that trying to control others is a sort of spiritual and psychological violence.

We need grace! We need the Holy Spirit. And we need the help of others who can teach us to live from a place of greater wholeness and love.

Leticia (I’ve talked to her a few times on Facebook and via email) is learning to love, support, and appreciate her family with the grace of God. The Catholic faith has taught her not to use them to satisfy her own needs, just as it teaches all of us to love humbly, and helps us to find healing. That’s the fruit of the Good News right there.

Which reminds me of last Sunday’s readings:

not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.
(Isaiah 42:2-4)

For just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10-11)

Adi_Holzer_Werksverzeichnis_849_Die_Taufe

“Die Taufe”, Adi Holzer.

A Journey To Love

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Jerusalem

“Jerusalem”, John Singer Sargent

Jesus says of His Father, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the One He sent.” (Jn 6:29)

This statement is extraordinary! God is the perfect communion of Love. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity do not need anything. They are complete in Themselves. We add nothing to their Love. So, to hear that God sends His only Son for us to believe speaks of a Love so generous, so pro-active, so self-giving, so inclusive, it is quite frankly, hard to believe.

All my life I had hoped this Love was real, but it was not until my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Pilgrim Center of Hope, that I came to believe in this Love and to what lengths God works for us.

Catholic teaching professes that Perfect Love, which is God Himself, is offered to us through the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I saw for myself, how the Holy Land is covered in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

We pilgrims journeyed from Galilee in the North “up to Jerusalem,” (Mat 20:18) in the South. Looking out the window from the comfort of our air-conditioned bus, I marveled at the many, many, many . . . many miles our Lord walked. I thought about all the places He slept, He ate and, because even to a South Texan like me it was so incredibly hot, I thought about how much His sweat must have poured out onto this vast terrain He covered by foot.

What kind of a God, I wondered, walks hundreds of miles to reach His people instead of commanding they come to Him?

One who is sent.

The work of God was displayed in the Garden Of Gethsemane, filled with olive trees. We learned that in the time of Jesus, oil of the olive was released by crushing the olive between two enormous stones, just as the Lord, “crushed for our iniquity,” (Is 53:5) released sweat “like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk 22:44).

In traveling from the Garden to Calvary, we walked the road that was covered in tears when “He drew near, saw the city and wept over it” (Lk 19:41).

Again I wondered . . . . what kind of a God creates an olive that must be crushed to release oil and then allows Himself to be crushed between past and future sins of humanity in the same way?

What kind of a God cries for the very people who will do the crushing?

Seeing for myself the work of God, my hope transformed into belief in Love so generous, so pro-active, so self-giving, so inclusive, it must also include a sinner like me.

The intensity of God’s toil is most clearly revealed at Calvary, covered by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, inside the old walls of Jerusalem. Here, Christ was stripped, nailed to a cross, hung until dead and was “pierced for our sins” (Is 53:5). The Blood and Water that gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us poured out onto the very ground we pilgrims walked, knelt and touched.

I invite you to wonder . . . . what kind of a God sends His only Son to incur the punishment due us? Why does the One sent obey?

So that you would believe in a Love so generous, so pro-active, so self-giving, so inclusive, it must also include a sinner like you.

I encourage you to make your own journey to Love! The Pilgrim Center of Hope is organizing two pilgrimages to the Holy Land this Spring 2015. Visit www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org or call 210-521-3377 for more information.

The Feast of the Holy Family

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"The Holy Family, Bartolome Murillo c. 1660

“The Holy Family, Bartolome Murillo c. 1660

We began the last week of Advent with this verse from O Come, O Come Emmanuel: “O come, O Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.”

The universe and all of creation was created by God with a certain order that maintains harmony and peace. As God gave mankind dominion over his creation, he expected us to maintain the order he established.

In the first reading we see one aspect of maintaining that order – we are to honor our Father and our Mother. This is such an important part of God’s plan that the promise is given – “Who ever honors his father . . . when he prays is heard.” Being obedient to our parents helps us to learn be obedient to God.

In the second reading, Paul gives us additional insights of what we must do to keep order. He says, “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts.” In Christ we will find the strength we need to maintain order in our relationships as husbands and wives, parents and children. There is a right way to fulfill our role, whatever it is. And, of course, the reality is that even if we try to faithfully do our part, it doesn’t mean that others will be faithful. I’m sure that there are many parents here who take their relationships with God seriously, and even though they have made every effort to guide their children in the right way, some have rebelled. Peer pressure is very difficult to overcome. And there are some children here who have felt called to a religious vocation that have not received support from their parents.

Ordering our life to God is a daily struggle which calls us to perseverance in prayer and the sacramental life. Our Lord offers us all the grace we need to take one day at a time, and to trust that in the end everything will be okay if we persevere. It doesn’t mean things will not be difficult; it does mean we will always have hope.

We see in the Gospel that the Holy Family faithfully followed the law of Moses. Even though they knew that Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews had been praying for, they didn’t think they should enjoy special privileges. They obeyed immediately and God’s plan continued to unfold, and prophesy was fulfilled when Simeon and Anna saw the baby Jesus in the Temple. Even though they were the holiest, most important family in the history of the world they faithfully followed the religious practices of their time because that is how they maintained their connection with the Heavenly Father and fulfilled His plan. The same is true for us. He wants to make our families holy.

It is not news that in this country, the most powerful country in the world, the institution of family is at a point of crisis. Almost every family has experienced some degree of trauma – whether physical, economical, psychological, spiritual or social. Almost every family has a relative that is divorced. A recent statistic states that only one third of children in this country will live with both biological parents until they reach the age eighteen. The greatest need of our time is the renewal of the family; and the only way it can be renewed is with the help of God’s grace; by being faithful to what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church, even if others are not.

Our families are God’s plan for the future of the world. The family is intended to be the domestic Church where husband, wife and children are joined together in prayer and grow together in faith. The family is where vocation should first be discovered.

Even if our family life has not been what it could have, it is not too late to begin anew. Whether you are married, divorced or single, it is not too late to ask “Wisdom, to teach us in her ways to go.” The way people have persevered through the ages is by attending mass every weekend (during the week, if possible) praying daily (privately and with people we love), reading Scriptures, frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation and forgiving each other for hurts experienced, by spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, by reading the lives of the saints and by continuing to be formed in the faith, and by being generous with our time, talent and treasure.

The domestic church, like every church, is made up of the people that occupy it. There are things we can do to help us be more aware of the presence of God, and to help us enter into prayer. Every home should have a crucifix and religious art, showing that the Faith is important to those who live there. There can be a special room or part of a room where you have an altar or shelf on which you place candles, a bible, holy pictures and favorite prayers that help you enter into prayer. There should be a designated time when the family prays together, at meals and especially the Rosary, or at least part of the Rosary. It is very meaningful for parents to bless their children before bed and before leaving the house by tracing the cross on their foreheads as you say, “…may God bless you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

God has a great plan for each of us if we allow Him to guide us by way of the Scriptures, the Church, the lives of the saints and His wisdom. It has to begin first of all as a desire in our hearts and continues when we share this desire with others, especially those we love.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us. Help us to be holy and to have holy families.

Another Year, Another IWFS 5K Fun Run Coming Up!

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From the 2013 IWFS 5K Run/Walk

From the 2013 IWFS 5K Run/Walk

Christmas brings joy with the arrival of our Savior. As the Angels said to the shepherds, “behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2-10)

The Pilgrim Center of Hope has some great things in store for 2015. One of these involves the chance to grow spiritually and physically.

Is it possible to grow spiritually while exercising? Absolutely! In fact, this new wave of Catholic evangelization is spreading its wings toward achieving both spiritual and physical wellness. How can this be done? By preparing for the 2nd “I Will Finish Strong” 5K Run and Fun Walk taking place on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

The training preparation leading up to the event will guide individuals on a spiritual and physical journey that will include incorporating daily scripture, prayer and even a personal meditation with Christ, all while undertaking a wellness activity. The key to this training will be to reach a goal in becoming spiritually strong. Wherever you are with your spiritual base, our mission will be to make it even stronger.

Please encourage family, friends, neighbors and even coworkers to follow this very unique training. Also, for individuals who might have physical limitations that prevent them from participating in the 3.1 mile walk or run, no worries, our training will be designed to help any individual toward achieving their desired goal.

Stay tuned! This will begin at the start of Lent 2015 and continue through race day. Our goal is guide you spiritually and physically through Lent in an effort to “Finish Strong” .

How Far Are You From Bethlehem?

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No, I am not thinking of the cities named Bethlehem in Connecticut, Pennslyvania or Georgia. How far are you from the Bethlehem in your own area?

That’s right – we can say that we are all on a journey to see the newborn King – Jesus, our Savior. This Bethlehem can be our parish church and our homes where we have a nativity scene set-up.

Parish churches can be called “little Bethlehems”. It is there where we unite with other Christians to worship God and see the Creche, or the Nativity. Most Churches are open through the early evening for visitors, for people who want to stop and enter a building consecrated to God! Let us approach the Creche with new eyes, not as before, as we casually looked at it and thought it was nice. Let us look at the Nativity – whether it be plastic, clay, metal or whatever it is made of – and see what took place 2,000 years ago in a small town in ancient Palestine.

First of all, it’s impressive to learn about St. Joseph through John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Guardian of the Redeemer. In it he describes Joseph as a just and righteous man who was obedient to the law:

“Journeying to Bethlehem for the census in obedience to the orders of legitimate authority, Joseph fulfilled for the child the significant task of officially inserting the name ‘Jesus, Son of Joseph of Nazareth’ in the registry of the Roman Empire (Jn 1:45). This registration clearly shows that Jesus belongs to the human race as a man among men, a citizen of this world, but also as Savior of the World!” (#9)

Think of their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is around 90 miles…they may have traveled in a caravan. Nevertheless, Mary was pregnant. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary see the hustle and bustle of the town – people arriving from various areas for census, donkeys and camels in the streets, marketplace busy, Joseph searched for a place at the inn, and perhaps several inns.

No room at the inn for them! So thanks to an innkeeper, they are told they can stay at a grotto where animals are kept. Here, in this simple, humble, and most likely quiet place, the Son of God is born.

“Joseph, together with Mary, is a privileged witness to the birth of the Son of God in the world on Christmas night in Bethlehem. Joseph was an eyewitness to this birth, which took place in conditions that humanly speaking, were embarrassing.” (#10)

Imagine the scene! Mary and the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes… Would you be attracted to spend time with this family? The Shepherds did! The Magi did!

"Holy Night (Nativity)", Albrecht Altdorfer

“Holy Night (Nativity)”, Albrecht Altdorfer

The Magi saw the Star which led them to Jerusalem/Bethlehem area. As they arrive in Jerusalem, they inquired about the Birth of the newborn King of the Jews. Then they set out where the Star led them

…until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering … they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11)

Let’s take a look again at what the Magi did upon arriving at the birthplace of Christ; they did him homage first, then presented their gifts. There is an order here that we can learn from. We must always remember to first do homage to Christ.

A Nativity scene, a Creche – as simple as they may be; this symbolic representation of Christ’s birth can help us meditate and contemplate God’s love for each of us, God’s mercy to give us a Redeemer born so poor and yet majestic, because He is the Savior!

Are you closer to Bethlehem now?