Having Hope: More Important Than Ever

Standard

In the last few weeks, we’ve witnessed the destruction of four hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, and several mass murders – the most recent in a local church. When we recognize things are beyond control, what should our response be?

Saint Paul offered the answer in Romans 12:12 – “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” When God is our hope, he will also be our strength as we remain connected to Him.

Our first response is to pray for those affected; prayers imploring the mercy of God and the graces needed so that they may persevere in their trust in Him. We can also pray for the deceased; remember this beautiful prayer of the Church – “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. May your Perpetual Light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

In Pope Francis’ final General Audience message on hope, he reflected on Paradise, the aim of our hope.

Paradise is not a fairytale place, much less an enchanted garden. Paradise is the embrace of God, infinite Love, and we enter there thanks to Jesus, who died on the Cross for us. Where there is Jesus there is mercy and happiness; without him there is cold and darkness. At the hour of death, a Christian repeats to Jesus: “Remember me”. And even if there may no longer be anyone who remembers us, Jesus is there, beside us. He wants to take us to the most beautiful place that exists. He wants to take us there with the small or great deal of good that we have done in our life, so that nothing of what he has already redeemed may be lost. And to the Father’s house he will also bring everything in us that still needs redemption: the shortcomings and mistakes of an entire life. This is the aim of our existence: that all be fulfilled, and be transformed into love.

If we believe this, death ceases to frighten us, and we can also hope to depart from this world in a peaceful way, with so much confidence. Those who have met Jesus no longer fear anything. We too can repeat the words of the elderly Simeon; he too was blessed by the encounter with Christ, after a lifetime spent in anticipation of this event: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Lk 2:29-30). At that instant, at last, we will no longer need anything; we will no longer see in a confused way. We will no longer weep in vain, because all has passed; even the prophecies, even consciousness. But not love: this endures. Because “love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8).

Only the light of God’s love can transform the darkness. We can make a difference through prayer and active love. Let us remain steadfast in Hope!

Advertisements

Seeking Jesus – Through the Desert

Standard

Blog-Image

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

SecurityFenceWhat a better way to Seek Jesus than to renew our Baptismal vows in the Holy Land? Everything I experienced was nothing what I expected. Before arriving to our destination at the Jordan River where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, we were able to see along our route the security fence that divides Israel and Jordan: barbed wire fence, as far as the eye could see, leaving nothing to the imagination that these two countries are in serious conflict. I have never seen such a long security fence…

We arrived at the Baptismal location at the River Jordan and I was astounded first at the unusual vivid green color of the river, then at how narrow this section of the river was.  It’s our understanding that Christ was actually baptized around the bend to the right, which is just downstream, but not accessible to our group that day because it is on the Jordanian side. At about 3am Texas time, Deacon Tom Fox sprinkled water from the Jordan on us as we renewed our baptismal vows as a group.  Time is allotted to the different groups coming to be baptized, and some were in their white shirts actually getting into the river in an area marked by metal rails.

A Greek Orthodox Church across the river was having a baptismal ceremony for a baby, and the father waved at us while holding his child. Sitting behind the father on benches were two Jordanian soldiers who, I’m guessing, are guarding the river so no one swims across. There were no visible signs of weapons on the soldiers.

The ride from the Jordan River to the Dead Sea was not long. The Dead Sea is the lowest point in the world at 1,412 feet below sea level.  While it may not have been my favorite place because of the heat, it certainly was an eye opener to the mysteries God provides.  The sea is extremely rich with salt and minerals, so much so that a person cannot sink under the water. The black mud taken from the sea when rubbed on our bodies, then rinsed off, leaves the skin very smooth to the touch.

JerichoJericho dates back to 9000 years B.C., is mentioned both in the Old and New Testaments, and is the oldest city in the world. The walls have long ago crumbled down. In ancient times, Jericho was considered to be the strongest fortress, yet it was conquered by Joshua and the Israelites with God’s help (cf. Joshua 6:1-27). Reading the Bible has become so alive for me now, because I can picture the city and all the ruins.

Still inhabited after 11,000 years, it is very obvious that Jericho has suffered under Israeli occupation. The city has been under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority since 1994. The political issues are a bit complicated for someone not familiar with the politics of the region. Upon entering the city, there was a large sign stating that a project aiding Jericho was being gifted by the American people to the Palestinian people.  It was good to see this sign, since the city is littered with trash, and poverty seems prevalent because of the occupation. Researching, I found the Palestine-Israel Journal, 2001, with information from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, that 64% of the population living in the Palestinian Territories live below the poverty line.

Before lunch, we stopped in front of the ancient Sycamore tree where Zacchaeus met Jesus. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealth man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. (Luke 19:1-10)

We ate our delicious Mediterranean meal at Mount of Temptation Restaurant, where we were showered with hospitality from the staff. I was able to photograph the city from the restaurant’s rooftop. The rooftop gave me an advantage of seeing Jericho at a great distance, and Mount Temptation, where Jesus was tempted by the devil.  To actually see Mount Temptation and photograph it was incredible. Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” (Matthew 4:1-11)

Before arriving to our resting place at the hotel Notre Dame in Jerusalem, we stopped to see Ein Karem, the birthplace of St. John the Baptist. The church is a simple design that was built over the cave where St. John was born. From inside the church, you step down into the cave. Over the entrance is a large painting of St. John baptizing Jesus. Once inside the cave, the place of his birth is marked by a large marble star with the Jerusalem Cross in the center and the Latin inscription,“Hic Precursor Domini Natus Est,” translated, Here was Born the Precursor of the Lord. What an experience, visiting the birthplace of the man who waited to serve our Lord before He went into the world to fulfill Scripture! St. John was beheaded for speaking against immorality.

EinKaremAnd you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:67-80)

This is a beautiful depiction of St. John the Baptist, who spent so many years in the desert. He must have been a rugged-looking man; at least that is how I picture him in my mind. The small plate beneath this painting has these words, ‘Saint John the Precursor in the Byzantine Iconography’.

It’s been two months since our trip to the Holy Land, and I am still processing the holy sites we visited. Looking back and writing about them helps with the enormous task of placing life in order: God, family, and country! Everything else is cotton candy or jalapeño juice…

Little Ways to Transform Your Heart

Standard

What are little epiphanies?

They are “little nothings of every day hope,” and the “ordinary ways to sanctity,” according to Susan Muto, PhD, executive director of Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality, who served as our keynote speaker at the Prayer Brunch benefiting our ministry on Saturday, October 28.

During our weekly staff meetings, we’ve been discussing Dr. Muto’s book, Twelve Little Ways to Transform Your Heart: Lessons in Holiness and Evangelization from St. Therese of Lisieux. To our delight, we discovered the lessons in her book wove perfectly into our ministry’s mission of guiding people to Christ and His Church. We strive to be missionary disciples reminding people that trusting in God provides hope in all the circumstances of our lives.

In her presentation on Sunday, Dr. Muto expanded on four of the ‘Little Ways’ listed in her book:

1. Little Way of Hiddenness

Dr. Muto said, “That the majority of us will never be famous, in the news or on any headline, so it is in the hiddenness of life we are to seek our sanctity.” She calls it the, “Nazareth of Everydayness;” many opportunities each day to be with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and live in hope. Hiddenness is where we can count on the grace of our baptism to give us the hope we need to love our spouses, raise our children, cling to our faith, and never give up.

2. Little Way of Abandonment to Providence

This is where we are to let go of our plans in life, and surrender in trust to God’s providence. St. Therese reconciled her burning desire to be a missionary, with the reality of life in the cloister and in growing illness, by cultivating a spirituality that, “surrenders like a little child in her Father’s arms,” trusting He would never give a desire He would not fulfill. We can practice living in this hope by consciously turning our plans over to God like, “twigs into a fire.” We will witness the, “flames of trust grow higher with each twig of surrender.”

3. Little Way of Simplicity

In a world that is full of complications, we can act in simplicity by defying our, “culture of the lie,” and living, “without guile; which means we say what we mean and mean what we say and that our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no.” Forgiveness is the key to living in simplicity, and though sin complicates our lives, we can find hope in understanding that, “God gazes at us always, slicing through the layers of sin and seeing directly into our souls.”

4. Little Way of Unceasing, World Redeeming Prayer

We can plug into God’s plan for salvation by choosing as St. Therese did to, “Read the text of daily life,” through an acceptance and offering of our little annoyances and big struggles. Muto shared several stories demonstrating how St. Therese took every opportunity to engage in the, “Serious business of prayer by hesitating before reacting, asking for grace, and trusting God that what He has called us to, will be disclosed to us.”

Dr. Muto ended her presentation with a prayer of St. Therese, and thanked God for Pilgrim Center of Hope and the blessing of our respective ministries.

You can meet Dr. Susan Muto and hear her speak at our Catholic Seniors’ Conference on February 24, 2018 at St. Matthew Church McDonald Center.

Pilgrim Center of Hope founders Deacon Tom & Mary Jane Fox, with Dr. Susan Muto

Why Hope?

Standard

Blog-Image

People ask us, “Why did you choose the name Pilgrim Center of Hope?” The answer would require a rich story! In light of Pope Francis’ recent focus on Christian hope, however, we would like to offer some words on this topic.

So many people today feel directionless; unable to see any meaning to life. With a great number of tragedies in the news, scandals, not to mention the personal wounds we experience in daily life, it’s no wonder that many walk with their gaze downward.

In his recent General Audiences, Pope Francis has been speaking on the topic of hope. Here is a small excerpt:

It is not Christian to walk with one’s gaze directed downward — as swine do: they always go along in this way — without lifting one’s eyes to the horizon. As if our entire journey terminated here, in the span of a few meters travelled; as if our life had no goal and no mooring, and we were compelled to wander endlessly, without any reason for our many toils. This is not Christian.

The closing pages of the Bible show us the ultimate horizon of our journey as believers: the heavenly Jerusalem, the celestial Jerusalem. It is envisioned first of all as an immense tent, where God will welcome all mankind so as to dwell with them definitively (21:3). This is our hope. And what will God do, when we are with him at last? He will be infinitely tender in our regard, as a father who welcomes his children who have long toiled and suffered. John prophesies in Revelation: “Behold the dwelling of God is with men…. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away…. Behold, I make all things new” (21:3-5). The God of newness!

This is why we focus on HOPE! We are not aimlessly wandering. Each of us is a called into being by God, who loves us. Each of us is called to walk this earth with purpose, toward an eternal destination of God’s love. We are called to be hopeful people – missionaries of hope! – walking our daily lives with our eyes on that heavenly Jerusalem.

Pope Francis continues:

The Christian knows that the Kingdom of God, its dominion of Love, is growing as a great field of wheat, even if in the middle there are weeds. There are always problems; there is gossip; there are wars; there is illness … there are problems. But the wheat ripens, and in the end evil will be eliminated. The future does not belong to us, but we know that Jesus Christ is life’s greatest grace, is the embrace of God who awaits us at the end, but who is already accompanying us now and comforts us on the journey.

As Christians, we must be people on a journey – moving forward despite the rocky terrain. Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:62). Dear friends, let’s spend our time – not looking behind us, but looking ahead! With hope! This is the purpose of Pilgrim Center of Hope: to guide people to encounter Christ, so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.

As Pope Francis exhorts us:

Believe in the existence of the loftiest and most beautiful truths. Trust in God the Creator, in the Holy Spirit who moves everything towards the good, in the embrace of Christ who awaits every man and woman at the end of their life. Believe, he awaits you.

We invite you to learn about joining us as a Missionary of Hope on October 28 in San Antonio at our annual Prayer Brunch!

Pope Francis’ General Audience Series on Hope:

Teresa, A Friend of Ours

Standard

In just a couple of weeks, hundreds of Pilgrim Center of Hope’s friends will be gathering at our annual Prayer Brunch benefit event. One of the most exciting things we’ll discuss is the upcoming 25th Anniversary Year of this ministry. Praise God! As we reflect on these years, we reflect on a friend in Heaven: St. Teresa of Avila. She entered eternal life on October 4, 1582.

Perhaps we wouldn’t have Pilgrim Center of Hope, as we know it, without her help. The Center sits on about seven acres of land which we rented for many years from the Sisters of St. Teresa of Jesus (Teresa of Avila)! With the support of hundreds of personal donations, the land was purchased by Pilgrim Center of Hope in 2013. The Sisters left us many of their furnishings and even religious art; including both a small statue and an old painting of Teresa of Avila.

In the painting, she is seated with her hand over her heard, commemorating the extraordinary experience called her Transverberation. That experience is what Bernini infamously sculpted into marble; an angel piercing Teresa’s heart with a flaming arrow. It was a mystical revelation of God’s love in Teresa’s life.

With her right hand, Teresa is writing her most well-known poem. In the painting, it is written in its original Spanish:

Nada te turbe,
Nada te espante, 
Todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda;
La paciencia,
Todo lo alcanza,
Quien a Dios tiene,
Nada le falta,
Sólo Dios basta.

Which translates to:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing fright you,
All things are passing,
God never changes;
Patience
Obtains all things,
Whoever has God
Lacks nothing,
God alone suffices.

This painting hangs near our Chapel, where our staff prays each day. It is a beautiful reminder – not only of the message that God is the answer to every concern, but also reminds us of our Spiritual Mother in Heaven who undoubtedly intercedes for this ministry. Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us!

Not only have we had Teresa on our side, but also her two most famous spiritual daughters, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Calcutta! Thérèse has a history of interceding for us, and Mother Teresa wrote our founders a letter encouraging them to continue answering Christ’s call as they were seeking His direction for their lives.

The origin of the name “Teresa” is possibly derived from the Greek meaning “harvest.” That is no surprise to us. We are confident that God has called us to work in His Vineyard, to prepare our hearts and the hearts of many people for His Coming. Amen!

As you continue your daily pilgrimage this week, remember the message of the Saints! Lord Jesus, we place our trust in You.

A Story of Hope & Healing at Lourdes

Standard

As a response to the need for hope, we share the stories of fellow pilgrims who journey with our Ministry of Pilgrimages. This week, Velma felt a strong conviction to share her story with you…

God woke me this morning and urged me to write about my experience at our 2011 Marian Pilgrimage.

I went on this pilgrimage in place of a friend who had cancer. My hope and purpose was that this person would be healed as I was going in this person’s place. As we flew over to Europe, I had terrible pains in my hands that I had never had before. I always sleep on airplanes, but the pain in my hands was so bad, that I stayed awake praying for my friend.

Velma (left) with Mary Jane Fox while on pilgrimage in France, stopping to appreciate the Eiffel Tower

The day we went to the baths in Lourdes, there was no women to facilitate the baths, so we could not go in. I was worried that I would not be able to go into the baths for my friend’s healing. However, we went back the next day, and we did get to go. It was an awesome experience I will never forget.

Thanks be to God for His great mercy; my friend has received healing for the cancer and my hands were healed that day! I never asked for anything for myself while there on the pilgrimage, but God healed two of us at once. What a loving, merciful God we have!

Of course, God can and does heal with or without the holy baths of Lourdes. In my mind, part of going into the Lourdes baths was overcoming pride and doing something so simple as being dipped in a bath of cool water. I am so thankful I went!! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!

Remember that in the Gospel stories, Jesus asked, “What do you want?” On your daily journey, He is asking you this, especially when you approach him in the sacraments. Have you asked God to heal you of something, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual? Don’t be afraid to speak to Jesus simply and honestly. Then, be open to his response – whether it is a healing you expect, or perhaps something even greater:

Moved by so much suffering, Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross, Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the “sin of the world” of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross, Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1505)

October: San Antonio Rosary Congress

Standard
An image of Mary offering us the Rosary

Image of Our Lady of the Rosary by Ken Fox. Used with permission from the artist.

October is the month of the Holy Rosary, a prayer that is also known as “the Gospel Prayer.” As we pray it, we meditate on the lives of Jesus and Mary, using prayerful verses that are either directly from, or rooted in, the Gospel. This prayer brings us closer to Jesus, through the eyes of his Mother.

We invite you to join us this month: Pilgrim Center of Hope will provide spiritual reflections during a special Rosary Congress in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s apparitions at Fatima, Portugal. The anniversary, which celebrates the apparitions’ focus on conversion and prayer, has been marked by Pope Francis and by Catholic faithful around the world.

Beginning on October 7, 2017, several Catholic parishes in the San Antonio area will take turns hosting events for the Congress; an intense period of seven days offering around-the-clock Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and hourly, vocal praying of the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The Congress will conclude with an opportunity for families to consecrate themselves to Christ through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Saturday, October 7, Feast of the Holy Rosary – Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church (Selma, TX)
Opening Mass at 5:30pm
Marian Presentation at 7:00pm by Anthony Mullen (Flame of Love Movement of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, EWTN guest speaker)
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Sunday, October 8 – Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church (Selma, TX)
Same as above

Monday, October 9 – St. Pius X Church (San Antonio, TX)
Mass at 6:30pm
Marian Presentation at 7:30pm by Mary Jane Fox, Pilgrim Center of Hope
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Tuesday, October 10 – St. Matthew Church (San Antonio)
Marian Presentation at 7:00pm by Karen Robertson, Pilgrim Center of Hope
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Wednesday, October 11 – St. Margaret Mary Church (San Antonio, TX)
Mass at 6:00pm
Marian Presentation at 7:00pm by Deacon Ed Domowski, Pilgrim Center of Hope
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Thursday, October 12 – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower (San Antonio, TX)
Mass at 6:00pm
Marian Presentation at 7:00pm by Mary Jane Fox, Pilgrim Center of Hope
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Friday, October 13, Anniversary of Fatima 6th Apparition & Miracle of the Sun – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower (San Antonio, TX)
Closing Mass at 6:00pm
Followed by Consecration of Families to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Seeking Jesus: Absolutely Nothing Like I Expected

Standard

Today, we share Part Two 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…

‘Seeking Jesus’ are utterly profound words. This is a second in a series of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A friend asked if I found everything as I expected. My answer to her was, “Absolutely nothing” was what I expected… nothing!

I have friends who have gone to the Holy Land and when I ask about the trip, their answers are: it was ‘wonderful’, ‘great’, and ‘beautiful’. Really, going to the Holy Land, the birthplace of Christ, and one word describes it? Hopefully, you will be able to see through my eyes, the wondrous things I have seen and witnessed. My wish is that I will entice you to travel to the Holy Land and experience it for yourself—or if you are not able, hopefully my words and images will give you the experience I felt.

I will only write about the places that really moved me that I felt so inspired to put into words.  It’s a strange sensation to ‘feel connected’ to a time so long ago, and at times in my present life to feel so alienated from what is happening all around. I believe the feeling of being separated from our families living in other cities, and the division in our nation, prompted us to go on a pilgrimage of prayer. Deep prayer and focused concentration is good for our souls, and the Holy Land was the best place to seek Jesus.

On our fourth day in the Holy Land, we drove close by the Valley of the Winds, and our local guide decided we had enough time to walk on the path Christ walked during his time on earth. To walk where Christ walked was an unreal thought for me, and to actually feel the footpath beneath was mind-boggling. The path is not very wide, and connects Nazareth to Capernaum. It also connects Cana, Tabgha, and the Mount of Beatitudes—holy sites we visited. We only walked a few steps, probably a quarter-mile, before we continued on to the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

The Church of the Transfiguration is located 1,920 feet high on Mount Tabor, and can be seen from a long distance. Antonio Barluzzi, an Italian architect, dedicated his life to building or restoring many of the churches we were fortunate to see. His work is impressive to the eye, and his attention to detail leaves you in awe of his work. This is one of his masterpieces.

An artistic depiction of the Transfiguration of Christ is in the main church. “And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1-8). The art in the church is exquisite, and lifts you to another place in time. There is a painting of Moses in the Northern Chapel, and the Southern Chapel holds the very expressive painting of the prophet Elijah. From atop Mount Tabor, looking down at the scenery was totally breathtaking. Some of my fellow pilgrims chose to walk down Mount Tabor to meet the bus for our next site.

After lunch, we went to Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding, at the direction of his mother, Mary. Cana is situated between the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth. This passage in the Bible has always been one of my favorites: “When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine'” (John 2:1-11).  As a small child attending a Catholic school, I knew that Jesus had better obey his mother’s wish and that this miracle was special; Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs. We were able to see one of the six stone water jugs mentioned in the Bible, and I can assure you that they are definitely not what we see in any paintings. The jugs are enormous, and you can’t conceive how they were transported from one place to another.

To my total surprise and delight, Bill and I renewed our wedding vows at the Church of Cana. My notes in my Pilgrim Book read, “Our renewal vows were beautiful and I got emotional (I cried).” After 23 years of marriage, yes, we have been through some beautiful and fun times, but we have also struggled through some challenges that in the end have made our marriage stronger. I just could not imagine renewing our marriage vows in Cana until it became a reality.

A fellow pilgrim, Daniel, was kind enough to take the photograph of the six smiling couples that renewed their wedding vows, which included Mary Jane and Deacon Tom Fox (last couple on far right).

Are you paying attention to his surprises for you? His daily gifts? Remember Jesus’ love for you, and how he shares his love for you through the Holy Spirit. Take a few minutes now to pause and thank God for the many gifts of your day. Mother Mary, thank you for your prayerful intercession for all your children; for looking after us with maternal kindness. Please help me to see the surprises that Jesus is giving me today; how he is turning the water of my daily life, into the wine of a journey with him. Amen.

Seeking Jesus

Standard

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.

The Experience that Put Me More In Touch with Jesus

Standard

Blog-Image

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.
6083261164_d253f7e5af_z

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.