Pondering Our Queen

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Dr. Edward Sri writes in his book, Love Unveiled, The Catholic Faith Explained, that in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens,” the heavens here refer to spiritual beings God created first: the angels.”

He goes on to explain that angels are superior to mankind in knowledge, power and glory and were made to know and love God, to glorify Him and to serve Him in the world He was about to create. Sri writes that there was one angel who stood out among the rest. He was called the “light bearer” and that, “It is traditionally believed God invested more of His glory, power and strength in this angel than in any other. What a beautiful sight it must have been to gaze upon the “shining one” who reflected God’s glory the most!”

Like us, God has created angels with a free will and did not force them to serve. Sri writes, “Before they could see God ‘face-to-face’ and be sent on their mission, their love was tested in some way.” The ‘shining one’ failed the test because, as Sri writes, “He did not want to bow down before his Creator, but focused on himself […] He ignored God’s supremacy, rejected God, and sought to build a kingdom for himself.”

What happened to this angel is told by our Lord Jesus when He said, “I observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” (Lk 10:18) The next time we hear about him he is successfully tempting our first parents to choose self over God, and just like him, they receive the same destination: banished from Paradise.

Reflecting as this morning dawns on the Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I sit amazed and in wonder at the great mercy of God.

It actually makes sense that God would not just give up on creation as God can only be what He is: Creator, Love and Mercy. Instead He exclaims, “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev 21:5)

So, God sets about creating anew investing even more glory, more knowledge and more power into His new “light bearer” and this one, He calls “Mother.”

With her ‘yes’ at the Annunciation, Mary, descendent of Adam and Eve, receives The Light – God Himself – in her womb, participating with Creator God in His new Creation . . . what glory!

Serving God’s mission all the way to the Cross and beyond, Mary’s free will and faith in the supremacy of God is tested more than what I believe all the angels had to endure. As told to her by Simeon when she brought her precious baby to be presented in the Temple, “And you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,”(Lk 2:35) she receives the gift to read the thoughts and hearts of all creatures, a gift never given to the old light bearer . . . what knowledge!

As the Mother of God, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the faithful Daughter of God, it is through Mary, all the graces merited by her Son, in the Mercy of our Father through the Holy Spirit are distributed to all creation. Yes! God has granted that it is through the hands of Mary, as Mediatrix with their Son, Jesus Christ, all grace is granted . . . what power!

In her most exalted position, the new ‘light bearer’ acknowledges her queenship and the source of all her glory, knowledge and power by exclaiming in Luke 1:46-55:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

So what does all this mean for you and me?
“Behold Your Mother!” (Jn 19:27), God’s new creation, His new ‘light bearer,’ His creature who He invested more glory, more knowledge and more power than any other creature, is our Mother too!

We invite you to discover what it means to live God’s new creation by joining us at an upcoming Pilgrim Center of Hope Conference: The Catholic Women’s Conference, the Catholic Men’s Conference and the Catholic Seniors’ Conference. The Pilgrim Center of Hope also offers Evenings with Mary at various parishes in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. If you would like to bring a presentation to your parish, please contact us.

4 Attitudes to Find God in Prayer

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A young woman related her awareness of the importance of adoring God and thanking Him on a daily basis. Before this, she would simply say her favorite memorized prayers, but then, after spending time in silence with God and reading the scriptures, she began to realize the “gaze of God” upon her. This realization of God’s presence was quite profound and it led her to a deeper desire to love God and to learn more about His gift – the Catholic Church.

Blessed Mother Teresa said:
“Fruit of silence is Prayer. Fruit of prayer is Faith. Fruit of Faith is Love.”

In this young woman’s search for a deeper faith – she discovered the Catholic Church offered a treasure – history, lives of extraordinary men and women – the Saints, the Sacraments and the Teaching Authority of the Church.

As I listened to her story, I remembered reading what St. Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan priest who lived in the 12th century, wrote stating that prayer is made up of 4 indispensable attitudes which are described as follows:

1) Open one’s heart confidently to God
It’s really a lot easier than one thinks. Remember, God knows YOU, He knew you in your mother’s womb. Opening your heart to God is to communicate from the depth of your heart – sincerely and honestly.  Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, ….”*

2) Speak affectionately with him
It begins with a desire to love and know Him. Spend some time in silence thinking about God. Read a scripture passage, or simply think of some of the Bible stories you have heard such as the Birth of Jesus, the Apostles, Jesus teaching and healing by the Sea of Galilee, His Passion and Resurrection. Simply remain in silence for a few moments and speak to Him in confidence as you would a very close friend.

3) Present him your needs
Oh and He knows our needs! In the Gospel of Matthew 11:28 – He tells us “Come to me all you who labor and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.”*  What a powerful promise God gives us – we will find rest in Him when we go to Him.

4) Praise him and thank him
To praise God is to give Him honor – to adore Him, to recognize He is our Heavenly Father. Authentic prayer includes thanking Him – for everything. When we are aware of His presence, it becomes easier for us to thank Him throughout the day; not only for the blessings or good things, but also for the challenging moments, difficult times. Why? Because He is present in those moments as well and as we read earlier – He wants to help us. “In all circumstances give thanks for his is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18*


The only way to have true happiness and peace is by drawing closer to God in prayer – by being faithful to what He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope is a Catholic Evangelization Ministry founded for the purpose to help people encounter Jesus and get connected to the Church through various opportunities. We invite you to find out more about those opportunities at www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

*New American Bible

Wonder Woman – through a Catholic woman’s eyes

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Wonder Woman is finally getting her own contemporary action movie. During the 2016 San Diego ComiCon, a three-minute trailer was unveiled for her feature film starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot. In it, we meet the Greek demigoddess as she expertly leads male soldiers charging into battle, and deftly defends herself against foes.

After seeing this trailer and its companion poster which reads, “Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.”, I wanted to learn more about Wonder Woman. I knew that she’s one of the longest-running comic book characters, but beyond that I was pretty clueless.

rope-1551065I came to discover that she was first created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist and inventor of the polygraph. Marston wanted to create “a new kind of superhero, one who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love.” (1) Notwithstanding her various controversial story lines over many decades, Wonder Woman’s core principles of peacekeeping through love and truth immediately remind me of a book that my mother gave me: The Privilege of Being A Woman by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand.

Although by-and-large women are the physically-weaker of the two sexes, von Hildebrand highlights how they possess an innate and superior ability to love and inspire others to do good. Women carry within themselves a sense of mystery, a sensitivity and deep understanding of the human person. Because of this, Pope John Paul II wrote, “The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way.” (2) Women’s greater involvement in society “will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favors the processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love'”. (3)

I see these qualities communicated in Wonder Woman’s signature weapons: The Golden Lasso, which both compels her opponents to speak and submit only to what is true as well as protects them from illusion or attack, and her Bracelets of Submission, which are indestructible reminders of her past slavery and allegorically point to the importance of self-giving and emotional self-control. (4)

Despite these rich philosophical, theological, and artistic explorations of womanhood, our society sticks to three boring narratives: Either women are…

  • barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, completely ignorant of anything intellectual
  • pantsuit-wearing “wannabe men”
  • sexually objectified dolls

Von Hildebrand writes,

Ah! Poor women, how they are despised. And yet, many more women than men love God. During Christ’s passion, they showed more courage than the apostles for they braved the insults of the soldiers and dared to dry the adorable face of Jesus.

The truth about women is, yes, displayed on that movie poster; we are strong, graceful, wise, and mysterious. Whether the forthcoming WW film portrays this or not, I’m glad to be Catholic, because the Church* is where I learned how awesome I am and how awesome it is that I am a woman.

*Mother Church, that is.


Join me and 3,000 other women this September 9-10, 2016 as we celebrate true womanhood at the annual Catholic Women’s Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Footnotes
(1) Lamb, Marguerite. “Who Was Wonder Woman?”. Bostonia, Fall 2001.
(2) Pope John Paul II. Mulieris Dignitatem. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 15 August 1988.
(3) Pope John Paul II. Letter to Women. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 29 June 1995.
(4) DC Comics Database, dc.wikia.com.

 

Finding True Happiness

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18th Sunday in Cycle C

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“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Mt 6:21

Where have you placed your heart?

The readings today point out the futility of putting the good things of the world before the good things of God. Much of what the world has to offer is good, but if it is not placed at the service of the kingdom of God it can cause disorder and confusion.

Jesus Christ came into the world to show us how to live in relationship with our Heavenly Father. He came not to do his own will, but the will of the One who sent him. Our vocation, our happiness is realized in our faithfulness to God’s will as He has revealed it through the Church and the Scriptures. We cannot just do what we want; we must be faithful to His plan.

Where do we turn?

When we read the lives of the saints, we see what God’s plan for humanity looks like. Although their lives were different, they all, with the help of God’s grace, were able to overcome the temptations of the world and live a life close to God which brought them great joy and peace even under extreme difficulty. God’s plan for us is the same.

“St. Francis Xavier, in the midst of his labors in India for the glory of Jesus Christ, was so replenished with divine consolations they he exclaimed: “Enough, O Lord, enough.” Where, I ask, has any lover of this world been found so satisfied with the possessions of worldly goods as to say: Enough O world, enough; no more riches, no more honors, no more applause, no more pleasures? Ah no, worldlings are constantly seeking after higher honors, greater riches, and new delights; but the more they have them, the less are their desires satisfied, and the greater their disquietude.” St. Alphonsus Liguori

All of the saints have discovered their true happiness in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the plan for all humanity without exception, and yet we find it so difficult to surrender to God and put our total trust in him. Of course we have our careers but we should discover them in prayer with the help of God’s grace.

The question for each of us is, do we believe God has a plan for us personally? If we do not believe that, we will not ask for His help and we will never become completely fulfilled. If we do believe that, then we must follow the proven path to discover His plan.

So what is His plan?

We must love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. There can be nothing more important in our life than our relationship with God, and this relationship depends upon our daily commitment to prayer and faithfulness to the Gospel. If we love God above everything else then we will be able to love ourselves and our neighbors, which demands self-denial on our part and a generous use of the gifts God has given us. Because this life of self-denial and generosity does not come natural for us, Our Lord has given us the Church and the Sacraments as the source of grace we need to live a supernatural life – beyond our human tendencies. We can only be faithful to His plan with His help.

Are you doing it all on your own?

Prayer must be a priority. In his booklet, “Into the Breach“, which Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix wrote as a challenge for men to become spiritual leaders, he says, “Until you realize that prayer is the most important thing in your life, you will never have time for prayer.”

A commitment to prayer is necessary to discover and live the great plan God has for us. It is important for husbands and wives to pray together so that Christ can be the center of their marriage and for parents to pray with their children daily. Like the saints we must discover the profound gift that God has given us in the Holy Mass and prepare ourselves to properly receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ who loves us so much that he gives us himself in this Holy Sacrament. We should receive the sacrament of reconciliation frequently, even monthly because we need this encounter with Jesus to help us overcome sin and grow in virtue. We also must be generous with what God has given us and participate in the life of our faith community. In the Church we have everything we need to remain close to Christ, but we must make it our priority; if we do not we will not be able to overcome the temptations of the world.

Living out your faith takes practice and willingness to allow God to help you. There are many resources out there to help you on your faith journey. Tune-in to “Catholicism Live!” every Wednesday from 8-9 pm CST, this weekly show is brought to you by our non-profit The Pilgrim Center of Hope to help you keep your faith alive! Visit CatholicismLive.com to listen to past episodes or see what topics we will cover this month.

How To Never Feel Alone Again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every year, close to 3000 women, who help make up the Mystical Body of Christ, come to the Annual Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Women’s Conference and we encounter Jesus where He is Truly, Really Present in the Eucharist, in the Mass and in Reconciliation. We offer the Rosary with the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother. We find new friends in the saints through the speaker presentations and this year, perhaps even sitting next to us! And, we enjoy fellowship with other flawed, sinners as we all help each other work out our salvation.

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

3 Ways to Pray with Confidence

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For the longest time, I was the Catholic who prayed at Mass and only during times of distress. Honestly, my prayer was very focused on my needs and wants when I did not feel that God was giving me what I deserved. Through relationships with very disciplined Catholics, I soon realized that I was not praying with the total belief that God was listening to me and decided to incorporate the following 3 ways to begin praying with confidence.

No Returns

The realization came to me that after laying down my worries and concerns before Jesus, I would return and pick them back up and continue to be stressed about the situation without really giving God an opportunity to answer my prayer. How many times have you asked someone for help, and then end up doing it yourself? In trusting God, we must also have patience and humility understanding that He is working in the timing that is best for all of His children not just our own desires. God is able to answer many people’s prayers at once when we allow him to work through us in the timing that works best for his plan. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. (Matthew 6:34)

Thy Will Be Done

God knows all that you are going through and all of the struggles that you face, so to pray confidently we must believe that he can bless us in ways that we would not think to request. In life, we can easily pray to God for blessings that we think would be helpful, but He can see our lives from a perspective that we can not comprehend. Pray for his will to be done in your life, and do not pray for anything more than for God to bless you in accordance with his will. Fully place your confidence in him by simply allowing him to bless you in the way that would benefit his plan over your own. It does not matter if you are 16 or 60, God can work through you in fruitful ways not just for you, but for the entire world. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.’ (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

Don’t Wait

After you pray with confidence, thank God immediately, knowing that he will answer your prayer in the best timing for you and everyone else involved. We must not get so caught up in the need to see results that we become negative in our daily journey. Each day, wake up and thank God before you even get out of bed. This allows for you to begin the day focused on God and with a peaceful heart. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, we are people of hope and make time for daily prayer as a staff. We encourage you to pray confidently through your daily journey and let us know if we can pray for you. You can also look to the Saints for inspiration on praying with complete trust in God. The lives of the Saints give us insight on how to answer God’s call confidently and how to stay strong in faith through trials. Ladies, join us at Afternoon Tea with the Saints each month for a social and spiritual event where our staff introduces you to the life of a Saint!

Finding True Joy!

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How many of us want to experience joy on a daily basis? Wherever you are.. at a demanding workplace, at home with various chores, raising children, or where you are right now. The dictionary defines joy as an intense happiness. We usually don’t ask people “Do you have joy?” – we would rather ask, “Are you happy?”

 

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The search

And when you think about it, joy isn’t experienced in just a moment. It’s a state of being. Many people answer the question by stating concerns or problems they have, rather than thinking about what makes them happy.

I can remember a time in my life when I was searching for true happiness, for consolation in a situation I was going through, specifically, dealing with an incurable illness that caused constant physical pain. My search was like a ‘bull-dozer’…because of my pain and lack of joy, I was insensitive to others.

Then, I met a group of Catholics that took time to pray with me and explain the importance of encountering Christ. This effort, in time, brought peace to my search for true happiness, which I realized was to encounter Christ Jesus and recognize that I needed a Savior. When we encounter Christ Jesus and accept Him into our lives as our Lord and Savior, we experience joy and hope!

Encounter and accept

To encounter is to meet and experience; while to accept is to acknowledge and to believe. Yes, I did “meet” Christ through prayer, through His people who took time to pray with me and I experienced His peace and His healing. Months later, I discovered through a medical exam that my incurable illness was completely healed! Accepting Christ and His teaching was, for myself, the next step that has led me on a journey that has been incredibly amazing, thanks to God and His mercy!

Can I say that I experience joy on a daily basis? When I read this definition of true joy given to us by a Jesuit theologian, Fr. Pierre de Chardin: “True joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” I can answer yes!

It’s a daily choice!

Each day, I act upon my faith in God through prayer and by loving God and embracing His gift to us – the Catholic Church which offers a treasure of tradition, history, teaching, guidance tools, and so much more to help us reach eternal life!

This leads us to Hope!

“The virtue of hope responds to the desire for happiness God has placed in the heart of every person…it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during time of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1818)

A Christian’s definition of hope is far superior to that of the world. Instead of wishing or hoping for something to happen, as Christians, we know our hope is solid, concrete evidence because it is grounded in the Word of God, the Truth.

“Our Christian hope is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”  (Heb 11:1). It is a hope that, like faith, cannot be moved by circumstances because of our encounter of Christ and of our desire to love Him and worship Him, the One True God who knows and loves us.

When we feel hopeless

Sometimes, we fall into a “rut” or make excuses. It is because we prefer to do what comes natural. It is so easy to gravitate to what might seem to be logical, or “feels right”. Don’t waste time – run to Christ! He is always there with open arms to receive you. And remain with Him!

The Christian faith is a full and sincere adherence to Jesus Christ, and the decision to walk in His footsteps is to make oneself a disciple of Him. Once brought to this decision, people have a desire for more – to be taught the fullness of divine revelation and to enter into the full sacramental experience of the Church.

Come and see

St. Edith Stein, who was once an unbeliever, encountered Christ and became a Catholic and later a Carmelite nun said – “If anyone comes to me, I want to lead them to Him.” Yes, I too, want to lead others to Him so they can experience true joy and happiness!

Have you found joy and want to lead others to God also? Are you still searching for joy? The Pilgrim Center of Hope Ministry of Conferences and Pilgrimages have many opportunities to discover and share the treasures of the Church. Learn more at PilgrimCenterofHope.org

Burning Bridges: A good thing?

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13th Sunday in Cycle C

Who do we follow?

When Elisha decided to follow Elija he went back and killed the oxen and burned the plowing equipment that supported his previous occupation. He burned his bridges, so to speak, so that he would not be distracted from his new calling. We are all called to follow Christ without reservation.

What is it that we need to burn?

In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians he says:

“For the flesh has desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. These are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.”

Jesus Christ came into the world to show us how to live in relationship with our Heavenly Father. He came not to do his own will, but the will of the One who sent him. Our vocation, our happiness is realized in our faithfulness to God’s will, as He has revealed it through the Church and the Scriptures. We cannot just do what we want; we must be faithful to His plan.

So, what is His plan?

We must love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. There can be nothing more important in our life than our relationship with God, and this relationship depends upon our daily commitment to prayer and faithfulness to the Gospel.

If we love God above everything else then we will be able to love our selves and our neighbors, which demands self-denial on our part and a generous use of the gifts God has given us. Because this life of self-denial and generosity does not come natural for us, Our Lord has given us the Church and the Sacraments as the source of grace we need to live a supernatural life – beyond our human tendencies. We can only be faithful to His plan with His help.

If we would have the humility to learn from Biblical history, human history and our personal history, it should be obvious that when we insist on doing things our own way with no regard for the will of God, we end up experiencing personal and social unhappiness, confusion and hopelessness.

What’s going on today?

Atheism is growing faster than ever before and we have allowed that influence to remove prayer from our public schools and public assemblies and any reference to God or use of Christian symbols is often treated as a criminal act. The most dangerous place on this earth is the mother’s womb because that is where most life is intentionally and legally terminated and there is little mention of the suffering of those who have made the choice to abort a baby.

The entertainment industry and the media have held up sexual gratification as a necessary condition for happiness and our secular educational system and our government have made an all out effort to push the homosexual agenda and to re-define marriage, rejecting God’s own definition of marriage in Holy Scripture.

What can we do?

This country was founded on Christian principles which are now being threatened by our government. We must pray for the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, for the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman as defined by God, and for religious freedom from government intervention that violates our rights to fulfill our God given mission to serve Him and His people and for just immigration reform.

That is why for the last five years the bishops of the United States have asked Catholics to recognize June 21st through July 4th as the fortnight of religious freedom. A call to prayer and discussion of this important issue.

What did Jesus know?

In the Gospel, Jesus is approached by those who want to follow him, but they have excuses why they cannot follow him “now”. There is no convenient time to follow Jesus; the time for all of us to follow him is now. He says: “No one who sets his hands to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”  We cannot be Jesus’ followers and look back to living our life according to our own will, by just doing what we want.

Jesus of course knew the temptations we would be confronted with when he said, “If you are to be my disciple you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” If we allow our appetites and desires to control our lives, we will not be able to discover and live the great plan God has for us.

What do we pray for?

As Christians, we must believe that our happiness can only reach its potential in a faithful relationship with Jesus Christ and we must pray for the leadership of our great country. Prayer is vital to all of God’s work. Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, we have dedicated Prayer Intercessors who generously pray for our mission in Catholic evangelization. Each Intercessor receives a monthly letter informing him or her of this apostolate’s urgent needs, concerns, and blessings. We invite you to become a Prayer Intercessor, so that we can be united in prayer for each other and the whole world.

How to Transform Your Burdens

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Sometimes, it seems like the weight of all our difficulties will crush us.  Last Friday, I shared some of my recent challenges with my spiritual director. His response affirmed my general feeling: “Wow. That’s heavy!”

When we consider the central teaching and central action of our Christian faith, we clearly see that struggle is inherent in our Christian way of life:

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Lk 9:23)

Our ‘cross’ means our suffering. When a convicted criminal carried his cross, he could not drop the cross and run. The cross was his, and he must carry it. Similarly, suffering is a reality in our lives. We may run from it, but we cannot escape it. Remember, too: This is not God’s invention. Suffering is evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that suffering is a result of original sin (cf. no. 418).

Why, then, does the Son of God tell his disciples to accept and carry such evil?

We find the answer in Jesus’ Cross.  His Cross was placed on his shoulders, bringing the worst imaginable suffering, due to the worst of evils. Yet, Jesus’ Cross was transformed by grace into something that brought about the greatest good: salvation; healing and eternal life for all who accept these gifts. Do we realize that our suffering, too, can be transformed by God? This is why Saint Paul teaches, “God brings all things to good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Rm 8:28). In other words, our daily cross-carrying can actually help Jesus save the world. Sin and suffering may be present, but with our help, God can make even those miserable, ugly things work for good.

everybody-have-their-cross-to-carry-1441015But, how can anything good come from this? Cross-carrying is exhausting! Sometimes, gasping for air, we look up to Heaven wondering, “God, how can I keep going?”

Jesus 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mt. 11:28-30)

Notice that in this oft-quoted Scripture passage, Jesus does not say, I’ll take that yoke from you; you don’t have to carry anything. No. Instead of throwing away our burden, Jesus says: I will offer you a different yoke; a different instrument to carry this burden. When you accept my yoke, I will carry the load with you. Learn from me, and your burden will become light.

What is Jesus’ instrument to carry burdens? What is this mysterious instrument which transforms heavy loads into light loads? Saint Jean-Marie Vianney explained, “The good God does not require of us the martyrdom of the body; He requires only the martyrdom of the heart, and of the will.”  Jesus’ instructions were important: We must first deny ourselves. When we deny ourselves of the desire to control our lives, this is called “denying ourselves.” Jesus did this, too. He prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” First, we must hand over control of our lives to Jesus. Then, we learn from him.

How did Jesus teach us to carry our burden? Jesus carried his Cross with love. He did not complain. He did not feel sorry for himself.  He did not look for someone to blame. He just loved. He carried that Cross, loving every person he encountered. He carried the Cross loving you. Love is the instrument Jesus gives us, which turns heavy burdens into light ones. From Jesus, we learn to love.

Jesus, when my cross seems too heavy, send your Holy Spirit to show me how to deny myself. Teach me to give you control. Then, teach me to carry my cross fueled by love. Remind me that Our Father will transform my cross into something good and light, if I deny myself and carry everything with love.

Would you like a weekend to learn about lightening your burdens and becoming free from their weight?  We invite all women to our fifteenth annual Catholic Women’s Conference in San Antonio, Sept. 9-10, 2016. The theme: “Come to me…”  Men, mark your calendar for March 18, 2017, the Catholic Men’s Conference. Especially for seniors, the Catholic Seniors’ Conference will uplift you February 4, 2017.

It’s All How You Look at It!

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A few presidential elections ago, I thought I was being very astute in discerning truth by watching BOTH the conservative AND the liberal news/talk shows. I was of the opinion that by listening to both sides, I could determine where lies are being told and truth is being offered.

I was wrong.

Instead, I discovered that a survey/statistic can be produced affirming whatever a side wants it to; often ‘proving’ the exact opposite of the other side! What this taught me is that what we are told, by often self-described experts, is actually someone’s opinion rather than what actually ‘is.’ As one genuinely seeking to understand, I am forced to choose a world view based on, “Whose opinion do I believe?” What this experience also taught me is that I am so grateful to be Catholic!

Why?

Because to discover what really ‘is,’ the reality of a situation, it only makes sense to go to the One who created the world and to His Church, which He gave as His promise to not leave us orphans. To view the world through ‘Catholic eyes’ is to see through God’s eyes, and to see through God’s eyes is to see Reality.

One of women of the Bible, Martha of Bethany, discovered the same thing . . .

As they continued their journey he [Jesus] entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

In our ministry to women, I have found many women identify with Martha and think, as she does, that Jesus does not care. But if we look at this situation from Jesus’ perspective, we may just change our opinion.

Dutch_Painting_in_the_19th_Century_-_Cornelis_Kruseman_-_Christ_with_Martha_and_MaryFirstly, Jesus does not hesitate to respond; turning from everyone else in the room and calling Martha by name, not once, but twice! He is very present to her. He then reveals to Martha that it is not just her sister, but many issues that are troubling her. In God’s generosity, He is not going to simply address her issue at hand. He lavishes her with His personal knowledge of everything she is going through. He sees her! When He tells her that Mary has chosen the ‘better’ part, He is not criticizing, but rather leading Martha to see that she did ‘good’ in welcoming Him and coming to Him but chooses ‘better’ by listening to Him. He is drawing her.

Our Lord is encouraging, teaching and challenging Martha to a different world view. Like a prism, He is moving the lens showing another perspective, God’s perspective.

How does Martha respond? Soon after, during her deep grief in losing her brother Lazarus and trying to comprehend why her friend, Jesus, did not show up in time, according to her and everyone else’s opinion, we hear her exclaim, “Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world,” (John 11:27) And, she says this before He even raises her brother from the dead! This tells us that Martha has made her choice Whom to believe.

So how do we become like Martha when bombarded with the thousands of opinions we receive daily from sources both outside and in? How do we discern fact from fiction?

Our Catholic faith teaches that one way is through Scripture. By dwelling daily in the Word of God, we learn God’s language, and are able to see what often seems like a rebuke, is in Truth God calling us to something much greater and much deeper.

All the ways Christ is present to us is taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name, in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But “he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species.” (1373)

And, all these ways are found at our annual Pilgrim Center of Hope Catholic Women’s Conferences, Catholic Men’s Conferences and Catholic Seniors’ Conferences.

At these one and two-day events, women and men are given opportunities to welcome Christ and come to Him. In these encounters with Christ, we are encouraged in our unique dignity as children of God, taught the Truth of God’s love and challenged to live this Reality, bringing hope to our very hurting world. We invite you to join us.

So . . . what do you think?