Monthly Archives: November 2011

Advent Brings Us Hope – Pope Benedict XVI

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Pope Benedict XVI in his book Seek That Which is Above writes about Advent:

Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to run through her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope. All the feasts in the Church’s calendar are events of remembrance and hence events of hope.

When we think of our own personal memories of hearing the story of the birth of Christ and of the stories of people who give generously because of their love for God and for others can remind us of the gifts of Love and Hope from God.

Advent can bring us Peace and Joy when we dispense Joy through acts of kindness such as smiling at others, calling a shut-in or one who is suffering with an illness, by offering to taking time for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate with a family member. Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27).

Yes, these pillars of Advent, these gifts are from our Heavenly Father who wants us to have these abundantly – if we are willing to receive them by accepting them as Mary did when the Arkangel Gabriel announced to her that she will bear the Son of God. Her response was one of Love and Hope… “Yes, let me be done to me according to Thy Word.” And through Mary’s “Yes”…we have the Prince of Peace, a Savior that gives Joy to all those who receive Him!

Blessed Advent Season from all at the Pilgrim Center of Hope!

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‘Infected’ by the Silence of St. Joseph – Pope Benedict XVI

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Seen the Christmas commercials yet? People are already camping outside stores for deeply discounted Christmas gifts. But here we are – Catholics – the weirdos who (technically) haven’t even started preparing for Christmas yet.

Our time of preparation is approaching. This Sunday begins the new liturgical year, with the season of Advent.

Amid the busy, noisy bustling of our materialistic world, meditate on this reflection from Pope Benedict XVI. Will you allow yourself to be ‘infected’ as he suggests?

"St. Joseph and the Christ Child" by El Greco

With Christmas approaching, Benedict XVI exhorted the faithful to cultivate a spirit of interior recollection in an often noisy world that makes it hard to listen to God.

The Pope today presented St. Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, as a model of recollection. Joseph’s silence in the Gospel, the Holy Father said, “does not demonstrate an empty interior, but rather the fullness of faith that he carries in his heart. Let’s allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of St. Joseph!”

Silence “is so lacking in this world which is often too noisy, which is not favorable to recollection and listening to the voice of God,” Benedict XVI said. “In this time of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate interior recollection so as to receive and keep Jesus in our lives.”

He suggested that the faithful establish in these days “a kind of spiritual dialogue with St. Joseph so that he helps us live to the fullest this mystery of faith.”

The Bishop of Rome recalled that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, “who was very devoted to St. Joseph,” dedicated the apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (Custodian of the Redeemer) to the adoptive father of Jesus.

In that 1989 document, John Paul II gave “a particular importance to the silence of St. Joseph,” observed Benedict XVI.

Such a silence was “permeated with the contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to the divine will,” Benedict XVI said. “A silence through which Joseph, together with Mary, guard the Word of God, known through sacred Scripture, comparing it continually to the events of the life of Jesus; a silence interwoven with constant prayer, a prayer of blessing of the Lord, of adoration of his holy will and of boundless confidence in his providence.”

The Holy Father added: “It is not exaggerated to say that Jesus will learn—on a human level—precisely from ‘father’ Joseph this intense interior life, which is the condition of authentic righteousness, the ‘interior righteousness,’ which one day he will teach to his disciples.” (Article from 2005, Zenit.org)

Giving and Not Counting the Cost

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St. Ignatius of Loyola said “Teach us (O Lord) to give and not count the cost.”

    Ignatius encountered Christ when he confessed his sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as “Confession”. He led a life of chivalry as a soldier from a wealthy family in Spain…after being wounded in war and forced to rest in bed, he began reading the lives of the Saints. He was inspired by the lives of ordinary men and women who gave their lives to a greater authority – God! He traveled to Montserrat, Spain where a shrine is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Montserrat “La Morenita”. There, he spent time in prayer and experienced a Confession that changed his life forever! He laid down his sword at the feet of our Lady’s statue and committed to live as a disciple of Christ. He gave all without counting the cost!

    We, too, can ask the Lord to teach us to give and not count the cost. This Thanksgiving Day Holiday is a time and a venue to easily give and especially give thanks as we prepare food, spend time with family and friends. Spending time is a form of giving; that can give us peace and joy.

    May you and your loved ones have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving Day holiday!

Words of reflection on the Marian Pilgrimage

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Words from Father Dennis Arechiga.  the Spiritual Director of the recent Marian Pilgrimage (October 31- November 11, 2011)

“The highlight of my Marian Pilgrimage so far has been leading a decade of the rosary in English at a night rosary procession in Fatima.   Celebrating Mass twice at the exact site Mary appeared to the visionaries Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta was also quite special and surreal.  At Fatima the message is to pray fervently for peace and the conversion of sinners and to offer sacrifices to the Lord.  In Paris we visited Notre Dame, (Sacre Couer) Sacred Heart and the Chapel of the miraculous medal where St. Catherine Laboure saw a vision of Mary extending her hands in prayer for the world.  This pilgrimage is a reminder of the power of intercessory prayer and of how drawing closer to Mary always leads us into deeper union with Christ. “

Join us on one of our 2012 Pilgrimages:

Holy Land:  June 30 – July 11, 2012
Rome, Assisi and San Giovanni Rotondo (Padre Pio):  Fall of 2012

Home with Mary

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We have just returned from a twelve day pilgrimage to Fatima, Lourdes, Shrines in Paris and in Lisieux; it was indeed a journey with Mary, the Mother of God. Often when people think of the Virgin Mary, they think of her at a Nativity scene, or various images on prayer cards or perhaps a statue in a Catholic Church.

Well, if you went on a Marian Pilgrimage, your views or thoughts about Mary would certainly be changed! We encountered her maternal mercy on this trip.

This pilgrimage introduced the fifty eight pilgrims to Mary through various experiences such as visiting the sites she appeared in Fatima and Lourdes, by learning the messages she gave at these sites, by praying the Rosary with others and discovering a relationship with her.

This journey helped us to “become child-like”, to feel free to “run to Mary and embrace her a child would to a mother”. And in doing so, our hearts were open to receive the graces and blessings from her Son, Jesus.

Would like to share a few highlights of our Marian Pilgrimage.
In Fatima, we had Mass at the Chapel of Apparition, where Mary appeared to three small children in 1917. We visited the homes of the three seers, they were humble and poor. And the pilgrims had a Holy Hour, we prayed before Jesus in His Eucharistic Presence.

The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, its unique stained glass windows depicted salvation history, its reliquaries containing relics of Saints, and it’s sacred art.

Sacre Coure (Sacred Heart Basilica) in Paris, built in the 19th century on a hill where Christians were martyred years before, this Basilica gave us a history of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Candles burned throughout the Basilica, lit by visitors and pilgrims seeking the mercy of God. The pilgrims were invited to have lunch with with the Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

Rue de Bac (Miraculous Medal Shrine) in Paris – Mary appeared to Catherine of Laboure in the early 1900’s and gave her a mission to struck a Medal with her image. Today, that medal is called “The Miraculous Medal” for the many graces and miracles which occurred through the intercession of Mary.

Lisieux, near Paris – the home of a modern day Saint – Therese who became a Carmelite nun at the age of 15 and died at the age of 24. Thanks to her writings entitled “Story of a Soul”, published one year after her death, Therese became rapidly known and loved throughout the word. Her story was one of loving God, by living our daily lives with a great love for God. The Pilgrims had Mass in the Basilica of Lisieux built shortly after Therese’s death. We visited her home and the Carmelite convent where she lived.

Lourdes – Mary appeared to Bernadette a 14 year old girl from a humble, poor home in 1858. The Pilgrims had Mass at the Grotto where Mary appeared. Experiencing the Baths was an extraordinary experience, read more about this in the blog.

Mary’s words from the gospel of John: “Do Whatever He Tells You.” mean so much more to us now.

Healing baths in the water of Lourdes

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Our Lady of the Rosary Basilica in Lourdes

Today, our pilgrims experienced the highlight of our visit to Lourdes.

The day began early in the chilly morning with a Mass in the Chapel of St. Gabriel in memory of St. Bernadette.

Following a guided tour of the shrine, the pilgrims were invited to enter the baths of Lourdes. Flowing from the fresh water spring Our Lady of Lourdes left as a gift, the baths provide pilgrims with hope for healing that can be physical, psychological, and – especially – spiritual.

Our faith teaches us that Mary, the mother of Jesus, always points us toward her Son. At Cana, she instructed us to “do whatever he tells you.” During the ninth apparition to Bernadette, Our Lady told her to drink at the spring and wash herself. Although there was no spring there, Bernadette scratched at the earth and the water that runs through the baths today began to flow.

In a way, these waters can resemble the water Jesus spoke of when he said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink,” or “The water that I shall give you will become a spring welling up to eternal life.”

When one lives a life in the Spirit of God, healing and peace permeate one’s life because we live in Christ, and Mary is always there, just as she is at Lourdes, pointing us toward her Son. Today, our pilgrims experienced the healing love of Our Lady and Our Lord in the flowing waters at the baths of Lourdes.

 

– Paul Vance, Co-Group Leader

Finding peace in Lourdes

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Pilgrims pray during procession in Lourdes, for all your intentions

Today, the pilgrims departed the hustle and bustle of Paris, and retreated to the calm and serene town of Lourdes in southern France. This is especially so because we arrive after the high pilgrimage season – so there are very few pilgrims present.

Upon our arrival, we explored the town, the Basilica, and the Grotto itself. Although it is hard to imagine the wild surroundings Bernadette experienced at the original apparition of Mary. The peaceful and holy calm of the area remains even today. It is a beautiful scene that preserves the essence of what happened over one hundred fifty years ago. (It is amazing that so accurate a replica of Our Lady of Lourdes exists in San Antonio at Oblate School of Theology.)

We ended our day with Holy Mass in St. Gabriel’s chapel and a nighttime rosary procession with lighted candles dedicated to the intentions of everyone we are praying for.

 

– Paul Vance, Co-Group Leader

Meeting A Simple Saint

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Today we spent the day in Lisieux - had Mass and saw St. Therese's remains (inside wax figure shown in photo). Now, we are driving back to Paris for our last night.

“The greatest saint of modern times” is what Pope Pius X said about Therese of Lisieux. To have a pope say this about someone who was a nun for only nine years and died at age 24 is remarkable.

Today, I met St. Therese. I knew about her and read about her, but today she came alive for me.

We visited the house she grew up in and also the Carmelite community she entered at age 15. The Basilica of Lisieux was beautiful; the walls were covered with mosaics of her quotes. St. Therese was a very simple and humble person. I fell in love with her, and admired her simplicity.

When asked how she prayed, she responded:

I quite simply tell God what I want to say to Him without making beautiful sentences, and He always understands me…

Ask Therese to guide you on the way of confidence and love. Saint Therese, pray for us!

Sacred Heart Visit

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Out of my hotel room is the perfect view of the Sacred Heart Basilica. It looks beautifully lit in the morning hours. The Basilica looks huge from our hotel room and I couldn’t wait to get there to see it up close. Before you get to the Church, we had to walk up a hill and then take a cable car to get to the top.

I was blown away once we reached the top. It looked even more beautiful up close, and sits on a top of the hill which overlooks the city. This hill by the way is called the Hill of Martyrs. St. Dennis, the first bishop of Paris, was martyred here. This site has been my favorite on pilgrimage thus far.

We had Mass in the Crypt, and had a delicious lunch prepared by the Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Today was a very spiritual and meaningful day.

Did you know that the Sacred Heart Basilica is a unique place in the world of Perpetual Adoration? Why? Because it has taken place for more than 125 years, night and day. Just think: someone is commited to pray for souls around the world – for you and me – how awesome and selfless is that?

A gift from Heaven

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'Rue Du Bac' Church in Paris

How would you think it feels to stand at the very place where Mary, the Mother of God appeared? The pilgrim group had that experience as they visited a church in the middle of Paris called “Rue du Bac” which is the name of the street. The church is dedicated to the remarkable story of Mary appearing to a nun in the religious community named The Sisters of Charity.

Mary gave Sister Catherine a vision of a medal: one side had an image of Our Lady, the other side had two hearts – one symbolizing the heart of Jesus and the other of Mary. It is called the Medal of the Immaculate Conception.

As I knelt in front of the altar where Mary appeared and in front of the tomb of Saint Catherine, I felt a deep peace. There were people from various countries in prayer. It was so quiet, so peaceful, we didn’t want to leave! Her gift from Heaven was the Immaculate Conception Medal which later became the ‘Miraculous Medal’ due to many conversions of those who wore it. The words on the medal are:

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!