Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Feast of the Holy Family

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"The Holy Family, Bartolome Murillo c. 1660

“The Holy Family, Bartolome Murillo c. 1660

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From the 2013 IWFS 5K Run/Walk

From the 2013 IWFS 5K Run/Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Far Are You From Bethlehem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Holy Night (Nativity)", Albrecht Altdorfer

“Holy Night (Nativity)”, Albrecht Altdorfer

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

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

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

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

Are you closer to Bethlehem now?

The Ultimate Personality Test

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Have you ever taken a personality test?  They ask you a few questions, and then “reveal” something about who you are…

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • Which Color Are You?
  • The 5 Love Languages (9 million copies sold)
  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter
  • Strengthsfinder 2.0 (Wall Street Journal #1 and BusinessWeek #1 bestseller)

I used to gleefully spend hours taking personality tests.  Some were even school course requirements.   While they can offer some helpful insights, personality tests can also – especially for Christians – distract us from where we should find our identity.

John the Baptist’s Test

Jordan River wilderness

My fellow pilgrims walking to the site of Christ’s baptism, in Jordan.

In November 2010, I remember walking through the tall grass of the Jordanian wilderness, accompanying my fellow pilgrims to the site of Christ’s baptism.  We were privileged to trek there, rather than the typical Jordan River ‘pilgrim stop’ in Israel which is busy and developed.  Here, though, it seemed we were discovering uncharted territory.  As we walked, our shoes crushing rock and fallen foliage, and I almost expected to hear the voice of hairy, wild John the Baptist shouting, “Prepare the way for the Lord!”

On Gaudete Sunday, we read that Jewish priests and Levites tested John the Baptist about his identity. I am amazed by his disarming authenticity and self-knowledge:

He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”

Three times, John affirms who he is not. Then, he answers them:

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,’

as Isaiah the prophet said.”

I wonder if John’s mother, Elizabeth, ever told him the story of his name.  He would know that instead of being named after his father, זְכַרְיָה – meaning “YHWH has remembered” – the Lord sent an angel to ensure that John would be named יוֹחָנָן – “YHWH is gracious”.

God wanted John’s name to say something: That he was sent to call people toward repentance and conversion.  John prepared the way for Jesus, who would eat with sinners, forgive them, and die for them, revealing that God is gracious.  John’s entire life was directed toward preparing people for Jesus’ coming.

Hence, John found his identity in his relationship to Jesus, and to his fellow man: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.'”

Discovering Who We Are

From John, we learn that the ultimate personality test consists of two simple questions:  What is my relationship to Jesus Christ?  How does that inform my relationships with other people?

Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The Christian rediscovers his true identity in Christ […] In identifying with him, in being one with him, I rediscover my personal identity…” Benedict also taught us in his encyclical Charity in Truth, “As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God. Hence these relations take on fundamental importance.”

This Advent and Christmas, take time to rediscover your true identity. Consider journaling or sitting in silence to reflect:

  • How did my relationship with Jesus begin? How has it grown?
  • How would I describe my relationship with Jesus today?  (Who is Jesus to me?)
  • How has Jesus transformed my relationship with others?
  • In what ways might Jesus be calling me to be more authentic in my relationship with Him?  In my relationships with others?

Thank you, Lord Jesus – for becoming human, for being gracious, and for showing me who I truly am.  Amen.

Wake Up the World!

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“Anglers”, Raol Dufy

“Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.’” Matthew 4:19
“Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Acts 8:4

What is at the heart of Pope Francis’ decree to “Wake up the world”?…..Evangelism! But what does that mean? I submit that Evangelism is found not only in formal preaching but, more dynamically, in the common lay person – you and me – informally chatting with our friends, neighbors, strangers at home, in the grocery store, at work, on a walk. Everywhere, speaking enthusiastically about the good news, sincerely and with conviction…thus being taken seriously.

Evangelism, at its core, is nomadic. At its heartbeat is a community of scattered saints, men and women on the move, going forth to spread the net of the gospel into the waters where unbelievers swim.

Isn’t that the way it was “in the beginning,” when the apostles scattered to the four winds and every follower of Christ was viewed as being in full-time ministry; a time when each believer saw their workplace and neighborhood as their designated mission field? There is no greater service in life than becoming a fisher of men, but that can only happen by frequenting their waters.

Water is often used in scripture as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. “He who believes in Me (as the Scripture has said) out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” And the Holy Spirit can and will use each of us as His personal suit of clothes through whom He can serve others. He can look through our eyes, hear through our ears, think with our mind, speak with our tongues, walk with our feet and, most of all, love through our hearts.

Next time you say a prayer, watch how Holy Spirit answers that prayer, more times than not, through another person. Someone says just the thing you need to hear, offers you a helping hand, or spontaneously shows up with the very thing that you need. When that happens, I like to point out to that person that they were just the instrument of the Holy Spirit in answering my prayer.

You don’t have to look further than you and me to see how God weaves His blessings in the world. That is why we are laity – so we can be in the world and change the world from within.

So…”Wake up, wake up, shine His light on a weary world!”

Advent, Beauty, and Salvation

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Immaculate Conception

“Immaculate Conception,” Matthew Alderman

In his book Spiritual Passages, the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, OFM Cap, (may he rest in ambrosial peace), notes that people tend to be attracted to God by way of four transcendental values: beauty, truth, goodness, and unity. Everyone naturally delights in these, but each is oriented toward God with different emphases on each value.

Some find peace most of all in God’s ability to draw all things to himself (unity), while others are taken primarily by the authenticity of God as Truth, etc. But Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the foremost influential theologians of the last century, theorized that every person is first drawn to God as Beauty. Perhaps this is why St. Augustine wrote of his adult conversion, praying, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new”.

Whether we’re admiring a stunning piece of religious artwork, listening to a Tom Waits song, or holding a baby, beauty is the foundation of fascination. “Before the beautiful,” von Balthasar wrote, “no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only ‘finds’ the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously said (and several popes have quoted him) that “Beauty will save the world.”

Advent is here, the season of candlelit waiting. Christ rests in the warm darkness of Mary’s womb, and we try to keep indoors for long and chilly evenings. Christ was nourished by Mary’s body, protected by his mother and Joseph, who waited upon the Lord’s providence.

As dusk narrows our focus, let’s make repeated attempts to recognize beauty. And by that, I don’t mean trying to enjoy saccharine holiday specials and cloying artwork. I mean seeking out things that make faith both sweet and credible; that create a desire for other things that are good, pure, and intimate; that offer a space for us to rest, be healed, and challenged.

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“Second Dream of St. Joseph,” Daniel Mitsui

Contemplating beauty is not optional. Without it, we can’t be saved.

But if we train ourselves to ponder beauty, we can become the Church led by a Child (and a Dove), under the tender care of his Mother.

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“Mother of Turfan,” Nikolai Roerich