Monthly Archives: December 2015

Journey’s End – Dying the Catholic Way

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Mom's Refrigerator

I am no expert on dying nor on the dying process, but I have been blessed to witness what I know is a ‘Catholic’ death.

In the 89 years my Mother spent on Earth, she totally practiced her Catholic faith.

Until sickness prevented her, this woman went to Mass every Sunday, every Holy Day of Obligation, every First Friday in devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and First Saturday in devotion to our Lady of Fatima. She kept every Lenten fast (even fasting from cigarettes during her smoking years!) and abstained from meat every First Friday of the month. She prayed the Rosary each morning, the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3pm and offered intercessory prayers daily placing the needs of her family and the world at the throne of God. She spoke often to anyone who would listen of her deep love of our Blessed Mother and her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mom totally lived the Catholic faith.

Along with my Dad, she loved and sacrificed for their five daughters and the fruits of their witness to life is nineteen grandchildren and coming up to eighteen great-grandchildren. She was always generous with us and had several charities that she made sure she kept up with, even as her health declined. Mom insisted ‘my charities’ get paid asking me to write checks that she would slowly and painfully sign each month. As her unexplained dizziness and nausea increased, she vocally offered her suffering to the Cross and I heard repeatedly, “Jesus, You suffered so much. Help me to suffer for You.”

Not that my Mom was perfect. She could be very unforgiving of those she believed hurt her family or her country. She was extremely stubborn and proud. It was this part of her that made me fear for her salvation.

As my sisters and I tried to coax her unsuccessfully to move in with one of us, she stubbornly refused hanging on tightly to her control and independence. When I mentioned it was difficult for us to come to her all the time she said, “Too bad. You girls just have to deal with it!” Frustrated with her obstinacy, I once told her, “Mom, you better do something about that pride of yours. You are not getting into Heaven with that!”

One day, my sister and I were visiting Mom and she collapsed. We called EMS and my Mom went to the hospital. In a matter of hours, she went from a woman who was able to live alone (though admittedly not well) to a woman who could not even sit up without help, gasping for breath despite the oxygen flowing into her. No diagnosis could explain her drastic condition and no treatments or medicine was able to return her to independence. In the remaining nineteen days of Mom’s life, she was forced to surrender her independence and I was blessed to witness God’s mercy at work. It was a gentle tug-of-war between God and Mom. I saw grace guide reality from Mom’s intellect to her heart and knew it had found its destination when she asked, “Will I ever get to live by myself again?” I responded, “No, Mom, you won’t.” Her eyes showed sorrow then resignation and if they could talk, they would have said, “Not my will Father, but Your will be done. ”

That very day, I stopped by her apartment. In Mom’s kitchen is her refrigerator covered with pictures of her family. Looking at years of birthdays, vacations, births, special events captured on film, I began to weep when I heard the Lord speak to my heart, “You see, I take care of the pride. This is what matters . . . Life! Your mother has spent a lifetime saying yes to Me, saying yes to life.”

Our Catholic faith teaches that “by Baptism all sins are forgiven, original and personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God . . . ]” (CCC 1263)

On Mom’s last day, she received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick also known as Last Rites. Before the priest arrived, I heard her whisper, “Lord, please forgive me!” After Father Rudy gave her the Sacrament, Mom asked if she needed to go to confession. Father said this Sacrament takes care of that. He told Mom, “You are as clean as the day of your Baptism. Your daughter and I are looking at a saint!”

My worries of Mom’s salvation due to pride and lack of forgiveness vanished. I stood in that little apartment in awe of the greatness of God.

Thanks to what I was blessed to witness with my Mom, I am convinced our Lord stops at nothing to bring every single soul home to Him. He is very personal, using our personalities, life circumstances and the graces we receive at Baptism to achieve this. She hated medicine and when the hospice nurse offered her a pill for pain Mom said, “Not another pill.” Those were the last words Mom spoke, but I believe in her soul she also said, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46) because at that moment Mom left us to go to Him who paved the way.

I am also convinced of the graces we receive in living as a faithful Catholic. All who came into contact with Mom from doctors, nurses, friends and family received an outpouring of grace thanks to what I believe are her years of prayers and obedience in devoted practice of the Catholic faith.

What I now understand is that one of the joys of faithfully living and practicing the Catholic faith is that God uses the buckets full of merited grace from our devotions, prayers and sacrifices to pour down grace when we most need it. As our Lord promised in Luke 6:38, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

We so benefited from Mom’s gifts given. They flowed from her lap into all of ours.

I know it was this outpouring of grace that gave me the eyes to see our Lord at work so that I could put away my own needs for Mom. Feeling so inadequate to the many tasks of caring for her, I nevertheless found myself doing and saying exactly what Mom needed. I sensed in each and every circumstance, our Lord working not only in what was best for my Mom but for each one of us. My sisters and I grew closer to Mom and to each other. Our extended family and even the doctors and nurses all worked together for the good of Mom and were inspired in the process.

The day after her funeral, exhausted from the past four weeks, my son asked me to sew a shirt he would need for work. I wanted to say no, but to my delight found a little bit more grace left in my lap to say yes instead.

As I sewed, I praised God and thanked Mom for showing me the way to fill my own buckets full of grace for the days my family and I will need them most.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope offers beautiful ways for seniors to know the hope in Christ and to bring that hope to others. Please consider joining us on March 5, 2016 for our annual Catholic Seniors Conference and/or becoming a Pilgrim Center of Hope Prayer Intercessor. Go to pilgrimcenterofhope.org to learn more.

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The Importance of Tradition

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christ-blesses-bartholomew.jpg!Blog

Christ blesses Bartholomew by Mikhail Nesterov

My parents were recently visited by their young adult grandson, who lives in another city. My mother shared with me that when he was leaving their home he asked her for a blessing. You see, for years, my parents would make the sign of the cross on his forehead and ask for God’s blessing and protection upon him. Recalling those moments, she was very happy he had remembered!

As my mother relayed the experience (with a smile on her face as if to say, “He remembered, he remembers our faith, our family tradition!”) it also made me smile, be proud of our faith and tradition.

This small, familiar spiritual custom became a tradition in our family with my great-grandparents. It’s a sign of our faith and family unity.

This time of the year, as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, we can remember our traditions or start new ones!

Tradition consists of beliefs, heritage, and customs that can help us focus on what is important in our lives.

Catholic Tradition is called Sacred because it was given by Christ.

“This is the most basic meaning of Catholic Tradition: it is the true Faith itself, given to the Apostles by Christ and faithfully transmitted to each new generation.”   (Catechism, 77-78)

This is the reason we use Tradition with a capital “T”, because it is from Divine Revelation, handed down from God Himself. St. Paul wrote,

“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess 2:15)

I am so glad we have our Catholic Tradition to remind us of our rich heritage passed down by the apostles, saints, and present role-models; helping us to live our daily lives with faith and hope.

And I am grateful for family traditions that remind us of our unity and respect for one another.

Want to learn more? The Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Institute of Pilgrimages teaches about Sacred Tradition through various presentations, and local and international pilgrimages.

Catholic Response to Terrorists

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Fear grips the heart.  My personal experience has confirmed that fear—terror—is swift to grab a hold.  It thrives in darkness and secrecy, multiplying confusion, nursing anger.

Fear is sweeping our country and many others, following recent attacks by domestic and international terrorists.  More than ever, I find myself recalling the Day America Changed, September 11, 2001.  More than ever, I marvel at my response.

I was an eighth-grade girl in computer class. Our teacher turned on the TV, and we watched. My own uncle worked at one of the sites that was hit.  We were stunned.

During lunch, a friend and I sat on a bench in the school courtyard.  “Do you think it’s the end of the world?” she asked.

I looked up at the sky, almost as if looking for heavenly signs. “I don’t know,” I quietly replied.

We decided to pray.  And that’s what we did—two middle schoolers on a bench in a San Antonio public school. Two children, responding to frightful events.

Isn’t it amazing?  If my adult self were to guess how a child might respond to such a Day, I would have imagined a child stricken with fear.  Yet, my own child-self was not distracted by fear.

Like any adult, we children certainly wondered what would happen next. We weren’t completely lacking in anxiety. (My uncle made it alive.)  But we were not buzzing with fear.  We decided to take our concerns to Our Father.

These days, adults around the world are wondering, “How should we respond to terrorists?”  As Catholics, we are wondering all the more, “How does my faith call me to respond?”

When Jesus revealed to his disciples that he would die (cf. Luke 9), Scripture tells us that “they did not understand” and “were afraid”.  They proceeded to argue about which of them was the greatest.

I can’t help but wonder if the disciples began to argue precisely out of that confusion and fear: How could the Master be put to death?  What will happen next?  Whom will we follow?  Which of us is fit to lead?

Suddenly, finger pointing and side-taking begin. From confusion and fear arise arguments and chaos.

Jesus responds to this mess by placing a child in front of them. In Matthew’s gospel, he tells them, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

When the disciples encounter Terror itself in the arrest, torture and crucifixion that Jesus had foretold, only the youngest of them all, John, remained at the cross.  I can’t help but wonder if this was the reason that only John died of natural causes.  As martyrs, the other apostles had to once again look fear in the eyes and instead respond with childlike trust in their Father.

Turn on the news, pick up a newspaper, or read a Facebook timeline; you’ll see that, in the face of terrorism, we’re acting like the disciples.  We want immediate answers. We want to live by the sword.  We’re pointing fingers and taking sides.  But how many of us are listening to the Master?

How many of us are actually approaching our Father with childlike trust, rather than just talking about how important God is to us? How many of us are sincerely praying for his Love to conquer?  Forgiving those who wrong us? Welcoming the least among us?

When Blessed Miguel Pro looked his executioners in the eye, he said, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. […] With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”  Then, raising his arms in cruciform, he shouted for the victory of the God who appeared weak as He conquered evil with love and mercy: “¡Viva Cristo Rey!”

MiguelPro

Waiting in Joyful Hope

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Visitation

The Visitation (1910) by Henry Ossawa Tanner

There will be great signs in the heavens when the Son of Man comes in his glory. Will you be ready? It isn’t likely that the end of the world will happen during our life time, so we shouldn’t be too worried should we? Wrong! God will come for everyone of us at a time we do not know. We will receive our first judgment at that time, and that time may be within a year for some of us. Are we ready?

Of course we hope to be ready when the Lord comes for us, but our real desire should be to live in a faithful relationship with Him right now. Our lives are different when we try to remain close to God. We should ask ourselves this question: Do I truly want to be faithful to God? If I try to live my life close to God, being faithful to what He has revealed through the Scriptures and the Church, will I be more happy or less? I guess we should ask the question: What does it mean to be happy?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about happiness

“The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement- however beneficial it may be- such as science, technology, and art, or in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and all love.” (CCC #1723)

A friend of ours, Fr. Bruce Neile, told us that if he was ever feeling a little discouraged he would visit a friend of his who was a quadriplegic. He said this man was always filled with great joy because of his love of God. No matter what we have to go through on the worst day of our life, there will always be someone who has it much worse and yet is filled with peace because of their relationship with God.

If we have the capacity to think, we have the capacity to be faithful to God.

God has given us the commandment that we must love Him with all our mind, heart and strength, because He created us to discover our happiness in Him. He is the source of all Love and all that is good, and we can only reach our potential to love others by loving God above all else. Of course we don’t just naturally love God above everything else.

Our temptation is to only look at ourselves and what we need or want. However, we have not been created for ourselves, but for God and for the others in our lives. Jesus tells us, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25). In other words, if we just live for ourselves and what we want, we are lost and bound to be unhappy. We fall into a routine that robs us of our joy and peace.

The Church has given us this season of Advent to help us refocus on what is most important. Our Lord wants us to ask him for the grace we need to grow closer to him so that we might experience the joy and peace that only he can give, and then share it with the people we love.

The way to be prepared for Christ when he comes for us is to live each day close to him; being faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church, intimately connected to him in our prayer.

If you have a spouse, pray together as husband and wife. If you have children, pray with them. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Begin with an Our Father or Hail Mary and then mention some things that you are grateful for or concerned about. Prayer brings security to the family and is necessary to live a life of faith along with the sacraments. When the Lord comes we will not only be ready. We will be happy.