Monthly Archives: May 2016

What should we eat?

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On the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

bread-food-healthy-breakfastIn today’s Gospel, Jesus multiplies the fishes and loaves. When the apostles ask Jesus to dismiss the crowds so that they can get something to eat he tells them, “Give them some food yourselves.” He knows what he is going to do, but he wants his apostles to be involved in what is about to happen.

This miracle of Our Lord’s providence often reminds me of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer; “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is not only about bread, it is about all that we need to sustain our life in Him.

In another place he says, “Do not worry and say, what are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear? All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these will be given you.” The most important part of our relationship with God is our total trust in Him. There are a multitude of Scriptures where Jesus says such things as,

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest,”
“Do not be afraid,”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,”
“My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you;” and so many more.

These are not empty words. These words are for anyone who will receive them in humility. If we allow the words of Jesus to touch our hearts, they can transform us from sadness to joy. It is a response to the promises of Jesus that creates saints and even martyrs.

It was a response to the promises of Jesus that inspired a woman I visited in the hospital many years ago, to say that she thanked God for the cancer that was bringing an end to her life because it helped save her soul. In her illness, she turned to God and the Church and found peace in her preparation for death.

Jesus tells us, he is the Way, the Truth and the Life because he is the only answer to that which we need the most. Perhaps the most important words of Jesus which we must believe is when he said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

The mission of Jesus Christ was to be obedient to the will of the Father and to give himself to us. He gave us himself when he was born of the Virgin Mary; he gave us himself when he died on the cross, and he continues to give us himself in the Holy Eucharist. He loves us so much that he longs for us to receive him in this holy sacrament.

A couple weeks ago, I assisted at a Mass for children who were receiving their first Holy Communion. When the child comes forward to receive the Lord for the first time the whole family comes forward with him or her. I was surprised that almost half of the family members that came forward did not receive Communion, but a blessing instead.

I believe the most urgent message of evangelization to the Catholic community is that the Holy Mass is the most important prayer we can pray because the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are made present to us by the power of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the priest who presides and represents Christ himself.offering

Saints have been privileged to witness the presence of the heavenly hosts as Mass is being celebrated. We may not see them, but we will be surrounded by angels and saints during the consecration as bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. What will you do today that will be more important than what we are doing right now? What is more important than receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ?

Of course, Our Lord wants us to be prepared to receive him. First, we must truly believe that we are not just receiving bread and wine, but we are in reality receiving his body and blood. He also wants us to be free of serious sin, which is an obstacle to his love. For this reason he has given us the sacrament of reconciliation in which Jesus himself forgives our sins through his minister the priest. Sin weighs us down and causes us to be unhappy if we do not use the means that God has given us to be reconciled to him.

If you know of anyone who has left the Church because they are divorced and remarried civilly, encourage them to speak with their local pastor. Most marriages can be con-validated. There is nothing that should separate us from this wonderful gift from God if we have the humility to seek His help through the Church. You can learn more about gifts of Catholicism through our weekly series Catholicism Live!. Visit our website for more information or to listen to previous episodes.

How the Blind see the Holy Land

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You may have heard at least once the song Amazing Grace. The song was written in the late 1770’s by John Newton, a British sailor and former slave trader. He wrote about one of his experiences at sea during a violent storm; thinking the ship would sink and would be lost, he shouted to the Lord for His mercy. Surviving the storm, he realized the grace of God and wrote the song Amazing Grace.

I have listened to this song so many times, and often think of the words “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” relating to my own encounter with God’s mercy.

Meet Alco

My husband, Deacon Tom and I, led a group of 40 persons on pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few weeks ago. The Spiritual Director, Fr. Pat Martin, for this pilgrimage is a blind priest with a special ministry. He travels throughout North America and Ireland presenting parish missions about the mercy of God’s love. Also among the group, was another blind person, Alco, a woman who was born blind.Alco

She had searched for an organization or a group that would welcome her, a single blind woman with the desire to experience the Holy Land as a pilgrim. When I first met Alco, by phone, I was most impressed with the enthusiasm and joy expressed in her voice. She explained how, for years now, she wanted to go to the Holy Land and it was most apparent in her voice! I, too, was excited about the opportunity to introduce her to the Holy Land! Isn’t it interesting to discover and observe “God’s hand” in situations? One must believe at this point, this was no “accidental” phone call!

Alco visits the Holy Land

Alco joined us on this pilgrimage, I greatly enjoyed walking with her, arm in arm, I was able to describe the various holy sites related to the life of Jesus in Galilee, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. She was able to touch the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem, kneel at the Tomb of Christ and kiss where His Body laid and resurrected among many other holy sites. One of my favorite sites is Nazareth, a city in the Galilee Region, known world-wide because it is the hometown of the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph). The Grotto, or the home of Mary, the Mother of Jesus is here; it has become through the centuries, a destination for many Christians who want to see, touch her home and ask her intercession. Today, a large Catholic Church called the Basilica of the Annunciation is built over this Grotto to protect it.

This holy site was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, when he addressed Mary as “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28), it is humble place where today a small altar is located in the center with an inscription in Latin in front of altar  “Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est“; translating – “Here the Word was Made Flesh”. There was complete silence, we imagined seeing Mary as a young woman here. Our pilgrim group spent time in silence and implored Mary’s intercession.
As I looked at Alco, she had a big smile on her face. Do you know something? Alco not only saw with the eyes of her heart, as she listened to the descriptions, because of her open heart and zeal for her faith, she sensed a deep presence of Mary and God.IMG_2227

This experience among many others with Alco and Fr. Pat, the blind priest, taught me so much. For one – how much we take for granted, even our eyesight. One of Fr. Pat’s favorite response on discovering something beautiful or good is the word “Fantastic!”. Alco’s response is a big, beautiful smile with a sweet laughter. Fr. Pat and Alco, the only two blind persons I have ever encountered opened my eyes. Not only my eyes, but my heart as well. So often our minds are distracted with the noise and busy activity around us, we may fail to truly be aware of God’s presence or the ways He may be “speaking” to us through someone’s message, nature, sacred art, beauty and simply by being present to the moment.

The joy of these two blind persons also gave testimony to their deep love for God, because they have experienced His peace, joy and hope in their lives.

Alco wrote her pilgrimage experience, the following is a part of her article.

“We visited a number of holy sites.  One of the highlights of the trip for me was being able to proclaim God’s Word in the church at Mount Tabor.  An architect, Antonio Barluzzi built churches on many holy sites after World War I.  I understand that the visuals are stunning, but for me, the acoustics in his churches are truly amazing!  I have never sung in churches that magnified sound like that.
All I can share with you is what I observed. However, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to walk where Jesus walked and to meet so many generous, warm-hearted Palestinian Christians as well as the people who went on this pilgrimage; with me.  I never felt unsafe.”

God with Us

These words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I was once lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see” continue to cause me to praise God for His omnipotent mercy!

Today, take a moment to praise God for His presence in your life, even if you don’t see him – He is there to receive you, inviting you to approach Him!

Join us on a Pilgrim Center of Hope Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Visit here to see our future pilgrimages. Tom and I have been to the Holy Land 47 times in the last 25 years, we would very much like to introduce you to the land sanctified by the Lord Jesus! Come and See! Did you know that the Holy Land is also called the Fifth Gospel?

Can’t Stop Laughing

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As I was reading through the liturgy for Pentecost, I reflected how the Holy Spirit has influenced my life. One of the earliest memories I have of the Holy Spirit happened when I was in high school. I remember sitting on the porch enjoying the cool breeze anticipating the thunderstorm that was predicted to roll through our area in West Texas.

Uncontrollable Joy

As I gazed at the night sky, I realized how happy I was with life at that moment. I smiled, and then I giggled out loud. It caught me off guard, and then I started laughing. Now, anyone who knows me well, knows that once I start laughing I simply can’t stop. So, I sat there on the porch by myself laughing and laughing and laughing. I am sure at least ten to fifteen minutes went by, and just when I thought I could keep it together…it would start all over! It was at that moment that I realized it was not just uncontrollable laughter, but uncontrollable joy ignited by the Holy Spirit! The joy and love for God that I experienced in that moment was exhilarating, and truly a gift.

Once more will he fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with rejoicing. (Job 8:21)

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Share the Joy

Many times, the life of a Catholic is portrayed as strict and boring, with so many rules and restrictions. The challenge falls on each one of us to live our lives with joy, treasure the blessings, serve others with a kind heart, and welcome the Holy Spirit into our everyday lives. These are just a few ways that others can encounter God through us.

So, how can we live a life full of joy? Jesus gave the disciples the recipe for joy.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this so that my joy might be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” John 15:9-12

What an intense commandment Jesus gave us; to love others as He loves! It is up to us to open our hearts enough to welcome the Holy Spirit, so we may be filled with joy and love one another unconditionally. I have seen some people who are going through very difficult times in their life, and still are able to be grateful and full of joy. It is possible! Have confidence in God and trust in His plan for you. The life of a Catholic should be joyous because Our Lord Jesus Christ has given us His peace, His joy, and His love!

Joyous on the Journey

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come. (Proverbs 31:25)  The strength and dignity that we have been given does not allow for us to be anxious about the future. We do not always know where God will take us, but we do know the Holy Spirit is always with us. I encourage you right now to say a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to guide you on your journey.

Each year through the annual Catholic Women’s Conference, we help women appreciate the dignity they have been given and grow deeper in their relationship with God. Visit CWCSanAntonio.com to learn more about the opportunities available for you at the Catholic Women’s Conference.

Amid chaos: Having peace & trusting God

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Last week, I was standing in the Southwest Airlines ticket counter line at the San Antonio airport. My husband and I were eagerly awaiting our flight to a family get-together.

But our mood was disturbed as a woman furiously pulled her luggage into the line behind us.  From her loud phone conversation, we immediately knew that her flight home had been cancelled due to tornado warnings elsewhere. After hanging up, she began spewing expletives into our shared air, seemingly unaware of the folks around her. My annoyance turned to sadness for this woman, when she (angrily) revealed to an agent that she had an ill family member at home, with whom she needed to be present.

Whether by a trip to the airport, the grocery store, or even a walk around our neighborhood, it’s easy to see how chaotic our lives can become: people get sick, accidents happen, tasks need accomplishing… As life piles up, how can we maintain peace and trust in God?

pexels-photo-26980In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples think they’ve got it made. We get it now, they say.  We understand you and your message now!  But Jesus hands them a reality check:

Do you believe now?
Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived
when each of you will be scattered to his own home
and you will leave me alone.
But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but take courage, I have conquered the world.

Just when we feel strong in faith, we get a reality check: something doesn’t go according to plan, and we panic.

Look at our first pope, Peter. As guards arrested Jesus, Peter fought back; cutting off a man’s ear! Then, he tried to escape the situation; denying three times that he ever knew Jesus. At the Crucifixion, Peter was nowhere to be found.  What happened to him later in life, so that Peter finally had peace amid chaos? How was he finally able to “take courage” and face his own persecutors and death?

Peter learned to surrender.

Typically, that word invokes negative connotations. “Surrender” seemingly epitomizes weakness…and who wants to be weak? Yet, the centrality of surrender amid suffering is the message that Peter hammers home in his letters, which are now books of our Bible (1 and 2 Peter).

Why surrender? Last month, my spiritual director instructed me to start reading a spiritual classic: Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Its revered author directly addresses our desire to fight or escape God’s will:

If that which God Himself chooses for you does not content you, from whom do you expect to obtain what you desire? If you are disgusted with the meat prepared for you by the divine will itself, what food would not be insipid to so depraved a taste? No soul can be really nourished, fortified, purified, enriched, and sanctified except in fulfilling the duties of the present moment. What more would you have? As in this you can find all good, why seek it elsewhere? Do you know better than God? As he ordains it thus why do you desire it differently? Can His wisdom and goodness be deceived?

Wow. I am beginning to learn in the “School of Surrender” that the first step to maintaining peace is to see my daily life as a personalized gift from an All-Good, All-Loving, Most-Wise and All-Powerful God. If my day is filled with challenges, those challenges were tailor-made for me to overcome.  If it is peppered with good things, God has willed those good things exactly for me at that moment.

Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, we are dealing with a number of challenges, especially related to the upcoming Catholic Women’s Conference.  Our staff jokes daily about how we “can’t catch a break” this year. But amid what seems like chaos, we gather in Gethsemane Chapel with the CEO (the Lord Jesus). We begin with a Consecration to the Holy Spirit recommended by Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller. We pray, “O Holy Spirit…I surrender myself to You…”

In preparation for Pentecost, we should make an effort to address our own daily ways of “fighting” or “escaping from” the everyday duties entrusted personally to us by Our Heavenly Father. Do we complain? Do we whine? Do we drag our feet? Do we simply ignore some duty that we know we should do? Do we attempt to escape through many hours of entertainment?

Come, Holy Spirit.  Help me surrender to you.

God wills only our good; God loves us more than anybody else can or does love us. His will is that no one should lose his soul, that everyone should save and sanctify his soul […] God has made the attainment of our happiness, his glory. Even chastisements come to us, not to crush us, but to make us mend our ways and save our souls. – St. Alphonsus Ligouri, from Uniformity with God’s Will

We invite all women to our 2016 Catholic Women’s Conference, which takes place on September 9th & 10th. This blessed event is where thousands of Catholic women will come together to refresh their soul. Please take a moment and pray for our ministry of conferences as we continue to grow!

Did you know?   In 2001, Mary Jane Fox founded the Catholic Women’s Conference to educate women on both the teachings of the Catholic Church and of their personal dignity.

The Secret to Finding Mr. or Mrs. Right

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What eligible man or woman has not asked the question, “How do I know if insert name here is the person I should marry? Increasingly, the young adult generation is asking a more despairing question, “Why should I marry at all?”

According to statistics, 40-50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The percentage is even higher for subsequent marriages, which proves that most who divorce did not learn from their mistakes how to either select a good spouse or how to be one.

It is no wonder that a growing majority of people are choosing not to marry. Many are the result of broken homes and they know the pain of their parents separating. It has caused deep wounds and they are not willing to enter into the same situation that has already caused them so much suffering.

Our Catholic faith discerned through Scripture, however, professes marriage as God’s will and is clearly stated through this encounter between Jewish authorities and our Lord Jesus Christ:

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying,
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Mat 19:3-9.)

So, how can God expect us to marry and stay married when it is so very difficult?

Because as always, God never asks of us what He does not provide as a way for us to succeed; and this way is the way of virtue.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself (CCC 1803.) St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.”

So, imagine if that man or woman you are dating or are already married to had the goal to always give the best of himself or herself to you. Imagine if you did the same in response. Your marriage would grow in perfection, in holiness!

Sarah Swafford, author, speaker, one-time college dormitory resident manager, and one of our speakers at this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference has listened to hundreds of young men and women lament their romantic relationships and the dearth of worthy partners to date, let alone marry.

couple walkingAfter listening to countless conversations, she began to ask them, “What traits and characteristics do you find most attractive?” Whether she asked men or women, the responses were very similar and the list of attributes lined up with a life lived in virtue.

Sarah has made a chart of the simply irresistible virtuous woman and man and encourages us to take the virtue challenge. What she discovered from the many men and women who have strived to live out the virtues of this challenge, is a movement away from self and towards the other. This human effort striving for good formed characters rich in kindness, confidence, honesty, responsibility, humility, sensitivity, forgiveness and compassion. Who wouldn’t want to be married to someone like that? Who would not want to be someone like that?!

The success of this virtue challenge is that it draws us into the work of God; and whenever we cooperate with His plan for our lives, His grace kicks in perfecting our nature. In other words, our human efforts become super-charged!

Scripture confirms this in 1 Thessalonians, 4:7-8, “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy Spirit to you.

The secret to finding Mr. or Mrs. Right is to become Mr. or Mrs. Right, or as Sarah says, “Become the man or woman of your dreams and you will attract the man or woman of your dreams!” And this is true whether you are looking to marry or are already married. What joy to wake one day and discover that through your human effort combined with God’s grace, the one sleeping next to you for the last 5, 10, 20 years is growing once again attracted to you and you to him/her!

I encourage you to go to emotionalvirtue.com and take the virtue challenge, and I invite women to see Sarah speak and share more at this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference on September 9-10th!

Painting by Artist, Leonid Afremov “Misty Mood”.