Monthly Archives: June 2016

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.

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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?

Christianity as Human Story

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“The Burning of the Darkness” by Nicholas Roerich

The late great French intellectual Rene Girard is known for developing an anthropological philosophy around a few key ideas. The most famous of these are the fundamental roles of mimetic desire and scapegoating in all societies.

Mimetic desire is the concept that human beings, aside from natural instincts, learn to desire what we see other people desiring. This idea–that we want what other people want–is not new, but Girard places it at the center of human life, and so reframes the way we understand the working of human relationships, from the interpersonal to the societal.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with Christianity, bear with me. That’s coming up fast. Girard observed that this basic motivation creates competition and rivalry whenever two alike people end up desiring an object that cannot be shared. The tensions that result tend to erupt in violence, which threatens the fabric of communities that depend on peace and stability.

Here’s where Girard’s second basic notion of scapegoating enters. Looking at literature and history from societies around the world, he observed that when tensions threatened to drown communities in their own violence, inevitably and unconsciously, they chose either one person or a particular type of people to transfer their animosities to. In other words, they substituted a scapegoat who would suffer for the collective violence in the hearts.

And because this was an unconscious transfer, the resulting catharsis would be so baffling that it occurred to the people that their violence must have been planned by a divine being. It must have been a kind of sacrifice that the gods were teaching them to repeat, and the ritualization of this violence was believed to serve a social purpose: to keep the peace, to insure rains for their crops, to keep the sun happy, etc.

Likewise, by deeming a certain kind of sacrificial violence as sacred, it made it possible for societies to express their thirst for violence without tearing one another apart. Only one or a few people had to die, and doing so they would “save” everybody from the same fate.

Does this sound familiar yet? You may recall this passage from John’s telling of the Passion of Christ (Jn 11:45-53):

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”

Some might read this and think that Rene Girard was an atheist trying to debunk Christianity, or explain it away as just one myth among many similar others. The truth is quite the opposite: Girard was a devout Catholic convert, who saw the genius of Christianity in turning this dark dynamic on its head.

In relationships where mimetic rivalry leads to violence, and especially where the restrictions of society channel violence onto more acceptable victims, the constant delusion is that the recipients of violence somehow deserve their fate. They must have had it coming to them, and they must be punished so that peace–the illusory peace “as the world gives” that Christ disregards (Jn 14:27)–would reign with righteousness restored to the community.

Girard sees this dynamic throughout human societies, from ancient myths to the modern world. In the Bible, however, this delusion of a guilty victim is repeatedly unmasked, leading up to the ultimate revelation of the innocence of scapegoats in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We see, for example, that jealousy leads Cain to kill his brother Abel. Mimetic desire at work: Cain wanted to please God with his sacrifice, as Abel had pleased God. But where Greek and Roman tragedies end with the hero’s tragic flaw resulting in his demise, Abel is presented as a truly innocent victim. And even Cain, who is guilty of murdering his own brother, is saved by God from mob justice. Despite God’s outrage (“What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”), the Lord “put a mark on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight” after banishing him from his home (Gen 4:10,15).

In the story of Job, we see the accusations of guilt on account of his sufferings by his so-called friends. “Reflect now,” Eliphaz says, “what innocent person perishes? Where are the upright destroyed? As I see it, those who plow mischief and sow trouble will reap them,” (Job 4:7-8). But despite wavering under immense grief, Job holds firm to the knowledge of his innocence and fast to his trust in God. In the end, God rewards him with wealth beyond his losses.

There are other biblical stories centered on innocent victims whose faithfulness bears fruit. Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery, eventually became a magistrate of Egypt whose gift for prophesy saved many from starvation. When his brothers came to collect grain for their family, it was Judah’s self-sacrificial offer to stay in place of his brother that impressed Joseph, and led to his rewarding the whole lot.

Rather than focusing on punishments as a means to achieve justice–which Girard says is the mask people place on the process of mimetic rivalry and scapegoating–God, through the prophets and ultimately in Christ, says, “If you want to help restore the balance, if you want to bring true peace and reconciliation, be imitators of me. Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect, merciful as he is merciful. Take up your cross, those obstacles to love, and follow me. I love you. I am not your rival.”

The spotless One who sacrificed himself for our sake and, as Hans von Balthasar said, is so fully alive that he can afford to die, did die so that our self-sacrifices would unfasten our closed selves to receive his divine life. His grace is what opens up the dramas of life, so that they arc toward infinite, eternal life.

The life of Christ, indeed, is so attractive in its vibrancy and compelling in its breadth, that those who embody the Gospel evangelize by their own depth of life. Their stories are more than tragedies or comedies or morality plays. They’re love in flesh and blood. They’re sacrificial deaths and resurrections. They’re little gospels. They’re little bodies of Christ.

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If you would like to know more about how the saints mirrored Christ, consider joining us for an Afternoon Tea With the Saints at the Pilgrim Center of Hope! Enjoy tea and cookies, and a conversation about St. Josemaria Escriva on June 16th at 2:00 pm. Click here for future dates.