Monthly Archives: July 2017

Who Will Never Leave Me?

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As a pilgrim with us to the Holy Land, Nan Balfour touched the very Tomb of Christ and Rock of Calvary. She walked where Mary Magdalene became the Apostle to the Apostles, spreading the unbelievable news that Jesus is alive! In celebration of Mary Magdalene, and of Our Lady of Fatima who said, “I will never leave you,” we share this reflection by Nan:

Following an encounter with Jesus Christ, I heard these words, “I love you! You are exactly who I created you to be. I promise, you will never feel alone again. I am with you always.” With those few words, God reached through my pain, my sins, my past, deep inside my dark, cold loneliness. I took hold of His Hand allowing our Lord, my Savior, to pick me up, put me on His shoulders and Shepherd me back to the fold of His Catholic Church that I had wandered away from years ago, believing it held no place for me.

Sacrifice of MassOver these past 14 years, I have challenged our Lord to keep His promise and He has answered me through the Treasures of His Church:

Jesus in the Sacraments – Our Lord is Really, Truly Present in the Sacraments. I can be in and with our Creator, our Savior every day by participating at Mass, receiving Communion and through Reconciliation. Anytime day or night, I can sit/kneel and just be in the Presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit through Adoration of the Eucharist.

Fellow Disciples in The Body of the Church – Though raised Catholic, I grew up in what is now called the poorly catechized ‘lost generation’ of post-Vatican II Catholics born between 1960-1978. When I returned to the Church in my early forties, I met many beautiful priests, sisters and lay women and men facilitating Scripture studies, Prayer Groups and Catechism classes at area Catholic parishes . . . and I took advantage of them.

Through the honesty and sincerity of the women in faith sharing and prayer groups, I discovered I was not the fraud I thought. To my joy, I discovered each of us is flawed; sinners all, helping each other in fellowship work out our salvation together! Many of them have become true, genuine friends for life.

Our Blessed Mother – Like many people, including Catholics, I had a problem with Mary. Even though I believed when Jesus told St. John at the Cross, “Behold Your Mother,” that He was saying the same to all of us, I would not go to her for help. My deep feelings of inadequacy made me think she was disappointed in me because of all my faults, or worse, blamed me in my sins for the suffering of her Son. Blessedly, though God will not overstep our free will, He has given His Mother Mary, who is fully human, no such impediment. Like any good mother, she knows her children, what is best for them and takes her vocation to womanhood very seriously. She will do everything in the power given her by God, to bring us to her Son. I know, because it happened to me.

Heavenly Friends – Communion of Saints – One morning following daily Mass and my weekly prayer group, a woman I have never seen before or since came right up to me, stopped, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are going to see the relic of St. Mary Magdalene today aren’t you?” Startled, I responded, “I don’t know, maybe.” She walked on saying behind her, “It’s going to be great!” and left a prompting in my heart that I am being told what to do. Looking back, I believe she was my guardian angel, but at the time, I resisted intent on tackling my long ‘to do’ list for the day. Like a whiny daughter being dragged by her mother, I found myself a few hours and many promptings later in line to look at the shin bone of the ‘sinful woman’ who knelt at the Cross on Calvary. Once inside the cool, quiet of the Church, this friend of Jesus and Mary, whispered in my heart, “When our Lord and Lady looked at me, I did not see disappointment or blame in their eyes, I saw gratitude. They wanted me with them, just as they want you.”

From Mass, my prayer group and my encounters with heavenly friends that day, I learned what it means to be embraced in the arms of the Mystical Body of Christ. I have never felt alone again. My guardian angel was right, “It was great!”

Every year, close to 3,000 women who help make up the Mystical Body of Christ, come to Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Women’s Conference and we encounter Jesus where He is Truly, Really Present in the Eucharist, in the Mass and in Reconciliation. We offer the Rosary with the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother. We find new friends in the saints through the speaker presentations and this year, perhaps even sitting next to us! And, we enjoy fellowship with other flawed, sinners as we all help each other work out our salvation.

Feeling alone? I invite you to come join us . . . It’s going to be great!

A Story of Joy: When I Prayed with People from All Over the World

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Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘Faith is caught rather than taught’? While many family members struggle to communicate faith to loved ones or friends who no longer practice it, perhaps we should pause to consider that simple saying.

When Mary Cook decided to go on a Marian Pilgrimage with us in 2011, she had been Catholic all her life. While on pilgrimage, however, she experienced unique moments that deeply impacted her faith. Here is a bit of that story:

The first place we went was Fatima in Portugal. We had Mass at the little chapel where Mary first spoke to the children (in her apparitions of 1917), and my husband and I had gotten to read during Mass. We stood right where Mary stood when she appeared to the three children.

At night, we said a Rosary in that same chapel. We were all holding a candle, and it made for a very holy feeling. I counted probably eight or nine different languages that were spoken that night. Someone from each country would lead a decade of the Rosary, and it was beautiful. It helps you realize how the Catholic Church is really a universal Church; a worldwide Church, and we could pray with people from all over the world. We can’t talk to each other—we can’t have a conversation, but we could pray with each other and understand what we were praying.

While we were in Paris visiting a basilica there, a group of nuns approached us and invited us to lunch! They live there, and as part of their ministry, they fix a meal and invite pilgrims to lunch. So, we went to lunch; a very simple, French meal—but it was a lot of food! They served us, and what struck me about them is that they were so joyful. They were so happy whisking around and serving the different people.

The pilgrimage really brought me closer to Mary. I was born and raised Catholic; Mary’s always been there, but I never had a special relationship with her. I got to know her better. I grew closer to her. I consider her my spiritual mother. Catholics are really, really blessed that we have Mary. Everybody else does, too, but they don’t know it.

Going on a pilgrimage is like going on a vacation in Heaven! It’s different from a regular vacation; it’s a pilgrimage—very prayerful, with Mass, praying the Rosary every day, with a group of likeminded people. You get to know the people really well. It’s a lot of fun! I absolutely loved it. I took lots of pictures, but I have so many memories ingrained in my mind. I can go back to those places in prayer anytime.

Witnessing the unity and joy of the Church, and the love of the Blessed Mother and her fellow pilgrims, helped Mary’s faith to deepen. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses,” wrote Pope Paul VI in 1975. How true this rings today! Ask the Blessed Mother to pray for you, that the Holy Spirit would help you grow as a witness of your relationship with God.

We invite you to consider journeying with us on a Marian Pilgrimage April 3-14, 2018. Learn more on our website.

“A Pilgrim Center of Hope pilgrimage is a faith journey. You’ll never regret it. You will grow in your faith. What you experience in that time period that you’re on pilgrimage, you will carry with you for the rest of your life.” – Mary Cook

How my journey to Motherhood began with Mary

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When we need comfort or guidance, many of us turn to our mother or the mother-figure in our lives. Gloria, one of our ‘pilgrim family members,’ began her own journey toward motherhood while on a Marian pilgrimage with us, strengthening not only her relationship with the Mother of Jesus, but also her young family’s love of Mary.

Here is a taste of Gloria’s story:

It wasn’t confirmed yet by a doctor, but I knew that I was pregnant when I went on pilgrimage. It wasn’t until I returned that I got the confirmation, but the whole time, I was excited to know that I was carrying a baby with me. Even though she couldn’t see the things that I could see, I felt that she could feel the feelings that I was having.

What solidified her name is the fact that I went on the Marian pilgrimage – and everything about Mary that I loved. I thought, “What better way to thank my Mother Mary than to name (my daughter) after Her?” That’s how I chose to name Ava, Ava Marie, because Ave Maria means, “Hail Mary,” and I wanted to give Her the glory of me having this baby.

The pilgrimage experience that stood out for me was being in Lourdes; taking in the Shrine, but actually getting in the baths [of the miraculous spring water]. It was extremely cold, but it was an experience that I’ll never forget! It was very exciting to go through the baths with Ava in my womb.

The pilgrimage has had a tremendous impact. Before I went, my faith was strong, but I felt that after the pilgrimage, I really knew Mary. Just being in those locations really impacted me a lot.

I actually did St. Louis de Montfort’s Consecration to Jesus through Mary. I had gotten a little booklet about it at one of the Catholic Women’s Conferences and saved it, thinking, “Oh, I’ll read it later… I’ll read it later.” When I returned, I said, “Where is that book?! I want to look for that book so that I can consecrate myself to Mary.” I couldn’t find it, and I forgot about it. Then, after Ava was born, I found the book! I thought, “I’m going to do it now,” and I did it. If it wasn’t for that pilgrimage, I don’t know if I would have done that, but I felt like I really wanted to be very close to Mary.

I have my mother on earth, but I feel like now, I can just talk to Mary as if she’s with me. I say, “Oh Mom, this and that…” “I’m going through this…” or, “How was it when Jesus was acting this way?” or, “Did Jesus ever…?” I pray a lot more fervently. My husband joins me, and my daughter; she has a rosary, and of course, she doesn’t know what we’re talking about, but when we’re praying it, she’s walking around with her little rosary… It makes it a lot more meaningful.

Do you feel Jesus drawing you closer to his Mother, Mary? “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 487)

Here are some ways you can answer that calling:

Touch and Believe!

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Today, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, known as “doubting Thomas,” the one who demanded that he touch Jesus’ wounds before he believed in the Resurrection of Christ. Our Lord mercifully appeared to Thomas and allowed him to do so. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” God made us beings who are both spiritual and physical. Our sense of touch makes things ‘more real’, and Jesus compassionately allowed Thomas to touch his wounds.

What about us – today? Well, we would like to share with you the story of Jimmy, a recent new member of our Pilgrim Family, who together with his wife, Carmen, recently journeyed with us to the Holy Land:

Arriving in Nazareth, what struck us about this town is that there is an upper Nazareth and a lower Nazareth because of the steep hills. You can see why, when Jesus told the Nazoreans in Luke 4: 29-30 that he had fulfilled Scripture, and they became angry and tried to throw him over the cliff, how easy that would be to do. This is what is so incredible about going to the Holy Land, because the Bible becomes so much more alive.

The Rosary will never be the same for me after this trip. We actually visited 19 of the 20 sites where [the Rosary mysteries] actually occurred, with the only one that we did not visit was the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. I hope that you and I will also see that one as well one day, when we are in our glorified bodies.

In Jerusalem, we stayed at The Notre Dame Hotel, a Pontifical Institute which is owned by the Vatican. We were blessed to have a gorgeous chapel within the Hotel. Carmen and I were able to go to Eucharistic Adoration, and what a great way to prepare oneself for the sites we were about to see. Looking at the old city within the walls reminded me of all the history that has taken place in this city.

We were blessed to have Mass not only in the Holy Sepulcher Church, but at the very tomb of Jesus. During the Mass, Carmen and I were able to go into the tomb for a couple of minutes. Can you imagine that?

As we left Jerusalem, I again was so thankful for the Pilgrim Center of Hope for making this not a site seeing trip but an actual pilgrimage that increased my faith in such a tangible way. Jesus was real and I was able to walk in his footsteps! Reading the Bible, praying the Rosary, listening to the Scriptures in Mass have become alive.

“We too can have tangible contact with Jesus and put our hand, so to speak, upon the signs of his Passion, the signs of his love. It is in the sacraments that he draws particularly near to us and gives himself to us. […] Learn to ‘see’ and to ‘meet’ Jesus in the Eucharist, where he is present and close to us, and even becomes food for our journey. In the sacrament of Penance the Lord reveals his mercy and always grants us his forgiveness. Recognize and serve Jesus in the poor, the sick, and in our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and in need of help.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Would you like to touch the holy places? Come join us on pilgrimage! See upcoming journeys on our website.