Monthly Archives: December 2018

Living the Christmas Mystery: Today & Beyond December

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Our pilgrims venerate the infant Jesus in Bethlehem after Christmas Mass

As Christmas draws ever so near, how many of us are truly focused on the significance of the Christmas mystery: the Incarnation of the Son of God? How many of us will “stay the course,” once the Christmas tree, Nativity scene, and the other decorations are put away?

During this Advent season, I want to suggest 2 points to begin now that can help you stay the course, continuing to pursue your spiritual goals throughout the year, regardless of any obstacles that may arise.

1. Be Amazed!

God announced the news of his coming—the greatest truth of all-time—to the lowest members of society first. The shepherds were uneducated, simple men with no power or influence (cf. Luke 2:8-20).

In the same way, God comes to each of us, regardless of our state in life, and meets us where we are with the same invitation given to the shepherds, to come and adore him!

This last week of Advent, leading to Christmas Day, is a time for all of us to be amazed; to be humble and open enough to receive him and welcome him into our lives.

This is the Christmas mystery…

Jesus was born in a humble stable, into a poor family. Simple shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. In this poverty, heaven’s glory was made manifest. The Church never tires of singing the glory of this night:
The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal
And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible.
The angels and shepherds praise him
And the magi advance with the star,
For you are born for us,
Little Child, God eternal!
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 525)

2. Remember What Emmanuel Means

“God with us.” Not only has the Christ child come to be our savior; he has come to reveal God to us in the flesh (cf. John 1:14). By becoming man, he experienced life as a human-being with all its ups and downs. As such, he can sympathize with the disappointment, heartache, weaknesses, betrayals, and temptations that we all struggle with.

You can trust in Jesus to console you and lead you through any storm that may come your way.

So, on Christmas Day and every day, give thanks and celebrate that moment when God entered our humanity to walk with us and to stay with us until the end of time (cf. Matthew 20:28).

Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this “marvelous exchange”: O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity. (CCC, no. 526)

Last year, Pope Francis ended his Christmas Urbi et Orbi message with the following words:

May the birth of Christ the Savior renew hearts, awaken the desire to build a future of greater fraternity and solidarity, and bring joy and hope to everyone.

All of us at Pilgrim Center of Hope strives to live this message. Our desire is to guide you to encounter Jesus; be it as the Christ-child, as the Messiah during his public ministry, or as the flame of love that comes to us through his Holy Spirit. We do this through pilgrimages, conferences & presentations, and media outreach; including print, digital, and broadcast media programs.

Let us journey with you! Come visit our peaceful place in northwest San Antonio, or online at PilgrimCenterofHope.org.

3 Steps to Meditating on Christ’s Birth, from St. Ignatius Loyola

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Do you have trouble praying, amidst the busy preparations for Christmas?
Or would you like to enter into deeper prayer?

Consider trying 1 of the 3 main types of Christian prayer: meditation. Meditative prayer is when we consider a subject such as Christ’s birth, and engage it with our thoughts, imagination, emotions, and desires. The goal of meditative prayer “is to make our own in faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2723).

One of the most-used tools to assist meditation is the set of Spiritual Exercises, written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was a fiery, red-headed bachelor who learned how to transition from extreme mortifications to well-balanced spiritual practice.

Below is an adapted version of his original meditation guide on the Nativity. Set aside some time this week to use this guide. You may be very surprised by what’s in store!


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
O my God and King, I beg you to grant me the grace during this time of meditation, that all my intentions, actions, and operations may be directed purely to the praise and service of Your Divine Majesty. Amen.

(Note: Take a few minutes for each step, with time to pause before moving on.)

Preparation

  1. I will imagine Mary, about 9 months pregnant, seated on a donkey, set out from Nazareth. She is accompanied by Joseph… They are going to Bethlehem to pay the tribute that Caesar imposed on those lands.
  2. I will imagine the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, considering its length, its breadth; whether level, or through valleys and over hills. I observe also the place or cave where Christ is born; whether big or little; whether high or low; and how it is arranged.
  3. O my God and King, I pray for an intimate knowledge of you, who have become man for me, that I may love You more and follow You more closely.

Enter the Scene

  1. I imagine our Lady, St. Joseph… and the Child Jesus after His birth. I place myself in this scene as a poor little unworthy slave, and as though present, I look upon them, contemplate them, and serve them in their needs with all possible homage and reverence.
    Then, I will reflect on all this, to draw from it some spiritual fruit that applies to my life.
  2. I consider, observe, and contemplate what each person in the scene is saying.
    Then, I will reflect on all this, to draw from it some spiritual fruit that applies to my life.
  3. I see and consider what they are doing; for example, making the journey and laboring so that our Lord might be born even in extreme poverty—and that after many labors, after hunger, thirst, heat, and cold, after insults and outrages, He might die on the cross, and all this for me.
    Then, I will reflect on all this, to draw from it some spiritual fruit that applies to my life.

Give Thanks

I will think over what I ought to say to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; or to the Incarnate Word; or to His Mother, our Lady.

According to the light that I have received, I beg for grace to follow and imitate more closely our Lord, who has just become man for me.

Our Father, who art in heaven…

Find more spiritual tools like this from the treasures of our faith at PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.

(Meditation adapted from the Louis J. Puhl, SJ, translation of the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola)

“Do You Worship Saints?” – Unexpectedly Sharing My Faith

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As I was getting my hair cut at a new salon, the stylist, a young woman, began asking me how I discovered their salon, what part of town I lived in and where I worked.

Responding about my work, I said, “I work for a Catholic evangelization ministry…” I continued to explain very briefly the ministry adding my excitement about the various things we do.

She bent over, as to almost whisper in my ear: “I am Christian, and I know Catholics are Christians, too… Ummm … Do you worship saints?”

Haven’t you been asked that question?

I responded, “No, we don’t, we ask them to help us through their prayers.” Approaching the subject further, I thought my response would be two-fold; a personal example and a general one. First, I spoke about my father’s photo by my office desk. He passed away last year. I glance over at the photo and remember my father. Sometimes, I take the photo in my hand, place it on my heart, and ask him to pray for me, or to help me in a specific situation.

Then, I explained how the Catholic Church has sacred art like statues of saints, stained glass windows, and so on to remind us of role models who have lived faithful lives: “You may see people kneeling before a statue or touching it; they are taking a quiet moment to pray, asking that saint to intercede for them. As Catholics, we use our senses in prayer, such as touching and kneeling.”

She listened with interest, and then shared that her grandmother was Catholic, but that her mother had married outside the Catholic Church and had fallen away from the Church.

Reflecting on my conversation with this young woman, I wondered how many people may be in the same position as this young woman; through no choice of their own, their lives are directed outside a firm foundation of the Catholic faith.

Conveying our faith to another person is important, and can be simple. A good start can be to speak briefly about a personal experience that helped you realize the love of God.

The world needs a message of hope, an encouraging word that will initiate a desire to begin a search for God. Mother Teresa of Calcutta expressed it well:

The reason for our existence is to quench the thirst of Jesus. When he asked for water, the soldier gave him vinegar to drink—but his thirst was for love, for souls, for you and me.

Next time you are given an opportunity to express your faith, remember: Keep it brief, simple, and focused on God. Your time and sharing with that person may be just what they needed to hear, to motivate a desire to search for God.

Only if people change, will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly (on the night of Christmas) entered into our night. – Pope Benedict XVI

Would you like a friendly and casual introduction to the saints? We invite you to a Social with the Saints; a monthly, informal gathering at Pilgrim Center of Hope, wherein we learn about a saint over a cup of tea and sweets, discuss the person’s life and their relevance to our daily paths, and end with prayer. Socials are posted on our website Events Calendar and Facebook page. All are welcome. See you there!

“Look Up!” How & Why to Live a Spirit of Watchfulness

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During Advent, we are called to have a spirit of watchfulness.

The dictionary defines watchfulness as: To be more vigilant or alert; closely observant. This definition, and a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, have helped me discover a way to grow in a Christian spirit of watchfulness specific to our world today.

During our pilgrim journey, we were brought to Shepherd’s Field; the very place where Scripture tells us:

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. (Luke 2:8)

7106825805_fd93d4fec3_k.jpgIn this field, we visited and offered Mass at a chapel built inside one of the caves in which shepherds would have holed up for the night. Our pilgrimage guide explained that, with his flock tucked into the cave, the shepherd would remain at the entrance, kneeling as he slept. He did this so that if an animal came preying, the shepherd would be in the perfect position to jump up and defend his flock. The shepherd had to keep watch even as he slept!

Shepherds were often outcasts, shunned by people in the area and unwelcome in the towns they served and yet . . .

The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:9-14).

Shepherds Bethlehem

Depiction of shepherds receiving announcement of Christ’s birth (Chapel of the Angels at Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem)

Why do you think it was to the shepherds that the angels appeared?

I believe it was because they already were on their knees! And, because they already dwelt in the lowliest and loneliest places, and therefore the only way to look . . .  was up!

The Messiah, who was born not far from those shepherds, now sends his disciples to proclaim the good news of great joy. That’s you and me! We are to be a sign that the Lord has come; a sign that is to reach into today’s lowliest and loneliest places.

More and more people are becoming islands unto themselves; isolated from each other by the phones, tablets, and controllers in our hands. It is not unusual to see a family eating together at a restaurant; each looking into his or her phone and none making eye contact, let alone enjoying conversation with each other. A pediatrician told me recently that there are children as young as 7 years old attempting suicide. Experts are coming to the sad conclusion that it is a desperate attempt by the child to simply be noticed.

In a world where most eyes are turned down and in, we followers of Jesus Christ have opportunities galore to call people to ‘look up’ and see the glory of the God who dwells within us. This profound responsibility of the Christian to bring Jesus, our Messiah, does not have to bring us fear. We can respond to this call in many simple ways that we can begin acting on immediately.

We can…

  • Put down our phone when we are with another person. This includes those of us caring for very young children – yes, infants too!
  • Make eye contact with all people we encounter throughout the day.
  • Smile and give a few words of encouragement to everyone we meet.
  • Listen attentively when someone is speaking to us and respond with kindness.
  • Pray for every person we encounter. (Quick prayer offered by Pilgrim Center of Hope chaplain Fr. Pat Martin: “Mary, help [name of person] see God’s love for [him/her] today.”
ShepherdsRejoice.jpg

Depiction of shepherds rejoicing (Chapel of the Angels at Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem)

Since I have made an effort to live in the spirit of watchfulness by being vigilant, alert and closely observant of and—more importantly—to others, I have indeed come to notice the glory of the Lord shining around us! I often find myself after an encounter joining with the angels praising God, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:9-14)!

In answering Christ’s call, we at Pilgrim Center of Hope guide people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. Let us journey with you! Beginning 2019, Pilgrim Center of Hope will be hosting a monthly ‘Meet the Master’ event to better come to know our Lord Jesus, who is the Joy of our Salvation and the Reason for our Hope! Sign up for our email list to learn details when they are publicized.