Monthly Archives: February 2019

Finding the Strength to Forgive

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In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells us we must love our enemies, and then he shows us what love of our enemies should look like.

This love does not come naturally to us; it is the opposite of how we are likely to respond.

When someone hurts us, our first thought may be our need for justice. Justice is important, but with the help of God’s grace, we can develop a desire to deepen our relationship with God and ask his guidance when we are confronted with difficult issues.

Perhaps our first step is to ask: Have I been able to forgive those who have hurt me in any way? We cannot love someone whom we cannot forgive. Forgiveness is fundamental to our relationship with God and one another. It is so important that it is included in the only prayer our Lord has given us. We say,

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

In other words, God will forgive us in the same way we forgive others.

There is nothing we are allowed to not forgive. Think of the terrible things people do to one another; every offense must be forgiven.

There will be no complete healing of the pain until the offender has been forgiven.

What It Means to Forgive

If we forgive someone, does it mean that what they did was okay? No. The offender is accountable to God for what they did; when we forgive, we refuse to carry the burden of their sin.

Of course, if someone commits a crime against us, we work within the justice system. However, if we want to experience the peace of Christ, our forgiveness does not depend on receiving justice. We can only receive the peace of Christ in relationship with him. Jesus is our example. He experienced a terrible injustice on our behalf, but forgave his executioners and us who share their guilt.

We have more examples, too. Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, forgave his persecutors as they were stoning him to death. Hundreds of other saints have shown us how to forgive injustices more serious than anything we will ever experience, with the help of God’s grace.

When We Don’t Forgive

Over thirty years ago, when my wife Mary Jane and I were visiting people door-to-door throughout our parish boundaries, we met a women whose son had been murdered by an associate who had died a short time after the murder. Even though her son’s murderer was dead, the woman would not forgive him. She told us that before all this happened, she had been in good health, but now she was homebound with debilitating asthma. She knew that her condition was related to her inability to forgive her son’s killer and still could not bring herself to forgive him.

This is a graphic example of how unforgiveness makes us a slave of the one who hurt us, even if that person is no longer alive.

In addition to possibly affecting our health, unforgiveness can cause us to become a bitter, negative person, which leads to unhappiness for us and the people we love.

If you have a deep hurt that you have not been able to forgive, ask God for the grace to at least have the desire to forgive because you know that God wants to liberate you from the burden you are carrying. Continue to pray for that grace until you begin to experience some peace. We must be purified of all bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness before we can enter into heaven.

Hope In Severe Trial

I read the true story of Archbishop Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan from Vietnam who was arrested by the Communists and imprisoned for nine years. In the beginning, he was filled with bitterness because of the injustice he had experienced. After a while, he realized that his bitterness was not going to change his situation; he decided to find a way to bring something positive to his dilemma.

He began to collect small pieces of paper and write down all the prayers, Scriptures, and positive things he could remember. He also collected pieces of bread and grapes to squeeze into juice so that he could celebrate Mass. Other prisoners would come to him at night secretly for prayer and worship. His presence there brought hope to the other prisoners. He also wrote several books while in prison on pieces of paper, one of them is called, The Road of Hope, a Gospel from prison. He chose to turn his bad experience into a testimony of faith.

We have all heard the expression, “Out of bad comes good.” That does not happen by accident; in most cases, it is a choice. That’s why Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) If we turn to him when we are experiencing trials, he will give us the grace to turn bad into good while we keep our eyes on him and persevere in prayer.

Sunday’s Gospel concludes with the words, “For the measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38) During his unjust imprisonment, Bishop Van Thuan made a decision to use his priesthood for the benefit of those imprisoned with him, and to draw on his faith to evangelize them and others on the outside through his writings. He measured his situation, and instead of allowing it to defeat him, he used his priesthood and his gifts for the service of Christ and his Church. In turn, this service was measured back to him. He said:

It is not enough to simply not hate. It is not enough to merely love others, or merely to help others. Only when love and action work in harmony is our love enough.

After he was released from prison, he was expelled from Vietnam. He went to Rome, where he became a preacher to the papal household and was named Cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II. He died on September 16, 2002, and the Roman Catholic Church began the process of his beatification on September 16, 2005.

It Is Possible for Everyone

What God asks of us, we can only do in relationship with him and with the help of his grace. This relationship is possible for anyone who desires it and wants to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We need to turn our lives toward him through a disciplined prayer life, by living the sacramental life, and by having a desire to discover God’s will for our life. If this is the measure with which we measure out our lives to God, it will be measured back to us with peace, hope, and eternal life.


At Pilgrim Center of Hope, we’re here to help you live your daily journey in hope. Let us journey with you. Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org. If you are in the San Antonio area, call us about our Meet the Master series of Saturday morning reflections: 210-521-3377.


Please note: Pilgrim Center of Hope is not responsible for, nor has any control over, any ads displayed on this post.

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Stones Crying Out: A Message of Hope for Today

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“. . . and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out! As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it.”
– Luke 19:37-41

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Dominus Flevit

While on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I stood where Jesus spoke these words and wept. From this slope, you can see the old city of Jerusalem. At this vantage point, the Temple which will be destroyed (and where today there is a mosque) is directly in front; to the left is the house of Caiaphas where Jesus was beaten and thrown into the sacred pit, and on the right is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over Calvary and our Lord’s Tomb.

Where I stood, the stones do cry out. To commemorate where Jesus, the Son of God, wept over Jerusalem, longing to gather his people as a hen gathers her chicks (Matthew 23:37), a church made of limestone is built in the shape of a large teardrop as if fallen from heaven. The church is named Dominus Flevit, meaning, The Lord Wept.

I thought of this pilgrimage experience while reading The Agony and the Ecstasy, a fictional biography of Michelangelo, written by Irving Stone. In the 1500s—during a time of great scandal and corruption in the Church, Michelangelo used stones to create masterpieces of sacred art. He painted vivid images from the Old and New Testament on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, using clay crushed into colors for paint. Marble cut from large blocks quarried at Italian mountains became, through his hands, the Pieta; a magnificent sculpture of the Madonna holding her dead Son and offering him to the world.

The stones of that place, and the medium of the time, cried out to bring beauty and glory to God during a dark period of history when many in His Church kept silent.

As I read about the vision of the artist and the vivid descriptions of the Pieta and Sistine Chapel—with magnificent scenes including God separating light from dark, the Deluge and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden; I found myself often picking up my phone to find images on the internet to see them for myself. With just a swipe of my finger, I was brought to Rome on a virtual pilgrimage. Curious about the Scripture that explains the images, I clicked on my Bible app to read and meditate on the Word of God that brought the vision to the mind and hands of Michelangelo.

This ease of finding exactly what I was looking for made me wonder. Could our mobile devices and computers—made of aluminum, cobalt, graphite, nickel, lithium, gold, silver, copper, tungsten and iron—be the stones crying out today?

Think about it . . . as yet another great scandal rocks the Church, and the insidious rise of secular atheism tempts many disciples of Jesus to keep silent, sitting in the palm of our hands and at the touch of our fingertips, the Church doors have been flung open for all. Every person with internet access has a portal to the rich treasure of the Catholic faith—from God’s Word, to images of sacred art, teachings of the Church Fathers, papal encyclicals, lives of the saints, and even a way to have a daily dose of the Catechism of the Catholic Church dropped into your email inbox.

God is using the stones of our day and the medium of our time to paint our senses with His beauty and sculpt our hearts and minds with His Truth. Every soul can be God’s own Sistine Chapel!

At all times, we at Pilgrim Center of Hope answer Christ’s call to evangelize through our Ministry of Pilgrimages, Ministry of Conferences, and Evangelization Outreach using all forms of media. Visit the central hub of it all at PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.


Photo of Dominus Flevit courtesy of James Emery from Douglasville, United States [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Please note: Pilgrim Center of Hope is not responsible for, nor has any control over, any ads displayed on this post.

Listening… In A Noisy World!

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Have you ever said to yourself, If only I can get away for some quiet time! or, Is anyone listening?

I certainly have! These questions usually arise in our thoughts when we want some peace, some quiet time after experiencing a full schedule, or a trial, or simply being busy!

I recently was in the Holy Land on pilgrimage and among the many wonderful and amazing experiences, one was spending time in the Garden of Gethsemane—where Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples when he visited Jerusalem, and where he prayed his hour of agony the night he was arrested; resulting in his Passion.

Today, a large basilica is built next to ancient olive trees that date to the time of Jesus. They are often called the Silent witnesses of Christ’s Agony. Upon entering the Basilica of the Agony, one sees a large area of rock in front of the main altar. This is where Christ prayed his hour of agony, where he sweat blood, and prayed for the will of his Heavenly Father. Imagine sitting in this church commemorating this whole experience—with its mosaics depicting the scenes of the Bible related to his agony and arrest. The light streaming through the alabaster glass windows sheds a somber light in the church, inviting the visitor to ponder what happened here 2,000 years ago.

IMG_6481As I sat, I realized how much I longed for some quiet time with God. To speak with him, and at the same time was hoping for an inspiration from him. The noises of traffic, guides shouting, tourists and pilgrims moving about, and cameras clicking, seemed so distracting at such a holy site.

Yes, it was challenging to attempt to remain silent… You know what helped me?

What helped me were the sacred art, along with my act of touching the very stone where Jesus sweat blood! The large stone area is surrounded by a short, iron crown of thorns. I knelt and bent over the iron crown to kiss the stone, placing both of my hands on the cool, rough rock. I thought, This is where YOU, Lord, prayed for the Father’s will! This is where YOU sweat blood! Help me to listen! While I heard many people around me, the chattering of visitors, traffic noise… that moment seemed to be an eternal moment for me. There seemed to be inner peace. Later, I took some time to sit and simply see the sacred art; the mosaics of Jesus praying, being arrested, even the altar’s shape is that of a chalice.

Leaving this holy place, I thought of sharing this, hoping that others can also be encouraged to seek some quiet time with the Lord. It is possible!

How?

  • Sacred images or art can help us ponder the mysteries of our faith. For example: A stained glass window of a biblical scene can easily help us begin meditating on that Bible passage.
  • Holding or touching a crucifix or a statute can also be helpful. Think about the story in the Gospel of Luke 8 of the woman with the hemorrhage who simply touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed! Jesus tells her it was her faith that healed her!
  • Begin with a desire for some quiet time with the Lord. Ask for a deepened faith. And be consistent. Go to him… in faith and in silence!

Pilgrim Center of Hope is here to help guide you to encounter Christ, so as to live in hope as a pilgrim in daily life. For some quiet moments, we invite you to come visit our 7 acres in the middle of northwest San Antonio. Or, visit our website for more spiritual tools.

Riding the Roller Coaster of Life – Advice from A Saint

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Everyone wants to know: What’s the key to happiness?

This questions transforms itself, however, when we discover God our Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, and our divine guide the Holy Spirit. Then, we begin to wonder: What is God’s will for me?

Ultimately, these questions are one & the same; God desires our happiness, in this life and for all eternity.

To help us consider this question, there are many resources available to us. For me, however, it wasn’t until I obtained a Spiritual Director that I began to learn well how to discern God’s will for my life. He introduced me to someone who has become a close personal friend, St. Ignatius Loyola: the founder of the Society of Jesus & the contemporary guide for discernment.

Wounded Pride and A Busted Leg

Many of us know his basic story: A canon ball shattered his leg in battle. He told the surgeon to re-break his leg, because his clothes didn’t look good the way his leg was set back together. That was fiery redhead Iñigo López de Loyola: a vain, high-class bachelor whose great dreams of military triumph and fame had been utterly destroyed. Bored out of his mind as he recuperated, he read the only books available; the lives of Christ and the saints. Their example completely changed his perspective on life.

As many converts do, Ignatius adopted extreme spiritual practices fueled by his newfound zeal; he prayed day and night, hardly ate, hardly slept, and beat himself—weeping uncontrollably through the night over his past mistakes.

Thanks to God’s grace and the help of local townspeople, Ignatius’ mind and heart were opened to what God truly wanted of him.

Riding the Roller Coaster of Life

Ignatius outlined the Discernment of Spirits, which are keys that spiritual directors have used for hundreds of years all over the world, ever since. In doing so, they have taught that our life has two basic situations we face, over and over again:

  • Consolation – A period of contentment, peace, gratitude, and/or feeling closer to God
  • Desolation – A period of worry, frustration, and/or feeling further from God

Ignatius described these periods as the natural ebb and flow of every person’s spiritual life. Consolation and desolation are experienced for a wide variety of reasons; it’s not important that we know why we are experiencing the consolation or desolation. What’s important is to discern what we are experiencing, and how to respond to God’s grace in that light.

His “rules” for discernment give us practical insights into interpreting whether we are in a period of consolation or desolation. Based on this position, we learn how to act or respond to a situation or decision we need to make.

Basic Take-Aways for Success

Since we are limited in time and space here, I would strongly advise you to review Ignatius of Loyola’s Discernment of Spirits in its entirety. (The contemporary explanation recommended by my Spiritual Director was The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher. You may also consider a retreat on the Spiritual Exercises.)

For here and now, I’d like to share a few important lessons with you that I have learned from Ignatius. These have helped me ride the roller coaster of life:

  1. Make Decisions with Peace – If I am in a period of desolation, I am not properly suited for making a major decision that will impact my life, my family, etc. In these cases, I need to seek consolation, as well as the guidance of an unbiased person whom I can trust, such as a spiritual director.
  2. Don’t Worry; Desolation Will Pass – Ignatius reminds us that we will all go through periods of desolation, but that they do not last forever! This is why it’s important to discern & realize: “I am experiencing desolation.” Name what you are experiencing. This realization will remind you that your perspective will be through the lens of desolation for the time being. Then, you will be strengthened with the ability to choose wisely and remember that it will pass.
  3. Seek Consolation through Prayer – When I’m in a period of desolation, I don’t feel particularly drawn to prayer. However, this period is when prayer is essential. Since I don’t feel like praying, I should remember & revisit those times of consolation when I felt close to God. This can help motivate me to pray.
  4. Treasure Times of Consolation – If you are experiencing consolation, treasure it. Write about these blessings in a journal; how do you sense God’s closeness? Where do you see God’s hand in your life? What insights have you gained from this time? These memories are important to treasure, because they will strengthen you in times of desolation.
  5. God Is Always Near – Our Catholic faith gives us wonderful reminders of God’s nearness in the sacraments, the witness of the saints, the prayers and devotions, the sacred art, and the Body of Christ present in our brothers and sisters. No matter what we are experiencing, God who is Love is always near to us. We have no reason to fear, only to listen and do our best to grow & develop so that we can, in turn, respond by living in generous love.