Author Archives: Angela Sealana (Santana)

About Angela Sealana (Santana)

Angela is Ministry Coordinator for The Pilgrim Center of Hope. The Pilgrim Log is the blog of the Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic evangelization ministry, providing weekly spiritual reflections to help you journey toward a deeper relationship with Christ. Learn more about the Pilgrim Center of Hope by visiting http://www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

Transforming Our Work: From A Burden to A Blessing

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Even if we work in a secular environment, can our work actually be holy? The answer may surprise you.

The Work Room

When you visit Pilgrim Center of Hope, you’ll notice that every room is named after a saint or holy person. We do this as a reminder that we’re always surrounded by, and supported by, our fellow members of the Communion of Saints.

Our Work Room is entrusted to Saint Maximilian Kolbe, whose photo hangs on a wall with his quote, “Only love creates, only love triumphs.” He is sitting at his messy desk, writing with a pencil.

Today being his feast day, you may hear his heroic story of martyrdom at Auschwitz; dying in the place of a husband and father, inspiring fellow inmates to hope in the midst of immense suffering. You may hear about his dedication to Our Lady, Mary Immaculate. But today, we want to share why he hangs on our Work Room wall…

Not A Burden

In many cases, work is burdensome. But when God created humanity, it was not so!

“The sign of man’s familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden. There he lives ‘to till it and keep it’. Work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 378) Only after sin enters the picture do we begin to see our work as a burden, instead of what it truly can be: a calling from God that allows us to collaborate with God in creation!

When Father Max Kolbe returned home after a year of tuberculosis treatments, he saw that anti-religious sentiment and atheistic Communism were rising. In 1922, he responded by adopting the modern printing press to publish Knight of the Immaculate monthly magazine, which peaked at 600,000 copies per issue. In 1930, he arrived penniless in Japan with fellow Franciscan friars, and within a month was printing a Japanese version of the Knight. He soon began a daily newspaper (circulation 1,000,000). Numerous books and pamphlets were distributed freely by the friars. In addition to his printing ventures, Father Kolbe established “Cities of the Immaculate,” consisting of large numbers of Franciscan friars working in mass media.

These friars were true missionary disciples; working boldly and with a sense of urgency in sharing the Gospel. Yet, not every job was obviously “Christian”: some friars manually labored at maintaining the press, others edited, researched, delivered, and still others cleaned up after everyone!

Transforming Work: From Burden to Blessing

During his 1965 visit to Nazareth in the Holy Land, Pope Paul VI visited the Basilica that is built over the Virgin Mary’s home, just a few steps away from the Holy Family’s house and Saint Joseph’s workshop. The Holy Father called Nazareth a ‘school of the Gospel’…

The lesson of work: O Nazareth, home of “the carpenter’s son,” We want here to understand and to praise the austere and redeeming law of human labor, here to restore the consciousness of the dignity of labor, here to recall that work cannot be an end in itself, and that it is free and ennobling in proportion to the values – beyond the economic ones – which motivate it. We would like here to salute all the workers of the world, and to point out to them their great Model, their Divine Brother, the Champion of all their rights, Christ the Lord!

How can we transform our work into something holy? How can it be, rather than a burden, a blessing? As Paul VI said, our model is Christ Jesus. In the tiny, backwater town of Nazareth, he spent thirty years learning, working for his foster father’s business. He adopted our way of life. By taking on the ‘burden’ of work with his own hands, God the Son transformed work back into a blessing; a way by which we answer our calling in daily life.

For us at Pilgrim Center of Hope, St. Maximilian Kolbe reminds us that only by infusing our daily work with love, can our work become God’s Work. “Only love creates, only love triumphs.”

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

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Lent Is for Healing

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Do you ever dread Lent? Do you see it as a burden?

A few years ago, as I was dreading the upcoming Lenten Season —with its sacrifices and spotlight on sin, I began to notice in my prayer life and while reading Scripture that a theme continually jumped out at me. Example from the Psalms:

Look to God that you may be radiant with joy
and your faces may not blush with shame
Psalm 34

Bless the Lord, my soul
and do not forget all his gifts,
Who pardons all your sins,
and heals all your ills,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
and crowns you with mercy and compassion
Psalm 103

and the Prophet Isaiah (53:3)

He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.

Whole? Healed? Joy? Verses like this were a shock to my system. I had been wrestling with a perception of God as a harsh judge who was ready to pounce and condemn. Through prayer, however, the Holy Spirit was showing me that my perception of God was broken, and therefore my understanding of my relationship to God was broken. As Lent approached, I realized that I needed to obey the Holy Spirit. With some encouragement, I began to see a counselor and break free of many hurts and wounds.

This process of being vulnerable with myself, with God, and with my counselor was the most humiliating experience of my life. It was heart-wrenching and psychologically painful. However, I realized that this pain was necessary for healing.

Your Lent and Healing

Think about how often we must experience challenge or pain in order to be healed. Whether through surgery, exercise, or even the humiliation of apologizing to someone, healing and wellness arrive through sacrifice.

Lent is a time of preparation, leading us into the remembrance of Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. We often hear that Jesus underwent these things for our “salvation” and “to save us”, but what does that mean?

The word ‘salvation’ comes from the Latin salvus, which means ‘in good health’ and ‘safe’.  The official teaching of the Catholic Church in its Catechism is that Jesus “has come to heal the whole man, soul and body” (pp. 1503). This means that Jesus came, not only to keep us from going to hell, but far more than that. We often keep Jesus and his place in our life within that very limited box! No, Jesus himself tells us, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

How to Start

Do not limit your Lent to “giving something up”. Start now; live your Lent as a time of healing. Approach God as Jesus taught us: as your loving Father. Ask, “What is your loving plan for me? What is blocking me from having a stronger relationship with you?” Listen to God’s response, not only in your private prayer, but in the other avenues God has given us. Read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the lives of the saints. Speak to someone of faith whom you respect; a grandmother, a person who works in your parish, friend, etc. Homilies on Sundays or weekday Mass can also be a source of direction. What strikes you on a deeply personal level?

Trust that God is a good and loving Father, Jesus wants to heal you, and the Holy Spirit wants to console you. This Lent, embrace a challenge that will help you overcome obstacles to the abundant life and intimate relationship with God that He has in store for you.

Is God calling you to go on a journey of faith? Pilgrimages provide an opportunity for people to seek God, healing, spiritual renewal, reparation, forgiveness, and other personal graces—ultimately becoming a mini school of spirituality. Our Ministry of Pilgrimages is here for you; guiding you to a personal encounter with Christ.

A Surprisingly Simple Way that We Can Change the World

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A woman surprised my husband and I not long ago, with just a single observation.

We were visiting a local parish, and had just finished giving a presentation for some parents of teens preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. As we were cleaning up, several parents came up to us to thank us, greet us, etc. However, one mother approached us and told me, “I just wanted to say that it was so nice to see you smiling while your husband was speaking, and how you both interacted with each other like you really like each other!” She smiled briefly and walked away.

This remark continues to impress Dan and I.

Several other times, we’ve had strangers approach us and marvel aloud at how Dan opens the car door for me. “I sit here outside and watch everyone come and go,” one neighbor told us. “You never see that anymore. He is such a gentleman. I like that.”

Why do people make these comments to us?

In 2014, an extraordinary general assembly of the world’s Synod of Bishops was wrestling with the problem of how to authentically reach today’s families with the Gospel. The bishops answered with these words:

A key point [… ] seems to ultimately rest on a couple’s witness of life, a witness which is consistent with not only Christian teaching on the family but also the beauty and joy which permits the Gospel message to be embraced in marriage and lived as a family. […] A witness which attracts others simply because the family lives the Gospel and is constantly in union with God. This entails “showing that to believe in and follow him [Christ] is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties”.

Since my husband and I do not have children, I often wonder how God plans to work through our marriage. But as I sit and reflect on these many comments that people have made to us, I realize that God is working through our marriage by the sheer beauty described above by our bishops.

Nowadays, we see constant debates in media and public forums, about what is right and what is true in regard to marriage and family life. We are often swept up in these arguments, forgetting about the crucial third transcendental value: What is beautiful?

Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation […] which both the child and the scientist discover — “from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,” “for the author of beauty created them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 2500)

Let’s ask ourselves: “How do I treat family members? My spouse? My neighbors? My coworkers? Those with whom I do not agree?” Let’s strive to answer God’s call, and choose the beautiful way of living. Let’s remember and embrace the silent power of a glance, a respectful regard, a loving gesture, a smile, and a kind word. This, too, is evangelization.

In contemporary America, most people are not moved by claims of truth or goodness. Relativism has made truth to be whatever you want, thereby turning the good into whatever makes you feel good. So how can you engage the average nonbeliever? How can you place him on the road that would lead him back to the Truth and the Good?
Though the post-modern heart may be darkened to what is true and good, it is still captivated by beauty revealing love—and this may be its road to Christ.

Msgr. John Cihak, Professor – Pontifical Gregorian University

So, how can we help one another evangelize continuously in this way? Friendly reminders and spiritual tools are a great way to stay encouraged on your journey. Our free newsletter is created for this reason and to make sure you know about all of the inspiring events we provide. Sign up to receive this wonderful spiritual resource. It is our sole mission here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope to guide people to personally encounter Christ!

The Gift of Death for Christmas

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For the first time in recent memory, this Christmas’ extended family gift exchange was not a game. Gathered around the fireplace at my aunt’s house, each of her siblings chose a number to determine their turn. Then, in order, each sibling carefully took one of their mother’s precious keepsakes as their own. In a complex atmosphere of bittersweet memories, one person picked the photo of Grandma with her sisters; another selected the Christmas wreath that had hung on her door; and on it went… until nothing was left.

Just five days prior, gathered around a casket in parish pews, we prayed the Rosary in a way we never had before. Grandma’s eldest daughter, in a moment of remembrance after prayer, noted, “My mother’s favorite mystery of the Rosary was the Nativity.” Many times over the next twenty-four hours, we were reminded that Grandma prayed 15 decades of the Rosary daily, entrusting all of us to Jesus through his Heavenly Mother, but also entrusting herself.

The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: “From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord”; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us “at the hour of our death” in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1014)

Because of the loss of my grandmother, I re-discovered this Christmas. I noted how the Church celebrates—yes, celebrates—St. Stephen’s bloody martyrdom on December 26. On December 27, we celebrate the death of Saint John the Evangelist, who gave up each day of his life completely to God and died a natural death. Then, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28 (those innocent children whom Herod slaughtered in a paranoid rush to protect his sovereignty from a baby King). Thus, we begin the Christmas season by celebrating three martyrdoms: chosen martyrdom by blood, chosen martyrdom of daily life, and unchosen martyrdom of innocent blood.

It is a strange wonder to think that our religion celebrates death at a time like Christmas. Yet, it is not strange when I think back to the end of my grandmother’s Rosary service. Having completed the final prayer, my uncle Deacon John reflected, “We will remember always that now, whenever we pray the Rosary, we pray it along with her.” Jesus’ birthday made possible his self-gift on the Cross, transforming the curse of death into a gift: the hope of abundant and everlasting life.

If you have experienced a loved one’s death recently, I encourage you to take hope. When Jesus explained to his disciples what it takes to enter Heaven, they looked at him in astonishment, asking, “Then, who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

When we see a body lying in a casket, it seems impossible for that person to do anything more. Death appears to be final. Yet, Christians dare to hope in knowing that God—who created that person, who knows all the hidden sufferings and trials of his or her life, and who loves perfectly—is Judge. Therefore, we must pray often in hope and trust, commending his or her soul to God who became Love Incarnate, whose ways and wisdom are far beyond our weak ways and short-sighted wisdom.

God became a human because he could not bear the thought of living without each one of us in Eternity. He was born to show us his love; penultimately expressed by his death and resurrection. That is the gift of Christmas.

“There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.” –  Fr. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. (1948—2013)

To go deeper into this topic, consider watching our recent episode of Catholicism Live! We invite you to watch Catholicism Live! every Tuesday morning at 11am CST. Find out more about the show that helps you keep your faith alive at CatholicismLive.com.

Why did the Angels announce Christ’s birth to shepherds?

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b-shepherds-fieldMy husband and I enjoy watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year. Who could forget that classic moment, when a deeply perturbed Charlie Brown yells, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” and Linus recites from the Gospel of Luke? It’s a real tear-jerker.

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.”

How often have you pictured that scene in your mind: so many angels singing God’s praises, their glory contrasting with the poor, amazed, and simple shepherds? Did you know that even to this day in Bethlehem, shepherds continue to tend their flocks in the very same fields? During my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I was privileged to visit and see this amazing place with my own eyes.

Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem

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Have you ever realized that this historic event is commemorated during Mass on Sundays and major feast days? Each time we sing, “Glory to God in the highest…”, known as the Gloria, we are echoing those words of the angels that forever changed the world and sent a message of hope for all people! Wow!

However, have you noticed that during Advent, we skip this part of the Mass? Why?

Shepherd of Bethlehem

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jewish people lived under the Roman Empire’s occupation, and they longed for a Savior. They looked for a “Son of David”, because the prophets had promised a Messiah (Savior) from the line of King David. The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus was born into such a family.

Now recall King David’s background: he was a shepherd from Bethlehem. He was the youngest and smallest of his father’s sons—an unexpected new king, yet the most famous and revered of all Israel’s rulers.

Why Shepherds are Significant

Imagine spending your days and nights outside with a flock of sheep…not the most exciting gig in the world! Shepherds were servants, hired by landowners to tend their flock. An ideal shepherd was a patient, loyal, strong person, willing to stay with his job despite boredom, bad weather, and the occasional predator or wandering sheep. To these simple servants, the host of heaven revealed itself!

Similarly, we ourselves are charged by our Master to go about our everyday lives accomplishing the tasks he gives us. Under blue skies or gray, rain or shine, in boredom or danger, we are called to be out in the fields, doing our duty.

Advent is a time of preparation and waiting. Unlike the world around us which is already celebrating Christmas, we are called to patiently wait for our Savior. Just like the shepherds, we must stay awake and alert. Then, finally, when eternity explodes into our lives—either by death or Second Coming, we will be ready to run and greet Christ!

So, during Advent, we do not sing the Gloria as a reminder that we are waiting, like those shepherds. For me, Christmas Mass is one of the most emotional of the year, because I can sing the song that, along with millions of other Catholics, I have been waiting so long to sing. Together, our Church family sings the song that brought hope to a people longing for a savior; the song that the host of heaven sang to some humble little “nobodys”…

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

If you’d like to walk across Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem and sing the Gloria where it was first sung, join us for a journey of faith to the Holy Land! I invite you to learn about the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s unique Ministry of Pilgrimages and view upcoming pilgrimages on our website.

I found God in the World Series

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baseballHave you ever wept, and not understood why?

It was late at night in San Antonio, but my husband had the TV on the World Series. We never watch TV.

“Is that the last game?” I asked. As I sat next to him, I realized how unplugged I’d been from this Great American Past-Time.

“Yep,” he replied.

I found myself wrapped up in the seventh inning. Then, the eighth…ninth…rain delay…!? My husband and I bantered back and forth as we watched. “I can’t explain why this game is so fascinating to me!” I declared. Then, bottom of the tenth: blue uniforms rushed together and jubilantly bounced around the screen.

“CUBS WIN!” exclaimed the announcer. My husband continued relaying his childhood World Series memories. But a lump formed in my throat. Silently, I began to weep.

As Dan glanced over at me, he noticed my face, wrinkled with emotion. “Oh—I didn’t know,” he said quietly, surprised, “that you’re a Cubs fan.”

“My great-grandmother was from Chicago,” I whispered through sniffles. “She was seven years old when the Cubs last won the World Series. Every time we’d go visit her and the Cubs were playing, she’d have them on TV.”

But I wasn’t crying because I missed her. No—I wasn’t even crying because I was witnessing something she’d longed to see.

A Mysterious Union

As I watched Mimi’s Cubbies win the World Series, in an instant, I became overwhelmingly aware of God. Here it was, All Souls Day—the day when the Church remembers its departed members—and in an instant, I had an intense experience of nearness.

This nearness had nothing to do with spatial relationship and everything to do with intimacy. This nearness was so intense, so filled with God. I don’t know how else to describe it. Neither my body nor my intellect could contain or comprehend this nearness; I just wept.

These were not tears of sadness, nor tears of joy. They were tears in response to an incomprehensible experience of communion.

“We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (Pope Paul VI, Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 962).

b-baseballThis experience of God in my living room, watching the World Series, is just a peek into the awesomeness of our God. Our God is not only united unto himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; but also mysteriously united with us. “In him, we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Have you spent a minute lately, realizing how near God is to you?

“There is no place or thing in this world where he is not truly present. […] Although faith assures us of his presence, yet because we do not see him with our eyes we often forget about him and behave as if God were far distant from us. We really know that he is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on that fact we act as if we did not know it.” – St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life

Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

We have an opportunity for men to encounter Christ with their fellow brothers in Christ coming up soon.”Master, I want to see” is the scripture that was chosen for our annual Catholic Men’s Conference. We hope to see you at CMC 2017 . Get all the details at CMCSanAntonio.com.

 

Spiritual Battle – Top 3 Qualities of A Good Soldier

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The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 409)

The Church exists in three realms: Victorious (those members who are in heaven), Suffering (in purgatory), and Militant (on earth). Here amid the Church Militant, we hear about ‘spiritual warfare’ or ‘spiritual battle’, and much of the discussion regards “learning the devil’s tactics” or “gaining strength to resist Satan” or “watching out for signs of the enemy”. Recently, however, I reflected on how soldiers never step onto the battlefield without attending Orientation.

What is the most important quality of a good soldier?

I recently conducted a survey with this question among friends who are current or former members of the armed forces. All soldiers were asked directly. Each responded from his or her own experience, without consulting anyone. I received answers from soldiers varying in rank, age, background, gender; experienced in the United States Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. Amazingly, their answers fit into 3 categories, which correspond well to the spiritual life…

1. Commitment to the Mission – Top Response

Other words used to describe this quality: Discipline, Drive, Courage, Fortitude, Determination

One senior officer elaborated: “I always talk to my Soldiers about having a ‘Why’ Factor: That reason(s) that get you up every morning and make you the best person you can be. […] This can be the next rank, spouse, children, family, better finances, education; whatever it is that reminds them of the importance of what they do and why they strive for greatness each day.”

In the spiritual life, Jesus—our King—clearly states that we must be focused and committed to our mission: accomplishing His Will.

The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this:
“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:14-16)

Are you committed to following Christ, or are you lukewarm? Is it love of God that drives you through trials? What is your “Why Factor” for living as you do? If it is not Christ, then start examining your conscience, and determine what dis-ordered desires or other obstacles you must address. A soldier who is neither disciplined nor committed to the mission is a danger to himself and his fellow soldiers.

2. Integrity

Other words used to describe this quality: Honor, Honesty

Closely related to the top response, Integrity is defined as “moral uprightness”, or “the state of being whole and undivided”. Soldiers who gave this response consistently needed answered with one word. That’s because integrity speaks for itself.

Look at Saint Joseph in the gospels. He is described as “a righteous man”—yet his words are never quoted. Why? The integrity of his character is reflected in his actions, which speak for themselves. If someone were to write the story of your daily life based only upon your actions and the way you respond to God’s promptings, would you be satisfied with that story? As necessary and powerful as our words and vocal prayers can be, Jesus clearly tells us that lip service is insufficient for Victory:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Mat. 7:21-23)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The battle of prayer is inseparable from the necessary ‘spiritual battle’ to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ: we pray as we live, because we live as we pray.” (no. 2752) Start today, soldier! Pray for the grace to be a person of integrity. Seek God’s will so that you can accomplish it: Spend a few minutes daily with Scripture and spiritual reading, and consult a spiritual leader to help provide direction and structure for your spiritual combat training.

3. Teamwork

Other words used to describe this quality: Cooperation, Loyalty, Trustworthiness & Trust

handsA commanding officer elaborated: “I don’t want narcissists that only care about themselves.” Another asserted: “I need this person to foster teamwork, or cooperation. You can be the most patriotic, intelligent, experienced person in the U.S. military and if no one can work with you, or wants to, you’re useless.”

In the Church Militant, it is not good enough to “hang out with Jesus”. As two of Jesus’ closest disciples discovered, we cannot please God if we are jerks, even toward those who oppose us!

 

[Jesus’ messengers] entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him… When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them… (Lk. 9:52-55)

Mother Angelica advised, “Don’t say, ‘If it weren’t for that person I could be holy.’ No; you can be holy because of that person.” What bugs you about people? Are there people who drive you up the wall with their weaknesses or habits? Make it your goal to realize that you cannot win the spiritual war without learning how to love those people. When St. Therese of Lisieux found a particular Sister in her Community completely disagreeable, she employed this tactic: “Not wishing to give in to the natural antipathy I was experiencing, I told myself that charity must not consist in feelings but in works; then I set myself to doing for this Sister what I would do for the person I loved the most.”

Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn. 13:34-35)

3 Keys to Victory

  1. Disciplined and Courageous Commitment: Decide to live for Christ, and use this decision to guide all other decisions.
  2. Integrity: Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.
  3. Teamwork: Remember that you are not fighting your fellow man or woman, but rather temptation to sin. Practice selfless love, generosity, and kindness to everyone.

We encourage all men to join us for our upcoming Catholic Men’s Conference. The mission of the Catholic Men’s Conference is to promote a deeper understanding of our dignity as being created in the image and likeness of God, and to provide direction and resources to help transform ourselves, our families and society. You are not alone in your battle. Find strength in numbers at this annual event for men.

Wonder Woman – through a Catholic woman’s eyes

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Wonder Woman is finally getting her own contemporary action movie. During the 2016 San Diego ComiCon, a three-minute trailer was unveiled for her feature film starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot. In it, we meet the Greek demigoddess as she expertly leads male soldiers charging into battle, and deftly defends herself against foes.

After seeing this trailer and its companion poster which reads, “Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.”, I wanted to learn more about Wonder Woman. I knew that she’s one of the longest-running comic book characters, but beyond that I was pretty clueless.

rope-1551065I came to discover that she was first created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist and inventor of the polygraph. Marston wanted to create “a new kind of superhero, one who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love.” (1) Notwithstanding her various controversial story lines over many decades, Wonder Woman’s core principles of peacekeeping through love and truth immediately remind me of a book that my mother gave me: The Privilege of Being A Woman by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand.

Although by-and-large women are the physically-weaker of the two sexes, von Hildebrand highlights how they possess an innate and superior ability to love and inspire others to do good. Women carry within themselves a sense of mystery, a sensitivity and deep understanding of the human person. Because of this, Pope John Paul II wrote, “The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way.” (2) Women’s greater involvement in society “will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favors the processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love'”. (3)

I see these qualities communicated in Wonder Woman’s signature weapons: The Golden Lasso, which both compels her opponents to speak and submit only to what is true as well as protects them from illusion or attack, and her Bracelets of Submission, which are indestructible reminders of her past slavery and allegorically point to the importance of self-giving and emotional self-control. (4)

Despite these rich philosophical, theological, and artistic explorations of womanhood, our society sticks to three boring narratives: Either women are…

  • barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, completely ignorant of anything intellectual
  • pantsuit-wearing “wannabe men”
  • sexually objectified dolls

Von Hildebrand writes,

Ah! Poor women, how they are despised. And yet, many more women than men love God. During Christ’s passion, they showed more courage than the apostles for they braved the insults of the soldiers and dared to dry the adorable face of Jesus.

The truth about women is, yes, displayed on that movie poster; we are strong, graceful, wise, and mysterious. Whether the forthcoming WW film portrays this or not, I’m glad to be Catholic, because the Church* is where I learned how awesome I am and how awesome it is that I am a woman.

*Mother Church, that is.


Join me and 3,000 other women this September 9-10, 2016 as we celebrate true womanhood at the annual Catholic Women’s Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Footnotes
(1) Lamb, Marguerite. “Who Was Wonder Woman?”. Bostonia, Fall 2001.
(2) Pope John Paul II. Mulieris Dignitatem. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 15 August 1988.
(3) Pope John Paul II. Letter to Women. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 29 June 1995.
(4) DC Comics Database, dc.wikia.com.

 

How to Transform Your Burdens

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cross-carry

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.

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.