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.

‘Fear the Lord’: Does God Want Me to Fear Him?

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Even nonreligious people have heard the phrases “Fear God” or “Fear of the Lord,” which have found their way into popular culture, especially here in the southern region of the United States. But are we really supposed to fear God? What does ‘Fear of God’ mean, and how is it helpful for a faithful person’s everyday life?

Where It Comes From

If we look at the first book in the Hebrew Bible, Genesis, we see the first mention of this phrase in the story of Sarah and Abraham (20:11). If you look in the footnotes of your Bible, you may see this explanation:

The original Hebrew used for “fear of God” is yir’at YHWH, literally, “revering Yahweh.” The phrase refers neither to the emotion of fear nor to religious reverence of a general kind. Rather it refers to adherence to a single deity (in a polytheistic culture), honoring that deity with prayers, rituals, and obedience. – cf. New American Bible Revised Edition

I first discovered this distinction as a teacher for high school religious education. The discovery reminded me how important it is for us to put things into their proper context when we read the Bible. The translation of Scriptures from their original languages is a very difficult process that involves not only definitions, but also cultural inferences.

So, when we see the command, “fear your God” throughout the Scriptures, we can be assured of its meaning; as Jesus later told a scholar:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. (cf. Matthew 22:36-40)

The Other Kind of Fear

But perhaps you do have some fear related to God or religion. Today, we commonly use the word “fear” to refer to an emotion that causes dread, horror, and even trauma. What does our faith tradition teach us about this type of fear?

Back again in the Book of Genesis, we see that Adam and Eve, after committing the original sin, hide themselves from God. When God asks Adam why he hid, Adam responds, “Because I was afraid” (cf. Genesis 3:10). This type of fear stands in contrast to Adam and Eve’s previous, harmonious relationship with God and one another (cf. Genesis 2:8-25).

When angels appear in the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, one of their first messages each time is, “Do not be afraid!”

Throughout the gospels, Jesus often exhorts people not to give in to this kind of fear. There are too many instances to cite(!), but one of my favorites is:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

An Expert Opinion

One of the greatest spiritual directors in history was Saint Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church. Even as a bishop, he wrote thousands of letters in correspondence with common people about everyday spirituality.

Regarding fear of God vs. fearing God, he said the following:

We must fear God out of love, not love Him out of fear.
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We are not drawn to God by iron chains, but by sweet attractions and holy inspirations.

If, upon examining yourself and what motivates your faith involvement or choices, you find worry, uneasiness, woe, nervousness, and other unhealthy motivations, then please know that God wants you to be free from that kind of fear!

If—for any reason whatsoever—you find yourself suffering from worry, uneasiness, etc., be assured that God wants your happiness and freedom! Holy fearlessness is what our Christian life is meant to look like. The same Jesus who assured us that we would experience trials in daily life, also said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Saint Paul wrote that God’s hope has always been “that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (cf. Romans 8:19-21).

At Pilgrim Center of Hope this month, we are celebrating fearlessness as God’s desire for your life. Come learn more from the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales at our Social with the Saints on Thursday, January 17. Bring someone who needs a message of hope!

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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)

Fortitude, A Virtue We Need Now

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“…these difficult times…”

You’ve probably heard this phrase spoken often by friends, family members, acquaintances, fellow parishioners, celebrities, leaders, political figures, and even strangers. Yes; we’re keenly aware in these present times that challenges face us on all fronts: globally, nationally, in our Church, in our cities, our parishes, our families, and our own personal lives.

Like many of you, I pray about this—often! But I’ve considered that there must be something more that God wants to offer me; another tool to face the strife. I just couldn’t put my finger on it…

…and in his perfect timing, God reminded me about something: fortitude.

Defining Fortitude

I think we’ve all heard the word “fortitude” before, and some of us know it’s a virtue… but how many of us can define it? Often, we simplify it to mean courage, bravery, or the more traditional long-suffering, but it means much more:

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1808)

So, fortitude is the moral virtue that…

  • Strengthens our resolve (determination)
  • Strengthens us to resist temptation
  • Strengthens us to overcome obstacles in our quest to follow Jesus
  • Enables us to conquer fear, even fear of death
  • Enables us to face our trials, bullying, and persecutions
  • Disposes us to renounce and sacrifice our life in defense of a just cause (if we should be called to do so)

To me, then, fortitude is like having the best Spiritual Trainer, Motivator, Coach, Military Leader, and Loved One, all rolled up into one, living within and transforming you.

Are you saying to yourself, as I am, “Wow, I definitely want this!”?

How We Gain Fortitude

While we can train our bodies and minds to have increased strength and endurance, the moral virtue of fortitude is beyond our natural abilities. It is a supernatural grace; a gift.

Isaiah the Prophet tells us that God’s Spirit will rest on the Lord’s Servant, and then proceeds to list the gifts of the Spirit. Included in these is “strength” or fortitudo in Latin (cf. 11:2-3).

So, we gain fortitude through prayer to the Holy Spirit. Let’s (1) ask for the gift, (2) thank God for hearing us, and (3) prepare ourselves to be receptive.

Asking

The stories of Jesus’ healings and mighty deeds always begin with someone’s request of him, or approaching & reaching out to him.

Why do you want to receive the gift of fortitude? What challenges or trials are becoming obstacles in your life? Tell the Lord in prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit for fortitude.

Thanking

Giving God thanks for a gift, even when we don’t immediately see the results we expect, is important; it helps us to have an “expectant faith.” In the New Testament, mighty deeds done by Jesus—or by others in his name—are accomplished in persons who trust that God is present and active in their lives. We thank God because we are grateful; we trust that God is generous with spiritual gifts and listens to us with compassion (cf. Luke 11:13).

Preparing

Let’s “till the soil” of our hearts, preparing ourselves to be receptive to God’s gifts. Pope Pius XII suggested one way to do this: each time you receive Holy Communion, remind yourself of God’s closeness and mighty love.

In the sad and anxious times through which we are passing there are many who cling so firmly to Christ the Lord hidden beneath the Eucharistic veils that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor danger, nor persecution, nor the sword can separate them from His love, surely no doubt can remain that Holy Communion which once again in God’s providence is much more frequented even from early childhood, may become a source of that fortitude which not infrequently makes Christians into heroes. (On the Mystical Body of Christ, no. 84)

In his exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis also calls us to be “firmly rooted in prayer” as we call on the Holy Spirit for courage to live our faith (cf. no. 259). Let’s examine our typical day, and consider how we can speak more regularly with God—who should remain our Rock at all times (cf. Luke 6:48).

Finally, Pope Francis reminds us that each of our lives is unique, and thus, each of us will require fortitude in a unique way. We can look to the saints for guidance; not to follow exactly their personal spiritual & moral activities, but to inspire us to live our faith as our daily activities call us to live. He writes:

Some people nowadays console themselves by saying that things are not as easy as they used to be, yet we know that the Roman empire was not conducive to the Gospel message, the struggle for justice, or the defense of human dignity. Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all. These things are ever present under one guise or another; they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day. (no. 263)

Are you ready? Together, let’s seek the virtue of fortitude. Let’s go forth on our daily pilgrim journey, pursuing God no matter what causes us to stumble, fall, or throw us off the Way. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of fortitude!

For more spiritual tools, we invite you to watch Living Catholicism, Pilgrim Center of Hope’s weekly broadcast & video series about walking your unique pilgrim journey each day. Let us journey with you!

Remembering God’s Love for You

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Have you ever wondered whether maintaining an attitude of hope is really worth the effort? “What if, in the end, my hope for salvation was just a thought in my brain? What if the end of my life is just six feet under, end of story?”

Yes, all these thoughts are natural. However, being a Christian means living a super-natural life. If I have a relationship with Jesus Christ; believing, trusting, and following him who said, “(God) the Father and I are one” (John 10:30), then we are making a choice to live beyond what is natural or empirically evident.

Scripture tells us:

…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

This is like Saint Paul’s explanation of God’s love, the Holy Spirit, as our down payment on salvation. In other words, salvation – our total and perfect healing from all hurts, wounds, pains, shortcomings, and sins; our total union with God, is reason why each of us maintain the virtue of hope. Although we cannot empirically prove that salvation will come, God has provided us with a foretaste: the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts. We believe that the Holy Spirit is God, who is love.

When you and I struggle with doubt, temptation, or other trials, it is more important than ever to remember God’s love for us.

Reflect on these questions:
When was a time when I experienced authentic love?
When did I feel very close to God?

Look at a crucifix, and thank God for those moments. You are not alone in your difficulties. Jesus also experienced deep sorrow, agony, and the pain of abandonment on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) That, however, was not the end of the story. Before dying on the Cross, he was united completely with God the Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

I invite you to dive deeply into God’s love for you this week. As a special opportunity, this Thursday, Pilgrim Center of Hope is offering a Day & Evening of Hope during which you can visit our Gethsemane Chapel and touch a piece of Calvary, the hill where Jesus died out of love for you. I hope you will join us, and that you will be renewed in hope this week. May God’s peace be with you.

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Speaking to God: Advice from Experts

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If you’ve ever tried talking to God, you’re not the only one.

In fact, in the United States, about 75 percent of adults report speaking to God/Higher Power, according to a December 2017 Pew Research Center survey.

Prayer: A Quick Refresher Course

Do you ever feel like you’re “praying wrong” or don’t know how to start praying? I can assure you from our ministry experience at Pilgrim Center of Hope (PCH)…

Don’t worry: Almost everyone feels this way!

Even Jesus’ disciples wanted to know how to pray. They asked him, “Teach us to pray.” So, Jesus outlined the most fundamental prayer for them, known today as the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. Each line of this prayer teaches us something important about prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed (holy) be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts
as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one.
(Matthew 6:9-13)

We could meditate on what each line of this prayer means, and still would find new insights with each day.

Maybe we need more clarification. One of the greatest treasures we have is the model of the saints, who were human beings just like us—with complicated lives, struggles, challenges, joys, and sorrows. Through practice, they became prayer experts. At Pilgrim Center of Hope, we mine their treasured insights like the spiritual gold and jewels that they are, especially through our monthly Days & Evenings of Hope, and Socials with the Saints events.

Here are some of our favorite pieces of advice:

Four Simple Attitudes

St. Anthony of Padua was known for his teaching style that would captivate the listener. Here’s what he taught about how we should pray:

  1. Open your heart confidently to God.
  2. Speak affectionately with God.
  3. Present to God your needs.
  4. Praise and thank God.

In Difficult Times

When we face challenges, prayer can become more difficult. Recently, we at PCH learned from someone who understands this well, St. Mary MacKillop. Like Jesus, Mary MacKillop experienced the rejection of her own religious leaders, through an unjust excommunication.

We were in awe during a recent Social with the Saints, as we read that Mary would often say, “Today, God has been so good to me.” Considering her tremendously difficult circumstances, what an insight this was for us, into maintaining a prayerful attitude. She advised, “Let us study the Heart of God and, in doing so, we shall learn many beautiful lessons of patience and love.”

Of prayer, she said, “Let me humbly place myself in the presence of my God, of my God who created me, my God who redeemed me, my God who sanctified me.”

When Words Fail

What about when we simply cannot express ourselves in words? St. Teresa of Avila assured us, “Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”

St. Paul further reminds us that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together to communicate with us, as long as we open our hearts to God: “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27).

Don’t worry; “the holy ones” in this context does not leave you out. “Holy” means “set apart,” and when we choose to pray, we are setting ourselves apart. Jesus encourages us: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day” (John 6:40).

Start Now –

Do not be afraid; simply choose to pray. Picture Jesus in your mind. Ask for guidance. You have nothing to lose! God is eager to enter this journey with you.

Take advantage of upcoming opportunities to gain more insights and to practice prayer. We invite you to browse our Events Calendar.

Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.

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.