Author Archives: Nan Balfour

About Nan Balfour

Coordinator for the annual Catholic Women's Conference, an apostolate of the Pilgrim Center of Hope - Catholic evangelization ministry in San Antonio, Texas. 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 www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

St. Peter, Judas and You: A Lenten Reality Check

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Pope Saint John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Those consoling words should inspire us to lift the burden of salvation off of our shoulders and place it instead where it belongs; on God’s love for us. Our Lord Jesus tells us the same when He says, “Come to Me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest,” (Mat 11:28.)

During this Lenten season, as we draw closer to Easter and our Lord’s Passion, I have been thinking about this quote from the late great pope and about two people in the life of Jesus: St. Peter and Judas.

I find it intriguing that the one who Jesus accused of being an obstacle to Him (Mat 16:23,) received the keys to His Kingdom while the one Jesus called friend, (Mat 26:50) took his own life.

This all says more about Peter and Judas, and subsequently each one of us, than it does about Jesus, who being God, remains as is written in Hebrews 13:8, “The same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Why such opposite outcomes for Peter and Judas?

Why did Peter, who continued to stumble by denying our Lord three times, go on to lead Jesus’ disciples, becoming the first pope? Why did Judas’ life end so bleakly?

Pope Saint John Paul II answers when he says the response to our Father’s love resides in, “our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Capacity is defined as, “the ability to receive.” Real capacity, then, is the ability to receive reality; to receive Truth.

Jesus told Peter the truth of who he was: the keeper of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mat 16:19) and the rock on whom He would build His Church, (Mat 16:18) despite his weaknesses and failures. Peter chose to believe the Word, receive His love from the Father, which is the Holy Spirit, and act in His Power, His Mercy and His Love by repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness.

Jesus gave Judas the truth of who he was regardless of his weakness and failures. How merciful God is to respond to this bitter kiss, even as forces descend to lay their hands upon Him, by reminding Judas of who he was chosen to be: Jesus’ apostle and friend. Judas responds by refusing to receive God’s reality; turning from His offer of forgiveness and instead choosing to be his own judge, jury and executioner.

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“The Kiss of Judas” by Giotto

How about you?  Do you believe God’s Mercy and Love is for you?

When I am tempted to think like Judas, I like to recall the story of our first pope’s last earthly encounter with Jesus.

As St. Peter fled Roman persecution, he met Jesus on the Appian Way. “Lord, where are you going?” he asked to which the resurrected Jesus responded, “I go to Rome to be crucified again.”  Very ashamed that he once again failed to image Jesus, St. Peter turned back to follow His Lord, this time ending up with Him in Eternity. The Church of Domine Quo Vadis (“Lord, where are you going?”) has been built on the very spot of this encounter.

The ability to receive God’s Love and Mercy is always offered to us. If you fail in a real capacity to image Jesus, then receive Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  If you find it difficult to look beyond your weaknesses and faults, then spend time with our Lord in an Adoration chapel and ask Him how He sees you. I promise, you will be joyfully surprised!

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Annibale Carracci’s 1602 painting “Peter’s Meeting with Christ”

Not sure where to start? The Pilgrim Center of Hope answers Christ’s call by guiding people to encounter Him through pilgrimages (including Rome!) and conferences. We can help you.  Our life is a journey and we are here to join you wherever you are on this path to Eternity. Contact us at PilgrimCenterofHope.org, call us at 210-521-3377 or visit us at 7680 Joe Newton St., San Antonio, TX 78251.

The Power of Us: Why I March

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I experienced mixed feelings as I watched news reports from the Women’s March that was held in Washington, D.C. and around the globe on January 21, 2017.

I felt:

Sorrow that so many millions of women have chosen to march under the lies of the culture’s standard that seeks to destroy lives, redefine marriage and family and revels in keeping men and women bound in slavery of sin.  

Joy that though their words often speak the lie of relativism, their actions of motivating and inspiring others to join forces in community to right what they believe are the wrongs, proves they know there is truth and it is worth fighting for.  

Hope that once these millions of women come to know Jesus Christ, the Truth, they will join all of good will in marching under His Standard and together transforming our world from what Pope Saint John Paul II calls a culture of death into a culture of life; a culture where every life is valued and each person from the womb to the tomb is loved in the dignity of who he or she is created to be.

How can I have such optimism?  Because once upon a time, I was one of them.

I lived as a consumer of lies, full of rage and it was as this very angry woman, with fist in air, that Jesus came to me. From this encounter over fifteen years ago, our Lord has brought me into the Fullness of Truth; His Catholic Church, convincing me I am loved, I have a unique dignity as a woman and all that is His on Earth and in Heaven has been given to me.

How God accomplished this great victory in me was through a series of faithful people, over a number of some very dark years, who each in their own way, extended an invitation of some sort:

  • To pray with them.
  • To pray for them.
  • To help them.
  • To listen to them.
  • To attend Mass with them.
  • To be their friend.
  • To join them for lunch/dinner.
  • To share their love for Jesus with me.
  • To listen to me.
  • To attend a conference/retreat with them.
  • To encourage me in what I was doing right.
  • To join a faith/bible study with them.

I did not accept every invitation, and yes there were some that I thought silly at best and that I resented at worst. But in their offer, these ‘sowers of welcome’ planted God’s seeds. Over time all the many ‘little’ invitations became a great ‘power of us’ that slowly but surely altered my direction just enough so that when I was ready, God could scoop me up into His loving Embrace!

I will be forever grateful to God for providing me with these kind and generous companions on my life’s journey who love Jesus enough to include me!  It is thanks to them, I have joyfully joined this ‘power of us’ marching under His Standard!

As Catholics, we often tremble when we hear that we are called to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ and answer His call to, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” (Mat 28:19-20).

Why is this?

Why are we afraid to share with others what God has done for us?  Why are we afraid to let them know that they are loved by Love itself? Why are we afraid to tell them how much God desires to be their friend? Why are we afraid to be the messenger of the great news that God not only wants to spend Eternity with them, but He has great plans for them here and now?

It is because we fear the response.  We fear their rants turned on us.  We fear being criticized and we fear being ostracized and knowing our Lord has experienced it all gives us comfort, but does not remove the fear.

So . . .  start with an invitation. Join the ‘power of us’ and be one of the ones who helps turn a heart away from sin and toward the Prince of Peace; Mercy Himself.

Think of one person you know who is caught in the lies of this world, struggling under the burden of sin and invite her or him into your life of faith.  Feel free to use the list above for suggestions.

Now I have an invitation for you.  I INVITE YOU to one of our upcoming conferences: The Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Men’s Conference or Catholic Women’s Conference.

Here you will encounter our Lord Jesus Christ in Mass, Benediction, Adoration and Reconciliation. You will learn the wisdom of the Church through inspiring, challenging and encouraging speaker presentations. You will enjoy beautiful and joyful fellowship and you will have opportunities to grow in our rich treasure of Catholic spirituality.  Please join us . . . Jesus will be there and so should you!

Ready to march with us?!  Please consider being one of our Parish Advocates. These are men and women who take on the noble task of ensuring everyone at their parish knows he or she is invited to attend a Pilgrim Center of Hope conference.  To find out more, visit us at PilgrimCenterofHope.org and click on Get Involved.

Walking with Mary: The What and the How of the New Evangelization

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We Catholics have a mission to evangelize. We are called by our baptism to work in and through our daily lives, whether professed religious (priest/sister) or as a lay person working and living out in the world, to bring the Gospel message to everyone. This Gospel message is the proclaiming of the Kingdom of God so that all people may be liberated from sin and freed from the Evil One through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Does this surprise you?

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi – On Evangelization in the Modern World. Pope Paul VI writes,

“She (The Church) prolongs and continues Him. And it is above all His mission and His condition of being an evangelizer that she is called to continue. […] Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important to the whole, (15).”

If this not only surprises you, but frightens you, take heart! The Church, through Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Francis, have provided what every mission needs to be successful: The ‘What’ and the ‘How.’

What is the Mission of Evangelization in the Modern World?

When Jesus sent His disciples on this mission, He told them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, (Mat 28:19-20).” And they did! Christianity spread around the globe.

Today, that Christianity is losing ground and many baptized, even those who attend Sunday Mass, do not shape their lives around the one they profess to follow, Jesus Christ. It is to those who Pope Saint John Paul II said we need a New Evangelization.

How do we achieve the Mission of Evangelization in the Modern World?

Pope Francis, who called Evangelii Nuntiandi, “The greatest pastoral document that has ever been written,” gives the ‘how’ of this mission in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium-Joy of the Gospel:

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples, (cf. Mt 28:19) (120).”

Walking with Mary

On this feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we see in her the perfection of the missionary disciple.

Mary of Nazareth was conceived without Original Sin and full of grace, but she still needed to be evangelized to become first a disciple, then a missionary one. Received as an answered prayer to the childless, St. Anne and St. Joachim, she was returned to the Giver at the age of three to be presented at the Temple. There she learned the Scriptures and how to pray. At fourteen, she received the message of God from the mouth of the Angel Gabriel and in turn gave this message to the World in her Son, Jesus Christ.

In the thirty years before Jesus made disciples of many men and women, He evangelized her. Mary learned in the raising of and listening to her Son how to shape the apparent contradiction of her virginal life around the Mystery of being the Mother of God. She made choices to follow her Son wherever He desired to go by making haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth and in escaping to Egypt in confident obedience to her faithful spouse, St. Joseph. Though full of grace at the Annunciation, Mary continued to grow in grace and surely came to understand what she most perfectly witnessed as a missionary disciple: Through discipleship to Jesus; the Son of God, the more you give of the grace given to you, the more you receive in return.

Your Mission . . . Should You Choose to Accept it

As we end this year and look forward to next, take some time to ask yourself if you are indeed a disciple of Jesus Christ. Do you go to Mass every Sunday? Is your daily life shaped by Jesus and His Gospel message? Are the decisions you make – little and big – founded on the Creed? Do you pray every and often each day? Do you frequent the Sacraments? Do you read Scripture and study the rich treasure of our Catholic faith?

If not, then let your first recruit be you! Start by going to Mary, offering a Rosary or even one Hail Mary prayer, asking her to help you become a missionary disciple. She will surely direct you in how to follow Jesus. Perhaps she will:

  • Encourage you to take advantage of opportunities at your parish to learn more about our faith through faith/bible studies.
  • Ask you to join a service group at your parish or another Catholic ministry.
  • Share with you the needs of family and those in your workplace and teach you how to pray to God in how best to witness by example and word.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope is Looking for a Missionary Disciple Just Like You!

The Pilgrim Center of Hope exists to connect men and women to God and His Church through a variety of opportunities that include annual Catholic Men’s, Women’s and Seniors’ Conferences, Afternoon Tea with the Saints, Evenings with Mary, through media with monthly Today’s Catholic newspaper column, Living Catholicism, spiritual tools including books and monthly newsletter, this The Pilgrim Log and a weekly television/radio show, Catholicism Live! . . . just to name a few!

Feel free to contact us or come by and visit the Pilgrim Center of Hope and pray with us in our Gethsemane Chapel, where we offer the Divine Mercy Chaplet each weekday at 3:30pm.

Who’s in Charge?

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Healing the Centurion’s servant by Paolo Veronese, 16th century.

The priest celebrating Mass was struggling. A man was assisting him by holding both his hands so he could slowly rise from his chair and scuffle to the altar for Offertory.

As he spoke the words for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, he frequently lost his place. The deacon standing to his right, gently used his finger to bring Father back to the words he missed so he could begin again. We participating at Mass that day patiently waited; many of us praying silently for Father, because we know the Offertory prayers must be spoken exactly as written through the priest to bring about the miracle of ordinary bread and wine being transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, (CCC 1411-1413).

Seeking to Understand

One of the reasons I left the Catholic faith decades ago and one of the areas I struggled with when I returned was the principle of authority. Especially, the authority of the priesthood. But instead of simply disagreeing with it, I poured through the Catechism of the Catholic Church to seek for myself why the Catholic Church teaches what she does.

In doing so, I discovered my unique and unrepeatable place in God’s plan.

For instance, the Catholic Church professes that in the Sacrament of Baptism, every person is anointed as priest, prophet and king. How we are to live that out depends on the vocation we are called to and freely choose. A priest is given authority as a ministerial priesthood by means of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. As a lay woman, wife and mother, I have been given authority under the common priesthood anointed by the Holy Spirit at my Sacrament of Baptism, (CCC 1546-1547).

What does that mean?

It means through the Sacrament of Marriage, we both become one, making sacrifices for each other. We both act in equal authority over each other. At our wedding, we spoke the words that married him to me and me to him. The presiding priest, in persona Christi, was our witness and the Holy Spirit sealed our Covenant. (CCC 1624).

We became parents; anointed in authority through our Sacrament of Marriage, to two sons. Many may have a type of authority over my sons, for instance teachers and coaches, but only with our parental permission either verbalized or through our actions, (CCC 2221-2223).

This is a privilege and it is a great responsibility.

To help us make the best choices, lay people should consider the following hierarchy of responsibility:

  • God
  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Extended Family
  • Career
  • Parish
  • Community

When we choose accordingly, we are given the grace to act through the authority God grants us. When we put these priorities in their proper order, harmony reigns. If we, for instance, put our career ahead of parenting or decide to replace our spouse, we renege on the graces granted us by authority of God in our vocations and Sacraments. We are acting on our own without authority. Our lives become chaotic and often, misery is the fruit. This explains the wisdom of the Church in why she teaches divorce is immoral because it introduces disorder into the family and into society, (CCC 2385).

Living in God’s Grace

Understanding authority as God has planned is important if we want to live our lives truly as His disciples and in peace with each other. Scripture speaks of how best to understand God’s plan in Matthew 8: 5-8:

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

Seeing Vocation as a Gift

Knowing that graces are especially granted in a specific vocation and through the Sacraments authored by Christ should help us to discern how to act; either in subject to or as authority over; and rise to the challenge God asks of us whether we are a centurion, a priest, a wife, a husband or a parent.

To discover more what it means to live the vocation of manhood and womanhood, consider participating at an upcoming Catholic Men’s Conference or Catholic Women’s Conference produced by the Pilgrim Center of Hope.

 

 

Choice for Catholics

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We hear the word ‘choice’ advertised often these days. . . especially in an election year.

For Catholics, we are blessed at Mass every Sunday to advertise to the world what we believe and who we choose to be when we profess as Church, our Creed.

The Nicene Creed is our Profession of Faith and through our witness in the day to day journey of striving to live it out, we Catholics are easily recognized.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

“Our profession of faith begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything. The Credo begins with God the Father, for the Father is the first divine person of the Most Holy Trinity; our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works.” (CCC 198)

Each Catholic’s free will choice to be what we profess means:

  • We must acknowledge one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is Creator of all things visible and invisible.
  • We must live out this belief in the Lord, the giver of life, in all circumstances, convenient and inconvenient.
  • We must choose life for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works.

To call yourself Catholic and profess differently . . . is simply false advertising.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope is a Catholic Evangelization Ministry which exists to help Catholics live out their faith and share it with others through a variety of opportunities. Want to know more? We invite you to join us on Saturday, October 29th, 2016 for our annual Prayer Brunch benefiting the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Learn more about what we profess and what we do at PilgrimCenterofHope.org.

Pondering Our Queen

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Dr. Edward Sri writes in his book, Love Unveiled, The Catholic Faith Explained, that in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens,” the heavens here refer to spiritual beings God created first: the angels.”

He goes on to explain that angels are superior to mankind in knowledge, power and glory and were made to know and love God, to glorify Him and to serve Him in the world He was about to create. Sri writes that there was one angel who stood out among the rest. He was called the “light bearer” and that, “It is traditionally believed God invested more of His glory, power and strength in this angel than in any other. What a beautiful sight it must have been to gaze upon the “shining one” who reflected God’s glory the most!”

Like us, God has created angels with a free will and did not force them to serve. Sri writes, “Before they could see God ‘face-to-face’ and be sent on their mission, their love was tested in some way.” The ‘shining one’ failed the test because, as Sri writes, “He did not want to bow down before his Creator, but focused on himself […] He ignored God’s supremacy, rejected God, and sought to build a kingdom for himself.”

What happened to this angel is told by our Lord Jesus when He said, “I observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” (Lk 10:18) The next time we hear about him he is successfully tempting our first parents to choose self over God, and just like him, they receive the same destination: banished from Paradise.

Reflecting as this morning dawns on the Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I sit amazed and in wonder at the great mercy of God.

It actually makes sense that God would not just give up on creation as God can only be what He is: Creator, Love and Mercy. Instead He exclaims, “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev 21:5)

So, God sets about creating anew investing even more glory, more knowledge and more power into His new “light bearer” and this one, He calls “Mother.”

With her ‘yes’ at the Annunciation, Mary, descendent of Adam and Eve, receives The Light – God Himself – in her womb, participating with Creator God in His new Creation . . . what glory!

Serving God’s mission all the way to the Cross and beyond, Mary’s free will and faith in the supremacy of God is tested more than what I believe all the angels had to endure. As told to her by Simeon when she brought her precious baby to be presented in the Temple, “And you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,”(Lk 2:35) she receives the gift to read the thoughts and hearts of all creatures, a gift never given to the old light bearer . . . what knowledge!

As the Mother of God, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the faithful Daughter of God, it is through Mary, all the graces merited by her Son, in the Mercy of our Father through the Holy Spirit are distributed to all creation. Yes! God has granted that it is through the hands of Mary, as Mediatrix with their Son, Jesus Christ, all grace is granted . . . what power!

In her most exalted position, the new ‘light bearer’ acknowledges her queenship and the source of all her glory, knowledge and power by exclaiming in Luke 1:46-55:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

So what does all this mean for you and me?
“Behold Your Mother!” (Jn 19:27), God’s new creation, His new ‘light bearer,’ His creature who He invested more glory, more knowledge and more power than any other creature, is our Mother too!

We invite you to discover what it means to live God’s new creation by joining us at an upcoming Pilgrim Center of Hope Conference: The Catholic Women’s Conference, the Catholic Men’s Conference and the Catholic Seniors’ Conference. The Pilgrim Center of Hope also offers Evenings with Mary at various parishes in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. If you would like to bring a presentation to your parish, please contact us.

How To Never Feel Alone Again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every year, close to 3000 women, who help make up the Mystical Body of Christ, come to the Annual Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Women’s Conference and we encounter Jesus where He is Truly, Really Present in the Eucharist, in the Mass and in Reconciliation. We offer the Rosary with the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother. We find new friends in the saints through the speaker presentations and this year, perhaps even sitting next to us! And, we enjoy fellowship with other flawed, sinners as we all help each other work out our salvation.

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

It’s All How You Look at It!

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A few presidential elections ago, I thought I was being very astute in discerning truth by watching BOTH the conservative AND the liberal news/talk shows. I was of the opinion that by listening to both sides, I could determine where lies are being told and truth is being offered.

I was wrong.

Instead, I discovered that a survey/statistic can be produced affirming whatever a side wants it to; often ‘proving’ the exact opposite of the other side! What this taught me is that what we are told, by often self-described experts, is actually someone’s opinion rather than what actually ‘is.’ As one genuinely seeking to understand, I am forced to choose a world view based on, “Whose opinion do I believe?” What this experience also taught me is that I am so grateful to be Catholic!

Why?

Because to discover what really ‘is,’ the reality of a situation, it only makes sense to go to the One who created the world and to His Church, which He gave as His promise to not leave us orphans. To view the world through ‘Catholic eyes’ is to see through God’s eyes, and to see through God’s eyes is to see Reality.

One of women of the Bible, Martha of Bethany, discovered the same thing . . .

As they continued their journey he [Jesus] entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

In our ministry to women, I have found many women identify with Martha and think, as she does, that Jesus does not care. But if we look at this situation from Jesus’ perspective, we may just change our opinion.

Dutch_Painting_in_the_19th_Century_-_Cornelis_Kruseman_-_Christ_with_Martha_and_MaryFirstly, Jesus does not hesitate to respond; turning from everyone else in the room and calling Martha by name, not once, but twice! He is very present to her. He then reveals to Martha that it is not just her sister, but many issues that are troubling her. In God’s generosity, He is not going to simply address her issue at hand. He lavishes her with His personal knowledge of everything she is going through. He sees her! When He tells her that Mary has chosen the ‘better’ part, He is not criticizing, but rather leading Martha to see that she did ‘good’ in welcoming Him and coming to Him but chooses ‘better’ by listening to Him. He is drawing her.

Our Lord is encouraging, teaching and challenging Martha to a different world view. Like a prism, He is moving the lens showing another perspective, God’s perspective.

How does Martha respond? Soon after, during her deep grief in losing her brother Lazarus and trying to comprehend why her friend, Jesus, did not show up in time, according to her and everyone else’s opinion, we hear her exclaim, “Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world,” (John 11:27) And, she says this before He even raises her brother from the dead! This tells us that Martha has made her choice Whom to believe.

So how do we become like Martha when bombarded with the thousands of opinions we receive daily from sources both outside and in? How do we discern fact from fiction?

Our Catholic faith teaches that one way is through Scripture. By dwelling daily in the Word of God, we learn God’s language, and are able to see what often seems like a rebuke, is in Truth God calling us to something much greater and much deeper.

All the ways Christ is present to us is taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name, in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But “he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species.” (1373)

And, all these ways are found at our annual Pilgrim Center of Hope Catholic Women’s Conferences, Catholic Men’s Conferences and Catholic Seniors’ Conferences.

At these one and two-day events, women and men are given opportunities to welcome Christ and come to Him. In these encounters with Christ, we are encouraged in our unique dignity as children of God, taught the Truth of God’s love and challenged to live this Reality, bringing hope to our very hurting world. We invite you to join us.

So . . . what do you think?

The Secret to Finding Mr. or Mrs. Right

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What eligible man or woman has not asked the question, “How do I know if insert name here is the person I should marry? Increasingly, the young adult generation is asking a more despairing question, “Why should I marry at all?”

According to statistics, 40-50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The percentage is even higher for subsequent marriages, which proves that most who divorce did not learn from their mistakes how to either select a good spouse or how to be one.

It is no wonder that a growing majority of people are choosing not to marry. Many are the result of broken homes and they know the pain of their parents separating. It has caused deep wounds and they are not willing to enter into the same situation that has already caused them so much suffering.

Our Catholic faith discerned through Scripture, however, professes marriage as God’s will and is clearly stated through this encounter between Jewish authorities and our Lord Jesus Christ:

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying,
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Mat 19:3-9.)

So, how can God expect us to marry and stay married when it is so very difficult?

Because as always, God never asks of us what He does not provide as a way for us to succeed; and this way is the way of virtue.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself (CCC 1803.) St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.”

So, imagine if that man or woman you are dating or are already married to had the goal to always give the best of himself or herself to you. Imagine if you did the same in response. Your marriage would grow in perfection, in holiness!

Sarah Swafford, author, speaker, one-time college dormitory resident manager, and one of our speakers at this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference has listened to hundreds of young men and women lament their romantic relationships and the dearth of worthy partners to date, let alone marry.

couple walkingAfter listening to countless conversations, she began to ask them, “What traits and characteristics do you find most attractive?” Whether she asked men or women, the responses were very similar and the list of attributes lined up with a life lived in virtue.

Sarah has made a chart of the simply irresistible virtuous woman and man and encourages us to take the virtue challenge. What she discovered from the many men and women who have strived to live out the virtues of this challenge, is a movement away from self and towards the other. This human effort striving for good formed characters rich in kindness, confidence, honesty, responsibility, humility, sensitivity, forgiveness and compassion. Who wouldn’t want to be married to someone like that? Who would not want to be someone like that?!

The success of this virtue challenge is that it draws us into the work of God; and whenever we cooperate with His plan for our lives, His grace kicks in perfecting our nature. In other words, our human efforts become super-charged!

Scripture confirms this in 1 Thessalonians, 4:7-8, “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy Spirit to you.

The secret to finding Mr. or Mrs. Right is to become Mr. or Mrs. Right, or as Sarah says, “Become the man or woman of your dreams and you will attract the man or woman of your dreams!” And this is true whether you are looking to marry or are already married. What joy to wake one day and discover that through your human effort combined with God’s grace, the one sleeping next to you for the last 5, 10, 20 years is growing once again attracted to you and you to him/her!

I encourage you to go to emotionalvirtue.com and take the virtue challenge, and I invite women to see Sarah speak and share more at this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference on September 9-10th!

Painting by Artist, Leonid Afremov “Misty Mood”.

Discovering Peter’s Joy

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GalileeSunrise copyWhen my fellow pilgrims and I disembarked from our ‘fishing’ boat on the Sea of Galilee (it was really a tourist boat operated by a group of Jewish men who lived on the nearby Kibbutz), I received a revelation from God that inspired me to more actively practice my Catholic faith.

The Total Person

From where I was standing on the shore, I could see on one side, Tiberius (the old Roman city still in existence) and another side where stood, Decapolis, the ten ancient cities of the Greeks and to the North, Capernaum, where we had just visited the ruins of a synagogue where Jesus taught. It occurred to me that these places represented the total person: Tiberius/Roman/Body, Decapolis/Greek/Mind and Capernaum/Jewish/Soul and with this realization, I heard our Lord speak to my heart and share with me His desire to unite all three in every human person: body, mind and soul.

Gone Fishing

I recalled this memory as I heard the opening to today’s First Friday Gospel from John 21:1-14, “Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius.” It was here that Peter had chosen to just go back to what he knew, fishing, because Jesus was gone, and probably thinking even if all the rumors about him being seen by others were true, they cannot be true for him, who denied His Lord and ran away. Isn’t it interesting, I thought, that even John calls it the Sea of Tiberius . . . forget what I knew (mind), what I believed(soul), just go back to what I do (body) . . . fish!

What is so beautiful about this Gospel, and what I learned myself on pilgrimage, is that our Lord and God comes to us where we are. In this Gospel story, Jesus makes the first move towards Peter and even affirms his choice by providing the fish he spent all night trying to catch. He does the same for each of us.

You Are Invited

Pope Francis confirms this in his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium – “Joy of the Gospel” when he writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Waiting For You

Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.” (3)
It was this joy Peter discovered which tells us that God’s love and mercy for us has nothing to do with who we are and everything to do with who He is.

Our response should be to give freely of our mind, body and soul as our Lord asks of us,

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27)

Walking Catholic

One of the greatest joys of going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land is to see for yourself all the miles our Lord Jesus walked toward His people. One of the greatest joys of being a Catholic, is experiencing through the gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, how He still does!

The Sacraments of the Catholic Church, established by Christ, is our Lord’s promise to never leave us . . . to continue to come to us! We can be united with Christ, mind, body and soul by frequenting the Sacraments (body), learning the teachings of the Church (mind) and believing what the Church professes (soul.)

And when we fail, we can have confidence that the joy that was Peter’s is ours as well!

The Pilgrim Center of Hope provides opportunities to encounter Christ through pilgrimages, conferences and a variety of outreach events. Find out more at pilgrimcenterofhope.org.