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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can…

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

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

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

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(Simple) Ways to Grow Our Prayer Life

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With some of the most wonderful liturgical feasts serving as bookends, October is an excellent month for us to discover ways that Mother Church helps us grow in our prayer life.

We ushered in the month celebrating the archangels on the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael on September 29, followed quickly on October 2 with the Memorial of the Guardian Angels.
How can angels help us grow in prayer?

…With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 329)

Angels work as messengers and servants of God, yet never cease beholding his Face and praising him in Heaven. This is a profound mystery, teaching us that work and prayer do not need to be separated. Every morning, we can say, “Father, I give you my work and all I do today. Through the intercession of the angels, I ask that I praise you through it all.”

At the other end of October, we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1.
How can the saints teach us how to pray?

The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.” Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world. (no. 2683)

In our over 10,000 canonized saints, we have many brothers and sisters who have fought the good fight and are ready and willing to help us with whatever we are experiencing. They teach us how to turn our sufferings into prayer and how to intercede through our sacrifices and prayer for our good and the good of others.

With both the angels and the saints, Mother Church encourages us to ask for their help.

Between these two bookends, we benefit from October 7’s Feast of the Holy Rosary, and in fact the entire month of October commemorates this ‘perfect prayer’.
Why is the Rosary called the ‘perfect prayer’?

  • It encompasses our whole being, mind, soul and body, to pray it.
  • It takes the pray-er through the Gospel in its meditation.
    • In the Hail Mary prayer, the angels and saints are invoked as we repeat the words of Archangel St. Gabriel, “Hail Mary full of grace,” and that of saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist with her words, “The Lord is with you,” while her unborn son jumps in her womb with the Holy Spirit.
    • In the Our Father prayer, we offer the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.
  • In the praying of the Rosary, we ask the Virgin Mary to intercede on our behalf who is the Mother of God, the Queen of the Angels & the Saints, and our Mother whom the Catechism calls the, “…the perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men” (no. 2679).

How Can We Remember to Pray?

Until prayer becomes a daily habit, reminders can be placed on our phones at regular times throughout the day to stop amidst our busy schedules and:
1. Offer a vocal or mental prayer of praise and intercession.
2. Willfully offer our work and chores for the good of the Church.
3. Lift up an inconvenience, annoyance, or suffering to God as a prayer for the conversion of ourselves and others (a common Catholic practice often called “offering sacrifices for the conversion of sinners”)

There is even an Angelus app you can download that reminds us to pray with the universal Church at 6am, 12noon and 6pm through a less-than-a-minute prayer which commemorates the Incarnation of Jesus.

Want to know more about how the saints, angels and our Virgin Mary can help us grow in prayer? Pilgrim Center of Hope offers monthly Socials with the Saints and regular Evenings with Mary at areas parishes. We invite you to join us for one!

My Story of Hope

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Five days before Pilgrim Center of Hope celebrates its 25th year of guiding people to Christ and His Church, I would like to share my Pilgrim Center of Hope Story.

It actually began in Mandeville, Louisiana, in the year 2010. My family was making a move back to San Antonio, Texas, and once my sons were settled back into school, I needed a part-time job. One day, I walked into the small Adoration Chapel at a local parish and, in front of Our Lord and Lady, I boldly presented a list of what I wanted. At the time, I was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom, and I loved it. Through an encounter with Jesus, I was brought back into the Catholic faith that I had left 20 years before. I discovered the richness of the faith and God’s great love for women in the Church. I was involved with parish groups, and simply hungered for God. I was not at all happy to have to possibly stop what I love for a job.

Having learned the power of prayer, I went to God and told Him,

If I have to work, then so be it, but this is what I want: I want flexible hours, so that I can be available for my sons. I want to be able to go to daily Mass, participate in faith studies, and to work out. I want a job where I can write. And, lastly, wherever you place me, please allow me to share the beauty of the Catholic faith with women.

Fast forward one year later: I found myself still looking for a job. For one reason or another, nothing came through.

As my life was very busy with my sons’ sports schedules, it took the invitation of three different women to convince me to attend my very first Catholic Women’s Conference. Knowing that the Holy Spirit confirms in 3s, I took the third invitation as a sign. At the conference, I felt guided to simply observe.

A month after the conference, I saw in a Pilgrim Center of Hope newsletter an advertisement for a part-time job as the Catholic Women’s Conference coordinator. I met with Mary Jane Fox and, along with discussing my experience and skills, I found myself sharing with her my love for God and my faith. Though Mary Jane told me she had a few more people to interview, I was confident that the job was mine. All my ‘wants’ had been checked off. I knew God had planned this, and he was answering my prayer in his time.

Answered Hope

Now, here we are in 2018. Two months ago, I coordinated my seventh Catholic Women’s Conference.

I share this story because it is a story of answered hope, and Pilgrim Center of Hope was a big part in God’s plan to make it a reality.

In the seven years that I have worked at Pilgrim Center of Hope, I have witnessed numerous lives change through God’s gift of hope. Here are just a few . . .

  • There is the story of my niece, who was struggling in her first year of marriage. She felt overwhelmed with what everyone was telling her a wife is supposed to be. She attended a Catholic Women’s Conference and discovered who God created her to be. This experience led to a great healing in both her and her marriage.
  • There is the couple who were lukewarm in their faith and went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. They returned on fire with love for Jesus, and have become prison ministers to bring the hope they received to others. They tell of the prisoners’ tears that flow onto the olive wood crucifix they hold in their hands as they describe how Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa and died on the Cross, for their true freedom.
  • There is the story of the man named Jose who walked in off the street during a Day of Hope held at Pilgrim Center of Hope. He said he was driving down the street and felt called to pull in. He had no idea an event was happening. He sat in the chapel in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He listened to the presentation about hope, and he left. What has become of him, I do not know. But I know, like me, he was guided by the Holy Spirit to Pilgrim Center of Hope. I am grateful Pilgrim Center of Hope was here to be a place of hope for him along the way.

Living with Hope

For 25 years, Pilgrim Center of Hope has been answering Christ’s call that was first put on the hearts of Tom and Mary Jane Fox; a call to guide people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.

If you need hope, call us. If you are growing weary and beginning to despair hope even exists, call us.

If you want to know more about Pilgrim Center of Hope, consider joining us on Saturday, September 22 for our 25th Anniversary Prayer Brunch. We will present on the 25 years of hope and on “Becoming People of Hope”! We invite you to be a part of it… to become a Person of Hope.

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An ever-busy coordinator, Nan sneaks in a few minutes to observe from the back of the 2014 Catholic Women’s Conference.

When God Praises Us

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by Heinrich Hofmann

Color print from a 1930s religious pamphlet. — Image by © PoodlesRock/Corbis

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be praised by God?!

There are several passages in which Jesus praises, compliments and delights in a person. We will read about three below who though very different from one another, all share one attribute . . .

FAITH!

One instance is the story of the hemorrhaging woman who made what had to be a tortuous crawl through the dusty and rocky road in the hope of healing after 12 years of constant disappointment. Just by touching the tassel of Jesus’ cloak, He felt her faith. He felt it as power leaving Him and flowing into her; this broken, grasping, desperate soul who chose to believe He could help her.

God’s praise of her?

“Daughter your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering,” (Mark 5:34).

Then there was the centurion, a man who by culture should not believe in God. Who by his status as a citizen and his rank as a soldier of Rome, should have trusted in the world’s power. But, who instead chose to believe in Jesus, asking Him to come and save his beloved servant who was paralyzed and suffering dreadfully.  Jesus offers to come, and the centurion responds,

“[…] just say the word and my servant will be healed,” (Matthew 8:8).

God’s compliment to him?

“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith,” (Matthew 8:10).  “’You may go, as you have believed, let it be done for you.’ And at that very hour his servant was healed.” (Matthew 8:13).

Third, there is the Canaanite woman, who for the love of her daughter and even after a seeming insult says to Jesus,

“Lord, help me […] “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters,” (Matthew 15: 25,27).

God’s delight in her?

 “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish,” (Matthew 15:28).

The Apostle, Paul, defines faith in Hebrews 11:1 as,

“[…] the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen,”

But I confess, that definition has never been clear to me.

I have always needed simpler explanations, so whenever I am in prayer and a word strikes me, I like to look it up in the dictionary on my mobile phone. Our Lord has yet to disappoint, drawing me to the exact definition He wants me to see.

So how is faith defined on my phone?  Faith is confidence or trust in a person.

What the hemorrhaging woman, the centurion and the Canaanite woman all possess is confidence in Jesus.  They put their trust in the hope that this Man is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.  Which I now understand, is exactly how St. Paul defines faith.

How can we have a faith worthy of God’s praise?

By doing exactly what these three did . . .  we go to Jesus and we choose to believe that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. In the Gospel of John 6:47-51, He most emphatically states,

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

We are blessed to be able daily to come to Jesus where He is Really and Truly Present: in His Sacraments and in the Eucharist. We can do so by receiving Him in Communion at Mass, by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation often and by presenting ourselves to Him in Adoration of the Eucharist. To know more about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, go to: The United States Conference of Bishops answers basic questions about the Real Presence.

If you need hope in finding Jesus, contact us at Pilgrim Center of Hope.  Answering Christ’s call, we guide people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.  Let us journey with you.

You’re invited to Day’s and Evening’s of Hope! The relic of St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church,  will be available for veneration at Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Gethsemane Chapel!

Join us on Wednesday, August 22nd,  from 12:30 – 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.

 

Answering Christ’s call, we guide people to encounter him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.

 

Can I Get a Witness?

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In 2 Peter 1:3-8, we read,

His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The author of this letter is teaching us. He explains the spiritual steps we can learn to ensure we remain on the path that leads us closer to God daily:

  • Faith, to..
  • Virtue, to..
  • Knowledge, to..
  • Self Control, to..
  • Endurance, to..
  • Devotion, to..
  • Mutual affection to love

What makes this lesson especially worth listening to, is that the author is also a witness.

In Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), Pope Paul VI, writes,

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

Long before he became Saint Peter, he was Simon; a son of a man named Jonah, a husband and fisherman. Thanks to an encounter with Jesus Christ, Simon began a journey of faith in being Peter; an Apostle, the rock on which Jesus would build his Church and the first Pope.

It was not an easy road for him, and it never ceased to be a journey. In his book, The Priest is Not His Own, Archbishop Fulton Sheen writes,

“Peter never entirely got rid of Simon. But once called, Simon never ceased to be Peter.”

Even at his martyrdom, he felt unworthy; insisting on being crucified upside down, as he did not merit the death of his Lord.

Saint Peter is a perfect example of a missionary of hope; one who continues to grow humbly in faith as he boldly proclaims Christ’s Gospel message.

We can imagine this letter being penned after years of traveling those spiritual steps; often going forth and back as he gauged his progress and discerned where he may have veered off road. His witness gives us confidence in the merit of learning from teachings of Scripture and by daily walking what we have been taught.

Jesus did not wait for Simon Peter to be perfect, nor does he wait for us.

You’re invited to Day’s and Evening’s of Hope! The relic of St. Benedict of Nusia will be available for veneration at Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Gethsemane Chapel!

Join us on Tuesday, July 31st from 6:00 -8:30 p.m.

We at Pilgrim Center of Hope embrace this message of hope! We are a small staff, hundreds of volunteers, benefactors, and prayer intercessors; living as missionaries of hope!  We invite you to join us. Come and see! Visit Pilgrim Center of Hope in-person or online.

 

Answering Christ’s call, we guide people to encounter him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. 

 

 

 

 

 

Join the Revolution!

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My family and I are on a food revolution; or I should say, an ‘anti-food’ revolution.

It all began a few months when 1-hour after eating quick microwave white rice, all my joints felt like they were on fire. My husband and I are in our fifties and we are both experiencing physical changes that are making us assess how to manage our health as we age.

I got on the internet to see if I could self-diagnose and found the culprit to be sugar. It seems these processed rice products quickly break down into sugar. I have known for awhile that sugar is my nemesis and the source of joint inflammation, mood swings and indigestion. My husband and I have made a conscious decision awhile ago to reduce to elimination our consumption of sugar. What I did not know until the ‘rice incident’ is how much sugar is put into so many unsuspecting products, such as salad dressings and spaghetti sauce. For a family like ours, that likes our meal preparations to be easy, this discovery came as a shock and a frustration.

I took this all to prayer.

Did you know that God cares even about our health?

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me and I will change your lot […] (Jeremiah 19:11-14)

In prayer, pondering and through the Word of God, my family’s lot has been changed as I came to the realization, For everything created by God is good. (1 Timothy 4:4)

God creates real food; so real food therefore is good. It is the modern economy that pushes low-cost ingredients, that are often not even food, to supplement, replace, and modify what we eat.

I understood that I should make it a goal to find products that contain only real food ingredients. To my relief, and after looking at many, many, product ingredients, I found a number of products, yes, even salad dressing and spaghetti sauce, that fit our criteria. And to my joy, heard the great news from my husband how amazed his doctor was at his healthy lab work. It seems eating real food is quickly healing! I too have experienced so much more energy that I no longer droop around 3pm nor find myself hitting the snooze button.

It seems to me that we, as a culture, have lost sight of how to physically live in the world God created; from eating food that is not actually food, to dieting extremes that exclude what has been for centuries the staple of civilization: Bread.

He brings peace to your borders, and satisfies you with finest wheat. (Psalm 147:12)

We have an epidemic of obesity and diabetes and I wonder if it is because our taste buds may be satisfied by the chemicals that mimic what we find delicious in food, but our bodies soon recognize that there is little here that nourishes. A cycle begins that gears up our appetites in hope of receiving the nutrition that will sustain us on our daily journey, only to cause us to overeat. It is reasonable to see how we are overweight, unhealthy, and chronically tired struggling with little energy for anything besides watching television and playing on our phones.

There are many fronts to this ‘anti food’ revolution including too much trash (did you know that America pays countries to take our trash!?) and toxic plastic containers, just to name two. How are we to begin to follow the best path for our welfare so that we can thrive in God’s beautiful world?

The Catholic Church has recently addressed God’s physical creation in the Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’ (on Care of our Common Home) written by Pope Francis, and it is worth the read.

We can also ask our Creator to show us the path to a better life.

  • The Gospels use much food imagery to teach, encourage, and challenge. Spend time daily meditating on the Gospel to see how Jesus viewed food and God’s creation.
  • Jesus, our Lord and Savior, comes to us as food in Bread and Wine!
    • Receive Communion frequently. When we partake knowingly that we are receiving His Real Presence, we become what we eat as Jesus tells us, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst… I myself am the living bread which has come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever; and the bread which I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world. (John 6: 31-35, 51)
    • Spend time Adoration in His Eucharistic Presence sharing your concerns spiritually AND physically, and ask the second Person of the Trinity and Son of the Creator of all creation how to follow the path that is for your welfare.
    • Find healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not just a time to confess how we have been ungrateful for and abusive of God’s creation through our sins. It is also where we are at the feet of Jesus and can ask Him to heal us soul, mind . . . and body!

Pilgrim Center of Hope provides events for healing through our Ministry of Conferences and our Days and Evenings of Hope. Answering Christ’s call, we guide people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. Let us journey with you!

Who Will Never Leave Me?

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As a pilgrim with us to the Holy Land, Nan Balfour touched the very Tomb of Christ and Rock of Calvary. She walked where Mary Magdalene became the Apostle to the Apostles, spreading the unbelievable news that Jesus is alive! In celebration of Mary Magdalene, and of Our Lady of Fatima who said, “I will never leave you,” we share this reflection by Nan:

Following 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 3,000 women who help make up the Mystical Body of Christ, come to 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!

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.