Category Archives: discipleship

Seeking Jesus: Absolutely Nothing Like I Expected

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Today, we share Part Two of a personal story about seeking Jesus. We thank Sonja Harris, a professional photographer and our recent Holy Land pilgrim, for these words and images…

‘Seeking Jesus’ are utterly profound words. This is a second in a series of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A friend asked if I found everything as I expected. My answer to her was, “Absolutely nothing” was what I expected… nothing!

I have friends who have gone to the Holy Land and when I ask about the trip, their answers are: it was ‘wonderful’, ‘great’, and ‘beautiful’. Really, going to the Holy Land, the birthplace of Christ, and one word describes it? Hopefully, you will be able to see through my eyes, the wondrous things I have seen and witnessed. My wish is that I will entice you to travel to the Holy Land and experience it for yourself—or if you are not able, hopefully my words and images will give you the experience I felt.

I will only write about the places that really moved me that I felt so inspired to put into words.  It’s a strange sensation to ‘feel connected’ to a time so long ago, and at times in my present life to feel so alienated from what is happening all around. I believe the feeling of being separated from our families living in other cities, and the division in our nation, prompted us to go on a pilgrimage of prayer. Deep prayer and focused concentration is good for our souls, and the Holy Land was the best place to seek Jesus.

On our fourth day in the Holy Land, we drove close by the Valley of the Winds, and our local guide decided we had enough time to walk on the path Christ walked during his time on earth. To walk where Christ walked was an unreal thought for me, and to actually feel the footpath beneath was mind-boggling. The path is not very wide, and connects Nazareth to Capernaum. It also connects Cana, Tabgha, and the Mount of Beatitudes—holy sites we visited. We only walked a few steps, probably a quarter-mile, before we continued on to the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

The Church of the Transfiguration is located 1,920 feet high on Mount Tabor, and can be seen from a long distance. Antonio Barluzzi, an Italian architect, dedicated his life to building or restoring many of the churches we were fortunate to see. His work is impressive to the eye, and his attention to detail leaves you in awe of his work. This is one of his masterpieces.

An artistic depiction of the Transfiguration of Christ is in the main church. “And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1-8). The art in the church is exquisite, and lifts you to another place in time. There is a painting of Moses in the Northern Chapel, and the Southern Chapel holds the very expressive painting of the prophet Elijah. From atop Mount Tabor, looking down at the scenery was totally breathtaking. Some of my fellow pilgrims chose to walk down Mount Tabor to meet the bus for our next site.

After lunch, we went to Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding, at the direction of his mother, Mary. Cana is situated between the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth. This passage in the Bible has always been one of my favorites: “When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine'” (John 2:1-11).  As a small child attending a Catholic school, I knew that Jesus had better obey his mother’s wish and that this miracle was special; Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs. We were able to see one of the six stone water jugs mentioned in the Bible, and I can assure you that they are definitely not what we see in any paintings. The jugs are enormous, and you can’t conceive how they were transported from one place to another.

To my total surprise and delight, Bill and I renewed our wedding vows at the Church of Cana. My notes in my Pilgrim Book read, “Our renewal vows were beautiful and I got emotional (I cried).” After 23 years of marriage, yes, we have been through some beautiful and fun times, but we have also struggled through some challenges that in the end have made our marriage stronger. I just could not imagine renewing our marriage vows in Cana until it became a reality.

A fellow pilgrim, Daniel, was kind enough to take the photograph of the six smiling couples that renewed their wedding vows, which included Mary Jane and Deacon Tom Fox (last couple on far right).

Are you paying attention to his surprises for you? His daily gifts? Remember Jesus’ love for you, and how he shares his love for you through the Holy Spirit. Take a few minutes now to pause and thank God for the many gifts of your day. Mother Mary, thank you for your prayerful intercession for all your children; for looking after us with maternal kindness. Please help me to see the surprises that Jesus is giving me today; how he is turning the water of my daily life, into the wine of a journey with him. Amen.

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Seeking Jesus

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Today, we share Part One of a personal story about seeking Jesus. We thank Sonja Harris, a professional photographer and our recent Holy Land pilgrim, for these words and images…

How does one go about Seeking Jesus? This is a story that I feel must be shared because at one time or another, I believe, all Christians seek truth, seek Jesus. Bill and I had some choices to make in June. We had selected either a Mexico City tour of the museums, or Washington DC to be at the opening of the ‘Art of Engagement’ Exhibit, where one of my images was going to be on display.

It was an unexpected chance: A friend of many years, Mary Jane Fox, announced on Facebook that there were only three spots left on Pilgrim Center of Hope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was not going to be a sightseeing tour; no, it was going to be a pilgrimage. We were to attend Mass every day and read Scripture at each holy site.

It was an epiphany (an experience of sudden and striking realization)… we knew instantly that this was where we needed to go, where we needed to be. No hesitation, no discussion; just a strong awareness of knowing that this was what we had to do—Seek Jesus.

It was a journey of a lifetime. We visited many holy sites, but I will focus on those holy places that moved me, that confirmed that being a cradle Roman Catholic was my gift from my parents. The Roman Catholics and the Greek Catholics are the two main groups of Christians in the Holy Land. What surprised me was how few Christians live in Israel. Approximately 1.5% of the people that live in the Holy Land are Christians. On this pilgrimage, I learned that the Catholic Church is the vital force in caring for and maintaining the holy churches—be they from Germany, France, Belgium or Mexico.

We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is built over ancient Nazareth. It was overwhelming to see the dwelling where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to a child named Jesus. The image I took is the place where the angel appeared to Mary. As you can see, an altar has been added for the purpose of Mass and for the Angelus to be said.

Before I go any further, it never, ever occurred to me that caves were the homes of the Holy Family, the apostles, and many of the people living in Nazareth and throughout the area, during the time when Christ walked this ancient land. Today, these caves are called grottos.

The gospels mention Capernaum many times, and I often wondered about this particular place. Where is Capernaum, and why is it so relevant? Capernaum became a real place for us, not just a place written in the Bible. It is the Town of Jesus, because his own people in Nazareth did not accept him. He settled in Capernaum with Simon Peter, his apostle, in Simon’s mother-in-law’s house. The new church is built over the ruins of this house where Christ stayed.

Near St. Peter’s House, we visited the ruins of the Synagogue where Christ preached and taught. In this image, you can see Deacon Tom Fox from Pilgrim Center of Hope reading Scripture to us (Matthew 8:14-15).

We next sailed the Sea of Galilee in a wooden boat. The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake, 8 miles by 17 miles and is 120 feet deep. The sea is clear blue and glistens in the sunlight. We were reminded of the Calming of the Storm at Sea (Matthew 8:23-27). The sea had a relaxing effect on me, as I was able to photograph the Sea of Galilee with the Valley of the Wind in the background—where Christ walked from town to town, Cana, Capernaum, and Nazareth. Not only was this a magnificent photographic visual, but also so much to mentally absorb.

Our lunch at a local restaurant was “St. Peter’s fish” served whole. It was totally delicious, and was my number one meal because of the significance, taste, and presentation.

We then traveled to the Church of the Primacy of Peter, located a few feet from the Sea of Galilee. Upon entering the church, the Mensa Christi (the Table of the Lord), a huge rock, is located just before the altar. It is this precise place that Christ, after His resurrection, met with Peter and others, and cooked fish breakfast for them. This is a moment that can give you so much to think about: Christ preparing breakfast for Peter, who had earlier denied him three times (John 21:1-19, John 21:17). “Do you love me?”

How are you seeking Jesus today? No matter what your life is like right now, Jesus wants to journey with you.  He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Matthew 20:)

Let us pray: Jesus, show me yourself. I open entire myself and my life to you. Help me to discover all the gifts you are offering me at each moment. I ask this in your powerful Name, Jesus. Amen.

The Experience that Put Me More In Touch with Jesus

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Are you wanting to rekindle or strengthen your relationship with Jesus? Perhaps it has been put to the side after many responsibilities, or weakened over time. Today, we share Pablo Garcia’s story; how God surprised him and helped strengthen his personal connection with Jesus – as he journeyed with us to the Holy Land in 2012.

I was praying to go to a pilgrimage to Rome…

“God, please please!”

…and all of a sudden, I had an opportunity to go to the Holy Land.

“Huh? I didn’t pray for that!”

As always, it’s not what we want; it’s what God has planned for us. The opportunity came, but still I had that yearning inside of me (I wanted to go see Padre Pio in Italy!). I went to the Holy Land not knowing what to expect. I just said, “Yes, I’m going,” and when you add it all up, it was a great blessing. It helped me resolve to actually walk in the footsteps of Christ. We had a great spiritual team and spiritual director.

6830173208_663fc64701_zWhat changed me was, in the mornings at the Mount of Beatitudes, staying at the hotel, early in the morning I’d walk as far down as I could to the shore. There was a big, flat rock there. Just sitting there, praying the Rosary, waiting for the sunrise to come up, you heard the birds chirping through the groves.  You could hear men or somebody down by the shoreline. I would realize, “Oh wow… it’s fishermen.” As I closed my eyes, praying the Rosary, I thought, “I’m right next to Jesus!” You could actually feel him, right by the shore, and smell it… That put me more in touch with Jesus. Just watching the first rays coming out of the mountain… that’s what did it for me.
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We got to rest two hours at the Gethsemane Hermitage. Even before I came on pilgrimage, I thought, “That’s going to be my number one spot.” When you went in there, it had all these different levels. I thought, “Oh wow. Where am I going to go?” I just let myself go and prayed, “Just guide me.” I went around… everyone else went to different places. I saw this bent olive tree, hanging over, and there was a nook and cranny. I sat on the ground and leaned against it. For two hours, I just sat there and reflected on Jesus, overlooking the wall of Jerusalem. That was the number one spot for me, right there. It was fabulous.

What experiences have put you in touch with Jesus? It’s important that we take time to re-visit these experiences every now and then. Take 10 minutes this week to sit and reflect on a time you encountered Jesus deeply: Remember the sights, environment, smells and/or tastes. What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Thank God for that experience. Ask Jesus to renew your desire to walk in his footsteps, as you move forward in your daily pilgrimage.

We Invite You…

  • ‘Come and See’ Informational Meeting – (Thurs., September 21, 2017 at 7pm) Join us to learn about our unique Ministry of Pilgrimages’ next Holy Land Pilgrimage (Summer 2018) and get your questions answered personally.
  • Our Lady of Fatima Veneration – (Weds., September 13, 2017) Grow closer to Jesus by opening your heart to his Mother, Mary. Pray with Our Lady at Pilgrim Center of Hope, in honor of her 100th Anniversary at Fatima. A statue from Fatima, Portugal will be available for veneration. Information about the Plenary Indulgence approved by Pope Francis for this special occasion will also be available.
  • Afternoon Tea with St. Thecla – (Thurs., September 21, 2017 at 2pm) Our role models and heavenly friends are virtuous women and men who’ve walked their pilgrimage before us. Learn about Saint Thecla and how she can help us grow closer to Jesus in our daily lives.

September: Month of Mary’s 7 Sorrows

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Did you know that the month of September is dedicated in the Church’s calendar to the Seven Sorrows of Mary? Let’s explore why an entire month is dedicated to these events.

  1. Prophecy of Simeon – When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus to the temple according to Jewish law, they encountered Simeon. He prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart.
  2. The Flight to Egypt – With their child endangered by the local authorities, Joseph and Mary sought refuge in Egypt. Refugees in a foreign land, they remained there until God revealed to them that it was safe to return to Galilee.
  3. Jesus Goes Missing – Returning home in a large caravan from their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph realize that the child Jesus is missing. For three days, they search anxiously for him. Finally, they find him in his Father’s house, the Temple.
  4. Jesus Carries the Cross – Always by her Son’s side, Mary witnesses his pain as he is mocked. She must stand by as her Son experiences the most horrible and shameful punishment, reserved for the worst criminals.
  5. Jesus’ Crucifixion – Mary watches as the soldiers nail her Son’s body to the Cross. What torture she must have felt, watching him die.
  6. Jesus’ Death is Confirmed – A centurion pierces Jesus’ heart to finalize his death, but He is already dead. Simeon’s prophecy is fulfilled as Mary receives her Son’s lifeless body taken down from the cross.
  7. The Burial of Jesus’ Body – Perhaps not even 50 years old herself, Mary experiences her own Son’s brief funeral just a few steps away from the site of his bloody torture and death.

As we meditate on the Sorrows of Mary, we can see just how much the Blessed Virgin Mary understands about our own sorrows. She was a simple, young mother who experienced tremendous suffering.

Our journeys to the Holy Land have helped us to grow even closer to Our Blessed Mother. The video below shows a glimpse of what pilgrims see after climbing Mount Calvary today. Right next to Calvary is an altar dedicated to Jesus’ Sorrowful Mother.

“Mary gave her consent in faith at the Annunciation and maintained it without hesitation at the foot of the Cross. Ever since, her motherhood has extended to the brothers and sisters of her Son ‘who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.’ Jesus, the only mediator, is the way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she ‘shows the way’, and is herself ‘the Sign’ of the way, according to the traditional iconography of East and West.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2674)

Let us pray: Dear Mother Mary, help me on my daily pilgrimage of life. Through your experiences of sorrow, help me to see God’s grace amid my own sorrows. Teach me to reflect on all these things in my heart, and to seek the Father’s will in everything. Jesus, I want to follow you today. Holy Spirit, remind me of your constant presence. Amen.

Join Us this Month for:

  • “Come and See” Marian Shrines – 9/9 – All are welcome to this Informational Meeting about our 2018 Marian Pilgrimage (April 3-14) to Fatima, Lourdes, Paris, and Lisieux. Learn about the Marian shrines in these locations, and discover what is important to consider when discerning a pilgrimage. More details here.
  • Our Lady of Fatima Veneration – 9/13 – Pray with Our Lady at Pilgrim Center of Hope, in honor of her 100th Anniversary at Fatima. A statue from Fatima, Portugal will be available for veneration. Information about the Plenary Indulgence approved by Pope Francis for this special occasion will also be available. More details here.
  • “Come and See” Holy Land – 9/21 – All are welcome to this Informational Meeting about our 2018 Holy Land Pilgrimage (June 25-July 7). Learn about the holy sites, and from our 30 years of experience, what’s important when discerning a Holy Land pilgrimage. More details here.

August: Month of Our Mother’s Heart

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Did you know that the month of August is dedicated in the Church’s calendar to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, recalling the Virgin Mary’s desire to serve God in his ongoing plan to save us? As we begin this special month, we share with you the testimony of Norma Garza. In 2011, Norma journeyed with us on pilgrimage to Marian shrines.

It’s totally different than going on vacation. Being a pilgrim, you feel like you’re going on a retreat – but it’s an extended retreat, and you have to realize that you’re with other people. You can learn from the other people, and hopefully they learn from you. Also, you’re there for a different purpose: to increase your faith, to see things in a different light.

It makes me want to cry… My relationship to Mother Mary has brought me to a place where I never would have been before, because Mother Mary takes you by the hand and she shows you her Son, personally. My relationship with Mother Mary just increased a thousand-fold by going to the places where she appeared, hearing her messages, and understanding why it’s so important for her, as a Mother, to take us to Heaven and to get us closer to Jesus.

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold intercession, continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. … Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church… (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 969)

This month, we invite you to reach out to Mary as a mother who cares for you. At his crucifixion, Jesus gave Mary as a mother to “the beloved disciple.” The Church not only interprets this passage of Scripture to mean Saint John, but also to all of us who are Jesus’ beloved disciples. Here are some ways to grow closer to Mary this month:

  • Evening with Mary: Power & Promises of the Rosary (August 7 @ St. Benedict Church) – A mini conference about Mary and her relationship to us
  • Evening with Mary & Joseph (August 25 @ St. Matthew Church) – A mini conference about the Holy Family and our families
  • August 13 marks the 100th anniversary of one of Our Lady’s apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Pray the Rosary on this day, asking Mary to help you be an instrument of peace in the world.
  • Marian Shrines Pilgrimage 2018 – Ask us about our next pilgrimage focused on growing closer to Jesus & Mary by visiting the places where she appeared in Lourdes and Paris, France, as well as Fatima, Portugal.
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe Pilgrimage 2018 – Inquire about our next pilgrimage focused on growing closer to Jesus & Mary by visiting her famous shrine in Mexico City.

“This ministry [of pilgrimages] is a way to evangelize in a particular way, personally, to each person that goes on pilgrimage; and, in turn, that person brings back home their evangelization to their family and friends and coworkers… and it just keeps spreading!”
– Norma

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!

On the Way to Priesthood: My Conversion as A Pilgrim

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What is a conversion experience? While Deacon James Wilcox was a seminarian, he journeyed with Pilgrim Center of Hope to the Holy Land. We would like to share the reflection of now-Father James Wilcox, Diocese of Fort Worth, on how this pilgrimage was a conversion experience:

Going to the Holy Land, going on this pilgrimage, really gave the almost “final glazing” (if you will) of formation for me, because it put so many pieces together. It was letting Deacon Tom and Mary Jane [Fox, Group Leaders], who love the Holy Land so deeply, show us the place they love. It was like going to their own homeland; them opening their house to us.

What touched me was the ability to understand Jesus Christ, both his divinity and his humanity, in a deeper way. For example, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when I was there praying, I could have a better understanding of Jesus Christ on that night before his crucifixion; his humanity, his prayer to God in that way. Then, on his divinity side, being able to serve as a deacon of the Mass at the Tomb of Jesus Christ offered such beautiful graces, such an opportunity to be where Our Lord rose from the dead, where he conquered death and sin for us. At Mass, being able to celebrate that gift that he’s left for us, really offered a glimpse into his divinity. I would say those are the things that helped me to grow in love.

The most direct method of going forward, and I’ve already seen it today, is really being able to use experiences, using knowledge, using the encounter with Christ that I had on the pilgrimage, in preaching. Really, that’s the first call: always to preach the Good News. To be able to do that from having walked in the footsteps of Jesus Christ is tremendous.

We need small conversion experiences in growing deeper in understanding who Christ is, so we come to know how he lived, why God came down to earth for us, and how we can live with him today in that way, but then, more importantly, in the Heavenly Banquet, as well.

The Pilgrim Center helped me on this pilgrimage understand universality in a very special way. When we see Christians in Palestine who are praying the same way we’re praying, when we attend Mass – the Mass that we pray, but it’s in Arabic; we understand that yes, we as pilgrims are a Body of Christ in and of ourselves, but we are Body of Christ with people on the other side of the world. We really do have a universality to the Church, and not only to the Church, but to our call to each other.

A pilgrimage is more than a vacation, and I think the Pilgrim Center of Hope really understands that a pilgrimage is an opportunity for prayer all along the way. That each of these locations, and moving toward each location, is the opportunity to grow in love of Jesus Christ through a conversion experience. So, the Pilgrim Center of Hope, helping people to be able to do that on large scales, on small scales, are really living out one of the Gospel messages, which is to bring people closer to an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

Conversion is an experience that we can, and must, experience each day! Each of us is called to encounter Jesus every day, to deepen our relationship with him, and decide to live his calling for our lives. This experience changes our whole outlook on life, faith, and our relationship with others.

Join us on pilgrimage! Seats are still available for August 7-17, 2017 journey of faith. Learn more here, or call 210-521-3377.

How the Gospel Came Alive to Me

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A woman's bare feet walks on an ancient stone floor

In today’s world, we are faced with the question: “Why do you believe in God?” or even, “Why would you believe in God?”

Today, the United States’ largest religious group is known as the ‘Nones’; people who have left religion or choose not to affiliate with any religious faith. Why is our nation ‘disconnecting’ from God?

This is one of the reasons Pilgrim Center of Hope was founded: to re-connect people with God and the Church. Over the years, we have met many men and women who participate in this ministry and experience that renewed connection. One such person is Mary Jo Quinn, who journeyed on a PCH pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009. She shared with us:

The Garden of Gethsemane was probably the most significant experience. We were given the opportunity for two-and-a-half hours of silent prayer, and that was an overwhelmingly glorious experience. I was able to relate to Jesus in his loneliness when he was there, how lonely he must have felt, and yet the presence of God there; knowing that he wasn’t totally alone. Nor was I totally alone. The olive trees were significant to me because they’re old, and I thought, ‘Some of them may have been there when Jesus was alive.’ That time was beautiful. I was able to identify my loneliness and that God is with me.

My other highlight was in the Tomb [of Jesus], in the Holy Sepulcher. I was asked to be a lector. We actually were able to get all of our pilgrims into the Tomb, into the very small area where the Tomb is. Another friend of mine and I were both able to read, and to this day, when we see one another, we reflect on what an honor that was, celebrating the Mass of the Resurrection.

The Gospel comes alive. Now, I prepare every Sunday to teach a Special Needs Faith Formation class. I do a pictorial card for them of the Gospel, and it’s just awesome… I can actually explain to them what happened and where that was, and that I actually walked where Jesus was. Bringing the Gospel alive is a wonderful aspect of the entire pilgrimage. You couldn’t ask for anything more than knowing that, all these years you’ve read the New Testament and tried to picture where it was, and now all of a sudden you didn’t have to try. To stand on the foundation of my faith was a high point for me; I was there where my faith began.

When I read Scripture now, I can have a vision of possibly where it happened; that it was a real place and not just written. I’m a lector, and I was able to relate to the New Testament better than I ever was before by having that experience of seeing the Gospel alive.

I took home with me that I walked in the footsteps of Jesus, I met him there, and I brought him home with me. It was glorious.

What helped Mary Jo to see the Gospel alive? Certainly, she was physically present in the places where Jesus lived, died, and rose again! Yes, she touched the stones and trees that silently witnessed the foundation of our faith! These are two undeniably powerful experiences that Holy Land pilgrims cherish.

No matter where you are right now, Jesus is calling you to encounter him and experience a renewal of faith! “Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the Word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel)

Each of us is called to approach and encounter Jesus today. Mary Jo allowed God to see her loneliness, and there she saw that Jesus was lonely, too. What is troubling you? Take a few minutes today to ask Jesus to be with you. And what makes you happy? Invite Jesus into your joyful experiences. Remember that he assured us, “I will be with you always” (Mt. 28:20).

> Upcoming Pilgrimages – Join us and re-connect with your faith with our Ministry of Pilgrimages! See Upcoming Dates.

Weekly Inspiration from Bl. Charles de Foucauld

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Charles de Foucauld was born in France in 1858; he lived in Paris for some time. After inheriting money from his grandfather, he began living a reckless life and ceased to be a Christian.  His cousin, Marie, lived near his apartment in Paris.  She was a deeply spiritual young woman.  Through her example, Charles began to change and rediscovered his faith in God and love for Christ. Regarding his conversion, Charles said,

The moment I realized that God existed, I knew I could not do otherwise than to live for Him alone.

He returned to the sacraments and lived as a Trappist monk. He was ordained a priest and went to Algeria to take up the life of a hermit in the desert.  His witness of charity, patience, and his deep faith, became a witness to those around him. While attempting to warn two Arab soldiers of danger from a group of rebels, Charles was murdered.

The life of Charles de Foucauld was a seed which had to die before it sprouted.  Today, religious congregations exist based on his example: Jesus Caritas, Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of Jesus, and Little Sisters of the Gospel.  They witness their Christian life in charity and patience.

His Prayer of Abandonment:

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:   I am ready for all, I accept all.  Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.  I wish no more than this, O Lord.  Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve,
and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

Feast Day: December 1

Suggested Reading:

  •  Journey of the Spirit by Cathy Wright
  • Two Dancers in the Desert: The Life of Charles De Foucauld by Chalres Lepetit

 

Inspiration from St. Teresa of Calcutta

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Life

“Surrender is true love.  The more we surrender, the more we love God and souls.”

These words of St. Teresa of Calcutta are good for us to take to heart as we begin Holy Week.  These next few days leading to the Sacred Triduum can be a good opportunity to take a few moments of silence each day and meditate on this quote of Mother Teresa.  What does it mean to surrender?  In very simple terms, it is to turn ourselves towards God and choose to follow Him, as we ask Him for the graces needed to follow Him and to desire His will in our lives.

A simple way to begin: Take 3-5 minutes daily to be in silence with the Lord.  Let Him speak to you.  You may begin your silence with these words: “Lord, I love you and adore you.  Fill my heart with your love.”

Feast Day: September 5