Category Archives: discipleship

“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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Why It Matters that Jesus Is Our King

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In this Sunday’s Gospel, we saw Jesus, whom Christians name “King of Kings,” being judged by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. In response to Pilate, Jesus says:

You say I am a king. For this was I born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (John 18:37)

“What is truth?” This is a question for our time. Do we really want to know the truth about who God is and about how he wants us to live our lives in relationship with him? There is an objective truth based upon natural law and on the law of God—given to us by way of his revelation in the Scriptures and his Church. When Pope Benedict XVI began his papacy, he said that one of the greatest concerns of our times is relativism, a commonly-held doctrine causing individuals to trust more in their own logic and in ideologies to which they’re attracted, than to trust what God has revealed.

Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” To belong to the truth is to choose Jesus Christ as our King, our Lord and Savior, and to allow the truth of God’s revelation in the Scriptures and the Church to shape our lives. It is this authority that enables us to cling to God’s promises, so that we will always have hope in every circumstance.

Pilate asks the people if they want him to release Jesus to them. They said, “Not him but Barabbas!” They rejected Jesus as their King and called for his crucifixion. They spoke out of ignorance, but their ignorance had consequences.

This is not the only time that Jesus Christ and his Kingship were rejected. He has been rejected throughout history, mostly out of ignorance, whenever the truths he has revealed have been rejected. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:16) When we reject Jesus, we are rejecting God’s revealed plan for our salvation.

Questions for This Week

What does this Feast of Christ the King mean to us; to you and me? It is an opportunity to look at our relationship with Jesus Christ.

  • Is he our King and the Lord of our life?
  • Do we belong to him and the truths he has revealed?
  • Do we listen to his voice? Or do we reject him because we really do not know him or take him seriously?

My Personal Story

Thirty-two years ago when I was a hotel manager, I was having lunch with the Food & Beverage Manager when he asked me, “Is Jesus the Lord of your life?”

I don’t remember what I told him, but I do remember that my answer should have been “No.” I went to Mass every Sunday, but that was the end of my faith experience for the week. However, that question began to haunt me. I believed in God, but how much influence did he have on the decisions I made; very little?

That was a wake-up call for me. Where was I going with my life? What were my priorities? How important was my faith?

Shortly afterward, I bought my first Bible and joined a prayer group at St. Matthew parish. Through a series of decisions and circumstances, my faith become alive and a major influence in my life.

Finding True Happiness

I thank God for that wake-up call, because it changed the course of my life. I am truly grateful that God gave my wife Mary Jane and me, at the same time, the grace to desire a personal relationship with him. There are no words to describe the joy we have discovered these past 40 years of marriage as a result of our efforts to place God first in our lives. It is only possible to reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity when our life is ordered to God, according to the truths he has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

  • We invite Jesus to be our Lord and King by a commitment to daily prayer, and inviting him to be with us every day throughout the day.
  • We stay connected to him by faithfully attending Mass, and by encountering him in the sacraments and in the holy scriptures.
  • We defend ourselves against the ignorance of this age by being formed in our faith, and allowing Mother Church to guide us on our pilgrimage through this life—so that we will always have hope.

To say that Jesus is our King is not just an act of our intelligence or of our faculties to perceive his message; it is first of all a matter of a heart that is willing to be open, a heart that has a desire to believe what God has revealed, to live what we believe, and to share what we believe with others so that they may also believe.

God’s plan for us is not complicated. He said we must be like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. We must trust and depend upon God as a child trusts and depends upon its parents. Without exception, each of us has to intentionally choose Jesus as our Lord and King, for our own salvation, and to help save the souls of others—especially those whom we love.

Pilgrim Center of Hope is here to help. Explore more about reaching your potential for happiness; we invite you to watch our weekly broadcast TV & video series. May you be renewed in hope as you reflect on Christ as your King.

Updated Monday 11/26/2018 9am CST

In Times of Weakness, Stay Centered in Christ

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As I prepared to write this blog on staying focused on Christ when faced with self-doubt, I thought about the various times in my life when I allowed myself to become problem-centered instead of Christ-centered. Times when I forgot about how crucial it is to run, not walk, toward Jesus whenever I start feeling inadequate. When I got problem-centered, I would focus on things like:

  • I lack in patience and need to react less to the words and actions of others
  • I don’t spend enough time reading and studying Church teachings
  • I lack in self-discipline when it comes to eating healthy and exercising
  • I don’t spend enough time in prayer
  • I am not as virtuous or holy as I should be

At one time or another we all have fixated on what’s wrong with our life, instead of running to the waiting arms of Jesus. When we are weary, we all need to be more like St. John and seek to rest our head on the chest of Jesus. Herein lies the strength we need to persevere with boldness, passion, and joy!

It is precisely because of our weaknesses, our sinfulness, and our imperfections that Christ died on the cross! In these moments when we feel unworthy and like throwing in the towel, we need to fix our eyes on Christ:

  • Salvation History – from his Incarnation to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection
  • Scripture – the Living Word, his instruction on how to overcome sin and temptation
  • His Triumphant Return – when he will bring salvation to those who eagerly await him

When we are Christ-centered, it not only opens our eyes, but it gives us confidence and the ability to put our total trust in God, no matter what the crisis, challenges, or obstacles.

So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. – Hebrews 4:16

Saint Paul, who was afflicted at times by a sense of brokenness, failure, and persecution, gave us some powerful words of consolation and encouragement:

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.  – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

At one of our recent Socials with the Saints, I reminded everyone why we turn to the saints for inspiration to continue on our pilgrim journey toward the Heavenly Jerusalem:

A saint is not someone who never sins, but one who sins less and less frequently and gets up more and more quickly. – St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Just like the saints, all of us – no matter how unworthy we feel at times – can achieve holiness:

…In spite of the fact that we have all sorts of shortcomings and sins and so forth, if we are striving to love our Lord with our whole strength, that is a growing in the sanctity of life. – Fr. Jerry Gehringer, Being a Saint in the World

Second Corinthians, Chapter 12, Verse 7 tells us that St. Paul was given a thorn in his flesh, not an actual thorn, but a source of real pain (frustration) to keep him humble. Since we are not told exactly what the thorn was, let us equate this thorn with whatever chronic difficulty or problem we may struggle with. Here is what God told Paul, after he begged God three times to take the thorn away:

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness (12: 9)

Paul’s response was to say, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”

We are weak, but we must be courageous in our weakness. And often our courage must be expressed in escaping without looking back, so as not to fall into the trap of wicked nostalgia. – Pope Francis (Homily, July 2, 2013)

Pilgrim Center of Hope is here to provide you with the life-lines (presentations, tools, and resources) that can lead you out of times of turbulence (problems and moments of self-doubt) to encounters with Christ that will restore order and hope in your daily life.

Please join us for our next Day of Hope, on Thursday, November 29, from 10am until 5pm. You will have the opportunity to venerate relics of St. Padre Pio, including a glove worn by the Saint with blood from his stigmata. Mass will be celebrated at 9am. Click on the link above for details.

Fortitude, A Virtue We Need Now

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“…these difficult times…”

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

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

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

Defining Fortitude

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

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

So, fortitude is the moral virtue that…

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

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

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

How We Gain Fortitude

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

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

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

Asking

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

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

Thanking

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

Preparing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Hope in Darkness

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How many of us have used the expression, “I need hope!” or “I am so desperate, I can’t seem to find any happiness or see a light in this situation!” …? I believe many of us have expressed these words or some very similar.

Defining Hope

Christian Hope is the confident “desire (for) the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1817)

Pope Francis explained that Hope comes with trusting in God, not with power or wealth. He continued to explain that it is knowing that, “‘I hope, I have hope, because God walks with me.’ He walks and he holds my hand.” (cf. General Audience, December 7, 2017)

Words of Hope

One of our favorite scriptures is Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” These words should give us hope!

  • Rejoice in hope – Because of hope, we can experience peace and, yes, a joy by realizing that God loves and knows me.
  • Endure in affliction – This may be difficult. We may be experiencing some darkness, depression, anxiety, and yet these words Endure in affliction are telling us to remain strong! To have courage in situations we are unable to control. This brings to my memory a common saying … This, too, shall pass! While those moments of darkness may seem like an eternity, enduring with hope, with the necessary elements given us in those situations, can help us endure.
  • Persevere in prayer – Without prayer, we cannot sustain our faith or a relationship with God. To persevere is to continue and stick to what we believe. To believe that God is loving and merciful. To persevere is to choose to move forward. That is why I like the term used by the Church to describe the people of God; we are a pilgrim people. Each day, we make choices that will bear fruit in our lives. Whether small or enormous, the actions or situations we face can be done as we persevere—humbly and in prayer.

How does hope bring us out of darkness?

God’s promises are there for us. Let us not forget! Darkness cannot bring you out of darkness – only the Light. The Light is God and Truth: “Jesus spoke and said, ‘I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 8:12, 14:6a)

Let us read the words of St. Paul:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

This is our choice: Do we want to believe that the God of hope can fill us with peace?
Christianity is about a person – Jesus Christ; it is not just a formula to use when we need something in our lives! Christianity is about you and me choosing Christ, the One who knows you more than you know yourself; He is God!

Pope Francis told a crowd at St. Peter’s Square: “Let us now imagine the Crucifix and let us all together say three times to the [image] of Jesus Crucified: ‘You are my hope.'” The Pope explained that we must really believe that in the Crucified Christ our hope is reborn. Love and hope come together on the cross of Christ. (cf. General Audience, April 12, 2017)

We have to surrender to God! Hope sustains us. Prayer will lead us to Hope. Hope leads us to trust.

Here are a message of hope and a prayer for you to cut and place by your workplace, your mirror, somewhere to remind you to rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, and persevere in prayer…

“I plead with you: Never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” (Pope St. John Paul II)

Heavenly father, we are your humble servants.
We come before you today in need of hope.
There are times when we feel helpless.
There are times when we feel weak.
We pray for hope.
We need hope for a better future.
We need hope for love and kindness.
Some say that the sky is at it’s darkest just before the light.
We need your light in every way.
We pray to be filled with your light from head to toe. To bask in your glory.
Help us to walk in your light,
and live 
our lives in faith and glory.
In your name we pray. Amen.

To find tools to help you build up your hope, we invite you to listen to Journeys of Hope and watch Living Catholicism, our weekly broadcast media programs. Let us journey with you!

Take courage! He is calling you.

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The theme for all the Catholic Men’s Conferences (which are held annually) and sponsored by Pilgrim Center of Hope is taken from this Sunday’s Gospel, “Master, I want to see.”

Our Blindness

Bartimaeus was physically blind, but because of his faith, the Lord healed him. We chose this theme, because we realize that there is a blindness that is worse than physical blindness—and it affects not only men, but all of society; and we all need to be healed.

As Jesus taught the crowds two thousand years ago, he said, “…They may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:12) To accept Jesus as our Savior, and to undergo conversion, goes against our nature. We think we know what is best for us, and we want to rely on our own resources, our own intelligence, our own understanding. It is from this way of thinking that we need conversion and forgiveness.

The Difficulty of Faith

In baptism, we received the theological gift of faith, but what is faith? The theologian St. Thomas Aquinas gives us an insight: “The object of faith is not something seen or sensed; nor, in itself, is this object grasped by the intellect” (Tour of the Summa). Perhaps this is what we could call the difficulty of faith: our intellectual desire is to understand all things, but there are some things that God has revealed to us that are beyond our understanding.

The answer to this struggle is to surrender (entrust) our intelligence to God, in order to believe. As we draw close to God, we should desire more to believe than to understand in matters of faith, because it is our faith that causes us to have hope and to live in charity. This has been proven through the ages; true faith in God has inspired men and women to live heroic lives of virtue and to experience great happiness that has been the means of hope not only for themselves, but also for others.

Awakening Our Faith

Faith is more than saying we believe in God. Again, an insight from Thomas Aquinas:

“The internal act of faith is the unhesitant assent of the mind or intellect, under the direction of the will, to the truth that is proposed for belief upon sufficient authority. In the case of religious faith, the authority is God, who is truth itself.” (Tour of the Summa)

This internal faith must lead us to an external witness. Saint James tells us, “Be assured, then, that faith without works is as dead as a body without breath.” (James 3:26). If our faith does not influence our decisions, it is dead. If our faith does not inspire us to pray daily, read the scriptures, and worship God, it is dead. If we are not concerned about discovering what God’s plan is for us, and then using the gifts that God has given us to build up the Body of Christ, then our faith is dead.

Jesus came to speak about the urgency of the kingdom of God, because the kingdom of God is at hand for those who believe; and not to believe leads to hopelessness. If we do not have a sense of the urgency of the kingdom of God, then we have eyes, but do not see; ears but do not hear, and hearts that have not yet been converted. The world is as it is because we have not placed God at the center of our lives, at the center of our families.
Our Lord is patient for our salvation, but the longer we take to cooperate with his graces; the greater are the consequences will be for us and for society.

What Will You Ask Jesus?

If we still have enough faith to know that we must make some changes in our lives, then we should say along with Bartimaeus, “Master, I want to see!” The Lord will begin to show us what we must do. It was Bartimaeus who initiated the dialogue with Jesus. Even though he was told to keep silent, he continued to ask for pity, and Jesus said, “Call him!” When he came forward, Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” even though he knew Bartimaeus was blind.

Jesus knows what we need, and yet he often waits to see if we have enough faith to ask, or to ask on behalf of someone else. He begs us to ask him. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

What is it that you want to ask of Jesus? He already knows what you need, but he may be waiting for you to approach him in faith. Remember the words of the disciples to Bartimaeus: “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you!”

It may seem like a big risk to ask Jesus for something, because we know that Jesus may want something from us in return. What he wants from us is our trust. He wants us to experience the joy of being a child of God and of living in a relationship with him in which we will discover our true dignity.

There are some things we can do that will prepare our hearts to see and hear our Lord, so that we can be converted and forgiven.

  • We must make a commitment to pray daily. Prayer could change the world if we would pray with our hearts.
  • Our Lord has given us the sacraments, because he knows we need his grace to discover and live the plan he has for each of us. Consider how you can incorporate frequent Confession, daily Mass when possible, quiet time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, into your life.
  • Being united with the Mother of Jesus by praying the Rosary will help us to see more clearly the spiritual battle we are involved in each day.

May the grace of God give us all the confidence we need to approach Jesus with our concerns and petitions. May God’s grace help us to see and hear more clearly his great plan for us. Faith is a gift from God, but believing is a choice.

How will you choose to respond?

Pilgrim Center of Hope is here to help guide you to encounter Christ, so as to live in hope, as a pilgrim in daily life. After taking some time to consider how you will respond, browse this blog and our website for spiritual tools to help you.

(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!

Let Nothing Disturb You

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Distractions are everywhere, from our “always on” culture bombarding us with information, to the political-divide in our country, to the pursuit of monetary gain and social status. And then there is contending with injustice, racism, and discrimination, not to mention keeping up with our family and work commitments.

It is harder than ever to stay focused on God. Whenever I find myself feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by distractions or challenges, I immediately turn to two of our “go to” quotes here at Pilgrim Center of Hope:

Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer – Romans 12: 12

Do not be afraid… Put out into the deep and let down your nets – Pope St. John Paul II

Both of these quotes have to do with having total trust in God, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter how bad things might get. Throughout the Bible, there are actually 365 mentions, one for every day, of the message “do not be afraid.”

This past Sunday’s Gospel reminds us that:

For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God – Mark 10: 27

Interestingly enough, this week we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Avila (October 15). St. Teresa lived a pressured life, marked by poor health, opposition, and an endless workload. Yet, she reformed the Discalced Carmelite Order and wrote some of the most powerful guides for spiritual development, like The Interior Castle and The Way to Perfection. When it comes to remaining focused on God in the midst of a storm, her “God Alone Prayer” says it all:

Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing. God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things. If you have God
you will want for nothing. God alone suffices.

When I was a young adult, before I came to know the “God Alone Prayer,” I let the smallest things disrupt my relationship with God and my spiritual life. Years later, whenever I am under pressure and short on time, I depend on God and prayer to see me through, because I have every confidence that God will show me the way.

Also from this past Sunday’s readings:

I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me – Wisdom 7:7

Aside from turning to this Pilgrim Log for your weekly inspiration, I encourage you to watch our weekly television program Living Catholicism, which airs on Tuesdays, from 11–11:30am on CTSA, Spectrum channel 15.

Each week’s program includes a Message of Hope, an inspirational quote from Scripture, a pope, or a saint, that will help you to stay focused on God, so as to live in hope, as a pilgrim in daily life.

TeresaOfAvilaEvery day, Monday through Friday, between the hours of 8:30am–5:30pm, you are welcome to come and visit our Gethsemane Chapel for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Just outside our chapel, you will be greeted by an antique painting of St. Teresa of Avila holding a scroll with the “God Alone Prayer” in Spanish.

In closing, I want to direct you to the powerful talk presented by Fr. Bruce Nieli at our recent 25th Anniversary Prayer Brunch. Fr. Bruce, Pope Francis’ Missionary of Mercy, will re-awaken you to the hope that God gives!

Conversation with God

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Until you realize that prayer is the most important thing in life, you will never have time to pray. Without prayer, a man is like a soldier who lacks food, water and ammunition. – Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix

I recently attended a Christian funeral of a man I met 30 years ago. He was a classmate of my husband, was married, and had a family. As it is traditional at funeral services, I made my way to the open casket before the service to honor our friend and say a prayer. I noticed a prayer book in his hands; it was a thick book, its cover quite tattered and barely intact, with its pages worn and ends curled. Obviously, this man used his prayer book often, and it was a sign that he was committed to his faith in God. His adult children certainly knew their father’s love for God and the Church; it wasn’t a difficult decision for them to have their father’s prayer book placed in his hands.

Funerals, to me, can be a reminder of our mortality and our current outlook on life. They can also be a reminder of our awareness of God. How aware are we, that God knows us? He is our Creator and our Heavenly Father. He procreated with our parents. He is unchanging.

Prayer is choosing to take a moment to raise our minds to God and, from the heart, communicate with him. Saint Teresa of Avila, a renowned contemplative nun who led many people to a life of prayer through her own example, would often say, “Praying is like having a conversation with a friend.” What a friend we can have in God!

If we realize the importance of prayer, then it becomes as important a part of our lives as the air we breathe. Yes, it is possible; I have experienced this in my life.

What can help us be reminded to pray? I suggest the following that has helped me through time:

  • Sacred image(s) can become good reminders. A crucifix is an excellent and consoling image to encourage us to communicate with God, the One who died for us! Place these in areas you often spend time, office space, home, books, or even on your smartphone.
  • A prayer book, pamphlet, or card can be useful. The Catholic Church offers so many; one of my favorites is the Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office) which contain psalms, scripture, and intercessions. Learn more about this here.
  • Nature can lead us to raise our minds to the One who created it all – God!
  • Begin with a favorite prayer or scripture, as a “jump starter” to assist you as you begin with your own words.

That tattered prayer book was a clear and gentle reminder to all of us present; of the importance of prayer, the importance of believing in God and in His mercy. Believing in the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, leads us to a life of true peace. Prayer is our connection with God and will sustain us in our daily journey to the end.

If you would like more help and simple tools for renewing your prayer life, we invite you to subscribe to Pilgrim Center of Hope’s monthly newsletter; visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.

Re-Focusing Our Lives

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If you had a message of great importance that you wanted the whole world to know about, who would you choose to deliver it? In our readings at Mass this Sunday, it is clear that God’s ways are not our ways.

How God Confounds Our Logic

God can choose whoever he wants to accomplish the things he wishes to accomplish, as we see in the first reading, when Moses complains to God that the mission of guiding his Chosen People has become too great of a burden for him. So, God shares the spirit that he has given to Moses with 70 others, even those who were not in the prescribed place. Though this confused Joshua, Moses was given the wisdom to recognize that this was the work of God. The Spirit of God is more important than the instrument he chooses.

A more current example is Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, France. This thirteen year old girl, who lived in poverty with her family, was of poor health, and had difficulty with her studies in school. Yet, she was entrusted with a message from Heaven. When we were in Lourdes a few years ago, a bishop was celebrating Mass near the Grotto, and during his homily he said, “If you wanted to give a message to the whole world who would you choose; someone of great importance from a large city? Our Lord chose Bernadette, a simple girl from a tiny village.” Through the ages, God has chosen people of little significance to be his instruments. His ways our not our ways. There are some who still reject the Blessed Mother as a messenger of God, in spite of the miracles connected to her apparitions – thinking that the works of God are confined to their own understanding. Sometimes, we also can be like that.

We see something similar in Sunday’s Gospel. John, the apostle closest to Jesus, has just tried to stop someone from driving out demons in Jesus’ name, because the exorcist was not an apparent follower of Jesus. Jesus chastises him, and tells him, “For whoever is not against us is for us.” What is important is why and how things are done. If they are done out of love of God and neighbor, we should be cautious about rendering judgment. It is not always obvious why people do certain things.

How to Re-Focus

Our focus must be on why we do what we do. God has revealed his plan to us through the Scriptures and the Church…

  • We know that through baptism, we become children of God and receive the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
  • We know that we can encounter Christ in a deep and personal way in the sacraments of the Church, which are the source of the grace that we need to live a life close to God in prayer and to discover his plan for us.
  • We know that God wants us to be holy, and has made it possible for us to be holy if we are faithful to what he has revealed to us, and this faithfulness will help us reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity.
  • We can be certain that this plan is true, because it has been discovered and lived by saints through the ages, who have been heroic witnesses of the love of God.
  • There are consequences for us when we do not live this plan. Jesus said that if we live for our self, we will lose our life; and not only our life, because we will give scandal to others. We must remove everything that is an obstacle to salvation.

There is no one on this earth more blessed than Catholics because we know that God has given us every possible means to live a life close to him! We have his Divine Word, the Scriptures; we have his Church to guide us and strengthen us with the Sacraments. We have the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints to intercede for us. We especially have the Holy Eucharist in which Jesus gives us himself – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity; because he loves us that much. Why would the whole world not want to be Catholic and have what we have?

About 30 years ago, someone asked me why I was Catholic. I was glad to be Catholic, and knew I would never want to be anything but a Catholic. I went to Mass every Sunday and to confession occasionally, but I realized at that time that I never really gave much thought to the importance of my faith. Actually, I hadn’t learned anything about my faith since graduating from a Catholic high school. At that moment, I knew that I wasn’t really sure of what I believed. As I pondered that for a few days, I realized that I had let the importance of my faith fade. I had become a “one-hour-a-week Catholic,” and my decisions were not influenced by my faith at all.

Thank God for the wake-up call. It was not long after that, that I bought my first Bible and joined a prayer group with my wife, Mary Jane. We began to pray together and study our faith, and a new joy came into our lives. I guess you could say that was the beginning of the rest of our life together, and opened up new possibilities. Now, our important decisions are influenced by our relationship with God, and we have great hope.

I challenge you now to pray the Creed, and while doing so, reflect on the words we say. Ask the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts with gratitude for being recipients of Almighty God’s great plan of salvation and the intimacy he offers us in his Church. Let us pray, then, for the grace to be witnesses of what we believe.

If you would like more help and simple tools for re-focusing your life in Christ, we invite you to subscribe to Pilgrim Center of Hope’s monthly newsletter; visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.