Category Archives: discipleship

Listening… In A Noisy World!

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Have you ever said to yourself, If only I can get away for some quiet time! or, Is anyone listening?

I certainly have! These questions usually arise in our thoughts when we want some peace, some quiet time after experiencing a full schedule, or a trial, or simply being busy!

I recently was in the Holy Land on pilgrimage and among the many wonderful and amazing experiences, one was spending time in the Garden of Gethsemane—where Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples when he visited Jerusalem, and where he prayed his hour of agony the night he was arrested; resulting in his Passion.

Today, a large basilica is built next to ancient olive trees that date to the time of Jesus. They are often called the Silent witnesses of Christ’s Agony. Upon entering the Basilica of the Agony, one sees a large area of rock in front of the main altar. This is where Christ prayed his hour of agony, where he sweat blood, and prayed for the will of his Heavenly Father. Imagine sitting in this church commemorating this whole experience—with its mosaics depicting the scenes of the Bible related to his agony and arrest. The light streaming through the alabaster glass windows sheds a somber light in the church, inviting the visitor to ponder what happened here 2,000 years ago.

IMG_6481As I sat, I realized how much I longed for some quiet time with God. To speak with him, and at the same time was hoping for an inspiration from him. The noises of traffic, guides shouting, tourists and pilgrims moving about, and cameras clicking, seemed so distracting at such a holy site.

Yes, it was challenging to attempt to remain silent… You know what helped me?

What helped me were the sacred art, along with my act of touching the very stone where Jesus sweat blood! The large stone area is surrounded by a short, iron crown of thorns. I knelt and bent over the iron crown to kiss the stone, placing both of my hands on the cool, rough rock. I thought, This is where YOU, Lord, prayed for the Father’s will! This is where YOU sweat blood! Help me to listen! While I heard many people around me, the chattering of visitors, traffic noise… that moment seemed to be an eternal moment for me. There seemed to be inner peace. Later, I took some time to sit and simply see the sacred art; the mosaics of Jesus praying, being arrested, even the altar’s shape is that of a chalice.

Leaving this holy place, I thought of sharing this, hoping that others can also be encouraged to seek some quiet time with the Lord. It is possible!

How?

  • Sacred images or art can help us ponder the mysteries of our faith. For example: A stained glass window of a biblical scene can easily help us begin meditating on that Bible passage.
  • Holding or touching a crucifix or a statute can also be helpful. Think about the story in the Gospel of Luke 8 of the woman with the hemorrhage who simply touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed! Jesus tells her it was her faith that healed her!
  • Begin with a desire for some quiet time with the Lord. Ask for a deepened faith. And be consistent. Go to him… in faith and in silence!

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. For some quiet moments, we invite you to come visit our 7 acres in the middle of northwest San Antonio. Or, visit our website for more spiritual tools.

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Riding the Roller Coaster of Life – Advice from A Saint

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Everyone wants to know: What’s the key to happiness?

This questions transforms itself, however, when we discover God our Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, and our divine guide the Holy Spirit. Then, we begin to wonder: What is God’s will for me?

Ultimately, these questions are one & the same; God desires our happiness, in this life and for all eternity.

To help us consider this question, there are many resources available to us. For me, however, it wasn’t until I obtained a Spiritual Director that I began to learn well how to discern God’s will for my life. He introduced me to someone who has become a close personal friend, St. Ignatius Loyola: the founder of the Society of Jesus & the contemporary guide for discernment.

Wounded Pride and A Busted Leg

Many of us know his basic story: A canon ball shattered his leg in battle. He told the surgeon to re-break his leg, because his clothes didn’t look good the way his leg was set back together. That was fiery redhead Iñigo López de Loyola: a vain, high-class bachelor whose great dreams of military triumph and fame had been utterly destroyed. Bored out of his mind as he recuperated, he read the only books available; the lives of Christ and the saints. Their example completely changed his perspective on life.

As many converts do, Ignatius adopted extreme spiritual practices fueled by his newfound zeal; he prayed day and night, hardly ate, hardly slept, and beat himself—weeping uncontrollably through the night over his past mistakes.

Thanks to God’s grace and the help of local townspeople, Ignatius’ mind and heart were opened to what God truly wanted of him.

Riding the Roller Coaster of Life

Ignatius outlined the Discernment of Spirits, which are keys that spiritual directors have used for hundreds of years all over the world, ever since. In doing so, they have taught that our life has two basic situations we face, over and over again:

  • Consolation – A period of contentment, peace, gratitude, and/or feeling closer to God
  • Desolation – A period of worry, frustration, and/or feeling further from God

Ignatius described these periods as the natural ebb and flow of every person’s spiritual life. Consolation and desolation are experienced for a wide variety of reasons; it’s not important that we know why we are experiencing the consolation or desolation. What’s important is to discern what we are experiencing, and how to respond to God’s grace in that light.

His “rules” for discernment give us practical insights into interpreting whether we are in a period of consolation or desolation. Based on this position, we learn how to act or respond to a situation or decision we need to make.

Basic Take-Aways for Success

Since we are limited in time and space here, I would strongly advise you to review Ignatius of Loyola’s Discernment of Spirits in its entirety. (The contemporary explanation recommended by my Spiritual Director was The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher. You may also consider a retreat on the Spiritual Exercises.)

For here and now, I’d like to share a few important lessons with you that I have learned from Ignatius. These have helped me ride the roller coaster of life:

  1. Make Decisions with Peace – If I am in a period of desolation, I am not properly suited for making a major decision that will impact my life, my family, etc. In these cases, I need to seek consolation, as well as the guidance of an unbiased person whom I can trust, such as a spiritual director.
  2. Don’t Worry; Desolation Will Pass – Ignatius reminds us that we will all go through periods of desolation, but that they do not last forever! This is why it’s important to discern & realize: “I am experiencing desolation.” Name what you are experiencing. This realization will remind you that your perspective will be through the lens of desolation for the time being. Then, you will be strengthened with the ability to choose wisely and remember that it will pass.
  3. Seek Consolation through Prayer – When I’m in a period of desolation, I don’t feel particularly drawn to prayer. However, this period is when prayer is essential. Since I don’t feel like praying, I should remember & revisit those times of consolation when I felt close to God. This can help motivate me to pray.
  4. Treasure Times of Consolation – If you are experiencing consolation, treasure it. Write about these blessings in a journal; how do you sense God’s closeness? Where do you see God’s hand in your life? What insights have you gained from this time? These memories are important to treasure, because they will strengthen you in times of desolation.
  5. God Is Always Near – Our Catholic faith gives us wonderful reminders of God’s nearness in the sacraments, the witness of the saints, the prayers and devotions, the sacred art, and the Body of Christ present in our brothers and sisters. No matter what we are experiencing, God who is Love is always near to us. We have no reason to fear, only to listen and do our best to grow & develop so that we can, in turn, respond by living in generous love.

Have Hope: God Is Present!

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In his Gospel account, Luke explains to us the reason why he has undertaken the task of writing his own account of the Good News of Jesus Christ: so that we all may realize the certainty of the teachings we have received (Luke 1:1-4). Luke’s Gospel gives us insight into how we may understand Jesus’ presence in our own lives.

Awareness of Jesus’ Presence

Luke speaks to us about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and return to Nazareth, where he grew up (4:14-21). In the synagogue where everyone knows him, Jesus reads to them from the Prophet Isaiah. After he reads, he sits down, and everyone is looking at him.  He then says: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing”. Jesus tells them that his mission is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Jesus is the one for whom the chosen people have been waiting; He is the Good News.

The best thing that can happen for the people… has just happened! The kingdom of God is made present to them, because Jesus the Word of God is in their midst.

Luke continues: “…all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” They also asked, Isn’t this the son of Joseph? They wonder how this man who has been their neighbor since childhood, can claim to be the Messiah without the proof of miracles?!

As we know from other Gospel accounts, even when Jesus does perform miracles and speaks with unheard authority, few put faith in him. He is the Good News for all time, and yet is often met by rejection.

Why Rejection?

Evidence of Jesus Christ is mentioned in historical writings outside of the Scriptural accounts of his life, death, and resurrection. Yet, two thousand years after his death, the number of people who reject him is growing faster than the population. Despite all the miracles that have happened through the ages, and the positive impact that the Church has had upon the world in areas of medicine, education, and charitable services, along with the undeniable impact of the lives of thousands of saints, there is a rapidly-growing number of people who reject God and religion.

We live in the age of relativism, where individuals want to decide what is important for them personally, without regard to any authority or how one’s own beliefs affect others. Primary contributors to this situation are consumerism and materialism, because they can underscore a capacity to isolate ourselves from others and just live for our self. This situation leads to loneliness (and sadness), because it is contrary to our human needs and purpose.

God’s Presence In Our Despair

However, no matter how far we drift from God, there is always the possibility of discovering his presence if we choose to have the humility to turn to God in our time of need. He can manifest his presence even when all seems lost.

In 1941 during WWII, Maximillian Kolbe was arrested by the Nazis for hiding Jews from them. He was treated with hatred in the prison camp. One day, after a prisoner attempted an escape, 10 men were selected to die of starvation as an example to the others. One of the men begged for his life on behalf of his wife and small children. Maximillian Kolbe offered his life in the man’s place. The 10 men were forced into a small box-like building, where there was only room enough to stand. Instead of the usual cursing that was heard when men were waiting to die, hymns and prayers were heard coming from the box. This caused an unusual peace to settle over the death camp, and gave hope to the other prisoners. In that terrible place, the kingdom of God was at hand for those who believed.

Often, when we are going through a trial or great difficulty, our temptation is to focus on our dilemma, and in our imagination, it becomes bigger than reality and overwhelms us. If, on the other hand, we would turn to Jesus and ask him for his help, we can be assured that he will give us the grace we need in that moment.

  • It may be the grace to see things as they truly are.
  • It may be the grace of humility to ask the right people for help.
  • It may be the grace to surrender your life to God and to put your total trust in him.

Read what he says to us in the Scriptures and be confident in his providential love and mercy. Here is one of God’s promises:

Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)

We are never alone; we always have our guardian angel with us. Whenever we turn to our Lord in prayer from our heart, we can be sure that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Concern for People In Our Lives

We all have people we are concerned about, and we should never give up praying for them. Sometimes, it is the prayers of a loved one that finally helps God’s grace to break into our lives—as in the case of Saint Augustine. Amid his life of wild partying, promiscuity, and other poor decisions, his mother’s constant prayers were answered by his powerful conversion. Then, he realized that God’s presence and love was always there.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness…
(Excerpt from Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions)

Jesus assures us many times: Do not worry. We invite you to allow Pilgrim Center of Hope to help you walk daily with hope. An upcoming opportunity is the Catholic Men’s Conference, “Master, I Want to See.” Join us, or invite someone who is seeking answers. You don’t have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ.




 

Why We Need to Know Mary

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This time of year always reinforces and reminds me of how vital it is to have a relationship with our Blessed Mother, the mother of Jesus. My hope is that after you read this blog, you will take courage and comfort when you hear the words, “To Jesus Through Mary,” and every time you pray a Hail Mary.

As she was given the grace to be free from the stain of original sin, as the Mother of God, and as the spouse of the Holy Spirit, Our Lady holds a vital role in our salvation.

She Is Our Mother

Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. “This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 964).”

Sunday’s Gospel reading about the Wedding at Cana should lead us to recognize that Jesus listens to his mother’s pleas—and that miraculous things which lead to our salvation, can happen when we turn to Jesus and, “Do whatever he tells you” (cf. John 2:5).

The servants at the wedding turned to Mary for her help, and Mary led them to her son. In the same way, Mary leads us to Jesus, so that we may do his will.

By turning water into wine, Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah for the first time: “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (John 2:11). That miracle would ultimately lead people to him and his message of salvation.

She Is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit

Sunday’s second Mass reading from 1 Corinthians also reminds me of Mary’s special role as Mediatrix of all graces merited by Christ, originating of course from God the Father.

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit…distributing them individually to each person as he wishes (1 Cor 12:7, 11).

St. Louis de Montfort, known for his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, had this to say about Mary and the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit chose Mary as the dispenser of all he possesses, so that she distributes all his gifts and graces to whom she wills, as much as she wills, how she wills, and when she wills.”

Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord (cf. Luke 1: 46), specifically, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

So, to say “To Jesus Through Mary,” is to say, “To Jesus through the Holy Spirit,” because the Holy Spirit acts only in and through his beloved spouse.

At the moment of her fiat or her yes, Mary became the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The salvation of the whole world began with the “Hail Mary.” Hence, the salvation of each person is also attached to this prayer. – St. Louis de Montfort

Going to Jesus through Mary

I want to leave you with the Marian Prayer of St. Ildephonsus of Spain:

Virgin Mary, hear my prayer:
through the Holy Spirit you became the Mother of Jesus;
from the Holy Spirit may I too have Jesus.
Through the Holy Spirit your flesh conceived Jesus;
through the same Spirit may my soul receive Jesus.
Through the Holy Spirit you were able to know Jesus, to possess Jesus,
and to bring him into the world.
Through the Holy Spirit may I too come to know your Jesus.
Imbued with the Spirit, Mary, you could say:
“I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word”;
in the Holy Spirit, lowly as I am, let me proclaim the great truths about Jesus. In the Spirit you now adore Jesus as Lord and look on Him as Son;
in the same spirit, Mary, let me love your Jesus. Amen.

Evenings with MaryWe are offering mini-conferences available for parishes that lead individuals, couples & families to a deeper relationship with Christ by teaching about Mary, her gifts, and her role in the salvation plan of God & our daily lives.

To learn more about Evenings with Mary or about Our Blessed Mother, we invite you to visit us at our peaceful place in NW San Antonio or at our website.

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

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

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

Where It Comes From

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Kind of Fear

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

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

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

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

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

An Expert Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming an Authentic Witness to Hope

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A pilgrim prays at the Jordan River

On a recent trip to visit family in Dallas, my husband and I stop in Waco for lunch. I ask, “Is that Magnolia store around here that is owned by Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper?”  To my delight, we learn it is only 3 blocks away.

We drive up to the corner and see a line of people that snakes from the entrance of the store, back around the parking lot, and down several blocks. I look out my window and see groups of people quickly walking our way from every street in the very brisk 43-degree weather to join them. I look at my husband, and give him the answer he wants to hear: “Never mind, let’s move on.”

If you have ever watched the TV show Fixer Upper, you see homebuilders Chip and Joanna Gaines, and witness what truly appears to be a loving marriage, a happy family, an enthusiastic Christian faith, and a commitment to the good of each other and their community.

Pondering that long line of people waiting to shop, I came to believe that, in this culture of ours that puts a great emphasis on ease and convenience, these people enduring the wait and cold for what had to be hours, are looking for something beyond that home, garden, or wall décor product they can simply purchase online. I believe they are attracted to that which the Gaineses witness: Love, Family, Belonging, Faith, Purpose, and Mission.

What I saw told me that people are starving for what is authentic and genuinely good, and will flock to wherever they witness a hope of it.

It brings to mind the words of Saint Pope Paul VI:

Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. (Evangelii Nuntiandi – On Evangelization in the Modern World, 1975)

In Scripture, one does not have to look for a better example of authentic witness than Saint John the Baptist.

No one can deny this prophet’s zeal for preaching repentance & the coming of the kingdom of God, and in allowing the Holy Spirit to guide him from the womb (Luke 1:44) to the desert so that, “At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him” (Matthew 3:5). But what I so appreciate about St. John the Baptist was his own seeking for the authentic, as when we read: “When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to (Jesus) with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?'” (Matthew 11:2-3).

His fearlessness to stand against Herod, and his courage to remain faithful to his death, came from the answer he received: “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them'” (Matthew 11:4-5).


How, as Catholics, can we measure whether we are witnessing to our faith?

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provides, through the Profession of Faith, a way to measure our Catholic witness. Ask yourself…

1. Do I believe and profess the Nicene Creed?

2. Do I believe in God revealed through Scripture, Tradition and Church Teaching (Magisterium) as listed below, and do I act accordingly?

With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.

3. Would someone know I’m Catholic by the way I speak and act? (i.e. participating at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation; voting as per the teachings of the Catholic faith)

4. Am I living in a way that reveals Jesus Christ? Such as, am I:

  • Forgiving?
  • Acting in the Beatitudes?
  • Virtuous?
  • Enthusiastic about life?
  • Willing to sacrifice for the good of others?
  • Full of zeal for my faith?
  • Fearless in defense of others who are most vulnerable such as the poor, the unborn, the abandoned and forsaken?  

If your answer is no to any of the above, then:

1. Take heart! As we like to say at Pilgrim Center of Hope, “You do not have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ!” Though raised Catholic, I left my faith in my young adulthood and did not return to the practice of it until well into my 40s. It does not matter when you begin to seek a relationship with Jesus and practice your faith—just so long as you begin.

2. Take action! Take advantage of the new year to begin your journey to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ so as to grow in discipleship to him and as an authentic witness of the hope and joy that is our Catholic faith.

Pilgrim Center of Hope is providing a variety of opportunities in 2019 to help you grow in faith and share it with others:




 

What Can Our Family Learn from the Holy Family?

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We just recently celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family. What can our families today really learn from them?

A Family Trial

The Gospel reading (Luke 2:41-52) focused on an episode in their family life. Mary and Joseph made a pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the feast of Passover, as was required by the Law of Moses. We see in this story that, even though Mary and Joseph were chosen by God to be the parents of Jesus, they did not live a privileged life, free of trials and difficulties. They lived a humble life without any luxuries, and they were obedient to the just laws of God and man. Their humility and obedience was necessary for their intimacy with God; it was the source of their hope and happiness.

When Jesus reached the age of twelve it also became a requirement for him to celebrate Passover and to observe the law. Now that Jesus had become of age, he had his first opportunity to ask questions of the religious teachers in the Temple, who were amazed at his understanding and questions. For this reason, he remained behind. Mary and Joseph had left in a caravan, in which the men and women traveled separately. So, they each thought that Jesus was with the other. When they finally realized that Jesus was not with them, they returned—to find him in the Temple.

Mary and Joseph were troubled by Jesus’ behavior. However, he asked them why they were looking for him. He said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Even though they knew that Joseph was not the real father of Jesus, they lived as if he was. Now that Jesus is of age, his reference to his heavenly Father is a reminder that the purpose for which he came into the world is not far away. As the Scriptures tell us, he then returned with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.

Lesson Learned

So, what can we learn from the Holy Family? Even for Mary and Joseph, life was filled with mystery, and they confronted that mystery with humility and obedience. Jesus—who is God himself—was obedient; first of all to Mary and Joseph, and then to his Father in heaven. For Jesus, his whole mission was about obedience.

The most important things we can learn from the Holy Family are humility and obedience to what God has revealed to us. The greatest commandment is that we Love the Lord our God with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as our self—because it is only in relationship with God that we can experience true and lasting happiness.

Following Their Example

This isn’t complicated, but it is difficult because we naturally want to put our self first. We can only live the greatest commandment with the help of God’s grace, which he makes available to us through his Church and her sacraments.

  • Prayer – It begins with prayer. One way to measure our faith is how we pray; if prayer is not a priority, neither is our faith. If you haven’t been able to develop a discipline of daily prayer, ask God for the grace. You have to have the desire to make changes. Try thanking God when you get up each morning. Pray before meals. Pray with your spouse and children before leaving the house.
  • Spiritual Tools – As Catholics, we have so many resources to help us pray: the Scriptures, Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a treasury of prayers written by saints, and silent prayer in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Have holy water in your home to bless yourself and your family every day.
  • Holy Reminders – It should be obvious that we are Catholic to anyone who would enter our home. A crucifix and other religious images are constant reminders that our home is a “domestic church” where Our Lord is welcome and blesses us with his peace.

Parents should be examples to their children of how to live in relationship with God and one another, because children learn from what they see. When they see the love that their parents have for each other, for God, and for them, they are provided with great security that is important for their development. Praying together as family helps to overcome some of the challenges that are part of life’s experiences. When children see their parents praying together, they will want to learn how to pray also. Jesus promised us that he would be with us whenever we join together in prayer (cf. Matthew 18:20).

Is It Your Family?

Someone asked a priest what inspired his vocation. He answered that as a child, from the time he would see his mother approach a statue of St. Joseph every day, place a piece of paper under his feet, and say a prayer. Her son discovered that these were prayer intentions for him and for the rest of the family. Vocations to the religious life come primarily from faithful families. Our Church is in a desperate need of vocations. Have you encouraged your children or grandchildren to pray about serving God in his Church? When we pray for vocations, maybe it is your family we are praying for! There is nothing more important in this life; we all must serve God, even if it is not through a religious vocation.

When families pray together every day, we will see more peace in homes, less divorces, and more vocations for the Church. Jesus, Mary and Joseph; help us to be humble and obedient to God, so that we may live in happiness together.

Do you need help praying with your family? Pilgrim Center of Hope offers guidance and ideas in our weekly Living Catholicism series. We invite you to click the link and explore!

“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.

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.