Category Archives: discipleship

On the Way to Priesthood: My Conversion as A Pilgrim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Gospel Came Alive to Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Inspiration from Bl. Charles de Foucauld

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

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

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

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

His Prayer of Abandonment:

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

Feast Day: December 1

Suggested Reading:

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

 

Inspiration from St. Teresa of Calcutta

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

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

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

Feast Day: September 5

Inspiration from St. Joseph

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“Saint Joseph was a just man, a tireless worker, the upright guardian of those entrusted to his care. May he always guard, protect and enlighten families.” – Pope St. John Paul II

Joseph, chaste husband of Mary is given the highest compliment in the Bible – he was a just man.

“By saying Joseph was just, the Bible means that he was one who was completely open to all that God wanted to do for him.  He became holy by opening himself totally to God.” – Catholic Online

Let us thank God for St. Joseph, who loved God, was obedient to his calling as husband of Mary and protector of Jesus.  Ask St. Joseph to pray for you, for your family, for the men you know, that he may pray for us to also be open to God’s plan for us.

The Church celebrates his feast day on March 19.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why such opposite outcomes for Peter and Judas?

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Kiss of Judas” by Giotto

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent Is for Healing

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Do you ever dread Lent? Do you see it as a burden?

A few years ago, as I was dreading the upcoming Lenten Season —with its sacrifices and spotlight on sin, I began to notice in my prayer life and while reading Scripture that a theme continually jumped out at me. Example from the Psalms:

Look to God that you may be radiant with joy
and your faces may not blush with shame
Psalm 34

Bless the Lord, my soul
and do not forget all his gifts,
Who pardons all your sins,
and heals all your ills,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
and crowns you with mercy and compassion
Psalm 103

and the Prophet Isaiah (53:3)

He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.

Whole? Healed? Joy? Verses like this were a shock to my system. I had been wrestling with a perception of God as a harsh judge who was ready to pounce and condemn. Through prayer, however, the Holy Spirit was showing me that my perception of God was broken, and therefore my understanding of my relationship to God was broken. As Lent approached, I realized that I needed to obey the Holy Spirit. With some encouragement, I began to see a counselor and break free of many hurts and wounds.

This process of being vulnerable with myself, with God, and with my counselor was the most humiliating experience of my life. It was heart-wrenching and psychologically painful. However, I realized that this pain was necessary for healing.

Your Lent and Healing

Think about how often we must experience challenge or pain in order to be healed. Whether through surgery, exercise, or even the humiliation of apologizing to someone, healing and wellness arrive through sacrifice.

Lent is a time of preparation, leading us into the remembrance of Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. We often hear that Jesus underwent these things for our “salvation” and “to save us”, but what does that mean?

The word ‘salvation’ comes from the Latin salvus, which means ‘in good health’ and ‘safe’.  The official teaching of the Catholic Church in its Catechism is that Jesus “has come to heal the whole man, soul and body” (pp. 1503). This means that Jesus came, not only to keep us from going to hell, but far more than that. We often keep Jesus and his place in our life within that very limited box! No, Jesus himself tells us, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

How to Start

Do not limit your Lent to “giving something up”. Start now; live your Lent as a time of healing. Approach God as Jesus taught us: as your loving Father. Ask, “What is your loving plan for me? What is blocking me from having a stronger relationship with you?” Listen to God’s response, not only in your private prayer, but in the other avenues God has given us. Read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the lives of the saints. Speak to someone of faith whom you respect; a grandmother, a person who works in your parish, friend, etc. Homilies on Sundays or weekday Mass can also be a source of direction. What strikes you on a deeply personal level?

Trust that God is a good and loving Father, Jesus wants to heal you, and the Holy Spirit wants to console you. This Lent, embrace a challenge that will help you overcome obstacles to the abundant life and intimate relationship with God that He has in store for you.

Is God calling you to go on a journey of faith? Pilgrimages provide an opportunity for people to seek God, healing, spiritual renewal, reparation, forgiveness, and other personal graces—ultimately becoming a mini school of spirituality. Our Ministry of Pilgrimages is here for you; guiding you to a personal encounter with Christ.

Lent & Low Self-Esteem

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Do you find it hard to accept gifts or compliments? There have been times when I have been given a compliment, and say “thank you”. Meanwhile, I am thinking “I wish I believed that were true.” Why is it so hard to acknowledge that God made no mistake in how he created each one of us? On the other end, why is it so hard to acknowledge our sins or weakness and allow God to aid us on our journey?

Throughout the past weeks, I have heard the question “What are you giving up for Lent?”. This year, the answer to that question has not been so clear for me. Not because I am so holy that I have nothing to work on, but because there is so much that I do not know where to start! Some would call this “Catholic guilt”. I call it “Catholic remodeling”. I realize that Our Lord loves me so much that he has placed a season of time each year for me to better myself.

I recently came across a very helpful article on 10 Things to Remember for Lent by Bishop David L. Ricken. Number 5 was very instrumental in helping me decide what to “give up” for Lent.

5. It’s about dying to yourself. The more serious side of Lenten discipline is that it’s about more than self-control – it’s about finding aspects of yourself that are less than Christ-like and letting them die. The suffering and death of Christ are foremost on our minds during Lent, and we join in these mysteries by suffering, dying with Christ and being resurrected in a purified form.  

This has helped me see that in remodeling myself – yes, it is hard to knock walls down that have taken a long time to build up, especially if they make me feel safe or secure, but that the new layout of my spiritual home will allow me to function according to who I am today. And instead of staying focused on my failings, I can now see how strong I have become to have overcome so much.

It is important to make time for spiritual remodeling throughout the year, not just during Lent. Conferences and retreats are the quickest ways to upgrade your spirituality to aid you in your journey of faith. No matter how many times you attend, there is always a message that God has prepared just for you.

Come experience one of our annual conferences for men, women, and seniors. Our Ministry of Conferences presents opportunities for you to encounter Christ in a personal way.

 

 

Why Ashes?

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More people enter Catholic Churches throughout the world on Ash Wednesday than any other day of the year even though it is not one of the days that we are obliged to worship. The ashes are meant to be a sign that we have committed our life to Christ and we want to be a witness to that reality.

One of the phrases that the minister says as he traces the sign of the cross on the forehead is, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. This of course is a call to conversion which the Bishops of the United States define as the following: “Conversion is the change of our lives which comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit. All who accept the Gospel undergo change as we continually put on the mind of Christ by rejecting sin and becoming more faithful disciples in his Church. Unless we undergo conversion, we have not truly accepted the Gospel.”

That is the real purpose for the ashes; they are a sign that we are going to take our Lenten journey serious and refocus on the real purpose of our time on this earth. The Gospel highlights three areas that are especially important for our journey; Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As Jesus points out, the intensions of our heart is what gives merit to whatever we do. He points out the difference between hypocrisy and sincerity.

This brings us back to the necessity on conversion. There are somethings that our faith requires of us that we will only be able to do if it is our desire to undergo conversion; to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. When we are ready to say with all sincerity, “Lord I surrender myself to you, I desire to serve you,” we begin.

The Lord will give us the grace to do the things we could not do on our own. Is there someone you cannot forgive? He will give you the grace to forgive. Have you been selfish? He will help you to be generous. Do you sincerely want to follow Him? He will give you the grace to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

Should someone ask why we are wearing ashes on our forehead, we can say, “Because I realize that I need to repent and believe in the Gospel so that I can be a faithful disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Increase your relationship with Jesus this Lent by attending or encouraging men to go to the annual Catholic Men’s Conference on March 18th. This event encourages men from all walks of life to encounter Christ and fulfill the plan that God has for their life. He calls us all by name to open our eyes to the goodness of the Lord.

The Power of Us: Why I March

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

I felt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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