Category Archives: evangelization

Connecting with Our Creator: An Experiment In Healing

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Closeup of a bronze lifesized Stations of the Cross sculpture wherein Jesus is being nailed to the cross

In the movie Mary Shelley, the author’s father says of Dr. Frankenstein (the scientist who is bent on creating life in her novel Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus),

[The story] ascertains the absolute human necessity for connection. From the moment Dr. Frankenstein’s creature opens its eyes, it seeks the touch of its creator. But he recoils in terror, leaving the creature to its first of many experiences of neglect and isolation. If only Frankenstein had been able to bestow upon his creation a compassionate touch, a kind word; what a tragedy might have been avoided.

Juxtapose those words with what Scripture says about human connection with the Divine Creator:

You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you know.
My bones are not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.
(Psalm 139:13-16)

Only 18 years old when she wrote her famous work, Mary Shelley had already experienced death, grief, betrayal, and abandonment. Upon reading the novel, her half-sister—who has just been rejected by the father of her unborn baby, tells Mary, “It chilled me to the bone.”

Mary replies, “It is good to enjoy a ghost story now and then.”

Her sister responds, “We both know this is no ghost story. I have never read such a perfect encapsulation of what it feels to be abandoned.”

Our Personal Monsters

In one way or another, we can each tell our own ghost story about the monsters of loss, grief, betrayal, abandonment, and loneliness that rage within us. They are the consequences of evil wrought by sin; the reality of living in an imperfect world.

Mary Shelley’s lover at the time, Percy Shelly, advises her to re-write the story so that instead of a monster, Dr. Frankenstein creates the perfect creature. “Imagine,” he tells Mary, “He creates a version of ourselves that shines with goodness and thus delivers a message for mankind. A message of hope and perfection.”

Mary looks at him—the man whose selfish choices are responsible for much of her feelings of betrayal and abandonment—and responds, “It is a message for mankind! What would we know of hope and perfection!? Look around you! Look at the mess we have made!? Look at me!”

We understandably question, and should question, why evil exists. We should work to eradicate it and certainly not be a cause of it.

Our error comes in accusing God for the evil in the world. Mankind’s folly is always in falling for the ancient lie that we can do a better job of creating than God.

Healing from Our Creator

However, with our Creator, praise God, we have true hope of authentic freedom from evil.

He (Jesus Christ) did not come to abolish all evils here below, but to free men from the gravest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God’s sons and causes all forms of human bondage. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 549)

Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, who recoils in terror at the sight of his imperfect creature, God comes to us in our imperfection, through His Son, Jesus Christ…

And even when you were dead [in] transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

God came in the flesh, and continues to come to us through . . .

  • His Word
  • His Sacraments
  • His Church

God knows our deep desire for the good and the perfect; He is the one who created that desire in us, so that we would seek our true self, found only in relation to Him. Saint Pope John Paul II states this in Dives in Misericordia (God, Who is Rich in Mercy), “Man and man’s lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His Love” (DM 1).

In a final scene of the movie, Percy Shelly tells a group who thought it was he who wrote Mary’s book, “You could say the work would not even exist without my contribution. But to my shame, the only claim I remotely have to this work is inspiring the desperate loneliness that defines Frankenstein’s creature.”

Of ourselves, humans are capable of great evil. Of ourselves, we are finite. Mother Church teaches us that true healing—which is authentic freedom from sin—begins with this knowledge. She encourages us to, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15), using the very words of the Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, who leads us to our Father, and His Love.

During Lent, many parishes offer reconciliation services, providing opportunities to re-connect with God and receive healing through the rich Mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We invite you: contact your local parish office for more information, and participate in this true healing and freedom!

Only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful that to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. (Pope Benedict XVI)


Pilgrim Center of Hope offers spiritual resources to help guide you on your journey and connect you to God and His Church. Visit us in person, by phone at 210-521-3377, or visiting our website.

Join us for our newest program, Meet the Master. You are invited to attend one or more of this nine-part monthly series, as we hear and reflect on the words of Jesus and spend some quiet with Him in our Gethsemane Chapel.  You do not have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ.


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Find Freedom by Trusting God

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One of our primary struggles as Americans is balancing our work ethic with our human need for family, community, and of course, a rich relationship with God. Most of us can relate to the phrase, “I wish there were more hours in the day.”

Yet, if there were so much to do, wouldn’t God have provided us more hours in the day?

The first U.S.-born citizen to have become a canonized saint in the Catholic Church, Katharine Drexel, said many things resonating with our American work ethic. However, she also said:

The patient and humble endurance of the cross, whatever it may be, is the highest work we have to do.

There is nothing wrong with taking great care and joy in our work. Indeed, the saints praise hard work and self-sacrifice. However, our problems set in when we rely entirely on ourselves and our efforts.

How much do we really rely on God? We may profess trust in God, but when the rubber hits the road, how well do we put this into practice?

In my first several meetings with a spiritual director, I would unload many of my struggles and frustrations. Then he would ask, “Have you prayed about this?”

To this insanely simple question, my answer was often, embarrassingly, no.

You’d be surprised how many times someone has shared a problem with me and, when I asked them, “Have you prayed about this?” their answer was no.

Freedom Found

We all, having been raised in an efficiency-minded society, can use the reminder that God is the Almighty and the Savior of the World… we aren’t.

Katharine Drexel points us in the Way to freedom: following Jesus’ example in the Passion, death, and then finally in his resurrection.

As person who tends toward self-reliance, I am amazed when I reflect on the Stations of the Cross… I see the God-Man fall. I see him accept help from strangers. I see him weak, vulnerable, and submissive. These are not adjectives we’d generally prefer to describe ourselves, are they?

However, this Lent, we are reminded that those adjectives are exactly how we’ll find freedom, peace, and fullness of life. In living like Christ, our ultimate answer for the challenge at hand lies not in ourselves, but in God.

Our greatest error is entirely trusting in our own abilities.

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 397)

This Lent, I invite and challenge you: Meditate on the trust that Jesus held onto, as he endured his persecution, Passion, and crucifixion. He trusted in the goodness of Our Heavenly Father.

You may have heard the phrase, “Let go and let God.” For me, and perhaps for you, too, this idea is annoyingly simple, but not easy.

Let’s find freedom in choosing to trust God each day, especially when challenges arise.

Father in Heaven, you are God.
Your will and desire is Goodness itself.
I worship you, and I love you.

Today, I trust that you will provide
all that I need to follow your Son, Jesus.

Holy Spirit, you are the greatest gift of all.
I ask you to be stirred within me,
so that my every thought, word, and action
may be a reflection of you.
Look kindly on my weaknesses, O God,
and in your mercy, strengthen me.
Jesus, I trust in you.

Amen.

At Pilgrim Center of Hope, we’re here to help you live your daily journey by learning to trust in God. Let us journey with you. Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org. If you are in the San Antonio area, come visit us!


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Finding the Strength to Forgive

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In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells us we must love our enemies, and then he shows us what love of our enemies should look like.

This love does not come naturally to us; it is the opposite of how we are likely to respond.

When someone hurts us, our first thought may be our need for justice. Justice is important, but with the help of God’s grace, we can develop a desire to deepen our relationship with God and ask his guidance when we are confronted with difficult issues.

Perhaps our first step is to ask: Have I been able to forgive those who have hurt me in any way? We cannot love someone whom we cannot forgive. Forgiveness is fundamental to our relationship with God and one another. It is so important that it is included in the only prayer our Lord has given us. We say,

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

In other words, God will forgive us in the same way we forgive others.

There is nothing we are allowed to not forgive. Think of the terrible things people do to one another; every offense must be forgiven.

There will be no complete healing of the pain until the offender has been forgiven.

What It Means to Forgive

If we forgive someone, does it mean that what they did was okay? No. The offender is accountable to God for what they did; when we forgive, we refuse to carry the burden of their sin.

Of course, if someone commits a crime against us, we work within the justice system. However, if we want to experience the peace of Christ, our forgiveness does not depend on receiving justice. We can only receive the peace of Christ in relationship with him. Jesus is our example. He experienced a terrible injustice on our behalf, but forgave his executioners and us who share their guilt.

We have more examples, too. Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, forgave his persecutors as they were stoning him to death. Hundreds of other saints have shown us how to forgive injustices more serious than anything we will ever experience, with the help of God’s grace.

When We Don’t Forgive

Over thirty years ago, when my wife Mary Jane and I were visiting people door-to-door throughout our parish boundaries, we met a women whose son had been murdered by an associate who had died a short time after the murder. Even though her son’s murderer was dead, the woman would not forgive him. She told us that before all this happened, she had been in good health, but now she was homebound with debilitating asthma. She knew that her condition was related to her inability to forgive her son’s killer and still could not bring herself to forgive him.

This is a graphic example of how unforgiveness makes us a slave of the one who hurt us, even if that person is no longer alive.

In addition to possibly affecting our health, unforgiveness can cause us to become a bitter, negative person, which leads to unhappiness for us and the people we love.

If you have a deep hurt that you have not been able to forgive, ask God for the grace to at least have the desire to forgive because you know that God wants to liberate you from the burden you are carrying. Continue to pray for that grace until you begin to experience some peace. We must be purified of all bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness before we can enter into heaven.

Hope In Severe Trial

I read the true story of Archbishop Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan from Vietnam who was arrested by the Communists and imprisoned for nine years. In the beginning, he was filled with bitterness because of the injustice he had experienced. After a while, he realized that his bitterness was not going to change his situation; he decided to find a way to bring something positive to his dilemma.

He began to collect small pieces of paper and write down all the prayers, Scriptures, and positive things he could remember. He also collected pieces of bread and grapes to squeeze into juice so that he could celebrate Mass. Other prisoners would come to him at night secretly for prayer and worship. His presence there brought hope to the other prisoners. He also wrote several books while in prison on pieces of paper, one of them is called, The Road of Hope, a Gospel from prison. He chose to turn his bad experience into a testimony of faith.

We have all heard the expression, “Out of bad comes good.” That does not happen by accident; in most cases, it is a choice. That’s why Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) If we turn to him when we are experiencing trials, he will give us the grace to turn bad into good while we keep our eyes on him and persevere in prayer.

Sunday’s Gospel concludes with the words, “For the measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38) During his unjust imprisonment, Bishop Van Thuan made a decision to use his priesthood for the benefit of those imprisoned with him, and to draw on his faith to evangelize them and others on the outside through his writings. He measured his situation, and instead of allowing it to defeat him, he used his priesthood and his gifts for the service of Christ and his Church. In turn, this service was measured back to him. He said:

It is not enough to simply not hate. It is not enough to merely love others, or merely to help others. Only when love and action work in harmony is our love enough.

After he was released from prison, he was expelled from Vietnam. He went to Rome, where he became a preacher to the papal household and was named Cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II. He died on September 16, 2002, and the Roman Catholic Church began the process of his beatification on September 16, 2005.

It Is Possible for Everyone

What God asks of us, we can only do in relationship with him and with the help of his grace. This relationship is possible for anyone who desires it and wants to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We need to turn our lives toward him through a disciplined prayer life, by living the sacramental life, and by having a desire to discover God’s will for our life. If this is the measure with which we measure out our lives to God, it will be measured back to us with peace, hope, and eternal life.


At Pilgrim Center of Hope, we’re here to help you live your daily journey in hope. Let us journey with you. Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org. If you are in the San Antonio area, call us about our Meet the Master series of Saturday morning reflections: 210-521-3377.


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Stones Crying Out: A Message of Hope for Today

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“. . . and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out! As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it.”
– Luke 19:37-41

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Dominus Flevit

While on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I stood where Jesus spoke these words and wept. From this slope, you can see the old city of Jerusalem. At this vantage point, the Temple which will be destroyed (and where today there is a mosque) is directly in front; to the left is the house of Caiaphas where Jesus was beaten and thrown into the sacred pit, and on the right is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over Calvary and our Lord’s Tomb.

Where I stood, the stones do cry out. To commemorate where Jesus, the Son of God, wept over Jerusalem, longing to gather his people as a hen gathers her chicks (Matthew 23:37), a church made of limestone is built in the shape of a large teardrop as if fallen from heaven. The church is named Dominus Flevit, meaning, The Lord Wept.

I thought of this pilgrimage experience while reading The Agony and the Ecstasy, a fictional biography of Michelangelo, written by Irving Stone. In the 1500s—during a time of great scandal and corruption in the Church, Michelangelo used stones to create masterpieces of sacred art. He painted vivid images from the Old and New Testament on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, using clay crushed into colors for paint. Marble cut from large blocks quarried at Italian mountains became, through his hands, the Pieta; a magnificent sculpture of the Madonna holding her dead Son and offering him to the world.

The stones of that place, and the medium of the time, cried out to bring beauty and glory to God during a dark period of history when many in His Church kept silent.

As I read about the vision of the artist and the vivid descriptions of the Pieta and Sistine Chapel—with magnificent scenes including God separating light from dark, the Deluge and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden; I found myself often picking up my phone to find images on the internet to see them for myself. With just a swipe of my finger, I was brought to Rome on a virtual pilgrimage. Curious about the Scripture that explains the images, I clicked on my Bible app to read and meditate on the Word of God that brought the vision to the mind and hands of Michelangelo.

This ease of finding exactly what I was looking for made me wonder. Could our mobile devices and computers—made of aluminum, cobalt, graphite, nickel, lithium, gold, silver, copper, tungsten and iron—be the stones crying out today?

Think about it . . . as yet another great scandal rocks the Church, and the insidious rise of secular atheism tempts many disciples of Jesus to keep silent, sitting in the palm of our hands and at the touch of our fingertips, the Church doors have been flung open for all. Every person with internet access has a portal to the rich treasure of the Catholic faith—from God’s Word, to images of sacred art, teachings of the Church Fathers, papal encyclicals, lives of the saints, and even a way to have a daily dose of the Catechism of the Catholic Church dropped into your email inbox.

God is using the stones of our day and the medium of our time to paint our senses with His beauty and sculpt our hearts and minds with His Truth. Every soul can be God’s own Sistine Chapel!

At all times, we at Pilgrim Center of Hope answer Christ’s call to evangelize through our Ministry of Pilgrimages, Ministry of Conferences, and Evangelization Outreach using all forms of media. Visit the central hub of it all at PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.


Photo of Dominus Flevit courtesy of James Emery from Douglasville, United States [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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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.

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.




 

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:




 

Living the Christmas Mystery: Today & Beyond December

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Our pilgrims venerate the infant Jesus in Bethlehem after Christmas Mass

As Christmas draws ever so near, how many of us are truly focused on the significance of the Christmas mystery: the Incarnation of the Son of God? How many of us will “stay the course,” once the Christmas tree, Nativity scene, and the other decorations are put away?

During this Advent season, I want to suggest 2 points to begin now that can help you stay the course, continuing to pursue your spiritual goals throughout the year, regardless of any obstacles that may arise.

1. Be Amazed!

God announced the news of his coming—the greatest truth of all-time—to the lowest members of society first. The shepherds were uneducated, simple men with no power or influence (cf. Luke 2:8-20).

In the same way, God comes to each of us, regardless of our state in life, and meets us where we are with the same invitation given to the shepherds, to come and adore him!

This last week of Advent, leading to Christmas Day, is a time for all of us to be amazed; to be humble and open enough to receive him and welcome him into our lives.

This is the Christmas mystery…

Jesus was born in a humble stable, into a poor family. Simple shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. In this poverty, heaven’s glory was made manifest. The Church never tires of singing the glory of this night:
The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal
And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible.
The angels and shepherds praise him
And the magi advance with the star,
For you are born for us,
Little Child, God eternal!
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 525)

2. Remember What Emmanuel Means

“God with us.” Not only has the Christ child come to be our savior; he has come to reveal God to us in the flesh (cf. John 1:14). By becoming man, he experienced life as a human-being with all its ups and downs. As such, he can sympathize with the disappointment, heartache, weaknesses, betrayals, and temptations that we all struggle with.

You can trust in Jesus to console you and lead you through any storm that may come your way.

So, on Christmas Day and every day, give thanks and celebrate that moment when God entered our humanity to walk with us and to stay with us until the end of time (cf. Matthew 20:28).

Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this “marvelous exchange”: O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity. (CCC, no. 526)

Last year, Pope Francis ended his Christmas Urbi et Orbi message with the following words:

May the birth of Christ the Savior renew hearts, awaken the desire to build a future of greater fraternity and solidarity, and bring joy and hope to everyone.

All of us at Pilgrim Center of Hope strives to live this message. Our desire is to guide you to encounter Jesus; be it as the Christ-child, as the Messiah during his public ministry, or as the flame of love that comes to us through his Holy Spirit. We do this through pilgrimages, conferences & presentations, and media outreach; including print, digital, and broadcast media programs.

Let us journey with you! Come visit our peaceful place in northwest San Antonio, or online at PilgrimCenterofHope.org.

3 Steps to Meditating on Christ’s Birth, from St. Ignatius Loyola

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Do you have trouble praying, amidst the busy preparations for Christmas?
Or would you like to enter into deeper prayer?

Consider trying 1 of the 3 main types of Christian prayer: meditation. Meditative prayer is when we consider a subject such as Christ’s birth, and engage it with our thoughts, imagination, emotions, and desires. The goal of meditative prayer “is to make our own in faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2723).

One of the most-used tools to assist meditation is the set of Spiritual Exercises, written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was a fiery, red-headed bachelor who learned how to transition from extreme mortifications to well-balanced spiritual practice.

Below is an adapted version of his original meditation guide on the Nativity. Set aside some time this week to use this guide. You may be very surprised by what’s in store!


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
O my God and King, I beg you to grant me the grace during this time of meditation, that all my intentions, actions, and operations may be directed purely to the praise and service of Your Divine Majesty. Amen.

(Note: Take a few minutes for each step, with time to pause before moving on.)

Preparation

  1. I will imagine Mary, about 9 months pregnant, seated on a donkey, set out from Nazareth. She is accompanied by Joseph… They are going to Bethlehem to pay the tribute that Caesar imposed on those lands.
  2. I will imagine the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, considering its length, its breadth; whether level, or through valleys and over hills. I observe also the place or cave where Christ is born; whether big or little; whether high or low; and how it is arranged.
  3. O my God and King, I pray for an intimate knowledge of you, who have become man for me, that I may love You more and follow You more closely.

Enter the Scene

  1. I imagine our Lady, St. Joseph… and the Child Jesus after His birth. I place myself in this scene as a poor little unworthy slave, and as though present, I look upon them, contemplate them, and serve them in their needs with all possible homage and reverence.
    Then, I will reflect on all this, to draw from it some spiritual fruit that applies to my life.
  2. I consider, observe, and contemplate what each person in the scene is saying.
    Then, I will reflect on all this, to draw from it some spiritual fruit that applies to my life.
  3. I see and consider what they are doing; for example, making the journey and laboring so that our Lord might be born even in extreme poverty—and that after many labors, after hunger, thirst, heat, and cold, after insults and outrages, He might die on the cross, and all this for me.
    Then, I will reflect on all this, to draw from it some spiritual fruit that applies to my life.

Give Thanks

I will think over what I ought to say to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; or to the Incarnate Word; or to His Mother, our Lady.

According to the light that I have received, I beg for grace to follow and imitate more closely our Lord, who has just become man for me.

Our Father, who art in heaven…

Find more spiritual tools like this from the treasures of our faith at PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.

(Meditation adapted from the Louis J. Puhl, SJ, translation of the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola)