Category Archives: events

Little Ways to Transform Your Heart

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What are little epiphanies?

They are “little nothings of every day hope,” and the “ordinary ways to sanctity,” according to Susan Muto, PhD, executive director of Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality, who served as our keynote speaker at the Prayer Brunch benefiting our ministry on Saturday, October 28.

During our weekly staff meetings, we’ve been discussing Dr. Muto’s book, Twelve Little Ways to Transform Your Heart: Lessons in Holiness and Evangelization from St. Therese of Lisieux. To our delight, we discovered the lessons in her book wove perfectly into our ministry’s mission of guiding people to Christ and His Church. We strive to be missionary disciples reminding people that trusting in God provides hope in all the circumstances of our lives.

In her presentation on Sunday, Dr. Muto expanded on four of the ‘Little Ways’ listed in her book:

1. Little Way of Hiddenness

Dr. Muto said, “That the majority of us will never be famous, in the news or on any headline, so it is in the hiddenness of life we are to seek our sanctity.” She calls it the, “Nazareth of Everydayness;” many opportunities each day to be with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and live in hope. Hiddenness is where we can count on the grace of our baptism to give us the hope we need to love our spouses, raise our children, cling to our faith, and never give up.

2. Little Way of Abandonment to Providence

This is where we are to let go of our plans in life, and surrender in trust to God’s providence. St. Therese reconciled her burning desire to be a missionary, with the reality of life in the cloister and in growing illness, by cultivating a spirituality that, “surrenders like a little child in her Father’s arms,” trusting He would never give a desire He would not fulfill. We can practice living in this hope by consciously turning our plans over to God like, “twigs into a fire.” We will witness the, “flames of trust grow higher with each twig of surrender.”

3. Little Way of Simplicity

In a world that is full of complications, we can act in simplicity by defying our, “culture of the lie,” and living, “without guile; which means we say what we mean and mean what we say and that our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no.” Forgiveness is the key to living in simplicity, and though sin complicates our lives, we can find hope in understanding that, “God gazes at us always, slicing through the layers of sin and seeing directly into our souls.”

4. Little Way of Unceasing, World Redeeming Prayer

We can plug into God’s plan for salvation by choosing as St. Therese did to, “Read the text of daily life,” through an acceptance and offering of our little annoyances and big struggles. Muto shared several stories demonstrating how St. Therese took every opportunity to engage in the, “Serious business of prayer by hesitating before reacting, asking for grace, and trusting God that what He has called us to, will be disclosed to us.”

Dr. Muto ended her presentation with a prayer of St. Therese, and thanked God for Pilgrim Center of Hope and the blessing of our respective ministries.

You can meet Dr. Susan Muto and hear her speak at our Catholic Seniors’ Conference on February 24, 2018 at St. Matthew Church McDonald Center.

Pilgrim Center of Hope founders Deacon Tom & Mary Jane Fox, with Dr. Susan Muto

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Why did the Angels announce Christ’s birth to shepherds?

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b-shepherds-fieldMy husband and I enjoy watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year. Who could forget that classic moment, when a deeply perturbed Charlie Brown yells, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” and Linus recites from the Gospel of Luke? It’s a real tear-jerker.

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.”

How often have you pictured that scene in your mind: so many angels singing God’s praises, their glory contrasting with the poor, amazed, and simple shepherds? Did you know that even to this day in Bethlehem, shepherds continue to tend their flocks in the very same fields? During my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I was privileged to visit and see this amazing place with my own eyes.

Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem

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Have you ever realized that this historic event is commemorated during Mass on Sundays and major feast days? Each time we sing, “Glory to God in the highest…”, known as the Gloria, we are echoing those words of the angels that forever changed the world and sent a message of hope for all people! Wow!

However, have you noticed that during Advent, we skip this part of the Mass? Why?

Shepherd of Bethlehem

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jewish people lived under the Roman Empire’s occupation, and they longed for a Savior. They looked for a “Son of David”, because the prophets had promised a Messiah (Savior) from the line of King David. The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus was born into such a family.

Now recall King David’s background: he was a shepherd from Bethlehem. He was the youngest and smallest of his father’s sons—an unexpected new king, yet the most famous and revered of all Israel’s rulers.

Why Shepherds are Significant

Imagine spending your days and nights outside with a flock of sheep…not the most exciting gig in the world! Shepherds were servants, hired by landowners to tend their flock. An ideal shepherd was a patient, loyal, strong person, willing to stay with his job despite boredom, bad weather, and the occasional predator or wandering sheep. To these simple servants, the host of heaven revealed itself!

Similarly, we ourselves are charged by our Master to go about our everyday lives accomplishing the tasks he gives us. Under blue skies or gray, rain or shine, in boredom or danger, we are called to be out in the fields, doing our duty.

Advent is a time of preparation and waiting. Unlike the world around us which is already celebrating Christmas, we are called to patiently wait for our Savior. Just like the shepherds, we must stay awake and alert. Then, finally, when eternity explodes into our lives—either by death or Second Coming, we will be ready to run and greet Christ!

So, during Advent, we do not sing the Gloria as a reminder that we are waiting, like those shepherds. For me, Christmas Mass is one of the most emotional of the year, because I can sing the song that, along with millions of other Catholics, I have been waiting so long to sing. Together, our Church family sings the song that brought hope to a people longing for a savior; the song that the host of heaven sang to some humble little “nobodys”…

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

If you’d like to walk across Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem and sing the Gloria where it was first sung, join us for a journey of faith to the Holy Land! I invite you to learn about the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s unique Ministry of Pilgrimages and view upcoming pilgrimages on our website.

Walking with Mary: The What and the How of the New Evangelization

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We Catholics have a mission to evangelize. We are called by our baptism to work in and through our daily lives, whether professed religious (priest/sister) or as a lay person working and living out in the world, to bring the Gospel message to everyone. This Gospel message is the proclaiming of the Kingdom of God so that all people may be liberated from sin and freed from the Evil One through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Does this surprise you?

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi – On Evangelization in the Modern World. Pope Paul VI writes,

“She (The Church) prolongs and continues Him. And it is above all His mission and His condition of being an evangelizer that she is called to continue. […] Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important to the whole, (15).”

If this not only surprises you, but frightens you, take heart! The Church, through Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Francis, have provided what every mission needs to be successful: The ‘What’ and the ‘How.’

What is the Mission of Evangelization in the Modern World?

When Jesus sent His disciples on this mission, He told them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, (Mat 28:19-20).” And they did! Christianity spread around the globe.

Today, that Christianity is losing ground and many baptized, even those who attend Sunday Mass, do not shape their lives around the one they profess to follow, Jesus Christ. It is to those who Pope Saint John Paul II said we need a New Evangelization.

How do we achieve the Mission of Evangelization in the Modern World?

Pope Francis, who called Evangelii Nuntiandi, “The greatest pastoral document that has ever been written,” gives the ‘how’ of this mission in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium-Joy of the Gospel:

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples, (cf. Mt 28:19) (120).”

Walking with Mary

On this feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we see in her the perfection of the missionary disciple.

Mary of Nazareth was conceived without Original Sin and full of grace, but she still needed to be evangelized to become first a disciple, then a missionary one. Received as an answered prayer to the childless, St. Anne and St. Joachim, she was returned to the Giver at the age of three to be presented at the Temple. There she learned the Scriptures and how to pray. At fourteen, she received the message of God from the mouth of the Angel Gabriel and in turn gave this message to the World in her Son, Jesus Christ.

In the thirty years before Jesus made disciples of many men and women, He evangelized her. Mary learned in the raising of and listening to her Son how to shape the apparent contradiction of her virginal life around the Mystery of being the Mother of God. She made choices to follow her Son wherever He desired to go by making haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth and in escaping to Egypt in confident obedience to her faithful spouse, St. Joseph. Though full of grace at the Annunciation, Mary continued to grow in grace and surely came to understand what she most perfectly witnessed as a missionary disciple: Through discipleship to Jesus; the Son of God, the more you give of the grace given to you, the more you receive in return.

Your Mission . . . Should You Choose to Accept it

As we end this year and look forward to next, take some time to ask yourself if you are indeed a disciple of Jesus Christ. Do you go to Mass every Sunday? Is your daily life shaped by Jesus and His Gospel message? Are the decisions you make – little and big – founded on the Creed? Do you pray every and often each day? Do you frequent the Sacraments? Do you read Scripture and study the rich treasure of our Catholic faith?

If not, then let your first recruit be you! Start by going to Mary, offering a Rosary or even one Hail Mary prayer, asking her to help you become a missionary disciple. She will surely direct you in how to follow Jesus. Perhaps she will:

  • Encourage you to take advantage of opportunities at your parish to learn more about our faith through faith/bible studies.
  • Ask you to join a service group at your parish or another Catholic ministry.
  • Share with you the needs of family and those in your workplace and teach you how to pray to God in how best to witness by example and word.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope is Looking for a Missionary Disciple Just Like You!

The Pilgrim Center of Hope exists to connect men and women to God and His Church through a variety of opportunities that include annual Catholic Men’s, Women’s and Seniors’ Conferences, Afternoon Tea with the Saints, Evenings with Mary, through media with monthly Today’s Catholic newspaper column, Living Catholicism, spiritual tools including books and monthly newsletter, this The Pilgrim Log and a weekly television/radio show, Catholicism Live! . . . just to name a few!

Feel free to contact us or come by and visit the Pilgrim Center of Hope and pray with us in our Gethsemane Chapel, where we offer the Divine Mercy Chaplet each weekday at 3:30pm.

Spiritual Battle – Top 3 Qualities of A Good Soldier

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The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 409)

The Church exists in three realms: Victorious (those members who are in heaven), Suffering (in purgatory), and Militant (on earth). Here amid the Church Militant, we hear about ‘spiritual warfare’ or ‘spiritual battle’, and much of the discussion regards “learning the devil’s tactics” or “gaining strength to resist Satan” or “watching out for signs of the enemy”. Recently, however, I reflected on how soldiers never step onto the battlefield without attending Orientation.

What is the most important quality of a good soldier?

I recently conducted a survey with this question among friends who are current or former members of the armed forces. All soldiers were asked directly. Each responded from his or her own experience, without consulting anyone. I received answers from soldiers varying in rank, age, background, gender; experienced in the United States Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. Amazingly, their answers fit into 3 categories, which correspond well to the spiritual life…

1. Commitment to the Mission – Top Response

Other words used to describe this quality: Discipline, Drive, Courage, Fortitude, Determination

One senior officer elaborated: “I always talk to my Soldiers about having a ‘Why’ Factor: That reason(s) that get you up every morning and make you the best person you can be. […] This can be the next rank, spouse, children, family, better finances, education; whatever it is that reminds them of the importance of what they do and why they strive for greatness each day.”

In the spiritual life, Jesus—our King—clearly states that we must be focused and committed to our mission: accomplishing His Will.

The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this:
“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:14-16)

Are you committed to following Christ, or are you lukewarm? Is it love of God that drives you through trials? What is your “Why Factor” for living as you do? If it is not Christ, then start examining your conscience, and determine what dis-ordered desires or other obstacles you must address. A soldier who is neither disciplined nor committed to the mission is a danger to himself and his fellow soldiers.

2. Integrity

Other words used to describe this quality: Honor, Honesty

Closely related to the top response, Integrity is defined as “moral uprightness”, or “the state of being whole and undivided”. Soldiers who gave this response consistently needed answered with one word. That’s because integrity speaks for itself.

Look at Saint Joseph in the gospels. He is described as “a righteous man”—yet his words are never quoted. Why? The integrity of his character is reflected in his actions, which speak for themselves. If someone were to write the story of your daily life based only upon your actions and the way you respond to God’s promptings, would you be satisfied with that story? As necessary and powerful as our words and vocal prayers can be, Jesus clearly tells us that lip service is insufficient for Victory:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Mat. 7:21-23)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The battle of prayer is inseparable from the necessary ‘spiritual battle’ to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ: we pray as we live, because we live as we pray.” (no. 2752) Start today, soldier! Pray for the grace to be a person of integrity. Seek God’s will so that you can accomplish it: Spend a few minutes daily with Scripture and spiritual reading, and consult a spiritual leader to help provide direction and structure for your spiritual combat training.

3. Teamwork

Other words used to describe this quality: Cooperation, Loyalty, Trustworthiness & Trust

handsA commanding officer elaborated: “I don’t want narcissists that only care about themselves.” Another asserted: “I need this person to foster teamwork, or cooperation. You can be the most patriotic, intelligent, experienced person in the U.S. military and if no one can work with you, or wants to, you’re useless.”

In the Church Militant, it is not good enough to “hang out with Jesus”. As two of Jesus’ closest disciples discovered, we cannot please God if we are jerks, even toward those who oppose us!

 

[Jesus’ messengers] entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him… When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them… (Lk. 9:52-55)

Mother Angelica advised, “Don’t say, ‘If it weren’t for that person I could be holy.’ No; you can be holy because of that person.” What bugs you about people? Are there people who drive you up the wall with their weaknesses or habits? Make it your goal to realize that you cannot win the spiritual war without learning how to love those people. When St. Therese of Lisieux found a particular Sister in her Community completely disagreeable, she employed this tactic: “Not wishing to give in to the natural antipathy I was experiencing, I told myself that charity must not consist in feelings but in works; then I set myself to doing for this Sister what I would do for the person I loved the most.”

Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn. 13:34-35)

3 Keys to Victory

  1. Disciplined and Courageous Commitment: Decide to live for Christ, and use this decision to guide all other decisions.
  2. Integrity: Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.
  3. Teamwork: Remember that you are not fighting your fellow man or woman, but rather temptation to sin. Practice selfless love, generosity, and kindness to everyone.

We encourage all men to join us for our upcoming Catholic Men’s Conference. The mission of the Catholic Men’s Conference is to promote a deeper understanding of our dignity as being created in the image and likeness of God, and to provide direction and resources to help transform ourselves, our families and society. You are not alone in your battle. Find strength in numbers at this annual event for men.

Choice for Catholics

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We hear the word ‘choice’ advertised often these days. . . especially in an election year.

For Catholics, we are blessed at Mass every Sunday to advertise to the world what we believe and who we choose to be when we profess as Church, our Creed.

The Nicene Creed is our Profession of Faith and through our witness in the day to day journey of striving to live it out, we Catholics are easily recognized.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

“Our profession of faith begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything. The Credo begins with God the Father, for the Father is the first divine person of the Most Holy Trinity; our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works.” (CCC 198)

Each Catholic’s free will choice to be what we profess means:

  • We must acknowledge one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is Creator of all things visible and invisible.
  • We must live out this belief in the Lord, the giver of life, in all circumstances, convenient and inconvenient.
  • We must choose life for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works.

To call yourself Catholic and profess differently . . . is simply false advertising.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope is a Catholic Evangelization Ministry which exists to help Catholics live out their faith and share it with others through a variety of opportunities. Want to know more? We invite you to join us on Saturday, October 29th, 2016 for our annual Prayer Brunch benefiting the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Learn more about what we profess and what we do at PilgrimCenterofHope.org.

3 Ways to Pray with Confidence

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3 Ways toPray withCONFIDENCE

For the longest time, I was the Catholic who prayed at Mass and only during times of distress. Honestly, my prayer was very focused on my needs and wants when I did not feel that God was giving me what I deserved. Through relationships with very disciplined Catholics, I soon realized that I was not praying with the total belief that God was listening to me and decided to incorporate the following 3 ways to begin praying with confidence.

No Returns

The realization came to me that after laying down my worries and concerns before Jesus, I would return and pick them back up and continue to be stressed about the situation without really giving God an opportunity to answer my prayer. How many times have you asked someone for help, and then end up doing it yourself? In trusting God, we must also have patience and humility understanding that He is working in the timing that is best for all of His children not just our own desires. God is able to answer many people’s prayers at once when we allow him to work through us in the timing that works best for his plan. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. (Matthew 6:34)

Thy Will Be Done

God knows all that you are going through and all of the struggles that you face, so to pray confidently we must believe that he can bless us in ways that we would not think to request. In life, we can easily pray to God for blessings that we think would be helpful, but He can see our lives from a perspective that we can not comprehend. Pray for his will to be done in your life, and do not pray for anything more than for God to bless you in accordance with his will. Fully place your confidence in him by simply allowing him to bless you in the way that would benefit his plan over your own. It does not matter if you are 16 or 60, God can work through you in fruitful ways not just for you, but for the entire world. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.’ (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

Don’t Wait

After you pray with confidence, thank God immediately, knowing that he will answer your prayer in the best timing for you and everyone else involved. We must not get so caught up in the need to see results that we become negative in our daily journey. Each day, wake up and thank God before you even get out of bed. This allows for you to begin the day focused on God and with a peaceful heart. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, we are people of hope and make time for daily prayer as a staff. We encourage you to pray confidently through your daily journey and let us know if we can pray for you. You can also look to the Saints for inspiration on praying with complete trust in God. The lives of the Saints give us insight on how to answer God’s call confidently and how to stay strong in faith through trials. Ladies, join us at Afternoon Tea with the Saints each month for a social and spiritual event where our staff introduces you to the life of a Saint!

It’s All How You Look at It!

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A few presidential elections ago, I thought I was being very astute in discerning truth by watching BOTH the conservative AND the liberal news/talk shows. I was of the opinion that by listening to both sides, I could determine where lies are being told and truth is being offered.

I was wrong.

Instead, I discovered that a survey/statistic can be produced affirming whatever a side wants it to; often ‘proving’ the exact opposite of the other side! What this taught me is that what we are told, by often self-described experts, is actually someone’s opinion rather than what actually ‘is.’ As one genuinely seeking to understand, I am forced to choose a world view based on, “Whose opinion do I believe?” What this experience also taught me is that I am so grateful to be Catholic!

Why?

Because to discover what really ‘is,’ the reality of a situation, it only makes sense to go to the One who created the world and to His Church, which He gave as His promise to not leave us orphans. To view the world through ‘Catholic eyes’ is to see through God’s eyes, and to see through God’s eyes is to see Reality.

One of women of the Bible, Martha of Bethany, discovered the same thing . . .

As they continued their journey he [Jesus] entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

In our ministry to women, I have found many women identify with Martha and think, as she does, that Jesus does not care. But if we look at this situation from Jesus’ perspective, we may just change our opinion.

Dutch_Painting_in_the_19th_Century_-_Cornelis_Kruseman_-_Christ_with_Martha_and_MaryFirstly, Jesus does not hesitate to respond; turning from everyone else in the room and calling Martha by name, not once, but twice! He is very present to her. He then reveals to Martha that it is not just her sister, but many issues that are troubling her. In God’s generosity, He is not going to simply address her issue at hand. He lavishes her with His personal knowledge of everything she is going through. He sees her! When He tells her that Mary has chosen the ‘better’ part, He is not criticizing, but rather leading Martha to see that she did ‘good’ in welcoming Him and coming to Him but chooses ‘better’ by listening to Him. He is drawing her.

Our Lord is encouraging, teaching and challenging Martha to a different world view. Like a prism, He is moving the lens showing another perspective, God’s perspective.

How does Martha respond? Soon after, during her deep grief in losing her brother Lazarus and trying to comprehend why her friend, Jesus, did not show up in time, according to her and everyone else’s opinion, we hear her exclaim, “Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world,” (John 11:27) And, she says this before He even raises her brother from the dead! This tells us that Martha has made her choice Whom to believe.

So how do we become like Martha when bombarded with the thousands of opinions we receive daily from sources both outside and in? How do we discern fact from fiction?

Our Catholic faith teaches that one way is through Scripture. By dwelling daily in the Word of God, we learn God’s language, and are able to see what often seems like a rebuke, is in Truth God calling us to something much greater and much deeper.

All the ways Christ is present to us is taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name, in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But “he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species.” (1373)

And, all these ways are found at our annual Pilgrim Center of Hope Catholic Women’s Conferences, Catholic Men’s Conferences and Catholic Seniors’ Conferences.

At these one and two-day events, women and men are given opportunities to welcome Christ and come to Him. In these encounters with Christ, we are encouraged in our unique dignity as children of God, taught the Truth of God’s love and challenged to live this Reality, bringing hope to our very hurting world. We invite you to join us.

So . . . what do you think?

How the Blind see the Holy Land

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You may have heard at least once the song Amazing Grace. The song was written in the late 1770’s by John Newton, a British sailor and former slave trader. He wrote about one of his experiences at sea during a violent storm; thinking the ship would sink and would be lost, he shouted to the Lord for His mercy. Surviving the storm, he realized the grace of God and wrote the song Amazing Grace.

I have listened to this song so many times, and often think of the words “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” relating to my own encounter with God’s mercy.

Meet Alco

My husband, Deacon Tom and I, led a group of 40 persons on pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few weeks ago. The Spiritual Director, Fr. Pat Martin, for this pilgrimage is a blind priest with a special ministry. He travels throughout North America and Ireland presenting parish missions about the mercy of God’s love. Also among the group, was another blind person, Alco, a woman who was born blind.Alco

She had searched for an organization or a group that would welcome her, a single blind woman with the desire to experience the Holy Land as a pilgrim. When I first met Alco, by phone, I was most impressed with the enthusiasm and joy expressed in her voice. She explained how, for years now, she wanted to go to the Holy Land and it was most apparent in her voice! I, too, was excited about the opportunity to introduce her to the Holy Land! Isn’t it interesting to discover and observe “God’s hand” in situations? One must believe at this point, this was no “accidental” phone call!

Alco visits the Holy Land

Alco joined us on this pilgrimage, I greatly enjoyed walking with her, arm in arm, I was able to describe the various holy sites related to the life of Jesus in Galilee, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. She was able to touch the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem, kneel at the Tomb of Christ and kiss where His Body laid and resurrected among many other holy sites. One of my favorite sites is Nazareth, a city in the Galilee Region, known world-wide because it is the hometown of the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph). The Grotto, or the home of Mary, the Mother of Jesus is here; it has become through the centuries, a destination for many Christians who want to see, touch her home and ask her intercession. Today, a large Catholic Church called the Basilica of the Annunciation is built over this Grotto to protect it.

This holy site was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, when he addressed Mary as “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28), it is humble place where today a small altar is located in the center with an inscription in Latin in front of altar  “Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est“; translating – “Here the Word was Made Flesh”. There was complete silence, we imagined seeing Mary as a young woman here. Our pilgrim group spent time in silence and implored Mary’s intercession.
As I looked at Alco, she had a big smile on her face. Do you know something? Alco not only saw with the eyes of her heart, as she listened to the descriptions, because of her open heart and zeal for her faith, she sensed a deep presence of Mary and God.IMG_2227

This experience among many others with Alco and Fr. Pat, the blind priest, taught me so much. For one – how much we take for granted, even our eyesight. One of Fr. Pat’s favorite response on discovering something beautiful or good is the word “Fantastic!”. Alco’s response is a big, beautiful smile with a sweet laughter. Fr. Pat and Alco, the only two blind persons I have ever encountered opened my eyes. Not only my eyes, but my heart as well. So often our minds are distracted with the noise and busy activity around us, we may fail to truly be aware of God’s presence or the ways He may be “speaking” to us through someone’s message, nature, sacred art, beauty and simply by being present to the moment.

The joy of these two blind persons also gave testimony to their deep love for God, because they have experienced His peace, joy and hope in their lives.

Alco wrote her pilgrimage experience, the following is a part of her article.

“We visited a number of holy sites.  One of the highlights of the trip for me was being able to proclaim God’s Word in the church at Mount Tabor.  An architect, Antonio Barluzzi built churches on many holy sites after World War I.  I understand that the visuals are stunning, but for me, the acoustics in his churches are truly amazing!  I have never sung in churches that magnified sound like that.
All I can share with you is what I observed. However, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to walk where Jesus walked and to meet so many generous, warm-hearted Palestinian Christians as well as the people who went on this pilgrimage; with me.  I never felt unsafe.”

God with Us

These words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I was once lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see” continue to cause me to praise God for His omnipotent mercy!

Today, take a moment to praise God for His presence in your life, even if you don’t see him – He is there to receive you, inviting you to approach Him!

Join us on a Pilgrim Center of Hope Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Visit here to see our future pilgrimages. Tom and I have been to the Holy Land 47 times in the last 25 years, we would very much like to introduce you to the land sanctified by the Lord Jesus! Come and See! Did you know that the Holy Land is also called the Fifth Gospel?

Can’t Stop Laughing

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As I was reading through the liturgy for Pentecost, I reflected how the Holy Spirit has influenced my life. One of the earliest memories I have of the Holy Spirit happened when I was in high school. I remember sitting on the porch enjoying the cool breeze anticipating the thunderstorm that was predicted to roll through our area in West Texas.

Uncontrollable Joy

As I gazed at the night sky, I realized how happy I was with life at that moment. I smiled, and then I giggled out loud. It caught me off guard, and then I started laughing. Now, anyone who knows me well, knows that once I start laughing I simply can’t stop. So, I sat there on the porch by myself laughing and laughing and laughing. I am sure at least ten to fifteen minutes went by, and just when I thought I could keep it together…it would start all over! It was at that moment that I realized it was not just uncontrollable laughter, but uncontrollable joy ignited by the Holy Spirit! The joy and love for God that I experienced in that moment was exhilarating, and truly a gift.

Once more will he fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with rejoicing. (Job 8:21)

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Share the Joy

Many times, the life of a Catholic is portrayed as strict and boring, with so many rules and restrictions. The challenge falls on each one of us to live our lives with joy, treasure the blessings, serve others with a kind heart, and welcome the Holy Spirit into our everyday lives. These are just a few ways that others can encounter God through us.

So, how can we live a life full of joy? Jesus gave the disciples the recipe for joy.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this so that my joy might be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” John 15:9-12

What an intense commandment Jesus gave us; to love others as He loves! It is up to us to open our hearts enough to welcome the Holy Spirit, so we may be filled with joy and love one another unconditionally. I have seen some people who are going through very difficult times in their life, and still are able to be grateful and full of joy. It is possible! Have confidence in God and trust in His plan for you. The life of a Catholic should be joyous because Our Lord Jesus Christ has given us His peace, His joy, and His love!

Joyous on the Journey

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come. (Proverbs 31:25)  The strength and dignity that we have been given does not allow for us to be anxious about the future. We do not always know where God will take us, but we do know the Holy Spirit is always with us. I encourage you right now to say a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to guide you on your journey.

Each year through the annual Catholic Women’s Conference, we help women appreciate the dignity they have been given and grow deeper in their relationship with God. Visit CWCSanAntonio.com to learn more about the opportunities available for you at the Catholic Women’s Conference.

The Secret to Finding Mr. or Mrs. Right

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What eligible man or woman has not asked the question, “How do I know if insert name here is the person I should marry? Increasingly, the young adult generation is asking a more despairing question, “Why should I marry at all?”

According to statistics, 40-50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The percentage is even higher for subsequent marriages, which proves that most who divorce did not learn from their mistakes how to either select a good spouse or how to be one.

It is no wonder that a growing majority of people are choosing not to marry. Many are the result of broken homes and they know the pain of their parents separating. It has caused deep wounds and they are not willing to enter into the same situation that has already caused them so much suffering.

Our Catholic faith discerned through Scripture, however, professes marriage as God’s will and is clearly stated through this encounter between Jewish authorities and our Lord Jesus Christ:

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying,
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Mat 19:3-9.)

So, how can God expect us to marry and stay married when it is so very difficult?

Because as always, God never asks of us what He does not provide as a way for us to succeed; and this way is the way of virtue.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself (CCC 1803.) St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.”

So, imagine if that man or woman you are dating or are already married to had the goal to always give the best of himself or herself to you. Imagine if you did the same in response. Your marriage would grow in perfection, in holiness!

Sarah Swafford, author, speaker, one-time college dormitory resident manager, and one of our speakers at this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference has listened to hundreds of young men and women lament their romantic relationships and the dearth of worthy partners to date, let alone marry.

couple walkingAfter listening to countless conversations, she began to ask them, “What traits and characteristics do you find most attractive?” Whether she asked men or women, the responses were very similar and the list of attributes lined up with a life lived in virtue.

Sarah has made a chart of the simply irresistible virtuous woman and man and encourages us to take the virtue challenge. What she discovered from the many men and women who have strived to live out the virtues of this challenge, is a movement away from self and towards the other. This human effort striving for good formed characters rich in kindness, confidence, honesty, responsibility, humility, sensitivity, forgiveness and compassion. Who wouldn’t want to be married to someone like that? Who would not want to be someone like that?!

The success of this virtue challenge is that it draws us into the work of God; and whenever we cooperate with His plan for our lives, His grace kicks in perfecting our nature. In other words, our human efforts become super-charged!

Scripture confirms this in 1 Thessalonians, 4:7-8, “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy Spirit to you.

The secret to finding Mr. or Mrs. Right is to become Mr. or Mrs. Right, or as Sarah says, “Become the man or woman of your dreams and you will attract the man or woman of your dreams!” And this is true whether you are looking to marry or are already married. What joy to wake one day and discover that through your human effort combined with God’s grace, the one sleeping next to you for the last 5, 10, 20 years is growing once again attracted to you and you to him/her!

I encourage you to go to emotionalvirtue.com and take the virtue challenge, and I invite women to see Sarah speak and share more at this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference on September 9-10th!

Painting by Artist, Leonid Afremov “Misty Mood”.