Category Archives: Faithful

Authentic Freedom

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What is freedom?

According to the world, freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without any hindrance or restraint. The Urban Dictionary calls it “doing my own thing;” doing whatever you feel like, trying new things to figure things out. People who believe in this definition of freedom say, “and that’s okay.”

In the ’60s and ’70s, as a student at a Catholic grade school, my parents and the Sisters of Divine Providence (who taught me) would have called the idea of “doing whatever you want,” being irresponsible. I was blessed to have people around me who were constantly reminding me not to “do my own thing,” but to:

  • Always work hard and do your best
  • Always do the right thing (obey the Commandments and the laws & norms of our society)
  • Remember that every choice we make comes with consequences
  • Always behave as though God were watching you

Today’s society touts “doing your own thing” as the key to happiness, whereas the Catholic Church has always promoted responsible freedom as the way to growing in character & virtue and ultimately realizing God’s plan for each of us.

Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought. – St. John Paul II

Why is this authentic freedom?

Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about freedom:

God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him. (CCC, no. 1730)

A passage from Bishop Robert Barron’s book, Catholicism – A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, does an excellent job of explaining what freedom is about. Bishop Barron uses the lives of William Shakespeare and Michael Jordan to illustrate how extensive study, practice, listening to others, and discipline propelled both men to greatness and freedom & flexibility in their crafts.

In the cases of both Shakespeare and Jordan, law was not the enemy of freedom, but precisely the condition for its possibility. What is joy, but the experience of having attained the true good? Therefore, in this more biblical way of looking at things, joy (beatitude) is the consequence and not the enemy of law.(Catholicism, p. 40)

St. Pope John Paul II once said, “The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.” We do not come to Authentic Freedom, by doing whatever we want. It’s all about ordering our heart to please God alone. This takes a commitment to mastering the basics of our Catholic faith.

Entrust your works (your cares) to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. (cf. Proverbs 16:3)

Meet the Master
Perhaps the perfect start or encouragement for you to grow in Authentic Freedom is Pilgrim Center of Hope’s new, nine-part series. Beginning on April 6, Pilgrim Center of Hope will provide you with a wonderful opportunity to encounter Jesus through common needs & wants we all experience. Meet the Master will offer a morning of reflection on every first Saturday of the month through December 2019. We invite you to Meet the Master!

What Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, is that new law that would discipline our desires, our minds, and our bodies so as to make real happiness possible. (Catholicism, p. 40)

This is true Authentic Freedom, responsible freedom, a freedom that will enable you to go from good to great in your faith.


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


Please note: Pilgrim Center of Hope is not responsible for, nor has any control over, any ads displayed on this post.

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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.




 

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

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

Where It Comes From

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Kind of Fear

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

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

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

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

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

An Expert Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming an Authentic Witness to Hope

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A pilgrim prays at the Jordan River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

1. Do I believe and profess the Nicene Creed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




 

Fortitude, A Virtue We Need Now

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“…these difficult times…”

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

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

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

Defining Fortitude

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

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

So, fortitude is the moral virtue that…

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

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

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

How We Gain Fortitude

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

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

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

Asking

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

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

Thanking

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

Preparing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Trusted God. Here’s What Happened…

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What happens when you choose to surrender your will to control your life, and choose to trust in God? The last 30 years of our lives have been filled with answers to this question…

When we went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by ourselves, God provided us with strangers who became ‘family members’, guiding and encouraging us on our journey. We encountered Jesus with new eyes, and discovered a new outlook on our Catholic faith.

When we were sent to a priest who heard our confession, then were immediately sent out to jump onto a boat sailing across the Sea of Galilee—without wallet, passport, or personal items; God provided each of us with an unmistakable conviction to leave everything and follow Him.

When we spent six months searching for how to answer God’s call as missionaries overseas, God directed us to our pastor, who invited us to help him begin a home visitation ministry in our own neighborhood.

When discovered that we would be door-to-door ministers, visiting every residence within the boundaries of our parish without any experience as evangelizers, God provided us with encouragement through our pastor. He told us not to worry about what we were to say, but to just listen and tell people that we cared.

When countless individuals urgently needed prayer or a visitor, God brought us to knock on their door. We witnessed the healing power of presence, prayer, and forgiveness. In the first couple of years, we visited over 10,000 families.

When Pope John Paul II issued an urgent call for a “new evangelization,” we knew we wanted to respond, but didn’t know how. After praying in the Garden of Gethsemane for two weeks, we were given the confidence that God was calling us to start an evangelization Center. God provided us with the blessing of our local bishop.

With just the “change in our pockets”, God provided the Teresian Sisters’ former Convent in northwest San Antonio, to serve as a home for the evangelization Center. Each month, a different friend would present us with their contribution towards the rent.

God has provided us with the rent and “our daily bread,” for 25 years.

When the Teresian Sisters decided to sell their property, we began looking for a new home. Instead, God provided us with hundreds of individuals who donated personal gifts ranging from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars, and the property that we’d been renting for two decades was completely paid off.

The Challenge of Trusting God

Yes, for all of us, each day brings new challenges. Sometimes, it is very difficult to choose to place our trust in God, especially when everything around us points toward defeat. A Scripture that resonates deeply with us is, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) We have learned that the best attitude in every circumstance is to surrender ourselves to God, and to trust in his loving concern for us. Over the last 25 years as an evangelization ministry, Pilgrim Center of Hope has sometimes had to wait for years before receiving answers to our prayers. Other times, the answers have come within minutes of asking. But in every circumstance, God has offered us abundant grace…

Jesus knows how many obstacles human beings face every day, because he lived through them; personal suffering, family trials, and much more. He said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Today, Jesus offers you abundant grace, through the Church that he established upon his Apostles. The Apostles have continued to pass on this spiritual lineage, down to this present day. God invites you to share in his life of love, even amidst daily challenges.

Lord Jesus, you know the trials and concerns that I hold in my heart and mind today. I want to trust in you, my God and Savior. Thank you for teaching us to pray, “Thy will be done;” those same words you prayed before your Passion and Death. Help me to follow in your footsteps today: to take up my Cross, rejoicing in hope, enduring in affliction, and persevering in prayer. Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.

We invite you to discover spiritual tools and events that will help you increase your trust in God, through Pilgrim Center of Hope.

God’s Surprising Plan for You

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Jesus speaks with an authority that is unlike any other; an authority that astonishes. It is not only what he says, but also what he does: he has power over unclean spirits and power to perform miracles, and “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:28)

If this were the only Gospel message we heard, we would think that all went well with the public ministry of Jesus. However, because we are familiar with the entire Gospel, we know his ministry did not always go well. Even though he spoke with authority and the people were amazed at his power, he was not accepted by most of the people—because his message challenged everyone to change, no matter who they were.

God has a great plan for humanity, but it requires all of us to change—to be transformed. He is the one who creates the change in us with his grace, but he needs our cooperation. Because of the gift of faith we all have received through baptism, Our Lord expects us to develop a trusting relationship with him that will take us beyond our understanding and outside our comfort zone.

The Word of God in the Scriptures is still alive and still speaks to us with great authority. We should be astonished at the Good News that the Lord has for those who believe in him:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Astonishing! Jesus says that those who believe in him will do greater works than he, the Son of God! This is because through baptism, we have become members of the Body of Christ and have received the theological gifts of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to participate in the very life of God and to help the kingdom of God to unfold around us. As a matter-of-fact, we are commanded, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all 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. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

No matter who we are or what we do, our we are called to:

  • be intimately connected to God through our commitment to daily prayer
  • live the sacramental life
  • read the Word of God
  • continue to be formed in the faith

Only in this way, will we discover the special plan that God has for each one of us, as well as the gifts he has given us for the sake of his Body—the Church. We will only reach our potential for personal happiness when we are good stewards of the time, talents, and treasure we have received through the generosity of the Lord.

God has a great plan for those who believe in him. Do you believe this?

Dear Jesus, I find it hard to believe that you call me to do such amazing things. But I know that you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I believe in your words. Help my unbelief. Send your Holy Spirit to uphold me amidst my daily struggles. Guide me to seek you today. I want to choose your plan for my life today.

WE INVITE YOU to DISCOVER GOD’S PLAN at…

Catholic Seniors’ Conference – FEB. 24 – Seniors of all ages & family, friends, caretakers: Archbishop Gustavo invites you to this day of prayer, learning, fellowship, and laughter. Come join us and learn about God’s calling for senior citizens; discover a message of joy and hope!

Catholic Men’s Conference – MAR. 16-17 – Men of all ages: Every man is welcome to join over a thousand other men seeking God. Find answers and peace. This is a weekend for you; step away from the busyness and stress of your daily routine. Excellent speakers, food, music, vendors, and more. Come encounter true strength in Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why such opposite outcomes for Peter and Judas?

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Kiss of Judas” by Giotto

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent & Low Self-Esteem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Why Ashes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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