Category Archives: Holy Land

Touch and Believe!

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Today, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, known as “doubting Thomas,” the one who demanded that he touch Jesus’ wounds before he believed in the Resurrection of Christ. Our Lord mercifully appeared to Thomas and allowed him to do so. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” God made us beings who are both spiritual and physical. Our sense of touch makes things ‘more real’, and Jesus compassionately allowed Thomas to touch his wounds.

What about us – today? Well, we would like to share with you the story of Jimmy, a recent new member of our Pilgrim Family, who together with his wife, Carmen, recently journeyed with us to the Holy Land:

Arriving in Nazareth, what struck us about this town is that there is an upper Nazareth and a lower Nazareth because of the steep hills. You can see why, when Jesus told the Nazoreans in Luke 4: 29-30 that he had fulfilled Scripture, and they became angry and tried to throw him over the cliff, how easy that would be to do. This is what is so incredible about going to the Holy Land, because the Bible becomes so much more alive.

The Rosary will never be the same for me after this trip. We actually visited 19 of the 20 sites where [the Rosary mysteries] actually occurred, with the only one that we did not visit was the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. I hope that you and I will also see that one as well one day, when we are in our glorified bodies.

In Jerusalem, we stayed at The Notre Dame Hotel, a Pontifical Institute which is owned by the Vatican. We were blessed to have a gorgeous chapel within the Hotel. Carmen and I were able to go to Eucharistic Adoration, and what a great way to prepare oneself for the sites we were about to see. Looking at the old city within the walls reminded me of all the history that has taken place in this city.

We were blessed to have Mass not only in the Holy Sepulcher Church, but at the very tomb of Jesus. During the Mass, Carmen and I were able to go into the tomb for a couple of minutes. Can you imagine that?

As we left Jerusalem, I again was so thankful for the Pilgrim Center of Hope for making this not a site seeing trip but an actual pilgrimage that increased my faith in such a tangible way. Jesus was real and I was able to walk in his footsteps! Reading the Bible, praying the Rosary, listening to the Scriptures in Mass have become alive.

“We too can have tangible contact with Jesus and put our hand, so to speak, upon the signs of his Passion, the signs of his love. It is in the sacraments that he draws particularly near to us and gives himself to us. […] Learn to ‘see’ and to ‘meet’ Jesus in the Eucharist, where he is present and close to us, and even becomes food for our journey. In the sacrament of Penance the Lord reveals his mercy and always grants us his forgiveness. Recognize and serve Jesus in the poor, the sick, and in our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and in need of help.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Would you like to touch the holy places? Come join us on pilgrimage! See upcoming journeys on our website.

On the Way to Priesthood: My Conversion as A Pilgrim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Gospel Came Alive to Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Where is your Bethlehem? Closer than you think.

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Last week I overheard a young woman ask someone if they celebrated Christmas. The person responded “Yes, of course I do!”. The young woman said, “Oh, do you know that some people don’t celebrate Christmas?” Upon hearing this, I began to think about those who don’t celebrate Christmas. Perhaps they haven’t experienced God’s love or mercy directly. Perhaps they don’t believe in God.

A Long Time Ago

What happened in Bethlehem, Palestine over 2,000 years ago has impacted millions upon millions of souls. God, the Creator of the Universe, sent His Son to be born of a virgin in a humble place, a grotto or stable. You have heard the story – Joseph takes Mary from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census held by Caesar Augustus (ref. Luke 2:1).

It is impressive to learn about St. Joseph through John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Guardian of the Redeemer. In it he describes Joseph as a just and righteous man who was obedient to the law:

“Journeying to Bethlehem for the census in obedience to the orders of legitimate authority, Joseph fulfilled for the child the significant task of officially inserting the name ‘Jesus, Son of Joseph of Nazareth’ in the registry of the Roman Empire (Jn 1:45). This registration clearly shows that Jesus belongs to the human race as a man among men, a citizen of this world, but also as Savior of the World!” (#9)

Not Very Different From Today

Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary see the hustle and bustle of the town – people arriving from various areas for the census, donkeys and camels in the streets, marketplace busy, Joseph searched for a place at the inn, and perhaps several inns.

No room at the inn for them! So thanks to an innkeeper, they are told they can stay at a grotto where animals are kept. Here, in this simple, humble, and most likely quiet place, the Son of God is born.

“Joseph, together with Mary, is a privileged witness to the birth of the Son of God in the world on Christmas night in Bethlehem. Joseph was an eyewitness to this birth, which took place in conditions that humanly speaking, were embarrassing.” (#10)

The Journey Home

The first time I experienced visited Bethlehem, I was quite emotional because I was able to touch and pray at the place where my Savior was born! My husband and I have led numerous pilgrimages to the Holy Land and our time in Bethlehem is very special. The birthplace of Jesus, our Savior, is still there! A church, the Basilica of the Nativity, is built over it to protect it. Thanks be to God for this – now, we can visit this sacred site, where the Son of God was born, where Hope was born!

Do Mary & Joseph have a place in your home?

Oh, but what if one cannot visit Bethlehem in the Holy Land? Bethlehem can be our parish church and our homes where we have a nativity scene set-up.

Parish churches can be called “little Bethlehems”. It is there where we unite with other Christians to worship God and see the Creche, or the Nativity.

Let us approach the Creche with new eyes, not as before, as we casually looked at it and thought it was nice. Let us look at the Nativity – whether it be plastic, clay, metal or whatever it is made of – and see what took place 2,000 years ago in a small town in ancient Palestine.

Have you prepared a place for Jesus?

Imagine the scene! Mary and the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes… Would you be attracted to spend time with this family? The Shepherds did! The Magi did!

A Nativity scene, a Creche – as simple as it may be; this symbolic representation of Christ’s birth can help us meditate and contemplate God’s love for each of us, God’s mercy to give us a Redeemer born so poor and yet majestic, because He is the Savior!

When life throws challenges at us, whether it be elderly parents, sickness, problems with family or work; think about the Holy Family. They certainly faced their challenges!

Oh yes, let us humble ourselves before the infant Jesus. His gifts of peace, hope and joy last forever! The Christmas Season (Dec 25 – January 6) can be our time in “Bethlehem”, let us take advantage of this time to thank Him for His gifts and humbly present ourselves to Him.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope seeks to offer you opportunities to encounter Christ as a gift. We pray that you and your family find ways to encounter Christ wherever you are and have a blessed Christmas season.

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.

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?

Discovering Peter’s Joy

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GalileeSunrise copyWhen my fellow pilgrims and I disembarked from our ‘fishing’ boat on the Sea of Galilee (it was really a tourist boat operated by a group of Jewish men who lived on the nearby Kibbutz), I received a revelation from God that inspired me to more actively practice my Catholic faith.

The Total Person

From where I was standing on the shore, I could see on one side, Tiberius (the old Roman city still in existence) and another side where stood, Decapolis, the ten ancient cities of the Greeks and to the North, Capernaum, where we had just visited the ruins of a synagogue where Jesus taught. It occurred to me that these places represented the total person: Tiberius/Roman/Body, Decapolis/Greek/Mind and Capernaum/Jewish/Soul and with this realization, I heard our Lord speak to my heart and share with me His desire to unite all three in every human person: body, mind and soul.

Gone Fishing

I recalled this memory as I heard the opening to today’s First Friday Gospel from John 21:1-14, “Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius.” It was here that Peter had chosen to just go back to what he knew, fishing, because Jesus was gone, and probably thinking even if all the rumors about him being seen by others were true, they cannot be true for him, who denied His Lord and ran away. Isn’t it interesting, I thought, that even John calls it the Sea of Tiberius . . . forget what I knew (mind), what I believed(soul), just go back to what I do (body) . . . fish!

What is so beautiful about this Gospel, and what I learned myself on pilgrimage, is that our Lord and God comes to us where we are. In this Gospel story, Jesus makes the first move towards Peter and even affirms his choice by providing the fish he spent all night trying to catch. He does the same for each of us.

You Are Invited

Pope Francis confirms this in his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium – “Joy of the Gospel” when he writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Waiting For You

Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.” (3)
It was this joy Peter discovered which tells us that God’s love and mercy for us has nothing to do with who we are and everything to do with who He is.

Our response should be to give freely of our mind, body and soul as our Lord asks of us,

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27)

Walking Catholic

One of the greatest joys of going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land is to see for yourself all the miles our Lord Jesus walked toward His people. One of the greatest joys of being a Catholic, is experiencing through the gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, how He still does!

The Sacraments of the Catholic Church, established by Christ, is our Lord’s promise to never leave us . . . to continue to come to us! We can be united with Christ, mind, body and soul by frequenting the Sacraments (body), learning the teachings of the Church (mind) and believing what the Church professes (soul.)

And when we fail, we can have confidence that the joy that was Peter’s is ours as well!

The Pilgrim Center of Hope provides opportunities to encounter Christ through pilgrimages, conferences and a variety of outreach events. Find out more at pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

A Religion Celebrating an Empty Tomb

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A Religion Celebrating an Empty Tomb

Christianity; the only religion that celebrates an empty tomb.

The holiest site for all of Christianity is the Holy Sepulcher Church, because it is built over tomb of Jesus Christ from where he resurrected. Our faith is founded on the reality that Jesus rose from the dead, and the reality of our own resurrection.

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.”   1 Cor. 15:13-14

However, since Christ has been raised from the dead; our faith has flourished for two thousand years!

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Deacon Tom venerating the tomb of Jesus.

From the fourth century, the tomb of Christ has been the destination for millions of pilgrims, many of whom made the journey at great expense, for some even the cost of their lives.

It is truly one of the great experiences of a life time to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher Church; to have Mass in the tomb where Jesus resurrected and to kiss the stone above where his body laid.

On Easter Monday, we will lead a group of forty persons on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and look forward to repeating that experience in the tomb again, as well as visiting other sites important to our faith. The Holy Land continues to be a place where people can experience a divine presence.

“He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” Luke 24:6

The Institute of Pilgrimages we founded is based on over 25 years of experience in organizing and leading pilgrimages to the Holy Land (we have been there 46 times!), to Rome, Shrines of Italy, Marian Shrines such as Fatima, Lourdes and others. The Institute of Pilgrimages also offer presentations to schools, organizations, groups and ministries on these destinations marked by the history of the Church.

One of our favorites? “The Holy Land – the Fifth Gospel” (of course). Give us a call for a presentation. We would love to share more of all that we have discovered with you! May God bless you as you continue on your own faith journey.

Deacon Tom & Mary Jane Fox

Your Name Here…”Do You Love Me?”

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“Do not forget: In front of us, there is no sin, just the repentant sinner, a person who feels the desire to be accepted and forgiven.” Pope Francis to the ‘Missionaries of Mercy’

I will be honest, for a long time I did not understand when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” (Mk 12:31) because for a long time, I hated myself. It made no sense to me because I thought either Jesus wanted me to hate my neighbor or the second greatest commandment did not apply to me.

Thanks to many people, conference experiences, a pilgrimage and much grace, our Lord has convinced me that He totally loves me!

What finally convinced me of this reality was when I visited the Holy Land with the Pilgrim Center of Hope. One day, we sailed on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus chose His Twelve Apostles. We walked along the shore and came to the place Jesus sat and asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love Me?” (Jn 21:15-19)

At that spot, there are three heart-shaped stones leading from the shore and ‘out to the nations’ reminding us that with every, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you,” confessed by Peter, Jesus told His friend and denier, “Feed My sheep.” Our Lord’s decision to build His Church upon the rock of Peter had not changed despite the reality that this ‘rock’ denied our Lord three times.

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Photo of the 3 heart-shaped stones located along the Sea of Galilee outside the Primacy of Peter chapel, custody of the Franciscans.

What Peter discovered that day was Mercy.

Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

For many of us, if not all of us, the hardest one we find to be compassionate towards and to forgive is ourselves. This is why looking at Peter’s ‘conviction’ is such a great help in understanding how God teaches us to approach Him in our sinfulness.

When we go to confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are not going just to face God’s justice; though we will face Him in ‘Persona Christi’ through the priest. We are not going so we can tell our sins to a priest, though that is certainly part of it. We go because we understand that we are not able to save ourselves. We need grace, and our faith teaches that the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides special graces not at our disposal outside the Sacrament and this grace washes us clean and gives us the armor to fight future sinning.

There is a final reason and the verb we use is so telling. We ‘visit’ the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can sit with Jesus, one-on-one, and tell Him we love Him, exactly how Peter did.

Christian ‘conviction’ is when a sinner stands guilty before God, knows he cannot save himself and that He is totally loved. It is this last part that we need to embrace.

For many Catholics, including myself, it is very difficult to kneel in the confessional and confess our sins. But if we can view the encounter as our way of loving, praising and thanking Jesus who took the punishment for us, it may help us to see the Sacrament of Reconciliation for what it is: an encounter with Mercy.

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has commissioned thousands of priests to be ‘missionaries of mercy.’ In the February 21st edition of The National Catholic Register, journalist Father Raymond J. DeSouza reporting on their commissioning ceremony at the Vatican writes,

“We often have the pious thoughts that we leave our sins in the confessional, but the truth is that we don’t carry them into the confessional in the first place. It is not sin itself that presents itself to Jesus in the person of the confessor. Sin cannot stand in God’s presence. Rather, it is the repentant sinner, a person in the image and likeness of God who comes before Christ in the person of the priest. The reality is that the penitent, even if burdened by shame, is already close to God simply by coming to confession, for the person desiring to be close to God can be confident of God’s closeness.”

When Jesus answered the question, “What is the greatest commandment,” with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” (Mk 12:30-31) we can now better understand that to love our neighbor as our self, we must first love God through the reality of His Mercy.

Peter discovered this very thing that day on the shore of Galilee and this revelation of God’s unfathomable love gave him the confidence to lead the Catholic Church as our first pope.

Let Peter’s confidence in God’s love inspire us to take advantage of this rich treasure of Mercy instead of dreading it. We are obligated to receive this Sacrament once a year, but why not ‘visit’ monthly so you can spend time with our Lord telling Him how much you love Him?!

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Archdiocese of San Antonio is offering more opportunities to encounter Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If the idea of walking where Jesus walked intrigues you, consider a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Visit pilgrimcenterofhope.org and discover the many pilgrimage opportunities available.