Category Archives: Holy Land

Stones Crying Out: A Message of Hope for Today

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

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Dominus Flevit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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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Listening… In A Noisy World!

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Have you ever said to yourself, If only I can get away for some quiet time! or, Is anyone listening?

I certainly have! These questions usually arise in our thoughts when we want some peace, some quiet time after experiencing a full schedule, or a trial, or simply being busy!

I recently was in the Holy Land on pilgrimage and among the many wonderful and amazing experiences, one was spending time in the Garden of Gethsemane—where Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples when he visited Jerusalem, and where he prayed his hour of agony the night he was arrested; resulting in his Passion.

Today, a large basilica is built next to ancient olive trees that date to the time of Jesus. They are often called the Silent witnesses of Christ’s Agony. Upon entering the Basilica of the Agony, one sees a large area of rock in front of the main altar. This is where Christ prayed his hour of agony, where he sweat blood, and prayed for the will of his Heavenly Father. Imagine sitting in this church commemorating this whole experience—with its mosaics depicting the scenes of the Bible related to his agony and arrest. The light streaming through the alabaster glass windows sheds a somber light in the church, inviting the visitor to ponder what happened here 2,000 years ago.

IMG_6481As I sat, I realized how much I longed for some quiet time with God. To speak with him, and at the same time was hoping for an inspiration from him. The noises of traffic, guides shouting, tourists and pilgrims moving about, and cameras clicking, seemed so distracting at such a holy site.

Yes, it was challenging to attempt to remain silent… You know what helped me?

What helped me were the sacred art, along with my act of touching the very stone where Jesus sweat blood! The large stone area is surrounded by a short, iron crown of thorns. I knelt and bent over the iron crown to kiss the stone, placing both of my hands on the cool, rough rock. I thought, This is where YOU, Lord, prayed for the Father’s will! This is where YOU sweat blood! Help me to listen! While I heard many people around me, the chattering of visitors, traffic noise… that moment seemed to be an eternal moment for me. There seemed to be inner peace. Later, I took some time to sit and simply see the sacred art; the mosaics of Jesus praying, being arrested, even the altar’s shape is that of a chalice.

Leaving this holy place, I thought of sharing this, hoping that others can also be encouraged to seek some quiet time with the Lord. It is possible!

How?

  • Sacred images or art can help us ponder the mysteries of our faith. For example: A stained glass window of a biblical scene can easily help us begin meditating on that Bible passage.
  • Holding or touching a crucifix or a statute can also be helpful. Think about the story in the Gospel of Luke 8 of the woman with the hemorrhage who simply touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed! Jesus tells her it was her faith that healed her!
  • Begin with a desire for some quiet time with the Lord. Ask for a deepened faith. And be consistent. Go to him… in faith and in silence!

Pilgrim Center of Hope is here to help guide you to encounter Christ, so as to live in hope as a pilgrim in daily life. For some quiet moments, we invite you to come visit our 7 acres in the middle of northwest San Antonio. Or, visit our website for more spiritual tools.

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:




 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Preparation

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

Enter the Scene

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

Give Thanks

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

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

Our Father, who art in heaven…

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

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

“Look Up!” How & Why to Live a Spirit of Watchfulness

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During Advent, we are called to have a spirit of watchfulness.

The dictionary defines watchfulness as: To be more vigilant or alert; closely observant. This definition, and a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, have helped me discover a way to grow in a Christian spirit of watchfulness specific to our world today.

During our pilgrim journey, we were brought to Shepherd’s Field; the very place where Scripture tells us:

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. (Luke 2:8)

7106825805_fd93d4fec3_k.jpgIn this field, we visited and offered Mass at a chapel built inside one of the caves in which shepherds would have holed up for the night. Our pilgrimage guide explained that, with his flock tucked into the cave, the shepherd would remain at the entrance, kneeling as he slept. He did this so that if an animal came preying, the shepherd would be in the perfect position to jump up and defend his flock. The shepherd had to keep watch even as he slept!

Shepherds were often outcasts, shunned by people in the area and unwelcome in the towns they served and yet . . .

The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” 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” (Luke 2:9-14).

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Depiction of shepherds receiving announcement of Christ’s birth (Chapel of the Angels at Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem)

Why do you think it was to the shepherds that the angels appeared?

I believe it was because they already were on their knees! And, because they already dwelt in the lowliest and loneliest places, and therefore the only way to look . . .  was up!

The Messiah, who was born not far from those shepherds, now sends his disciples to proclaim the good news of great joy. That’s you and me! We are to be a sign that the Lord has come; a sign that is to reach into today’s lowliest and loneliest places.

More and more people are becoming islands unto themselves; isolated from each other by the phones, tablets, and controllers in our hands. It is not unusual to see a family eating together at a restaurant; each looking into his or her phone and none making eye contact, let alone enjoying conversation with each other. A pediatrician told me recently that there are children as young as 7 years old attempting suicide. Experts are coming to the sad conclusion that it is a desperate attempt by the child to simply be noticed.

In a world where most eyes are turned down and in, we followers of Jesus Christ have opportunities galore to call people to ‘look up’ and see the glory of the God who dwells within us. This profound responsibility of the Christian to bring Jesus, our Messiah, does not have to bring us fear. We can respond to this call in many simple ways that we can begin acting on immediately.

We can…

  • Put down our phone when we are with another person. This includes those of us caring for very young children – yes, infants too!
  • Make eye contact with all people we encounter throughout the day.
  • Smile and give a few words of encouragement to everyone we meet.
  • Listen attentively when someone is speaking to us and respond with kindness.
  • Pray for every person we encounter. (Quick prayer offered by Pilgrim Center of Hope chaplain Fr. Pat Martin: “Mary, help [name of person] see God’s love for [him/her] today.”
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Depiction of shepherds rejoicing (Chapel of the Angels at Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem)

Since I have made an effort to live in the spirit of watchfulness by being vigilant, alert and closely observant of and—more importantly—to others, I have indeed come to notice the glory of the Lord shining around us! I often find myself after an encounter joining with the angels praising God, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:9-14)!

In answering Christ’s call, we at Pilgrim Center of Hope guide people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. Let us journey with you! Beginning 2019, Pilgrim Center of Hope will be hosting a monthly ‘Meet the Master’ event to better come to know our Lord Jesus, who is the Joy of our Salvation and the Reason for our Hope! Sign up for our email list to learn details when they are publicized.

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.

January: Month of the Holy Name of Jesus

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Did you know that January is traditionally dedicated to the Most Holy Name of Jesus?

The name of Jesus is radical! On one hand, proclaiming the name of Jesus can call down the power of God and drive out demons. On the other hand, many people today use the name of Jesus as they curse.

We’re reminded of an amazing story from one of our pilgrims. When her superior used the Lord’s name in vain during a meeting, our pilgrim confronted her boss (who was not a Christian) and told her how much this offended her. She also assured her, “I will be praying for you.”

Time passed, and our pilgrim grew closer to her Holy Land pilgrimage journey. She approached her boss and said, “I’m going to the Holy Land soon, and I would like to leave a prayer intention for you at the Wailing Wall.” Her boss replied, “Not just there; pray for me everywhere you go.”

So, our pilgrim did just that: At every holy site we visited—most of which are related to the life of Jesus, she prayed.

Not long after our return from pilgrimage, her boss approached our pilgrim and said, “Thank you for praying for me. You helped me to discover God.” She joined the Church!

Jesus means in Hebrew: “God saves.” At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel gave him the name Jesus as his proper name, which expresses both his identity and his mission. Since God alone can forgive sins, it is God who, in Jesus his eternal Son made man, “will save his people from their sins”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 430)

This month, try a simple prayer: Speak the name, “Jesus,” slowly, and with reverence.

Dear Lord Jesus, help me to be your witness. May I always speak your name with humility, devotion, and trust.

Seeking Jesus: Absolutely Nothing Like I Expected

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Today, we share Part Two of a personal story about seeking Jesus. We thank Sonja Harris, a professional photographer and our recent Holy Land pilgrim, for these words and images…

‘Seeking Jesus’ are utterly profound words. This is a second in a series of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A friend asked if I found everything as I expected. My answer to her was, “Absolutely nothing” was what I expected… nothing!

I have friends who have gone to the Holy Land and when I ask about the trip, their answers are: it was ‘wonderful’, ‘great’, and ‘beautiful’. Really, going to the Holy Land, the birthplace of Christ, and one word describes it? Hopefully, you will be able to see through my eyes, the wondrous things I have seen and witnessed. My wish is that I will entice you to travel to the Holy Land and experience it for yourself—or if you are not able, hopefully my words and images will give you the experience I felt.

I will only write about the places that really moved me that I felt so inspired to put into words.  It’s a strange sensation to ‘feel connected’ to a time so long ago, and at times in my present life to feel so alienated from what is happening all around. I believe the feeling of being separated from our families living in other cities, and the division in our nation, prompted us to go on a pilgrimage of prayer. Deep prayer and focused concentration is good for our souls, and the Holy Land was the best place to seek Jesus.

On our fourth day in the Holy Land, we drove close by the Valley of the Winds, and our local guide decided we had enough time to walk on the path Christ walked during his time on earth. To walk where Christ walked was an unreal thought for me, and to actually feel the footpath beneath was mind-boggling. The path is not very wide, and connects Nazareth to Capernaum. It also connects Cana, Tabgha, and the Mount of Beatitudes—holy sites we visited. We only walked a few steps, probably a quarter-mile, before we continued on to the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

The Church of the Transfiguration is located 1,920 feet high on Mount Tabor, and can be seen from a long distance. Antonio Barluzzi, an Italian architect, dedicated his life to building or restoring many of the churches we were fortunate to see. His work is impressive to the eye, and his attention to detail leaves you in awe of his work. This is one of his masterpieces.

An artistic depiction of the Transfiguration of Christ is in the main church. “And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1-8). The art in the church is exquisite, and lifts you to another place in time. There is a painting of Moses in the Northern Chapel, and the Southern Chapel holds the very expressive painting of the prophet Elijah. From atop Mount Tabor, looking down at the scenery was totally breathtaking. Some of my fellow pilgrims chose to walk down Mount Tabor to meet the bus for our next site.

After lunch, we went to Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding, at the direction of his mother, Mary. Cana is situated between the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth. This passage in the Bible has always been one of my favorites: “When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine'” (John 2:1-11).  As a small child attending a Catholic school, I knew that Jesus had better obey his mother’s wish and that this miracle was special; Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs. We were able to see one of the six stone water jugs mentioned in the Bible, and I can assure you that they are definitely not what we see in any paintings. The jugs are enormous, and you can’t conceive how they were transported from one place to another.

To my total surprise and delight, Bill and I renewed our wedding vows at the Church of Cana. My notes in my Pilgrim Book read, “Our renewal vows were beautiful and I got emotional (I cried).” After 23 years of marriage, yes, we have been through some beautiful and fun times, but we have also struggled through some challenges that in the end have made our marriage stronger. I just could not imagine renewing our marriage vows in Cana until it became a reality.

A fellow pilgrim, Daniel, was kind enough to take the photograph of the six smiling couples that renewed their wedding vows, which included Mary Jane and Deacon Tom Fox (last couple on far right).

Are you paying attention to his surprises for you? His daily gifts? Remember Jesus’ love for you, and how he shares his love for you through the Holy Spirit. Take a few minutes now to pause and thank God for the many gifts of your day. Mother Mary, thank you for your prayerful intercession for all your children; for looking after us with maternal kindness. Please help me to see the surprises that Jesus is giving me today; how he is turning the water of my daily life, into the wine of a journey with him. Amen.

Seeking Jesus

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Today, we share Part One of a personal story about seeking Jesus. We thank Sonja Harris, a professional photographer and our recent Holy Land pilgrim, for these words and images…

How does one go about Seeking Jesus? This is a story that I feel must be shared because at one time or another, I believe, all Christians seek truth, seek Jesus. Bill and I had some choices to make in June. We had selected either a Mexico City tour of the museums, or Washington DC to be at the opening of the ‘Art of Engagement’ Exhibit, where one of my images was going to be on display.

It was an unexpected chance: A friend of many years, Mary Jane Fox, announced on Facebook that there were only three spots left on Pilgrim Center of Hope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was not going to be a sightseeing tour; no, it was going to be a pilgrimage. We were to attend Mass every day and read Scripture at each holy site.

It was an epiphany (an experience of sudden and striking realization)… we knew instantly that this was where we needed to go, where we needed to be. No hesitation, no discussion; just a strong awareness of knowing that this was what we had to do—Seek Jesus.

It was a journey of a lifetime. We visited many holy sites, but I will focus on those holy places that moved me, that confirmed that being a cradle Roman Catholic was my gift from my parents. The Roman Catholics and the Greek Catholics are the two main groups of Christians in the Holy Land. What surprised me was how few Christians live in Israel. Approximately 1.5% of the people that live in the Holy Land are Christians. On this pilgrimage, I learned that the Catholic Church is the vital force in caring for and maintaining the holy churches—be they from Germany, France, Belgium or Mexico.

We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is built over ancient Nazareth. It was overwhelming to see the dwelling where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to a child named Jesus. The image I took is the place where the angel appeared to Mary. As you can see, an altar has been added for the purpose of Mass and for the Angelus to be said.

Before I go any further, it never, ever occurred to me that caves were the homes of the Holy Family, the apostles, and many of the people living in Nazareth and throughout the area, during the time when Christ walked this ancient land. Today, these caves are called grottos.

The gospels mention Capernaum many times, and I often wondered about this particular place. Where is Capernaum, and why is it so relevant? Capernaum became a real place for us, not just a place written in the Bible. It is the Town of Jesus, because his own people in Nazareth did not accept him. He settled in Capernaum with Simon Peter, his apostle, in Simon’s mother-in-law’s house. The new church is built over the ruins of this house where Christ stayed.

Near St. Peter’s House, we visited the ruins of the Synagogue where Christ preached and taught. In this image, you can see Deacon Tom Fox from Pilgrim Center of Hope reading Scripture to us (Matthew 8:14-15).

We next sailed the Sea of Galilee in a wooden boat. The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake, 8 miles by 17 miles and is 120 feet deep. The sea is clear blue and glistens in the sunlight. We were reminded of the Calming of the Storm at Sea (Matthew 8:23-27). The sea had a relaxing effect on me, as I was able to photograph the Sea of Galilee with the Valley of the Wind in the background—where Christ walked from town to town, Cana, Capernaum, and Nazareth. Not only was this a magnificent photographic visual, but also so much to mentally absorb.

Our lunch at a local restaurant was “St. Peter’s fish” served whole. It was totally delicious, and was my number one meal because of the significance, taste, and presentation.

We then traveled to the Church of the Primacy of Peter, located a few feet from the Sea of Galilee. Upon entering the church, the Mensa Christi (the Table of the Lord), a huge rock, is located just before the altar. It is this precise place that Christ, after His resurrection, met with Peter and others, and cooked fish breakfast for them. This is a moment that can give you so much to think about: Christ preparing breakfast for Peter, who had earlier denied him three times (John 21:1-19, John 21:17). “Do you love me?”

How are you seeking Jesus today? No matter what your life is like right now, Jesus wants to journey with you.  He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Matthew 20:)

Let us pray: Jesus, show me yourself. I open entire myself and my life to you. Help me to discover all the gifts you are offering me at each moment. I ask this in your powerful Name, Jesus. Amen.

The Experience that Put Me More In Touch with Jesus

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Are you wanting to rekindle or strengthen your relationship with Jesus? Perhaps it has been put to the side after many responsibilities, or weakened over time. Today, we share Pablo Garcia’s story; how God surprised him and helped strengthen his personal connection with Jesus – as he journeyed with us to the Holy Land in 2012.

I was praying to go to a pilgrimage to Rome…

“God, please please!”

…and all of a sudden, I had an opportunity to go to the Holy Land.

“Huh? I didn’t pray for that!”

As always, it’s not what we want; it’s what God has planned for us. The opportunity came, but still I had that yearning inside of me (I wanted to go see Padre Pio in Italy!). I went to the Holy Land not knowing what to expect. I just said, “Yes, I’m going,” and when you add it all up, it was a great blessing. It helped me resolve to actually walk in the footsteps of Christ. We had a great spiritual team and spiritual director.

6830173208_663fc64701_zWhat changed me was, in the mornings at the Mount of Beatitudes, staying at the hotel, early in the morning I’d walk as far down as I could to the shore. There was a big, flat rock there. Just sitting there, praying the Rosary, waiting for the sunrise to come up, you heard the birds chirping through the groves.  You could hear men or somebody down by the shoreline. I would realize, “Oh wow… it’s fishermen.” As I closed my eyes, praying the Rosary, I thought, “I’m right next to Jesus!” You could actually feel him, right by the shore, and smell it… That put me more in touch with Jesus. Just watching the first rays coming out of the mountain… that’s what did it for me.
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We got to rest two hours at the Gethsemane Hermitage. Even before I came on pilgrimage, I thought, “That’s going to be my number one spot.” When you went in there, it had all these different levels. I thought, “Oh wow. Where am I going to go?” I just let myself go and prayed, “Just guide me.” I went around… everyone else went to different places. I saw this bent olive tree, hanging over, and there was a nook and cranny. I sat on the ground and leaned against it. For two hours, I just sat there and reflected on Jesus, overlooking the wall of Jerusalem. That was the number one spot for me, right there. It was fabulous.

What experiences have put you in touch with Jesus? It’s important that we take time to re-visit these experiences every now and then. Take 10 minutes this week to sit and reflect on a time you encountered Jesus deeply: Remember the sights, environment, smells and/or tastes. What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Thank God for that experience. Ask Jesus to renew your desire to walk in his footsteps, as you move forward in your daily pilgrimage.

We Invite You…

  • ‘Come and See’ Informational Meeting – (Thurs., September 21, 2017 at 7pm) Join us to learn about our unique Ministry of Pilgrimages’ next Holy Land Pilgrimage (Summer 2018) and get your questions answered personally.
  • Our Lady of Fatima Veneration – (Weds., September 13, 2017) Grow closer to Jesus by opening your heart to his Mother, Mary. Pray with Our Lady at Pilgrim Center of Hope, in honor of her 100th Anniversary at Fatima. A statue from Fatima, Portugal will be available for veneration. Information about the Plenary Indulgence approved by Pope Francis for this special occasion will also be available.
  • Afternoon Tea with St. Thecla – (Thurs., September 21, 2017 at 2pm) Our role models and heavenly friends are virtuous women and men who’ve walked their pilgrimage before us. Learn about Saint Thecla and how she can help us grow closer to Jesus in our daily lives.