Category Archives: Hope

Connecting with Our Creator: An Experiment In Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Personal Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

Healing from Our Creator

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

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

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

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

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

  • His Word
  • His Sacraments
  • His Church

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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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Finding the Strength to Forgive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What It Means to Forgive

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

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

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

When We Don’t Forgive

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

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

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

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

Hope In Severe Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Is Possible for Everyone

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


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


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

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.

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:




 

Living the Christmas Mystery: Today & Beyond December

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Our pilgrims venerate the infant Jesus in Bethlehem after Christmas Mass

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

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

1. Be Amazed!

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

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

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

This is the Christmas mystery…

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

2. Remember What Emmanuel Means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do You Worship Saints?” – Unexpectedly Sharing My Faith

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As I was getting my hair cut at a new salon, the stylist, a young woman, began asking me how I discovered their salon, what part of town I lived in and where I worked.

Responding about my work, I said, “I work for a Catholic evangelization ministry…” I continued to explain very briefly the ministry adding my excitement about the various things we do.

She bent over, as to almost whisper in my ear: “I am Christian, and I know Catholics are Christians, too… Ummm … Do you worship saints?”

Haven’t you been asked that question?

I responded, “No, we don’t, we ask them to help us through their prayers.” Approaching the subject further, I thought my response would be two-fold; a personal example and a general one. First, I spoke about my father’s photo by my office desk. He passed away last year. I glance over at the photo and remember my father. Sometimes, I take the photo in my hand, place it on my heart, and ask him to pray for me, or to help me in a specific situation.

Then, I explained how the Catholic Church has sacred art like statues of saints, stained glass windows, and so on to remind us of role models who have lived faithful lives: “You may see people kneeling before a statue or touching it; they are taking a quiet moment to pray, asking that saint to intercede for them. As Catholics, we use our senses in prayer, such as touching and kneeling.”

She listened with interest, and then shared that her grandmother was Catholic, but that her mother had married outside the Catholic Church and had fallen away from the Church.

Reflecting on my conversation with this young woman, I wondered how many people may be in the same position as this young woman; through no choice of their own, their lives are directed outside a firm foundation of the Catholic faith.

Conveying our faith to another person is important, and can be simple. A good start can be to speak briefly about a personal experience that helped you realize the love of God.

The world needs a message of hope, an encouraging word that will initiate a desire to begin a search for God. Mother Teresa of Calcutta expressed it well:

The reason for our existence is to quench the thirst of Jesus. When he asked for water, the soldier gave him vinegar to drink—but his thirst was for love, for souls, for you and me.

Next time you are given an opportunity to express your faith, remember: Keep it brief, simple, and focused on God. Your time and sharing with that person may be just what they needed to hear, to motivate a desire to search for God.

Only if people change, will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly (on the night of Christmas) entered into our night. – Pope Benedict XVI

Would you like a friendly and casual introduction to the saints? We invite you to a Social with the Saints; a monthly, informal gathering at Pilgrim Center of Hope, wherein we learn about a saint over a cup of tea and sweets, discuss the person’s life and their relevance to our daily paths, and end with prayer. Socials are posted on our website Events Calendar and Facebook page. All are welcome. See you there!

“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.

In Times of Weakness, Stay Centered in Christ

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As I prepared to write this blog on staying focused on Christ when faced with self-doubt, I thought about the various times in my life when I allowed myself to become problem-centered instead of Christ-centered. Times when I forgot about how crucial it is to run, not walk, toward Jesus whenever I start feeling inadequate. When I got problem-centered, I would focus on things like:

  • I lack in patience and need to react less to the words and actions of others
  • I don’t spend enough time reading and studying Church teachings
  • I lack in self-discipline when it comes to eating healthy and exercising
  • I don’t spend enough time in prayer
  • I am not as virtuous or holy as I should be

At one time or another we all have fixated on what’s wrong with our life, instead of running to the waiting arms of Jesus. When we are weary, we all need to be more like St. John and seek to rest our head on the chest of Jesus. Herein lies the strength we need to persevere with boldness, passion, and joy!

It is precisely because of our weaknesses, our sinfulness, and our imperfections that Christ died on the cross! In these moments when we feel unworthy and like throwing in the towel, we need to fix our eyes on Christ:

  • Salvation History – from his Incarnation to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection
  • Scripture – the Living Word, his instruction on how to overcome sin and temptation
  • His Triumphant Return – when he will bring salvation to those who eagerly await him

When we are Christ-centered, it not only opens our eyes, but it gives us confidence and the ability to put our total trust in God, no matter what the crisis, challenges, or obstacles.

So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. – Hebrews 4:16

Saint Paul, who was afflicted at times by a sense of brokenness, failure, and persecution, gave us some powerful words of consolation and encouragement:

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.  – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

At one of our recent Socials with the Saints, I reminded everyone why we turn to the saints for inspiration to continue on our pilgrim journey toward the Heavenly Jerusalem:

A saint is not someone who never sins, but one who sins less and less frequently and gets up more and more quickly. – St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Just like the saints, all of us – no matter how unworthy we feel at times – can achieve holiness:

…In spite of the fact that we have all sorts of shortcomings and sins and so forth, if we are striving to love our Lord with our whole strength, that is a growing in the sanctity of life. – Fr. Jerry Gehringer, Being a Saint in the World

Second Corinthians, Chapter 12, Verse 7 tells us that St. Paul was given a thorn in his flesh, not an actual thorn, but a source of real pain (frustration) to keep him humble. Since we are not told exactly what the thorn was, let us equate this thorn with whatever chronic difficulty or problem we may struggle with. Here is what God told Paul, after he begged God three times to take the thorn away:

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness (12: 9)

Paul’s response was to say, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”

We are weak, but we must be courageous in our weakness. And often our courage must be expressed in escaping without looking back, so as not to fall into the trap of wicked nostalgia. – Pope Francis (Homily, July 2, 2013)

Pilgrim Center of Hope is here to provide you with the life-lines (presentations, tools, and resources) that can lead you out of times of turbulence (problems and moments of self-doubt) to encounters with Christ that will restore order and hope in your daily life.

Please join us for our next Day of Hope, on Thursday, November 29, from 10am until 5pm. You will have the opportunity to venerate relics of St. Padre Pio, including a glove worn by the Saint with blood from his stigmata. Mass will be celebrated at 9am. Click on the link above for details.