Category Archives: Illness

Finding the Strength to Forgive

Standard

Blog-Forgive

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.

Riding the Roller Coaster of Life – Advice from A Saint

Standard

Blog-RollerCoaster

Everyone wants to know: What’s the key to happiness?

This questions transforms itself, however, when we discover God our Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, and our divine guide the Holy Spirit. Then, we begin to wonder: What is God’s will for me?

Ultimately, these questions are one & the same; God desires our happiness, in this life and for all eternity.

To help us consider this question, there are many resources available to us. For me, however, it wasn’t until I obtained a Spiritual Director that I began to learn well how to discern God’s will for my life. He introduced me to someone who has become a close personal friend, St. Ignatius Loyola: the founder of the Society of Jesus & the contemporary guide for discernment.

Wounded Pride and A Busted Leg

Many of us know his basic story: A canon ball shattered his leg in battle. He told the surgeon to re-break his leg, because his clothes didn’t look good the way his leg was set back together. That was fiery redhead Iñigo López de Loyola: a vain, high-class bachelor whose great dreams of military triumph and fame had been utterly destroyed. Bored out of his mind as he recuperated, he read the only books available; the lives of Christ and the saints. Their example completely changed his perspective on life.

As many converts do, Ignatius adopted extreme spiritual practices fueled by his newfound zeal; he prayed day and night, hardly ate, hardly slept, and beat himself—weeping uncontrollably through the night over his past mistakes.

Thanks to God’s grace and the help of local townspeople, Ignatius’ mind and heart were opened to what God truly wanted of him.

Riding the Roller Coaster of Life

Ignatius outlined the Discernment of Spirits, which are keys that spiritual directors have used for hundreds of years all over the world, ever since. In doing so, they have taught that our life has two basic situations we face, over and over again:

  • Consolation – A period of contentment, peace, gratitude, and/or feeling closer to God
  • Desolation – A period of worry, frustration, and/or feeling further from God

Ignatius described these periods as the natural ebb and flow of every person’s spiritual life. Consolation and desolation are experienced for a wide variety of reasons; it’s not important that we know why we are experiencing the consolation or desolation. What’s important is to discern what we are experiencing, and how to respond to God’s grace in that light.

His “rules” for discernment give us practical insights into interpreting whether we are in a period of consolation or desolation. Based on this position, we learn how to act or respond to a situation or decision we need to make.

Basic Take-Aways for Success

Since we are limited in time and space here, I would strongly advise you to review Ignatius of Loyola’s Discernment of Spirits in its entirety. (The contemporary explanation recommended by my Spiritual Director was The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher. You may also consider a retreat on the Spiritual Exercises.)

For here and now, I’d like to share a few important lessons with you that I have learned from Ignatius. These have helped me ride the roller coaster of life:

  1. Make Decisions with Peace – If I am in a period of desolation, I am not properly suited for making a major decision that will impact my life, my family, etc. In these cases, I need to seek consolation, as well as the guidance of an unbiased person whom I can trust, such as a spiritual director.
  2. Don’t Worry; Desolation Will Pass – Ignatius reminds us that we will all go through periods of desolation, but that they do not last forever! This is why it’s important to discern & realize: “I am experiencing desolation.” Name what you are experiencing. This realization will remind you that your perspective will be through the lens of desolation for the time being. Then, you will be strengthened with the ability to choose wisely and remember that it will pass.
  3. Seek Consolation through Prayer – When I’m in a period of desolation, I don’t feel particularly drawn to prayer. However, this period is when prayer is essential. Since I don’t feel like praying, I should remember & revisit those times of consolation when I felt close to God. This can help motivate me to pray.
  4. Treasure Times of Consolation – If you are experiencing consolation, treasure it. Write about these blessings in a journal; how do you sense God’s closeness? Where do you see God’s hand in your life? What insights have you gained from this time? These memories are important to treasure, because they will strengthen you in times of desolation.
  5. God Is Always Near – Our Catholic faith gives us wonderful reminders of God’s nearness in the sacraments, the witness of the saints, the prayers and devotions, the sacred art, and the Body of Christ present in our brothers and sisters. No matter what we are experiencing, God who is Love is always near to us. We have no reason to fear, only to listen and do our best to grow & develop so that we can, in turn, respond by living in generous love.

The Treasure of Our Elders

Standard

Blog-Image

Saint Paul began his letter to the young bishop, Timothy:

I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you. (2 Tim. 1:5)

What a treasure for us, to know the names of both the mother and grandmother of one of Christianity’s first bishops! Thank God for Lois, a woman who was undoubtedly a strong, living witness. Without her, we may have missed out on two Biblical books, 1 and 2 Timothy!

“Today more than ever we need this bridge, this dialogue, between grandparents and grandchildren, between the young and the elderly,” said Pope Francis to youth in 2017.  “So this is the task I am giving you in the name of the Church:  Talk to older people.”

Our society has largely lost respect for our elders. Yet: How many are homebound, filled with the wisdom of life experiences, while restless young people outside seek answers to life’s ‘big questions’? How many of our elders feel like they are worthless, now that their body—and sometimes their mind—is failing? As Christians, it is our responsibility to remedy this situation; to remind all people of their value, worth, and dignity.

In 2013, San Antonio’s Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, inspired by Benedict XVI’s courageous transition from active Pope to Pope Emeritus prayer intercessor, directed Pilgrim Center of Hope to begin a Catholic Seniors’ Conference. This conference aims to foster an appreciation for the personal dignity of men and women in the later years of life, to encourage them, and to inspire them to continue sharing their wisdom and gifts. As we prepare to offer the fifth annual event, we are excited! We’ve seen how these conferences bring about transformations in our elders. One such person remarked:

I had come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church didn’t care for the elderly who were once young & very active in our Church, but I realized through this conference we are the building blocks of our church.

We see the Holy Spirit’s work in Pope Francis, as he consistently speaks on the value of senior citizens. This is an urgent topic! As our Holy Father reminds us:

“A people that does not take care of grandparents, that does not treat them well, has no future! The elderly have wisdom. They are entrusted with a great responsibility: to transmit their life experience, their family history, the history of a community, of a people. Let us keep in mind our elders, so that sustained by families and institutions, may with their wisdom and experience collaborate in the education of new generations.”

Join us at the 2018 Catholic Seniors’ Conference! All are welcome… “Seniors of all ages” are welcome, along with family members and friends. Let us all rediscover the hope and joy of life in Christ! At any age, we are members of the Body of Christ.

A Story of Hope & Healing at Lourdes

Standard

As a response to the need for hope, we share the stories of fellow pilgrims who journey with our Ministry of Pilgrimages. This week, Velma felt a strong conviction to share her story with you…

God woke me this morning and urged me to write about my experience at our 2011 Marian Pilgrimage.

I went on this pilgrimage in place of a friend who had cancer. My hope and purpose was that this person would be healed as I was going in this person’s place. As we flew over to Europe, I had terrible pains in my hands that I had never had before. I always sleep on airplanes, but the pain in my hands was so bad, that I stayed awake praying for my friend.

Velma (left) with Mary Jane Fox while on pilgrimage in France, stopping to appreciate the Eiffel Tower

The day we went to the baths in Lourdes, there was no women to facilitate the baths, so we could not go in. I was worried that I would not be able to go into the baths for my friend’s healing. However, we went back the next day, and we did get to go. It was an awesome experience I will never forget.

Thanks be to God for His great mercy; my friend has received healing for the cancer and my hands were healed that day! I never asked for anything for myself while there on the pilgrimage, but God healed two of us at once. What a loving, merciful God we have!

Of course, God can and does heal with or without the holy baths of Lourdes. In my mind, part of going into the Lourdes baths was overcoming pride and doing something so simple as being dipped in a bath of cool water. I am so thankful I went!! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!

Remember that in the Gospel stories, Jesus asked, “What do you want?” On your daily journey, He is asking you this, especially when you approach him in the sacraments. Have you asked God to heal you of something, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual? Don’t be afraid to speak to Jesus simply and honestly. Then, be open to his response – whether it is a healing you expect, or perhaps something even greater:

Moved by so much suffering, Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross, Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the “sin of the world” of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross, Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1505)

September: Month of Mary’s 7 Sorrows

Standard

Did you know that the month of September is dedicated in the Church’s calendar to the Seven Sorrows of Mary? Let’s explore why an entire month is dedicated to these events.

  1. Prophecy of Simeon – When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus to the temple according to Jewish law, they encountered Simeon. He prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart.
  2. The Flight to Egypt – With their child endangered by the local authorities, Joseph and Mary sought refuge in Egypt. Refugees in a foreign land, they remained there until God revealed to them that it was safe to return to Galilee.
  3. Jesus Goes Missing – Returning home in a large caravan from their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph realize that the child Jesus is missing. For three days, they search anxiously for him. Finally, they find him in his Father’s house, the Temple.
  4. Jesus Carries the Cross – Always by her Son’s side, Mary witnesses his pain as he is mocked. She must stand by as her Son experiences the most horrible and shameful punishment, reserved for the worst criminals.
  5. Jesus’ Crucifixion – Mary watches as the soldiers nail her Son’s body to the Cross. What torture she must have felt, watching him die.
  6. Jesus’ Death is Confirmed – A centurion pierces Jesus’ heart to finalize his death, but He is already dead. Simeon’s prophecy is fulfilled as Mary receives her Son’s lifeless body taken down from the cross.
  7. The Burial of Jesus’ Body – Perhaps not even 50 years old herself, Mary experiences her own Son’s brief funeral just a few steps away from the site of his bloody torture and death.

As we meditate on the Sorrows of Mary, we can see just how much the Blessed Virgin Mary understands about our own sorrows. She was a simple, young mother who experienced tremendous suffering.

Our journeys to the Holy Land have helped us to grow even closer to Our Blessed Mother. The video below shows a glimpse of what pilgrims see after climbing Mount Calvary today. Right next to Calvary is an altar dedicated to Jesus’ Sorrowful Mother.

“Mary gave her consent in faith at the Annunciation and maintained it without hesitation at the foot of the Cross. Ever since, her motherhood has extended to the brothers and sisters of her Son ‘who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.’ Jesus, the only mediator, is the way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she ‘shows the way’, and is herself ‘the Sign’ of the way, according to the traditional iconography of East and West.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2674)

Let us pray: Dear Mother Mary, help me on my daily pilgrimage of life. Through your experiences of sorrow, help me to see God’s grace amid my own sorrows. Teach me to reflect on all these things in my heart, and to seek the Father’s will in everything. Jesus, I want to follow you today. Holy Spirit, remind me of your constant presence. Amen.

Join Us this Month for:

  • “Come and See” Marian Shrines – 9/9 – All are welcome to this Informational Meeting about our 2018 Marian Pilgrimage (April 3-14) to Fatima, Lourdes, Paris, and Lisieux. Learn about the Marian shrines in these locations, and discover what is important to consider when discerning a pilgrimage. More details here.
  • Our Lady of Fatima Veneration – 9/13 – 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. More details here.
  • “Come and See” Holy Land – 9/21 – All are welcome to this Informational Meeting about our 2018 Holy Land Pilgrimage (June 25-July 7). Learn about the holy sites, and from our 30 years of experience, what’s important when discerning a Holy Land pilgrimage. More details here.

Lent Is for Healing

Standard

B Lent is for Healing

Do you ever dread Lent? Do you see it as a burden?

A few years ago, as I was dreading the upcoming Lenten Season —with its sacrifices and spotlight on sin, I began to notice in my prayer life and while reading Scripture that a theme continually jumped out at me. Example from the Psalms:

Look to God that you may be radiant with joy
and your faces may not blush with shame
Psalm 34

Bless the Lord, my soul
and do not forget all his gifts,
Who pardons all your sins,
and heals all your ills,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
and crowns you with mercy and compassion
Psalm 103

and the Prophet Isaiah (53:3)

He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.

Whole? Healed? Joy? Verses like this were a shock to my system. I had been wrestling with a perception of God as a harsh judge who was ready to pounce and condemn. Through prayer, however, the Holy Spirit was showing me that my perception of God was broken, and therefore my understanding of my relationship to God was broken. As Lent approached, I realized that I needed to obey the Holy Spirit. With some encouragement, I began to see a counselor and break free of many hurts and wounds.

This process of being vulnerable with myself, with God, and with my counselor was the most humiliating experience of my life. It was heart-wrenching and psychologically painful. However, I realized that this pain was necessary for healing.

Your Lent and Healing

Think about how often we must experience challenge or pain in order to be healed. Whether through surgery, exercise, or even the humiliation of apologizing to someone, healing and wellness arrive through sacrifice.

Lent is a time of preparation, leading us into the remembrance of Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. We often hear that Jesus underwent these things for our “salvation” and “to save us”, but what does that mean?

The word ‘salvation’ comes from the Latin salvus, which means ‘in good health’ and ‘safe’.  The official teaching of the Catholic Church in its Catechism is that Jesus “has come to heal the whole man, soul and body” (pp. 1503). This means that Jesus came, not only to keep us from going to hell, but far more than that. We often keep Jesus and his place in our life within that very limited box! No, Jesus himself tells us, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

How to Start

Do not limit your Lent to “giving something up”. Start now; live your Lent as a time of healing. Approach God as Jesus taught us: as your loving Father. Ask, “What is your loving plan for me? What is blocking me from having a stronger relationship with you?” Listen to God’s response, not only in your private prayer, but in the other avenues God has given us. Read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the lives of the saints. Speak to someone of faith whom you respect; a grandmother, a person who works in your parish, friend, etc. Homilies on Sundays or weekday Mass can also be a source of direction. What strikes you on a deeply personal level?

Trust that God is a good and loving Father, Jesus wants to heal you, and the Holy Spirit wants to console you. This Lent, embrace a challenge that will help you overcome obstacles to the abundant life and intimate relationship with God that He has in store for you.

Is God calling you to go on a journey of faith? Pilgrimages provide an opportunity for people to seek God, healing, spiritual renewal, reparation, forgiveness, and other personal graces—ultimately becoming a mini school of spirituality. Our Ministry of Pilgrimages is here for you; guiding you to a personal encounter with Christ.

School of Life & Death

Standard

life

Faith takes us beyond our own logic to a place where we trust God even when we don’t understand.

Sitting by father’s bedside, I was experiencing an emotional roller coaster as I knew my father would pass anytime, any day.  How could I contain myself?  I was thinking about my childhood days when my father would take my two brothers and I to visit parks, castles, museums when we lived in Germany.  The day he brought home a horse when living in Paraguay.  The times we played in the snow while living in Oklahoma and the holiday meals at home; yes, Dad always sat the head of the table while family gathered around.  Such memories!  As I looked at my father, not able to communicate due to his health condition, I knew he could hear me. He was well aware of my presence.  Spending several hours with him, there was a lot of silence and prayer; prayer and silence.

Dad was in the hospital, in I.C.U., and then hospice care for 24 days. My father lived a full life of 87 years, including a beautiful marriage of 62 years, and a full military career which took him to various parts of the world. As a faithful man, husband, father and servant of the Lord, his love for God and the Catholic faith led him to be involved with his Church community—feeding the homeless, leading the Rosary in the parish community, and assisting with various ministries.

I had learned that family, friends, and acquaintances were praying for my father to have a peaceful, holy and painless death.  What a consolation!  I leaned towards my father, “Dad, there are so many people praying for you.””

Symbol for the virtue of Hope, a mosaic at the Mount of Beatitudes in the Holy Land

Symbol for the virtue of Hope – A mosaic at the Mount of Beatitudes Chapel in the Holy Land

Was it possible for my father to have a peaceful, holy death?  I knew it could be with God’s blessing, with His grace and mercy.  But I felt I was on an emotional roller coaster; sadness, sorrow, tears, and questions about death ran through mind.  If I hadn’t grabbed on to the anchor of faith and hope in God, the Almighty,  I would have sunk and the temptations of despair, anger, and doubt would have prevailed.

My faith in God assured me of His promises: “Come to me all you labor and are burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  I could picture the Redeemer, the Lord, saying these words to my father. If we have confidence and trust in what God has revealed, we will always have hope. Six priests visited my father in these 24 days, hearing his Confession, reconciling him to God, preparing Him to meet his Heavenly Father by anointing him and praying with him.

My father was surrounded by the family when he took his last breath at 6:00pm.  Before that, we spent the entire afternoon in silent prayer; it was a vigil for his entry to Eternal Life!  These 24 days became a school of life and death, teaching me that life is so precious no matter what the situation may be.

Losing a parent is painful; it hurts. It is what one experiences for loving, for caring, for respecting, for honoring.  I empathize with you who have lost a parent—it is difficult. For those who still have your parents: Take time out to contact them, communicate your respect and your love for them. Talk about good memories.  Be considerate of people who are sick, lonely, and have no one to care about them.  Offer a prayer, or if you know them, a visit and kind word can do wonders for that person.

“I plead with you—never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” –Pope John Paul II, In My Own Words

Pilgrim Center of Hope was named for this reason; a reminder that we are on a pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem each day of our lives. We are here for you! Visit our website and find spiritual encouragement and tools for your daily pilgrimage.

The Gift of Death for Christmas

Standard

b-gift-of-death-for-christmas

For the first time in recent memory, this Christmas’ extended family gift exchange was not a game. Gathered around the fireplace at my aunt’s house, each of her siblings chose a number to determine their turn. Then, in order, each sibling carefully took one of their mother’s precious keepsakes as their own. In a complex atmosphere of bittersweet memories, one person picked the photo of Grandma with her sisters; another selected the Christmas wreath that had hung on her door; and on it went… until nothing was left.

Just five days prior, gathered around a casket in parish pews, we prayed the Rosary in a way we never had before. Grandma’s eldest daughter, in a moment of remembrance after prayer, noted, “My mother’s favorite mystery of the Rosary was the Nativity.” Many times over the next twenty-four hours, we were reminded that Grandma prayed 15 decades of the Rosary daily, entrusting all of us to Jesus through his Heavenly Mother, but also entrusting herself.

The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: “From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord”; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us “at the hour of our death” in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1014)

Because of the loss of my grandmother, I re-discovered this Christmas. I noted how the Church celebrates—yes, celebrates—St. Stephen’s bloody martyrdom on December 26. On December 27, we celebrate the death of Saint John the Evangelist, who gave up each day of his life completely to God and died a natural death. Then, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28 (those innocent children whom Herod slaughtered in a paranoid rush to protect his sovereignty from a baby King). Thus, we begin the Christmas season by celebrating three martyrdoms: chosen martyrdom by blood, chosen martyrdom of daily life, and unchosen martyrdom of innocent blood.

It is a strange wonder to think that our religion celebrates death at a time like Christmas. Yet, it is not strange when I think back to the end of my grandmother’s Rosary service. Having completed the final prayer, my uncle Deacon John reflected, “We will remember always that now, whenever we pray the Rosary, we pray it along with her.” Jesus’ birthday made possible his self-gift on the Cross, transforming the curse of death into a gift: the hope of abundant and everlasting life.

If you have experienced a loved one’s death recently, I encourage you to take hope. When Jesus explained to his disciples what it takes to enter Heaven, they looked at him in astonishment, asking, “Then, who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

When we see a body lying in a casket, it seems impossible for that person to do anything more. Death appears to be final. Yet, Christians dare to hope in knowing that God—who created that person, who knows all the hidden sufferings and trials of his or her life, and who loves perfectly—is Judge. Therefore, we must pray often in hope and trust, commending his or her soul to God who became Love Incarnate, whose ways and wisdom are far beyond our weak ways and short-sighted wisdom.

God became a human because he could not bear the thought of living without each one of us in Eternity. He was born to show us his love; penultimately expressed by his death and resurrection. That is the gift of Christmas.

“There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.” –  Fr. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. (1948—2013)

To go deeper into this topic, consider watching our recent episode of Catholicism Live! We invite you to watch Catholicism Live! every Tuesday morning at 11am CST. Find out more about the show that helps you keep your faith alive at CatholicismLive.com.

Where is your Bethlehem? Closer than you think.

Standard

b-bethlehem-nativity

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.

How to be Imperfect and have a Perfect Christmas!

Standard

b-imperfect-christmas

This is the first year that I have not put up my Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. I really love all the lights that go up during this season in preparation for Our Lord’s coming. This year’s Advent season has been very different for me spiritually. The more I meditate on Advent, the clearer I see that the real journey to Christmas day was not so perfect.

The real journey can be experienced by placing yourself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph. They had an experience very far from the picture perfect Christmas. From the moment that Mary learned of new life within her, Jesus was the center of a situation that was full of uncertainty and danger. A mix of emotions were certainly aroused in Joseph when he learned of a new child on the way. Although this picture was not perfect, Mary and Joseph trusted in God and put their own plans aside. Were they still stressed and on-edge of the reality of their situation? Most likely.

Jesus was sent to this world for us. He was sent to a world full of joy, sadness, anger, and brokenness. He did not enter into a fully decorated home with everything in place. He did not only come to save families with the best manners and servant hearts. He came for those of us who have no decorations for our home. He came for those of us who have all the decorations for our home. Find the true joy of Christmas knowing he came for us all!

In any way that you are broken and imperfect, connect to Mary and Joseph and ask for their intercession. And ask for Jesus to come and heal and make you new again. Christmas is about new beginnings and hope for the world.

mary-and-child-angel-lullabyHere is a prayer from St. John Paul II to the Baby Jesus for Peace:

Wipe away, Baby Jesus, the tears of children!
Embrace the sick and the elderly!
Move men to lay down their arms
and to draw close in a universal embrace of peace!
Invite the peoples, O merciful Jesus,
to tear down the walls created
by poverty and unemployment,
by ignorance and indifference,
by discrimination and intolerance.
It is you, O Divine Child of Bethlehem,
who save us, freeing us from sin.
It is you who are the true and only Saviour,
whom humanity often searches for with uncertainty.
God of peace, gift of peace for all of humanity,
come to live in the heart of every individual and of every family.
Be our peace and our joy!
Amen!

During this season of Hope, allow Mary to facilitate peace and healing in your life. Every month, we present an Evening with Mary to provide spiritual tools from Mary for your faith journey. Mary is the sacred channel to Jesus that is a gift to every one of us. We wish you a blessed journey to Christmas.