Category Archives: Joy

‘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!

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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.

“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.

Take courage! He is calling you.

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The theme for all the Catholic Men’s Conferences (which are held annually) and sponsored by Pilgrim Center of Hope is taken from this Sunday’s Gospel, “Master, I want to see.”

Our Blindness

Bartimaeus was physically blind, but because of his faith, the Lord healed him. We chose this theme, because we realize that there is a blindness that is worse than physical blindness—and it affects not only men, but all of society; and we all need to be healed.

As Jesus taught the crowds two thousand years ago, he said, “…They may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:12) To accept Jesus as our Savior, and to undergo conversion, goes against our nature. We think we know what is best for us, and we want to rely on our own resources, our own intelligence, our own understanding. It is from this way of thinking that we need conversion and forgiveness.

The Difficulty of Faith

In baptism, we received the theological gift of faith, but what is faith? The theologian St. Thomas Aquinas gives us an insight: “The object of faith is not something seen or sensed; nor, in itself, is this object grasped by the intellect” (Tour of the Summa). Perhaps this is what we could call the difficulty of faith: our intellectual desire is to understand all things, but there are some things that God has revealed to us that are beyond our understanding.

The answer to this struggle is to surrender (entrust) our intelligence to God, in order to believe. As we draw close to God, we should desire more to believe than to understand in matters of faith, because it is our faith that causes us to have hope and to live in charity. This has been proven through the ages; true faith in God has inspired men and women to live heroic lives of virtue and to experience great happiness that has been the means of hope not only for themselves, but also for others.

Awakening Our Faith

Faith is more than saying we believe in God. Again, an insight from Thomas Aquinas:

“The internal act of faith is the unhesitant assent of the mind or intellect, under the direction of the will, to the truth that is proposed for belief upon sufficient authority. In the case of religious faith, the authority is God, who is truth itself.” (Tour of the Summa)

This internal faith must lead us to an external witness. Saint James tells us, “Be assured, then, that faith without works is as dead as a body without breath.” (James 3:26). If our faith does not influence our decisions, it is dead. If our faith does not inspire us to pray daily, read the scriptures, and worship God, it is dead. If we are not concerned about discovering what God’s plan is for us, and then using the gifts that God has given us to build up the Body of Christ, then our faith is dead.

Jesus came to speak about the urgency of the kingdom of God, because the kingdom of God is at hand for those who believe; and not to believe leads to hopelessness. If we do not have a sense of the urgency of the kingdom of God, then we have eyes, but do not see; ears but do not hear, and hearts that have not yet been converted. The world is as it is because we have not placed God at the center of our lives, at the center of our families.
Our Lord is patient for our salvation, but the longer we take to cooperate with his graces; the greater are the consequences will be for us and for society.

What Will You Ask Jesus?

If we still have enough faith to know that we must make some changes in our lives, then we should say along with Bartimaeus, “Master, I want to see!” The Lord will begin to show us what we must do. It was Bartimaeus who initiated the dialogue with Jesus. Even though he was told to keep silent, he continued to ask for pity, and Jesus said, “Call him!” When he came forward, Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” even though he knew Bartimaeus was blind.

Jesus knows what we need, and yet he often waits to see if we have enough faith to ask, or to ask on behalf of someone else. He begs us to ask him. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

What is it that you want to ask of Jesus? He already knows what you need, but he may be waiting for you to approach him in faith. Remember the words of the disciples to Bartimaeus: “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you!”

It may seem like a big risk to ask Jesus for something, because we know that Jesus may want something from us in return. What he wants from us is our trust. He wants us to experience the joy of being a child of God and of living in a relationship with him in which we will discover our true dignity.

There are some things we can do that will prepare our hearts to see and hear our Lord, so that we can be converted and forgiven.

  • We must make a commitment to pray daily. Prayer could change the world if we would pray with our hearts.
  • Our Lord has given us the sacraments, because he knows we need his grace to discover and live the plan he has for each of us. Consider how you can incorporate frequent Confession, daily Mass when possible, quiet time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, into your life.
  • Being united with the Mother of Jesus by praying the Rosary will help us to see more clearly the spiritual battle we are involved in each day.

May the grace of God give us all the confidence we need to approach Jesus with our concerns and petitions. May God’s grace help us to see and hear more clearly his great plan for us. Faith is a gift from God, but believing is a choice.

How will you choose to respond?

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. After taking some time to consider how you will respond, browse this blog and our website for spiritual tools to help you.

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.

A Story of Joy: When I Prayed with People from All Over the World

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Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘Faith is caught rather than taught’? While many family members struggle to communicate faith to loved ones or friends who no longer practice it, perhaps we should pause to consider that simple saying.

When Mary Cook decided to go on a Marian Pilgrimage with us in 2011, she had been Catholic all her life. While on pilgrimage, however, she experienced unique moments that deeply impacted her faith. Here is a bit of that story:

The first place we went was Fatima in Portugal. We had Mass at the little chapel where Mary first spoke to the children (in her apparitions of 1917), and my husband and I had gotten to read during Mass. We stood right where Mary stood when she appeared to the three children.

At night, we said a Rosary in that same chapel. We were all holding a candle, and it made for a very holy feeling. I counted probably eight or nine different languages that were spoken that night. Someone from each country would lead a decade of the Rosary, and it was beautiful. It helps you realize how the Catholic Church is really a universal Church; a worldwide Church, and we could pray with people from all over the world. We can’t talk to each other—we can’t have a conversation, but we could pray with each other and understand what we were praying.

While we were in Paris visiting a basilica there, a group of nuns approached us and invited us to lunch! They live there, and as part of their ministry, they fix a meal and invite pilgrims to lunch. So, we went to lunch; a very simple, French meal—but it was a lot of food! They served us, and what struck me about them is that they were so joyful. They were so happy whisking around and serving the different people.

The pilgrimage really brought me closer to Mary. I was born and raised Catholic; Mary’s always been there, but I never had a special relationship with her. I got to know her better. I grew closer to her. I consider her my spiritual mother. Catholics are really, really blessed that we have Mary. Everybody else does, too, but they don’t know it.

Going on a pilgrimage is like going on a vacation in Heaven! It’s different from a regular vacation; it’s a pilgrimage—very prayerful, with Mass, praying the Rosary every day, with a group of likeminded people. You get to know the people really well. It’s a lot of fun! I absolutely loved it. I took lots of pictures, but I have so many memories ingrained in my mind. I can go back to those places in prayer anytime.

Witnessing the unity and joy of the Church, and the love of the Blessed Mother and her fellow pilgrims, helped Mary’s faith to deepen. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses,” wrote Pope Paul VI in 1975. How true this rings today! Ask the Blessed Mother to pray for you, that the Holy Spirit would help you grow as a witness of your relationship with God.

We invite you to consider journeying with us on a Marian Pilgrimage April 3-14, 2018. Learn more on our website.

“A Pilgrim Center of Hope pilgrimage is a faith journey. You’ll never regret it. You will grow in your faith. What you experience in that time period that you’re on pilgrimage, you will carry with you for the rest of your life.” – Mary Cook

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

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B St. Peter, Judas, & You

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

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

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

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

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

Why such opposite outcomes for Peter and Judas?

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Kiss of Judas” by Giotto

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Us: Why I March

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I experienced mixed feelings as I watched news reports from the Women’s March that was held in Washington, D.C. and around the globe on January 21, 2017.

I felt:

Sorrow that so many millions of women have chosen to march under the lies of the culture’s standard that seeks to destroy lives, redefine marriage and family and revels in keeping men and women bound in slavery of sin.  

Joy that though their words often speak the lie of relativism, their actions of motivating and inspiring others to join forces in community to right what they believe are the wrongs, proves they know there is truth and it is worth fighting for.  

Hope that once these millions of women come to know Jesus Christ, the Truth, they will join all of good will in marching under His Standard and together transforming our world from what Pope Saint John Paul II calls a culture of death into a culture of life; a culture where every life is valued and each person from the womb to the tomb is loved in the dignity of who he or she is created to be.

How can I have such optimism?  Because once upon a time, I was one of them.

I lived as a consumer of lies, full of rage and it was as this very angry woman, with fist in air, that Jesus came to me. From this encounter over fifteen years ago, our Lord has brought me into the Fullness of Truth; His Catholic Church, convincing me I am loved, I have a unique dignity as a woman and all that is His on Earth and in Heaven has been given to me.

How God accomplished this great victory in me was through a series of faithful people, over a number of some very dark years, who each in their own way, extended an invitation of some sort:

  • To pray with them.
  • To pray for them.
  • To help them.
  • To listen to them.
  • To attend Mass with them.
  • To be their friend.
  • To join them for lunch/dinner.
  • To share their love for Jesus with me.
  • To listen to me.
  • To attend a conference/retreat with them.
  • To encourage me in what I was doing right.
  • To join a faith/bible study with them.

I did not accept every invitation, and yes there were some that I thought silly at best and that I resented at worst. But in their offer, these ‘sowers of welcome’ planted God’s seeds. Over time all the many ‘little’ invitations became a great ‘power of us’ that slowly but surely altered my direction just enough so that when I was ready, God could scoop me up into His loving Embrace!

I will be forever grateful to God for providing me with these kind and generous companions on my life’s journey who love Jesus enough to include me!  It is thanks to them, I have joyfully joined this ‘power of us’ marching under His Standard!

As Catholics, we often tremble when we hear that we are called to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ and answer His call to, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” (Mat 28:19-20).

Why is this?

Why are we afraid to share with others what God has done for us?  Why are we afraid to let them know that they are loved by Love itself? Why are we afraid to tell them how much God desires to be their friend? Why are we afraid to be the messenger of the great news that God not only wants to spend Eternity with them, but He has great plans for them here and now?

It is because we fear the response.  We fear their rants turned on us.  We fear being criticized and we fear being ostracized and knowing our Lord has experienced it all gives us comfort, but does not remove the fear.

So . . .  start with an invitation. Join the ‘power of us’ and be one of the ones who helps turn a heart away from sin and toward the Prince of Peace; Mercy Himself.

Think of one person you know who is caught in the lies of this world, struggling under the burden of sin and invite her or him into your life of faith.  Feel free to use the list above for suggestions.

Now I have an invitation for you.  I INVITE YOU to one of our upcoming conferences: The Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Men’s Conference or Catholic Women’s Conference.

Here you will encounter our Lord Jesus Christ in Mass, Benediction, Adoration and Reconciliation. You will learn the wisdom of the Church through inspiring, challenging and encouraging speaker presentations. You will enjoy beautiful and joyful fellowship and you will have opportunities to grow in our rich treasure of Catholic spirituality.  Please join us . . . Jesus will be there and so should you!

Ready to march with us?!  Please consider being one of our Parish Advocates. These are men and women who take on the noble task of ensuring everyone at their parish knows he or she is invited to attend a Pilgrim Center of Hope conference.  To find out more, visit us at PilgrimCenterofHope.org and click on Get Involved.

A Surprisingly Simple Way that We Can Change the World

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A woman surprised my husband and I not long ago, with just a single observation.

We were visiting a local parish, and had just finished giving a presentation for some parents of teens preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. As we were cleaning up, several parents came up to us to thank us, greet us, etc. However, one mother approached us and told me, “I just wanted to say that it was so nice to see you smiling while your husband was speaking, and how you both interacted with each other like you really like each other!” She smiled briefly and walked away.

This remark continues to impress Dan and I.

Several other times, we’ve had strangers approach us and marvel aloud at how Dan opens the car door for me. “I sit here outside and watch everyone come and go,” one neighbor told us. “You never see that anymore. He is such a gentleman. I like that.”

Why do people make these comments to us?

In 2014, an extraordinary general assembly of the world’s Synod of Bishops was wrestling with the problem of how to authentically reach today’s families with the Gospel. The bishops answered with these words:

A key point [… ] seems to ultimately rest on a couple’s witness of life, a witness which is consistent with not only Christian teaching on the family but also the beauty and joy which permits the Gospel message to be embraced in marriage and lived as a family. […] A witness which attracts others simply because the family lives the Gospel and is constantly in union with God. This entails “showing that to believe in and follow him [Christ] is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties”.

Since my husband and I do not have children, I often wonder how God plans to work through our marriage. But as I sit and reflect on these many comments that people have made to us, I realize that God is working through our marriage by the sheer beauty described above by our bishops.

Nowadays, we see constant debates in media and public forums, about what is right and what is true in regard to marriage and family life. We are often swept up in these arguments, forgetting about the crucial third transcendental value: What is beautiful?

Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation […] which both the child and the scientist discover — “from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,” “for the author of beauty created them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 2500)

Let’s ask ourselves: “How do I treat family members? My spouse? My neighbors? My coworkers? Those with whom I do not agree?” Let’s strive to answer God’s call, and choose the beautiful way of living. Let’s remember and embrace the silent power of a glance, a respectful regard, a loving gesture, a smile, and a kind word. This, too, is evangelization.

In contemporary America, most people are not moved by claims of truth or goodness. Relativism has made truth to be whatever you want, thereby turning the good into whatever makes you feel good. So how can you engage the average nonbeliever? How can you place him on the road that would lead him back to the Truth and the Good?
Though the post-modern heart may be darkened to what is true and good, it is still captivated by beauty revealing love—and this may be its road to Christ.

Msgr. John Cihak, Professor – Pontifical Gregorian University

So, how can we help one another evangelize continuously in this way? Friendly reminders and spiritual tools are a great way to stay encouraged on your journey. Our free newsletter is created for this reason and to make sure you know about all of the inspiring events we provide. Sign up to receive this wonderful spiritual resource. It is our sole mission here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope to guide people to personally encounter Christ!