Category Archives: Lent

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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Authentic Freedom

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What is freedom?

According to the world, freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without any hindrance or restraint. The Urban Dictionary calls it “doing my own thing;” doing whatever you feel like, trying new things to figure things out. People who believe in this definition of freedom say, “and that’s okay.”

In the ’60s and ’70s, as a student at a Catholic grade school, my parents and the Sisters of Divine Providence (who taught me) would have called the idea of “doing whatever you want,” being irresponsible. I was blessed to have people around me who were constantly reminding me not to “do my own thing,” but to:

  • Always work hard and do your best
  • Always do the right thing (obey the Commandments and the laws & norms of our society)
  • Remember that every choice we make comes with consequences
  • Always behave as though God were watching you

Today’s society touts “doing your own thing” as the key to happiness, whereas the Catholic Church has always promoted responsible freedom as the way to growing in character & virtue and ultimately realizing God’s plan for each of us.

Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought. – St. John Paul II

Why is this authentic freedom?

Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about freedom:

God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him. (CCC, no. 1730)

A passage from Bishop Robert Barron’s book, Catholicism – A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, does an excellent job of explaining what freedom is about. Bishop Barron uses the lives of William Shakespeare and Michael Jordan to illustrate how extensive study, practice, listening to others, and discipline propelled both men to greatness and freedom & flexibility in their crafts.

In the cases of both Shakespeare and Jordan, law was not the enemy of freedom, but precisely the condition for its possibility. What is joy, but the experience of having attained the true good? Therefore, in this more biblical way of looking at things, joy (beatitude) is the consequence and not the enemy of law.(Catholicism, p. 40)

St. Pope John Paul II once said, “The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.” We do not come to Authentic Freedom, by doing whatever we want. It’s all about ordering our heart to please God alone. This takes a commitment to mastering the basics of our Catholic faith.

Entrust your works (your cares) to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. (cf. Proverbs 16:3)

Meet the Master
Perhaps the perfect start or encouragement for you to grow in Authentic Freedom is Pilgrim Center of Hope’s new, nine-part series. Beginning on April 6, Pilgrim Center of Hope will provide you with a wonderful opportunity to encounter Jesus through common needs & wants we all experience. Meet the Master will offer a morning of reflection on every first Saturday of the month through December 2019. We invite you to Meet the Master!

What Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, is that new law that would discipline our desires, our minds, and our bodies so as to make real happiness possible. (Catholicism, p. 40)

This is true Authentic Freedom, responsible freedom, a freedom that will enable you to go from good to great in your faith.


At Pilgrim Center of Hope, we’re here to help you live your daily journey in hope. Let us journey with you. VisitPilgrimCenterOfHope.org. If you are in the San Antonio area, come visit us! 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.

Listening… In A Noisy World!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How?

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

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

Renew Your Approach to Lent

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These forty days are a time for all of us to take God seriously and to make a new beginning with the God whom we often take for granted. There are three focal points to help us during this Lenten season; prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Let’s take a fresh look at each of them. Consider how you are living these:

Prayer

No prayer, means no faith. One measurement of our faith is the amount of time we spend in prayer. We should, “pray without ceasing,” as Saint Paul said (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

  • We should begin our day in prayer and pray throughout the day; prayer is our connection to God and we need His help in all we do.
  • We should pray in private, but we also should pray with the people we love.
  • It is critical that husbands and wives should pray together, because in Holy Matrimony, two became one in Christ. It is Christ who will help your marriage and your family to overcome every challenge.
  • Of course, we should pray together with our faith community. The highest form of prayer is the Mass, because it makes present to us the Paschal mystery and gives us the opportunity to receive the real presence of Jesus Christ. If daily Mass is not part of your routine, Lent is a good time to make the effort; you will be glad you did.

Almsgiving

This does not mean dropping a dollar in the collection basket. Almsgiving is having a generous heart because you realize the source of your blessings. We trust that, as we are generous, God will continue to be generous with us.

Almsgiving helps us overcome our temptation to be selfish, as we become more aware of the needs of others. Almsgiving helps us to learn the great lesson of divine providence and develop a profound trust in God.

Fasting

Fasting is denying ourselves of something. The purpose is to take charge of our senses; to gain control of our passions. Without self control, we will never reach spiritual maturity. Jesus said that if we are to be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, and that is exactly what fasting is about.

  • When we think of fasting we usually think of food, but it could take other forms. We could fast from television, from excessive computer time, from things we enjoy but do not need.
  • We could fast from being impatient with the people we love, and with others as well.
  • We could even drive the speed limit as a form of conquering our impatience!

Why We Need Lent

The Church has given us this season of Lent because she knows we need it. Jesus knows we need it. We all need a new beginning with God.

If we take God seriously during these forty days and, from our heart, we “repent and believe in the Gospel,” these could be the best days of our lives because we will certainly draw closer to God-and there is nothing more important than being connected to God, who is the source of our happiness and our eternity.

The ashes that are placed on our forehead today are a reminder of our mortality, and at the same time, they are our testimony that we take our faith seriously and want to be a witness of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lord, give us the grace to be your faithful disciples.

Inspiration from St. Teresa of Calcutta

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“Surrender is true love.  The more we surrender, the more we love God and souls.”

These words of St. Teresa of Calcutta are good for us to take to heart as we begin Holy Week.  These next few days leading to the Sacred Triduum can be a good opportunity to take a few moments of silence each day and meditate on this quote of Mother Teresa.  What does it mean to surrender?  In very simple terms, it is to turn ourselves towards God and choose to follow Him, as we ask Him for the graces needed to follow Him and to desire His will in our lives.

A simple way to begin: Take 3-5 minutes daily to be in silence with the Lord.  Let Him speak to you.  You may begin your silence with these words: “Lord, I love you and adore you.  Fill my heart with your love.”

Feast Day: September 5

Inspiration from St. Bridget of Sweden

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As we approach Holy Week during this Season of Lent, we are reminded of the Passion of Christ: what Christ went through from the time of His last Passover Meal (the Last Supper), the time in the Garden of Gethsemane, His trial, leading to the Crucifixion.

St. Bridget, born in Sweden, had visions of Christ crucified since the age of 7.  These led her to a deep love for Jesus, resulting in a life of prayer and service.  After her husband’s death, she lived a strict life of a penance, giving her land and buildings to found monasteries for men and women.  This group became known as the Order of the Bridgetines, which are still in existence today.

She made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she visited the holy sites related to the Lord’s Passion in Jerusalem.

St. Bridget’s visions of the Lord’s Passion have been compiled; one of the prayers given to her by the Lord is that of the “Fifteen Prayers.”

The Church celebrates her feast day on July 23.

Action: As you approach Holy Week, read the New Testament scriptures related to the Lord’s Passion.  Imagine yourself there in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Jerusalem, throughout His Passion, and think about what you are feeling and thinking.  This meditation may lead you to a deeper experience of Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why such opposite outcomes for Peter and Judas?

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Kiss of Judas” by Giotto

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent & Low Self-Esteem

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Do you find it hard to accept gifts or compliments? There have been times when I have been given a compliment, and say “thank you”. Meanwhile, I am thinking “I wish I believed that were true.” Why is it so hard to acknowledge that God made no mistake in how he created each one of us? On the other end, why is it so hard to acknowledge our sins or weakness and allow God to aid us on our journey?

Throughout the past weeks, I have heard the question “What are you giving up for Lent?”. This year, the answer to that question has not been so clear for me. Not because I am so holy that I have nothing to work on, but because there is so much that I do not know where to start! Some would call this “Catholic guilt”. I call it “Catholic remodeling”. I realize that Our Lord loves me so much that he has placed a season of time each year for me to better myself.

I recently came across a very helpful article on 10 Things to Remember for Lent by Bishop David L. Ricken. Number 5 was very instrumental in helping me decide what to “give up” for Lent.

5. It’s about dying to yourself. The more serious side of Lenten discipline is that it’s about more than self-control – it’s about finding aspects of yourself that are less than Christ-like and letting them die. The suffering and death of Christ are foremost on our minds during Lent, and we join in these mysteries by suffering, dying with Christ and being resurrected in a purified form.  

This has helped me see that in remodeling myself – yes, it is hard to knock walls down that have taken a long time to build up, especially if they make me feel safe or secure, but that the new layout of my spiritual home will allow me to function according to who I am today. And instead of staying focused on my failings, I can now see how strong I have become to have overcome so much.

It is important to make time for spiritual remodeling throughout the year, not just during Lent. Conferences and retreats are the quickest ways to upgrade your spirituality to aid you in your journey of faith. No matter how many times you attend, there is always a message that God has prepared just for you.

Come experience one of our annual conferences for men, women, and seniors. Our Ministry of Conferences presents opportunities for you to encounter Christ in a personal way.

 

 

Why Ashes?

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More people enter Catholic Churches throughout the world on Ash Wednesday than any other day of the year even though it is not one of the days that we are obliged to worship. The ashes are meant to be a sign that we have committed our life to Christ and we want to be a witness to that reality.

One of the phrases that the minister says as he traces the sign of the cross on the forehead is, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. This of course is a call to conversion which the Bishops of the United States define as the following: “Conversion is the change of our lives which comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit. All who accept the Gospel undergo change as we continually put on the mind of Christ by rejecting sin and becoming more faithful disciples in his Church. Unless we undergo conversion, we have not truly accepted the Gospel.”

That is the real purpose for the ashes; they are a sign that we are going to take our Lenten journey serious and refocus on the real purpose of our time on this earth. The Gospel highlights three areas that are especially important for our journey; Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As Jesus points out, the intensions of our heart is what gives merit to whatever we do. He points out the difference between hypocrisy and sincerity.

This brings us back to the necessity on conversion. There are somethings that our faith requires of us that we will only be able to do if it is our desire to undergo conversion; to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. When we are ready to say with all sincerity, “Lord I surrender myself to you, I desire to serve you,” we begin.

The Lord will give us the grace to do the things we could not do on our own. Is there someone you cannot forgive? He will give you the grace to forgive. Have you been selfish? He will help you to be generous. Do you sincerely want to follow Him? He will give you the grace to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

Should someone ask why we are wearing ashes on our forehead, we can say, “Because I realize that I need to repent and believe in the Gospel so that I can be a faithful disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Increase your relationship with Jesus this Lent by attending or encouraging men to go to the annual Catholic Men’s Conference on March 18th. This event encourages men from all walks of life to encounter Christ and fulfill the plan that God has for their life. He calls us all by name to open our eyes to the goodness of the Lord.

Your Name Here…”Do You Love Me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Peter discovered that day was Mercy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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