Category Archives: People & Relationships

Entries dealing with people and our relationships with them.

3 Steps to A More Thankful Attitude

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Pope Francis has said,

If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength! … Saying ‘thank you’ is such an easy thing, and yet so hard!

When people pray, their prayer is mostly one of petition and intercession; the prayer of thanksgiving is often left unsaid.

Yet, research has indicated that when people take time to be thankful or grateful, it can make them happier, healthier and aware of counting their blessings each day. Here are three steps we recommend to becoming more thankful.

  1. Say Those Little Words – Pope Francis adds: “If families can say these three things, they will be fine: ‘Sorry,’ ‘Excuse me,’ ‘Thank you.’ How often do we say ‘thank you’ in our families? How often do we say ‘thank you’ to those who help us, those close to us, those at our side throughout life? All too often we take everything for granted!” Make a habit of saying these phrases daily, especially to those closest to you!
  2. Make a List of These 25 Things – Consider writing a list of 25 blessings for which you are thankful. In doing so, you will begin to realize how many blessings, gifts and good things you have received or experienced. There is joy in re-discovering this fact!
    • 5 Living People for Whom You Are Grateful
    • 5 Physical Abilities for Which You Are Grateful
    • 5 Places You Are Happy to Have Visited
    • 5 Things about This Year for Which You Are Grateful
    • 5 Things about the Catholic Church for Which You Are Grateful
  3. Remember that “God Was There” – At the same time, let’s not forget to list the ‘not so good moments.’ They remind us that God was, and is, with us in those moments, as well. How do we benefit from this exercise? Archbishop Fulton Sheen has the answer: “No man can be happy on the outside who is already unhappy on the inside.” For each major ‘not so good moment’ from this year, reflect on how God was present.

Let’s take advantage of the remainder of this month, approaching time with family and friends in deeper gratitude.

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Little Ways to Transform Your Heart

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What are little epiphanies?

They are “little nothings of every day hope,” and the “ordinary ways to sanctity,” according to Susan Muto, PhD, executive director of Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality, who served as our keynote speaker at the Prayer Brunch benefiting our ministry on Saturday, October 28.

During our weekly staff meetings, we’ve been discussing Dr. Muto’s book, Twelve Little Ways to Transform Your Heart: Lessons in Holiness and Evangelization from St. Therese of Lisieux. To our delight, we discovered the lessons in her book wove perfectly into our ministry’s mission of guiding people to Christ and His Church. We strive to be missionary disciples reminding people that trusting in God provides hope in all the circumstances of our lives.

In her presentation on Sunday, Dr. Muto expanded on four of the ‘Little Ways’ listed in her book:

1. Little Way of Hiddenness

Dr. Muto said, “That the majority of us will never be famous, in the news or on any headline, so it is in the hiddenness of life we are to seek our sanctity.” She calls it the, “Nazareth of Everydayness;” many opportunities each day to be with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and live in hope. Hiddenness is where we can count on the grace of our baptism to give us the hope we need to love our spouses, raise our children, cling to our faith, and never give up.

2. Little Way of Abandonment to Providence

This is where we are to let go of our plans in life, and surrender in trust to God’s providence. St. Therese reconciled her burning desire to be a missionary, with the reality of life in the cloister and in growing illness, by cultivating a spirituality that, “surrenders like a little child in her Father’s arms,” trusting He would never give a desire He would not fulfill. We can practice living in this hope by consciously turning our plans over to God like, “twigs into a fire.” We will witness the, “flames of trust grow higher with each twig of surrender.”

3. Little Way of Simplicity

In a world that is full of complications, we can act in simplicity by defying our, “culture of the lie,” and living, “without guile; which means we say what we mean and mean what we say and that our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no.” Forgiveness is the key to living in simplicity, and though sin complicates our lives, we can find hope in understanding that, “God gazes at us always, slicing through the layers of sin and seeing directly into our souls.”

4. Little Way of Unceasing, World Redeeming Prayer

We can plug into God’s plan for salvation by choosing as St. Therese did to, “Read the text of daily life,” through an acceptance and offering of our little annoyances and big struggles. Muto shared several stories demonstrating how St. Therese took every opportunity to engage in the, “Serious business of prayer by hesitating before reacting, asking for grace, and trusting God that what He has called us to, will be disclosed to us.”

Dr. Muto ended her presentation with a prayer of St. Therese, and thanked God for Pilgrim Center of Hope and the blessing of our respective ministries.

You can meet Dr. Susan Muto and hear her speak at our Catholic Seniors’ Conference on February 24, 2018 at St. Matthew Church McDonald Center.

Pilgrim Center of Hope founders Deacon Tom & Mary Jane Fox, with Dr. Susan Muto

Why Hope?

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People ask us, “Why did you choose the name Pilgrim Center of Hope?” The answer would require a rich story! In light of Pope Francis’ recent focus on Christian hope, however, we would like to offer some words on this topic.

So many people today feel directionless; unable to see any meaning to life. With a great number of tragedies in the news, scandals, not to mention the personal wounds we experience in daily life, it’s no wonder that many walk with their gaze downward.

In his recent General Audiences, Pope Francis has been speaking on the topic of hope. Here is a small excerpt:

It is not Christian to walk with one’s gaze directed downward — as swine do: they always go along in this way — without lifting one’s eyes to the horizon. As if our entire journey terminated here, in the span of a few meters travelled; as if our life had no goal and no mooring, and we were compelled to wander endlessly, without any reason for our many toils. This is not Christian.

The closing pages of the Bible show us the ultimate horizon of our journey as believers: the heavenly Jerusalem, the celestial Jerusalem. It is envisioned first of all as an immense tent, where God will welcome all mankind so as to dwell with them definitively (21:3). This is our hope. And what will God do, when we are with him at last? He will be infinitely tender in our regard, as a father who welcomes his children who have long toiled and suffered. John prophesies in Revelation: “Behold the dwelling of God is with men…. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away…. Behold, I make all things new” (21:3-5). The God of newness!

This is why we focus on HOPE! We are not aimlessly wandering. Each of us is a called into being by God, who loves us. Each of us is called to walk this earth with purpose, toward an eternal destination of God’s love. We are called to be hopeful people – missionaries of hope! – walking our daily lives with our eyes on that heavenly Jerusalem.

Pope Francis continues:

The Christian knows that the Kingdom of God, its dominion of Love, is growing as a great field of wheat, even if in the middle there are weeds. There are always problems; there is gossip; there are wars; there is illness … there are problems. But the wheat ripens, and in the end evil will be eliminated. The future does not belong to us, but we know that Jesus Christ is life’s greatest grace, is the embrace of God who awaits us at the end, but who is already accompanying us now and comforts us on the journey.

As Christians, we must be people on a journey – moving forward despite the rocky terrain. Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:62). Dear friends, let’s spend our time – not looking behind us, but looking ahead! With hope! This is the purpose of Pilgrim Center of Hope: to guide people to encounter Christ, so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.

As Pope Francis exhorts us:

Believe in the existence of the loftiest and most beautiful truths. Trust in God the Creator, in the Holy Spirit who moves everything towards the good, in the embrace of Christ who awaits every man and woman at the end of their life. Believe, he awaits you.

We invite you to learn about joining us as a Missionary of Hope on October 28 in San Antonio at our annual Prayer Brunch!

Pope Francis’ General Audience Series on Hope:

Teresa, A Friend of Ours

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In just a couple of weeks, hundreds of Pilgrim Center of Hope’s friends will be gathering at our annual Prayer Brunch benefit event. One of the most exciting things we’ll discuss is the upcoming 25th Anniversary Year of this ministry. Praise God! As we reflect on these years, we reflect on a friend in Heaven: St. Teresa of Avila. She entered eternal life on October 4, 1582.

Perhaps we wouldn’t have Pilgrim Center of Hope, as we know it, without her help. The Center sits on about seven acres of land which we rented for many years from the Sisters of St. Teresa of Jesus (Teresa of Avila)! With the support of hundreds of personal donations, the land was purchased by Pilgrim Center of Hope in 2013. The Sisters left us many of their furnishings and even religious art; including both a small statue and an old painting of Teresa of Avila.

In the painting, she is seated with her hand over her heard, commemorating the extraordinary experience called her Transverberation. That experience is what Bernini infamously sculpted into marble; an angel piercing Teresa’s heart with a flaming arrow. It was a mystical revelation of God’s love in Teresa’s life.

With her right hand, Teresa is writing her most well-known poem. In the painting, it is written in its original Spanish:

Nada te turbe,
Nada te espante, 
Todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda;
La paciencia,
Todo lo alcanza,
Quien a Dios tiene,
Nada le falta,
Sólo Dios basta.

Which translates to:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing fright you,
All things are passing,
God never changes;
Patience
Obtains all things,
Whoever has God
Lacks nothing,
God alone suffices.

This painting hangs near our Chapel, where our staff prays each day. It is a beautiful reminder – not only of the message that God is the answer to every concern, but also reminds us of our Spiritual Mother in Heaven who undoubtedly intercedes for this ministry. Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us!

Not only have we had Teresa on our side, but also her two most famous spiritual daughters, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Calcutta! Thérèse has a history of interceding for us, and Mother Teresa wrote our founders a letter encouraging them to continue answering Christ’s call as they were seeking His direction for their lives.

The origin of the name “Teresa” is possibly derived from the Greek meaning “harvest.” That is no surprise to us. We are confident that God has called us to work in His Vineyard, to prepare our hearts and the hearts of many people for His Coming. Amen!

As you continue your daily pilgrimage this week, remember the message of the Saints! Lord Jesus, we place our trust in You.

October: San Antonio Rosary Congress

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An image of Mary offering us the Rosary

Image of Our Lady of the Rosary by Ken Fox. Used with permission from the artist.

October is the month of the Holy Rosary, a prayer that is also known as “the Gospel Prayer.” As we pray it, we meditate on the lives of Jesus and Mary, using prayerful verses that are either directly from, or rooted in, the Gospel. This prayer brings us closer to Jesus, through the eyes of his Mother.

We invite you to join us this month: Pilgrim Center of Hope will provide spiritual reflections during a special Rosary Congress in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s apparitions at Fatima, Portugal. The anniversary, which celebrates the apparitions’ focus on conversion and prayer, has been marked by Pope Francis and by Catholic faithful around the world.

Beginning on October 7, 2017, several Catholic parishes in the San Antonio area will take turns hosting events for the Congress; an intense period of seven days offering around-the-clock Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and hourly, vocal praying of the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The Congress will conclude with an opportunity for families to consecrate themselves to Christ through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Saturday, October 7, Feast of the Holy Rosary – Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church (Selma, TX)
Opening Mass at 5:30pm
Marian Presentation at 7:00pm by Anthony Mullen (Flame of Love Movement of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, EWTN guest speaker)
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Sunday, October 8 – Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church (Selma, TX)
Same as above

Monday, October 9 – St. Pius X Church (San Antonio, TX)
Mass at 6:30pm
Marian Presentation at 7:30pm by Mary Jane Fox, Pilgrim Center of Hope
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Tuesday, October 10 – St. Matthew Church (San Antonio)
Marian Presentation at 7:00pm by Karen Robertson, Pilgrim Center of Hope
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Wednesday, October 11 – St. Margaret Mary Church (San Antonio, TX)
Mass at 6:00pm
Marian Presentation at 7:00pm by Deacon Ed Domowski, Pilgrim Center of Hope
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Thursday, October 12 – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower (San Antonio, TX)
Mass at 6:00pm
Marian Presentation at 7:00pm by Mary Jane Fox, Pilgrim Center of Hope
Followed by Eucharistic Adoration and hourly recitation of the Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet

Friday, October 13, Anniversary of Fatima 6th Apparition & Miracle of the Sun – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower (San Antonio, TX)
Closing Mass at 6:00pm
Followed by Consecration of Families to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Seeking Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September: Month of Mary’s 7 Sorrows

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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.

August: Month of Our Mother’s Heart

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Did you know that the month of August is dedicated in the Church’s calendar to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, recalling the Virgin Mary’s desire to serve God in his ongoing plan to save us? As we begin this special month, we share with you the testimony of Norma Garza. In 2011, Norma journeyed with us on pilgrimage to Marian shrines.

It’s totally different than going on vacation. Being a pilgrim, you feel like you’re going on a retreat – but it’s an extended retreat, and you have to realize that you’re with other people. You can learn from the other people, and hopefully they learn from you. Also, you’re there for a different purpose: to increase your faith, to see things in a different light.

It makes me want to cry… My relationship to Mother Mary has brought me to a place where I never would have been before, because Mother Mary takes you by the hand and she shows you her Son, personally. My relationship with Mother Mary just increased a thousand-fold by going to the places where she appeared, hearing her messages, and understanding why it’s so important for her, as a Mother, to take us to Heaven and to get us closer to Jesus.

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold intercession, continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. … Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church… (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 969)

This month, we invite you to reach out to Mary as a mother who cares for you. At his crucifixion, Jesus gave Mary as a mother to “the beloved disciple.” The Church not only interprets this passage of Scripture to mean Saint John, but also to all of us who are Jesus’ beloved disciples. Here are some ways to grow closer to Mary this month:

  • Evening with Mary: Power & Promises of the Rosary (August 7 @ St. Benedict Church) – A mini conference about Mary and her relationship to us
  • Evening with Mary & Joseph (August 25 @ St. Matthew Church) – A mini conference about the Holy Family and our families
  • August 13 marks the 100th anniversary of one of Our Lady’s apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Pray the Rosary on this day, asking Mary to help you be an instrument of peace in the world.
  • Marian Shrines Pilgrimage 2018 – Ask us about our next pilgrimage focused on growing closer to Jesus & Mary by visiting the places where she appeared in Lourdes and Paris, France, as well as Fatima, Portugal.
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe Pilgrimage 2018 – Inquire about our next pilgrimage focused on growing closer to Jesus & Mary by visiting her famous shrine in Mexico City.

“This ministry [of pilgrimages] is a way to evangelize in a particular way, personally, to each person that goes on pilgrimage; and, in turn, that person brings back home their evangelization to their family and friends and coworkers… and it just keeps spreading!”
– Norma

Who Will Never Leave Me?

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As a pilgrim with us to the Holy Land, Nan Balfour touched the very Tomb of Christ and Rock of Calvary. She walked where Mary Magdalene became the Apostle to the Apostles, spreading the unbelievable news that Jesus is alive! In celebration of Mary Magdalene, and of Our Lady of Fatima who said, “I will never leave you,” we share this reflection by Nan:

Following an encounter with Jesus Christ, I heard these words, “I love you! You are exactly who I created you to be. I promise, you will never feel alone again. I am with you always.” With those few words, God reached through my pain, my sins, my past, deep inside my dark, cold loneliness. I took hold of His Hand allowing our Lord, my Savior, to pick me up, put me on His shoulders and Shepherd me back to the fold of His Catholic Church that I had wandered away from years ago, believing it held no place for me.

Sacrifice of MassOver these past 14 years, I have challenged our Lord to keep His promise and He has answered me through the Treasures of His Church:

Jesus in the Sacraments – Our Lord is Really, Truly Present in the Sacraments. I can be in and with our Creator, our Savior every day by participating at Mass, receiving Communion and through Reconciliation. Anytime day or night, I can sit/kneel and just be in the Presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit through Adoration of the Eucharist.

Fellow Disciples in The Body of the Church – Though raised Catholic, I grew up in what is now called the poorly catechized ‘lost generation’ of post-Vatican II Catholics born between 1960-1978. When I returned to the Church in my early forties, I met many beautiful priests, sisters and lay women and men facilitating Scripture studies, Prayer Groups and Catechism classes at area Catholic parishes . . . and I took advantage of them.

Through the honesty and sincerity of the women in faith sharing and prayer groups, I discovered I was not the fraud I thought. To my joy, I discovered each of us is flawed; sinners all, helping each other in fellowship work out our salvation together! Many of them have become true, genuine friends for life.

Our Blessed Mother – Like many people, including Catholics, I had a problem with Mary. Even though I believed when Jesus told St. John at the Cross, “Behold Your Mother,” that He was saying the same to all of us, I would not go to her for help. My deep feelings of inadequacy made me think she was disappointed in me because of all my faults, or worse, blamed me in my sins for the suffering of her Son. Blessedly, though God will not overstep our free will, He has given His Mother Mary, who is fully human, no such impediment. Like any good mother, she knows her children, what is best for them and takes her vocation to womanhood very seriously. She will do everything in the power given her by God, to bring us to her Son. I know, because it happened to me.

Heavenly Friends – Communion of Saints – One morning following daily Mass and my weekly prayer group, a woman I have never seen before or since came right up to me, stopped, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are going to see the relic of St. Mary Magdalene today aren’t you?” Startled, I responded, “I don’t know, maybe.” She walked on saying behind her, “It’s going to be great!” and left a prompting in my heart that I am being told what to do. Looking back, I believe she was my guardian angel, but at the time, I resisted intent on tackling my long ‘to do’ list for the day. Like a whiny daughter being dragged by her mother, I found myself a few hours and many promptings later in line to look at the shin bone of the ‘sinful woman’ who knelt at the Cross on Calvary. Once inside the cool, quiet of the Church, this friend of Jesus and Mary, whispered in my heart, “When our Lord and Lady looked at me, I did not see disappointment or blame in their eyes, I saw gratitude. They wanted me with them, just as they want you.”

From Mass, my prayer group and my encounters with heavenly friends that day, I learned what it means to be embraced in the arms of the Mystical Body of Christ. I have never felt alone again. My guardian angel was right, “It was great!”

Every year, close to 3,000 women who help make up the Mystical Body of Christ, come to Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Women’s Conference and we encounter Jesus where He is Truly, Really Present in the Eucharist, in the Mass and in Reconciliation. We offer the Rosary with the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother. We find new friends in the saints through the speaker presentations and this year, perhaps even sitting next to us! And, we enjoy fellowship with other flawed, sinners as we all help each other work out our salvation.

Feeling alone? I invite you to come join us . . . It’s going to be great!

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