Category Archives: People & Relationships

Entries dealing with people and our relationships with them.

Inspiration from St. Joseph

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“Saint Joseph was a just man, a tireless worker, the upright guardian of those entrusted to his care. May he always guard, protect and enlighten families.” – Pope St. John Paul II

Joseph, chaste husband of Mary is given the highest compliment in the Bible – he was a just man.

“By saying Joseph was just, the Bible means that he was one who was completely open to all that God wanted to do for him.  He became holy by opening himself totally to God.” – Catholic Online

Let us thank God for St. Joseph, who loved God, was obedient to his calling as husband of Mary and protector of Jesus.  Ask St. Joseph to pray for you, for your family, for the men you know, that he may pray for us to also be open to God’s plan for us.

The Church celebrates his feast day on March 19.

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 Is for Healing

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

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

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

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

and the Prophet Isaiah (53:3)

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

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

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

Your Lent and Healing

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

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

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

How to Start

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

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

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

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.

School of Life & Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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!

Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary: A Resolution that Wins!

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While visiting family over the Christmas Holiday, the teens and twenty-somethings in my family asked me to play an old game that has become new again and is very popular with their age group. It is bean bag toss.

In this latest version of what I remember as Toss Across, you play in 2-person teams and toss a bean bag onto a plank with a hole in it. If your bean bag makes it in the hole it is 3 points and if it lands on the plank, 1 point. Sounds simple, right?

Well, as we are playing I hear my nephew and son working what sounds like a math problem to calculate the points. “What are you doing?” I ask. My nephew tries to explain this complicated (to me anyway!) scoring system in which points are lost, points cancel each other out, etc. with the end goal of earning 21 points and winning the game.

As I toss and keep making point worthy landings, I hear “Ok your team is now at zero.” I look at my son with a, ‘What gives?’ look and he concurs, “Yes, Mom we are at zero.” I respond, “I don’t understand.” These sweet young men patiently explain the scoring to me again but I just get more frustrated and say, “This game has become way too complicated. I’m just going to play and you tell me if we win.”

This trust that I am in good hands, that someone wiser than me knows what is going on (thank goodness!) and that all I have to do is play the game is the same freedom that is enjoyed when one goes through Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. Funny comparison, I know, but this freedom is the #1 reason I so appreciate this Church-honored devotion made famous by the great work of St. Louis Marie de Montfort.

Enthusiastically proclaimed as the quickest, most efficient way to free ourselves from the spirit of the world and put on Christ in every aspect of our lives, this consecration has worked to transform many into saints, including Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Pope Saint John Paul II, who said, “It was the decisive turning point in my life.” The consecration is cited by many priests as the fire that lit the zeal of their apostolates,including previous and future Catholic Women’s Conference speakers, respectfully, Father Nathan Cromly and Father Michael Gaitley, just to name two.

But, if you are like I was six years ago, even this great press would not convince you of the value of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary because a question first begs to be answered, “Why Mary?”

I asked that question before I began the 33-day Preparation for Consecration using St. Louis de Montfort’s way, but with the urging of a friend to ‘just try it,’ I did. I continued to ask the question the entire 33 days and, yes, even after I knelt before the Tabernacle and offered myself to Jesus through Mary in the Consecration Prayer.

I no longer ask that question.

I could list all the many reasons why this Consecration has catapulted me closer than I ever dreamed possible to our Lord, Jesus Christ, but I’ll leave that for the great theologians and priests that have made it their mission to promote it.

For me, it is simply this: my life has completely transformed from chaotic, disorganized and overwhelming to tranquil, orderly and manageable. Though circumstances in life remain difficult and my responsibilities continue to increase, it has taken on a calm that I know is thanks to placing myself into the care of our Blessed Mother. Like the bean bag toss experience, I have discovered the freedom that allows me to play the ‘game of life’ with the assurance that I am in good hands, that someone wiser than me knows what is going on (thank goodness!) and she will make sure I win Heaven!

If you are ready to ‘just try it’ then I encourage you to click on any of the links in this blog to learn much more about the Consecration.

If you are still asking, “Why Mary?” Our next Evening with Mary will answer that very question. Please join us on Friday, January 20th at St. Mary Magdalen Church in San Antonio where Deacon Ed Domowski will answer “Who is Mary? Why Go to Her?”

 

The Gift of Death for Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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