Category Archives: papacy

Walking with Mary: The What and the How of the New Evangelization

Standard

edii_rsa_1993_182_large

We Catholics have a mission to evangelize. We are called by our baptism to work in and through our daily lives, whether professed religious (priest/sister) or as a lay person working and living out in the world, to bring the Gospel message to everyone. This Gospel message is the proclaiming of the Kingdom of God so that all people may be liberated from sin and freed from the Evil One through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Does this surprise you?

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi – On Evangelization in the Modern World. Pope Paul VI writes,

“She (The Church) prolongs and continues Him. And it is above all His mission and His condition of being an evangelizer that she is called to continue. […] Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important to the whole, (15).”

If this not only surprises you, but frightens you, take heart! The Church, through Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Francis, have provided what every mission needs to be successful: The ‘What’ and the ‘How.’

What is the Mission of Evangelization in the Modern World?

When Jesus sent His disciples on this mission, He told them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, (Mat 28:19-20).” And they did! Christianity spread around the globe.

Today, that Christianity is losing ground and many baptized, even those who attend Sunday Mass, do not shape their lives around the one they profess to follow, Jesus Christ. It is to those who Pope Saint John Paul II said we need a New Evangelization.

How do we achieve the Mission of Evangelization in the Modern World?

Pope Francis, who called Evangelii Nuntiandi, “The greatest pastoral document that has ever been written,” gives the ‘how’ of this mission in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium-Joy of the Gospel:

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples, (cf. Mt 28:19) (120).”

Walking with Mary

On this feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we see in her the perfection of the missionary disciple.

Mary of Nazareth was conceived without Original Sin and full of grace, but she still needed to be evangelized to become first a disciple, then a missionary one. Received as an answered prayer to the childless, St. Anne and St. Joachim, she was returned to the Giver at the age of three to be presented at the Temple. There she learned the Scriptures and how to pray. At fourteen, she received the message of God from the mouth of the Angel Gabriel and in turn gave this message to the World in her Son, Jesus Christ.

In the thirty years before Jesus made disciples of many men and women, He evangelized her. Mary learned in the raising of and listening to her Son how to shape the apparent contradiction of her virginal life around the Mystery of being the Mother of God. She made choices to follow her Son wherever He desired to go by making haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth and in escaping to Egypt in confident obedience to her faithful spouse, St. Joseph. Though full of grace at the Annunciation, Mary continued to grow in grace and surely came to understand what she most perfectly witnessed as a missionary disciple: Through discipleship to Jesus; the Son of God, the more you give of the grace given to you, the more you receive in return.

Your Mission . . . Should You Choose to Accept it

As we end this year and look forward to next, take some time to ask yourself if you are indeed a disciple of Jesus Christ. Do you go to Mass every Sunday? Is your daily life shaped by Jesus and His Gospel message? Are the decisions you make – little and big – founded on the Creed? Do you pray every and often each day? Do you frequent the Sacraments? Do you read Scripture and study the rich treasure of our Catholic faith?

If not, then let your first recruit be you! Start by going to Mary, offering a Rosary or even one Hail Mary prayer, asking her to help you become a missionary disciple. She will surely direct you in how to follow Jesus. Perhaps she will:

  • Encourage you to take advantage of opportunities at your parish to learn more about our faith through faith/bible studies.
  • Ask you to join a service group at your parish or another Catholic ministry.
  • Share with you the needs of family and those in your workplace and teach you how to pray to God in how best to witness by example and word.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope is Looking for a Missionary Disciple Just Like You!

The Pilgrim Center of Hope exists to connect men and women to God and His Church through a variety of opportunities that include annual Catholic Men’s, Women’s and Seniors’ Conferences, Afternoon Tea with the Saints, Evenings with Mary, through media with monthly Today’s Catholic newspaper column, Living Catholicism, spiritual tools including books and monthly newsletter, this The Pilgrim Log and a weekly television/radio show, Catholicism Live! . . . just to name a few!

Feel free to contact us or come by and visit the Pilgrim Center of Hope and pray with us in our Gethsemane Chapel, where we offer the Divine Mercy Chaplet each weekday at 3:30pm.

Advertisements

“Good Pope John” – Why you shouldn’t overlook Pope St. John XXIII

Standard

Despite my membership in the “John Paul II Generation,” I winced a few times leading up to Sunday, hearing questions like, “Are you going to watch the canonization? Of John Paul II and…uh…that other guy?”

Yes, this Divine Mercy Sunday – April 27, 2014 – two popes were added to the Canon of Saints: Pope Saint John Paul II, and Pope Saint John XXIII. It would be a tragedy to overlook jolly John, a simple yet revolutionary figure in the history of Catholicism. From the time I began learning about him, he quickly became one of my heroes.

In John Paul II’s homily for the Mass during which he declared John XXIII ‘Blessed’, he said:

Everyone remembers the image of Pope John’s smiling face and two outstretched arms embracing the whole world. How many people were won over by his simplicity of heart, combined with a broad experience of people and things! The breath of newness he brought certainly did not concern doctrine, but rather the way to explain it; his style of speaking and acting was new, as was his friendly approach to ordinary people and to the powerful of the world.

Photo by La Stampa

Photo by La Stampa

Angelo Roncalli was the son of an Italian family (tenant farmers). As a young seminarian, he became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. During World War I, then-Fr. Roncalli was assigned to carry wounded soldiers on stretchers from the field of battle to the field hospital. While a Bishop, he served Vatican City as a diplomat. He was a leader in the Vatican’s efforts that saved hundreds of thousands of European Jews from Nazi deportation. “In Budapest alone, Roncalli rescued at least 50,000 Jews by issuing baptismal certificates” (Catholic World Report). Read his biography; you will be inspired.

This ‘Good Pope John’ has taught me so many lessons. Here are a few:

1. God is calling you to holiness in an unrepeatable way.

Sometimes, I read saint biographies, and I think, “Wow, that is amazing, but that’s not me.” Further, Catholics can get caught up comparing ourselves, our prayer lives, and our talents to Saint So-and-So’s. We can end up more discouraged than inspired.

As a young man, John XXIII kept a spiritual journal, and reflected on this:

“I am not St. Aloysius, nor must I seek holiness in his particular way, but according to the requirements of my own nature, my own character and the different conditions of my life. I must not be the dry, bloodless reproduction of a model, however perfect. God desires us to follow the examples of the saints by absorbing the vital sap of their virtues and turning it into our own life-blood, adapting it to our own individual capacities and particular circumstances. If St. Aloysius had been as I am, he would have become holy in a different way” (Journal of a Soul).

2. Maintain a healthy sense of humor.

Shortly after his election, John XXIII was walking in the streets of Rome. A woman passed by, noticed him, and said to her friend, “My God, he’s so fat!” Having overheard, he turned around and replied, “Madame, I trust you understand that the papal conclave is not exactly a beauty contest.”

Famously, a journalist once asked him, “How many people work in the Vatican?”

He responded, “About half of them.”

3. God is in control; it’s OK to relax.

You think your life is stressful? Imagine being the Pope…the man elected to lead 1 billion Catholics around the world, who are facing all types of challenges, living in all different cultures, and with so many needs. Imagine holding the title, ‘Vicar of Christ on Earth’!

John XXIII said, “It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it.  Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope…”  Talk about pressure! How did Good Pope John deal with it? At the end of a long day, he is said to have prayed, “Well, Lord, it’s your church. You take care of it. I’m going to bed.”

Simple as that.

4. “I am your brother.”

Having worked in evangelization for several years, I still find it hard to preach the Gospel. Loving others and speaking the truth to them requires us to get our hands dirty; to be present to people wherever they are; to be vulnerable. I fear ridicule, or failure. John XXIII maintained a very simple but profound attitude. He often greeted people saying, “I am your brother.”

Somehow, that phrase changes my perspective. I’m overwhelmed by the thought of approaching people with the Gospel, but when I remind myself, “I am their sister,” my eyes are opened to the simplicity of God’s call. Just be a brother.

5. Most of all — Do not worry. Do not be afraid.

Elected pope at 77, everyone expected John XXIII’s pontificate to be quick and forgettable. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, John’s turned out to be one of the most revolutionary pontificates in history. Most notably, he called for an ecumenical council: a meeting of the entire Church. In Christianity’s 2,000-year history, only twenty of these had been organized. So, why did he do it?

He said this in his opening address at the Second Vatican Council: “In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned.

We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.”

Rather than flee from the world and lock the church doors behind us, John XXIII envisioned a Church that was empowered by the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and bring God’s love. Because John XXIII was unafraid to start a revolution, unafraid of the doom-and-gloom, and unafraid of what people might think of him, today we have a more lively, educated, enthusiastic, culturally-rich Catholic Church.

What a debt we owe him.

In my life, how do I ‘see the fruits’ as Jesus says?

Standard

FigTree

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), together let’s reflect on today’s Gospel reading. Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep´s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)

Today, we reflect:

What do grapes, thorns, figs, and thistles have to teach us about the kingdom of God? The imagery used by Jesus would have been very familiar to his audience. A certain thornbush had berries which resembled grapes. And a certain thistle had a flower, which at least from a distance, resembled the fig. Isn’t it the same today? What we “hear” might have a resemblance of the truth, but, in fact, when you inspect it closely, it’s actually false. False prophets or teachers abound today as much as they did in biblical times.

What’s the test of a true or false teacher? Jesus connects soundness with good fruit. Something is sound when it is free from defect, decay, or disease and is healthy. Good fruit is the result of sound living – living according to moral truth and upright character. The prophet Isaiah warned against the dangers of falsehood: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20). The fruits of falsehood produce an easy religion which takes the iron out of religion, the cross out of Christianity, and any teaching which eliminates the hard sayings of Jesus, and which push the judgments of God into the background and makes us think lightly of sin.

How do we avoid falsehood in our personal lives? By being true – true to God, his word, and his grace. And that takes character! Those who are true to God know that their strength lies not in themselves but in God who supplies what we need. The fruit of a disciple is marked by faith, hope and love, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance. Do you seek to cultivate good fruit in your life and reject whatever produces bad fruit?

May this be our prayer: “Lord Jesus, may I bear good fruit for your sake and reject whatever will produce evil fruit. Help me grow in faith, hope, love, sound judgment, justice, courage, and self control.”

How I learned the Good News – and then some Better News.

Standard

Have you ever heard this one?

The Good News is: There’s a Messiah!
The Even Better News is: It’s not you.

frustratedI think I need to write this joke on my mirror, because I often feel like everything’s up to me: I’ve gotta write that email! I’ve gotta be involved in that meeting! I can’t get sick or rest, because if I do, everything’s gonna fall apart!!!

Wrong.

Recently, we’ve all gained a hero in this regard. By his abdicating what’s arguably one of the most powerful seats in the world, the Chair of St. Peter, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made everyone stop and think, ‘Hold on…did he really just do that?’ And yes, he did. Taking all the consequences into consideration, he decided to step down from being THE POPE. The leader of over 1 billion people. The Vicar of Christ on earth. Yes, he did it.

That decision took an almost-unbelievable amount of humility, a virtue quite rare in our modern world. Today, people give up their privacy, safety, and health for just minutes of fame on TV. In politics, business, and even schools and churches, we accept cherished leadership positions for which we’re not prepared, qualified, or to which we cannot dedicate our time. Social media, while giving voices to once-voiceless minorities, have also contributed to a culture of vanity, egoism and pride.

Where did we go wrong?

jesus-and-the-disciples-going-to-emmausUndoubtedly, you and I have responsibilities; we’ve each been entrusted with a mission from God that no other person can accomplish. He ‘calls us by name’ and sends us forth to accomplish this mission (cf. Isaiah 43:1). However, Jesus teaches us repeatedly in the Gospels that we are stewards. We have a mission, but God provides the mission and the means to accomplish that mission. To make this point, he asks his disciples, “‘When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals, were you in need of anything?’ ‘No, nothing,’ they replied.” (Luke 22:35)

When we begin congratulating ourselves for what God has helped us accomplish, we start nudging God out of the picture. Certainly, we should have joy and ‘take pride’ in skills, talents and abilities that we’ve refined with hard work. But we cannot lose sight of the Source of every good thing in our lives: Our Heavenly Father.

God has taught me this lesson by allowing me to suffer greatly over the past several years, in my body, my mind, and my spirit. The pain often led me to immense frustration with God. Over time and with prayer, however, my pain helped me realize how little, weak, fragile and frail I am. I realized that I couldn’t accomplish anything without God’s help. God had given me my body, my soul, my spirit. He filled me with talents. He provided me with wonderful opportunities, a family, and friends. With every sunrise, He’s brought me a new day of life.

We cannot live the Good News without remembering “the Better News,” as the joke calls it. God lives! And despite how everything may appear to you, He is taking care of everything. So, cultivate your sense of gratefulness. Start your own ‘ritual’ of daily offering; for me, that means getting on my knees every day and saying, “Lord, I love you. I thank you, and I give you everything that you have given me. Help me serve you well today.”

Let God be God. You, be you.

I always knew that the Lord is in the ship, that the ship of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.
– Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, during his final General Audience

Simple and Complicated: Thoughts on Pope John Paul II and the Walking Dead

Standard

G. K. Chesterton, English writer, thinker and Catholic convert wrote many books and essays on the nature of man, God and life. On his deathbed he summed it up in one sentence: “It is between light and darkness, and everyone must choose his side.”

A friend of mine once spoke of how complicated our Catholic faith is. I have come to realize that both Chesterton and my friend are correct. The Catholic faith is both complicated and simple.

God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Jesus gave us the eight beatitudes and two commandments, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We Catholics turned these commandments and beatitudes into the Catechism of the Catholic Church and libraries full of documents, writings and studies on our faith. Our Catholic faith is both complicated and simple because humanity is complicated and God is simple. In fact, God can even reduce His twelve commandments and eight beatitudes into one word: Love

God is Love.

So what is our response to this love? This is where we like to complicate things.

After watching Witness to Hope, a film about the life of Pope John Paul, II, I became intrigued with this man of God who has given the world, Theology of the Body – teachings on how the human body is created to respond to God. As someone who always hated her body; his teachings have turned my Catholic faith inside-out, upside-down and set it on fire.

A few weeks ago I bought the book Witness to Hope written by George Weigel so I can learn by reading what I should have learned by living through.

This book is not light reading. It is thick with facts, but the gems of wisdom are so precious they compel me to painstakingly read every word for fear I will miss one.

A few weeks ago, I am huddled in my corner chair reading the book while my sons and husband watch their favorite show, The Walking Dead. This show set amidst a zombie apocalypse pits a small rag-tag group of survivors against a majority population of walkers; dead people who somehow are still able to walk and eat.

As I’m reading, I find one of the gems of wisdom: Person and Act, a study by JPII. George Weigel writes about it (emphasis is mine):

Our personhood, he argues, is constituted by the fact of our freedom, which we come to know through truly “human acts.” In choosing one act (to pay a debt I have freely contracted) rather than another (to cheat on my debt), I am not simply responding to external conditions (fear of jail) or internal pressure (guilt). I am freely choosing what is good. In that free choosing, I am also binding myself to what I know is good and true. In this free choice of the good and true, Wojtyla suggests, we can discern the transcendence of the human person. I go beyond myself, I grow as a person, by realizing my freedom and confirming to the good and the true. Through my freedom, I narrow the gap between the person-I-am and the person-I-ought to be.

I sit back contemplating this, when I realize it is being played out on the TV:

The leader of the survivors, Rick, has to deal with a situation: A member of his group has been bitten by a zombie walker, but not killed. Fellow group members are yelling at Rick to kill the man before the inevitable occurs. He looks around and sees his wife, son and the others with terror-stricken faces. Rick knows this man will eventually become a flesh-eating zombie, but for now he is still a man and member of their group.

He turns to the bitten man trying desperately to decide what the correct response is. A scuffle begins as some of the others attempt to take matters into their own hands. Rick makes his choice and shuts it all down with the words, “We don’t kill the living.”

In a complicated situation, Rick chooses a simple good.

Our Catholic faith teaches various way to obey God’s simple command to love. It is why our faith is often described as a web because no matter where you land, you can take intricate strands back and forth, up and down but they all eventually reach the middle…God is love.

I have been making a conscious effort to decide how I “should” respond in the decisions and choices I make every day. To know the simple good, I have to know my faith. Because of God’s simple love for us, He provides it in as many complicated ways as we humans need, by way of Scripture and the Catechism.

Though I will never have to encounter zombie life or death, I may face issues in my family of unwanted pregnancy or removing life support. It’s comforting to know that our Lord will provide the simple answer to these complicated decisions. I trust my Catholic faith to narrow that gap between the woman-I-am and the woman-I-ought to be, and show me how to simply choose the good.

What Are We Supposed to DO During the Year of Faith? Pope Benedict XVI’s Road Map.

Standard

If you haven’t already heard, Pope Benedict XVI has announced a Year of Faith for all Catholics, which began October 11 and runs through November 24, 2013. If you have heard, you’ve probably guessed that we’re supposed to grow stronger in our faith this year…but, how?

Our Holy Father didn’t just say, “Year of Faith. Tag…you’re it!” and expect us to go our own way. As a good pastor, he wrote us a letter called The Door of Faith (Porta Fidei). In this letter, he gives us a road map for this special Year.

Here are the basics:

REDISCOVER. Our Holy Father says this Year is a time to rediscover the journey of faith, “rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves” on the Scriptures (as they are given to us by the Church) and on the Eucharist, “rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith,” rediscover God’s love “day by day,” and “rediscover and study the content of the faith.”

Since that’s a lot to swallow, he breaks it all down further into bite-sized chunks.

1. BE RENEWED. We’re called to renew commitment to our Catholic faith, but true renewal only comes by God’s grace. Our transformation and turning towards God is supernatural! We can’t do it on our own; we have to cooperate with God. The Pope reminds us: “To the extent that he freely cooperates [with grace], man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed” (6). So, we need God’s grace! How do we receive it? As Catholics, we especially receive grace through the sacraments. “Without the liturgy and the sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness” (11). How will you commit to receiving Confession and Holy Communion more often this Year?

St. Augustine

2. REFLECT. Even when we receive the sacraments, we need to be open to receiving the graces. Are you keeping up walls that have become obstacles to God? This Year, our Holy Father calls us to “reflect on the act of faith” (9). He reminds us that we cannot have any certainty in our lives unless we abandon ourselves into God’s hands (7). We need to reflect: How am I clinging to my wants, fears, and habits? Why am I not trusting God with everything? How can I begin to shed the obstacles that are keeping God out of every area of my life?

3. REPEAT & RECALL. When we allow God in, He can give us the supernatural gift of faith. But we need to cultivate this gift by repeating and recalling the Creed. The Holy Father point us to words by St. Augustine—the former sinner extraordinaire—who tells us that reciting the Creed in church isn’t enough. “In your minds and hearts you must keep it ever present, you must repeat it in your beds, recall it in the public squares and not forget it during meals: even when your body is asleep, you must watch over it with your hearts” (9). And Pope Benedict reminds us, “A Christian may never think of belief as a private act” (10). You might start by discovering ALL that our Church teaches, even one paragraph of the Catechism at a time. Perhaps find a letter by a pope on a subject you find interesting. Then, commit to repeating and recalling our Faith in every area of your life.

4. RETRACE. We learn how to constantly “repeat and recall” our faith from the lives of faithful people who’ve gone before us. The Pope says retracing our Faith’s history “will be of decisive importance in this Year” (13). We can do this in a variety of ways. Here are just a few examples:

  • Sign up for a Scripture study about the Old Testament or the Early Church.
  • Read the lives of the saints – buy a book, check out some from your local library, or search online.
  • Attend a presentation on Church history – ask your parish or diocese for ideas.
  • Participate in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or other holy site – we’re organizing several.

5. RECOGNIZE. Inspired by these models of faith, we are called to “recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love” (14). This means giving ourselves in service to others. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the Scriptures say, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2), and that Jesus asks us to care for him through “the least” among us (Matthew 25). How will you commit to recognize and serve Christ in others this Year?

6. RELATIONSHIP. Our Holy Father ends with two more pointers. First, that “this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm” (15). Interestingly, he writes in this section about the suffering and joyful experiences in our lives. As with anyone, our relationship with Jesus strengthens when we share our joys and our sufferings with Him—and when He’s the cause of our joy and suffering! When you truly live your Faith, you’ll “have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…is tested by fire” (1 Peter) like gold. So, how will you commit to share your joys and sufferings with Jesus? You might schedule regular prayer time, keep a journal, practice Lectio Divina, drop into a Eucharistic Adoration chapel, or even place a picture of Jesus in a special place at home or work.

7. RECONCILIATION. Finally, every time we fail to do all of the above, God offers us mercy. Pope Benedict reminds us that the Church is “the visible community of (God’s) mercy” (15). We cannot be the Body of Christ all by ourselves; we are each members who are part of the whole Body (1 Corinthians 12)! This Year of Faith, accept God’s gift of mercy by going to Confession frequently, The Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then, commit to being an active member of your local parish—one who offers the peace and forgiveness of Jesus to everyone.

What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end. (Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei 15)

5 Crucial Lessons for Us All, from Pope Benedict XVI’s Visit to Lebanon

Standard

This past weekend, Pope Benedict XVI courageously journeyed to Lebanon—neighboring tumultuous Syria, Israel, Iraq and Iran. Why wasn’t this historic visit covered by major news networks? In journalism, “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead.” Personally, I’d rather not let mainstream media tell me which stories are important!

Contrary to the conflict in most news stories, Pope Benedict XVI came as “a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of all the inhabitants of all the countries of the region, whatever their origins and beliefs.” Every human being, and especially us Catholics, should heed five important lessons from his various activities in Lebanon:

Youthful crowd meets Pope Benedict XVI in Lebanon (L’Osservatore Romano)

ONE: The World Must Not Forget Middle Eastern Christians

How often do you pray for the Christians in the Middle East? Westerners visiting that region may ask the native Christians, “When did you convert?” To which most Middle Eastern Christians would proudly respond: “Never! I am a descendant of the first Christians!” In our ignorance, we Westerners often forget that Our Lord chose the Middle East to be his homeland; he chose the Jewish and Arab peoples to be the his first disciples!

In Lebanon, our Holy Father expressed gratitude for their faithful 2,000-year witness: “How can we fail to thank God at every moment for all of you, dear Christians of the Middle East! How can we fail to praise him for your courage and faith? How can we fail to thank him for the flame of his infinite love which you continue to keep alive and burning in these places which were the first to welcome his incarnate  Son? How can we fail to praise and thank him for your efforts to build  ecclesial and fraternal communion, and for the human solidarity which you constantly show to all God’s children?”

We would do the Body of Christ a disservice if we failed to love and pray for Middle Eastern Christians.

TWO: In Times of Discord, Solidarity Has Power

Given all the violence that has recently developed in the Middle East, you’d think that the Holy Father would’ve at least thought about cancelling this trip to Lebanon. But his response? “I never took that idea into consideration, because I know that as the situation becomes more complicated, it is even more necessary to offer a sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity.”

Normally, our human tendency in conflict is: Fight, or Flight. But Christ asks us to go beyond what is natural, to the supernatural. The Holy Father said: “Experiencing together moments of friendship and joy enables us to resist the onset of division, which must always be rejected! Brotherhood is a foretaste of heaven!”

The Pope and President of Lebanon (Vatican Television Center video)

THREE: Mutual Respect is Not Optional

We’re quick to identify enemies, especially in foreign policy and times of strife. Isn’t it easier to say, “Those people,” instead of “My brothers”?

Pope Benedict XVI encouraged tens of thousands of young Middle Easterners gathered with him to be examples of the mutual respect to which God calls us. “Christ asks you,” he said, “to do as he did: to be completely open to others, even if they belong to a different cultural, religious or national group.” The Pope reminded political leaders in the Middle East, “In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable,” made in God’s image and likeness. Therefore, we are commanded by Christ to love one another.

FOUR: Strengthening the Family Will Strengthen Society

Lebanon’s President was extremely impressed and moved by the Holy Father’s address to government and religious leaders. President Suleiman said, “All the people and the politicians of the Middle East should hear, read and meditate on this speech of the Pope.”

So, what did the Pope say? Fundamentally, he spoke about how to strengthen global society: “A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life.”

FIVE: True Religion Spreads Peace

Nowadays, we Americans are used to being engaged in war somewhere overseas—particularly in the Middle East. But as Catholics first and Americans second, we need to examine each war according to Catholic teaching before expressing our support. Pope Benedict XVI gave a counter-cultural message while in Lebanon: “We must promote all possible actions, including material ones, to support the end of war and violence so that all can contribute to the rebuilding of the country,” he said.

Even en route to the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI asserted, “The basic message of religion must be against violence which is a falsification like fundamentalism,” emphasizing that religion “must be education and the illumination and purification of conscience to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace.”

‘Infected’ by the Silence of St. Joseph – Pope Benedict XVI

Standard

Seen the Christmas commercials yet? People are already camping outside stores for deeply discounted Christmas gifts. But here we are – Catholics – the weirdos who (technically) haven’t even started preparing for Christmas yet.

Our time of preparation is approaching. This Sunday begins the new liturgical year, with the season of Advent.

Amid the busy, noisy bustling of our materialistic world, meditate on this reflection from Pope Benedict XVI. Will you allow yourself to be ‘infected’ as he suggests?

"St. Joseph and the Christ Child" by El Greco

With Christmas approaching, Benedict XVI exhorted the faithful to cultivate a spirit of interior recollection in an often noisy world that makes it hard to listen to God.

The Pope today presented St. Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, as a model of recollection. Joseph’s silence in the Gospel, the Holy Father said, “does not demonstrate an empty interior, but rather the fullness of faith that he carries in his heart. Let’s allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of St. Joseph!”

Silence “is so lacking in this world which is often too noisy, which is not favorable to recollection and listening to the voice of God,” Benedict XVI said. “In this time of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate interior recollection so as to receive and keep Jesus in our lives.”

He suggested that the faithful establish in these days “a kind of spiritual dialogue with St. Joseph so that he helps us live to the fullest this mystery of faith.”

The Bishop of Rome recalled that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, “who was very devoted to St. Joseph,” dedicated the apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (Custodian of the Redeemer) to the adoptive father of Jesus.

In that 1989 document, John Paul II gave “a particular importance to the silence of St. Joseph,” observed Benedict XVI.

Such a silence was “permeated with the contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to the divine will,” Benedict XVI said. “A silence through which Joseph, together with Mary, guard the Word of God, known through sacred Scripture, comparing it continually to the events of the life of Jesus; a silence interwoven with constant prayer, a prayer of blessing of the Lord, of adoration of his holy will and of boundless confidence in his providence.”

The Holy Father added: “It is not exaggerated to say that Jesus will learn—on a human level—precisely from ‘father’ Joseph this intense interior life, which is the condition of authentic righteousness, the ‘interior righteousness,’ which one day he will teach to his disciples.” (Article from 2005, Zenit.org)

The Lord is a Warrior; Feast of St. Michael

Standard

Today is the feast day of the three archangels named in the canon of Scripture: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. While I love all three, I’m partial to one.

When I was confirmed by Bishop Patrick Zurek, he anointed me saying, “Archangel Michael, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I chose this name because I knew that the anointing at Confirmation has its roots in the ancient anointing of warriors before battle, and Confirmation would launch me into spiritual warfare with Michael’s name on my forehead.

His name means “Who is like unto God?” for this was his battle cry at the dawn of creation. God had created the angels and given them an eternal choice: loving Him or rejecting Him. Lucifer was the angel who championed the cause against God, and in response, Michael shouted his battle cry. The Book of Revelation recalls:

Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. (12:7)

Michael’s battle cry echoes through eternity as the polar opposite to Satan’s prideful rejection of God. In his humility, Michael proclaims that no one is just like God—no one is greater, more beautiful, or more true. In his name, we also see that Michael’s role as a mighty warrior indeed is ‘like God’—a reflection of His might:

The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name. (Ex. 15:3)

Revelation also describes Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as a warrior riding on a white horse, leading “the armies of heaven” (19:14). Scripture tells us that Michael is a prince (Daniel 10:13, 21) of the King and continues to rebuke Satan (Jude 1:9).

Pope Leo XIII

Pope Leo XIII (one of my favorite popes) wrote a prayer in honor of St. Michael, which I pray often. Pope Leo was compelled to write this prayer after experiencing a sudden vision—in the middle of a meeting with the conference of Cardinals—during which he saw Satan and his legion of demons trying to destroy the Church. But, in the midst of the battle, Archangel Michael came and cast Satan and the demons into hell.

At one time, the short version of Leo’s composition was prayed after Mass. This has lost popularity in recent decades, but I would encourage you to pray it yourself. In 1994, Blessed Pope John Paul II requested the faithful to again pray the Prayer to St. Michael in the battle of our times “against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”

May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians, “Draw strength from the Lord and from his mighty power” (Eph 6 10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Rev. 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St Michael throughout the Church. […] Although today this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it, and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world. [Bl. P. John Paul II, Regina Caeli, 24 April 1994]

Short Form of the Prayer: St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits who prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen. (To read Leo’s complete prayer, click here.)

Exorcists always note that Satan has no power on his own; all power and might come from the Creator. This is what Michael reminds us: in order to possess true might, we must reflect the humility of God.

Rome – Home for all Catholics!

Standard

Visiting Rome is a powerful experience. From the four major Basilicas to the ancient Catacombs to the historical sacred art; it is all astounding!

On June 29th; the Church celebrates the Feast of Saints Peter & Paul. A day marked in Pope Benedict XVI’s calendar. It is a day when he will offer Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, welcoming newly appointed Archbishops and their guests as he gives each Archbishop “the Pallium”.

Symbolic of the office of an Archbishop, the Pallium is a vestment proper to the Pope, who confers it on archbishops as a sign of their union with and obedience to him. The pallium itself is a band of woolen cloth worn around the neck, with short pendants of the same material hanging down in the front and back, and decorated with six black crosses. It is woven of wool from two lambs that are presented to the pope each year at the Basilica of St. Agnes in Rome on the Saint’s feast day (January 21).

To provide local Catholics the opportunity to share in this significant event in the life of the local Church, Tom and I have organized a unique pilgrimage to Rome including visits to the major Basilicas of Rome, the Catacombs, the Vatican Museum, and two nights in Assisi.

For Tom and I – it will be the first time to attend Mass with Pope Benedict XVI (along with hundreds of other pilgrims!). It will very special for us, and the 30+ pilgrims from San Antonio that will join us, to witness our Shepherd receive the Pallium from the Holy Father!

http://www.youtube.com/user/CatholicismLive#p/u/7/mqEHNxl2uPo

You will be able to join us on a Spiritual Pilgrimage…later we will post additional details.