Category Archives: saints

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

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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.

Spiritual Battle – Top 3 Qualities of A Good Soldier

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The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 409)

The Church exists in three realms: Victorious (those members who are in heaven), Suffering (in purgatory), and Militant (on earth). Here amid the Church Militant, we hear about ‘spiritual warfare’ or ‘spiritual battle’, and much of the discussion regards “learning the devil’s tactics” or “gaining strength to resist Satan” or “watching out for signs of the enemy”. Recently, however, I reflected on how soldiers never step onto the battlefield without attending Orientation.

What is the most important quality of a good soldier?

I recently conducted a survey with this question among friends who are current or former members of the armed forces. All soldiers were asked directly. Each responded from his or her own experience, without consulting anyone. I received answers from soldiers varying in rank, age, background, gender; experienced in the United States Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. Amazingly, their answers fit into 3 categories, which correspond well to the spiritual life…

1. Commitment to the Mission – Top Response

Other words used to describe this quality: Discipline, Drive, Courage, Fortitude, Determination

One senior officer elaborated: “I always talk to my Soldiers about having a ‘Why’ Factor: That reason(s) that get you up every morning and make you the best person you can be. […] This can be the next rank, spouse, children, family, better finances, education; whatever it is that reminds them of the importance of what they do and why they strive for greatness each day.”

In the spiritual life, Jesus—our King—clearly states that we must be focused and committed to our mission: accomplishing His Will.

The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this:
“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:14-16)

Are you committed to following Christ, or are you lukewarm? Is it love of God that drives you through trials? What is your “Why Factor” for living as you do? If it is not Christ, then start examining your conscience, and determine what dis-ordered desires or other obstacles you must address. A soldier who is neither disciplined nor committed to the mission is a danger to himself and his fellow soldiers.

2. Integrity

Other words used to describe this quality: Honor, Honesty

Closely related to the top response, Integrity is defined as “moral uprightness”, or “the state of being whole and undivided”. Soldiers who gave this response consistently needed answered with one word. That’s because integrity speaks for itself.

Look at Saint Joseph in the gospels. He is described as “a righteous man”—yet his words are never quoted. Why? The integrity of his character is reflected in his actions, which speak for themselves. If someone were to write the story of your daily life based only upon your actions and the way you respond to God’s promptings, would you be satisfied with that story? As necessary and powerful as our words and vocal prayers can be, Jesus clearly tells us that lip service is insufficient for Victory:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Mat. 7:21-23)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The battle of prayer is inseparable from the necessary ‘spiritual battle’ to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ: we pray as we live, because we live as we pray.” (no. 2752) Start today, soldier! Pray for the grace to be a person of integrity. Seek God’s will so that you can accomplish it: Spend a few minutes daily with Scripture and spiritual reading, and consult a spiritual leader to help provide direction and structure for your spiritual combat training.

3. Teamwork

Other words used to describe this quality: Cooperation, Loyalty, Trustworthiness & Trust

handsA commanding officer elaborated: “I don’t want narcissists that only care about themselves.” Another asserted: “I need this person to foster teamwork, or cooperation. You can be the most patriotic, intelligent, experienced person in the U.S. military and if no one can work with you, or wants to, you’re useless.”

In the Church Militant, it is not good enough to “hang out with Jesus”. As two of Jesus’ closest disciples discovered, we cannot please God if we are jerks, even toward those who oppose us!

 

[Jesus’ messengers] entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him… When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them… (Lk. 9:52-55)

Mother Angelica advised, “Don’t say, ‘If it weren’t for that person I could be holy.’ No; you can be holy because of that person.” What bugs you about people? Are there people who drive you up the wall with their weaknesses or habits? Make it your goal to realize that you cannot win the spiritual war without learning how to love those people. When St. Therese of Lisieux found a particular Sister in her Community completely disagreeable, she employed this tactic: “Not wishing to give in to the natural antipathy I was experiencing, I told myself that charity must not consist in feelings but in works; then I set myself to doing for this Sister what I would do for the person I loved the most.”

Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn. 13:34-35)

3 Keys to Victory

  1. Disciplined and Courageous Commitment: Decide to live for Christ, and use this decision to guide all other decisions.
  2. Integrity: Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.
  3. Teamwork: Remember that you are not fighting your fellow man or woman, but rather temptation to sin. Practice selfless love, generosity, and kindness to everyone.

We encourage all men to join us for our upcoming Catholic Men’s Conference. The mission of the Catholic Men’s Conference is to promote a deeper understanding of our dignity as being created in the image and likeness of God, and to provide direction and resources to help transform ourselves, our families and society. You are not alone in your battle. Find strength in numbers at this annual event for men.

4 Attitudes to Find God in Prayer

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A young woman related her awareness of the importance of adoring God and thanking Him on a daily basis. Before this, she would simply say her favorite memorized prayers, but then, after spending time in silence with God and reading the scriptures, she began to realize the “gaze of God” upon her. This realization of God’s presence was quite profound and it led her to a deeper desire to love God and to learn more about His gift – the Catholic Church.

Blessed Mother Teresa said:
“Fruit of silence is Prayer. Fruit of prayer is Faith. Fruit of Faith is Love.”

In this young woman’s search for a deeper faith – she discovered the Catholic Church offered a treasure – history, lives of extraordinary men and women – the Saints, the Sacraments and the Teaching Authority of the Church.

As I listened to her story, I remembered reading what St. Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan priest who lived in the 12th century, wrote stating that prayer is made up of 4 indispensable attitudes which are described as follows:

1) Open one’s heart confidently to God
It’s really a lot easier than one thinks. Remember, God knows YOU, He knew you in your mother’s womb. Opening your heart to God is to communicate from the depth of your heart – sincerely and honestly.  Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, ….”*

2) Speak affectionately with him
It begins with a desire to love and know Him. Spend some time in silence thinking about God. Read a scripture passage, or simply think of some of the Bible stories you have heard such as the Birth of Jesus, the Apostles, Jesus teaching and healing by the Sea of Galilee, His Passion and Resurrection. Simply remain in silence for a few moments and speak to Him in confidence as you would a very close friend.

3) Present him your needs
Oh and He knows our needs! In the Gospel of Matthew 11:28 – He tells us “Come to me all you who labor and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.”*  What a powerful promise God gives us – we will find rest in Him when we go to Him.

4) Praise him and thank him
To praise God is to give Him honor – to adore Him, to recognize He is our Heavenly Father. Authentic prayer includes thanking Him – for everything. When we are aware of His presence, it becomes easier for us to thank Him throughout the day; not only for the blessings or good things, but also for the challenging moments, difficult times. Why? Because He is present in those moments as well and as we read earlier – He wants to help us. “In all circumstances give thanks for his is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18*


The only way to have true happiness and peace is by drawing closer to God in prayer – by being faithful to what He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope is a Catholic Evangelization Ministry founded for the purpose to help people encounter Jesus and get connected to the Church through various opportunities. We invite you to find out more about those opportunities at www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

*New American Bible

3 Ways to Pray with Confidence

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For the longest time, I was the Catholic who prayed at Mass and only during times of distress. Honestly, my prayer was very focused on my needs and wants when I did not feel that God was giving me what I deserved. Through relationships with very disciplined Catholics, I soon realized that I was not praying with the total belief that God was listening to me and decided to incorporate the following 3 ways to begin praying with confidence.

No Returns

The realization came to me that after laying down my worries and concerns before Jesus, I would return and pick them back up and continue to be stressed about the situation without really giving God an opportunity to answer my prayer. How many times have you asked someone for help, and then end up doing it yourself? In trusting God, we must also have patience and humility understanding that He is working in the timing that is best for all of His children not just our own desires. God is able to answer many people’s prayers at once when we allow him to work through us in the timing that works best for his plan. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. (Matthew 6:34)

Thy Will Be Done

God knows all that you are going through and all of the struggles that you face, so to pray confidently we must believe that he can bless us in ways that we would not think to request. In life, we can easily pray to God for blessings that we think would be helpful, but He can see our lives from a perspective that we can not comprehend. Pray for his will to be done in your life, and do not pray for anything more than for God to bless you in accordance with his will. Fully place your confidence in him by simply allowing him to bless you in the way that would benefit his plan over your own. It does not matter if you are 16 or 60, God can work through you in fruitful ways not just for you, but for the entire world. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.’ (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

Don’t Wait

After you pray with confidence, thank God immediately, knowing that he will answer your prayer in the best timing for you and everyone else involved. We must not get so caught up in the need to see results that we become negative in our daily journey. Each day, wake up and thank God before you even get out of bed. This allows for you to begin the day focused on God and with a peaceful heart. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, we are people of hope and make time for daily prayer as a staff. We encourage you to pray confidently through your daily journey and let us know if we can pray for you. You can also look to the Saints for inspiration on praying with complete trust in God. The lives of the Saints give us insight on how to answer God’s call confidently and how to stay strong in faith through trials. Ladies, join us at Afternoon Tea with the Saints each month for a social and spiritual event where our staff introduces you to the life of a Saint!

Authentic Christianity

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They did not tell people that God would make things better for them in this life; the focus was on eternal life, the salvation of their souls. As we know, some disciples gave up everything to be in the company of the Apostles and follow the “New Way” of being in relationship with God. Many disciples were persecuted and some were martyred.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles Peter and Paul,
“…strengthened the spirits of the disciples
and exhorted them to persevere in the faith saying,

‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to
enter the Kingdom of God.’”

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This message from Peter and Paul was not only for the Christians of the early Church, it is also for us today.

Are we willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary in order to be faithful to the Gospel?

Jesus himself tells us we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. We cannot allow our appetites and desires to dominate our life. If we live only for our self, we close our self off to the graces God wishes to give us and are destined for unhappiness. If our lives are not ordered to God, they are disordered.

What are some of the hardships you have endured? What is your most difficult trial?

No matter how bad we had it on our worst day, there will always be others who will have had it much worse and yet experience great joy. Others will allow their trials to overwhelm them. They continue to look at their problems and in their imagination they become bigger than reality, bitter and depressed.

The challenge is to experience our hardships in the light of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. If we unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ it becomes redemptive for us, and others as well. Not only that, Christ also lessens the weight of our burdens just as he promises. Hardships are necessary because they help us to become dependent upon Jesus Christ; to discover “his strength in our weakness.” There are some people who would never have turned to Christ except for their hardships.

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you,
so you also should love one another.”

What is the desire of your heart?

When Jesus tells us we must love one another, he makes it a new commandment because he says we must one another as he has loved us. In other words, we must love with a supernatural, sacrificial love. It is only possible to love in a supernatural way, if we love God first above everything else, because He is the source of all love and everything that is good. If God is our first love it will be possible for us to reach our potential in loving ourselves and others.

We can only love as Christ has loved us if that is the desire of our heart. If that is our desire, we will ask for the grace to be faithful to what has been revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We will make a commitment to pray every day, to live the sacramental life and to continue to be formed in the Faith.

What is your destiny?

God has great plans for all of us that require us to surrender our will to His will. In His will we experience unconditional love and mercy which lead to happiness now and forever. If our will is in opposition to His will we are destined for unhappiness.

Lord, give us the grace to put our total trust in you so that you may be our hope in adversity and we may be victorious in our struggles.

To learn more about your Catholic faith, tune into Catholicism Live! It is a weekly series connecting issues of the faith and Church teachings to daily life. Visit CatholicismLive.com to see our upcoming topics.

Discovering Peter’s Joy

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GalileeSunrise copyWhen my fellow pilgrims and I disembarked from our ‘fishing’ boat on the Sea of Galilee (it was really a tourist boat operated by a group of Jewish men who lived on the nearby Kibbutz), I received a revelation from God that inspired me to more actively practice my Catholic faith.

The Total Person

From where I was standing on the shore, I could see on one side, Tiberius (the old Roman city still in existence) and another side where stood, Decapolis, the ten ancient cities of the Greeks and to the North, Capernaum, where we had just visited the ruins of a synagogue where Jesus taught. It occurred to me that these places represented the total person: Tiberius/Roman/Body, Decapolis/Greek/Mind and Capernaum/Jewish/Soul and with this realization, I heard our Lord speak to my heart and share with me His desire to unite all three in every human person: body, mind and soul.

Gone Fishing

I recalled this memory as I heard the opening to today’s First Friday Gospel from John 21:1-14, “Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius.” It was here that Peter had chosen to just go back to what he knew, fishing, because Jesus was gone, and probably thinking even if all the rumors about him being seen by others were true, they cannot be true for him, who denied His Lord and ran away. Isn’t it interesting, I thought, that even John calls it the Sea of Tiberius . . . forget what I knew (mind), what I believed(soul), just go back to what I do (body) . . . fish!

What is so beautiful about this Gospel, and what I learned myself on pilgrimage, is that our Lord and God comes to us where we are. In this Gospel story, Jesus makes the first move towards Peter and even affirms his choice by providing the fish he spent all night trying to catch. He does the same for each of us.

You Are Invited

Pope Francis confirms this in his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium – “Joy of the Gospel” when he writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Waiting For You

Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.” (3)
It was this joy Peter discovered which tells us that God’s love and mercy for us has nothing to do with who we are and everything to do with who He is.

Our response should be to give freely of our mind, body and soul as our Lord asks of us,

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27)

Walking Catholic

One of the greatest joys of going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land is to see for yourself all the miles our Lord Jesus walked toward His people. One of the greatest joys of being a Catholic, is experiencing through the gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, how He still does!

The Sacraments of the Catholic Church, established by Christ, is our Lord’s promise to never leave us . . . to continue to come to us! We can be united with Christ, mind, body and soul by frequenting the Sacraments (body), learning the teachings of the Church (mind) and believing what the Church professes (soul.)

And when we fail, we can have confidence that the joy that was Peter’s is ours as well!

The Pilgrim Center of Hope provides opportunities to encounter Christ through pilgrimages, conferences and a variety of outreach events. Find out more at pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

Our Christian Hypocrisy: The Key to Fighting It

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On many a recent lunch break, I’ve opened the newspaper to an opinion piece or letter criticizing hypocritical Christians.  Logging into my social media accounts, I often see a similar theme voiced by friends and acquaintances.  Same on TV.  Same on the radio.  In the Church, Pope Francis challenges us to re-examine our habits and attitudes against our baptismal call.

All these situations prompt me to ask myself: Why am I a Christian? To what extent am I not living like one?  I admit that, not unlike James and John, I often forget why I am a Christian.  It happens in the heat of the moment; and, because of this forgetfulness, I often fail to live like a Christian.

Whenever one of my co-workers calls my cell phone, the ringtone is Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, “For the Sake of the Call.”  That song makes my eyes misty.  I chose it for my co-workers because, amid its Galilee imagery, the lyrics dive into the heart of what it means to be a Christian:

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Empty nets lying there
told the story that few could believe
and none could explain.

For Jesus had called them by name,
and they answered,
“We will abandon it all
For the sake of the call…”

Not for the sake of a creed or a cause,
not for a dream or a promise,
but simply because it is Jesus who calls,
and if we believe, we’ll obey.

Whenever we make a choice, our motivations are:

  • Out of self-interest (out of fear / desiring comfort or safety / laziness or apathy)
  • Out of love

I find encouragement in the apostles’ own struggle to follow Jesus out of love, rather than for fame or glory.  All Christians must face these questions: Is my primary motivation to ‘gain the prize’ at the end of life?  To avoid the burning alternative? Do I just want to be a member of the ‘winning team’? Am I merely carrying on ‘the family religion’? We may quickly waive those questions off, but each of us answer, “Yes,” to varying degrees. Those “yes’s” are the origin of our sins.

Instead, we must follow Christ, as Chapman sings, “because of the love He has shown.”  Christ’s vicar and people are calling you and me to recognize God’s intense desire to purify our hearts; so that daily activities and decisions come from love and love alone.  This is what it means to be a saint; drawing closer and closer to Love Incarnate, sharing more and more of His life, until we are finally united.

Jesus tells us,

…whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

God showed us how to answer His Call by doing it first; in Christ who lived and died (and continues to live) as pure self-gift. What an immense and intimidating challenge! No wonder Christians are held to a high standard!  No wonder we are hypocrites!  How could we possibly mirror Love Incarnate?

Today, and each day of our lives, can be a step on a journey toward a pure heart—toward sainthood—by making one, small change in the way we love.

We make this daily journey by abandoning our self-interest and opening ourselves to grace—which is just a fancy word for God’s own life.  History illustrates this process with the apostles’ abandonment of their nets—their way of life—and their daily sharing of Jesus’ life.

We are not alone. We make this journey together, as members of a larger Body. Saints who have gone before us call out from Heaven: “With God, nothing is impossible!” Sainthood is a real possibility.

Let’s go!  One step at a time, starting today…

Not for the sake of a creed or a cause,
not for a dream or a promise,
but simply because it is Jesus who calls,
and if we believe, we’ll obey.

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Why would someone tell a saint to pray less?

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Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, age 17

That’s exactly what happened to Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, who—at seventeen years old—entered the Jesuits in 1585.  He had been raised among relatives who were mostly concerned with attaining and sustaining political power.  Without religious companions as a boy, yet with a tremendous desire for holiness, he had pieced together his own religious routine:

  • fasting, though he suffered kidney disease
  • attempting to pray for 1 hour without distraction, which in itself took several hours
  • avoiding women (even his mother), fearing his temptation to lust
  • avoiding anyone altogether, fearing his hot temper
  • scourging himself to a bloody mess
  • not wishing anyone to see even his foot undressed

… and various devotions.

I daresay we Catholics sometimes feel ‘expected’ to demonstrate ‘awe and wonder’ at saints like Aloysius, whose prayer lives involved intense self-abuse under the guise of penance, and other such extreme behaviors.  While reading the life of St. Aloysius, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief once his Jesuit superiors told him to…

  • eat more
  • only pray at scheduled times
  • take recreation
  • distract his mind

…etc.  But while discussing this with some friends at Afternoon Tea last Thursday, I asked, “Why would his superiors have told him to pray less?”  No one seemed to have a response.

Why would anyone tell a saint to pray less?

I was able to answer from personal experience.  Obviously, I’m not a saint(!), but I do wrestle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, particularly in religious matters.  At first, I was very embarrassed by this struggle, and resisted seeking help. (After all, our culture preaches the ‘virtue’ of self-reliance.)  After submitting myself in prayer, however, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I needed to seek outside direction.

Whether someone has a psychological struggle like mine or not, we all need guidance and direction from people other than ourselves.  Even the saints.  Even someone as holy as Aloysius, whose confessor (St. Robert Bellarmine) believed he had never committed a mortal sin in his entire life.  In Aloysius’ case, he needed direction in maintaining a healthy life.  We see a remarkable change after he submitted to his superiors: spiritual maturity, peace, and ecstatic joy.

Dear reader, isn’t it true that when we rely on ourselves for spiritual direction, we become self-centered and lost—even when our intentions are good, like Aloysius’ were?

Just one or two generations ago, it became ‘hip’ to exchange religion for nameless spirituality.  What’s the difference?  Religion requires authority.  Families began breaking apart.  Fast-forward to today: We as a society suffer from focus on self, what is ‘right for me’ and ‘best for me’.   We are our own decision-makers.  This is not to hail “The Good Ol’ Days”, but to highlight the dangerous results of cutting ourselves off from A.) community, and B.) spiritual authority.  We have seen the effects; self-reliance, self-centeredness, relativism, etc., equal chaos and imbalance.

Even Christ our God submitted to those who were in authority over him!  Look at his obedience to his parents, and especially his submission as a victim on Calvary:

“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Hebrews 5:8-9)

What are you doing to seek direction from others?

Whether you struggle with praying – or – working – or – eating – or – sleeping – or – talking – or – trusting … too much or too little—truly submit yourself to the Holy Spirit.  Talk with Him about your struggles, your pain, your fears, your wounds.  Ask where He is directing you to find assistance and direction.  Listen.  Seek people who have been given the spiritual authority to direct you.

Like Aloysius, may we all find the peace and ecstatic joy ,which comes from the beautiful yet challenging virtue of obedience.

The Ultimate Personality Test

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Have you ever taken a personality test?  They ask you a few questions, and then “reveal” something about who you are…

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • Which Color Are You?
  • The 5 Love Languages (9 million copies sold)
  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter
  • Strengthsfinder 2.0 (Wall Street Journal #1 and BusinessWeek #1 bestseller)

I used to gleefully spend hours taking personality tests.  Some were even school course requirements.   While they can offer some helpful insights, personality tests can also – especially for Christians – distract us from where we should find our identity.

John the Baptist’s Test

Jordan River wilderness

My fellow pilgrims walking to the site of Christ’s baptism, in Jordan.

In November 2010, I remember walking through the tall grass of the Jordanian wilderness, accompanying my fellow pilgrims to the site of Christ’s baptism.  We were privileged to trek there, rather than the typical Jordan River ‘pilgrim stop’ in Israel which is busy and developed.  Here, though, it seemed we were discovering uncharted territory.  As we walked, our shoes crushing rock and fallen foliage, and I almost expected to hear the voice of hairy, wild John the Baptist shouting, “Prepare the way for the Lord!”

On Gaudete Sunday, we read that Jewish priests and Levites tested John the Baptist about his identity. I am amazed by his disarming authenticity and self-knowledge:

He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”

Three times, John affirms who he is not. Then, he answers them:

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,’

as Isaiah the prophet said.”

I wonder if John’s mother, Elizabeth, ever told him the story of his name.  He would know that instead of being named after his father, זְכַרְיָה – meaning “YHWH has remembered” – the Lord sent an angel to ensure that John would be named יוֹחָנָן – “YHWH is gracious”.

God wanted John’s name to say something: That he was sent to call people toward repentance and conversion.  John prepared the way for Jesus, who would eat with sinners, forgive them, and die for them, revealing that God is gracious.  John’s entire life was directed toward preparing people for Jesus’ coming.

Hence, John found his identity in his relationship to Jesus, and to his fellow man: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.'”

Discovering Who We Are

From John, we learn that the ultimate personality test consists of two simple questions:  What is my relationship to Jesus Christ?  How does that inform my relationships with other people?

Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The Christian rediscovers his true identity in Christ […] In identifying with him, in being one with him, I rediscover my personal identity…” Benedict also taught us in his encyclical Charity in Truth, “As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God. Hence these relations take on fundamental importance.”

This Advent and Christmas, take time to rediscover your true identity. Consider journaling or sitting in silence to reflect:

  • How did my relationship with Jesus begin? How has it grown?
  • How would I describe my relationship with Jesus today?  (Who is Jesus to me?)
  • How has Jesus transformed my relationship with others?
  • In what ways might Jesus be calling me to be more authentic in my relationship with Him?  In my relationships with others?

Thank you, Lord Jesus – for becoming human, for being gracious, and for showing me who I truly am.  Amen.

Homily for SS. Peter and Paul, Apostles

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Peter-Paul

We celebrate this feast of Saints Peter and Paul because they were the two greatest leaders of the early church and heroic witnesses of what they believed.

Paul’s conversion is the most remarkable in the New Testament. He was a zealot of Judaism and persecuted the Church – trying to destroy it. One day the Lord’s presence knocked him to the ground and changed his life forever. It was Jesus Christ Himself who taught the Christian faith to Paul and used his zeal to spread the faith to the Gentiles.

The conversion of Peter happened over a period of time as he witnessed the teachings and miracles of Jesus. Peter was a fisherman and Jesus told him and his brother Andrew that he would make them fishers of men, when he saw them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter was the first to confess that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And, so I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what ever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” We look to Peter as the first Pope because he was the first bishop of Rome, granted the status of leader by Jesus Christ.

Paul’s primary purpose in life was not to be a Pharisee zealot, nor was Peter’s to be a fisherman. They were both called to be witnesses to the Gospel, even to the shedding of their blood. Along with the other apostles, they are included in our profession of faith. I have seen where the remains of both of them have been entombed in Rome. The tomb of St. Peter is of course under the altar dedicated to him in St. Peter’s Basilica. The tomb of St. Paul is under the main altar in the Basilica of St. Paul.

Another church of St. Peter that has a special significance for me is a church built over what was the house of St Peter in the town of Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The first time we went to the Holy Land in 1984, my wife Mary Jane and I met a young widow from Italy who was staying at the same place we were. Her husband had recently died and she came on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She was so moved by her experience that she decided to stay there and devote her life to prayer. It was a few years later that she decided to use her inheritance to build a church over the archeological ruins of the house of St Peter. That church is built in the shape of a boat and part of the floor is Plexiglas so that you can look down into the ruins of St. Peters house.

Since then, millions of pilgrims have entered that church and prayed there, and thousands Masses have been celebrated there. What she did was a great thing for the mystical body of Christ. We may not be able to do such a profound thing as she did, but we are all called to be generous with what we have for the sake of others, as a testimony of our trust in God’s providence.

When we think of the deaths of Saints Peter and Paul we may be reminded of the age of martyrs in the early years of the Church, but we also must know that we are living in the age of martyrs right now. There have been more martyrs in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than in all the years before. This century looks to be the worst ever with what is happening in the Middle East. Young men are being crucified in Syria among the other atrocities that are happening to Christians in that region and parts of Africa, and yet for many people in this country life goes on as if God does not exist.

There has been turmoil in every age. However, we know from Church history that the course of events have been when changed when people turn back to God and pray with great fervor and tend to the needs of others. Let us hope that history will show that the challenges we are now facing will be conquered by a collective turning to God and fervent prayer.

This feast day is not for Saints Peter and Paul, who now live in the glory of God; it is for us – to remind us of the price that these saints and millions of others have paid to keep the Faith alive for us. No matter what our career is, that is not our first purpose. Like Peter and Paul and all the saints, we also are all called to be witnesses of our faith for our own good and the good of others. We are charged with carrying the Faith into the future. There is nothing we do during the course of the day that is more important than spending time in prayer, and yet we have heard many people say they do not have time for prayer. If we do not pray we will not discover God’s plan that would allow us to reach our potential for happiness, and we will not be contributing to the wellbeing of our society and the world.

God’s plan for humanity will only be realized when our relationship with him is more important than our careers, our possessions and our politics.