Category Archives: Devotions

A Story of Joy: When I Prayed with People from All Over the World

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Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘Faith is caught rather than taught’? While many family members struggle to communicate faith to loved ones or friends who no longer practice it, perhaps we should pause to consider that simple saying.

When Mary Cook decided to go on a Marian Pilgrimage with us in 2011, she had been Catholic all her life. While on pilgrimage, however, she experienced unique moments that deeply impacted her faith. Here is a bit of that story:

The first place we went was Fatima in Portugal. We had Mass at the little chapel where Mary first spoke to the children (in her apparitions of 1917), and my husband and I had gotten to read during Mass. We stood right where Mary stood when she appeared to the three children.

At night, we said a Rosary in that same chapel. We were all holding a candle, and it made for a very holy feeling. I counted probably eight or nine different languages that were spoken that night. Someone from each country would lead a decade of the Rosary, and it was beautiful. It helps you realize how the Catholic Church is really a universal Church; a worldwide Church, and we could pray with people from all over the world. We can’t talk to each other—we can’t have a conversation, but we could pray with each other and understand what we were praying.

While we were in Paris visiting a basilica there, a group of nuns approached us and invited us to lunch! They live there, and as part of their ministry, they fix a meal and invite pilgrims to lunch. So, we went to lunch; a very simple, French meal—but it was a lot of food! They served us, and what struck me about them is that they were so joyful. They were so happy whisking around and serving the different people.

The pilgrimage really brought me closer to Mary. I was born and raised Catholic; Mary’s always been there, but I never had a special relationship with her. I got to know her better. I grew closer to her. I consider her my spiritual mother. Catholics are really, really blessed that we have Mary. Everybody else does, too, but they don’t know it.

Going on a pilgrimage is like going on a vacation in Heaven! It’s different from a regular vacation; it’s a pilgrimage—very prayerful, with Mass, praying the Rosary every day, with a group of likeminded people. You get to know the people really well. It’s a lot of fun! I absolutely loved it. I took lots of pictures, but I have so many memories ingrained in my mind. I can go back to those places in prayer anytime.

Witnessing the unity and joy of the Church, and the love of the Blessed Mother and her fellow pilgrims, helped Mary’s faith to deepen. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses,” wrote Pope Paul VI in 1975. How true this rings today! Ask the Blessed Mother to pray for you, that the Holy Spirit would help you grow as a witness of your relationship with God.

We invite you to consider journeying with us on a Marian Pilgrimage April 3-14, 2018. Learn more on our website.

“A Pilgrim Center of Hope pilgrimage is a faith journey. You’ll never regret it. You will grow in your faith. What you experience in that time period that you’re on pilgrimage, you will carry with you for the rest of your life.” – Mary Cook

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?”

 

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.

Pondering Our Queen

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Dr. Edward Sri writes in his book, Love Unveiled, The Catholic Faith Explained, that in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens,” the heavens here refer to spiritual beings God created first: the angels.”

He goes on to explain that angels are superior to mankind in knowledge, power and glory and were made to know and love God, to glorify Him and to serve Him in the world He was about to create. Sri writes that there was one angel who stood out among the rest. He was called the “light bearer” and that, “It is traditionally believed God invested more of His glory, power and strength in this angel than in any other. What a beautiful sight it must have been to gaze upon the “shining one” who reflected God’s glory the most!”

Like us, God has created angels with a free will and did not force them to serve. Sri writes, “Before they could see God ‘face-to-face’ and be sent on their mission, their love was tested in some way.” The ‘shining one’ failed the test because, as Sri writes, “He did not want to bow down before his Creator, but focused on himself […] He ignored God’s supremacy, rejected God, and sought to build a kingdom for himself.”

What happened to this angel is told by our Lord Jesus when He said, “I observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” (Lk 10:18) The next time we hear about him he is successfully tempting our first parents to choose self over God, and just like him, they receive the same destination: banished from Paradise.

Reflecting as this morning dawns on the Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I sit amazed and in wonder at the great mercy of God.

It actually makes sense that God would not just give up on creation as God can only be what He is: Creator, Love and Mercy. Instead He exclaims, “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev 21:5)

So, God sets about creating anew investing even more glory, more knowledge and more power into His new “light bearer” and this one, He calls “Mother.”

With her ‘yes’ at the Annunciation, Mary, descendent of Adam and Eve, receives The Light – God Himself – in her womb, participating with Creator God in His new Creation . . . what glory!

Serving God’s mission all the way to the Cross and beyond, Mary’s free will and faith in the supremacy of God is tested more than what I believe all the angels had to endure. As told to her by Simeon when she brought her precious baby to be presented in the Temple, “And you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,”(Lk 2:35) she receives the gift to read the thoughts and hearts of all creatures, a gift never given to the old light bearer . . . what knowledge!

As the Mother of God, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the faithful Daughter of God, it is through Mary, all the graces merited by her Son, in the Mercy of our Father through the Holy Spirit are distributed to all creation. Yes! God has granted that it is through the hands of Mary, as Mediatrix with their Son, Jesus Christ, all grace is granted . . . what power!

In her most exalted position, the new ‘light bearer’ acknowledges her queenship and the source of all her glory, knowledge and power by exclaiming in Luke 1:46-55:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

So what does all this mean for you and me?
“Behold Your Mother!” (Jn 19:27), God’s new creation, His new ‘light bearer,’ His creature who He invested more glory, more knowledge and more power than any other creature, is our Mother too!

We invite you to discover what it means to live God’s new creation by joining us at an upcoming Pilgrim Center of Hope Conference: The Catholic Women’s Conference, the Catholic Men’s Conference and the Catholic Seniors’ Conference. The Pilgrim Center of Hope also offers Evenings with Mary at various parishes in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. If you would like to bring a presentation to your parish, please contact us.

What’s a Jubilee Year? Come and See!

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Do you sometimes hear something about our Catholic Faith and wonder, “I’ve been Catholic all my life and I was never taught that?!”

I believe this happens for two reasons: the Catholic Faith is…

  1. So rich and full a treasure of teaching, it is not possible to live a generation and hear it all.
  2. An invitation to enter. It requires not passive hearing, but a walking into and an active discovery.

When I walked into my parish last month and discovered, erected in the Gathering Space, a beautiful door decorated with a Franciscan Cross and an invitation to walk through the Door of Mercy, I thought, “What is this all about?” Our pastor told us that Pope Francis has called this year between December 8 and November 6 a Jubilee Year of Mercy, and invited us to enter the door as often as we want, to experience God’s endless mercy.

This is a perfect example of our Catholic Church taking action, but leaving the discovering and following for us to choose. It is done this way for a reason, and was so from the beginning, when Jesus invited His disciples to “Come, and you will see.” (Jn 1:39)

The highlight of my Catholic journey to date is going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was there I discovered our God as One who came looking for us; traveling by foot, hundreds of miles over rough terrain, to tell us of the Father’s mercy and how this mercy is for every one of us, if we choose to accept it.

When I heard my pastor speak of the Door of Mercy, and how we can physically go through it and experience for ourselves the mercy of God, I became intrigued to discover, “What is a jubilee year?” and “How I may take this opportunity to make a spiritual pilgrimage?”

A little journey on the Internet brought the discovery that the celebration of a Jubilee as a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon has its origins in the Biblical book of Leviticus, in chapter 25, verses 8-55. A Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fifty years, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.

Pope Francis has called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy at the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II and announced special indulgences, which our Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as a “remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church […] and can be applied to the living or the dead.” (CCC 1471)  To which I enthusiastically respond . . . Cool!

Just a week before, I’d had no idea that our Church had a history of jubilee years, or that a pope can call a special one, or that we disciples and our family and loved ones – living or dead – may benefit eternally from our participating in it! These are just a few jewels in the infinite treasure chest of our faith, and what I love is, just like Jesus did with His Apostles, we are invited by God to walk with God to God . . . a pilgrimage!

For my own personal Year of Mercy pilgrimage, I have chosen to visit one of the sixteen Holy Doors of Mercy in the Archdiocese of San Antonio each month and receive God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I want to experience what the door symbolizes, which is the passage from sin to grace and slavery to freedom with the One who said, “I am the gate [door]. Whoever enters through me will be saved…I came so they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”(Jn 10:9-10)

Does the idea of a pilgrimage intrigue you? Then contact us at the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Through our Institute of Pilgrimages, we offer international and local pilgrimages, as well as pilgrimage presentations. Contact us at 210-521-3377 or our website for more information.

ABC’s of Catholic Living – Simple outline for a faithful home

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One of the most common questions we encounter in evangelization work is: “How can I bring up my children Catholic?” or “How can we strengthen our family’s faith?”

When my husband and I were married, we were determined to establish a Catholic household — a household in which the Catholic faith is seamlessly integrated into daily life. I’ve attempted to capture some of our guiding principles in this alphabetical list. What are your suggestions?

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“The Holy Family with the Infant St. John” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

ADORATION – Adore God, individually and together.
We often ask God for favors, and forget to adore. “To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2096) Take time to lift your mind and heart to God, without asking anything. When you take this time, your children will notice! I remember often walking in on my mom during her prayer. Consider taking a trip to a local parish for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Whatever you do, develop your relationship with God as an individual and as a family.

BIBLE – Incorporate the Bible into your home life.
Many adults have told me that they remember a large Bible in their grandparents’ home that was displayed in a place of honor…but never seemed to be read! Do keep your family Bible in a central location, but make sure to read from it. This is easier when you develop a habit and have time set aside to do so. My husband and I established a time to read Scripture together when we come home from work, before preparing dinner.

COLORS – Use liturgical colors to decorate.
This is a fun and easy way to remain united with the Church around the world. Is today a martyr’s day? Wear red! I like to use green place mats on our dining room table during Ordinary Time. These are simple things, but they are visible ways to bridge our time in church with our time at home. See the calendar with liturgical colors at the U.S. Bishops’ website.

DINE TOGETHER – Make meal time family time.
Sharing a meal together means sitting down at the table together, face-to-face. This helps naturally develop relationships among family members. Research has shown that your family will reap many benefits.

EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE – Encourage family members to regularly examine their conscience.
Generally, we do so in silence for a few minutes, at the beginning of Night Prayer before bedtime. My husband will simply prompt, “Let’s pause for an examination of conscience.” Click here for one of my preferred examination methods.

FEAST DAYS – Celebrate feast days.
For example, on one of the apostles’ feast days we might make a special meal (pot roast with wine). You could also consider using special place settings for meals, having a dessert, or playing a game together.

GRACE – Say ‘grace’ before meals.
Speaking of meals, always pray before your meal! We like to thank God for our food and all involved in preparing it (farmers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, etc.). We ask Him to help us remain grateful for what we have been given, and to help us to share our resources with others. Praying before meals helps cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in each family member.

HOLY FATHER – Love and pray for the Pope.
Keeping a picture of the Pope in your home as a reminder of his spiritual leadership, as well as a reminder to pray for him. Keeping a photo of the Pope in your home can also help educate children about your family’s unity with all Catholics under the “shepherding” of the Holy Father.

IMAGES / ICONS – Have sacred images or icons in your home.
We enjoy having Eastern Christian icons in our home, especially ones that have particular meaning to us: The Last Supper, the Wedding at Cana, the Holy Family, etc. Each one invites us to contemplate the subject matter. Christian / Catholic artwork in your home will help remind family members that our faith is important to us, and that it is beautiful!

JUSTICE – Discern how your family should live Catholic social teachings.
How much does your family know about the Church’s social teachings? My husband and I try to challenge ourselves to attend occasional presentations on topics like immigration, war, homelessness, etc. When we clean out our closets, we donate to St. Vincent de Paul instead of selling those items. We also contribute to charities that assist individuals in difficult situations. What can your family do? There are so many options, you can find a way that suits your family. Look into ministry or charity programs / activities in your area. Let prayer guide your decisions.

KNOWLEDGE – Grow in knowledge of Church teachings.
Our Faith has always encouraged individuals who seek to understand. Encourage one another to ask questions about Church teaching. Keep reference books in your home, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the YOUCat (youth catechism), subject-specific books, etc. Attend presentations together at your parish or diocese. Watch or listen to Catholic programming. One of the greatest lessons you can teach your children is having the humility to say, “I don’t know the answer. Let’s find out together.”

LOVE – Foster a loving environment in your home.
Learn to communicate lovingly with one another.  If you need help, don’t be ashamed to seek out resources or counseling; communicating well with your family is your calling from God! Families reflect God (Love) to the world.

MASS – Attend Mass Together.
If it’s possible for your entire family to attend Mass together, do so. Mass is the most important ‘moment’ in our lives. Try to prepare by reading the Mass readings beforehand, so you can listen to them more prayerfully during Mass. Ask each other, “What struck you about the homily?” Stay a few minutes after Mass to thank God for this special time with him.

NATURE – Practice good stewardship of nature.
God has entrusted Creation to us. We need to practice good stewardship habits, like reducing our food / water waste, re-using materials, and recycling whatever we can.

OBEDIENCE – Practice healthy and holy obedience.
This is a doozie! Obedience is a ‘bad word’ in modern society, but in Scripture and our faith Tradition it’s a healthy virtue. Obedience is not to be mistaken for condoning abuse of power. Rather, it means that each family member has a specific role, and we maintain peace in our homes by honoring the natural structure of those roles. Family members with the most authority are responsible for loving as Christ loves. See a reflection on this by Father Chris Rengers, OFM.

PRAYER – Pray all ways. Pray always!
When and how can families pray together? Maybe we should ask: “When can we not pray together??” Use any opportunity to pray; all it takes is saying, “Can we take a moment to pray?” or, “Let’s offer this time (ex: stuck in traffic) as a prayer. Who can we pray for?” Learn the Guardian Angel prayer. Pray the three expressions of prayer: Vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation.

QUIET – Build quiet times into your family life.
Not all noise is bad. In fact, some noises are very good! But generally speaking, our society tends toward “productivity” and if we’re always busy, we will miss God’s “still, small voice” whispering to us. Our Catholic faith has a long history of appreciating silence, so let’s keep it alive in our family life. I know of families with small children that designate a few hours on Sunday as “unplugged” time: no electronics! Family members are encouraged to read, pray, take a walk, etc.

RECONCILIATION – Schedule times to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and reconcile with one another at home.
Confession can be scary, but it’s important that we make it a part of our lives. Adults can teach youth about the wonders of this sacrament by making it a priority and a regular habit. Go to the church as a family. Encourage (but do not force) children to participate in this sacrament. Demonstrate God’s mercy at home: When husband and wife have a conflict, work to reconcile as soon as possible. Teach children to apologize. Don’t be afraid of apologizing to children when you’re out of line; modeling humility and love is crucial. “Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2223)

SACRAMENTALS – Use sacramentals.
Sacramentals are small signs and instruments of grace, like a blessed Rosary, Holy Water, blessed Holy Medal, or Blessed Salt. My husband and I started a ritual in which we bless each other with Holy Water every morning before heading out the door, and every evening before bedtime. We also have many other sacramentals that help us remain close to our faith during prayer, in times of difficulty, or in everyday life.

TITHE – Give to the Church and charity before everything else.
Tithing is a Biblical practice based in ancient Jewish life that continues in Christian life. Traditionally, tithing is giving 10 percent of one’s income to God. This requires prayerful discernment for each family. For us, that 10 percent equals 1 percent to our Archbishop’s annual appeal, 5 percent to our parish, and 4 percent to other charitable causes. Tithing may seem challenging at first, but we have found it to be a freeing practice. It keeps us accountable to contributing to our community’s well-being, and reminds us of the proper ordering of our priorities.

UNION – Live as members of the Communion of Saints.
Keep pictures of the saints in your home. We have them all over; the refrigerator, living room, bedroom. They are family members, role models, and prayer intercessors for us. Read the lives of the Saints with your children, and talk about your favorite saints. Ask the saints for their prayers.

VIRGIN MARY – Practice devotion to Our Blessed Mother.
Jesus entrusted Mary to Saint John, the “beloved disciple.” She is the Mother of Christ and our spiritual mother. Have a special picture of Mary in your home. Teach children the Rosary prayers, and pray together. Perhaps they would like to learn the Angelus prayer, or the Salve Regina – like this little boy!

WHIMSY – Enjoy life!
Pope Francis and many of the saints have reminded us to live joyfully as Christ’s followers. Sing, dance, play, laugh, tell stories… enjoy the good things of life in moderation.

CRUCIFIX – Have a Crucifix in your home.
Saint Paul spoke on the importance of preaching Christ crucified, and Catholic tradition has long used the crucifix to remind us of God’s love. The crucifix is a powerful sacramental that, when honored and matched with a Christian life, can help our family fight temptation.

YES, LORD – Encourage each member of the family to live their vocation.
Introduce your children to priests, religious sisters, nuns, brothers, consecrated people, and other families. Share a meal with them. Help children understand that God calls each of us to a certain life; the life for which we’re best suited. During family prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to help each family member discover and “say yes” to this calling.

ZEAL – Demonstrate authentic enthusiasm for your faith.
Zeal is not “nice feelings” or “warm fuzzies” about being Catholic. It’s the fire that burns within us; the Holy Spirit’s work, that drives us to live as Catholics no matter what situation we find ourselves in. How can we live this in family life? Discuss what you appreciate most about our Faith, or what motivates you to do what’s right. When you make a decision, explain to children how our Catholic faith has affected your decision. Tell them why you are glad to be Catholic, even when you don’t “feel” excited. Children (and adults!) need to learn that our experience as Catholics will include times of strong emotions and other, more challenging times; but we maintain a zeal for faith thanks to our relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Facing Difficulties – Lessons from St. Patrick and the Irish

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StPatrickIreland’s greatest saint is remembered March 17, which falls during Lent, and while most Americans might shrug at this and chug their green beers, Paddy is actually more closely connected to fasting and penance than to feasting and beer.

St. Patrick, determined to evangelize the Irish, was at first unsuccessful at preaching. Legend tells us that when he preached about Hell and Purgatory, no one would believe him — UNLESS! — a man could go there, live, and come back to tell them. (Sounds outrageous until you consider that these were Irish folk, and if I know anything about my Irish family members, it’s that we live for a good story.)

St. Patrick became furious at their lack of faith. It’s said Christ led Patrick to a cave, where he saw visions of Hell and Purgatory. One story leads to another, and it’s said a man was lowered into the cave, experienced Purgatory, and ‘lived to tell’.

Owain’s World

We learn more from the story of Sir Owain, or Knight Owain, whose journey through the famous cave is re-told in Tractatus de Purga-torio Sancti Patricii (Treatise on St. Patrick’s Purgatory). This Treatise is clearly the product of Irish didactic storytelling. From it, we can glean a few gems to help us with our trials here on earth:

What We Should Think

As Owain enters the cave, monks advise him that although the road ahead is treacherous, he can survive by thinking about one thing: “Hold God in your heart, and think upon the Passion that he suffered on the cross for you.”

This advice has been passed down to us from the apostles and saints through the centuries, but we seem to meditate on Jesus’ Passion only during Lent. Why? Perhaps we’re too caught up in our search for comfort and pleasure, as if these would solve our problems. But only through meditation on God’s ultimate sacrifice, on Christ’s love-above-all-love for us, can we rise above our trials.

What We Should Speak

Depiction of Christ's Temptation, from the Celtic "Book of Kells" (ca. 800 AD)

Depiction of Christ’s Temptation, from the Celtic “Book of Kells” (ca. 800 AD)

Owain is also advised: “Use God’s exalted name and the fiends can do you no harm.” Scripture tells us that at the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth…”

Owain learns the power of Jesus’ name as fiends tie him up to be burned, but he “called out to Our Lord and at once the fire disappeared and not so much as a coal or a spark remained.” Soon, he realizes that whenever he speaks Jesus’ name, or thinks about His love, the fiends are rendered powerless. This holds true for us, too. Demons may seem frightening, but what is actually frightful is that they are so weak(!), and we can only be damaged when we give in to their weakness. Rather, strength comes from humility; when we rely on God. So in our trials, we should pray in Jesus’ name for protection.

What We Should Ignore

As Owain walks along, he sees people undergoing unthinkable sufferings, which correspond to their sinful attachments on earth. Each time he observes one of these horrors, Owain hears demons cry out to him, variations of this message: ‘You are such a terrible sinner! Look at what penance you’ll have to endure! But you don’t have to endure suffering! We’ll take you to be our friend, and where there are comforts!’

Owain simply ignores the demons and continues forward. What a simple, yet profound, lesson! Jesus teaches us this lesson; during his temptations, he rebukes Satan with the words of Scripture. We ought never to believe our tempters, because they serve the Father of Lies. Rather, we should ignore them and continue on our journey, trusting in God.

St. Patrick and Almighty God

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit o’ Irish lore; filled with timeless truths. As we remember St. Patrick, let’s remember this great saint — great because he knew these truths, and thus knew the power of God’s mighty love. Here’s a link to the prayer St. Paddy is said to have prayed daily: Lorica (Chainmail Armor) of Saint Patrick.

“So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. […] He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties.” – St. Patrick of Ireland (from his Confession)

A Mountaintop Experience

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Basilica of the Transfiguration, atop Mount Tabor in Galilee

Basilica of the Transfiguration, atop Mount Tabor in Galilee

My husband, Deacon Tom, and I have traveled to the Holy Land over 40 times in the last 25 years. The Holy Land is a very special place for us. It’s often called “Fifth Gospel” because it is the land of the Bible and the land of the “living stones”, the descendants of the early Christian Church.

There are many places in the Holy Land which are marked by specific times in our Lord’s life; because of this, they’re called holy sites. One of those holy sites is Mount Tabor, located in the Galilee area — about a 30 minute drive from the Sea of Galilee. It can be seen from miles away, along with the large Church on top of the mountain called the Basilica of Transfiguration, which is under the Custody of the Franciscans. The Franciscans first came to the site in the 1630s and built a church in the twentieth century. Today, the Franciscans continue to have custody of the Basilica. You often see Franciscan friars walking about, praying and available for visitors’ questions and prayer requests.

Mount Tabor is 1,920 feet high. To reach the top, you have to take a narrow, winding road by car (or for the brave ones – by foot) where you find the Basilica of the Transfiguration (also called Basilica of Mt. Tabor) marking the site where our Lord was transfigured as we read in the three Gospel accounts:
Matthew 17:1-8
Mark 9:2-8
Luke 9:28-36

The Catholic Church marks August 6th to celebrate what happened on that mountain. It is called the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

The Transfiguration Scripture story is very interesting – Jesus takes three Apostles up to the mountain with Him to pray. He is transfigured before them. The Apostles hear God’s voice say, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

I have been on Mount Tabor several times with pilgrim groups. The Basilica and the surrounding area, far from noise and traffic, invites one to take time for silence and prayer. The main message for me is that we need to take time to be alone with the Lord as Peter, James and John were invited to do.

These times of silence and prayer for me have been very rewarding. Though Jesus isn’t transfigured before me, I am aware that He is truly present and He desires to have an intimate relationship with me and give me insights and peace.

I invite you to take time out for a ‘mountaintop experience’ — whether it be in the quietness of your home or especially, if possible, in a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament. God is there, waiting for you.

Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

How I Met Your Mother

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Even though I returned with fervor to the Catholic faith following my “Mary Magdalene” conversion, I could not understand one of the Church’s pinnacle teachings – the importance of the Blessed Mother in our spiritual growth. I didn’t grasp why a devotion to the Blessed Mother was necessary to draw closer to our Jesus. He was the one that rescued me from the edge of despair and He was all I needed.

The women in my first group Catholic faith study made me question if I was missing something. As a wife and mother, I loved listening to how their faith helped them tackle the daily struggles of raising a family. It became apparent that the women who were most fulfilled and content spoke of their devotion to the Blessed Mother. Why?

I wanted to know so I asked her Son, “My Lord, if you want me to know your Mother, please introduce us.” Immediately Jesus made it very clear to me, He wanted me to meet her. It seemed that Mary, the ever virgin and Mother of God was the subject of every Catholic TV show, radio program and article I came across over the next few weeks. Following a program I watched that spoke of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter titled Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer), I looked up the letter myself on the Internet.

In it I read in words what I witnessed in these women,

“In light of Mary, the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love, the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows, limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement.”

"Christ on the Cross with Two Marys and St. John" by El Greco (1588)

“Christ on the Cross with Two Marys and St. John” by El Greco (1588)

No wonder these women are so content, I thought. This letter speaks to the dignity in all the roles we women hold; and I can achieve that in light of Mary?!

The pope goes on to write how our Lord gave His Mother to us at His Passion:

…we perceive the real value of the words spoken by Jesus to his Mother at the hour of the Cross: “Woman behold your son” and to the disciple: “Behold your mother” (Jn. 19:26-27). They are words which determine Mary’s place in the life of Christ’s disciples and they express the new motherhood of the Mother of the Redeemer: a spiritual motherhood, born from the heart of the Paschal Mystery of the Redeemer of the world.

This letter convinced me how important it is to Jesus that we know His Mother and that meant it became important to me. I went to the ‘go to’ way our Catholic faith teaches to meet and spend time with her: the daily rosary.

What I soon discovered is that walking with Mary in her ‘rosary garden’ is a twenty minute visit with the woman who best knows Jesus and who never tires of revealing her Son’s love for us. It is never about her; that’s not her style.

J.K. Huysmans writes, “She soothes us and places us in the hands of her Son; but her hands are so light, so delicate, so soft, that the soul touched by them feels nothing.”

During May, if you have yet to open this gift, then take advantage of this month of Mary and meet your Mother.

Is the Holy Family a realistic model for us?

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"The Holy Family with the Infant St. John" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

“The Holy Family with the Infant St. John” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The Holy Family was the happiest family in the history of humanity, not because they were given special privileges, but because of their faithfulness and humility. We might expect the mother of God and his foster father to live as royalty as they cared for the child Jesus. However, they had the same living conditions, concerns and trials as any other working-class family. As faithful Jews, they did not consider themselves above the law, but instead were obedient to the letter of the law. Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the Word of God was their source of hope. They in turn would teach Jesus to be obedient even as he was beginning to discover his purpose in the plan of his Heavenly Father.

This faithfulness and obedience that was the source of happiness for the holy family is also God’s plan for each of us. The holy family is an example of how we all should live our lives close to God. It’s in our family that we should first learn about God and the importance of daily prayer.

The most important gift that parents can give their children is that their children know without a doubt that their parents love each other and that they are loved by their parents. This gives the children the security they need, especially in their developing years. It is also important that children see their parents pray together and are taught by their parents how to pray.

How Can We Join God’s Family?

When a child is baptized, the parents agree to be the first teachers of the way of our faith. In baptism, we all become children of God and part of His family, which is the Church. The Church that Jesus Christ founded is also called our Mother because it is in her that God’s specific plan of salvation unfolds for His family. It is through this Church that we receive the Word of God and the sacraments which allow us to encounter Jesus Christ in an intimate and personal way, especially when we receive him in the Holy Eucharist.

"The Last Communion of St. Joseph Calasanz" by Francisco Goya (1819)

“The Last Communion of St. Joseph Calasanz” by Francisco Goya (1819)

Now that we are adults – no matter if we are married or single – whether we live alone or as a family, we are members of the family of God. We call ourselves Christian because we claim Jesus Christ as our Savior and we agree to be his disciples. This is no casual thing; it requires each of us to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.” No matter if we should gain the whole world, we can only be truly happy now and for all eternity by being a faithful witness to what Christ has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

The wonderful thing about God Our Father is that no matter who we are or what we have done He longs for us to come to Him with a humble heart so that we may experience His mercy and love. It is for this purpose that He has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yes, it does take humility to confess our sins to Jesus Christ through his minister the priest, but then it is Jesus Christ who through his priest says, “Your sins are forgiven,” and then gives us grace to help us overcome sin.

Making Our Home a Domestic Church

In the month of October, we began the Year of Faith which continues until November 2013. The purpose of this year is to help all of us to re-focus our lives on what is really important so that we can be filled with hope and peace. We are encouraged to follow the example of the Holy Family and live our lives in communion with God. Our homes should become a domestic church where we pray with the people we love and grow together in the faith by reading the Scriptures, the lives of the saints, and the teachings of our Mother the Church, given to us for our sanctification.

There is no one on this earth who has a greater possibility of having the experience of being a member of the family of God than those of us who belong to the Church He founded. We have everything we need to live a life close to God if we so chose. It begins with the desire to place God first in our lives and then follow the example of Mary, Joseph and all the saints who have gone before us. There is no shortcut to becoming holy; the path is the same as it always has been.

Mary and Joseph, pray for us that we will receive the desire to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ, so that we may be truly happy now and for all eternity.

This blog was originally preached by Deacon Tom Fox as his homily for The Feast of the Holy Family (C) at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.