Category Archives: Prayer

Entries dealing with prayer.

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.

A Religion Celebrating an Empty Tomb

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A Religion Celebrating an Empty Tomb

Christianity; the only religion that celebrates an empty tomb.

The holiest site for all of Christianity is the Holy Sepulcher Church, because it is built over tomb of Jesus Christ from where he resurrected. Our faith is founded on the reality that Jesus rose from the dead, and the reality of our own resurrection.

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.”   1 Cor. 15:13-14

However, since Christ has been raised from the dead; our faith has flourished for two thousand years!

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Deacon Tom venerating the tomb of Jesus.

From the fourth century, the tomb of Christ has been the destination for millions of pilgrims, many of whom made the journey at great expense, for some even the cost of their lives.

It is truly one of the great experiences of a life time to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher Church; to have Mass in the tomb where Jesus resurrected and to kiss the stone above where his body laid.

On Easter Monday, we will lead a group of forty persons on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and look forward to repeating that experience in the tomb again, as well as visiting other sites important to our faith. The Holy Land continues to be a place where people can experience a divine presence.

“He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” Luke 24:6

The Institute of Pilgrimages we founded is based on over 25 years of experience in organizing and leading pilgrimages to the Holy Land (we have been there 46 times!), to Rome, Shrines of Italy, Marian Shrines such as Fatima, Lourdes and others. The Institute of Pilgrimages also offer presentations to schools, organizations, groups and ministries on these destinations marked by the history of the Church.

One of our favorites? “The Holy Land – the Fifth Gospel” (of course). Give us a call for a presentation. We would love to share more of all that we have discovered with you! May God bless you as you continue on your own faith journey.

Deacon Tom & Mary Jane Fox

Your Name Here…”Do You Love Me?”

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“Do not forget: In front of us, there is no sin, just the repentant sinner, a person who feels the desire to be accepted and forgiven.” Pope Francis to the ‘Missionaries of Mercy’

I will be honest, for a long time I did not understand when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” (Mk 12:31) because for a long time, I hated myself. It made no sense to me because I thought either Jesus wanted me to hate my neighbor or the second greatest commandment did not apply to me.

Thanks to many people, conference experiences, a pilgrimage and much grace, our Lord has convinced me that He totally loves me!

What finally convinced me of this reality was when I visited the Holy Land with the Pilgrim Center of Hope. One day, we sailed on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus chose His Twelve Apostles. We walked along the shore and came to the place Jesus sat and asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love Me?” (Jn 21:15-19)

At that spot, there are three heart-shaped stones leading from the shore and ‘out to the nations’ reminding us that with every, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you,” confessed by Peter, Jesus told His friend and denier, “Feed My sheep.” Our Lord’s decision to build His Church upon the rock of Peter had not changed despite the reality that this ‘rock’ denied our Lord three times.

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Photo of the 3 heart-shaped stones located along the Sea of Galilee outside the Primacy of Peter chapel, custody of the Franciscans.

What Peter discovered that day was Mercy.

Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

For many of us, if not all of us, the hardest one we find to be compassionate towards and to forgive is ourselves. This is why looking at Peter’s ‘conviction’ is such a great help in understanding how God teaches us to approach Him in our sinfulness.

When we go to confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are not going just to face God’s justice; though we will face Him in ‘Persona Christi’ through the priest. We are not going so we can tell our sins to a priest, though that is certainly part of it. We go because we understand that we are not able to save ourselves. We need grace, and our faith teaches that the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides special graces not at our disposal outside the Sacrament and this grace washes us clean and gives us the armor to fight future sinning.

There is a final reason and the verb we use is so telling. We ‘visit’ the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can sit with Jesus, one-on-one, and tell Him we love Him, exactly how Peter did.

Christian ‘conviction’ is when a sinner stands guilty before God, knows he cannot save himself and that He is totally loved. It is this last part that we need to embrace.

For many Catholics, including myself, it is very difficult to kneel in the confessional and confess our sins. But if we can view the encounter as our way of loving, praising and thanking Jesus who took the punishment for us, it may help us to see the Sacrament of Reconciliation for what it is: an encounter with Mercy.

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has commissioned thousands of priests to be ‘missionaries of mercy.’ In the February 21st edition of The National Catholic Register, journalist Father Raymond J. DeSouza reporting on their commissioning ceremony at the Vatican writes,

“We often have the pious thoughts that we leave our sins in the confessional, but the truth is that we don’t carry them into the confessional in the first place. It is not sin itself that presents itself to Jesus in the person of the confessor. Sin cannot stand in God’s presence. Rather, it is the repentant sinner, a person in the image and likeness of God who comes before Christ in the person of the priest. The reality is that the penitent, even if burdened by shame, is already close to God simply by coming to confession, for the person desiring to be close to God can be confident of God’s closeness.”

When Jesus answered the question, “What is the greatest commandment,” with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” (Mk 12:30-31) we can now better understand that to love our neighbor as our self, we must first love God through the reality of His Mercy.

Peter discovered this very thing that day on the shore of Galilee and this revelation of God’s unfathomable love gave him the confidence to lead the Catholic Church as our first pope.

Let Peter’s confidence in God’s love inspire us to take advantage of this rich treasure of Mercy instead of dreading it. We are obligated to receive this Sacrament once a year, but why not ‘visit’ monthly so you can spend time with our Lord telling Him how much you love Him?!

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Archdiocese of San Antonio is offering more opportunities to encounter Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If the idea of walking where Jesus walked intrigues you, consider a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Visit pilgrimcenterofhope.org and discover the many pilgrimage opportunities available.

Our Weakness. His Strength.

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Our Weakness. His Strength.

Throughout salvation history, God has chosen to accomplish great things through men and women whom he calls into his service beginning with Abraham. In today’s first reading God calls Moses to lead the Chosen people out of their slavery in Egypt. To get Moses’ attention God speaks from a burning bush and reveals his name as “I am who am.” Moses is speaking with the Almighty, He who is without beginning or end and he must take off his shoes in His presence.

Weakness

In the next chapter of Exodus, we will see that even though Moses has heard the voice of God and is given miraculous powers, he still doubts his ability to carry out the mission God has given him. He was focused on his own weakness instead of the power of God.
Especially, in matters of faith, we can be like that.

In baptism, we received the gifts of faith, hope and charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, we all start out equal as children of God. We become members of His body, which is the Church, and in this Church we have every means to grow in our faith and discover the gifts that God has given us. Which will be necessary for our vocation and for the building up of the Body of Christ. God expects that the gifts He has given us will bear fruit, but we can stifle those gifts by just living for ourselves and whatever makes us comfortable.

Planted

This brings us to the Gospel and the parable of the fig tree. The purpose of the fig tree is to bear fruit. The owner of the tree wants to cut it down because it does not produce fruit, but the vine dresser asks for more time to cultivate the tree hoping that it will produce fruit. Jesus is the patient vine dresser and we all are fig trees in this parable. In baptism, we are planted in the kingdom of God through water and the Holy Spirit. We receive equally everything we need to come into full maturity and produce fruit according to God’s plan for us. Through the Eucharist and Confirmation, we receive nourishment to sustain us. We are pruned through the sacrament of reconciliation and the sacrifices and reparations that make up our life’s experiences.

Nourished

No matter what our career is, our most important purpose is to produce fruit for the kingdom of God and for this we all have an equal opportunity. Our fruitfulness depends upon our own desire to be faithful to what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We cannot produce fruit on our own; we must be connected to God. By having a personal relationship with Him by daily prayer, reading the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, living the sacramental life, and being involved in our faith community.

Fruitful

This is where we discover and use the gifts God has given us and by continuing to be formed in the faith. When we live our lives close to God in this way, we become witnesses of His presence so that others might come to believe in Him. God’s only plan for the salvation of the world is that those who believe in Him will live and share their faith, so that others will come to believe in Him.

Like Moses, we may not feel adequate to play a role in God’s plan of salvation, but like Moses we must say yes anyway, take our eyes off ourselves, keep focused on God and allow him to work through us. It is only in God that we will find the strength we need to carry us through the painful circumstances of our lives and the grace that will enable us to make the difficult choices we know we must make.

This is when our faith truly bears fruit, so that we can experience the peace and hope that only Christ can give! Are you seeking to learn more and grow in your faith? Tune in to Catholicism Live to hear more on Wednesday evenings from 8-9pm on CTSA Channel 15 and on the Guadalupe Radio Network 89.7 FM or grnonline.com! More information can also be found on our website. PilgrimCenterOfHope.org

Why Fast?

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Every Lent, there is a focus on prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Prayer and generosity should be part of our daily routine if we take our faith seriously, but there seems to be less emphasis on fasting. Except for the hour fast before receiving the Holy Eucharist, fasting is almost never mentioned unless in relationship with Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Why is fasting important? However in both the Old and New Testaments, the importance of fasting is very significant especially prayer and fasting together. They, along with sacrifice, were the necessary means of conversion through which individuals and cities were saved.

Take Control

When we think of fasting we often think of food which is the most common application. However, in addition to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, fasting and abstinence can take many forms. We can fast from TV, excessive computer time, or anything we enjoy that begins to take up too much of our time. The idea is that we must take control of our senses, appetites, and passions, so that they do not become addictive or begin to dominate our lives.

Cooperation

Jesus said that if we are to be his disciples we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. If we are not able to deny ourselves of things that we realize are becoming excessive, we will not be able to carry the crosses, which are a necessary part of our lives. Jesus wants to help us carry our crosses, but he needs our cooperation.

Evaluate

This season of Lent is a time for us to evaluate our relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the source of all that is good and all that we need. All of us can make some improvement if that is the desire of our heart. Spend some time with Jesus in his Eucharistic presence, and ask him to reveal to you an area where you need change if you seek to grow spiritually. Then, ask him for the grace to make the change. We can only reach our potential for happiness by overcoming our selfishness and drawing close to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Want to learn more about the Catholic faith? Would you like to know more about Jesus? Join us on Catholic Television of San Antonio and Guadalupe Radio Network each week on our series – Catholicism Live! every Wednesday from 8:00pm – 9:00pm (CST). You can tune in online from anywhere in the world at www.catholicismlive.com. Check out the various episodes on this website.

“Faith is a gift – believing is a choice!”

What’s a Jubilee Year? Come and See!

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San Fernando Cathedral Holy Door of Mercy

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.

Confessions of a Lector

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The entire room stared at me.  They had never heard this before.  I saw a spark in their eyes grow into a bright light.

I was just explaining the ambo.

Do you know what an ambo is?  Most people don’t.  In a Catholic church, the ambo is one of the most important and meaningful furnishings representing Christ’s threefold identity.  Ambos continue an ancient practice, mirroring the Jewish synagogue.  They are sacred places reserved for God’s Word.  But for most people?  The ambo is just a podium or pulpit, where a “reader” stands.

How tragic!

A while ago, when I was asked to give a ‘crash course’ in lectoring to my parish youth ministry team, I realized how much profound, beautiful meaning has been lost on almost every Catholic, related to the first part of Mass.  Now is a perfect time to learn more.  Until January 10, the Church still celebrates the Christmas Season, when God’s Word became flesh.

We often hear about the flesh of God during Mass… but what about the Word?  How much are you missing?  Let’s get a taste!

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of good news!
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Cry out, do not fear!
Say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
– Isaiah 40:9

The word ambo comes from the Greek for an elevated or high place, such as a mountain.  Elevated places have always been associated with the proclamation of God’s word.  Remember Moses bringing the Commandments down from the mountain?  Or Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount?  You will find dozens of similar examples in Scripture.

If you’ve ever visited a Jewish synagogue, you’ve seen the bimah, which is the ancestor of the Christian ambo.  (Bimah and ambo are the same word, just in different languages.)  The bimah is the elevated platform from which the Torah is read.  As early as the Book of Nehemiah (400’s B.C.), people stood on a bimah and read God’s words for all the people to hear.

So, the next time you see this at your parish, think about what an ancient tradition you are witnessing!

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Synagogue in Padua, Italy.  Notice bimah on righthand side with steps leading up. Photo by Olivier Lévy.

 

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Ambo – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in San Antonio  (See how it juts out into the congregation?)

For Christians, the ambo is particularly important.  As I mentioned, it is one of three key furnishings within the church building that represent Christ’s threefold identity: priest, prophet, and king.  When we are baptized, each of us is “incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king” (Catechism CC, no. 1241).  The altar represents Christ as priest, the presider’s chair represents Christ as king, and the ambo represents Christ as prophet.

This is why, especially in older cathedrals or basilicas, the ambo is not only a simple ‘podium’ but actually juts out into the congregation’s seating.  This represents Christ the Prophet who goes out to the people, proclaiming the Good News!

The official instruction manual for Mass confirms how important this part of the Mass truly is:

When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel. Therefore, the readings from the Word of God are to be listened to reverently by everyone, for they are an element of the greatest importance in the Liturgy. – GIRM, no. 29

Typically, the person who reads the Scriptures during Mass is called a lector.  This word comes from the Latin which means “chosen reader”.  Consider all that we’ve learned about the Scriptures’ amazing role during each Mass. It may not surprise you, then, to discover that Lector is not just a job description, but is actually a ministry instituted by the bishop.

On a typical Sunday, you would probably hear a priest see me and say, “Oh, hi, Angela.  Are you the lector today?”  That use of “lector” is actually shorthand, because I am not an instituted Lector.

However, a dear friend of mine, Brother Sean Stilson, BBD, is truly a Lector.  He received the ministry of Lector from Archbishop Gustavo almost two years ago, because he is a seminarian on the way to becoming a priest.  It is most appropriate for instituted Lectors to proclaim the Scriptures during Mass* because of the importance, sacredness, and tradition in that moment.  However, when instituted Lectors are not available, the Church appoints lay people (like me) to proclaim the readings.  *The Gospel reading is the exception.  As the highest point of the Liturgy of the Word, it is proclaimed only by a deacon or priest.

My responsibility to proclaim the Scriptures during Mass has deepened my love and appreciation for Scripture—an appreciation which developed naturally in my childhood and progressed as I grew.  Every day, I spend time with the Scriptures.  They are ancient stories of my spiritual family.  They are my heritage as a Christian.  The Scriptures are God’s living words; every time I read them, they pierce my heart and speak to me about my life and identity.

I hope and pray that this little “confession” of mine will entice you to learn more about the Scriptures, both inside and outside your parish walls. After many years of study, I am still learning!

What treasures await us!

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Here is a fond memory from 2010: I proclaimed the readings during Mass at the birthplace of the greatest prophet, St. John the Baptist, in Ein Karem.

Which Blockbuster Movie Reveals Our Catholic Worldview?

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Do you know what is considered the “Catholic worldview”?

We see it illustrated in this Sunday’s readings:

  • Elijah, fed while wearily journeying through the desert
  • St. Paul urging us to love one another, since we were sealed by the Holy Spirit “for the day of redemption”
  • Jesus’ allusion to the Hebrews’ weary journey through the desert, fed by manna — and declaration that He is the Bread of Life

The Catholic worldview is also illustrated by one of my all-time favorite movies, based on the writings of a Catholic fantasy author.

(photo by fleno.de)

(photo by fleno.de)

John Ronald Ruel Tolkien carefully crafted perhaps the greatest of all literature’s fantastical worlds: Middle Earth, wherein a small, humble ‘nobody’ from a place no one had heard of, was chosen to carry the Enemy’s most dangerous object, on a treacherous journey, to cast it into a fiery pit and forever destroy it.

While bearing his heavy burden on this most difficult journey, Tolkien’s hero meets a mystical race of people—tall, beautiful and wise—who entrust him with gifts to aid his journey: protection, defense, medicine, and a supply of their bread.

This ancient bread is called Lembas, which in their language means “Waybread” or “journey bread”.  It is also called Coimas, meaning “life-bread”.

For me as a Catholic, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films is like watching life’s most important truths in poetic motion.  Tolkien tells a fantastic tale with his Catholic imagination, revealing our faith’s ultimate worldview:

“The Church … will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven,” at the time of Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, “the Church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst this world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.” Here below she knows that she is in exile far from the Lord, and longs for the full coming of the Kingdom, when she will “be united in glory with her king.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 769)

Embodied in Tolkien’s hero, we see both a Christ-figure and our own selves.  The Catholic worldview is this: like Christ before us, we are pilgrims on a journey.

Do each of us, Catholics, while going about our daily tasks, view life as a pilgrimage – a journey, filled with obstacles and joys? Do we see life as a tiring yet invigorating adventure; with the Eucharistic “waybread” to sustain and strengthen us; with the sacraments and sacramentals to protect, defend, and heal us; with a mission and a destination, on which the entire world depends?

What would happen if we all lived like pilgrims?

One of my greatest joys of working at the Pilgrim Center of Hope is awakening individuals to this awesome reality: you are a pilgrim, and together we are a pilgrim people. May this reminder bring you hope today.

Watch a powerful clip from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Emotional Catholics – How to Deal with Your Feelings

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Have you ever been confused by emotions — yours or someone else’s?

(I’m guessing 100% YES.)

You’re not alone; this is a common problem.  I struggle with it daily.  Why are emotions so confusing?  Well, the world is no longer the place God created it to be; originally, everything and everyone was in harmony with God.  As a result of free will, however, division reared its ugly head.  Now, the human condition suffers because of sin.

Our emotions are affected by all this.  Can you relate? — Spiritual director Father John Bartunek, LC, points out:

Our feelings often seem to have a mind of their own, independent of what we know to be true by reason or by faith.  At times, for example, I feel drawn to things that my conscience deems wrong and damaging but my emotions deem desirable (like sleeping in when I have important work to do…). At other times, I feel repulsed by things that my reason or my faith tells me are good and important but my emotions label as undesirable (like taking time out of my busy schedule to simply sit with the Lord and pray, or making a difficult but necessary phone call).
At still other times, the intensity of my emotions seems to have no basis in reality, and my moods swing wildly up and down, making life turbulent and chaotic (as when I take out my internal frustrations on someone I love, someone who has nothing to do with the real cause of those frustrations).

What’s the point of all this chaos??

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that our emotions are a bridge between A.) the world we experience, and B.) our mind (see CCC pp. 1764).  God gave us emotions for a reason: to help us process and express our experiences.

Often, we blame ‘negative’ emotions like fear, anger, and sadness as the source of our problems… “I wish I didn’t feel so _____.”

Widely-known Catholic psychologist Dr. Gregory Popcak explains : “The feeling isn’t the problem. The feeling is the warning light telling you to look for the problem.”  He continues:

Our emotions remind us of the need to strive for the Original Unity in which we were created to live.  Emotions are not the enemy.  In fact, they can serve us well as long as we don’t try to shut them down by rashly cutting people out of our lives, or by drinking, drugging, indulging our passions, or taking foolish risks in a desperate, reactionary attempt to plug our ears to the warning bells and blindfold ourselves so we can’t see the flashing red lights.

This used to be my hidden problem. I would often bury my feelings rather than face them and examine their cause.  When I got married, my husband began to teach me how to healthily deal with my emotions.  However, I came to learn that in our imperfect world, none of us have perfectly-formed emotions.  When my anxiety began to exceed the understanding of both myself and my spouse, my husband urged me to seek professional help.

I did not like that advice at all.  Pride and vanity kept me away; our society tends to see counseling as something ‘desperate people’ or ‘messed up people’ need.  ‘Those people’ were below me, I thought.  On top of that lay the fear of the unknown.  Thankfully, I did muster up the courage to begin sessions with a professional counselor.  I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

—> So, how can a Catholic deal with the chaos of his or her emotions?

  1. Take care of yourself.  As Catholics, we believe that body and soul are integrated. “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body” (CCC pp. 365).  So, whatever we do to our bodies will affect our emotions.   Sometimes all you need is a good night’s sleep to regulate those out-of-whack feelings.
  2. Make time to pray and be silent.  Recent psychological research has demonstrated that spiritual meditation, prayer, and feeling close to God helps regulate one’s emotions (see source below).  Think about it: If your emotions are a God-given gift, then spending time with God can help us understand that gift.  Moreover, the ‘information overload’ we experience in today’s world can not only be distracting and disorienting, but researchers have evidence that it actually tires out the brain worse than marijuana use.  Silence and prayer are so important.
  3. Stop and listen to your emotions.  What are they telling you?  Journaling may help.  If your emotions seem overwhelming or somehow disordered, don’t hesitate to ask for expert guidance.  Email Christopher Stravitsch with Rejoice Family Apostolate for a Catholic counselor recommendation in the San Antonio or Houston area.  Live elsewhere? Use CatholicTherapists.com.
  4.  Thank God.  Your emotions are a gift.  Thank God for the time, people, and resources he has provided you to help sort them out.  Have hope!  Though your feelings may be confusing now, remember that through discipline and seeking help, you will draw closer to peace and union with God thanks to more healthy, well-formed emotions.  What an awesome gift!

Research source cited: Carolyn M. Aldwin, Crystal L. Park, Yu-Jin Jeong, Ritwik Nath. Differing pathways between religiousness, spirituality, and health: A self-regulation perspective.. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2014; 6 (1): 9 DOI: 10.1037/a0034416

How do Catholics have a “personal” relationship with Jesus?

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Emmaus

From “Christ on the Road to Emmaus” by Duccio (1311)

Just a few days ago, an acquaintance asked me and some other friends, “How do you develop and foster your personal relationship with Jesus?

That phrase — “personal relationship with Jesus” — might remind us of evangelical Protestants more than Catholics.  But Pope Benedict XVI, addressing the world’s youth in 2011, confirmed that our faith “is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. […] When we enter into a personal relationship with him, Christ reveals our true identity and, in friendship with him, our life grows towards complete fulfillment.”

To answer Krystin’s question, I reflected: What makes any relationship “personal”?

  1. We get to know one another.
  2. We have heartfelt, authentic conversations.
  3. We listen to each other.
  4. We forgive one another.
  5. We visit each other.

1. Get Acquainted.

How much do you know about Jesus?  As with any relationship, the foundation of our relationship with Jesus is built on ‘getting to know’ him.

Each morning before breakfast, I spend 10 – 20 minutes reading the Bible.  You can find the Daily Readings on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.  The Old Testament teaches us about our Heavenly Father and how he prepared us for his Son.  The New Testament reveals Jesus’ earthly life, his hometown, his family, and his friends.

I also learned so much about Jesus by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Our small group ate some of the foods Jesus ate, walked the terrain, visited important sites related to his life, and so on.  What a difference it makes to visit a loved one’s neighborhood and homeland — especially that of Jesus.

There are many other ways to learn about Jesus, like reading the pope’s daily teachings, signing up for a Bible study, or other class at your parish.

2. Heart-to-Heart Conversation

What distinguishes “personal” relationships from relationships we have with coworkers or neighbors?  I say it’s the ability to speak honestly and openly, sharing our deepest concerns.  Throughout my day, I speak this way with Jesus – either aloud or in my heart – about anything / everything, including my concerns and my joys.

But how did this habit begin if I can’t physically see Jesus’ face and speak with him, like I do with others?  How can I remember to speak with Jesus throughout a busy day?

As I was growing up, my parents surrounded my sister and I with ‘holy reminders’: pictures and statues of Jesus in every room of the house.  We had many conversations about Jesus, and our parents taught us to speak with Jesus.  Since Jesus has always been a member of our family, always on my mind and heart, it was easy for me to continue this habit of welcoming Jesus into my daily, adult life.

If this wasn’t your story, set up your own ‘holy reminders’!  Place images of Jesus throughout your home. Have one at your desk, on your smartphone background, in your car.  Let these remind you to converse with him.  He is always ready to listen.

3. Listen.

Of course, any close relationship requires that we listen to one another.  Listening to Jesus – who is not only our friend, but our God – is essential.

During weekdays, I make a few minutes of ‘quiet time’ in the morning, mid-day, and evening.  I sit in a designated place, remain still, and open myself to listen.  Journaling with Scripture helps me focus on this in the mornings. It can be very difficult, with all my responsibilities and daily distractions, to stay committed to these ‘listening times’.  I’ve learned, however, that when I don’t schedule time to listen, my life becomes even more chaotic and stressful.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, Jesus helps us understand our true selves.  He is our Lord and God, who loves us and has a purpose for our life.  When I don’t listen to Jesus, I easily get caught up in the circumstances of my life, lose sight of his love, and forget life’s ultimate, deeper meaning.  When we don’t listen to Jesus, we can’t order our lives according to his mission for us.  Our life will become disordered.

4. Forgiveness

When someone hurts us and seeks our forgiveness, we repair our relationship by forgiving them.  Hearing a loved one forgive us is an enormous relief.  Why wouldn’t Jesus want the same for our relationship with him?

He does.  This is why he gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation (cf. John 20:21-23), so that we can not only seek his forgiveness, but also hear and even see Jesus forgiving us through the ministry of the priest.  Not only that, but participating in this Sacrament shows Jesus that we ‘forgive’ him for the times we felt hurt by him — I recall the time I was so angry at God for allowing my chronic pain condition.

Coming to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is such a profound gift to our relationship with him.

5. Visit.

Perhaps the most life-giving and important way that I deepen my relationship with Jesus is spending time with him.  Weekdays, I sit and visit Jesus in a Eucharistic Chapel for a few minutes.  On Sundays, I go to church early so that I can spend a few quiet minutes visiting with him.

Jesus also comes to visit me, especially when I welcome him “under my roof” during Holy Communion.

If I solely talked with Jesus in prayer, but never visited him physically, it would be like having a relationship with someone over the phone or online. We would be capable of becoming very close to each other, but missing the element of touch and physical presence.  The Eucharist allows our relationship with Jesus to become far more intimate.