Category Archives: Prayer

Entries dealing with prayer.

Why Fast?



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.


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.


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 Check out the various episodes on this website.

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

What’s a Jubilee Year? Come and See!


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


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!


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



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!


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?


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.

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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


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
  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?


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.

Getting to Know the Holy Spirit

"Pentecost" by Titian (c. 1545)

“Pentecost” by Titian (c. 1545)

Last weekend, I was privileged to assist at a retreat for teens preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Although I began working in high school ministry about eight years ago, I experienced something on this retreat that I’ve never encountered.

Our parish is involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, colloquially known for its “Pentecostal” style of prayer.  I, however, am still quite new to ‘extraordinary’ manifestations of the Holy Spirit, since I was raised without exposure to charismatic prayer, and have only recently begun attending this parish.

The teens had gone to Confession, and after celebrating Mass, our retreat had reached its climax.  Four teams of adults and youth leaders were to pray over individual retreatants, invoking the Holy Spirit.  Not five minutes after this began, I was asked to lead one of those prayer teams!

My mind became a bit scrambled.  We’d all received instruction for this moment, but I’d never been in such a position, and I don’t consider myself “a charismatic Catholic”.  Nevertheless, I pushed aside my qualms and trusted that God knew what He was doing.

That’s when it began to happen.

I raised my hand over a teen’s forehead, and began to praise God.  Slowly, I felt like God was whispering words into my heart, and my mouth would speak them: prayers for healing, prayers for joy, words of encouragement and love.  Sometimes, our team would stand and wait for a retreatant to approach us.  In that silence, I would “hear” God speaking to my heart.  “The next teen has fear—much fear—in their life. Assure them that my family is their family.”  These words stirred in my heart until a teen approachedand asked us to pray for his incarcerated family member.

I received many such “words of knowledge” in my heart.  Sometimes, the truth of those words were confirmed by the teen’s specific prayer request.  Other times, I saw confirmation only in their tear-filled eyes.  Several teens initially seemed astonished at what had just occurred.  That would quickly morph into an incredibly peaceful smile, and they’d hug us in gratitude.  Some of them would “rest in the Spirit” as I prayed, falling down or backwards, and my husband would gently catch them.  Many later testified that they’d seen beautiful visions or experienced a release of their anger, pain, worries, or fears — a feeling they described as “light” and having been touched by Jesus’ love.

Perhaps this all seems strange to you.  If so, I understand!  From that night, I learned several truths experientially which I had previously known intellectually:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) – Interpersonal communication intimidates me; especially with people I don’t know well.  Yet, the Holy Spirit made up for my weakness 1,000-fold!  While prayers came from my heart and mouth, I knew without a doubt that it was God working through me.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit…To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4,7) – God gave me extraordinary gifts that night.  Those gifts were not meant for me to keep; they were meant for me to share.  I felt as if God’s goodness flowed through me.  I didn’t know why I said certain things, but I trusted that God had placed those words in my mouth for that teen.  Other leaders exhibited other spiritual gifts; only God knows why!

All of us who have received one and the same Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, are in a sense blended together with one another and with God.” (St. Cyril of Alexandria) – A profound unity grew among the teens. We saw imaginary lines created by stereotypes and cliques, dissolve, as they comforted and cared for one another. I myself felt exactly as Cyril describes: “blended together” with everyone.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) – As I prayed, I exhibited all of these.  No words can describe exactly what that felt like.  All I could do was praise and thank God.

If you’re in need of hope, comfort, joy, patience, or anything… pray to the Holy Spirit.  Open yourself to the Holy Spirit.  Say a simple prayer and invite the Holy Spirit into your heart.  As someone who once felt unsure when speaking about the Holy Spiritand who considered charismatic prayer downright strange, I want to encourage you to not be afraid of the Spirit.   The Holy Spirit is the Father & Jesus’ gift to us.  You received this same Spirit when you were baptized.  Don’t be afraid… don’t hesitate any longer: unwrap your gift!

The Ultimate Personality Test


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

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

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

John the Baptist’s Test

Jordan River wilderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

as Isaiah the prophet said.”

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

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

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

Discovering Who We Are

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

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

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

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

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

What do Catholic church buildings teach us?


I’ve heard so many stories from Catholic converts about how they felt mysteriously drawn to Catholic church buildings, even before they knew what everything inside the buildings meant. Catholic church buildings are markedly different from other places of worship…but what does it all mean?

When I started learning the remarkable symbolism behind Catholic churches and their elements inside, I felt like I was discovering an entirely new (yet ancient) world!  Allow me to share just a taste of this with you.

“Visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ… In this ‘house of God’ the truth and the harmony of the signs that make it up should show Christ to be present and active in this place.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1180-81)

Beginning a Journey…

As you enter most Catholic churches, you’ll step into a “foyer” area, or a large front porch. This is called the narthex, where we transition from the outside world into the House of God. It is where liturgical processions begin. Because of its transitory nature, the narthex is also known as the galilee; reminding us of Christ’s journey to the Cross, from Israel’s Galilee area into Jerusalem.

 …To the Water, To the Ship…

As we enter the church, we dip our fingers into holy water fonts, making the Sign of the Cross over ourselves to remind us of our Baptism. Some churches have a separate baptistry area, with a large, octagonal baptismal font. Its eight sides refer to Christ’s resurrection on the eighth day (Sunday).

We often think of the next area – where people sit – as the “congregation,” or even the sanctuary.  However, the proper name is the nave, the Latin word for “ship” (think of “navy” / “naval”).  Why a ship?  The Church is the “ark of salvation,” the ship that carries us to Heaven over the stormy seas of life.  Our Pilgrim Center of Hope logo is a ship for this very reason.

Up to Jerusalem

During Mass, we see the liturgical ministers process up to the front of the building, to a place many might refer to as the “stage” or the “altar”.  This area is actually the sanctuary, from the Latin for “holy place”.  The sanctuary area is raised higher than the nave to signify…

  • The head of Christ (the nave signifies His Body, the people)
  • Mount Zion – where King David’s fortress was located, and also the location of the Upper Room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (instituting the Holy Eucharist)
  • Jerusalem – the location of the Jewish Temple, and of Christ’s crucifixion
  • Heaven – the “New Jerusalem” where we will celebrate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Christ) forever

To receive Holy Communion, we always process toward the sanctuary because it reminds that we are pilgrims journeying toward Heaven.

TabernacleThe Old and the New

In the sanctuary, we see our Jewish roots married to our Christian identity.

  • TabernacleTabernacle means “tent”.  The first Jewish Tabernacle was built by the Israelites after they were freed from slavery, as God’s dwelling place among them. Our Tabernacle is an ornate “box” commonly made of precious metals, containing the Body of Christ (bread consecrated during Mass that Catholics believe becomes the real Body of Jesus Christ).
  • Sanctuary Lamp – The (often red) candle which, when lit, indicates God’s presence in the Tabernacle.  The ancient Jewish Sanctuary also contained a sanctuary lamp. It was kept just outside the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwelt.
  • Altar – The altar is no ordinary table.  Ancient Jews slaughtered an unblemished lamb on an altar as sacrifice for their sins.  Jesus came to become the Lamb of God, who was slaughtered as a sacrifice for all sins.  Today, the altar is where we offer bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb of God.  At the altar, time and space are no barrier; by the Holy Spirit’s power, we are present at Jesus’ Crucifixion.
  • Presider’s Chair – Whereas the altar represents Christ’s priesthood, the chair represents his kingship.  In ancient writings, a seated figure was a figure of authority.  The presider’s chair is where the priest or bishop who is celebrating the Mass, sits.
  • Ambo – Represents Christ as prophet. This “podium” is where God’s word is proclaimed to the people.  It may jut out from the sanctuary into the nave, symbolizing the prophet going out to the people with God’s word.
  • Crucifix – Cross with the body of the suffering Christ. During Mass, a crucifix must be present.  It reminds us to unite ourselves to Christ’s sufferings*, and points to the reality of what is taking place on the altar during Mass.

Many modern churches lack an altar rail around the sanctuary.  This is a beautiful “table-like” rail designed as an extension of the altar.  At the altar rail, people would receive Holy Communion.  Thus, the altar rail is not designed as a mere barrier around the sanctuary; it is a table where the Banquet of the Lord is given to the people.

Earth and Heaven

Catholic churches’ beauty and art are essential to Catholic worship.  Statues, paintings, mosaics, and stained glass of the saints, angels, and Biblical scenes remind us of the family we have which spans history – past, present, future – and space – across the globe, in Purgatory, and in Heaven.  Catholic Mass is where “Earth and Heaven kiss”.  The ornamentation, marble, precious metals, jewels, etc., communicate this supernatural reality.

God does not need our beautiful things.  Yet, from the beginning of Judeo-Christian history, God has asked us to make sacrifices and create beautiful religious articles / structures.  Why?  Our physical, human nature needs physical reminders of what cannot be known by our senses.

This is all just the “tip of the iceberg”!  I encourage you to seek out resources and continue learning.  Here are a few:

* See 1 Peter 2:21-24, 1 Corinthians 2:2, Romans 6:3-5, and Colossians 1:24.

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


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?


“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.