Category Archives: mercy & forgiveness

Why Ashes?

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More people enter Catholic Churches throughout the world on Ash Wednesday than any other day of the year even though it is not one of the days that we are obliged to worship. The ashes are meant to be a sign that we have committed our life to Christ and we want to be a witness to that reality.

One of the phrases that the minister says as he traces the sign of the cross on the forehead is, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. This of course is a call to conversion which the Bishops of the United States define as the following: “Conversion is the change of our lives which comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit. All who accept the Gospel undergo change as we continually put on the mind of Christ by rejecting sin and becoming more faithful disciples in his Church. Unless we undergo conversion, we have not truly accepted the Gospel.”

That is the real purpose for the ashes; they are a sign that we are going to take our Lenten journey serious and refocus on the real purpose of our time on this earth. The Gospel highlights three areas that are especially important for our journey; Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As Jesus points out, the intensions of our heart is what gives merit to whatever we do. He points out the difference between hypocrisy and sincerity.

This brings us back to the necessity on conversion. There are somethings that our faith requires of us that we will only be able to do if it is our desire to undergo conversion; to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. When we are ready to say with all sincerity, “Lord I surrender myself to you, I desire to serve you,” we begin.

The Lord will give us the grace to do the things we could not do on our own. Is there someone you cannot forgive? He will give you the grace to forgive. Have you been selfish? He will help you to be generous. Do you sincerely want to follow Him? He will give you the grace to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

Should someone ask why we are wearing ashes on our forehead, we can say, “Because I realize that I need to repent and believe in the Gospel so that I can be a faithful disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Increase your relationship with Jesus this Lent by attending or encouraging men to go to the annual Catholic Men’s Conference on March 18th. This event encourages men from all walks of life to encounter Christ and fulfill the plan that God has for their life. He calls us all by name to open our eyes to the goodness of the Lord.

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The Gift of Death for Christmas

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For the first time in recent memory, this Christmas’ extended family gift exchange was not a game. Gathered around the fireplace at my aunt’s house, each of her siblings chose a number to determine their turn. Then, in order, each sibling carefully took one of their mother’s precious keepsakes as their own. In a complex atmosphere of bittersweet memories, one person picked the photo of Grandma with her sisters; another selected the Christmas wreath that had hung on her door; and on it went… until nothing was left.

Just five days prior, gathered around a casket in parish pews, we prayed the Rosary in a way we never had before. Grandma’s eldest daughter, in a moment of remembrance after prayer, noted, “My mother’s favorite mystery of the Rosary was the Nativity.” Many times over the next twenty-four hours, we were reminded that Grandma prayed 15 decades of the Rosary daily, entrusting all of us to Jesus through his Heavenly Mother, but also entrusting herself.

The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: “From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord”; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us “at the hour of our death” in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1014)

Because of the loss of my grandmother, I re-discovered this Christmas. I noted how the Church celebrates—yes, celebrates—St. Stephen’s bloody martyrdom on December 26. On December 27, we celebrate the death of Saint John the Evangelist, who gave up each day of his life completely to God and died a natural death. Then, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28 (those innocent children whom Herod slaughtered in a paranoid rush to protect his sovereignty from a baby King). Thus, we begin the Christmas season by celebrating three martyrdoms: chosen martyrdom by blood, chosen martyrdom of daily life, and unchosen martyrdom of innocent blood.

It is a strange wonder to think that our religion celebrates death at a time like Christmas. Yet, it is not strange when I think back to the end of my grandmother’s Rosary service. Having completed the final prayer, my uncle Deacon John reflected, “We will remember always that now, whenever we pray the Rosary, we pray it along with her.” Jesus’ birthday made possible his self-gift on the Cross, transforming the curse of death into a gift: the hope of abundant and everlasting life.

If you have experienced a loved one’s death recently, I encourage you to take hope. When Jesus explained to his disciples what it takes to enter Heaven, they looked at him in astonishment, asking, “Then, who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

When we see a body lying in a casket, it seems impossible for that person to do anything more. Death appears to be final. Yet, Christians dare to hope in knowing that God—who created that person, who knows all the hidden sufferings and trials of his or her life, and who loves perfectly—is Judge. Therefore, we must pray often in hope and trust, commending his or her soul to God who became Love Incarnate, whose ways and wisdom are far beyond our weak ways and short-sighted wisdom.

God became a human because he could not bear the thought of living without each one of us in Eternity. He was born to show us his love; penultimately expressed by his death and resurrection. That is the gift of Christmas.

“There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.” –  Fr. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. (1948—2013)

To go deeper into this topic, consider watching our recent episode of Catholicism Live! We invite you to watch Catholicism Live! every Tuesday morning at 11am CST. Find out more about the show that helps you keep your faith alive at CatholicismLive.com.

Who’s in Charge?

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Healing the Centurion’s servant by Paolo Veronese, 16th century.

The priest celebrating Mass was struggling. A man was assisting him by holding both his hands so he could slowly rise from his chair and scuffle to the altar for Offertory.

As he spoke the words for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, he frequently lost his place. The deacon standing to his right, gently used his finger to bring Father back to the words he missed so he could begin again. We participating at Mass that day patiently waited; many of us praying silently for Father, because we know the Offertory prayers must be spoken exactly as written through the priest to bring about the miracle of ordinary bread and wine being transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, (CCC 1411-1413).

Seeking to Understand

One of the reasons I left the Catholic faith decades ago and one of the areas I struggled with when I returned was the principle of authority. Especially, the authority of the priesthood. But instead of simply disagreeing with it, I poured through the Catechism of the Catholic Church to seek for myself why the Catholic Church teaches what she does.

In doing so, I discovered my unique and unrepeatable place in God’s plan.

For instance, the Catholic Church professes that in the Sacrament of Baptism, every person is anointed as priest, prophet and king. How we are to live that out depends on the vocation we are called to and freely choose. A priest is given authority as a ministerial priesthood by means of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. As a lay woman, wife and mother, I have been given authority under the common priesthood anointed by the Holy Spirit at my Sacrament of Baptism, (CCC 1546-1547).

What does that mean?

It means through the Sacrament of Marriage, we both become one, making sacrifices for each other. We both act in equal authority over each other. At our wedding, we spoke the words that married him to me and me to him. The presiding priest, in persona Christi, was our witness and the Holy Spirit sealed our Covenant. (CCC 1624).

We became parents; anointed in authority through our Sacrament of Marriage, to two sons. Many may have a type of authority over my sons, for instance teachers and coaches, but only with our parental permission either verbalized or through our actions, (CCC 2221-2223).

This is a privilege and it is a great responsibility.

To help us make the best choices, lay people should consider the following hierarchy of responsibility:

  • God
  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Extended Family
  • Career
  • Parish
  • Community

When we choose accordingly, we are given the grace to act through the authority God grants us. When we put these priorities in their proper order, harmony reigns. If we, for instance, put our career ahead of parenting or decide to replace our spouse, we renege on the graces granted us by authority of God in our vocations and Sacraments. We are acting on our own without authority. Our lives become chaotic and often, misery is the fruit. This explains the wisdom of the Church in why she teaches divorce is immoral because it introduces disorder into the family and into society, (CCC 2385).

Living in God’s Grace

Understanding authority as God has planned is important if we want to live our lives truly as His disciples and in peace with each other. Scripture speaks of how best to understand God’s plan in Matthew 8: 5-8:

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

Seeing Vocation as a Gift

Knowing that graces are especially granted in a specific vocation and through the Sacraments authored by Christ should help us to discern how to act; either in subject to or as authority over; and rise to the challenge God asks of us whether we are a centurion, a priest, a wife, a husband or a parent.

To discover more what it means to live the vocation of manhood and womanhood, consider participating at an upcoming Catholic Men’s Conference or Catholic Women’s Conference produced by the Pilgrim Center of Hope.

 

 

Choice for Catholics

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We hear the word ‘choice’ advertised often these days. . . especially in an election year.

For Catholics, we are blessed at Mass every Sunday to advertise to the world what we believe and who we choose to be when we profess as Church, our Creed.

The Nicene Creed is our Profession of Faith and through our witness in the day to day journey of striving to live it out, we Catholics are easily recognized.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

“Our profession of faith begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything. The Credo begins with God the Father, for the Father is the first divine person of the Most Holy Trinity; our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works.” (CCC 198)

Each Catholic’s free will choice to be what we profess means:

  • We must acknowledge one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is Creator of all things visible and invisible.
  • We must live out this belief in the Lord, the giver of life, in all circumstances, convenient and inconvenient.
  • We must choose life for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works.

To call yourself Catholic and profess differently . . . is simply false advertising.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope is a Catholic Evangelization Ministry which exists to help Catholics live out their faith and share it with others through a variety of opportunities. Want to know more? We invite you to join us on Saturday, October 29th, 2016 for our annual Prayer Brunch benefiting the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Learn more about what we profess and what we do at PilgrimCenterofHope.org.

It’s All Your Fault

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This past weekend at the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Women’s Conference, I was amazed at how eager women were to go to Reconciliation. Sometimes, I find it hard to forgive others and myself, but especially to seek God’s forgiveness. A few women I spoke with said it had been years since they had been to Confession.

Why do we hesitate to seek God’s forgiveness?

This past weekend at Mass, we heard the Gospel reading that included the parable of “The Prodigal Son”. Upon hearing it after my experience this past weekend, I began to wonder, “Why did the son wait until he had lost absolutely everything and was now tending to the swine of this farm to go home to his father? Why did he put himself through all the turmoil and sleepless nights?” Was it because he knew that He had wasted what had been given to him as a blessing? Maybe, it was due to how he thought his father would react upon his return. Many times, we hesitate for the simple reason of feeling as though we have gone so far away from God that there is no way to find our way back.

Why do we put ourselves down?

At times, we feel so bad about our choices that we only focus on our emotions, and our brain gets left behind. We forget to remember the truth of the matter, and begin to think that there is nothing we can do to retain what we once had. Then, it becomes easy to think that even if we could retain it, we do not deserve it.

But, how did the Prodigal Son finally remember the truth?

Jesus tells us, “Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.” At this point, he stopped focusing on what he had done and remembered who his father was. He knew that his father took care of the people around him, and he realized that he wanted to once again be near him.

What do you expect from God?

Only asking for his father to give him what he deserved after wasting what had been given to him, he did not expect his father to receive him with such joy. Jesus wants us to know that through God, we are made new! God is always looking out in hopes to see you on the horizon. Do your expectations of God truly reflect who God is? Or do they reflect who you are and how people have treated you?

Sometimes, we turn to God out of anger, frustration, or fear. It is at times like this that I remember a line from one of my favorite Pixar movies “The Incredibles“. As Mr. & Mrs. Incredible run off to save their children, Mrs. Incredible shows her frustration for what has just happened. Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible thought he had just heard his wife and kids die in a plane crash, and was amazed when he saw that she had not died. He tells her, “You keep trying to pick a fight, but I’m still just happy you’re alive!”

Who do you blame?

I know at times, we want to blame God or our neighbor for our pain, suffering or inconvenience. I feel like God may say, “Blame me all you want, I am just grateful that you are here with me. I love you!” None of us can truly imagine the incredible love that God has for us, but we must always remember that He simply wants to spend time with us. So, don’t hesitate to come back to the only Father that can fulfill your need to be loved at all times.

Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, we are so thankful that many women chose to come back to Christ this past weekend. We look forward to our Catholic Men’s Conference, which will take place on March 18th, 2017. Visit our website and learn about all of the ways that this ministry helps others find their way back to Christ.

What should we eat?

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On the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

bread-food-healthy-breakfastIn today’s Gospel, Jesus multiplies the fishes and loaves. When the apostles ask Jesus to dismiss the crowds so that they can get something to eat he tells them, “Give them some food yourselves.” He knows what he is going to do, but he wants his apostles to be involved in what is about to happen.

This miracle of Our Lord’s providence often reminds me of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer; “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is not only about bread, it is about all that we need to sustain our life in Him.

In another place he says, “Do not worry and say, what are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear? All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these will be given you.” The most important part of our relationship with God is our total trust in Him. There are a multitude of Scriptures where Jesus says such things as,

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest,”
“Do not be afraid,”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,”
“My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you;” and so many more.

These are not empty words. These words are for anyone who will receive them in humility. If we allow the words of Jesus to touch our hearts, they can transform us from sadness to joy. It is a response to the promises of Jesus that creates saints and even martyrs.

It was a response to the promises of Jesus that inspired a woman I visited in the hospital many years ago, to say that she thanked God for the cancer that was bringing an end to her life because it helped save her soul. In her illness, she turned to God and the Church and found peace in her preparation for death.

Jesus tells us, he is the Way, the Truth and the Life because he is the only answer to that which we need the most. Perhaps the most important words of Jesus which we must believe is when he said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

The mission of Jesus Christ was to be obedient to the will of the Father and to give himself to us. He gave us himself when he was born of the Virgin Mary; he gave us himself when he died on the cross, and he continues to give us himself in the Holy Eucharist. He loves us so much that he longs for us to receive him in this holy sacrament.

A couple weeks ago, I assisted at a Mass for children who were receiving their first Holy Communion. When the child comes forward to receive the Lord for the first time the whole family comes forward with him or her. I was surprised that almost half of the family members that came forward did not receive Communion, but a blessing instead.

I believe the most urgent message of evangelization to the Catholic community is that the Holy Mass is the most important prayer we can pray because the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are made present to us by the power of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the priest who presides and represents Christ himself.offering

Saints have been privileged to witness the presence of the heavenly hosts as Mass is being celebrated. We may not see them, but we will be surrounded by angels and saints during the consecration as bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. What will you do today that will be more important than what we are doing right now? What is more important than receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ?

Of course, Our Lord wants us to be prepared to receive him. First, we must truly believe that we are not just receiving bread and wine, but we are in reality receiving his body and blood. He also wants us to be free of serious sin, which is an obstacle to his love. For this reason he has given us the sacrament of reconciliation in which Jesus himself forgives our sins through his minister the priest. Sin weighs us down and causes us to be unhappy if we do not use the means that God has given us to be reconciled to him.

If you know of anyone who has left the Church because they are divorced and remarried civilly, encourage them to speak with their local pastor. Most marriages can be con-validated. There is nothing that should separate us from this wonderful gift from God if we have the humility to seek His help through the Church. You can learn more about gifts of Catholicism through our weekly series Catholicism Live!. Visit our website for more information or to listen to previous episodes.

How the Blind see the Holy Land

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You may have heard at least once the song Amazing Grace. The song was written in the late 1770’s by John Newton, a British sailor and former slave trader. He wrote about one of his experiences at sea during a violent storm; thinking the ship would sink and would be lost, he shouted to the Lord for His mercy. Surviving the storm, he realized the grace of God and wrote the song Amazing Grace.

I have listened to this song so many times, and often think of the words “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” relating to my own encounter with God’s mercy.

Meet Alco

My husband, Deacon Tom and I, led a group of 40 persons on pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few weeks ago. The Spiritual Director, Fr. Pat Martin, for this pilgrimage is a blind priest with a special ministry. He travels throughout North America and Ireland presenting parish missions about the mercy of God’s love. Also among the group, was another blind person, Alco, a woman who was born blind.Alco

She had searched for an organization or a group that would welcome her, a single blind woman with the desire to experience the Holy Land as a pilgrim. When I first met Alco, by phone, I was most impressed with the enthusiasm and joy expressed in her voice. She explained how, for years now, she wanted to go to the Holy Land and it was most apparent in her voice! I, too, was excited about the opportunity to introduce her to the Holy Land! Isn’t it interesting to discover and observe “God’s hand” in situations? One must believe at this point, this was no “accidental” phone call!

Alco visits the Holy Land

Alco joined us on this pilgrimage, I greatly enjoyed walking with her, arm in arm, I was able to describe the various holy sites related to the life of Jesus in Galilee, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. She was able to touch the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem, kneel at the Tomb of Christ and kiss where His Body laid and resurrected among many other holy sites. One of my favorite sites is Nazareth, a city in the Galilee Region, known world-wide because it is the hometown of the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph). The Grotto, or the home of Mary, the Mother of Jesus is here; it has become through the centuries, a destination for many Christians who want to see, touch her home and ask her intercession. Today, a large Catholic Church called the Basilica of the Annunciation is built over this Grotto to protect it.

This holy site was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, when he addressed Mary as “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28), it is humble place where today a small altar is located in the center with an inscription in Latin in front of altar  “Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est“; translating – “Here the Word was Made Flesh”. There was complete silence, we imagined seeing Mary as a young woman here. Our pilgrim group spent time in silence and implored Mary’s intercession.
As I looked at Alco, she had a big smile on her face. Do you know something? Alco not only saw with the eyes of her heart, as she listened to the descriptions, because of her open heart and zeal for her faith, she sensed a deep presence of Mary and God.IMG_2227

This experience among many others with Alco and Fr. Pat, the blind priest, taught me so much. For one – how much we take for granted, even our eyesight. One of Fr. Pat’s favorite response on discovering something beautiful or good is the word “Fantastic!”. Alco’s response is a big, beautiful smile with a sweet laughter. Fr. Pat and Alco, the only two blind persons I have ever encountered opened my eyes. Not only my eyes, but my heart as well. So often our minds are distracted with the noise and busy activity around us, we may fail to truly be aware of God’s presence or the ways He may be “speaking” to us through someone’s message, nature, sacred art, beauty and simply by being present to the moment.

The joy of these two blind persons also gave testimony to their deep love for God, because they have experienced His peace, joy and hope in their lives.

Alco wrote her pilgrimage experience, the following is a part of her article.

“We visited a number of holy sites.  One of the highlights of the trip for me was being able to proclaim God’s Word in the church at Mount Tabor.  An architect, Antonio Barluzzi built churches on many holy sites after World War I.  I understand that the visuals are stunning, but for me, the acoustics in his churches are truly amazing!  I have never sung in churches that magnified sound like that.
All I can share with you is what I observed. However, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to walk where Jesus walked and to meet so many generous, warm-hearted Palestinian Christians as well as the people who went on this pilgrimage; with me.  I never felt unsafe.”

God with Us

These words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I was once lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see” continue to cause me to praise God for His omnipotent mercy!

Today, take a moment to praise God for His presence in your life, even if you don’t see him – He is there to receive you, inviting you to approach Him!

Join us on a Pilgrim Center of Hope Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Visit here to see our future pilgrimages. Tom and I have been to the Holy Land 47 times in the last 25 years, we would very much like to introduce you to the land sanctified by the Lord Jesus! Come and See! Did you know that the Holy Land is also called the Fifth Gospel?

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.

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.

Catholic Confession: Paralyzing fear to new life

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Have you ever been afraid? I mean, really afraid? For about two years, I went through professional counseling for past trauma that induced panic attacks. That experience helps me relate to the disciples we read about in Sunday’s Gospel. After the Crucifixion of Jesus — the man whom they believed would liberate Israel — his mortified followers gathered together, shut and locked the doors out of fear.

Little did I know how powerful fear could be until I was a grown woman, hiding from my emotions in my bedroom closet with the door closed. I would sit on the floor and cover my head with my arms, the fear was so intense. How could I hide from it? I couldn’t. My wounds would taunt me, ‘You cannot escape us. We have marked you forever. You will never be whole again; always wounded.’

Imagine the disciples going through a similar struggle, when suddenly

Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.

Exposing his glorified wounds, Jesus shows them that he has heard the taunts and jeers of woundedness and fear. But he proves that wounds do not have the last laugh. By exposing his wounds, Jesus says, ‘I have been through hell. Yet here I am, more alive than ever before. I have peace, and I give it to you.’

The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

That moment must have been when the disciples realized: the Messiah did not come to conquer political forces, or lands, as they once thought. He did not come to reign in a fortress of stone. Jesus, God’s Chosen One, came for the ultimate victory: to free human hearts from fear. He came to reign in hearts. This was God’s Master Plan; a plan to free all of humanity from the ultimate enslavement — the interior kind.

Blessed is Sunday, for on it were opened the gates of paradise so that Adam and all the exiles might enter it without fear. (Catechism of the Catholic Church pp. 1167)

This is what the disciples must have known at that moment, and so they rejoiced.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

When I would sit in the darkness of my closet, writhing from the torture of emotional wounds, one of the worst pains I felt were feelings of guilt and shame. Feelings of having permanently lost my dignity and beauty and freedom.

In the Gospel, the apostles — men who had known the dank prison cells of fear, and experienced the liberation of Christ’s victory over wounds — are now empowered and sent to liberate others. Jesus charges them to go and break the shackles of fear, for those who wish to be free.

For Freedom, Christ Set You Free

My encounter with Jesus and his glorified wounds was (and continues to be) so important in my salvation, my healing, my liberation. That is why I am so grateful for the ‘birthday of the Church’ which Christians celebrated Sunday. Pentecost marks fifty days after the Passover; a Jewish feast called Shevuot commemorating God giving the Torah to his people. For Christians, we celebrate that First Covenant and the New Covenant; on Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles, fulfilling his promise:

But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days… I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

So, why am I grateful for this day? Because when the apostles received the Holy Spirit, they were empowered to go out and free hearts likewise. They became ekklesia — people sent out (translated “church”). Today, the Church exercises this mission especially through the sacraments.

As I went through years of counseling, I also participated in the Sacrament of Confession, which is called a Sacrament of Healing and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I’m sad — and frustrated — that Confession is poorly (and grossly) depicted in pop culture, because I and countless others have there encountered Jesus and his glorified wounds.

Confession is often portrayed as dark, eerie, and devoid of emotion. I did associate those things with Confession once; when I felt trapped in an abusive relationship for over a year. My life was like a maze I couldn’t escape; I often felt like I was living a nightmarish Groundhog Day. As the weeks and months went by, I would visit Confession more frequently than before. I hated that I could not seem to escape this nightmarish cycle of hurt. That’s when I began to associate Confession with self-loathing.

Finding Freedom

A miracle released me from that relationship. But I still carried intense, negative, emotional baggage associated with Confession. Thus began my uphill battle to separate that baggage from the reality of Confession.

Thanks to professional help, hard work, and prayer, my experience of Confession now reflects what Confession truly is: light-filled, loving encounters with a God who loves more truly and beautifully than anyone else.

Unfortunately, I have heard many Catholics say: “People today go to therapists and unload all their problems, but Catholics don’t need that; we have Confession!” I admire their enthusiasm, but this attitude can be very dangerous. Confession is absolutely a place of healing. At the same time, God chooses to heal us in many ways. I hope that, if you are a Catholic who experiences intense fear, anxiety or shame, you’ll seek out a Catholic counselor. (This can feel embarrassing, but is entirely worth your effort.) He or she can help you shed light on the source of your pain and become free from any misplaced guilt or shame that may weigh you down.

Through counseling paired with the Sacraments of Confession and Eucharist, I realized: God wants me to be healed and free. He wants that for you, too.

Confession, experienced in a healthy manner, is truly a Sacrament of Healing. Jesus comes and offers you true peace. He shows you the wounds he suffered so that you don’t have to suffer them, too. He shows you that those wounds are glorified. He offers you a life that is new and fully-alive.

I pray that you will take his hand today.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away
– Pentecost Sequence

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Caravaggio (1602)

“The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio (1602)