Category Archives: Suffering

Fortitude, A Virtue We Need Now

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“…these difficult times…”

You’ve probably heard this phrase spoken often by friends, family members, acquaintances, fellow parishioners, celebrities, leaders, political figures, and even strangers. Yes; we’re keenly aware in these present times that challenges face us on all fronts: globally, nationally, in our Church, in our cities, our parishes, our families, and our own personal lives.

Like many of you, I pray about this—often! But I’ve considered that there must be something more that God wants to offer me; another tool to face the strife. I just couldn’t put my finger on it…

…and in his perfect timing, God reminded me about something: fortitude.

Defining Fortitude

I think we’ve all heard the word “fortitude” before, and some of us know it’s a virtue… but how many of us can define it? Often, we simplify it to mean courage, bravery, or the more traditional long-suffering, but it means much more:

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1808)

So, fortitude is the moral virtue that…

  • Strengthens our resolve (determination)
  • Strengthens us to resist temptation
  • Strengthens us to overcome obstacles in our quest to follow Jesus
  • Enables us to conquer fear, even fear of death
  • Enables us to face our trials, bullying, and persecutions
  • Disposes us to renounce and sacrifice our life in defense of a just cause (if we should be called to do so)

To me, then, fortitude is like having the best Spiritual Trainer, Motivator, Coach, Military Leader, and Loved One, all rolled up into one, living within and transforming you.

Are you saying to yourself, as I am, “Wow, I definitely want this!”?

How We Gain Fortitude

While we can train our bodies and minds to have increased strength and endurance, the moral virtue of fortitude is beyond our natural abilities. It is a supernatural grace; a gift.

Isaiah the Prophet tells us that God’s Spirit will rest on the Lord’s Servant, and then proceeds to list the gifts of the Spirit. Included in these is “strength” or fortitudo in Latin (cf. 11:2-3).

So, we gain fortitude through prayer to the Holy Spirit. Let’s (1) ask for the gift, (2) thank God for hearing us, and (3) prepare ourselves to be receptive.

Asking

The stories of Jesus’ healings and mighty deeds always begin with someone’s request of him, or approaching & reaching out to him.

Why do you want to receive the gift of fortitude? What challenges or trials are becoming obstacles in your life? Tell the Lord in prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit for fortitude.

Thanking

Giving God thanks for a gift, even when we don’t immediately see the results we expect, is important; it helps us to have an “expectant faith.” In the New Testament, mighty deeds done by Jesus—or by others in his name—are accomplished in persons who trust that God is present and active in their lives. We thank God because we are grateful; we trust that God is generous with spiritual gifts and listens to us with compassion (cf. Luke 11:13).

Preparing

Let’s “till the soil” of our hearts, preparing ourselves to be receptive to God’s gifts. Pope Pius XII suggested one way to do this: each time you receive Holy Communion, remind yourself of God’s closeness and mighty love.

In the sad and anxious times through which we are passing there are many who cling so firmly to Christ the Lord hidden beneath the Eucharistic veils that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor danger, nor persecution, nor the sword can separate them from His love, surely no doubt can remain that Holy Communion which once again in God’s providence is much more frequented even from early childhood, may become a source of that fortitude which not infrequently makes Christians into heroes. (On the Mystical Body of Christ, no. 84)

In his exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis also calls us to be “firmly rooted in prayer” as we call on the Holy Spirit for courage to live our faith (cf. no. 259). Let’s examine our typical day, and consider how we can speak more regularly with God—who should remain our Rock at all times (cf. Luke 6:48).

Finally, Pope Francis reminds us that each of our lives is unique, and thus, each of us will require fortitude in a unique way. We can look to the saints for guidance; not to follow exactly their personal spiritual & moral activities, but to inspire us to live our faith as our daily activities call us to live. He writes:

Some people nowadays console themselves by saying that things are not as easy as they used to be, yet we know that the Roman empire was not conducive to the Gospel message, the struggle for justice, or the defense of human dignity. Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all. These things are ever present under one guise or another; they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day. (no. 263)

Are you ready? Together, let’s seek the virtue of fortitude. Let’s go forth on our daily pilgrim journey, pursuing God no matter what causes us to stumble, fall, or throw us off the Way. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of fortitude!

For more spiritual tools, we invite you to watch Living Catholicism, Pilgrim Center of Hope’s weekly broadcast & video series about walking your unique pilgrim journey each day. Let us journey with you!

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Finding Hope in Darkness

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How many of us have used the expression, “I need hope!” or “I am so desperate, I can’t seem to find any happiness or see a light in this situation!” …? I believe many of us have expressed these words or some very similar.

Defining Hope

Christian Hope is the confident “desire (for) the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1817)

Pope Francis explained that Hope comes with trusting in God, not with power or wealth. He continued to explain that it is knowing that, “‘I hope, I have hope, because God walks with me.’ He walks and he holds my hand.” (cf. General Audience, December 7, 2017)

Words of Hope

One of our favorite scriptures is Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” These words should give us hope!

  • Rejoice in hope – Because of hope, we can experience peace and, yes, a joy by realizing that God loves and knows me.
  • Endure in affliction – This may be difficult. We may be experiencing some darkness, depression, anxiety, and yet these words Endure in affliction are telling us to remain strong! To have courage in situations we are unable to control. This brings to my memory a common saying … This, too, shall pass! While those moments of darkness may seem like an eternity, enduring with hope, with the necessary elements given us in those situations, can help us endure.
  • Persevere in prayer – Without prayer, we cannot sustain our faith or a relationship with God. To persevere is to continue and stick to what we believe. To believe that God is loving and merciful. To persevere is to choose to move forward. That is why I like the term used by the Church to describe the people of God; we are a pilgrim people. Each day, we make choices that will bear fruit in our lives. Whether small or enormous, the actions or situations we face can be done as we persevere—humbly and in prayer.

How does hope bring us out of darkness?

God’s promises are there for us. Let us not forget! Darkness cannot bring you out of darkness – only the Light. The Light is God and Truth: “Jesus spoke and said, ‘I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 8:12, 14:6a)

Let us read the words of St. Paul:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

This is our choice: Do we want to believe that the God of hope can fill us with peace?
Christianity is about a person – Jesus Christ; it is not just a formula to use when we need something in our lives! Christianity is about you and me choosing Christ, the One who knows you more than you know yourself; He is God!

Pope Francis told a crowd at St. Peter’s Square: “Let us now imagine the Crucifix and let us all together say three times to the [image] of Jesus Crucified: ‘You are my hope.'” The Pope explained that we must really believe that in the Crucified Christ our hope is reborn. Love and hope come together on the cross of Christ. (cf. General Audience, April 12, 2017)

We have to surrender to God! Hope sustains us. Prayer will lead us to Hope. Hope leads us to trust.

Here are a message of hope and a prayer for you to cut and place by your workplace, your mirror, somewhere to remind you to rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, and persevere in prayer…

“I plead with you: Never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” (Pope St. John Paul II)

Heavenly father, we are your humble servants.
We come before you today in need of hope.
There are times when we feel helpless.
There are times when we feel weak.
We pray for hope.
We need hope for a better future.
We need hope for love and kindness.
Some say that the sky is at it’s darkest just before the light.
We need your light in every way.
We pray to be filled with your light from head to toe. To bask in your glory.
Help us to walk in your light,
and live 
our lives in faith and glory.
In your name we pray. Amen.

To find tools to help you build up your hope, we invite you to listen to Journeys of Hope and watch Living Catholicism, our weekly broadcast media programs. Let us journey with you!

Remembering God’s Love for You

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Have you ever wondered whether maintaining an attitude of hope is really worth the effort? “What if, in the end, my hope for salvation was just a thought in my brain? What if the end of my life is just six feet under, end of story?”

Yes, all these thoughts are natural. However, being a Christian means living a super-natural life. If I have a relationship with Jesus Christ; believing, trusting, and following him who said, “(God) the Father and I are one” (John 10:30), then we are making a choice to live beyond what is natural or empirically evident.

Scripture tells us:

…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

This is like Saint Paul’s explanation of God’s love, the Holy Spirit, as our down payment on salvation. In other words, salvation – our total and perfect healing from all hurts, wounds, pains, shortcomings, and sins; our total union with God, is reason why each of us maintain the virtue of hope. Although we cannot empirically prove that salvation will come, God has provided us with a foretaste: the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts. We believe that the Holy Spirit is God, who is love.

When you and I struggle with doubt, temptation, or other trials, it is more important than ever to remember God’s love for us.

Reflect on these questions:
When was a time when I experienced authentic love?
When did I feel very close to God?

Look at a crucifix, and thank God for those moments. You are not alone in your difficulties. Jesus also experienced deep sorrow, agony, and the pain of abandonment on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) That, however, was not the end of the story. Before dying on the Cross, he was united completely with God the Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

I invite you to dive deeply into God’s love for you this week. As a special opportunity, this Thursday, Pilgrim Center of Hope is offering a Day & Evening of Hope during which you can visit our Gethsemane Chapel and touch a piece of Calvary, the hill where Jesus died out of love for you. I hope you will join us, and that you will be renewed in hope this week. May God’s peace be with you.

Calvary

We Trusted God. Here’s What Happened…

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What happens when you choose to surrender your will to control your life, and choose to trust in God? The last 30 years of our lives have been filled with answers to this question…

When we went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by ourselves, God provided us with strangers who became ‘family members’, guiding and encouraging us on our journey. We encountered Jesus with new eyes, and discovered a new outlook on our Catholic faith.

When we were sent to a priest who heard our confession, then were immediately sent out to jump onto a boat sailing across the Sea of Galilee—without wallet, passport, or personal items; God provided each of us with an unmistakable conviction to leave everything and follow Him.

When we spent six months searching for how to answer God’s call as missionaries overseas, God directed us to our pastor, who invited us to help him begin a home visitation ministry in our own neighborhood.

When discovered that we would be door-to-door ministers, visiting every residence within the boundaries of our parish without any experience as evangelizers, God provided us with encouragement through our pastor. He told us not to worry about what we were to say, but to just listen and tell people that we cared.

When countless individuals urgently needed prayer or a visitor, God brought us to knock on their door. We witnessed the healing power of presence, prayer, and forgiveness. In the first couple of years, we visited over 10,000 families.

When Pope John Paul II issued an urgent call for a “new evangelization,” we knew we wanted to respond, but didn’t know how. After praying in the Garden of Gethsemane for two weeks, we were given the confidence that God was calling us to start an evangelization Center. God provided us with the blessing of our local bishop.

With just the “change in our pockets”, God provided the Teresian Sisters’ former Convent in northwest San Antonio, to serve as a home for the evangelization Center. Each month, a different friend would present us with their contribution towards the rent.

God has provided us with the rent and “our daily bread,” for 25 years.

When the Teresian Sisters decided to sell their property, we began looking for a new home. Instead, God provided us with hundreds of individuals who donated personal gifts ranging from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars, and the property that we’d been renting for two decades was completely paid off.

The Challenge of Trusting God

Yes, for all of us, each day brings new challenges. Sometimes, it is very difficult to choose to place our trust in God, especially when everything around us points toward defeat. A Scripture that resonates deeply with us is, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) We have learned that the best attitude in every circumstance is to surrender ourselves to God, and to trust in his loving concern for us. Over the last 25 years as an evangelization ministry, Pilgrim Center of Hope has sometimes had to wait for years before receiving answers to our prayers. Other times, the answers have come within minutes of asking. But in every circumstance, God has offered us abundant grace…

Jesus knows how many obstacles human beings face every day, because he lived through them; personal suffering, family trials, and much more. He said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Today, Jesus offers you abundant grace, through the Church that he established upon his Apostles. The Apostles have continued to pass on this spiritual lineage, down to this present day. God invites you to share in his life of love, even amidst daily challenges.

Lord Jesus, you know the trials and concerns that I hold in my heart and mind today. I want to trust in you, my God and Savior. Thank you for teaching us to pray, “Thy will be done;” those same words you prayed before your Passion and Death. Help me to follow in your footsteps today: to take up my Cross, rejoicing in hope, enduring in affliction, and persevering in prayer. Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.

We invite you to discover spiritual tools and events that will help you increase your trust in God, through Pilgrim Center of Hope.

The Treasure of Our Elders

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Saint Paul began his letter to the young bishop, Timothy:

I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you. (2 Tim. 1:5)

What a treasure for us, to know the names of both the mother and grandmother of one of Christianity’s first bishops! Thank God for Lois, a woman who was undoubtedly a strong, living witness. Without her, we may have missed out on two Biblical books, 1 and 2 Timothy!

“Today more than ever we need this bridge, this dialogue, between grandparents and grandchildren, between the young and the elderly,” said Pope Francis to youth in 2017.  “So this is the task I am giving you in the name of the Church:  Talk to older people.”

Our society has largely lost respect for our elders. Yet: How many are homebound, filled with the wisdom of life experiences, while restless young people outside seek answers to life’s ‘big questions’? How many of our elders feel like they are worthless, now that their body—and sometimes their mind—is failing? As Christians, it is our responsibility to remedy this situation; to remind all people of their value, worth, and dignity.

In 2013, San Antonio’s Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, inspired by Benedict XVI’s courageous transition from active Pope to Pope Emeritus prayer intercessor, directed Pilgrim Center of Hope to begin a Catholic Seniors’ Conference. This conference aims to foster an appreciation for the personal dignity of men and women in the later years of life, to encourage them, and to inspire them to continue sharing their wisdom and gifts. As we prepare to offer the fifth annual event, we are excited! We’ve seen how these conferences bring about transformations in our elders. One such person remarked:

I had come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church didn’t care for the elderly who were once young & very active in our Church, but I realized through this conference we are the building blocks of our church.

We see the Holy Spirit’s work in Pope Francis, as he consistently speaks on the value of senior citizens. This is an urgent topic! As our Holy Father reminds us:

“A people that does not take care of grandparents, that does not treat them well, has no future! The elderly have wisdom. They are entrusted with a great responsibility: to transmit their life experience, their family history, the history of a community, of a people. Let us keep in mind our elders, so that sustained by families and institutions, may with their wisdom and experience collaborate in the education of new generations.”

Join us at the 2018 Catholic Seniors’ Conference! All are welcome… “Seniors of all ages” are welcome, along with family members and friends. Let us all rediscover the hope and joy of life in Christ! At any age, we are members of the Body of Christ.

Having Hope: More Important Than Ever

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In the last few weeks, we’ve witnessed the destruction of four hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, and several mass murders – the most recent in a local church. When we recognize things are beyond control, what should our response be?

Saint Paul offered the answer in Romans 12:12 – “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” When God is our hope, he will also be our strength as we remain connected to Him.

Our first response is to pray for those affected; prayers imploring the mercy of God and the graces needed so that they may persevere in their trust in Him. We can also pray for the deceased; remember this beautiful prayer of the Church – “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. May your Perpetual Light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

In Pope Francis’ final General Audience message on hope, he reflected on Paradise, the aim of our hope.

Paradise is not a fairytale place, much less an enchanted garden. Paradise is the embrace of God, infinite Love, and we enter there thanks to Jesus, who died on the Cross for us. Where there is Jesus there is mercy and happiness; without him there is cold and darkness. At the hour of death, a Christian repeats to Jesus: “Remember me”. And even if there may no longer be anyone who remembers us, Jesus is there, beside us. He wants to take us to the most beautiful place that exists. He wants to take us there with the small or great deal of good that we have done in our life, so that nothing of what he has already redeemed may be lost. And to the Father’s house he will also bring everything in us that still needs redemption: the shortcomings and mistakes of an entire life. This is the aim of our existence: that all be fulfilled, and be transformed into love.

If we believe this, death ceases to frighten us, and we can also hope to depart from this world in a peaceful way, with so much confidence. Those who have met Jesus no longer fear anything. We too can repeat the words of the elderly Simeon; he too was blessed by the encounter with Christ, after a lifetime spent in anticipation of this event: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Lk 2:29-30). At that instant, at last, we will no longer need anything; we will no longer see in a confused way. We will no longer weep in vain, because all has passed; even the prophecies, even consciousness. But not love: this endures. Because “love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8).

Only the light of God’s love can transform the darkness. We can make a difference through prayer and active love. Let us remain steadfast in Hope!

A Story of Hope & Healing at Lourdes

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As a response to the need for hope, we share the stories of fellow pilgrims who journey with our Ministry of Pilgrimages. This week, Velma felt a strong conviction to share her story with you…

God woke me this morning and urged me to write about my experience at our 2011 Marian Pilgrimage.

I went on this pilgrimage in place of a friend who had cancer. My hope and purpose was that this person would be healed as I was going in this person’s place. As we flew over to Europe, I had terrible pains in my hands that I had never had before. I always sleep on airplanes, but the pain in my hands was so bad, that I stayed awake praying for my friend.

Velma (left) with Mary Jane Fox while on pilgrimage in France, stopping to appreciate the Eiffel Tower

The day we went to the baths in Lourdes, there was no women to facilitate the baths, so we could not go in. I was worried that I would not be able to go into the baths for my friend’s healing. However, we went back the next day, and we did get to go. It was an awesome experience I will never forget.

Thanks be to God for His great mercy; my friend has received healing for the cancer and my hands were healed that day! I never asked for anything for myself while there on the pilgrimage, but God healed two of us at once. What a loving, merciful God we have!

Of course, God can and does heal with or without the holy baths of Lourdes. In my mind, part of going into the Lourdes baths was overcoming pride and doing something so simple as being dipped in a bath of cool water. I am so thankful I went!! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!

Remember that in the Gospel stories, Jesus asked, “What do you want?” On your daily journey, He is asking you this, especially when you approach him in the sacraments. Have you asked God to heal you of something, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual? Don’t be afraid to speak to Jesus simply and honestly. Then, be open to his response – whether it is a healing you expect, or perhaps something even greater:

Moved by so much suffering, Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross, Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the “sin of the world” of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross, Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1505)

September: Month of Mary’s 7 Sorrows

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Did you know that the month of September is dedicated in the Church’s calendar to the Seven Sorrows of Mary? Let’s explore why an entire month is dedicated to these events.

  1. Prophecy of Simeon – When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus to the temple according to Jewish law, they encountered Simeon. He prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart.
  2. The Flight to Egypt – With their child endangered by the local authorities, Joseph and Mary sought refuge in Egypt. Refugees in a foreign land, they remained there until God revealed to them that it was safe to return to Galilee.
  3. Jesus Goes Missing – Returning home in a large caravan from their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph realize that the child Jesus is missing. For three days, they search anxiously for him. Finally, they find him in his Father’s house, the Temple.
  4. Jesus Carries the Cross – Always by her Son’s side, Mary witnesses his pain as he is mocked. She must stand by as her Son experiences the most horrible and shameful punishment, reserved for the worst criminals.
  5. Jesus’ Crucifixion – Mary watches as the soldiers nail her Son’s body to the Cross. What torture she must have felt, watching him die.
  6. Jesus’ Death is Confirmed – A centurion pierces Jesus’ heart to finalize his death, but He is already dead. Simeon’s prophecy is fulfilled as Mary receives her Son’s lifeless body taken down from the cross.
  7. The Burial of Jesus’ Body – Perhaps not even 50 years old herself, Mary experiences her own Son’s brief funeral just a few steps away from the site of his bloody torture and death.

As we meditate on the Sorrows of Mary, we can see just how much the Blessed Virgin Mary understands about our own sorrows. She was a simple, young mother who experienced tremendous suffering.

Our journeys to the Holy Land have helped us to grow even closer to Our Blessed Mother. The video below shows a glimpse of what pilgrims see after climbing Mount Calvary today. Right next to Calvary is an altar dedicated to Jesus’ Sorrowful Mother.

“Mary gave her consent in faith at the Annunciation and maintained it without hesitation at the foot of the Cross. Ever since, her motherhood has extended to the brothers and sisters of her Son ‘who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.’ Jesus, the only mediator, is the way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she ‘shows the way’, and is herself ‘the Sign’ of the way, according to the traditional iconography of East and West.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2674)

Let us pray: Dear Mother Mary, help me on my daily pilgrimage of life. Through your experiences of sorrow, help me to see God’s grace amid my own sorrows. Teach me to reflect on all these things in my heart, and to seek the Father’s will in everything. Jesus, I want to follow you today. Holy Spirit, remind me of your constant presence. Amen.

Join Us this Month for:

  • “Come and See” Marian Shrines – 9/9 – All are welcome to this Informational Meeting about our 2018 Marian Pilgrimage (April 3-14) to Fatima, Lourdes, Paris, and Lisieux. Learn about the Marian shrines in these locations, and discover what is important to consider when discerning a pilgrimage. More details here.
  • Our Lady of Fatima Veneration – 9/13 – Pray with Our Lady at Pilgrim Center of Hope, in honor of her 100th Anniversary at Fatima. A statue from Fatima, Portugal will be available for veneration. Information about the Plenary Indulgence approved by Pope Francis for this special occasion will also be available. More details here.
  • “Come and See” Holy Land – 9/21 – All are welcome to this Informational Meeting about our 2018 Holy Land Pilgrimage (June 25-July 7). Learn about the holy sites, and from our 30 years of experience, what’s important when discerning a Holy Land pilgrimage. More details here.

St. Peter, Judas and You: A Lenten Reality Check

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Pope Saint John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Those consoling words should inspire us to lift the burden of salvation off of our shoulders and place it instead where it belongs; on God’s love for us. Our Lord Jesus tells us the same when He says, “Come to Me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest,” (Mat 11:28.)

During this Lenten season, as we draw closer to Easter and our Lord’s Passion, I have been thinking about this quote from the late great pope and about two people in the life of Jesus: St. Peter and Judas.

I find it intriguing that the one who Jesus accused of being an obstacle to Him (Mat 16:23,) received the keys to His Kingdom while the one Jesus called friend, (Mat 26:50) took his own life.

This all says more about Peter and Judas, and subsequently each one of us, than it does about Jesus, who being God, remains as is written in Hebrews 13:8, “The same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Why such opposite outcomes for Peter and Judas?

Why did Peter, who continued to stumble by denying our Lord three times, go on to lead Jesus’ disciples, becoming the first pope? Why did Judas’ life end so bleakly?

Pope Saint John Paul II answers when he says the response to our Father’s love resides in, “our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Capacity is defined as, “the ability to receive.” Real capacity, then, is the ability to receive reality; to receive Truth.

Jesus told Peter the truth of who he was: the keeper of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mat 16:19) and the rock on whom He would build His Church, (Mat 16:18) despite his weaknesses and failures. Peter chose to believe the Word, receive His love from the Father, which is the Holy Spirit, and act in His Power, His Mercy and His Love by repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness.

Jesus gave Judas the truth of who he was regardless of his weakness and failures. How merciful God is to respond to this bitter kiss, even as forces descend to lay their hands upon Him, by reminding Judas of who he was chosen to be: Jesus’ apostle and friend. Judas responds by refusing to receive God’s reality; turning from His offer of forgiveness and instead choosing to be his own judge, jury and executioner.

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“The Kiss of Judas” by Giotto

How about you?  Do you believe God’s Mercy and Love is for you?

When I am tempted to think like Judas, I like to recall the story of our first pope’s last earthly encounter with Jesus.

As St. Peter fled Roman persecution, he met Jesus on the Appian Way. “Lord, where are you going?” he asked to which the resurrected Jesus responded, “I go to Rome to be crucified again.”  Very ashamed that he once again failed to image Jesus, St. Peter turned back to follow His Lord, this time ending up with Him in Eternity. The Church of Domine Quo Vadis (“Lord, where are you going?”) has been built on the very spot of this encounter.

The ability to receive God’s Love and Mercy is always offered to us. If you fail in a real capacity to image Jesus, then receive Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  If you find it difficult to look beyond your weaknesses and faults, then spend time with our Lord in an Adoration chapel and ask Him how He sees you. I promise, you will be joyfully surprised!

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Annibale Carracci’s 1602 painting “Peter’s Meeting with Christ”

Not sure where to start? The Pilgrim Center of Hope answers Christ’s call by guiding people to encounter Him through pilgrimages (including Rome!) and conferences. We can help you.  Our life is a journey and we are here to join you wherever you are on this path to Eternity. Contact us at PilgrimCenterofHope.org, call us at 210-521-3377 or visit us at 7680 Joe Newton St., San Antonio, TX 78251.

Lent Is for Healing

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B Lent is for Healing

Do you ever dread Lent? Do you see it as a burden?

A few years ago, as I was dreading the upcoming Lenten Season —with its sacrifices and spotlight on sin, I began to notice in my prayer life and while reading Scripture that a theme continually jumped out at me. Example from the Psalms:

Look to God that you may be radiant with joy
and your faces may not blush with shame
Psalm 34

Bless the Lord, my soul
and do not forget all his gifts,
Who pardons all your sins,
and heals all your ills,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
and crowns you with mercy and compassion
Psalm 103

and the Prophet Isaiah (53:3)

He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.

Whole? Healed? Joy? Verses like this were a shock to my system. I had been wrestling with a perception of God as a harsh judge who was ready to pounce and condemn. Through prayer, however, the Holy Spirit was showing me that my perception of God was broken, and therefore my understanding of my relationship to God was broken. As Lent approached, I realized that I needed to obey the Holy Spirit. With some encouragement, I began to see a counselor and break free of many hurts and wounds.

This process of being vulnerable with myself, with God, and with my counselor was the most humiliating experience of my life. It was heart-wrenching and psychologically painful. However, I realized that this pain was necessary for healing.

Your Lent and Healing

Think about how often we must experience challenge or pain in order to be healed. Whether through surgery, exercise, or even the humiliation of apologizing to someone, healing and wellness arrive through sacrifice.

Lent is a time of preparation, leading us into the remembrance of Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. We often hear that Jesus underwent these things for our “salvation” and “to save us”, but what does that mean?

The word ‘salvation’ comes from the Latin salvus, which means ‘in good health’ and ‘safe’.  The official teaching of the Catholic Church in its Catechism is that Jesus “has come to heal the whole man, soul and body” (pp. 1503). This means that Jesus came, not only to keep us from going to hell, but far more than that. We often keep Jesus and his place in our life within that very limited box! No, Jesus himself tells us, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

How to Start

Do not limit your Lent to “giving something up”. Start now; live your Lent as a time of healing. Approach God as Jesus taught us: as your loving Father. Ask, “What is your loving plan for me? What is blocking me from having a stronger relationship with you?” Listen to God’s response, not only in your private prayer, but in the other avenues God has given us. Read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the lives of the saints. Speak to someone of faith whom you respect; a grandmother, a person who works in your parish, friend, etc. Homilies on Sundays or weekday Mass can also be a source of direction. What strikes you on a deeply personal level?

Trust that God is a good and loving Father, Jesus wants to heal you, and the Holy Spirit wants to console you. This Lent, embrace a challenge that will help you overcome obstacles to the abundant life and intimate relationship with God that He has in store for you.

Is God calling you to go on a journey of faith? Pilgrimages provide an opportunity for people to seek God, healing, spiritual renewal, reparation, forgiveness, and other personal graces—ultimately becoming a mini school of spirituality. Our Ministry of Pilgrimages is here for you; guiding you to a personal encounter with Christ.