Category Archives: Suffering

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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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.

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.

School of Life & Death

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Faith takes us beyond our own logic to a place where we trust God even when we don’t understand.

Sitting by father’s bedside, I was experiencing an emotional roller coaster as I knew my father would pass anytime, any day.  How could I contain myself?  I was thinking about my childhood days when my father would take my two brothers and I to visit parks, castles, museums when we lived in Germany.  The day he brought home a horse when living in Paraguay.  The times we played in the snow while living in Oklahoma and the holiday meals at home; yes, Dad always sat the head of the table while family gathered around.  Such memories!  As I looked at my father, not able to communicate due to his health condition, I knew he could hear me. He was well aware of my presence.  Spending several hours with him, there was a lot of silence and prayer; prayer and silence.

Dad was in the hospital, in I.C.U., and then hospice care for 24 days. My father lived a full life of 87 years, including a beautiful marriage of 62 years, and a full military career which took him to various parts of the world. As a faithful man, husband, father and servant of the Lord, his love for God and the Catholic faith led him to be involved with his Church community—feeding the homeless, leading the Rosary in the parish community, and assisting with various ministries.

I had learned that family, friends, and acquaintances were praying for my father to have a peaceful, holy and painless death.  What a consolation!  I leaned towards my father, “Dad, there are so many people praying for you.””

Symbol for the virtue of Hope, a mosaic at the Mount of Beatitudes in the Holy Land

Symbol for the virtue of Hope – A mosaic at the Mount of Beatitudes Chapel in the Holy Land

Was it possible for my father to have a peaceful, holy death?  I knew it could be with God’s blessing, with His grace and mercy.  But I felt I was on an emotional roller coaster; sadness, sorrow, tears, and questions about death ran through mind.  If I hadn’t grabbed on to the anchor of faith and hope in God, the Almighty,  I would have sunk and the temptations of despair, anger, and doubt would have prevailed.

My faith in God assured me of His promises: “Come to me all you labor and are burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  I could picture the Redeemer, the Lord, saying these words to my father. If we have confidence and trust in what God has revealed, we will always have hope. Six priests visited my father in these 24 days, hearing his Confession, reconciling him to God, preparing Him to meet his Heavenly Father by anointing him and praying with him.

My father was surrounded by the family when he took his last breath at 6:00pm.  Before that, we spent the entire afternoon in silent prayer; it was a vigil for his entry to Eternal Life!  These 24 days became a school of life and death, teaching me that life is so precious no matter what the situation may be.

Losing a parent is painful; it hurts. It is what one experiences for loving, for caring, for respecting, for honoring.  I empathize with you who have lost a parent—it is difficult. For those who still have your parents: Take time out to contact them, communicate your respect and your love for them. Talk about good memories.  Be considerate of people who are sick, lonely, and have no one to care about them.  Offer a prayer, or if you know them, a visit and kind word can do wonders for that person.

“I plead with you—never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” –Pope John Paul II, In My Own Words

Pilgrim Center of Hope was named for this reason; a reminder that we are on a pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem each day of our lives. We are here for you! Visit our website and find spiritual encouragement and tools for your daily pilgrimage.

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.

Where is your Bethlehem? Closer than you think.

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Last week I overheard a young woman ask someone if they celebrated Christmas. The person responded “Yes, of course I do!”. The young woman said, “Oh, do you know that some people don’t celebrate Christmas?” Upon hearing this, I began to think about those who don’t celebrate Christmas. Perhaps they haven’t experienced God’s love or mercy directly. Perhaps they don’t believe in God.

A Long Time Ago

What happened in Bethlehem, Palestine over 2,000 years ago has impacted millions upon millions of souls. God, the Creator of the Universe, sent His Son to be born of a virgin in a humble place, a grotto or stable. You have heard the story – Joseph takes Mary from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census held by Caesar Augustus (ref. Luke 2:1).

It is impressive to learn about St. Joseph through John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Guardian of the Redeemer. In it he describes Joseph as a just and righteous man who was obedient to the law:

“Journeying to Bethlehem for the census in obedience to the orders of legitimate authority, Joseph fulfilled for the child the significant task of officially inserting the name ‘Jesus, Son of Joseph of Nazareth’ in the registry of the Roman Empire (Jn 1:45). This registration clearly shows that Jesus belongs to the human race as a man among men, a citizen of this world, but also as Savior of the World!” (#9)

Not Very Different From Today

Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary see the hustle and bustle of the town – people arriving from various areas for the census, donkeys and camels in the streets, marketplace busy, Joseph searched for a place at the inn, and perhaps several inns.

No room at the inn for them! So thanks to an innkeeper, they are told they can stay at a grotto where animals are kept. Here, in this simple, humble, and most likely quiet place, the Son of God is born.

“Joseph, together with Mary, is a privileged witness to the birth of the Son of God in the world on Christmas night in Bethlehem. Joseph was an eyewitness to this birth, which took place in conditions that humanly speaking, were embarrassing.” (#10)

The Journey Home

The first time I experienced visited Bethlehem, I was quite emotional because I was able to touch and pray at the place where my Savior was born! My husband and I have led numerous pilgrimages to the Holy Land and our time in Bethlehem is very special. The birthplace of Jesus, our Savior, is still there! A church, the Basilica of the Nativity, is built over it to protect it. Thanks be to God for this – now, we can visit this sacred site, where the Son of God was born, where Hope was born!

Do Mary & Joseph have a place in your home?

Oh, but what if one cannot visit Bethlehem in the Holy Land? Bethlehem can be our parish church and our homes where we have a nativity scene set-up.

Parish churches can be called “little Bethlehems”. It is there where we unite with other Christians to worship God and see the Creche, or the Nativity.

Let us approach the Creche with new eyes, not as before, as we casually looked at it and thought it was nice. Let us look at the Nativity – whether it be plastic, clay, metal or whatever it is made of – and see what took place 2,000 years ago in a small town in ancient Palestine.

Have you prepared a place for Jesus?

Imagine the scene! Mary and the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes… Would you be attracted to spend time with this family? The Shepherds did! The Magi did!

A Nativity scene, a Creche – as simple as it may be; this symbolic representation of Christ’s birth can help us meditate and contemplate God’s love for each of us, God’s mercy to give us a Redeemer born so poor and yet majestic, because He is the Savior!

When life throws challenges at us, whether it be elderly parents, sickness, problems with family or work; think about the Holy Family. They certainly faced their challenges!

Oh yes, let us humble ourselves before the infant Jesus. His gifts of peace, hope and joy last forever! The Christmas Season (Dec 25 – January 6) can be our time in “Bethlehem”, let us take advantage of this time to thank Him for His gifts and humbly present ourselves to Him.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope seeks to offer you opportunities to encounter Christ as a gift. We pray that you and your family find ways to encounter Christ wherever you are and have a blessed Christmas season.

How to be Imperfect and have a Perfect Christmas!

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This is the first year that I have not put up my Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. I really love all the lights that go up during this season in preparation for Our Lord’s coming. This year’s Advent season has been very different for me spiritually. The more I meditate on Advent, the clearer I see that the real journey to Christmas day was not so perfect.

The real journey can be experienced by placing yourself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph. They had an experience very far from the picture perfect Christmas. From the moment that Mary learned of new life within her, Jesus was the center of a situation that was full of uncertainty and danger. A mix of emotions were certainly aroused in Joseph when he learned of a new child on the way. Although this picture was not perfect, Mary and Joseph trusted in God and put their own plans aside. Were they still stressed and on-edge of the reality of their situation? Most likely.

Jesus was sent to this world for us. He was sent to a world full of joy, sadness, anger, and brokenness. He did not enter into a fully decorated home with everything in place. He did not only come to save families with the best manners and servant hearts. He came for those of us who have no decorations for our home. He came for those of us who have all the decorations for our home. Find the true joy of Christmas knowing he came for us all!

In any way that you are broken and imperfect, connect to Mary and Joseph and ask for their intercession. And ask for Jesus to come and heal and make you new again. Christmas is about new beginnings and hope for the world.

mary-and-child-angel-lullabyHere is a prayer from St. John Paul II to the Baby Jesus for Peace:

Wipe away, Baby Jesus, the tears of children!
Embrace the sick and the elderly!
Move men to lay down their arms
and to draw close in a universal embrace of peace!
Invite the peoples, O merciful Jesus,
to tear down the walls created
by poverty and unemployment,
by ignorance and indifference,
by discrimination and intolerance.
It is you, O Divine Child of Bethlehem,
who save us, freeing us from sin.
It is you who are the true and only Saviour,
whom humanity often searches for with uncertainty.
God of peace, gift of peace for all of humanity,
come to live in the heart of every individual and of every family.
Be our peace and our joy!
Amen!

During this season of Hope, allow Mary to facilitate peace and healing in your life. Every month, we present an Evening with Mary to provide spiritual tools from Mary for your faith journey. Mary is the sacred channel to Jesus that is a gift to every one of us. We wish you a blessed journey to Christmas.

Finding True Joy!

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How many of us want to experience joy on a daily basis? Wherever you are.. at a demanding workplace, at home with various chores, raising children, or where you are right now. The dictionary defines joy as an intense happiness. We usually don’t ask people “Do you have joy?” – we would rather ask, “Are you happy?”

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The search

And when you think about it, joy isn’t experienced in just a moment. It’s a state of being. Many people answer the question by stating concerns or problems they have, rather than thinking about what makes them happy.

I can remember a time in my life when I was searching for true happiness, for consolation in a situation I was going through, specifically, dealing with an incurable illness that caused constant physical pain. My search was like a ‘bull-dozer’…because of my pain and lack of joy, I was insensitive to others.

Then, I met a group of Catholics that took time to pray with me and explain the importance of encountering Christ. This effort, in time, brought peace to my search for true happiness, which I realized was to encounter Christ Jesus and recognize that I needed a Savior. When we encounter Christ Jesus and accept Him into our lives as our Lord and Savior, we experience joy and hope!

Encounter and accept

To encounter is to meet and experience; while to accept is to acknowledge and to believe. Yes, I did “meet” Christ through prayer, through His people who took time to pray with me and I experienced His peace and His healing. Months later, I discovered through a medical exam that my incurable illness was completely healed! Accepting Christ and His teaching was, for myself, the next step that has led me on a journey that has been incredibly amazing, thanks to God and His mercy!

Can I say that I experience joy on a daily basis? When I read this definition of true joy given to us by a Jesuit theologian, Fr. Pierre de Chardin: “True joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” I can answer yes!

It’s a daily choice!

Each day, I act upon my faith in God through prayer and by loving God and embracing His gift to us – the Catholic Church which offers a treasure of tradition, history, teaching, guidance tools, and so much more to help us reach eternal life!

This leads us to Hope!

“The virtue of hope responds to the desire for happiness God has placed in the heart of every person…it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during time of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1818)

A Christian’s definition of hope is far superior to that of the world. Instead of wishing or hoping for something to happen, as Christians, we know our hope is solid, concrete evidence because it is grounded in the Word of God, the Truth.

“Our Christian hope is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”  (Heb 11:1). It is a hope that, like faith, cannot be moved by circumstances because of our encounter of Christ and of our desire to love Him and worship Him, the One True God who knows and loves us.

When we feel hopeless

Sometimes, we fall into a “rut” or make excuses. It is because we prefer to do what comes natural. It is so easy to gravitate to what might seem to be logical, or “feels right”. Don’t waste time – run to Christ! He is always there with open arms to receive you. And remain with Him!

The Christian faith is a full and sincere adherence to Jesus Christ, and the decision to walk in His footsteps is to make oneself a disciple of Him. Once brought to this decision, people have a desire for more – to be taught the fullness of divine revelation and to enter into the full sacramental experience of the Church.

Come and see

St. Edith Stein, who was once an unbeliever, encountered Christ and became a Catholic and later a Carmelite nun said – “If anyone comes to me, I want to lead them to Him.” Yes, I too, want to lead others to Him so they can experience true joy and happiness!

Have you found joy and want to lead others to God also? Are you still searching for joy? The Pilgrim Center of Hope Ministry of Conferences and Pilgrimages have many opportunities to discover and share the treasures of the Church. Learn more at PilgrimCenterofHope.org

How to Transform Your Burdens

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Sometimes, it seems like the weight of all our difficulties will crush us.  Last Friday, I shared some of my recent challenges with my spiritual director. His response affirmed my general feeling: “Wow. That’s heavy!”

When we consider the central teaching and central action of our Christian faith, we clearly see that struggle is inherent in our Christian way of life:

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Lk 9:23)

Our ‘cross’ means our suffering. When a convicted criminal carried his cross, he could not drop the cross and run. The cross was his, and he must carry it. Similarly, suffering is a reality in our lives. We may run from it, but we cannot escape it. Remember, too: This is not God’s invention. Suffering is evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that suffering is a result of original sin (cf. no. 418).

Why, then, does the Son of God tell his disciples to accept and carry such evil?

We find the answer in Jesus’ Cross.  His Cross was placed on his shoulders, bringing the worst imaginable suffering, due to the worst of evils. Yet, Jesus’ Cross was transformed by grace into something that brought about the greatest good: salvation; healing and eternal life for all who accept these gifts. Do we realize that our suffering, too, can be transformed by God? This is why Saint Paul teaches, “God brings all things to good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Rm 8:28). In other words, our daily cross-carrying can actually help Jesus save the world. Sin and suffering may be present, but with our help, God can make even those miserable, ugly things work for good.

everybody-have-their-cross-to-carry-1441015But, how can anything good come from this? Cross-carrying is exhausting! Sometimes, gasping for air, we look up to Heaven wondering, “God, how can I keep going?”

Jesus says: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mt. 11:28-30)

Notice that in this oft-quoted Scripture passage, Jesus does not say, I’ll take that yoke from you; you don’t have to carry anything. No. Instead of throwing away our burden, Jesus says: I will offer you a different yoke; a different instrument to carry this burden. When you accept my yoke, I will carry the load with you. Learn from me, and your burden will become light.

What is Jesus’ instrument to carry burdens? What is this mysterious instrument which transforms heavy loads into light loads? Saint Jean-Marie Vianney explained, “The good God does not require of us the martyrdom of the body; He requires only the martyrdom of the heart, and of the will.”  Jesus’ instructions were important: We must first deny ourselves. When we deny ourselves of the desire to control our lives, this is called “denying ourselves.” Jesus did this, too. He prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” First, we must hand over control of our lives to Jesus. Then, we learn from him.

How did Jesus teach us to carry our burden? Jesus carried his Cross with love. He did not complain. He did not feel sorry for himself.  He did not look for someone to blame. He just loved. He carried that Cross, loving every person he encountered. He carried the Cross loving you. Love is the instrument Jesus gives us, which turns heavy burdens into light ones. From Jesus, we learn to love.

Jesus, when my cross seems too heavy, send your Holy Spirit to show me how to deny myself. Teach me to give you control. Then, teach me to carry my cross fueled by love. Remind me that Our Father will transform my cross into something good and light, if I deny myself and carry everything with love.

Would you like a weekend to learn about lightening your burdens and becoming free from their weight?  We invite all women to our fifteenth annual Catholic Women’s Conference in San Antonio, Sept. 9-10, 2016. The theme: “Come to me…”  Men, mark your calendar for March 18, 2017, the Catholic Men’s Conference. Especially for seniors, the Catholic Seniors’ Conference will uplift you February 4, 2017.

Are Prayers Heard and Answered?

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If someone asked me whether prayers are heard and answered, I would reply with a definite “Yes!”  Prayer is offering words and thoughts to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is also listening to God during a time of silence or meditation.  I know prayers ‘work’ because I believe in God, Creator of the Universe.  I believe He knows each one of us and He knows me!  This gives me hope and it is a great consolation. 

Most especially recently, my younger brother was taken to Emergency Hospital due to kidney failure and other complications.  He almost died from those complications that night.  His Potassium level was extraordinarily high at 15.2.  The normal level should be 2!  The medical staff was astonished at this high number and commented on how “people just don’t live with that level.”  My family asked friends, clergy and religious communities to pray for my brother.  My husband Tom phoned our pastor Father Dennis, who came to administer the Sacrament of the Sick, also called the Sacrament of Anointing, which is administered to bring spiritual and even physical strength during an illness, especially near the time of death. A sacrament is an outward sign established by Jesus Christ to confer inward grace.   Three days later, his kidneys are functioning on their own and his vital signs have improved tremendously!

I praise God for my brother’s improvement!  We know he is alive today because of God’s “look” upon him, a good medical staff and the many prayers offered for him!

Prayer is so fundamental.  It is our ‘connection’ with God who we don’t see but are assured of His Presence!

One of my favorite Saints in Heaven is St. Anthony of Padua, who lived in the 12th Century.  He was a Franciscan priest, a theologian, professor of the faith and preached often on the importance of prayer.  He offers us four indispensable attitudes which are described as follows:

1)      Open one’s heart confidently to God
2)      Speak affectionately with him
3)      Present to him our needs
4)      Praise him and thank him

Pray – and know your prayers are heard by God and answered, according to His Divine will.

“In prayer we should freely unburden ourselves to God, telling him, our Lord and Master in the most familiar and confidential way, everything, great and small, much or little. … We should open our heart, pouring it all out to him without reserve; revealing our whole self; as with a friend on whom one relies and to whom one confides both the good and the bad.”
St. Jane Frances de Chantal