Category Archives: trust

The Experience that Put Me More In Touch with Jesus

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Are you wanting to rekindle or strengthen your relationship with Jesus? Perhaps it has been put to the side after many responsibilities, or weakened over time. Today, we share Pablo Garcia’s story; how God surprised him and helped strengthen his personal connection with Jesus – as he journeyed with us to the Holy Land in 2012.

I was praying to go to a pilgrimage to Rome…

“God, please please!”

…and all of a sudden, I had an opportunity to go to the Holy Land.

“Huh? I didn’t pray for that!”

As always, it’s not what we want; it’s what God has planned for us. The opportunity came, but still I had that yearning inside of me (I wanted to go see Padre Pio in Italy!). I went to the Holy Land not knowing what to expect. I just said, “Yes, I’m going,” and when you add it all up, it was a great blessing. It helped me resolve to actually walk in the footsteps of Christ. We had a great spiritual team and spiritual director.

6830173208_663fc64701_zWhat changed me was, in the mornings at the Mount of Beatitudes, staying at the hotel, early in the morning I’d walk as far down as I could to the shore. There was a big, flat rock there. Just sitting there, praying the Rosary, waiting for the sunrise to come up, you heard the birds chirping through the groves.  You could hear men or somebody down by the shoreline. I would realize, “Oh wow… it’s fishermen.” As I closed my eyes, praying the Rosary, I thought, “I’m right next to Jesus!” You could actually feel him, right by the shore, and smell it… That put me more in touch with Jesus. Just watching the first rays coming out of the mountain… that’s what did it for me.
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We got to rest two hours at the Gethsemane Hermitage. Even before I came on pilgrimage, I thought, “That’s going to be my number one spot.” When you went in there, it had all these different levels. I thought, “Oh wow. Where am I going to go?” I just let myself go and prayed, “Just guide me.” I went around… everyone else went to different places. I saw this bent olive tree, hanging over, and there was a nook and cranny. I sat on the ground and leaned against it. For two hours, I just sat there and reflected on Jesus, overlooking the wall of Jerusalem. That was the number one spot for me, right there. It was fabulous.

What experiences have put you in touch with Jesus? It’s important that we take time to re-visit these experiences every now and then. Take 10 minutes this week to sit and reflect on a time you encountered Jesus deeply: Remember the sights, environment, smells and/or tastes. What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Thank God for that experience. Ask Jesus to renew your desire to walk in his footsteps, as you move forward in your daily pilgrimage.

We Invite You…

  • ‘Come and See’ Informational Meeting – (Thurs., September 21, 2017 at 7pm) Join us to learn about our unique Ministry of Pilgrimages’ next Holy Land Pilgrimage (Summer 2018) and get your questions answered personally.
  • Our Lady of Fatima Veneration – (Weds., September 13, 2017) Grow closer to Jesus by opening your heart to his Mother, Mary. 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.
  • Afternoon Tea with St. Thecla – (Thurs., September 21, 2017 at 2pm) Our role models and heavenly friends are virtuous women and men who’ve walked their pilgrimage before us. Learn about Saint Thecla and how she can help us grow closer to Jesus in our daily lives.
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Who Will Never Leave Me?

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As a pilgrim with us to the Holy Land, Nan Balfour touched the very Tomb of Christ and Rock of Calvary. She walked where Mary Magdalene became the Apostle to the Apostles, spreading the unbelievable news that Jesus is alive! In celebration of Mary Magdalene, and of Our Lady of Fatima who said, “I will never leave you,” we share this reflection by Nan:

Following an encounter with Jesus Christ, I heard these words, “I love you! You are exactly who I created you to be. I promise, you will never feel alone again. I am with you always.” With those few words, God reached through my pain, my sins, my past, deep inside my dark, cold loneliness. I took hold of His Hand allowing our Lord, my Savior, to pick me up, put me on His shoulders and Shepherd me back to the fold of His Catholic Church that I had wandered away from years ago, believing it held no place for me.

Sacrifice of MassOver these past 14 years, I have challenged our Lord to keep His promise and He has answered me through the Treasures of His Church:

Jesus in the Sacraments – Our Lord is Really, Truly Present in the Sacraments. I can be in and with our Creator, our Savior every day by participating at Mass, receiving Communion and through Reconciliation. Anytime day or night, I can sit/kneel and just be in the Presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit through Adoration of the Eucharist.

Fellow Disciples in The Body of the Church – Though raised Catholic, I grew up in what is now called the poorly catechized ‘lost generation’ of post-Vatican II Catholics born between 1960-1978. When I returned to the Church in my early forties, I met many beautiful priests, sisters and lay women and men facilitating Scripture studies, Prayer Groups and Catechism classes at area Catholic parishes . . . and I took advantage of them.

Through the honesty and sincerity of the women in faith sharing and prayer groups, I discovered I was not the fraud I thought. To my joy, I discovered each of us is flawed; sinners all, helping each other in fellowship work out our salvation together! Many of them have become true, genuine friends for life.

Our Blessed Mother – Like many people, including Catholics, I had a problem with Mary. Even though I believed when Jesus told St. John at the Cross, “Behold Your Mother,” that He was saying the same to all of us, I would not go to her for help. My deep feelings of inadequacy made me think she was disappointed in me because of all my faults, or worse, blamed me in my sins for the suffering of her Son. Blessedly, though God will not overstep our free will, He has given His Mother Mary, who is fully human, no such impediment. Like any good mother, she knows her children, what is best for them and takes her vocation to womanhood very seriously. She will do everything in the power given her by God, to bring us to her Son. I know, because it happened to me.

Heavenly Friends – Communion of Saints – One morning following daily Mass and my weekly prayer group, a woman I have never seen before or since came right up to me, stopped, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are going to see the relic of St. Mary Magdalene today aren’t you?” Startled, I responded, “I don’t know, maybe.” She walked on saying behind her, “It’s going to be great!” and left a prompting in my heart that I am being told what to do. Looking back, I believe she was my guardian angel, but at the time, I resisted intent on tackling my long ‘to do’ list for the day. Like a whiny daughter being dragged by her mother, I found myself a few hours and many promptings later in line to look at the shin bone of the ‘sinful woman’ who knelt at the Cross on Calvary. Once inside the cool, quiet of the Church, this friend of Jesus and Mary, whispered in my heart, “When our Lord and Lady looked at me, I did not see disappointment or blame in their eyes, I saw gratitude. They wanted me with them, just as they want you.”

From Mass, my prayer group and my encounters with heavenly friends that day, I learned what it means to be embraced in the arms of the Mystical Body of Christ. I have never felt alone again. My guardian angel was right, “It was great!”

Every year, close to 3,000 women who help make up the Mystical Body of Christ, come to Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Women’s Conference and we encounter Jesus where He is Truly, Really Present in the Eucharist, in the Mass and in Reconciliation. We offer the Rosary with the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother. We find new friends in the saints through the speaker presentations and this year, perhaps even sitting next to us! And, we enjoy fellowship with other flawed, sinners as we all help each other work out our salvation.

Feeling alone? I invite you to come join us . . . It’s going to be great!

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.

Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary: A Resolution that Wins!

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While visiting family over the Christmas Holiday, the teens and twenty-somethings in my family asked me to play an old game that has become new again and is very popular with their age group. It is bean bag toss.

In this latest version of what I remember as Toss Across, you play in 2-person teams and toss a bean bag onto a plank with a hole in it. If your bean bag makes it in the hole it is 3 points and if it lands on the plank, 1 point. Sounds simple, right?

Well, as we are playing I hear my nephew and son working what sounds like a math problem to calculate the points. “What are you doing?” I ask. My nephew tries to explain this complicated (to me anyway!) scoring system in which points are lost, points cancel each other out, etc. with the end goal of earning 21 points and winning the game.

As I toss and keep making point worthy landings, I hear “Ok your team is now at zero.” I look at my son with a, ‘What gives?’ look and he concurs, “Yes, Mom we are at zero.” I respond, “I don’t understand.” These sweet young men patiently explain the scoring to me again but I just get more frustrated and say, “This game has become way too complicated. I’m just going to play and you tell me if we win.”

This trust that I am in good hands, that someone wiser than me knows what is going on (thank goodness!) and that all I have to do is play the game is the same freedom that is enjoyed when one goes through Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. Funny comparison, I know, but this freedom is the #1 reason I so appreciate this Church-honored devotion made famous by the great work of St. Louis Marie de Montfort.

Enthusiastically proclaimed as the quickest, most efficient way to free ourselves from the spirit of the world and put on Christ in every aspect of our lives, this consecration has worked to transform many into saints, including Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Pope Saint John Paul II, who said, “It was the decisive turning point in my life.” The consecration is cited by many priests as the fire that lit the zeal of their apostolates,including previous and future Catholic Women’s Conference speakers, respectfully, Father Nathan Cromly and Father Michael Gaitley, just to name two.

But, if you are like I was six years ago, even this great press would not convince you of the value of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary because a question first begs to be answered, “Why Mary?”

I asked that question before I began the 33-day Preparation for Consecration using St. Louis de Montfort’s way, but with the urging of a friend to ‘just try it,’ I did. I continued to ask the question the entire 33 days and, yes, even after I knelt before the Tabernacle and offered myself to Jesus through Mary in the Consecration Prayer.

I no longer ask that question.

I could list all the many reasons why this Consecration has catapulted me closer than I ever dreamed possible to our Lord, Jesus Christ, but I’ll leave that for the great theologians and priests that have made it their mission to promote it.

For me, it is simply this: my life has completely transformed from chaotic, disorganized and overwhelming to tranquil, orderly and manageable. Though circumstances in life remain difficult and my responsibilities continue to increase, it has taken on a calm that I know is thanks to placing myself into the care of our Blessed Mother. Like the bean bag toss experience, I have discovered the freedom that allows me to play the ‘game of life’ with the assurance that I am in good hands, that someone wiser than me knows what is going on (thank goodness!) and she will make sure I win Heaven!

If you are ready to ‘just try it’ then I encourage you to click on any of the links in this blog to learn much more about the Consecration.

If you are still asking, “Why Mary?” Our next Evening with Mary will answer that very question. Please join us on Friday, January 20th at St. Mary Magdalen Church in San Antonio where Deacon Ed Domowski will answer “Who is Mary? Why Go to Her?”

 

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.

10 Questions to ask yourself this Advent season

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Homily for 1st Sunday in Advent

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Am I living for myself or for God?

“As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

People were living as if the only thing that matters is the way they are living. They were living for themselves; not for God and neighbor. They were swept away by the flood.

As Jesus says, it will be the same when the Son of Man comes; in the field and in the mill –one will be left and one will be taken. Was God`s choice of who He would take arbitrary? Were both men the same and both women the same?

Jesus then says, “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come….So to, you also must be prepared…”  It seems that the ones he took were prepared.

What does it mean to be prepared?

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Mt 7:21.

If you asked people if they believed they were going to heaven, almost everyone would say yes. And yet Jesus says only those who do the will of His Father will enter heaven.

How do you know what God`s will is?

We begin with the Scriptures. Jesus says, “Blest are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.

To keep it is to hold it in our hearts, to believe it and to live it. In a letter from the Bishops of the U.S. they tell us “…if you have not undergone conversion, you have not accepted the Word of God.

In what authority do we place our trust?

To be prepared is to be changed. Jesus also gave his authority to the Church so that it could guide us, but if we refuse to listen to the Church how can we know the will of God?

Through the Church, Jesus gives us the Holy Mass, which is the greatest of all prayers and he gives us the sacraments as the source of grace we need to discover and do the Fathers will, which is often in conflict with our will.

We have the Scriptures, the Word of God to guide us. St Jerome once said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” If we don’t know Christ we aren’t prepared.

We have the lives of the saints as models of what faithful discipleship should look like. Ignorance of the saints is ignorance of the Church and the powerful presence of God it has been through the ages.

What commitments am I willing to make to God?

A commitment to daily prayer is a necessary aspect of our relationship with God. No prayer means no faith. St. Paul says — “we should pray always; we should begin everything we do with prayer”.

Being prepared is not something that will just naturally happen; it’s a choice we must make and it will take a great deal of effort on our part. God has not asked something of us that is unreasonable.

Do you need a wake-up call?

Many years ago when we were going door to door we met a woman who was in her last stage cancer and in much pain; death was imminent. Even so she thanked God for the cancer because it brought her back to God and the Church. She said it helped to save her soul. In that sense cancer, or any crisis can be a blessing because it can help to save souls.

Do you have any hatred, resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, etc.?

If so you are not prepared!

Do you love God more than anything else and your neighbor as yourself?

During the Advent season we pray for the second coming of Christ with the emphasis on being prepared. The reality is, the same Jesus Christ who will come in glory at the end of time is coming to us in this Mass; are we prepared to receive him. We will not be receiving just a piece of bread, but the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ! We prepare ourselves by being free of all serious sin through frequent of the sacrament of reconciliation and by preparing ourselves spiritually and mentally in our personal prayer before Mass and by active participation in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. This is the best preparation for the coming of Christ.

What is the purpose of all of this?

The purpose is not only to be prepared when Christ comes for us. This preparation will help us to experience our greatest happiness now. Being prepared not only has a transforming effect upon us, but on all our relationships, our community and so on. When we are prepared we will help others to be prepared. Then we can all say, “Come Lord Jesus, come! “

How can I serve this Advent season?

We invite you to give your time, talent, and treasure to a cause that means something to you this Advent season. As a non-profit, we are very grateful when people offer themselves or their resources to help us help the community. When we work together, great things happen. Find out more about how you can volunteer at the Pilgrim Center of Hope. May you have a blessed Advent and Christmas season!