Category Archives: trust

Connecting with Our Creator: An Experiment In Healing

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Closeup of a bronze lifesized Stations of the Cross sculpture wherein Jesus is being nailed to the cross

In the movie Mary Shelley, the author’s father says of Dr. Frankenstein (the scientist who is bent on creating life in her novel Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus),

[The story] ascertains the absolute human necessity for connection. From the moment Dr. Frankenstein’s creature opens its eyes, it seeks the touch of its creator. But he recoils in terror, leaving the creature to its first of many experiences of neglect and isolation. If only Frankenstein had been able to bestow upon his creation a compassionate touch, a kind word; what a tragedy might have been avoided.

Juxtapose those words with what Scripture says about human connection with the Divine Creator:

You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you know.
My bones are not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.
(Psalm 139:13-16)

Only 18 years old when she wrote her famous work, Mary Shelley had already experienced death, grief, betrayal, and abandonment. Upon reading the novel, her half-sister—who has just been rejected by the father of her unborn baby, tells Mary, “It chilled me to the bone.”

Mary replies, “It is good to enjoy a ghost story now and then.”

Her sister responds, “We both know this is no ghost story. I have never read such a perfect encapsulation of what it feels to be abandoned.”

Our Personal Monsters

In one way or another, we can each tell our own ghost story about the monsters of loss, grief, betrayal, abandonment, and loneliness that rage within us. They are the consequences of evil wrought by sin; the reality of living in an imperfect world.

Mary Shelley’s lover at the time, Percy Shelly, advises her to re-write the story so that instead of a monster, Dr. Frankenstein creates the perfect creature. “Imagine,” he tells Mary, “He creates a version of ourselves that shines with goodness and thus delivers a message for mankind. A message of hope and perfection.”

Mary looks at him—the man whose selfish choices are responsible for much of her feelings of betrayal and abandonment—and responds, “It is a message for mankind! What would we know of hope and perfection!? Look around you! Look at the mess we have made!? Look at me!”

We understandably question, and should question, why evil exists. We should work to eradicate it and certainly not be a cause of it.

Our error comes in accusing God for the evil in the world. Mankind’s folly is always in falling for the ancient lie that we can do a better job of creating than God.

Healing from Our Creator

However, with our Creator, praise God, we have true hope of authentic freedom from evil.

He (Jesus Christ) did not come to abolish all evils here below, but to free men from the gravest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God’s sons and causes all forms of human bondage. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 549)

Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, who recoils in terror at the sight of his imperfect creature, God comes to us in our imperfection, through His Son, Jesus Christ…

And even when you were dead [in] transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

God came in the flesh, and continues to come to us through . . .

  • His Word
  • His Sacraments
  • His Church

God knows our deep desire for the good and the perfect; He is the one who created that desire in us, so that we would seek our true self, found only in relation to Him. Saint Pope John Paul II states this in Dives in Misericordia (God, Who is Rich in Mercy), “Man and man’s lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His Love” (DM 1).

In a final scene of the movie, Percy Shelly tells a group who thought it was he who wrote Mary’s book, “You could say the work would not even exist without my contribution. But to my shame, the only claim I remotely have to this work is inspiring the desperate loneliness that defines Frankenstein’s creature.”

Of ourselves, humans are capable of great evil. Of ourselves, we are finite. Mother Church teaches us that true healing—which is authentic freedom from sin—begins with this knowledge. She encourages us to, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15), using the very words of the Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, who leads us to our Father, and His Love.

During Lent, many parishes offer reconciliation services, providing opportunities to re-connect with God and receive healing through the rich Mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We invite you: contact your local parish office for more information, and participate in this true healing and freedom!

Only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful that to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. (Pope Benedict XVI)


Pilgrim Center of Hope offers spiritual resources to help guide you on your journey and connect you to God and His Church. Visit us in person, by phone at 210-521-3377, or visiting our website.

Join us for our newest program, Meet the Master. You are invited to attend one or more of this nine-part monthly series, as we hear and reflect on the words of Jesus and spend some quiet with Him in our Gethsemane Chapel.  You do not have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ.


Please note: Pilgrim Center of Hope is not responsible for, nor has any control over, any ads displayed on this post.

Authentic Freedom

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What is freedom?

According to the world, freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without any hindrance or restraint. The Urban Dictionary calls it “doing my own thing;” doing whatever you feel like, trying new things to figure things out. People who believe in this definition of freedom say, “and that’s okay.”

In the ’60s and ’70s, as a student at a Catholic grade school, my parents and the Sisters of Divine Providence (who taught me) would have called the idea of “doing whatever you want,” being irresponsible. I was blessed to have people around me who were constantly reminding me not to “do my own thing,” but to:

  • Always work hard and do your best
  • Always do the right thing (obey the Commandments and the laws & norms of our society)
  • Remember that every choice we make comes with consequences
  • Always behave as though God were watching you

Today’s society touts “doing your own thing” as the key to happiness, whereas the Catholic Church has always promoted responsible freedom as the way to growing in character & virtue and ultimately realizing God’s plan for each of us.

Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought. – St. John Paul II

Why is this authentic freedom?

Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about freedom:

God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him. (CCC, no. 1730)

A passage from Bishop Robert Barron’s book, Catholicism – A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, does an excellent job of explaining what freedom is about. Bishop Barron uses the lives of William Shakespeare and Michael Jordan to illustrate how extensive study, practice, listening to others, and discipline propelled both men to greatness and freedom & flexibility in their crafts.

In the cases of both Shakespeare and Jordan, law was not the enemy of freedom, but precisely the condition for its possibility. What is joy, but the experience of having attained the true good? Therefore, in this more biblical way of looking at things, joy (beatitude) is the consequence and not the enemy of law.(Catholicism, p. 40)

St. Pope John Paul II once said, “The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.” We do not come to Authentic Freedom, by doing whatever we want. It’s all about ordering our heart to please God alone. This takes a commitment to mastering the basics of our Catholic faith.

Entrust your works (your cares) to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. (cf. Proverbs 16:3)

Meet the Master
Perhaps the perfect start or encouragement for you to grow in Authentic Freedom is Pilgrim Center of Hope’s new, nine-part series. Beginning on April 6, Pilgrim Center of Hope will provide you with a wonderful opportunity to encounter Jesus through common needs & wants we all experience. Meet the Master will offer a morning of reflection on every first Saturday of the month through December 2019. We invite you to Meet the Master!

What Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, is that new law that would discipline our desires, our minds, and our bodies so as to make real happiness possible. (Catholicism, p. 40)

This is true Authentic Freedom, responsible freedom, a freedom that will enable you to go from good to great in your faith.


At Pilgrim Center of Hope, we’re here to help you live your daily journey in hope. Let us journey with you. VisitPilgrimCenterOfHope.org. If you are in the San Antonio area, come visit us! Call us about our Meet the Master series of Saturday morning reflections: 210-521-3377.


Please note: Pilgrim Center of Hope is not responsible for, nor has any control over, any ads displayed on this post.

Listening… In A Noisy World!

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Have you ever said to yourself, If only I can get away for some quiet time! or, Is anyone listening?

I certainly have! These questions usually arise in our thoughts when we want some peace, some quiet time after experiencing a full schedule, or a trial, or simply being busy!

I recently was in the Holy Land on pilgrimage and among the many wonderful and amazing experiences, one was spending time in the Garden of Gethsemane—where Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples when he visited Jerusalem, and where he prayed his hour of agony the night he was arrested; resulting in his Passion.

Today, a large basilica is built next to ancient olive trees that date to the time of Jesus. They are often called the Silent witnesses of Christ’s Agony. Upon entering the Basilica of the Agony, one sees a large area of rock in front of the main altar. This is where Christ prayed his hour of agony, where he sweat blood, and prayed for the will of his Heavenly Father. Imagine sitting in this church commemorating this whole experience—with its mosaics depicting the scenes of the Bible related to his agony and arrest. The light streaming through the alabaster glass windows sheds a somber light in the church, inviting the visitor to ponder what happened here 2,000 years ago.

IMG_6481As I sat, I realized how much I longed for some quiet time with God. To speak with him, and at the same time was hoping for an inspiration from him. The noises of traffic, guides shouting, tourists and pilgrims moving about, and cameras clicking, seemed so distracting at such a holy site.

Yes, it was challenging to attempt to remain silent… You know what helped me?

What helped me were the sacred art, along with my act of touching the very stone where Jesus sweat blood! The large stone area is surrounded by a short, iron crown of thorns. I knelt and bent over the iron crown to kiss the stone, placing both of my hands on the cool, rough rock. I thought, This is where YOU, Lord, prayed for the Father’s will! This is where YOU sweat blood! Help me to listen! While I heard many people around me, the chattering of visitors, traffic noise… that moment seemed to be an eternal moment for me. There seemed to be inner peace. Later, I took some time to sit and simply see the sacred art; the mosaics of Jesus praying, being arrested, even the altar’s shape is that of a chalice.

Leaving this holy place, I thought of sharing this, hoping that others can also be encouraged to seek some quiet time with the Lord. It is possible!

How?

  • Sacred images or art can help us ponder the mysteries of our faith. For example: A stained glass window of a biblical scene can easily help us begin meditating on that Bible passage.
  • Holding or touching a crucifix or a statute can also be helpful. Think about the story in the Gospel of Luke 8 of the woman with the hemorrhage who simply touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed! Jesus tells her it was her faith that healed her!
  • Begin with a desire for some quiet time with the Lord. Ask for a deepened faith. And be consistent. Go to him… in faith and in silence!

Pilgrim Center of Hope is here to help guide you to encounter Christ, so as to live in hope as a pilgrim in daily life. For some quiet moments, we invite you to come visit our 7 acres in the middle of northwest San Antonio. Or, visit our website for more spiritual tools.

Riding the Roller Coaster of Life – Advice from A Saint

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Everyone wants to know: What’s the key to happiness?

This questions transforms itself, however, when we discover God our Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, and our divine guide the Holy Spirit. Then, we begin to wonder: What is God’s will for me?

Ultimately, these questions are one & the same; God desires our happiness, in this life and for all eternity.

To help us consider this question, there are many resources available to us. For me, however, it wasn’t until I obtained a Spiritual Director that I began to learn well how to discern God’s will for my life. He introduced me to someone who has become a close personal friend, St. Ignatius Loyola: the founder of the Society of Jesus & the contemporary guide for discernment.

Wounded Pride and A Busted Leg

Many of us know his basic story: A canon ball shattered his leg in battle. He told the surgeon to re-break his leg, because his clothes didn’t look good the way his leg was set back together. That was fiery redhead Iñigo López de Loyola: a vain, high-class bachelor whose great dreams of military triumph and fame had been utterly destroyed. Bored out of his mind as he recuperated, he read the only books available; the lives of Christ and the saints. Their example completely changed his perspective on life.

As many converts do, Ignatius adopted extreme spiritual practices fueled by his newfound zeal; he prayed day and night, hardly ate, hardly slept, and beat himself—weeping uncontrollably through the night over his past mistakes.

Thanks to God’s grace and the help of local townspeople, Ignatius’ mind and heart were opened to what God truly wanted of him.

Riding the Roller Coaster of Life

Ignatius outlined the Discernment of Spirits, which are keys that spiritual directors have used for hundreds of years all over the world, ever since. In doing so, they have taught that our life has two basic situations we face, over and over again:

  • Consolation – A period of contentment, peace, gratitude, and/or feeling closer to God
  • Desolation – A period of worry, frustration, and/or feeling further from God

Ignatius described these periods as the natural ebb and flow of every person’s spiritual life. Consolation and desolation are experienced for a wide variety of reasons; it’s not important that we know why we are experiencing the consolation or desolation. What’s important is to discern what we are experiencing, and how to respond to God’s grace in that light.

His “rules” for discernment give us practical insights into interpreting whether we are in a period of consolation or desolation. Based on this position, we learn how to act or respond to a situation or decision we need to make.

Basic Take-Aways for Success

Since we are limited in time and space here, I would strongly advise you to review Ignatius of Loyola’s Discernment of Spirits in its entirety. (The contemporary explanation recommended by my Spiritual Director was The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher. You may also consider a retreat on the Spiritual Exercises.)

For here and now, I’d like to share a few important lessons with you that I have learned from Ignatius. These have helped me ride the roller coaster of life:

  1. Make Decisions with Peace – If I am in a period of desolation, I am not properly suited for making a major decision that will impact my life, my family, etc. In these cases, I need to seek consolation, as well as the guidance of an unbiased person whom I can trust, such as a spiritual director.
  2. Don’t Worry; Desolation Will Pass – Ignatius reminds us that we will all go through periods of desolation, but that they do not last forever! This is why it’s important to discern & realize: “I am experiencing desolation.” Name what you are experiencing. This realization will remind you that your perspective will be through the lens of desolation for the time being. Then, you will be strengthened with the ability to choose wisely and remember that it will pass.
  3. Seek Consolation through Prayer – When I’m in a period of desolation, I don’t feel particularly drawn to prayer. However, this period is when prayer is essential. Since I don’t feel like praying, I should remember & revisit those times of consolation when I felt close to God. This can help motivate me to pray.
  4. Treasure Times of Consolation – If you are experiencing consolation, treasure it. Write about these blessings in a journal; how do you sense God’s closeness? Where do you see God’s hand in your life? What insights have you gained from this time? These memories are important to treasure, because they will strengthen you in times of desolation.
  5. God Is Always Near – Our Catholic faith gives us wonderful reminders of God’s nearness in the sacraments, the witness of the saints, the prayers and devotions, the sacred art, and the Body of Christ present in our brothers and sisters. No matter what we are experiencing, God who is Love is always near to us. We have no reason to fear, only to listen and do our best to grow & develop so that we can, in turn, respond by living in generous love.

Have Hope: God Is Present!

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In his Gospel account, Luke explains to us the reason why he has undertaken the task of writing his own account of the Good News of Jesus Christ: so that we all may realize the certainty of the teachings we have received (Luke 1:1-4). Luke’s Gospel gives us insight into how we may understand Jesus’ presence in our own lives.

Awareness of Jesus’ Presence

Luke speaks to us about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and return to Nazareth, where he grew up (4:14-21). In the synagogue where everyone knows him, Jesus reads to them from the Prophet Isaiah. After he reads, he sits down, and everyone is looking at him.  He then says: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing”. Jesus tells them that his mission is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Jesus is the one for whom the chosen people have been waiting; He is the Good News.

The best thing that can happen for the people… has just happened! The kingdom of God is made present to them, because Jesus the Word of God is in their midst.

Luke continues: “…all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” They also asked, Isn’t this the son of Joseph? They wonder how this man who has been their neighbor since childhood, can claim to be the Messiah without the proof of miracles?!

As we know from other Gospel accounts, even when Jesus does perform miracles and speaks with unheard authority, few put faith in him. He is the Good News for all time, and yet is often met by rejection.

Why Rejection?

Evidence of Jesus Christ is mentioned in historical writings outside of the Scriptural accounts of his life, death, and resurrection. Yet, two thousand years after his death, the number of people who reject him is growing faster than the population. Despite all the miracles that have happened through the ages, and the positive impact that the Church has had upon the world in areas of medicine, education, and charitable services, along with the undeniable impact of the lives of thousands of saints, there is a rapidly-growing number of people who reject God and religion.

We live in the age of relativism, where individuals want to decide what is important for them personally, without regard to any authority or how one’s own beliefs affect others. Primary contributors to this situation are consumerism and materialism, because they can underscore a capacity to isolate ourselves from others and just live for our self. This situation leads to loneliness (and sadness), because it is contrary to our human needs and purpose.

God’s Presence In Our Despair

However, no matter how far we drift from God, there is always the possibility of discovering his presence if we choose to have the humility to turn to God in our time of need. He can manifest his presence even when all seems lost.

In 1941 during WWII, Maximillian Kolbe was arrested by the Nazis for hiding Jews from them. He was treated with hatred in the prison camp. One day, after a prisoner attempted an escape, 10 men were selected to die of starvation as an example to the others. One of the men begged for his life on behalf of his wife and small children. Maximillian Kolbe offered his life in the man’s place. The 10 men were forced into a small box-like building, where there was only room enough to stand. Instead of the usual cursing that was heard when men were waiting to die, hymns and prayers were heard coming from the box. This caused an unusual peace to settle over the death camp, and gave hope to the other prisoners. In that terrible place, the kingdom of God was at hand for those who believed.

Often, when we are going through a trial or great difficulty, our temptation is to focus on our dilemma, and in our imagination, it becomes bigger than reality and overwhelms us. If, on the other hand, we would turn to Jesus and ask him for his help, we can be assured that he will give us the grace we need in that moment.

  • It may be the grace to see things as they truly are.
  • It may be the grace of humility to ask the right people for help.
  • It may be the grace to surrender your life to God and to put your total trust in him.

Read what he says to us in the Scriptures and be confident in his providential love and mercy. Here is one of God’s promises:

Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)

We are never alone; we always have our guardian angel with us. Whenever we turn to our Lord in prayer from our heart, we can be sure that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Concern for People In Our Lives

We all have people we are concerned about, and we should never give up praying for them. Sometimes, it is the prayers of a loved one that finally helps God’s grace to break into our lives—as in the case of Saint Augustine. Amid his life of wild partying, promiscuity, and other poor decisions, his mother’s constant prayers were answered by his powerful conversion. Then, he realized that God’s presence and love was always there.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness…
(Excerpt from Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions)

Jesus assures us many times: Do not worry. We invite you to allow Pilgrim Center of Hope to help you walk daily with hope. An upcoming opportunity is the Catholic Men’s Conference, “Master, I Want to See.” Join us, or invite someone who is seeking answers. You don’t have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ.




 

‘Fear the Lord’: Does God Want Me to Fear Him?

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Even nonreligious people have heard the phrases “Fear God” or “Fear of the Lord,” which have found their way into popular culture, especially here in the southern region of the United States. But are we really supposed to fear God? What does ‘Fear of God’ mean, and how is it helpful for a faithful person’s everyday life?

Where It Comes From

If we look at the first book in the Hebrew Bible, Genesis, we see the first mention of this phrase in the story of Sarah and Abraham (20:11). If you look in the footnotes of your Bible, you may see this explanation:

The original Hebrew used for “fear of God” is yir’at YHWH, literally, “revering Yahweh.” The phrase refers neither to the emotion of fear nor to religious reverence of a general kind. Rather it refers to adherence to a single deity (in a polytheistic culture), honoring that deity with prayers, rituals, and obedience. – cf. New American Bible Revised Edition

I first discovered this distinction as a teacher for high school religious education. The discovery reminded me how important it is for us to put things into their proper context when we read the Bible. The translation of Scriptures from their original languages is a very difficult process that involves not only definitions, but also cultural inferences.

So, when we see the command, “fear your God” throughout the Scriptures, we can be assured of its meaning; as Jesus later told a scholar:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. (cf. Matthew 22:36-40)

The Other Kind of Fear

But perhaps you do have some fear related to God or religion. Today, we commonly use the word “fear” to refer to an emotion that causes dread, horror, and even trauma. What does our faith tradition teach us about this type of fear?

Back again in the Book of Genesis, we see that Adam and Eve, after committing the original sin, hide themselves from God. When God asks Adam why he hid, Adam responds, “Because I was afraid” (cf. Genesis 3:10). This type of fear stands in contrast to Adam and Eve’s previous, harmonious relationship with God and one another (cf. Genesis 2:8-25).

When angels appear in the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, one of their first messages each time is, “Do not be afraid!”

Throughout the gospels, Jesus often exhorts people not to give in to this kind of fear. There are too many instances to cite(!), but one of my favorites is:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

An Expert Opinion

One of the greatest spiritual directors in history was Saint Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church. Even as a bishop, he wrote thousands of letters in correspondence with common people about everyday spirituality.

Regarding fear of God vs. fearing God, he said the following:

We must fear God out of love, not love Him out of fear.
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We are not drawn to God by iron chains, but by sweet attractions and holy inspirations.

If, upon examining yourself and what motivates your faith involvement or choices, you find worry, uneasiness, woe, nervousness, and other unhealthy motivations, then please know that God wants you to be free from that kind of fear!

If—for any reason whatsoever—you find yourself suffering from worry, uneasiness, etc., be assured that God wants your happiness and freedom! Holy fearlessness is what our Christian life is meant to look like. The same Jesus who assured us that we would experience trials in daily life, also said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Saint Paul wrote that God’s hope has always been “that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (cf. Romans 8:19-21).

At Pilgrim Center of Hope this month, we are celebrating fearlessness as God’s desire for your life. Come learn more from the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales at our Social with the Saints on Thursday, January 17. Bring someone who needs a message of hope!

What Can Our Family Learn from the Holy Family?

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We just recently celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family. What can our families today really learn from them?

A Family Trial

The Gospel reading (Luke 2:41-52) focused on an episode in their family life. Mary and Joseph made a pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the feast of Passover, as was required by the Law of Moses. We see in this story that, even though Mary and Joseph were chosen by God to be the parents of Jesus, they did not live a privileged life, free of trials and difficulties. They lived a humble life without any luxuries, and they were obedient to the just laws of God and man. Their humility and obedience was necessary for their intimacy with God; it was the source of their hope and happiness.

When Jesus reached the age of twelve it also became a requirement for him to celebrate Passover and to observe the law. Now that Jesus had become of age, he had his first opportunity to ask questions of the religious teachers in the Temple, who were amazed at his understanding and questions. For this reason, he remained behind. Mary and Joseph had left in a caravan, in which the men and women traveled separately. So, they each thought that Jesus was with the other. When they finally realized that Jesus was not with them, they returned—to find him in the Temple.

Mary and Joseph were troubled by Jesus’ behavior. However, he asked them why they were looking for him. He said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Even though they knew that Joseph was not the real father of Jesus, they lived as if he was. Now that Jesus is of age, his reference to his heavenly Father is a reminder that the purpose for which he came into the world is not far away. As the Scriptures tell us, he then returned with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.

Lesson Learned

So, what can we learn from the Holy Family? Even for Mary and Joseph, life was filled with mystery, and they confronted that mystery with humility and obedience. Jesus—who is God himself—was obedient; first of all to Mary and Joseph, and then to his Father in heaven. For Jesus, his whole mission was about obedience.

The most important things we can learn from the Holy Family are humility and obedience to what God has revealed to us. The greatest commandment is that we Love the Lord our God with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as our self—because it is only in relationship with God that we can experience true and lasting happiness.

Following Their Example

This isn’t complicated, but it is difficult because we naturally want to put our self first. We can only live the greatest commandment with the help of God’s grace, which he makes available to us through his Church and her sacraments.

  • Prayer – It begins with prayer. One way to measure our faith is how we pray; if prayer is not a priority, neither is our faith. If you haven’t been able to develop a discipline of daily prayer, ask God for the grace. You have to have the desire to make changes. Try thanking God when you get up each morning. Pray before meals. Pray with your spouse and children before leaving the house.
  • Spiritual Tools – As Catholics, we have so many resources to help us pray: the Scriptures, Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a treasury of prayers written by saints, and silent prayer in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Have holy water in your home to bless yourself and your family every day.
  • Holy Reminders – It should be obvious that we are Catholic to anyone who would enter our home. A crucifix and other religious images are constant reminders that our home is a “domestic church” where Our Lord is welcome and blesses us with his peace.

Parents should be examples to their children of how to live in relationship with God and one another, because children learn from what they see. When they see the love that their parents have for each other, for God, and for them, they are provided with great security that is important for their development. Praying together as family helps to overcome some of the challenges that are part of life’s experiences. When children see their parents praying together, they will want to learn how to pray also. Jesus promised us that he would be with us whenever we join together in prayer (cf. Matthew 18:20).

Is It Your Family?

Someone asked a priest what inspired his vocation. He answered that as a child, from the time he would see his mother approach a statue of St. Joseph every day, place a piece of paper under his feet, and say a prayer. Her son discovered that these were prayer intentions for him and for the rest of the family. Vocations to the religious life come primarily from faithful families. Our Church is in a desperate need of vocations. Have you encouraged your children or grandchildren to pray about serving God in his Church? When we pray for vocations, maybe it is your family we are praying for! There is nothing more important in this life; we all must serve God, even if it is not through a religious vocation.

When families pray together every day, we will see more peace in homes, less divorces, and more vocations for the Church. Jesus, Mary and Joseph; help us to be humble and obedient to God, so that we may live in happiness together.

Do you need help praying with your family? Pilgrim Center of Hope offers guidance and ideas in our weekly Living Catholicism series. We invite you to click the link and explore!

Why It Matters that Jesus Is Our King

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In this Sunday’s Gospel, we saw Jesus, whom Christians name “King of Kings,” being judged by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. In response to Pilate, Jesus says:

You say I am a king. For this was I born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (John 18:37)

“What is truth?” This is a question for our time. Do we really want to know the truth about who God is and about how he wants us to live our lives in relationship with him? There is an objective truth based upon natural law and on the law of God—given to us by way of his revelation in the Scriptures and his Church. When Pope Benedict XVI began his papacy, he said that one of the greatest concerns of our times is relativism, a commonly-held doctrine causing individuals to trust more in their own logic and in ideologies to which they’re attracted, than to trust what God has revealed.

Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” To belong to the truth is to choose Jesus Christ as our King, our Lord and Savior, and to allow the truth of God’s revelation in the Scriptures and the Church to shape our lives. It is this authority that enables us to cling to God’s promises, so that we will always have hope in every circumstance.

Pilate asks the people if they want him to release Jesus to them. They said, “Not him but Barabbas!” They rejected Jesus as their King and called for his crucifixion. They spoke out of ignorance, but their ignorance had consequences.

This is not the only time that Jesus Christ and his Kingship were rejected. He has been rejected throughout history, mostly out of ignorance, whenever the truths he has revealed have been rejected. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:16) When we reject Jesus, we are rejecting God’s revealed plan for our salvation.

Questions for This Week

What does this Feast of Christ the King mean to us; to you and me? It is an opportunity to look at our relationship with Jesus Christ.

  • Is he our King and the Lord of our life?
  • Do we belong to him and the truths he has revealed?
  • Do we listen to his voice? Or do we reject him because we really do not know him or take him seriously?

My Personal Story

Thirty-two years ago when I was a hotel manager, I was having lunch with the Food & Beverage Manager when he asked me, “Is Jesus the Lord of your life?”

I don’t remember what I told him, but I do remember that my answer should have been “No.” I went to Mass every Sunday, but that was the end of my faith experience for the week. However, that question began to haunt me. I believed in God, but how much influence did he have on the decisions I made; very little?

That was a wake-up call for me. Where was I going with my life? What were my priorities? How important was my faith?

Shortly afterward, I bought my first Bible and joined a prayer group at St. Matthew parish. Through a series of decisions and circumstances, my faith become alive and a major influence in my life.

Finding True Happiness

I thank God for that wake-up call, because it changed the course of my life. I am truly grateful that God gave my wife Mary Jane and me, at the same time, the grace to desire a personal relationship with him. There are no words to describe the joy we have discovered these past 40 years of marriage as a result of our efforts to place God first in our lives. It is only possible to reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity when our life is ordered to God, according to the truths he has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

  • We invite Jesus to be our Lord and King by a commitment to daily prayer, and inviting him to be with us every day throughout the day.
  • We stay connected to him by faithfully attending Mass, and by encountering him in the sacraments and in the holy scriptures.
  • We defend ourselves against the ignorance of this age by being formed in our faith, and allowing Mother Church to guide us on our pilgrimage through this life—so that we will always have hope.

To say that Jesus is our King is not just an act of our intelligence or of our faculties to perceive his message; it is first of all a matter of a heart that is willing to be open, a heart that has a desire to believe what God has revealed, to live what we believe, and to share what we believe with others so that they may also believe.

God’s plan for us is not complicated. He said we must be like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. We must trust and depend upon God as a child trusts and depends upon its parents. Without exception, each of us has to intentionally choose Jesus as our Lord and King, for our own salvation, and to help save the souls of others—especially those whom we love.

Pilgrim Center of Hope is here to help. Explore more about reaching your potential for happiness; we invite you to watch our weekly broadcast TV & video series. May you be renewed in hope as you reflect on Christ as your King.

Updated Monday 11/26/2018 9am CST

In Times of Weakness, Stay Centered in Christ

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As I prepared to write this blog on staying focused on Christ when faced with self-doubt, I thought about the various times in my life when I allowed myself to become problem-centered instead of Christ-centered. Times when I forgot about how crucial it is to run, not walk, toward Jesus whenever I start feeling inadequate. When I got problem-centered, I would focus on things like:

  • I lack in patience and need to react less to the words and actions of others
  • I don’t spend enough time reading and studying Church teachings
  • I lack in self-discipline when it comes to eating healthy and exercising
  • I don’t spend enough time in prayer
  • I am not as virtuous or holy as I should be

At one time or another we all have fixated on what’s wrong with our life, instead of running to the waiting arms of Jesus. When we are weary, we all need to be more like St. John and seek to rest our head on the chest of Jesus. Herein lies the strength we need to persevere with boldness, passion, and joy!

It is precisely because of our weaknesses, our sinfulness, and our imperfections that Christ died on the cross! In these moments when we feel unworthy and like throwing in the towel, we need to fix our eyes on Christ:

  • Salvation History – from his Incarnation to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection
  • Scripture – the Living Word, his instruction on how to overcome sin and temptation
  • His Triumphant Return – when he will bring salvation to those who eagerly await him

When we are Christ-centered, it not only opens our eyes, but it gives us confidence and the ability to put our total trust in God, no matter what the crisis, challenges, or obstacles.

So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. – Hebrews 4:16

Saint Paul, who was afflicted at times by a sense of brokenness, failure, and persecution, gave us some powerful words of consolation and encouragement:

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.  – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

At one of our recent Socials with the Saints, I reminded everyone why we turn to the saints for inspiration to continue on our pilgrim journey toward the Heavenly Jerusalem:

A saint is not someone who never sins, but one who sins less and less frequently and gets up more and more quickly. – St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Just like the saints, all of us – no matter how unworthy we feel at times – can achieve holiness:

…In spite of the fact that we have all sorts of shortcomings and sins and so forth, if we are striving to love our Lord with our whole strength, that is a growing in the sanctity of life. – Fr. Jerry Gehringer, Being a Saint in the World

Second Corinthians, Chapter 12, Verse 7 tells us that St. Paul was given a thorn in his flesh, not an actual thorn, but a source of real pain (frustration) to keep him humble. Since we are not told exactly what the thorn was, let us equate this thorn with whatever chronic difficulty or problem we may struggle with. Here is what God told Paul, after he begged God three times to take the thorn away:

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness (12: 9)

Paul’s response was to say, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”

We are weak, but we must be courageous in our weakness. And often our courage must be expressed in escaping without looking back, so as not to fall into the trap of wicked nostalgia. – Pope Francis (Homily, July 2, 2013)

Pilgrim Center of Hope is here to provide you with the life-lines (presentations, tools, and resources) that can lead you out of times of turbulence (problems and moments of self-doubt) to encounters with Christ that will restore order and hope in your daily life.

Please join us for our next Day of Hope, on Thursday, November 29, from 10am until 5pm. You will have the opportunity to venerate relics of St. Padre Pio, including a glove worn by the Saint with blood from his stigmata. Mass will be celebrated at 9am. Click on the link above for details.

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!