Tag Archives: Gospel

Why Ashes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why did the Angels announce Christ’s birth to shepherds?

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b-shepherds-fieldMy husband and I enjoy watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year. Who could forget that classic moment, when a deeply perturbed Charlie Brown yells, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” and Linus recites from the Gospel of Luke? It’s a real tear-jerker.

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

How often have you pictured that scene in your mind: so many angels singing God’s praises, their glory contrasting with the poor, amazed, and simple shepherds? Did you know that even to this day in Bethlehem, shepherds continue to tend their flocks in the very same fields? During my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I was privileged to visit and see this amazing place with my own eyes.

Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem

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Have you ever realized that this historic event is commemorated during Mass on Sundays and major feast days? Each time we sing, “Glory to God in the highest…”, known as the Gloria, we are echoing those words of the angels that forever changed the world and sent a message of hope for all people! Wow!

However, have you noticed that during Advent, we skip this part of the Mass? Why?

Shepherd of Bethlehem

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jewish people lived under the Roman Empire’s occupation, and they longed for a Savior. They looked for a “Son of David”, because the prophets had promised a Messiah (Savior) from the line of King David. The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus was born into such a family.

Now recall King David’s background: he was a shepherd from Bethlehem. He was the youngest and smallest of his father’s sons—an unexpected new king, yet the most famous and revered of all Israel’s rulers.

Why Shepherds are Significant

Imagine spending your days and nights outside with a flock of sheep…not the most exciting gig in the world! Shepherds were servants, hired by landowners to tend their flock. An ideal shepherd was a patient, loyal, strong person, willing to stay with his job despite boredom, bad weather, and the occasional predator or wandering sheep. To these simple servants, the host of heaven revealed itself!

Similarly, we ourselves are charged by our Master to go about our everyday lives accomplishing the tasks he gives us. Under blue skies or gray, rain or shine, in boredom or danger, we are called to be out in the fields, doing our duty.

Advent is a time of preparation and waiting. Unlike the world around us which is already celebrating Christmas, we are called to patiently wait for our Savior. Just like the shepherds, we must stay awake and alert. Then, finally, when eternity explodes into our lives—either by death or Second Coming, we will be ready to run and greet Christ!

So, during Advent, we do not sing the Gloria as a reminder that we are waiting, like those shepherds. For me, Christmas Mass is one of the most emotional of the year, because I can sing the song that, along with millions of other Catholics, I have been waiting so long to sing. Together, our Church family sings the song that brought hope to a people longing for a savior; the song that the host of heaven sang to some humble little “nobodys”…

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

If you’d like to walk across Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem and sing the Gloria where it was first sung, join us for a journey of faith to the Holy Land! I invite you to learn about the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s unique Ministry of Pilgrimages and view upcoming pilgrimages on our website.

#1 Gift Everyone Wants

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Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

In this past weekend’s Gospel, the rich man lives only for himself. It is not mentioned that he is evil in any other way. He lives in luxury and dines sumptuously each day. He is so absorbed in satisfying himself that he doesn’t even notice Lazarus starving at his door. The Gospel doesn’t say that Lazarus asked the rich man for anything, he just sat at his door unnoticed. The self indulgence of the rich man will have eternal consequences.

Was Lazarus being unjust by sitting at the door of the rich man?

The rich man had an abundance of something Lazarus needed, food. Lazarus longed just for the scraps that fell from his table. I recently heard a conversation on the radio in which the host and his guests were talking about how troublesome beggars are. They said, “There should be a law against them. Why can’t they just find a job?”

It might be convenient if we did not have to be bothered with such things, but life is more complicated than that. The point of this Gospel is that, we cannot just live for ourselves. We must be aware of the needs of others, and this is not only about food and shelter and clothing. We all have something that someone else needs and we will never develop spiritually until we share from what we have been given.

What is needed for our own happiness?

First of all we must give God His due, not because He needs it, but because it is necessary for our own happiness. We are created to be in a charitable relationship with God and each other. There will always be disorder in our lives until we love the Lord Our God with all our mind, heart soul and strength. When we are connected to God by faith and in prayer He will guide us to make right choices.

No matter whether we are rich or poor we all have 24 hours each day and sometimes the best gift we can share is our time. First of all we must spend time in prayer each day to be connected to God and His guidance. After God, comes the people who are most important to you; your spouse, your children, parents, family members. We are obliged to share quality time with the people who depend on us. Lack of quality time destroys relationships.

Why are our gifts are so important?

Our faith community also needs for us to share from our time, talent and treasure. In baptism, we all have been given gifts by God which can only be discovered by being formed in our faith and participating in our faith community. These gifts are not for our own use only, but are meant to build up the Body of Christ, which is His Church. If we fail to contribute to our faith community in a significant way we are stifling our spiritual growth as well as that of our faith community.

One of the greatest gifts we have been given is the gift of faith because it makes it possible for us to have an intimate, personal relationship with God. This gift is only of benefit to us if we develop it, live it and share it. As our faith transforms us, we are expected to be an instrument of transformation for society. St. John Chrysostom once said: “There is no one colder than a Christian who is uninterested in the salvation of others.” When we stand before God, none of us will have an excuse for not sharing from what we have received.

Why can’t we do what we have always done?

It is natural for us to want to live just for ourselves like the rich man in the Gospel, even if we aren’t rich. However, God entered into the world in the person of Jesus Christ to radically change the possibilities of life on earth. That’s why we all must be converted to a new way of thinking and living by accepting the truths of the Gospel and turning away from sin. This conversion is possible only if it is the desire of our hearts and we ask God for the grace to make the changes we know we must make. Conversion is a daily process that is necessary for us so that we can grow in virtue and become spiritually mature.

Conversion is not only necessary for our salvation, it is also necessary for true happiness and peace right now. The Lord has a great plan for us and He has given us His Church to help us live that plan. There is great joy in drawing close to God and believing, living and sharing the truths He has revealed. After all, it is our purpose for being on this earth. Faith is a gift from God, but believing is a choice.

We enjoy sharing the gift of God with others and one of the special ways that the Pilgrim Center of Hope can achieve this is through our weekly television and radio series, Catholicism Live! Tune-in every Tuesday from 11 – 12 pm CST. You can watch us on Catholic Television of San Antonio via Time Warner Cable channel 15 or via the CTSA Facebook Page! Submit your questions and comments during the show on Facebook or anytime at CatholicismLive.com. We pray that all people accept the gift of faith and believe.

Burning Bridges: A good thing?

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13th Sunday in Cycle C

Who do we follow?

When Elisha decided to follow Elija he went back and killed the oxen and burned the plowing equipment that supported his previous occupation. He burned his bridges, so to speak, so that he would not be distracted from his new calling. We are all called to follow Christ without reservation.

What is it that we need to burn?

In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians he says:

“For the flesh has desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. These are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.”

Jesus Christ came into the world to show us how to live in relationship with our Heavenly Father. He came not to do his own will, but the will of the One who sent him. Our vocation, our happiness is realized in our faithfulness to God’s will, as He has revealed it through the Church and the Scriptures. We cannot just do what we want; we must be faithful to His plan.

So, what is His plan?

We must love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. There can be nothing more important in our life than our relationship with God, and this relationship depends upon our daily commitment to prayer and faithfulness to the Gospel.

If we love God above everything else then we will be able to love our selves and our neighbors, which demands self-denial on our part and a generous use of the gifts God has given us. Because this life of self-denial and generosity does not come natural for us, Our Lord has given us the Church and the Sacraments as the source of grace we need to live a supernatural life – beyond our human tendencies. We can only be faithful to His plan with His help.

If we would have the humility to learn from Biblical history, human history and our personal history, it should be obvious that when we insist on doing things our own way with no regard for the will of God, we end up experiencing personal and social unhappiness, confusion and hopelessness.

What’s going on today?

Atheism is growing faster than ever before and we have allowed that influence to remove prayer from our public schools and public assemblies and any reference to God or use of Christian symbols is often treated as a criminal act. The most dangerous place on this earth is the mother’s womb because that is where most life is intentionally and legally terminated and there is little mention of the suffering of those who have made the choice to abort a baby.

The entertainment industry and the media have held up sexual gratification as a necessary condition for happiness and our secular educational system and our government have made an all out effort to push the homosexual agenda and to re-define marriage, rejecting God’s own definition of marriage in Holy Scripture.

What can we do?

This country was founded on Christian principles which are now being threatened by our government. We must pray for the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, for the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman as defined by God, and for religious freedom from government intervention that violates our rights to fulfill our God given mission to serve Him and His people and for just immigration reform.

That is why for the last five years the bishops of the United States have asked Catholics to recognize June 21st through July 4th as the fortnight of religious freedom. A call to prayer and discussion of this important issue.

What did Jesus know?

In the Gospel, Jesus is approached by those who want to follow him, but they have excuses why they cannot follow him “now”. There is no convenient time to follow Jesus; the time for all of us to follow him is now. He says: “No one who sets his hands to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”  We cannot be Jesus’ followers and look back to living our life according to our own will, by just doing what we want.

Jesus of course knew the temptations we would be confronted with when he said, “If you are to be my disciple you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” If we allow our appetites and desires to control our lives, we will not be able to discover and live the great plan God has for us.

What do we pray for?

As Christians, we must believe that our happiness can only reach its potential in a faithful relationship with Jesus Christ and we must pray for the leadership of our great country. Prayer is vital to all of God’s work. Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, we have dedicated Prayer Intercessors who generously pray for our mission in Catholic evangelization. Each Intercessor receives a monthly letter informing him or her of this apostolate’s urgent needs, concerns, and blessings. We invite you to become a Prayer Intercessor, so that we can be united in prayer for each other and the whole world.

What should we eat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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