Hope for Those Who Have Departed

In the March 16, 2018 edition of Today’s Catholic, I wrote about a friend of mine whose strong faith during her intense battle with cancer inspired me to name her a “Hosanna” woman; someone who chooses to praise God while experiencing first-hand what it means to suffer with Jesus.

My friend died last month. She died one year after she was told by doctors she only had one month. In God’s Providence, she actively used her time to pray and seek a cure while she prepared her soul for Eternity and her husband and family for lives without her. She left us for her Eternal reward only a few days after she made sure her youngest son received his first communion; the sacrament which our pastor brought to her bedside so she would not miss it.

Her online journaling drew 15,000 followers. My friend did not meet anyone who did not like her, but I doubt even she had 15,000 friends. It was her words of faith in a God she knew intimately that called them. Her “Hosanna” faith inspired in them the desire to encounter this Jesus who she loves so much.

Two months before my friend’s death, my 52-year old cousin died. He was a lost soul riddled with addiction, a history of crime, family abuse and acute physical limitations brought on by years of self-neglect. He was called a teddy bear of a man for his gentle spirit, but his spirit was indeed troubled. He did not practice his faith for many years because he believed God thought he was worth what the world told him, “You are good for nothing.”

What can we say of the state of these two souls? We can say nothing because it is only God who can read the depths of a man’s soul. But we do have the wisdom of the Church to guide us.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we learn: “Heaven is assured for, ‘Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God forever, for they “see him as he is, ‘face to face'”‘” (1023). Purgatory is offered for, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (1030).

We may assume my faithful friend is in Heaven, but we cannot know that. We are not capable of comprehending what it truly means to be purified so that we may see God face to face. My mom, whose faith and suffering matched my faithful friend’s, told her five daughters before she passed, “You better never stop praying for my soul. I am counting on you girls to get your mother out of Purgatory!”

At my cousin’s funeral, I recall the reassuring words of the priest. He said, “Scott was baptized into the family of God which means Scott is a beloved son of the Father. I trust that he is being embraced by all the Church offers so that he will come to enjoy everlasting peace.” What a consolation for my aunt and his mother!

So, what does the Church offer?

When we pray for the souls of the living and the dead and offer our little daily sacrifices and sufferings, we are joining with all prayer and all who pray. This includes the prayers and sacrifices that monks in monasteries and cloistered sisters in convents offer 24/7 for our salvation. Think of it as a huge jug filling to the brim with grace to be poured upon a poor soul in need of healing and purification.

When we participate at Mass, lifting our hearts and minds along with the Sacrifice of Jesus at the altar, we are lifting all people living and deceased along with His perfect sacrifice. This is what St. Paul means when he writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

What the Church offers is a way for us to help Jesus in his mission of Mercy; the Mercy merited by him alone through his one sacrifice for all, but which in his love for us, he allows us to help him distribute to ourselves and the ones we love.

Nan Balfour is the Events Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope. This first appeared in Living Catholicism, our regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.

Why Purgatory?

For Catholics, the liturgical year is divided up into seasons and feast days. The seasons focus on God’s plan of salvation as revealed in the life of Christ, and the feast days are celebrations of the powerful presence of God in the lives of his witnesses.

We began November with All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2.

From baptism, we are all members of the body of Christ – the Church Militant, or those of us who are still working out our salvation; the Church Triumphant, those who have reached their final destination in heaven; or the Church Suffering, those who are being purified on their way to heaven through purgatory.

Throughout the church year, we celebrate the feast days of specific saints, but All Saints Day is for all the saints in heaven who we may know nothing about, perhaps even our relatives.

Do they need our celebrations?

Saint Bernard said, “The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.”

All Souls Day is about those who have left this life in the state of grace but have not yet reached the perfection necessary to be received into heaven. They must undergo a process of purification which we call purgatory.

God expects those of us who believe in him to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures. This faithfulness will help us to reach our potential for happiness in this life, but it requires that we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.

To go a step further, Jesus said we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This perfection is only possible with the help of grace that he offers us when we choose to be in an intimate relationship with him.

Our present trials and difficulties can help us make reparation for our sins against God and humanity, if we intentionally unite them with the sufferings of Christ. However, at the end of our life, if we have not rejected God and yet have not reached the state of perfection that God has expected of us, in his mercy he will purify our souls in purgatory.

Purgatory is not a final destination but more like a journey through which some souls undergo on their way to heaven. Purgatory is fundamentally based on how much our loving God wants us to live perfectly united to him for all eternity, even if we haven’t been perfect. For this reason, every day, at every eucharistic liturgy throughout the world, we pray for those who have died. We believe that prayer can assist them in their purification process.

Even though these souls are being purified, they are at peace because they know that their salvation is eminent. Thank God for purgatory.

Deacon Tom Fox is co-director & co-founder of Pilgrim Center of Hope. This column was originally submitted for the San Antonio Express-News “Belief” column in its Faith section. (Updated to final printed version 11/26/2018 12:11pm)

A Fresh Look at the Rosary

Originally printed as San Antonio Express-News “Belief” Column

The Roman Catholic Feast of the Holy Rosary on Oct. 7 offers an opportunity to introduce the rosary, an iconic image to some and a religious symbol to others, to all Christians and people of prayer.

While some people wear it as jewelry, the Catholic faithful see the rosary as the anchor to their prayer life, a revered string of 59 beads that begins and ends with the crucifix, Jesus Christ on the cross of salvation.

Any glossary of Catholic terms will tell you the rosary is a sacramental, a tangible object, which when blessed by a priest, carries with it a power strengthened by one’s faith. Like a talisman believed to have powers, a rosary is considered a special object and is often passed down through generations.

Like other sacramentals such as holy medals and prayer cards depicting saints, the rosary is cherished because it might have been used by a bearer throughout their prayer life. It’s not uncommon to see a Catholic buried with a rosary in hand as proof of their love for Jesus Christ.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my dear mother, praying the rosary every night before bed. Her prayers were always for friends and family, most especially her children. She prayed for our protection, success, good health and happiness, if it be God’s will.

That gives me great consolation and has instilled in me a deep interest in the rosary. The more I have learned about it, the more I have relied on it.

The rosary cord contains 59 beads separated into sections of 10 beads called decades. They come in all colors, sizes and styles.

Originally, it contained three sets of five mysteries, or events, in the life of Christ — the joyful ones surrounding his birth; the sorrowful events of his passion, or suffering; and the glorious events about his resurrection.

When first introduced, the rosary was popularized by illiterate Christians unable to read the Bible. The devotion was popularized also by the Dominican order in the 13th century; by the 16th century, it took the form used today.

In an apostolic letter in October 2002, Pope St. John Paul II — known as the pope of the rosary — recommended an additional set of mysteries, called the luminous mysteries, or the “mysteries of light,” that focus on Christ’s public ministry.

John Paul II said the rosary is a gospel prayer in which, with Mary, we contemplate the face of Jesus.

The words of the prayers — the Our Father and the Hail Mary — are scripturally based. The Hail Mary consists largely of Bible verses in the Gospel of Luke 1: 28-45 and reflect major moments in the lives of Jesus and Mary.

Even non-Catholics pray the rosary. “I’m a Methodist,” one said, “but I absolutely adore the rosary, and prayer beads of all kinds. I love that with a simple set of beads I can meditate on the entire life of Christ as seen by the woman through whom he is genetically related to the rest of us. Prayer beads help me focus my mind, something that is difficult at times.”

The rosary is a family prayer and a way to teach children about the life of Christ. It can be prayed in less than half an hour, and the beads enable you to free your mind from the task of counting.

For anyone seeking to grow closer to God through prayer, the rosary offers a path to a relationship with him. The rosary has given hope to many who feel lost or alone and is a source of hope and not superstition.

Robert V. Rodriguez is the public relations and outreach assistant at Pilgrim Center of Hope. He writes about the Catholic faith for TV, radio, blogs, print and social media.

Why the Cross?

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18). Almighty God, in his wisdom, chose the cross as the instrument of salvation for humanity, sacrificing his Son for our sins. As tragic as it is, the body of Jesus on the cross is an image of the depth of God’s love for us and his victory over sin and death for those who believe in him. Every Catholic should have a crucifix in a prominent place in our home as a testimony of our faith and the reason for our hope in eternal life.

Another reality is, Jesus made the cross the condition of our own discipleship. He said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Outside of the sacraments, perhaps the greatest intimacy we have with Christ is when we are enduring our trials and unite our suffering with his suffering; when we put our total trust in him. He longs for us to come to him so that he can lighten our burdens with the help of his grace. We may not receive a miracle, although that sometimes happens, but he will give us the grace we need to persevere if we keep our eyes on him and his cross.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was observed in Rome before the end of the seventh century on September 14. It commemorates the recovery of the Holy Cross, which had been placed on Mt. Calvary by St. Helena in the fourth century and preserved in Jerusalem, but then had fallen into the hands of the Persians. The cross was recovered and returned to Jerusalem by Emperor Heraclius in 629.

In Jerusalem, in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, this feast is celebrated by decorating the altar of St. Helena, which is at the bottom of a long stairway that leads to the lowest point in the Church. At one time, this was a pit where St. Helena found the true Cross. Mass is celebrated on this altar, and then the Franciscans process with incense and chanting throughout the entire basilica, blessing all the altars that are present there.

After several pilgrimages to the Holy Land, my wife Mary Jane and I became friends with the sacristan of the Holy Sepulcher Church. In the 90s, when Plexiglas was added to Calvary so that you could see the original stone where the cross stood, some of the stone was chipped away to accommodate the Plexiglas. The sacristan gave Pilgrim Center of Hope a piece of Calvary, which is a tangible reminder of where Jesus died for us and all humanity.

“We adore you O’ Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

Deacon Tom Fox is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope. This first appeared in Living Catholicism, our regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.

A father embraces and kisses his daughter

Renewing Our Faith and Theirs

One of the most-asked questions we receive at Pilgrim Center of Hope is, “How can I bring my loved ones back to the Catholic faith?”

I myself have asked this; it is the sincere question of a concerned loved one.

In these situations, we tend to seek books, articles, or succinct answers. In my zealous younger years, this was my own approach. Such solutions would ‘do the trick’ if faith were merely a matter of logic and reason. However, as rich a Catholic intellectual tradition as we have, and as much as we should challenge ourselves to learn and understand the many aspects of our faith tradition; faith is not merely a rational matter.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching that intellectual assent is only part of the story: “Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace” (no. 155).

Grace. That means that the first person to act is always God. Pope Benedict XVI said, “In the Church, we discover that every person’s life is a love story.” Do we trust that God Almighty knows and loves our loved ones, infinitely more than we could ever know and love them? If so, we trust that God is working in their lives.

Perhaps a person has simply drifted away from religious practice. Perhaps it was their conscious choice. Perhaps it was a response to being unwelcomed or even abused by members of the Church. No matter what the situation, let us be assured of God’s immense and active love for them.

What is our role, then? You and I; we are invited to participate in God’s ever-present acts of love—the showering of grace upon creation.

Rather than publish tomes or treatises, Jesus commissioned people to be his witnesses. The early Church answered Christ’s commission by personally and truly making present God’s Kingdom through the sacraments, helping people find healing, sharing their reason for hope, and serving others—especially vulnerable, downtrodden populations. Those witnesses wrote the New Testament; many of its books were personal letters.

In response to those first witnesses’ multifaceted participation in God’s showering of grace, people were deeply changed, loved, healed, and given hope. In response, those people sought answers. Then, they decided to believe.

Today, you and I are the Church, which means that we are those living witnesses.

We can learn from one of the Church’s greatest witnesses, celebrated this month—St. Dominic de Guzman, who brought even heretics to the Catholic faith. Dominic said, “Heretics are to be converted by an example of humility and other virtues far more readily than by any external display or verbal battles. So let us arm ourselves with devout prayers and set off showing signs of genuine humility and go barefooted to combat Goliath.”

Even as the founder of the Order of Preachers, Dominic instructed his followers to focus on entering the battle barefooted—vulnerable and trusting in God, becoming the most virtuous and genuinely-humble witness to Christ that they could possibly become.

Reflecting on my own journey of faith, I realize that I discovered the greatest peace, joy, and purpose through encounters with those true witnesses to Christ who embodied his words, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

So, rather than focusing on finding “the perfect answer” to offer those who have left the practice of faith, let us first realize our baptismal call; you and I have been commissioned as a witness to Jesus Christ.

Who is Jesus? Why do you follow him? Why do you hold the Catholic faith?

Today, I respond: Jesus is my healer, my teacher, my brother, and my friend. He is the most patient of all lovers. He is the truest of all liberators. At the same time, he is my God. I believe that, in his wisdom, God established a family that is today called the Catholic Church, and he calls its members to live and grow as his witnesses, to transform the world.

How do you respond?

I invite you to join us for a Day & Evening of Hope at Pilgrim Center of Hope on August 22, to venerate a relic of St. Thomas Aquinas, and to learn and find encouragement in being a witness to your faith.

Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator at Pilgrim Center of Hope. This first appeared in Living Catholicism, our regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.

Time for A Spiritual Check-up

When’s the last time you gave yourself a spiritual check-up? If you answered recently, then congratulations! However, it’s more likely that you answered not recently or never. According to several reputable research studies almost 750,000 people in Bexar County report having no association with a religious faith…the number is up 50-percent from the year 2000. Also, a recent Pew Research Study indicated that one-third of Americans do not believe in the God of the Bible. This is the world we live in.

We get regular check-ups for every other aspect of our life; there is the annual physical for the body, scheduled maintenance for the car, and the end of the year review of our finances. So why not, a regular spiritual check-up?

All of these check-ups, especially the latter, are necessary so that we can avoid problems, have peace of mind, and live a well-balanced successful life. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

My wake-up call came when I was 42 years-old, the year my mother died. Up until then – outside of going to Mass on Sundays – I really hadn’t put much effort into assessing or developing my spiritual life. And when it came to holiness, I thought that was only possible for priests, nuns, and extremely devout Catholics. After my mom died, I began formulating a spiritual plan to get to heaven, so that I could see mom again one day.

I have spent the last several years discovering the richness of the Catholic Church. Consequently, I have been able to appreciate the depth and beauty of the Church. Like the petals of a rose, the Church offers so much sweetness in the form of Scripture (try lectio divina – the meditative reading of sacred text), the sacraments, the lives of the saints, sacramentals (Rosary, holy medals, blessings, etc.), Church teaching, prayer, parish life, and evangelization ministries like Pilgrim Center of Hope (PCH).

On the Call to Holiness

After reading Guadate Et Exsultate, Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, I was reminded of the words of St. Josemaria Escriva: “This is God’s will for us, that we be saints.” St. Josemaria’s legacy is the belief that each of us can, by God’s grace, achieve holiness through the course of ordinary life and work.

Guadate Et Exsultate offers us a practical roadmap to holiness for our own time complete with the risks, challenges, and opportunities that we will face along the way.

Thanks to Pope Francis, I have charted a new route to holiness that includes the following signposts:
Perseverance, Patience, Meekness, Joy, Sense of Humor, Boldness, Passion, and Constant Prayer

By being docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I have been led to Pilgrim Center of Hope. Part of what drives me are the words of Saint Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).

In the face of fear and doubt, I have been encouraged by the words of Pope St. John Paul II: “Do not be afraid…Put out into the deep and let down your nets.”

All of us should want to have a fervor – a parrhesia or boldness – to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. As Pope Francis suggests: “Let us ask the Lord for this parrhesia – this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward.”

Daily Life, Balance, and Temperance

Our PCH theme for July is Daily Life, Balance, and Temperance, all key to a strong spiritual plan.

We are in the Second Period of Ordinary Time, a part of the liturgical year when Christ walks among us and transforms lives! If we want to grow in character and virtue, we must walk with Him in our daily life – through prayer, worship and devotion.

Balance involves enjoying life (in moderation), being full of gratitude, loving your neighbor, and serving others.

Having Temperance means not being a slave to one’s greatest pleasures; consumption of food & drink, and the union of the sexes outside of marriage. In a society that promotes instant gratification, we have to work especially hard at abstinence, and chastity. St. Matthew was right: “…the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (cf. Matthew 26:41).

To paraphrase a teaching from the Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, true peace of heart is found in the person who is fervent and spiritual.

Robert V. Rodriguez is PR/Outreach Assistant for Pilgrim Center of Hope. This first appeared in Living Catholicism, our regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.

Newspaper Column on Eucharist

The following Pilgrim Center of Hope “Living Catholicism” column appears in Today’s Catholic newspaper (June 8, 2018 edition).

In that little host is the solution to all the problems of the world.

These words of John Paul II on the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ give an answer to so many questions, doubts, and problems people experience today. In that little host is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ; also referred to as his Real Presence who dwells in the Tabernacle.

Volumes have been written on this greatest and most fundamental mystery. Christians have given their lives for the Eucharist, people have become Catholic because of the Eucharist, healings have occurred because of the Eucharist. John Paul II continues, The church draws her life from the Eucharist.

For 2,000 years, Catholics have believed this truth, and have offered the sacrifice of the Mass every day throughout the whole world. What a consolation to know there is a Mass offered somewhere in the world at every hour, considering the various time zones and churches throughout the world. The words of the Eucharistic Prayer during the Mass include each one of us and those who have left the Church: Father, hear the prayers of the family you have gathered here before you. In mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be.

Discover Jesus in the Eucharist
Father John A. Hardon, S.J. wrote extensively about the Catholic faith. He states, We believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ – simply, without qualification. It is God become man in the fullness of his divine nature, in the fullness of his human nature, in the fullness of his body and soul, in the fullness of everything that makes Jesus. He is in the Eucharist with his human mind and will united with the divinity, with his hands and feet, his face and features, with his eyes and lips and ears and nostrils, with his affections and emotions and, with emphasis, with his living, pulsating, physical Sacred Heart. That is what our Catholic faith demands of us that we believe. If we believe this, we are Catholic. If we do not, we are not, no matter what people may think we are.

Spiritual writers identify the Eucharist as the Presence Sacrament. Christ is on earth. He wants to perform miracles of his grace, especially miracles of conversion in what is becoming a Christ-less age. The key to tapping the resources of his grace is our deep faith in Christ’s living presence among us in the Blessed Sacrament.
Go to him!

  • Take time to adore Him. Make an appointment with Jesus; we do for so many other things in our life. There are numerous churches offering availability for Adoration. St. Maximilian Kolbe said: God dwells in our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.
  • Take a couple of moments after receiving the Eucharist at Mass to thank Him for this gift. He is in your soul. Take Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s advice: If I can give you any advice, I beg you to get closer to Jesus in the Eucharist.
  • Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation to prepare you to receive the Real Presence.

Leave behind for a while the noise, the agitation, the superficial; and enter into this time of silence where he awaits you. In this encounter with Jesus, we do not seek entertainment or comfort. We seek God. It is a challenge demanding effort and sacrifice. Have an encounter with Jesus, mysteriously present in the Eucharist. Discover the joy of adoring him in a silence of love.

In that little host is the solution to the problems of the world; this reality becomes our hope for our daily journey.

Mary Jane Fox, along with her husband Deacon Tom Fox, are co-founders and co-directors of Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is a regular column of this Catholic evangelization ministry that is answering Christ’s call, by guiding people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. PilgrimCenterofHope.org

Naked Before God

Naked before God.

 

That is how I felt; a pilgrim who did not deserve to be standing atop Mount Calvary in Jerusalem. Dim candlelight revealed the edges of the rock hill where Jesus of Nazareth had shed his blood for love of me. I could only stand there in silence; feeling speechless and thoughtless at the place where God’s Heart had burst forever into time and space.

 

Each day of my pilgrimage, I gradually shed the masks, prejudices, defenses, and other layers that our humanity tends to collect over time. I was able to metaphorically stand naked before God, and others, as I walked the biblical roads.

 

Reflecting on this conversion experience, I realized that God was teaching me about the virtue which Jesus highly praised: humility. “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)

 

Often, our society portrays humility as a miserable attitude wherein we put ourselves down, or think of ourselves as nothing better than dirt. “Humility does not mean false modesty,” explained Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2011. “It indicates our awareness that anything we can do is a gift of God.”

 

Humility means truly seeing ourselves in God’s eyes—and this is good news! Think about how much God loves you, how highly God thinks of you, how greatly God believes in you; to create you as a unique individual and to become human out of love for you! “God proves his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

 

Humility means that, all at once, we see our belovedness in God’s sight as well as our nakedness and frailty before God. We realize how we would have nothing without God, yet with God, we have all.

 

We are in the midst of the Easter Season now. Recall how the Gospel depicts Jesus after his resurrection; retaining his wounds of crucifixion (cf. John 20:25, 27). It is this wounded yet resurrected Jesus who “breathes” the Holy Spirit on the early Church in the Upper Room (cf. John 20:22).

 

A powerful truth is embodied by Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection: Only when we offer ourselves naked before God and others—accepting the reality of our frailty, woundedness, and weakness, in the light of with God’s mighty love, can we experience the Kingdom of God and eternal life in the Holy Spirit.

 

Our practice of the virtue of humility is a first step towards this freedom which God desires for us. That is precisely why Easter is a time of rejoicing; when we have followed Christ in the way of humility, we arrive at freedom. In his addresses to Christians, Pope St. John Paul II often said, “We are the Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!” I would venture to say that the virtue of humility is the breath which enables our Alleluia’s.

 

Whether or not we can ever travel to Jerusalem, all of us can experience this freedom by partaking in the Sacrament of Mercy: Reconciliation. Within this encounter, we can shed accumulated layers of pretense, and bask in the freedom of God’s children.

 

Let’s encourage one another during this Easter Season. “There is no saint without a past nor a sinner without a future,” Pope Francis remarked during an Easter General Audience in 2016. “It is enough to respond to the call with a humble and sincere heart. The Church is not a community of perfect people, but of disciples on a journey, who follow the Lord because they know they are sinners and in need of his pardon. Thus, Christian life is a school of humility which opens us to grace.”

 

Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator at Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is a regular column of this Catholic evangelization apostolate that answers Christ’s call by guiding people to encounter Him through pilgrimages, conferences and outreach. PilgrimCenterofHope.org

Living Catholicism: On Family Vacations

by Nan Balfour

Each summer, I could count on this conversation between my sons and me as we packed for our family vacation:
“Make sure you pack clothes for Mass.”
“What?! Why do we have to go to Mass when we are on vacation?!”

My usual response, “Just because we are on vacation does not mean we do not go to Mass. Don’t you think you should be thanking God for blessing us with such a beautiful vacation?” was met with eye rolls and grunts, but it never made me angry. I remembered having the same conversation with my parents when I was their age.

It is easy to understand their protests. Anticipating in excitement the fun of sand and surf, having to sit still for an hour just does not fit into their idea of vacation. But as their parent, I know there is no downtime in instilling what we are called to as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies (2224).” Catholic parents are called to raise our children to love God through the Church our Lord gave us by adhering to her teachings. One way we do this is by participating at Mass every Sunday, no matter what the circumstances: sports schedules, family events, and, yes, even vacations.

I have discovered that parenting consistently with a “zero tolerance” in falling away from our sacramental obligations bears fruit. My sons no longer push back and, in fact, before a recent trip my 16 year old came to tell me he was all packed and said without my prompting, “Yes, I packed for Mass.” I have witnessed in my sons that this knowing what is expected of them has helped them to grow as responsible young men and gives them a sense of identity. It is a foundation from which they learn how to view the world and know how they are called to act in it. We are a Catholic family.

Parenting as God asks of us is certainly the best reason to insist we participate at Mass, but there is another reason that uniquely enhances our travel together, and that is the beauty and joy of discovering the rich unity in diversity of our Catholic faith. This is done by visiting all the variety of architectural styles of churches in the places we travel and worshiping alongside others of different cultures. We have attended small seaside churches with names like Our Lady of the Gulf, where parishioners passed large shells for the collection and wear flip flops. We have attended large city Masses at gothic cathedrals full of gold, stained glass, and marble, flanked by those who are homeless next to those dressed in suits and bonnets. We have been at inner-city parishes and desert chapels, and what my family and I have seen through them all is that, no matter how different the people may look inside, no matter how different the churches look from one another, we all offer the same worship, prayers, and sacrifice. We have the same Father, the same Mother, and we have brothers and sisters who span the globe! We are a Catholic Family.

If vacation is meant as a way to rest and step away from the ordinary routine of life, then these visits to different churches perfectly fit into this purpose. Our eyes, our minds, our spirits are lifted into a beautiful liturgical kaleidoscope, higher than even the tallest water slide!

I encourage you to take the time, with your family, to discover what Catholic Churches are in the cities and towns you will be traveling to this year and visit them during your vacation. Our experience has proven that, though they may grumble at first, my sons have come to appreciate these little pilgrimages and treasure the memories.

Not traveling this summer? You can still visit a rich diversity of churches right here in San Antonio. There is San Fernando Cathedral, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, the San Antonio Missions, and the Wayside Shrine of Schoenstatt in Helotes, just to name a few of the hundreds of churches and parishes in our city. Your family will be the richer for it, and if the eye rolls and grunts are too much to bear, I’ll share a secret . . . promise them ice cream afterwards!

Nan Balfour is Events Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is Pilgrim Center of Hope’s regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.

Living Catholicism: In God’s Image & Likeness

by Deacon Tom Fox

“God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” Gn. 1:27

All of the advancements in education and technology have failed to address the most basic needs of the human person; who am I; what is my purpose? It seems there is a universal effort to reject what God has revealed about the human person and his plan which allows us to reach our potential for happiness now and forever. The present confusion about personal identity is magnified by social media. Every week the media offers suggestions on how to find that peace and purpose that seems to be just out of reach. There will always be a new fad, a new style, a new role model, but everything falls short of what is hoped for. Some people search for their identity by altering their appearance, which in recent years has become excessive. And now it is becoming popular for individuals (even children who have not yet reached the age of reason) to choose their own sexuality. This confusion is celebrated by our society, and especially in many educational institutions where young people are still searching for their purpose.

Much of this trend can be attributed to the sexual revolution of the sixties. Artificial birth control reduced sexual intimacy to recreation and separated it from the purpose of procreation and God’s plan for humanity to have an intimate trusting relationship with him. This opened the door to pornography which further damaged the dignity of men and women and has become a major reason for divorce. The more that individuals experiment with sexual fantasies the more they become consumed with lust which leads to sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Our society glorifies sexual satisfaction as if it is the reason we exist.

When our lives are not ordered to God they are disordered. We all have issues we need to work with. Some of our challenges are with us from birth, some are imposed upon us by others and some are learned. However, in every case if we would turn to God, he will give us the grace we need to find our peace and purpose in him. He has a plan for every one of us that will allow us to reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity no matter what our life experience has been. However, he must be part of the plan.
The way we discover this plan and stay close to God is the same as it has been through the ages and we have the lives of the saints as a testimony to how the love of God can conquer every challenge we may face. No matter what our difficulty is, there is a saint who had it worse than us and found great joy, peace and purpose with the help of God’s grace.

The plan is a daily commitment to prayer, which is our connection to God. Through the Church he has given us the holy Mass which is the most powerful prayer on earth. He has given us the Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation so that we may have intimacy with him. We have the Holy Scriptures and the teaching authority of the Church to guide us and the live of the saints to inspire us. If we follow this plan and get connected to people who follow this plan we will experience the peace that only Jesus can give us. He has made us that promise and he will do it.

Deacon Tom Fox is co-director of the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.