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.

Living Catholicism: New Life In Christ

“Christ has risen!”
“He has risen indeed, Alleluia!”

If you were to walk the streets of Jerusalem during the Easter season, you might hear Christians greet each other with the salutation above, as if this were a current event; and indeed, it is. Yes, Jesus rose from the dead 2,000 years ago, but his Resurrection is made present to us who believe. Jesus suffered his Passion 2,000 years ago, and yet he still suffers in his mystical body when we unite our suffering with his. The Church makes salvation history present to us in many ways.

During a baptismal liturgy, the minister says, “We ask you, Father, with your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the water of this baptismal font. May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life. We ask this through Christ our Lord.” The dying and rising is in the present moment during the sacrament of baptism. The death of sin is conquered as the soul is freed from original sin and given new life.

Similarly, when someone receives the sacrament of reconciliation, Jesus Christ, through his minister the priest, restores the soul from the death of sin to a new life of grace and renews its intimacy with God.

During Mass, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are made present to us in the Scriptures and the prayers of the liturgy, we all become one and bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

All of the sacraments offer us this new life in Christ, if that is the desire of our hearts. As powerful as the sacraments are, they have no effect in us unless we are properly disposed and prepared. Even the infant that is baptized, at some point must choose to be a faithful follower of Christ.

The good news is, God has made it possible for every person to live in intimacy with him and always be filled with hope and peace. He is patient for our salvation, but the longer we wait to turn to him, the more opportunities we have for making serious mistakes. Forty years ago God gave me the grace to see my life was headed in the wrong direction. I am sure that was the consequence of a lot of prayer from my mother in heaven, who was able to do more for me after she passed from this life. I began the process of conversion that leaves me filled with purpose and hope.

This is the bottom line. If we are willing, in humility, to recognize we need God and that we must be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures, the new life he promises is ours, and we don’t have to wait for Easter to say, “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”

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.

Living Catholicism: Diving Into the Bible

On my own, I have read the entire Bible several times, and in particular the Gospels, yet I discovered that the more I read, the more I grew in the desire to increase my understanding and enrich my faith. My routine was to read Scripture daily, reflect on it and see how what I had read, applied to my life. Over time, as I would read the Bible and re-read books and chapters that I had read previously, I always learned more, which also made me ask more questions. Acts 8:30 states, “So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?'”

Wondering if I had understood everything and having many unanswered questions, I thought it might be fun to learn more in a classroom setting. Five years ago, a good friend asked me to join her in a Bible Study. I had always thought it might be a good idea, but never followed through. Wow! Once in the class, I wondered why I hadn’t started years ago. The experience is rich.

Why enroll in a parish class? Many reasons. The first is that of course, we love God and want to learn about the one we love and serve. I have enrolled and completed studies on individual books of the Bible (like John and Acts), prayer studies, faith studies such Endow Catholic study for women and completed video and reading programs. In 8-12 weeks, you can expand your understanding of not only God’s Word, but strengthen your faith walk immensely and grow in spirituality.

As I reflect on knowledge gained and deepening my belief, I realize that group study has benefited me greatly. Not for just the camaraderie, but reinforcing what I study, by discussion. The discussion cements my
learning. Proverbs 27:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”

Secondly, a class normally encourages regular attendance and by focusing on one book of the Bible, or one topic, I had a chance to go deeper and really understand, and not skip over things that didn’t make sense. It gave me the discipline to research and gain a depth to my reading and understanding. Beginning a class in prayer, asking God to impart to you what you should understand about the information you are to cover, sets a great tone. 2 Timothy 22 states, “…through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.”

All of the classes I have taken were offered by my parish. Most parishes offer a daytime class, as well as an evening class. So, thirdly, by attending class, it teaches and reinforces the belief that we live in community. Many of the people I meet in these studies have turned out to be nice friends. We are all united for the same goal of coming closer to God through his word. It provides each participant the opportunity to practice working and living in community, respecting differing opinions.

Lastly, attending classes helps me with spiritual discipline. It helps me to develop and grow the spiritual “habit” of developing my relationship with God and my neighbor. Our education and Christian development is a life-long journey that does not end when we are born again.

Ann Gonsalves is a wife, mother, freelance journalist, data specialist at ACTS Missions and volunteers with the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.

Living Catholicism: The Saints and Us

As Catholics, we know that death is not the end. We may even be so bold as to say that it is just the beginning. Every November, we remember those who have achieved what we hope and are hopefully working toward… eternity with God! On Nov. 1, we celebrate All Saints Day and, “We remember in a special way that sanctity is accessible to everyone in their various jobs and situations, and that to help us reach this goal we ought to put into practice the dogma of the communion of saints. The church invites us to raise our hearts and minds to the immense multitude of men and women from all walks of life who followed Christ here on earth and are already enjoying his presence in heaven.” (In Conversation with God; Nov. 1)

It has been proven through the ages that anyone who wants to become a saint can be one if they are faithful to what God has revealed to us through the church and the Scriptures. Reading the lives of the saints can be a great inspiration. St. Teresa of Avila was inspired by reading about saints who lived before her, and her story was a great inspiration for St. Edith Stein.

One of the proofs of the authenticity of the Catholic Church is the great number of saints, who through the ages, have been heroic witnesses of their love for God and how God in turn worked indisputable miracles through them. These saints who have lived in every age believed the same truths that the church teaches today and because of their witness countless thousands have joined the church. It is for this reason that churches are named after saints and contain statues of the saints that have a special significance for the faith community. Throughout the world, there are hundreds of towns and cities name after saints because of their importance in the life of the church.

Of course, our great city of San Antonio was named after St. Anthony because it was founded on his feast day. If you take a river boat ride on the San Antonio River, the boat operator will point out a statue of St. Anthony and the place where the first Mass was celebrated.

One of the proven ways to deepen our Catholic faith is by reading the lives of the saints and to discover how God worked in the lives of those who loved him in a heroic way. The saints want to help us to draw close to Jesus Christ so that we also can join their company. Never hesitate to ask the saints to pray for you and your family.

Remember, also, it is very important that we pray for those who have died. We hope in their eternal rest with the saints and angels, but we can never be sure this side of heaven. Souls in purgatory are counting on us as they can no longer pray for themselves.

If a beloved soul you are praying for has gone on to heaven, your prayer will be offered to another deserving soul; it is never wasted.

The two most important things we can do for souls in purgatory, in addition to our daily prayers, is to have Masses said for them and to gain a plenary indulgence for them, which is the remission of all temporal punishment do to sins that have been confessed and forgiven.

DEACON TOM FOX is a co-director of the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is a regular column of this Catholic evangelization apostolate dedicated to helping persons deepen their relationship with Christ. This column was published November 2016.

Fair use; image copyright National Gallery of Art, London. All rights reserved.