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.

About St. Pope Paul VI

On October 14, Pope Paul VI was declared a saint by Pope Francis. Many remember Pope Paul VI for shepherding the Church through the Second Vatican Council and for his enlightening encyclicals, Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World) and Humanae Vitae (On Human Life).

This episode of Living Catholicism will delve deeper into the accomplishments of Paul VI, and will also introduce you to the man born Giovanni Montini. Plus, discover what you can learn from this newly canonized Saint.

Links to St. Pope Paul VI’s Official Documents

Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World)

Humanae Vitae (On Human Life)

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)

Guardian Angels

How often do you greet your guardian angel?

Join Mary Jane Fox for a look at these companions on our journey. Discover what (and why) the Church teaches about these spiritual beings, and how you can find help and encouragement in your own guardian angel.

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.

Imitation of Mary

Join Fr. Ed Hauf, OMI and his guest Karen Robertson for this 2-part series, as they explore all the practical ways Mary can help us to better live our Catholicism. Learn more about our Holy Mother’s important role in God’s plan to bring about our salvation and also to continue to nurture, guide, and intercede for us as we seek to fulfill God’s will to proclaim the Good News and bring healing to His people.

Celebrating the Birth of the Virgin Mary

In honor of the birth of the Virgin Mary on September 8, this episode of Living Catholicism will focus on the Immaculate Conception, Mary’s parents Sts. Joachim & Anne, and her sacred life.

Join Deacon Tom Fox and Robert Rodriguez as they explore our Blessed Mother’s life, from her birth, free of original sin, until her Assumption. The program will also take a look at the various devotions to Mary:

  • First Saturdays
  • Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • the Green Scapular of Our Lady
  • The Brown Scapular
  • The Chaplet of Our Lady of Sorrows

Message of Hope:

When the Holy Spirit finds Mary in a soul, He flies to it. He enters therein and communicates Himself to that soul in abundance.  – St. Louis de Montfort

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.