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.

Living Catholicism: Consuming Media As A Christian

In our spare time, are we pursuing what God calls us to do? After work, taking care of family and friends, our homes, etc., we feel we earned a moment to ourselves. So, we plop down on the couch, pick up a book or magazine or the remote to the television, with a sigh, just to unwind. How we spend that relaxing time might be a reflection of our Christian values.

I belong to a book club that likes reading “award winners.” There are a lot of book awards — Pulitzer, Pen/Falkner, National Book Award, Nobel, just to name a few. Some of the books seem “edgy” and vulgar in content and theme. I have attempted to focus more on Christ-like reading and have had great peace. My mom used to remind me to consume the right things, including vegetables. What we “consume” should be good for us. Not only broccoli, but what we read and watch. That is consumption, too.

I have read the Bible many times. The Gospels are my favorite part of the Bible. I react differently each time I break open the Word. The Holy Spirit speaks to me differently each time I read. I think that’s why they call it the “Living Word.” In addition to Scripture, other Christian books and reading about the saints deepen my understanding of faith. I like to read right before I go to sleep. As I focus on Christian reading, my sleep seems more restful.

The same applies to television. My husband and I try to find something that isn’t vulgar or violent to watch on television. It’s a challenge to find something worthwhile. Further temptation
happens on websites and social media.

The more time I spend in consuming books and television programming that help me develop spiritually, the happier I am. Trying to achieve heaven by living an honorable life is my goal.

Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable
and perfect.”

Time on this Earth is short. I want to make the most of my spare time and increase my knowledge and faith in our Lord. So, I’ll consume what I think God wants me to read or watch. Besides, I sleep better, too.

ANN GONSALVES is a wife, mother, free-lance journalist, and volunteer for 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 August 2016.

Living Catholicism – Changing the Trajectory of Fear

Fear. Today, there is much fear about our country and our world. I was born after 1980, and serve teens in my parish; thus, I’m on the receiving end of much worry. I often hear parishioners and parents ask the million dollar question, “How can we help change the trajectory of future generations?”

Allow me to briefly illustrate my answer. I entered college with a slight case of “stuck-uppishness” not uncommon among youth of any generation. However, that attitude was transformed, as I learned the core value of my Catholic university: servant leadership. “If anyone wishes to be first,” Jesus taught his disciples, “he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” (Mk 9:35) Our campus motto was not “fulfill your desires” or “do whatever you want,” but that of the Blessed Mother: “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5)

A primary reason for my transformation was the flesh-and-blood Gospel proclaimed by university leaders — lay professors and staff, religious sisters, brothers and priests — who taught this most valuable lesson through the examples of humility and service. They incarnated the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI: “Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. […] All Christians are called to this witness, and in this way, they can be real evangelizers.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 21)

The Church is called not to worry, but to fill the world with hope. We are called to live in such a way that our very lives proclaim the meaning of life: “Life is not just a journey; it is a pilgrimage!” The meaning of life is Jesus; he is the way, the truth, and the life. We are called to be Jesus for others.

During my final semester, I was hired by the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Now in my seventh year serving in Catholic evangelization ministry, I am more confident than ever in Paul VI’s wisdom. “Above all, the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness.”

Dear concerned parents, fellow Christians, ministry leaders: The most powerful thing you can do is to become a servant. Deepen your relationship with Jesus so much that you are his living presence. This is how to help future generations. We are transformed by love.

Dear young adults looking forward to college life: Remember, your life is not just “about the journey.” Every journey has a starting and ending point. Your life has a purpose. What virtues do you most admire? Look for a school where you find staff, faculty, students, and alumni who embody those virtues. Choose a community that will truly be an alma mater, a nourishing mother, that helps you answer God’s calling for your life. That is how you will truly change the world.

ANGELA SEALANA is ministry coordinator for 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 July 2016.

Living Catholicism – Importance of Father’s Day

The importance of fatherhood cannot be overstated. Fatherhood is not only about providing for the material needs of a family, it’s also about providing the emotional, physical and spiritual stability that is necessary for the family to be the domestic church, which is God’s plan for our marriages. When we began our lives together as husband and wife, we may not have given much thought to the idea of being a domestic church, nevertheless, in the sacrament of matrimony, the man and woman receive the grace necessary to discover that it is only in their relationship with God can they reach their potential for happiness and wholeness to provide the safe, secure environment the family is meant to be.

Everything begins with God the Father who is the source of all love and all that is good. It is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit who will provide what we in our humanity are unable to provide.

One of the wonderful attributes of Almighty God is his patience. “May the God of patience and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus,” (Ro 15:5.) Although he longs for us to come to him early in our life, he waits until we finally realize we can never be complete as individuals or as a family until he becomes our priority.

So, Fathers’ Day is first about God the Father and his great love for us, and then how we as men can become the fathers he intends us to be when we humbly ask for his help. “God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble,” (1 Pt. 5:5.). When we love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, he will pour his love into our hearts so that we can reach our potential in loving our spouse, our children and ourselves. It is our love for God that will enable us to place the needs of our family before our own needs. This love will help us be aware when our loved ones need some quality time, words of encouragement or maybe a hug. There are some things the family needs that only the father can give.

The most important things parents can provide for their children, are that they know without a doubt that their parents love each other, love them and love God. Praying together as family is the foundation for the domestic church.

“Yes, the civilization of love is possible; it is not a utopia. But it is only possible by a constant and ready reference to the “Father from whom all fatherhood and motherhood on earth is named,” from whom every human family comes.” —St. John Paul II

Lord, we thank you for this Fathers’ Day as we remember our own fathers and the sacrifices they made for us. Bless the fathers who are still with us and pour out your mercy upon those who have passed from this life to the next.

DEACON TOM FOX is co-director of the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is a regular column of this Catholic evangelization apostolate which produces the annual Catholic Men’s Conference San Antonio. This column was published as our first installment of Living Catholicism, June 2016.