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A Murderer’s Letter | Journey with Jesus

 

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Confession and God’s Mercy

Fr. Martin Leopold answered your questions on the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), penance, forgiveness and God’s mercy in this episode of Catholicism Live!

Catholicism Live! was a weekly program produced by Pilgrim Center of Hope from the early 2000s until 2019.

 

Divine Mercy: Unfathomable Gift

Fr. Ed Hauf, OMI, talks with Jordan and Blerina Psota about how devotion to the Divine Mercy transformed their lives!

Catholicism Live! was a weekly program produced by Pilgrim Center of Hope from the early 2000s until 2019.

Jesus, Help Me to Forgive | Journey with Jesus

Clearing the Way for the Love & Mercy of Jesus Christ

I’m Not Worthy

When Jesus died on the Cross, he opened up a road to restoration for every man and woman that will ever live till the end of time. You might be saying, “Oh, come on, Robert, everybody knows this.”

What I’m saying is that, it’s not enough to just know it, you have to believe it with all your heart, mind, body, and soul! Having unwavering faith is the key to maintaining hope, no matter what life throws at you.

When we say things like:

  • I am unworthy of Christ’s love and mercy
  • God will never forgive what I have done; my sins are too great
  • I am cursed and will just have to live with my injury or affliction

it is like saying, I don’t believe that Jesus died for my salvation, or telling God that allowing his son to be sacrificed is not enough.

This can happen when we let our wounds, hurts, and past sins prevent us from recognizing our need for God. (I have been in this place more than once in my life.) It can happen when we allow negative thoughts or the discouragement and condemnation of others to silence our prayers, drive us away from the Church, and deny God.

Acknowledgment, Confession, and Repentance

We – both men and women – need to be more like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and Zacchaeus, the short-statured tax collector from Scripture.

Here were two men – one suffering with the physical malady of blindness, and the other from a soul injured by sin – who could have easily convinced themselves they were “lost causes” unworthy of the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Instead, both of these men believed in and recognized Jesus as the Messiah and each, in their own way, placed themselves in front of Jesus, so he would acknowledge them and respond to their need for healing.

Like Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus, we need to have great faith in Jesus’ ability to heal and transform our lives. We need to recognize our profound need for God in our life by choosing to avoid sin and follow Jesus.

Alive Today!

The same Jesus who passed by Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus is alive today. Jesus walks into the dusty streets of our lives this day! We simply need the eyes of living faith to see him and the renewed heart to follow him on the way.

In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus addresses Bartimaeus saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” to which Bartimaeus replies, “Master, I want to see.” (Mark 10:51)

Prayer is the fuel which keeps living faith alive and keeps our eyes open to see. No matter what we have done in our past, Jesus always shows up for those who have their spiritual eyes opened to see him.


Robert V. Rodriguez is Public Relations & Outreach Assistant for Pilgrim Center of Hope. He combines a passion for the Catholic faith together with years of professional experience as a TV news journalist, video producer, and PR/marketing specialist. Robert also serves as Chairman for our annual “Master, I Want to See” Catholic Men’s Conference.

Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.

Peace or Division: Did Jesus Contradict Himself?

The same Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” also proclaimed this in Sunday’s Gospel reading:

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)

Did Jesus contradict himself?

During this month’s Meet the Master session at Pilgrim Center of Hope, I addressed this head-on with our participants. There are many instances in Scripture, even in the Gospel and the words of Jesus, where contradictions seem apparent. As mature Christians on our pilgrim journey, we need to learn how to wrestle with these questions rather than avoid them or write them off using trite statements.

Who Is This Jesus?

To avoid answering our main question from a particular point of view or agenda, we need to look at the entire context: the person of Jesus, his life, his words, his actions. That is why the Gospel is essential reading for us. As St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

Let’s fine-tune our original question, Did Jesus contradict himself? by looking at these seeming contradictions.

Jesus As A Peacemaker

Did Jesus wish peace upon others?

  • He taught his disciples to wish peace to those they met. “As you enter a house, wish it peace.” (Matthew 10:12)
  • Those whom Jesus healed, he sent away in peace. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mark 5:34)
  • As Jesus appeared to the disciples after his Resurrection, he greeted them with peace. He stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36)

Let’s look deeper into the meaning of “peacemaker.” For the Hebrews, this was a “pursuer of peace” like Aaron, who during conflicts would sit with each party individually. Aaron would speak with and listen to each individual until all bitterness was removed from each one’s heart. Finally, the parties once-at-odds would embrace and be reconciled. (cf. Rabbi Hillel, Avot) To be a pursuer of peace means to foster reconciliation.

Was Jesus a pursuer of peace?

  • He and his disciples shared meals with those in society who were despised. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. (Matthew 9:10)
  • He accepted invitations from not only the despised, sick, and desperate, but also the leaders & revered members of society. (ex. Luke 7)
  • Jesus forgave people of their sins, and taught his disciples that they should forgive perfectly and without exception. (cf. Matthew 18:22)

By all of the above, it is clear that Jesus did bring peace – and Christians throughout time attest to his continued peacemaking throughout history and in the world today.

Jesus As A Source of Division

However, our original question considers Jesus’ assertion that he came to bring division (symbolized by “the sword” in Matthew 10:34).

Jesus “did not come to establish peace upon the earth” because, contrary to popular hopes at the time, he did not come as the mighty Messiah expected to end all war. Rather, Jesus himself became a cause for division.

  • When Jesus healed and forgave sins, he was often criticized by the religious leaders. (ex. Matthew 9)
  • When Jesus tended to the despised members of society, he received similar criticism. (ex. Luke 15:1-2)
  • For having revealed himself as the Son of God, religious leaders had Jesus condemned to death. (cf. John 5:18)

Jesus’ pursuit of peace and reconciliation thus brought conflict and division among those persons who would not accept it. While he desires God’s peace to be with all, the Prince of Peace causes controversy.

How Can We Truly Be At Peace?

As Jesus’ followers, how can we be truly and sincerely “at peace”, while division takes place all around us? As we strive to reconcile people with each other, with themselves, and with God, we will experience joy tinged with discomfort and desolation. Not everyone is ready to accept the radical message of peace and reconciliation that Jesus brings. We have all been there once; preferring control and security as the Pharisees and scribes did.

Instead, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection shows us that the way to perfection is vulnerability and self-giving love. Jesus did not contradict himself, but he tells us the truth while subverting his listeners’ expectations.

As Pope Francis says, For Christians, (holiness) involves a constant & healthy unease (Gaudete et Exsultate, no. 99). Let’s reflect on this while Our Lord’s words echo in our hearts:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)


Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.

Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, having served at the apostolate for nearly 10 years. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.

Redeemed from Destruction

Has your desire for productivity seeped into your faith or prayer life?

What have I done for God today? is a common question in religious circles – whether in personal reflection or otherwise. For years, I focused on what I was doing… or not doing …for God. My good intentions steadily morphed into unhealthy scruples. Even as I spoke of his mercy, my heart actually regarded God as a strict judge who needed appeasing. Then I saw my various trials as punishments from God, and I figured that I deserved them all.

But no; I had it all wrong. Instead of punishing me, God had placed two people in my path who helped me see clearly.

A Familiar Connection

When I pray Morning Prayer with my coworkers at Pilgrim Center of Hope (PCH), I think of my deceased great-uncle. Holding open his Christian Prayer book, I see where he had moistened his finger to turn the now-yellowed page corners.

For forty-six years, he was a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), and he was widely-beloved. Twenty years of his life as a religious priest, however, he spent on a leave of absence.

Were it not for the personal struggles that brought him home to San Antonio, I may never have known him. But because I remembered the musky smell of his chair in my great-grandmother’s living room, and because I had been entrusted with some of his most treasured possessions, I gained an interest in the founder of his Congregation: St. Alphonsus Liguori. 

An Unexpected Advisor

Alphonsus is often depicted as an elderly man, bent over a desk, writing away with a wry smile on his face. His arthritis kept his neck bent over so much so that his chin bruised his chest. Alphonsus was a brilliant man; someone we’d call today a prodigy. His life story is inspiring; look him up!

The most ironic thing about him is that he was so brilliant, knew Church law and moral theology backwards and forwards, was a merciful confessor, yet he himself battled scrupulosity. What kind of God allows a scrupulous man to become a Doctor of the Church who is known for his teaching on morality? Only our God – who redeems everything in our life for good. As St. Paul wrote, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:11)

In his famous work, The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, Alphonsus quoted St. Teresa of Avila: “God never sends a trial, but he forthwith rewards it with some favor.” In other words, while our trials and struggles don’t come from God, God’s love can turn what is bitter into something better.

Letting God love us is the key. As our PCH chaplain Father Pat Martin reminded us during Mass last week, what is essential is what God does for us! Why were the Pharisees threatened by Jesus’ teachings and actions? Perhaps it was because their relationship with God had been based upon what they did for God; checking off boxes and maintaining control. Jesus invited them to consider a God who loved everyone, who dined with even the people who did not check the boxes!

Allowing someone to love us requires vulnerability and loss of total control. Are you ready to let God love you?

God loves us so tenderly, that he not only desires, but is solicitous about our welfare… Let us, then always throw ourselves into the hands of God, who so ardently desires and so anxiously watches of our eternal salvation. Casting all our care upon him; for he hath care of you (1 Peter 5:7). – St. Alphonsus de Liguori


Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.

Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, having served at the apostolate for nearly 10 years. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.

What Effect Does the Lord’s Prayer Have?

What is prayer and why should we pray? We saw in Sunday’s Gospel that even Jesus, the Son of God, spent time in prayer. When his disciples ask him to teach them to pray, Jesus teaches them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Here in the gospel according to Luke, we have an abbreviation of the prayer we are familiar with from Matthew – the prayer we pray together at every Mass and many other times throughout the day.

Are we really aware of the importance of what we are saying and of the far-reaching effects of this prayer?

Jesus tells us to pray: “Father, hallowed be thy name”

Prayer is first of all a relationship with Our Father in heaven who loves us, is interested in our good, and is near to us. He is the Father of all humanity, but especially of us who have been baptized and call ourselves his children. We are not praying to an unknown god who is far away from us. When we say hallowed be thy name, we are acknowledging that God is holy, almighty; the creator of all things and we are his lowly creatures. We should praise God every day throughout the day for his benevolence. He is our Father now and for all eternity, and he wants a personal, intimate relationship with each of us, so that we may know his goodness and experience his goodness.

“…your kingdom come”

In the prayer we are familiar with from Matthew, we add, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Kingdom of God is at hand when we do the will of God. God has a great plan for humanity, and has revealed that plan through the Scriptures and the Church. We reach our potential for happiness in this life when we discover the specific plan God has for each of us by asking for his help every day in prayer and by keeping the commandments he has given us to guide us in the right direction.

“Give us each day our daily bread…”

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are dependent upon God even for our next breath. It is God who keeps everything in existence. Everything we have is a gift from Him and He expects us to be good stewards of what we have received. When we are concerned about what we need ,we should first turn to God. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells us:

“Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat? Or what are we to drink, or what are we to wear? All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

When we place God first in our lives, he will help us make good decisions about what we really need.

God provides our daily bread par excellence in the Bread of Life; Jesus Christ himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. What more do we need than God himself? He is the source and summit of our lives.

“…and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive anyone in debt to us”

Forgiveness is essential for our spiritual, mental, and physical well being. There is no offense that may be committed against us that we should not forgive; unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, hatred, etc., are all obstacles to the love of God. They enslave us to a life of misery – even to the point of affecting our physical health. If there is something we have not been able forgive, we can begin by asking God for the grace to desire to forgive because he commands us do so. He will liberate us from our enslavement.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus Christ himself forgives our sins through the priest and gives us the grace to make progress in our spiritual life. If we want to deepen our faith, we should participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month for the reason that we need the help that our Lord wants to give us through this sacrament.

“…and do not subject us to the final test.”

Our whole life is a process of purification. The closer we are to God through our worship, prayer, and sacramental life, the more aware we will be of how close he is to us in the challenges and difficulties that come our way. If we ask, God will give us the grace we need for every circumstance of our life. No matter how bad we have it on the worst day of our life, there will always be someone who has it worse and yet is still able to experience peace & joy – because of their faith and trust in God.

God’s Promise & Our Persistence

Jesus follows with a parable about the necessity of persistence in prayer; “I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him what ever he needs because of his persistence.”

We also must be persistent. Saint Monica prayed for her son Augustine’s conversion for sixteen years. Her perseverance was not only instrumental in her son becoming a great saint; it was also instrumental in Monica becoming a saint.

If we persevere in prayer, we can be confident that it will be answered. It may be answered in the way we hoped it would be, or we may discover that God has a different plan, more consistent with the coming of His kingdom.

This Gospel closes with a promise; “… how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” If we ask, seek, knock and persevere, the Lord will send us the Holy Spirit to help us know his will – so that we remain close to him and be happy now and for all eternity. It’s a promise.


Deacon Tom Fox, K.H.S. is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with his wife, Mary Jane Fox. The two left their careers after a profound conversion experience and began working full-time in ministry at their parish in 1986. After several years and having impacted tens of thousands of families, the Foxes founded Pilgrim Center of Hope in 1993 as a response to the Church’s call for a New Evangelization. Deacon Tom is an invested member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.

Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.

What Does It Cost to Be Free? My Experience of Forgiveness

During a Holy Land pilgrimage, I saw a beautiful bush full of soft leaves, red berries and tiny white flowers. Our guide called it Spina Christi. She explains that when dried, the supple branches become sharp thorns. It is this plant which was weaved into the Crown of Thorns and pressed into the head of our Lord Jesus Christ, causing his blood to flow.

In contemplating why God would create this plant knowing its ultimate purpose in his Passion, I realized it is because he desires for his Precious Blood to be poured out for our salvation. He says at the Last Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (Luke 22:20).

It is important to know that Jesus was totally in charge of all that was happening to him. In the Gospel of John (10:17-18) we read, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.”

In God’s Justice, he deemed what is the cost for our salvation. God fulfilled his justice in the Passion and Death of his own son, Jesus Christ. God paid the price himself, “By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Spend time contemplating the Passion, and our only adequate response is gratitude. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced” (no. 1432).

To be set free costs you nothing… to remain free, costs your all.

I encountered Jesus a year following my tubal ligation. I knew when I said yes to this sterilization procedure that it was in opposition to Church teaching, but I was never taught why… nor did I seek to find out.

A merciful encounter with our Lord returned me to the Catholic faith. It was a slow process receiving the grace of forgiveness, as I blamed everyone for my sin but myself. I even blamed God for letting me fall. In the gentle care of the Holy Spirit, I eventually accepted responsibility. In confessing through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I found consolation. However, I harbored a resentment towards the priests who had not properly catechized me. The fault of my sin is mine, but I do not carry this burden alone.

During the pilgrimage, we visited the Sacred Pit into which Jesus was thrown on the night of his arrest. It is carved from rock and is deep at the bottom of a hole that extends from where Jesus was questioned and beaten before the high priest, Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57).

From inside the Sacred Pit, you can hear voices above. I imagine Jesus listening to his high priest (John 11:50-51) condemn Him. I think about His New Covenant priests, the Apostles, who at that time are fleeing, denying and betraying Him. In my hands is the Crown of Thorns. This is a grace of wonder given through the pilgrimage experience. I understand in it that God is acknowledging the injustice of His priests done to me; an injustice He shares.

In that moment of wonder, Jesus looks at me. He wills me to place the Crown of Thorns on his head so he can shed his blood; the price for our salvation which includes those who have trespassed against me.

This is a costly moment. It requires my all.

His gaze brings tears of sorrow, joy and a profound understanding. I know that I cannot stop Jesus from shedding his blood for sinners, but I can stop being the source of his suffering through my failure to forgive. In gratitude to our merciful our God, I pray, “I will to forgive them all, Lord.”  Note this is not a feeling… it is a free-will choice and has required of me multiple offerings.

To my unexpected delight, I soon discover a transformation which can best be described as freedom. This freedom has a divine power that has brought me continual healing, a growing compassion for others, a constant peace, and a closer relationship with God. It is this freedom that Saint Pope John Paul II writes in his encyclical, Dives In Misericordia (Rich in Mercy),

“Forgiveness demonstrates the presence in the world of the love which is more powerful that sin. Forgiveness is also the fundamental condition for reconciliation, not only in the relationship of God with man, but also in relationships between people.”

It is the same as our Lord promised on the Mount of Beatitudes; “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).


Nan Balfour is a grateful Catholic whose greatest desire is to make our Lord Jesus more loved. She seeks to accomplish this through her vocation to womanhood, marriage, motherhood and as a writer, speaker and events coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope

Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.

Love or hate?

As human beings, we have a real capacity to hurt one another very deeply. Sometimes the things we experience can change the course of our lives and have a profound effect on how we see our self and others. There is no excuse for the terrible things that people do to each other, but no act of violence has the power to destroy our potential for peace and happiness unless we give ourselves over to hate, which consumes our spirit. Can you think of anything that one person could do to another that would not have to be forgiven?

Josephine Bakhita was born in the region of the Sudan around 1869. Seven years later she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders and forced to walk barefoot 600 miles to a slave market. For the next twelve years she was bought and sold more than a dozen times and treated with extreme cruelty, beaten severely and mutilated. Eventually she found her way to a convent of sisters in Venice where she was baptized and formed in the faith. Her new life in Christ brought her so much joy that she said:

If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for it that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today…The Lord has loved me so much; we must be compassionate.

She joined the religious community as a sister in 1896 and was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II on October 1st, 2000.

There are thousands of stories of individuals who have overcome terrible injustices and have been able to forgive the ones who hurt them because they discovered a love greater than their hurt. God is the source of all love and everything good and when we humbly approach him with our brokenness, he will gradually make us whole if we persevere with our prayers and trust in him. He promises that he will be with us if we come to him.

If we persist in asking why the injustice happened, we are asking the wrong question. However, if our priority is to be made whole, God will do it. No matter how bad we have it on the worst day of our life, there will always be someone who has had it much worse and was able to experience forgiveness, peace and happiness because they approached our loving God. Love conquers hate!

A Dominican Priest wrote:

To Thee, and those who love Thee, nothing is impossible,
I can do all things in Thee who strengthens me to do them.


Living Catholicism is a monthly column originally appearing in Today’s Catholic newspaper. Deacon Tom Fox is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope.