The word ‘pilgrim’, derived from the Latin peregrinum, describes someone on a journey seeking spiritual significance. The Catholic Church has designated many places holy and worthy to visit; some have importance because of the birth, death or spiritual awakening of certain saints. Others are apparition sites for the Blessed Virgin Mary, such as Lourdes in France, and Fatima in Portugal.  Some are important cathedrals or basilicas.

Christians make pilgrimages to the Holy Land and other religious sites for various reasons. Some go wanting to increase their faith, while some go for healing or intercession for some other need.  Other pilgrims journey to honor God or give thanks for prayers answered.  Christian pilgrimages have their roots in the Jewish faith, as Jewish law required all men to visit the temple in Jerusalem at least three times a year.  (See Ascending to God below for more info)

Recently my good friend, Maryan Lerch,  shared her experience of going on pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James.  Pilgrims plod through rocky mountains and dusty fields to reach the Cathedral of St. James in the historic town of Santiago de Compostela.  The bones of St. James the Greater were miraculously found buried in a field in 811 AD, and a basilica was built over the holy saint.  Destroyed by Muslims in 997, a magnificent Romanesque Cathedral was built over the untouched tomb in the 11th century.  Between the 11th and 18th centuries the tomb of St. James became the most popular destination for pilgrimages in all of Europe.

Maryan compared her pilgrimage to our spiritual journey to heaven, with the same “challenges, hardships and sufferings, which are opportunities to come to know Jesus more deeply”.  She explained there is an etiquette on the Way and you are cautious in asking someone their reasons for making the trek.  Only after traveling together for some time is it proper to ask this question, and sometimes the answer might be short and trite, closing off further conversation.  Just as everyone’s journey on the Way is personal and to be respected, so everyone’s spiritual journey to God is unique and sacred.

My pilgrim friend stressed the importance of the yellow arrows guiding you in the right direction.  Sometimes the arrows were hidden down low to the ground in rocks, and sometimes they were on a wall, so the pilgrim had to watch carefully.  Otherwise they would get lost and go in circles, just as sometimes those on their spiritual journey flit from one religion to another, from Zen Buddhism, to Jehovah Witnesses, to Christianity.  They take a circuitous route confused about the right path, while others stride confidently toward their goal, surefooted and certain of their path.

Before pilgrims undertake the path of the Way, they appoint a leader to determine the pace and monitor the limitations of each pilgrim.  The leader will make sure the group takes regular breaks so they don’t get too exhausted before they reach their daily goal.  In our spiritual life we all need a spiritual guide who will point us in the right direction when we get stuck in a valley or wander aimlessly in circles.  Whether you have an ‘official’ spiritual director, or whether your friend or spouse gives you guidance, they can help you stay balanced to make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself by becoming over-involved in church ministry, or neglecting your prayer life.

Just as life can be trying with bouts of cancer, financial problems and family tension, so Maryan’s trek was arduous and painful.  I simply can’t imagine the agony of their feet as she and her husband plodded eight to ten hours a day on dirt paths filled with potholes, rocks and manure.  Maryan described their bone deep weariness at the end of each day, and the sheer relief when her husband rubbed and caressed her cracked and swollen feet with scented lotion.  At the end of their almost month long pilgrimage, when they reached the plaza in front of the Cathedral, Maryan described the power of the Holy Spirit that flowed over her like a fountain, filling her with the realization that only through God’s grace and power were they able to complete their strenuous quest.

Hiking the Way helped Maryan to live in the moment and not anticipate possible pitfalls ahead.  God calls Himself “I AM” (Exodus 3:14), not a God of yesterday or tomorrow, but a God of today, because He wants us to fully live each moment and not dwell in regrets over the past or fear of the future.  Just as pilgrims on the Way rest regularly, those on their spiritual journey should pray daily and annually attend some kind of retreat to renew and inspire their faith, and refresh their spiritual energy.

Some time ago I was blessed to go on pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, where the Blessed Mother appeared to three children back in 1914 and asked for ‘her children’ to do penance and pray (full message below).  It was a profound experience and for the entire two weeks I felt securely wrapped in God’s loving embrace.  In the evenings the sick would be brought out on stretchers and wheelchairs, and everyone would light a candle while reciting the rosary.  It was a mystical moment when the veil between heaven and earth was opened, and you knew you were in the presence of angels and saints.

As Archbishop Raymond Burke explains, “It is important for the faithful to go on pilgrimage in order to rediscover the extraordinary nature of our ordinary Christian life. Being human, we easily forget the great mystery that is our life in Christ, the mystery that we live every day. When we leave our customary surroundings and make the effort to travel to a holy place, we receive the grace to look anew at our own life in Christ and see more clearly the extraordinary mystery of God’s merciful love in our lives.” (link below)

After we left Fatima we drove by bus to Santiago de Compostella and visited the hallowed shrine.  As I gazed at the sacred tomb containing the holy bones of St. James, it felt as though angels were lifting me up and whisking me to the throne of God.  Later, as I watched pilgrims wearily complete their journey and enter the Cathedral, I felt incredible bliss and had a beatific vision of God pouring out his spirit and approval on His children.  He recognized the physical and emotional cost of their journey and was blessing them in a special way.

Today is a good time to do a spiritual check-up; does God seem distant?  Is your prayer time lackluster?  Is there an area of sin that you are struggling with?  If so, perhaps it is time to expand or change your form of daily prayer; perhaps it is time to attend a conference about your faith or visit your local bookstore for an inspiring book.  Maybe you are called to go on pilgrimage to one of the many consecrated sites all over the world.  The possibilities are endless; from the fascinating Shroud of Turin in Italy, to historic Mont St. Michel in France, to the fabulous cliffs and beach of Nazare, Portugal.  Let’s get started!

Related Articles:
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Ascending to God


The Fatima Message

The Grace of Pilgrimage

Fearing Poverty

Many Americans are driven to succeed financially and save copious amounts of money for retirement. If you have been fortunate enough to stick with a company long enough to earn a pension, or you have worked hard to build a sizeable IRA or 401K, congratulations!

But remember, wealth can be a blessing, and it can also hinder your entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  In Matthew 24 Jesus said to his disciples “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  I have seen different theories about the meaning of a camel passing through the “eye of a needle“; the study note in the New American Bible leans toward the theory that Jesus literally meant the eye of a sewing needle. Other scholars believe He was referring to the Needle Gate, an opening in the wall surrounding Jerusalem which was too low and narrow for camels.

Rather than getting lost in the exact meaning of “eye of the needle” I believe it is more important to focus on the message that wealth could be an obstacle to holiness, which flew in the face of the traditional ‘prosperity gospel’. The thinking of the time was that if you were well off financially, then you were living a holy life, and conversely, if you were experiencing sickness or financial difficulties, then you must be sinning somehow and offending God.

Joel Osteen is a popular minister and televangelist who promotes the ‘prosperity gospel'; the first line on his web page is “You have been blessed for unprecedented success. God has healing with your name on it, new dreams with your name on it, promotions with your name on it.” And if aren’t highly successful, then YOU must be doing something wrong.

Echoing the theme that God’s blessings only fall on the holy, in the book of Job, poor beleaguered Job was berated by his wife and friends who insisted he was being punished by God because of his many sins. They begged him to repent so that he could be healed of the ugly boils covering his body and so that his family and fortune could be restored.

Of course we know the background of the conversation between God and Satan concerning His servant Job whom He described as “blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil”. God agreed to let Satan test Job’s faith by first sending a fire to consume his livestock and servants, then a great wind to smash the house where his children had gathered, killing them all, and lastly sending painful, “severe boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head”.  Job knew he was sinless, and in spite of baseless allegations from his loved ones, held on to his faith proclaiming “We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” (Job 2).

St. Timothy warns us to be wary of being too focused on acquiring wealth  “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” 1st Timothy 6

Notice it isn’t ‘money’ that is the “root of all evils”, but the “love of money“.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being rich, but if your main goal in life is to financially prosper, you may want to be careful.   Don’t let your pursuit of wealth lead you to cheat or step all over others.   In his quest for wealth Bernie Maddof stole millions and callously ruined the lives of thousands of people  in a gigantic ponzi scheme.  If God has graced you with wealth, it may be a test by God to see if  you can remain steadfast in your faith.  St. Augustine believed being wealthy could draw your heart away from God, and increase your pride and greed “Fear is all the more increased and covetousness is all the more unloosed according as there is an increase of those things which are called riches […] Riches, more than anything else, engender pride.” (From Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount).

Jesus himself gave us the model for detachment from wealth when his parents, Mary and Joseph, followed ritual law and presented him in the temple with the offering of a “pair of turtledoves” as expiation for sin (Luke 2).  Generally a lamb would have been offered for sacrifice, but if the family was poor, turtledoves could be given instead. Just imagine that Jesus’ parents were so poor they couldn’t afford a lamb!  Scholars feel this was deliberate on God’s part; Jesus was born in poverty in a simple cave, he lived in poverty, and he died in poverty, buried in another man’s tomb.  This was our example to follow; to be detached from wealth, and even more, to embrace poverty.

Embracing poverty is actually easier if you have never been wealthy; the more wealth you have attained, the more you fear losing it.  Losing a job can leave you paralyzed with anxiety as you contemplate cashing in your savings and worry about struggling to make ends meet.  In the article below, Faith Tested by Fire, I explain that our trials and difficulties have a purpose; our trials are not meaningless.  If you are ‘blessed’ with financial problems, realize that God is calling you to a deeper surrender and detachment from the world.  It is hard to believe when you are ‘in the fire’, but the times of hardship are when your faith becomes the strongest.

Related Articles:

Faith Tested by Fire


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Recently I was saddened to hear of a young, 29 year old woman, Brittany Maynard, who has a malignant brain tumor, and has been given only six months to live.  So she has decided to end her life intentionally in a few weeks, on November 1, with her doctor’s assistance.  In addition, she will be helping to support a euthanasia group called Compassion & Choices.  I was heartbroken for many reasons; first of all, she is taking away the opportunity for God to give her and her family a miracle.

The internet abounds with stories of patients with terminal cancer, tumors and others diseases that are mysteriously healed through prayer, or experimental treatment, or for no reason at all.    The Catholic Church contains thousands of miraculous healings, which are part of the process of proclaiming someone saint and blessed, those deemed to have lived holy lives.  But does God always perform a miracle?  Of course not, but when you purposely end your life, you exhibit an appalling lack of trust in God and in his plans.  Scripture is full of assurances that our lives are in God’s hands; my favorite is Psalm 139 “LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.  You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.”

I had the privilege and honor to be with both my parents during their battle and eventual death from cancer.  My father was terrified of dying, and he fought tooth and nail to live as long as possible.  He knew eating was crucial, so he spent most of his time planning and cooking meals and trying to provide nourishment for his failing body.  Dad’s prostrate cancer was diagnosed in June of 1992, and by February of 1997 the cancer had progressed so much that he could no longer care for himself.

He moved in with us and Hospice brought in a hospital bed, porta-potty, and weekly visits from compassionate and kind nurses.  Medication was provided for his anxiety and pain, and he was kept as comfortable as possible.  My father made me promise to keep him in my home until the very end.  Little did I know how difficult the last week would be.  For months dad pushed himself and did everything possible to extend his life.  Finally in prayer one morning I heard a voice telling me that it was time for dad to ‘let go’.  So I sat down with dad, held his hand and simply said “dad, let go”.  Nothing else.  No eloquent words, no lecture, no encouragement.  And he knew exactly what I meant, and became very agitated.  I simply repeated those words, and left, leaving him to process and ponder my message.

Around that time a friend and I prayed a Chaplet of Divine Mercy with him and explained that God’s mercy is as endless as the ocean, compared to our sin, which is a drop in the ocean when we repent.  He protested that his sins were too great, and I reassured him that Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago, and it was a ‘done-deal’!  He didn’t say a word, but just started crying, and I left him to make his peace.  Not too long after that he went into a coma;  unfortunately he was an alcoholic, and even though the nurse tried to wean him off the alcohol, and on to the morphine, he still went into the DTs (alcohol withdrawal) and suffered agonizing seizures and tremors.  Finally the morning before he died the nurse figured out what was going on, and had me give him eight tranquilizers ground up with some peppermint schnapps.  It was terrifying for someone with no medical experience to care for a patient in such difficult circumstances, and for years I suffered paralyzing guilt that I wasn’t able to ease his suffering sooner, even though I was fulfilling my promise to him.

Strangely enough, as difficult as that last week was, it simultaneously felt as though I were on a religious retreat, as we were surrounded so powerfully by God’s presence and grace.  It was years later before I was able to understand the significance of that last week of my father’s life.  Several months before he died, my sister gave our dad a CD called Amazing Grace, A Country Salute to Gospel, and dad listened to this collection of songs over, and over and over again.  One song in particular, In the Garden struck such a powerful chord in his heart, that he asked for it to be played at his funeral.

The lyrics to the song In the Garden, finally helped me grasp that dad and Jesus were “tarrying” in the garden, “walking and talking” that last week when he was in the coma.  “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own; And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.”  Four years later, when my mother laying dying, I read a book that fully explained432444 the dying process.  The book is called Midwife for the Soul; Spiritual Care for the Dying and was written by hospice nurses and nuns.  It explained that stepping from this life to the next life is a process similar to the birth of a baby.  For some it is a fairly easy transition, while for others it is excruciatingly difficult.  Those who have been more immersed in the world, whether financially, or attached to their family, may have a more difficult time.  Some people have lived hedonistic lives, far from faith, and the process of disengaging from the world, and slipping to the next can be extremely grueling.  The book removed the guilt that weighed me down like a ton of bricks; I realized that dad’s addiction, sinful lifestyle and lack of faith made the crossover harrowing.  That daunting, but special last week was necessary for him to detach from this world, and ‘cross the bridge’ to the other side; it was a week when God showed him the mistakes he had made, and the pain he caused others.  It was a time of mercy and repentance, of making atonement for the past.

My mother chose Psalm 121 for one of the readings at her funeral service “The LORD will guard you from all evil; he will guard your soul. The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.”  Knowing God was with her when she was born, and would guide her passing to the next life was especially comforting to her.

I had a perpetual calender that had a scripture verse every day, and four weeks before mom died, the reading for the day was 2nd Timothy 4:7 “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”  As hard as it had been to watch my father die, it was doubly painful to witness my mother’s passage to the other side, but I realized those last weeks when she was in a coma, she was still “running the race”.  I was blessed to have an aunt with medical experience who advised us to allow my mother peace and quiet during this interval, as this was an important time for her to detach from the world.  When mom pushed us away, Judy comforted and assured us that she was trying to detach from us and gain her “crown of righteousness”.  The nurses, social works and aides from Hospice were a special gift during my parents’ last days.

A week or so before she finally died, mom said it was her time and asked if she should ‘go to the light’.  We assured her we were ready to let her go, and she went into a profound coma.  We didn’t expect her to be cognizant again, but later that afternoon she came out of the deep coma and was shocked to still be there.  She complained and said that she had “died, died, died”, and why wasn’t she in heaven?  We had no idea at the time what was happening, but simply trusted God was “guarding her coming and going”.  Now I know it is possible the detachment process wasn’t complete, and God was giving her more time to ease the transition.  If you aren’t ready, the transition can be shocking and traumatic.  Still, we have no way of knowing if God was simply still helping her to detach, or if he was using her suffering for the rest of her family, as we are promised in Colossians 1:24 “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”.  Christians are the ‘body of Christ’, so God used my mother’s suffering to help other Christians, and God knows how much help her children need!

The time before death is a sacred time appointed by God, when heaven and earth collide; I find it so tragic that some will “deem equality with God as something to be grasped”Phil 2:6 and ‘play Godby taking their own life,  rather than trusting God with the appointed time.  “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven–time to give birth and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2).  My parents died with dignity and peace, surrounded by their loving family.  If you are diagnosed with terminal cancer or alzheimer’s disease, trust God and know that no matter how easy or difficult the end of your life will be, God is there to guide you and strengthen you.  He has every moment planned, whether your suffering will be ‘redemptive’ and help others, or whether you need time to transition to your ‘new life’.

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My husband and I recently attended a high school reunion in our home town in Florida a few weeks ago. We both graduated from a high school named for a town that no longer exists. Eau Gallie High School, Florida was an unsophisticated, somewhat redneck town that merged with the larger town of Melbourne in 1969.  My husband and I met in the summer of 1972 in driver’s education class.  My friend, Cathy Bottari, and I weren’t crazy about Peter, the guy assigned to the same car with us.  So we cavalierly traded him for a handsome young man that I immediately fell head over heels in love with!

Located about 15 minutes from the beach, we have blissful memories of crabbing, shrimping, and fishing from the creaky old, wooden causeway across the Indian River, or speeding along in our dad’s boat. Carefree days were spent frolicking in the waves, building enormous sand castles, and getting burned to a crisp.  But growing up with dads that were violent and drunk much of their free time, we also have bitter, painful memories.

My husband and I moved away after our marriage in 1975, and have never gone back there to live. Many of our classmates left our hometown to foster their careers and to search for better opportunities, but several have gone back to their roots. They speak nostalgically about their hometown, and gleefully announce to their former classmates when they take the trip down memory lane and visit their old stomping grounds.

For personal reasons, our high school years were some of the most traumatic years of our life, especially after my husband and his family moved to California his senior year of high school. After he left I robotically moved through my junior year, sobbing at the football games when I saw the marching band smartly prance onto the field at halftime.  My husband had played the trumpet in the Commodore Marching Band, and attending football games brought into sharp focus the throbbing ache of his absence.

My then ‘boyfriend’ graduated early and moved back to be with me.  We married six months after I graduated and we moved first to Orlando, then went to cosmopolitan West Palm Beach, eventually winding up in ‘Hotlanta’, land of ‘Tara’, Miss Confederate Memorial CarvingScarlett and the birthplace of Gone With the Wind.  I was thrilled to witness the authentic Civil War re-enactments on the rolling clay hills Margaret Mitchell described, and visit Stone Mountain and its carved monument of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, gallant Robert E. Lee, and heroic ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.  I fell in love with Atlanta that first fall when the leaves magically transformed, as if a famous artist painted a masterpiece of flame red, golden yellow and burnt orange leaves.

Our family grew with the addition of two lovely daughters, and we made a new life for ourselves, determined to take a different path from the arguments, raging and neglect of our past. We settled into an adorable Victorian home on a quaint street called Maple Lane.  We found happiness that eluded us in our childhood.  Whenever we visited my hometown I enjoyed seeing my family, paying my respects at my dad’s grave, and basking in the sun at the  gorgeous beaches, but if I had my way, I would prefer to vacation somewhere else.  Too many ghosts are there for me to ever move back again.

Coming home is always bittersweet, dredging up buried feelings of abandonment and pain. My father spent virtually all of his free time drinking endless rounds of beer to drown his sorrows at the local Moonlight Tavern. My mother had married when she was 18 and dove headfirst into motherhood with five screaming brats within nine years, so after she split with my father she kicked up her heels and square danced every night and weekend. I found myself spending entire days by myself at the tender age of nine.

The loneliness pierced deep into my heart, and haunted me for decades. An ache and yearning seemed to haunt me as I searched for ‘home’, where that restlessness would be vanquished once and for all.  Recently our dear high school friend, Louie, wrote a heart warming story about revisiting his hometown, and about the intense feeling he experienced of ‘coming home’.  His words touched me profoundly, and inspired me to ponder the meaning of ‘home’.

A gnawing ache in my heart for most of my life was eased by a devoted husband and my precious girls, but it wasn’t until my faith deepened in 1993 that I finally came ‘home’.  On July 9, 1993 the gospel reading at mass that Sunday was about the parable of the seed in Matthew 13. The sower was spreading seed and some seed “fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Then I heard the words explaining the seed among the thorns, and it felt as though a knife penetrated my heart; it was a huge wake up call. “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” Yup! That pretty much described me; busy and occupied with working full time and worrying about my family.  God was way down on my list of priorities, after my family and job, finances and even relaxing at the lake on Sunday instead of attending mass.

I made a decision that day that I would never allow my faith to get choked out again by “worldly anxiety”. Instead I made a conscious decision to make my faith a priority, and life has never been the same. Shortly after that we sang Amazing Grace, and an overwhelming sense of ‘coming home’ poured over me. The love of the Father washed over me in crashing waves of love and tenderness; a new found peace and joy bubbled through me, and I knew in a heartbeat the comforting sense of belonging, that I was a beloved daughter of the King.

At first I shocked my family by diving headlong into my faith by going to daily mass and praying several hours a day, keeping my rosary beads with me constantly. I held on to my faith with both hands, afraid this new found peace would slip from my grasp, which of course is nonsense, since Jesus promised “to be with us always, until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).  Gradually I relaxed in my faith, feeling safe and secure, knowing I could clasp the Father’s hand any moment of the day. After all, my heart is a ‘dwelling place for Christ’ (Ephesians 3:16) and I carry my ‘home’ everywhere I go.

Going to the reunion we reconnected with lifelong friends who share similar backgrounds of large families, strict parents, hard work and sacrifice.  We all remember the prophetic words to the song You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet; we skated together to the music of Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson; we enjoyed delicious hot dogs and frothy root beer floats at the local A&W; we partied all night long at Grad Night in Disney World.  Growing up in the shadow of Cape Canaveral, we grieved together when three astronauts were shockingly burned to death in their capsule during testing on January 27, 1967.

These shared experiences are a powerful bond that ties us together, and for me they magnificently demonstrate the mighty tie binding together the body of Christ.   Last year Cathy Millian and several other alumnae gathered to plan this reunion, but unfortunately  Cathy was diagnosed with cancer a short time later.  Whether they had ever met her or not, former classmates from different years poured out of the woodwork to be there for our sick friend; to bring care packages, comfort, love and most of all, the gift of their presence.  Cathy was involved in all the preparations for our gathering, and was making telephone calls several days before her death making sure gift baskets were being prepared, encouraging classmates to come.  Sadly our dear friend passed away on September 17, 2014, exactly one week before the reunion, but you can be sure she was there with us in spirit.

All these beautiful classmates contributed to help me feel that I ‘belonged’, and were an incredible reflection of Christian love and being part of the family of God.  Even though I graduated in 1975, and this reunion was for my husband’s class of ’74, I couldn’t have felt more welcome!

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Jesus had harsh words for the hypocrites of his time in Matthew 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites…You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”  He soundly condemned teachers of the law and religious leaders for performing good works only to impress others, coveting places of honor, and for appearing clean on the outside, but “inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence…and every kind of filth.”  Ouch!

Some Christians are confused about this verse, and think that Jesus condemned ‘religion’. To clarify, Jesus actually condemned hypocrisy in religious leaders; He never condemned religion. The definition of ‘religion’ from Dictonary.com is “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects”.  So baptizing babies or even adults, the sacrament of marriage, belief in the Trinity and basically every doctrine of Christianity is considered ‘religion’.  Since Jesus Himself established the Church in Matthew 16:18, He certainly did not condemn ‘religion’.

Some of the most blatant cases of hypocrisy today are from politicians, who will say anything, and do whatever it takes to get votes. The more successful they become, the more their arrogance and blindness grows. John Edwards claimed to be a paragon of virtue and small town family values.  But it turns out he fathered a child by his mistress, and callously carried on his affair for years, even during his wife’s agonizing battle and eventual death from breast cancer. When the web of lies he was spinning was finally ripped open and the truth was revealed, Edwards explained “I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.” (From article 10 of the Most Hypocritical Statements From Politicians We Have Come Across).

Edwards also proclaimed himself as an advocate for the poor, but Business Week magazine reported that he opened a poverty center and combined it with his political action committee when he was running for President. “The nonprofit center spent a staggering 70% of the money it raised on a speaking tour for Edwards and on salaries for staffers who in short order just happened to join his presidential campaign.”  This powerful politician is basically a sleazy scam artist stealing from funds targeted for the poor.  But Kerry isn’t alone among politicians for his private jets, magnificent mansions, and $400 haircuts.  Opulent lifestyles in Washington DC seem to be prevalent in both parties, but it is especially painful to witness by those who profess to be the strongest advocates for the poverty stricken.

Have you ever wondered why so many Congressmen are all filthy rich? A dirty little secret called ‘insider trading’ has been legal for decades; when these politicians obtain knowledge ahead of an important sale or change to a company, our esteemed Congressmen could legally use this information to make a fortune from trading stock.  The moral laws that apply to the rest of Americans seemingly escape the moral compass of our esteemed politicians.  After public outrage about this ‘perk’ of politicians, the law was changed to curtail these activities in 2012, but was again quietly modified in 2013 to give greater leeway.

Spiritual leaders can also be hypocritical when it comes to guiding their flock; author and speaker Joyce Meyer owns a private jet, luxury cars and five magnificent mansions.  Televangelist Benny Hinn tops that with a 10 million dollar home near the ocean.  Outspending them all is German Catholic Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, who stole a whopping 40 million dollars from the Church to renovate his private residence.

One prime example of hypocrisy is shown by politicians and others who fiercely criticize Americans for wasting valuable resources and harming the environment by driving SUVs, but then in their arrogance travel on their own private jets to accommodate their ‘important’ schedule, or use gas hog limousines for transportation.  There is even a term for these hypocrites called “Limousine Liberal”; the Urban Dictionary describes these individuals as one “who considers themself a champion of the poor and downtrodden, but live a lifestyle of wealth and luxury”.

But hypocrisy is not limited to politicians and spiritual leaders, or even a particular political party.  Jesus’ own apostle, Judas, was outraged in John 12 when Mary “anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfumed oil” and complained that instead this perfume could have been sold and the money “given to the poor”.  Claiming to be so concerned about the poor, Judas was secretly a “thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.” He was greedily coveting the money for himself!

Ordinary Christians can be just as hypocritical; take some time and take a long, hard look at yourself.  Do you criticize and judge others, while missing the “wooden beam” in your own eye?  Are you puffed up with pride and conceit, but look down on others because they aren’t as educated or wealthy?  Do you ask God for forgiveness for your sin, but hold a grudge and refuse to forgive those that have hurt you?  Are you the ‘pillar of your church’, but rant and rage at your wife and children?  Are you two-faced and pretend to like someone, but gossip about them behind their back?  Are you out ‘saving the world’, but neglecting your own family?

Another prime example of hypocrisy are those who loudly condemn Muslim extremists for their barbaric actions in beheading, persecuting, kidnapping and killing Christian men, women and children, but then either support infanticide, or support politicians who are aligned and financed by Planned Parenthood, an organization that performs over 300,000 abortions annually.  No matter how much a politician ‘claims’ to care about the poor, can you really lend support if he or she publicly promotes the heinous dismemberment and burning of precious babies in their mother’s wombs, thousands of whom are viable and perfectly fully formed?  Even if this politician is expanding food stamps to help the poor, isn’t it hypocritical to support such atrocities, but then condemn Middle Eastern barbarism?

What are factors that lead devout, committed Christians to become two-faced hypocrites?  First, the more power a person has over others, or the wealthier one becomes, the more likely they are to abuse that power and justify their actions.  The old expression “power goes to your head” is appropriate, since the more powerful and famous politicians, CEO’s, spiritual leaders and other individuals become, the more narcissistic and arrogant they seem to be.  Those who are ultra educated with multiple higher degrees, need to be careful not to become puffed up with conceit over their ‘superior’ knowledge.

If you are deliberately rejecting 2,000 years of wisdom proclaimed by the  Catholic Church handed directly from the apostles to our present day bishops as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘out-of-touch’, and you search for a denomination that tickles your ears, you may want to carefully examine your heart for any pride.   It was the “wise and learned”, the arrogant scribes and pharisees who rejected Jesus’ profound word; and it was the “childlike” and humble that were open to His wise teachings.  Remember St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome and the first Pope, was a simple, ignorant fisherman.   “At that time Jesus said in reply, ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Matthew 11:25)

Some of the symptoms of narcissism described by The Mayo Clinic are:

  • Believing that you’re better than others
  • Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
  • Exaggerating your achievements or talents
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration
  • Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly
  • Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings
  • Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans
  • Taking advantage of others
  • Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior
  • Being jealous of others
  • Believing that others are jealous of you
  • Having a fragile self-esteem

Just look at Martin Luther King, Jr., icon for his speech “I have a Dream”, and for the courageous role he played in the Selma, Alabama march; facing angry armed policemen, sprayed with powerful fire houses, and jailed for his work to smash discrimination and wrest equality from a racist culture.  Yet this beacon of morality, revered by millions, violated every vow he made as a husband and pastor, repeatedly committing adultery throughout his entire marriage.  King felt he was above the moral rules that bind most Christians.  If you have achieved a high level of success in your career, be extremely cautious to guard against being pompous and full of your own importance.   St. Robert Bellarmine warned against seeking wealth and fame if they become a block to your spiritual growth, and to seek them only “if they contribute to the glory of God and your eternal happiness”.

Interestingly enough the sin of hypocrisy often springs from success and fame; is it any wonder some of the most intelligent, ‘intellectual elite’ can be so blinded that they believe falsehoods as blatant as the denial of Hitler’s holocaust?  Are you honest enough to search your heart for any conceit or condescension toward others?  Spend time meditating on the above verses about the “wise and learned” and ask God to reveal those dead and barren areas in your heart.   It takes humbleness and courage to let God peel away the layers and carefully examine any proud or arrogant tendencies.  But you sure don’t want to reach the Pearly Gates and have Jesus say to you “Woe to you vipers and hypocrites”!

Related Articles:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder


John Edwards’ Poor Scam

Pride Goes Before a Fall



Recently Pope Francis was criticized for marrying 20 couples that had been living together. My friend, Lisa Wheeler, beautifully described the predicament “I see the main objection from most people is that the Pope has potentially caused scandal by the public ‘marrying’ of the couples. The concern I have with the public hand wringing has been and will continue to be that I don’t think people know how to pick their battles. Do we want couples to continue to live a lifestyle that is not in conformity with what the Church’s teachings are on faith and morals or do we want them to be embraced by a Church that extends mercy, shows compassion, and provides teachable moments to ‘turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.'”

Couples that live together before saying their marriage vows statistically have a much higher chance of divorce, as there is an attitude of ‘trying it out’ and lack of commitment that carries over into their marriage. There is no question that it is a grave sin to intentionally reject doctrine as sacred as marriage, and just simply move in together.  So the priest who will be preparing a couple for marriage in these circumstances has to simultaneously present the Church as caring and loving, while at the same time convey the gravity of their sinful choices and the sacredness of their marriage vows.  Hopefully the marriage preparation will be more extensive than the one hour the priest spent with my husband and I before our wedding.  The only memory I have from that meeting was that I had to promise to raise the children Catholic.

One young lady that I know, who doesn’t attend any church, decided to find a minister who would marry her and her fiance.  She was quite shocked to discover most of the ministers she contacted refused to perform the ceremony, since she was not part of a faith community.  I did my best to explain the importance of God’s presence in a marriage, as well as the importance of being joined with other Christians, which is the body of Christ.  Eventually she found a ‘rent-a-minister’ to perform the ceremony.

I think those who skip the wedding and move in with a man or woman don’t realize the severe disservice to themselves, nor the long-term repercussions. In marriage you are giving 100% of yourself to your spouse, but when you jump the gun and just live together, you withhold significant parts of yourself.  Without  the vow to commit yourself ’till death do you part’, you are at risk emotionally and financially, and of course there is always the chance of pregnancy and abandonment. When just 25, actor Jeff Bridges met his wife Susan and fell head over heels in love with the gorgeous blonde, but he wasn’t ready to commit himself to marriage and children. So the two moved in together, and fell into the dilemma of many similar couples; Susan was ready for marriage and children, but Jeff continued to waffle, unwilling to commit.

As Jeff relates “She (Susan) actually talked to my mother about what she should do; they’d become the best of friends. And my mom, Dorothy — my own, wonderful, loving mother — counseled Sue to leave, forcing me to make a decision. My mother said, “Don’t stay with him.” “So we ended up living apart for six months, though we still saw each other. Then, when Sue got a job offer in Montana, it struck me that she was really leaving. The pressure was on! Finally I came to my senses. I thought, If I let this girl go, I will always know she was the one. So I got down on my knees and asked Sue to marry me.” (From link below)  But their marriage wasn’t a bed of roses; Jeff continued to pout for the next year about being ‘forced into marriage’. His saintly wife stuck it out and he finally realized that this stunning, enchanting woman, radiant inside and out, was the love of his life, and the greatest treasure he would ever find.  They were able to settle down into a life-long, successful marriage.

Was Bridges ‘forced’ into marriage? Of course not! He was ‘forced’ to make a decision. Too often young men and women date, get seriously involved, and then after a few years experience an agonizing breakup, because one or the other isn’t ‘ready’ for marriage. Some single people foolishly think you have to date hundreds just to find the perfect mate, as though finding a spouse can be reduced to purchasing a car or horse. My husband was just 19 when we married, but he valued me enough to marry me. I think women need to value themselves more and understand that they are ‘worth’ marrying.  If the other person doesn’t respect or treasure you enough to marry you, dump him or her and find someone else who thinks the world of you, and will treat you with dignity and honor. Don’t settle for second best. Just like the L’Oreal commercial touting their ultra expensive shampoo “You’re worth it”.

In the movie Pretty Woman, with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, Roberts played a prostitute paid by Gere to be a companion for his business trip.  The sassy prostitute is transformed into a woman of beauty and grace, and Gere falls madly in love with her.  At the end of the trip he asks her to move in with him.  The harlot-turned-princess tells him she knows it is a “really good offer”, but flatly turns him down claiming unless they married, he was still just ‘using’ her.  I was surprised that more people weren’t affected by this prophetic message about co-habitation, which I felt clearly portrayed the true meaning of ‘shacking up’.

I met my future husband at the ripe old age of 15, and being an active participant in the ‘sexual revolution’, we moved in together when I was 17. It was a really confusing time for me, because I felt I was way too young for marriage, but I was deeply in love. We separated for a few months, and I realized that of course I was too young for marriage, but I simply couldn’t imagine life without my ‘soul mate’. So one afternoon Paul said “let’s get married”, and I nodded “okay”. I knew that if regrets came later, I would remind myself it was the best solution for the quandary I found myself in.  Paul had changed jobs and moved an hour away, so we wound up constantly driving back and forth to see each other.  We made the decision to quit commuting and had a bare bones, do-it-yourself, wedding six weeks later, with simple finger sandwiches and fruit punch at the local VFW.

I was basically an atheist at that point in my life, but I knew having a mass with the wedding would please my in-laws, so I did it for them. Heaven only knows how much I needed the grace! After our wedding I was so surprised at the difference in my heart; being married just felt ‘right’. I think the natural law God places in our hearts nudged me that living together was a grave sin, in spite of the pervasive condoning of premarital sex in our culture.

My husband and I have now been married almost 39 years; was it always smooth sailing? Not hardly! We both had tremendous baggage and anger issues from both of our fathers being alcoholic and abusive; and I had the added problems of parents with multiple divorces and re-marriages. Plus, in the early years of our marriage, our faith was non-existent.  It got pretty rocky at times, but we made the decision that we were going to stay together, no matter what. So we vowed to never mention the ‘D’ word (divorce).  We discovered that love is a choice and you have to make the commitment to continue loving, no matter  how tedious or stressful.  Finally after 18 years of marriage our faith deepened considerably, and two years later we renewed our wedding vows.  We were just glowing as we promised again to ‘honor and cherish’ each other for the rest of our lives.  It was marvelous including God in our marriage this time.  He was there with his grace all along; we just didn’t realize it!

I am highly amused when I hear couples claim they want to first live together to make sure their marriage will be successful.  I assure them the man I married 39 years ago is definitely NOT the same man today; nor I am the same woman.  We have both grown spiritually and emotionally, and our hobbies and interests have also changed.  When I met Paul, he was an avid sports fan and enthusiastic gardener, while I had never watched a sports game or even touched a plant, much less planted one.  He disliked cats, while I couldn’t imagine life without one.  Now we spend most of our days off pruning, planting, and weeding our multiple gardens that are filled with fuschia bouganvilla, and lush hydrangeas, rhododendrums and azaleas.  I can proudly yell “go Dawgs” when I watch our favorite football team or “chop-chop” when we follow our local baseball team.  And of course we have two annoying kitties!

Many couples have an unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky view of wedded bliss, and spend years searching for the ‘perfect’ spouse.  Currently, men and women are delaying marriage until they are 28-30, as they spend more time pursuing their master’s and doctorate degrees, living unencumbered without children or other major responsibilities.  This leaves them free to lead active social lives and travel the globe seeing the wonders of the world.  Financial success is a priority to these young people, and they want to achieve their goal of a more affluent lifestyle before they delve into married life.  Some elect to skip marriage all together; consequently marriages are at a historic low.

The main purpose of marriage according to the Catholic Church is first and foremost procreation; joining with God to create new life.  Secondly, husband and wife are to support and help each other in all ways, especially to grow in holiness and attain heaven. Throughout their years together, they provide companionship for each other, and give emotional and physical help as well.  Third is to fulfill the innate need for sexual intimacy.  So marriage involves physical intimacy, friendship, support and child-rearing, but many idealize marriage as a means to eke out as much fun and joy as possible.  Of course marriage should be filled with laughter and love, but it is also accompanied by dedication, hard work, sacrifice and selflessness.

Several months ago a letter surfaced that was written by a young woman, Samantha Pugsley who claimed that because of the chastity program at her church, she was brainwashed into believing sex was “sinful and dirty” and that “I would go to Hell if I did it”.  She stated that because she was so traumatized by the program at church, sex after she was married was a horrible, painful experience, that didn’t get any better.  Finally, after two years the bride had a mental breakdown and was unable to have sex; she sought therapy and decided that she couldn’t be both sexually active and “religious” at the same time.  The troubled young woman explained that her trauma “controlled my identity for over a decade, landed me in therapy, and left me a stranger in my own skin. I was so completely ashamed of my body and my sexuality that it made having sex a demoralizing experience.”   She felt “soiled and tarnished”, that she she “wasn’t special anymore” and made the decision to embrace sensuality, and utterly reject her Christian faith.

Obviously this young lady has severe emotional issues, especially when you look at her biography and realize that she is bisexual (and has been since she was a teenager), suffers from severe anxiety and panic attacks and writes for a web page that celebrates a bizarre, hedonistic lifestyle, sexual addictions and perversion.  Someone with this much gender confusion and emotional trauma generally has been abused; I have no idea of the extent of other trauma Samantha experienced, but I find it doubtful that a chastity program, no matter how poor or inadequate, could leave this girl so deeply disturbed.

So this confused young woman advises others that it is extremely detrimental to ‘wait’ until marriage.  There is no way of knowing the negative influence her words have had, and the number of women and men who take those words to heart and decide to give away the most precious part of themselves, leaving themselves open to shame, guilt, insecurity, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  Since marriages are taking place even later in life, it is getting even harder to stay chaste while you are single.  Only with supernatural grace can you stay pure before and after marriage; only with God’s mystical grace can you stay ‘in love’ monogamously for decades.  Only with ‘amazing grace’ can you get through the sick times, the financially disastrous times, the times of sorrow, anger, unkind words, and rudeness that happen in any marriage, until ‘death do us part’.  Only with the explosive power of the Holy Spirit can you weather the storms of cancer and job loss, or rebellious or drug addicted teens.

Related articles:

Pope Marries Cohabiting Couples


The Marriage of Jeff and Susan Bridges


On the Primary Purpose of Marriage


Did Pope Francis Push the Envelope


Today is 9/11; on this day 13 years ago the unthinkable happened.  Muslim extremists hijacked four planes, turning two into gigantic fireballs destroying the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  The third was flown directly into our nation’s symbol of security, the Pentagon, causing massive destruction and carnage, injuries and death.  Due to the quick thinking heroes on the last plane, instead of being used as a devastating weapon, the remaining jetliner was driven into the ground in a rural area, where it exploded and killed everyone on board instantly.

Over three thousand people were slaughtered that day; Americans were shocked and stunned at the blatant assault on American soil.  Eager to root out the barbarians responsible for this attack, on October 10, 2002, the House of Representatives passed a resolution authorizing military force, and the Senate gave authorization the next day.  This resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority by both democrats and republicans who desperately wanted to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq” (From article Congress Passes Resolution to Invade Iraq below).

“Shock and Awe” was supposed to be quick and easy, but of course the expensive and deadly ‘war on terror’ dragged out for a decade.  The invasion of Iraq was supposed to keep Americans safe, as well as keep the Muslim extremists on the run, which it did for a while.  Its mission was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.”  (Congress Passes Resolution to Invade Iraq).  Unfortunately it turned out Hussein had already moved the weapons of mass destruction, most probably to Syria.

Thirteen years later and two trillion dollars later, around 115,000 troops have been killed, about 500,000 veterans have lost limbs, suffered massive concussions or other ghastly injuries, and approximately 460,000 veterans cope with post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies on a daily basis.  And even though we captured Hussein and killed Osama Bin Laden, we don’t seem to have made any further progress in our ‘war on terror’.  Currently seven countries in the Middle East are governed by Muslim extremists, who maintain control through fear, intimidation and barbaric cruelty.

The group of Muslim extremists called “ISIS” is sweeping through the Iraqi town of Mosul forcing Christians and other minorities with “the stark choice to abandon their homes, convert, pay the harsh tax or die”.  In their takeover of Nigeria another terrorist group “ravages villages, kidnap children and burn churches, while across the Middle East Christians are persecuted, denied their civil rights and marginalized by a range of Islamic-based regimes”.  (From article Conquest or Conversion in link below).

But it doesn’t seem to matter how many extremists are driven underground or killed, more pop up like a jack-in-the-box to continue their merciless Jihad of spreading Islam.  The list is endless; Hamas, Al Qaeda, the Taliban,  Fatah al-Islam, Hezballah, Ex Boko Haram and many, many more.  For centuries the Middle East has been a hotbed of conquest and bloodshed, and unwisely Americans have been intervening by arming the ‘rebels’ against the evil terrorists, sending soldiers and air strikes to fight the spreading threat of extremist Islam.  The CIA foolishly picked Bin Laden as the ‘good guy’ and for years sent arms and financial support to his cause.

Our politicians haven’t learned that in the Middle East quite often there is no group that has the moral high ground; quite often BOTH sides are murderous butchers.  With the recent gruesome beheading of two journalists by Islamist extremists, and with the plight of millions of Christians being persecuted in the Middle East, last night President Obama vowed that “America will lead a broad coalition to ‘take out’ ISIS by expanding airstrikes beyond Iraq into Syria, fortifying Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground, drawing on counterterrorism capabilities and continuing humanitarian efforts in the region” (According to the Boston Herald).  Once again America is embroiled in the Middle East snakepit of violence, waging a futile war against Muslim extremists.

Pope John Paul II was raised in Poland and grew up during the time when World War II was raging and Nazi persecution of Christians was fierce and widespread, so he was well aware of the suffering Christians experienced from those determined to stamp out Christianity.  Yet in March, 2003, the Vatican envoy to the White House carried a message from him that the Iraqi invasion was “unjust and illegal”.   The Pope’s representative, Laghi, said “before going to war the United Nations should take into account “the grave consequences of such an armed conflict: the suffering of the people of Iraq and those involved in the military operation, a further instability in the region and a new gulf between Islam and Christianity.”  He said that any war without U.N. approval “is illegal, it is unjust, it’s all you can say.” (from the Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau).

Several years ago a Muslim who converted to Christianity was interviewed and advised that lodging missiles and sending soldiers into the Middle East would never quell the violence, nor would it ever bring peace.  The only way peace will come to the Middle East is through conversion.  “The long term, and only real solution to the problem of radical Islam is conversion to the fullness of the Christian faith. Like everyone else Muslims need to be attracted to the radiant goodness, truth and beauty of Jesus Christ. They must see the radical love that Christ offers and compare it to the radical violence their own extremists offer. How can this happen? It can only  happen through the supernatural intervention of God’s Holy Spirit.”  According  to Evangelical missionary David Garrison “large numbers of Muslims across the world are indeed converting to Christianity as a result of powerful personal experiences.”  He explained that “… tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iranians in the last few decades have come to faith in Jesus Christ and followed him in baptism.” (from Conquest or Conversion).

A spiritual leader as great as Saint John Paul II, who helped President Reagan bring down the Berlin Wall, felt that violence begets violence, and would be useless in fighting Islam extremism.  When you stack up the toll of hundreds of thousands American veterans whose lives have been shattered physically and emotionally from the Iraqi invasion, against the elusive endeavor to quash terrorism, you have to really consider whether the cost has been worth the effort.  My brother was a Viet Nam veteran who was wounded physically and emotionally during his deployment.  The trauma this sensitive soul experienced rendered him mentally unbalanced, subject to flashbacks of those frightful events in Viet Nam.  On February 24, 1991, during Desert Storm, the news showed non-stop images of our soldiers freeing Kuwait.  Those images brought back abhorrent memories that were simply too much to bear, and that evening my brother overdosed on prescription drugs, desperately trying to block those haunting memories, finally committing suicide.  It seems so pointless to send more men and women to the Middle East and subject them to such grim experiences.

It is interesting, but even though President Obama sought out and killed Osama Bin Laden through increased espionage, I haven’t heard anyone suggest this as a means for fighting ISIS.  Nor have I heard anyone suggest  increased scrutiny of immigrants from terrorist nations, or even blockage of entry for these individuals.  We have a gigantic web of government agencies from the National Security Administration, to Homeland Security, to Immigration available with wide resources, so why don’t we tap into these agencies, rather than arm the people we ‘hope’ are the ‘good guys’.  I realize that it is useless to reason with these monsters, but increasing intelligence makes so much more sense than sending more airstrikes, killing innocent people, destroying homes, hospitals and businesses, and fueling the fire of hatred and destructiveness.  And as always, we must pray and fast for the protection of the persecuted Christians, and for the hearts and minds of the terrorists to be open to the light of the Gospel.

Congress Passes Resolution to invade Iraq

Conquest or Conversion


 Iraqi War Unjust

http://www.chron.coUnjust m/news/nation-world/article/Pope-says-war-against-Iraq-will-be-unjust-and-2109326.php


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