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WITNESSING TO LOVED ONES

By Pete Burak

https://gulfcoastcatholic.org/

Often when we think about mission, our eyes lift and we scan the horizon imagining the hypothetical person, out there, who desperately needs to meet Jesus. We understand someday, somewhere, we might need to share our faith with a total stranger and we console ourselves that when the moment comes, we’ll be ready. As disciples, we know we are sent, commissioned and invited to participate in Christ’s saving work, and we know our lives must model and reflect the truth of what we believe. However, we often detach these heavenly demands from the people whom God has placed directly under our noses. It’s easy to dream of sharing the Gospel with the faceless, nameless, imaginary person; it’s way harder when the person is your brother, sister, cousin or close friend.

Given recent statistical studies demonstrating a precipitous decline in Mass attendance and belief in key elements of the faith, it’s reasonable to assume everyone reading this article has at least one close relationship with someone who has left the Church. As our hearts ache to see them return, here are four “P” words to inspire and equip you to do something about it!

Prayer – All evangelization and mission starts with crying out to God on behalf of those we’re trying to reach. Be brutally honest with Jesus as to what you want to see happen and how you feel about it. Spend as much time with him as possible, because the more he transforms your heart, the more your loved ones will see the difference he makes.

Personal – When on mission to your loved ones, keep it simple and focus on what God has done for you. Don’t worry about having all the answers. Simply share, when the time is right, how you’ve come to belief and why it matters to you. The one thing they can’t argue with is your story.

Patience – Sharing the Gospel with your family is a marathon, not a sprint. The consistent, long-term and authentic witness of your life will do more than most of the words you’ll say. They know your history, so be patient with theirs, and let the Lord work in his timing, not yours.

Painful – Prepare yourself for it to hurt. They may say and do things that deeply wound you. They may revile, mock or reject you. Remember, Jesus said this would happen, so offer the pain to him and press deeper into his wounded heart. He died for them, so we need to pick up our crosses as well.

Start today by asking the Holy Spirit to put on your heart one person whom he is preparing to receive your invitation. Our job is to demonstrate our faith through love, holiness, witness and boldness – let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

YEARNING FOR MORE

By David D. Spesia

https://gulfcoastcatholic.org/

“The most profound thing we can do each day is participate in the Mass.” This providential line from a humble priest’s homily has made all the difference in my life. Without the ripple effect that this insight has had on me for thirty years, it would be impossible to picture my life as it is today: particularly the tremendous blessings of my marriage and family.

In the moments when those sound waves hit my ears, I didn’t see any of this. I was too focused on what seemed like an ocean of emptiness offered by worldly pursuits, and overwhelming indifference among those who were just going along to get along. Both my head and my heart were looking for something profound—something deep, bottomless, vast.

Never Meant to Walk Alone

What I gradually discovered as I began to organize my daily schedule around Mass is that I found Someone waiting for me each day. Or, rather, Someone found me! Though it would take me a while to be able to articulate it, I knew that Jesus was calling me, welcoming me, and inviting me down new paths as I received Him in Holy Communion each day.

In and through these daily Masses, I also discovered that “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). In each day’s readings for Mass, I began to hear the Lord addressing my hopes and concerns. I slowly realized that the Scriptures could challenge and console me here and now. At some point, I also discovered the gift of Confession, not just as an obligation, but as another unique opportunity to hear the Lord speak into my life—but that’s a story for another day.

The simplicity and intimacy of these daily Masses also helped me grow in appreciation of the Sunday celebrations with the full parish community. Following Jesus as a beloved disciple became more clearly connected to the fact that I belonged to something bigger. Responding to the baptismal call to holiness and mission involved saying both a personal and a communal “yes” to the gift of new life in Christ, and at Sunday Masses I began to catch glimpses of Christ the Head in communion with all of the members in His humble body, the Church.

Making Time for the Lord of the Universe

All of this opened my eyes to the fact that Christ’s self-emptying gift on the Cross reveals the depths of God’s love for me and for the whole world, even as it is all so undeserved. The daily re-presentation of that ultimate Sacrifice challenges me to give more freely and more fully. As a husband and father, I have to ask myself whether I really have my life properly ordered—with God first, my wife and children second, and myself third—and to what extent my relationship with my family is marked by self-giving rather than self-seeking. In Jesus’ words, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap” (Lukk 6:38a).

A Daily “Yes”

My prayer for my family and friends, as well as for searching and suffering souls everywhere, is that we continue to say a deeper yes to Christ’s gift in the Holy Mass. This is the most concrete way that we can respond to Pope Francis’s invitation to all Christians, “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (EG, n. 3). As we respond to this invitation, our desire to share the fruits of so great a gift will continue to expand—particularly with those on the socio-economic and existential peripheries. After all, love is meant to be first received, then freely given and poured out without measure: “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Luke 6:38b).

Jesus is Love-with-us, inviting each of us to enter more deeply into the mystery of Divine Life, here and now. Each celebration of the Mass is a simple and yet profound opportunity for us to say, in the words of Balthasar, “Love alone is credible”!


David Spesia is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This reflection appeared on the National Eucharistic Revival website.


Major Victory for Life

https://gulfcoastcatholic.org/


By Katie Camario


The ruling on the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization represents an answer to millions of prayers that have been offered for mothers, fathers and their preborn children. For decades, the Catholic Church has been a leader in advocating for life in all stages of development and praying for an end to Roe v. Wade that left a whole class of human beings, the preborn, outside the protection of the law.
The ruling issued on June 24, 2022 has given states an opportunity to undo the grave injustice of the 1973, Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the country. In the decades that followed the Roe decision, about 60 million preborn children have been aborted in the U.S. The overturning of Roe means each state can now decide to protect the lives of preborn children, and in doing so, also protect millions of women from the tragic consequences of abortion.


A statement from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Bishop Gregory Parkes, issued on June 24th, reads:
“We are deeply heartened to see that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in its landmark opinion, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The most influential abortion case in decades, Dobbs is a decision by our nation’s highest court to allow states to protect women and their children from abortion through all stages of pregnancy.”
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg operates various ministries to serve expectant mothers who face difficult pregnancies and those who find it difficult to care for their children after they are born. Services continue long after babies are born and include comprehensive referral services to those in need. Catholic Charities has also operated a licensed, private adoption agency to assist women with adoption planning since 1945.
“Catholic Charities provides an enormous array of services, such as financial assistance, utility assistance, medical services, shelters and housing, and pregnancy and adoption services. All our services are free and available to everyone. We serve all residents in Citrus, Hernando Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties regardless of race, creed, gender, national origin, disability status or socioeconomic status,” said Laura Ramos, Pregnancy & Adoption Services Director Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Legal protection for the preborn means the Church is redoubling its efforts to accompany women and couples who are facing unexpected or difficult pregnancies, offering them loving and compassionate care.
“Foundations of Life Pregnancy Center has always been prepared to serve our community. For us it is not just about saving the baby. This is about setting up parents for long-term success in their parenting,” said Ramos. “What we want is not only to give hope to those who are thinking about abortion, but we want to walk with all moms through their pregnancy and until they have achieved their spiritual, economic and physical goals.”
Another rapidly growing initiative is “Walking with Moms in Need,” sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This parish-based process helps parishioners connect with local mothers facing difficult or challenging pregnancies, identifying local resources and filling the gaps so that pregnant and parenting women receive the material, spiritual, and emotional support they need.


During the month of May, meetings were held between Parish Life Ministries in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and local pregnancy centers to discuss Walking with Moms in Need.
“Walking with Moms in Need provides an avenue for parishes to better serve their parishioners while at the same time supporting pregnancy resource centers. The meeting provided an opportunity for attendees to tour the center, learn about the services provided, and what our needs are,” said Jeanne Whitely, manager of Foundations of Life Center in Spring Hill.
“The services we provide will remain the same with the overturning of Roe, however we expect to see an increase in the volume of clients served. Since the recent change in law in Texas, Pregnancy Resource Centers such as Foundations of Life have seen an increase of nearly 40% in clients, therefore we certainly can expect an increase as well.” said Whitely.
For Ramos, the ruling means continuing to share Jesus’ love for all women and their children with compassion and mercy.
“We need the community to rally around these families. We need their help in promoting love and life. And they can do that by volunteering and or donating baby and maternity supplies, such as diapers, baby formula, toiletries.”
The Church continues to reach out to women and men who have been involved in an abortion and then find themselves in emotional and spiritual turmoil. Project Rachel Ministry offers confidential, compassionate help to women and men after an abortion.


If you or someone you know is suffering after abortion, confidential, non-judgmental help is available from Project Rachel Ministry.

Anyone looking for help can call the confidential helpline 407-222-8584 Email: projectrachel@cflcc.com
To get involved and help assist pregnant mothers, parenting mothers and children and anyone who needs assistance there many ways to help:
Foundations of Life Pregnancy Centers
Offers support and services to women who are facing unplanned pregnancy with the goal of having them choose life. They offer free, confidential, and nonjudgmental support to women of all ages. There are five Pregnancy Centers located in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Spring Hill and Dade City. Call for appointments and walk-ins are welcomed.
www.foundationsoflife.org


Catholic Charities Adoption Services
Licensed, private Florida adoption agency that has been assisting women with adoption planning since 1964. Their experienced adoption counselors are ready to assist you during and after your pregnancy. You are provided confidential, non-judgmental support and counseling. The Adoption Services serve 64 counties throughout Florida.
www.ccadoptfl.org


Pasco Family Shelter
The Pasco Family Shelter offers shelter, clothing, food, counseling and more to nine families at any given time. We work closely with the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County.
www.ccdosp.org/pasco-family-shelter

http://www.ccdosp.org/pasco-family-shelter


Pasco Women’s Shelter
Pasco Women’s Shelter provides support services and temporary/transitional shelter and support services for homeless women and homeless women with children in Pasco County. Serves 20 women and children with wrap around services.
www.ccdosp.org/pasco-county-womens-shelter


Upper Pinellas Pregnancy
Support Services UPPSS is an outreach ministry of St. Ignatius of Antioch Church that extends the love of Christ to women who face the challenges of pregnancy and motherhood. We are dedicated to helping women make informed choices by providing information, encouragement, support, and material assistance.


https://uploads.weconnect.com/mce/3b69df951b3d4c18c3cb681597fbb9bba88d799c/pregnant-2.pdf


By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

https://gulfcoastcatholic.org/

PARENTING: WAYS TO BRING YOUR KIDS BACK TO THE CHURCH

It is not uncommon to find parents worrying about a child who has strayed from the Church. Sons and daughters failing to recognize the importance of God in their lives may be a major source of anxiety for parents. When parents desire the greatest good for their children, namely eternal salvation, they naturally ask, “What can we do to bring our child back to the Church?”

Reflecting on Scripture may provide insight into this matter. The Book of Revelation, with its extraordinary visions and descriptions of terror, often evokes fear, especially when we read of the judgment of the unfaithful. Among those who pondered these verses was the artist Holman Hunt. His painting, The Light of the World, was based on Revelation 3:21, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” The painting shows Jesus standing in a dark orchard, the only light coming from His lantern. He is knocking on a door overgrown with vines and weeds. The door evidently has been shut for a long time. Hunt intentionally did not paint a handle on the door saying that the door to the human heart can be opened only from the inside. More than 150 years after its creation, The Light of the World can help us sort out some of our concerns and worries.

Keep in mind that God is gentle. It is difficult when a loved one isn’t opening the door to Christ, but you can’t force open the door to another person’s heart.

Trust God to continue calling to your loved one. This isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. God yearns for the door to be opened. Remember how the shepherd sought out the lost sheep, rejoicing when it was found! (Luke 15:3-5)

Accept God’s timing. As you pray for your loved one remember that no amount of effort will “produce” a result. As Jesus told His disciples, “Wait for the gift my Father promised.” (Acts 1:4-6) In today’s world, we are used to instant messaging, fast food and immediate gratification, but God may call us to wait in stillness.

Pour out all your own fears to God. As the Psalmist said, “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Ps 38:9)

Psychologists describe two styles of reacting to stress – problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. Sometimes, it is best to focus on a problem because direct action is needed. Worrying about the spiritual journey of a loved one, however, is more likely to involve emotion-focused coping, reviewing your own feelings toward the situation. Share your emotions with Christ and be renewed in the Eucharist. When you hear His voice, open your own heart and let His peace cast out all fears.


Dr. Cathleen McGreal – author of the “Parenting Journey” for 19 years. Cathleen has offered her expertise, pulling from her role as a professor at Hope College and Michigan State University. She’s shared anecdotes and personal family stories with readers, who appreciate her knowledge and frankness while enjoying the gift of her writing.

By Sister Ann Shield


By Bishop Robert Barron | Article Originally Appeared at Wordonfire.org

SHOULD SUFFERING SHAKE OUR FAITH

https://gulfcoastcatholic.org/

Premier Christian Radio in the UK sponsored a survey that investigated how the COVID crisis has affected religious beliefs and attitudes. There were three major findings—namely, that 67% of those who characterize themselves as “religious” found their belief in God challenged, that almost a quarter of all those questioned said that the pandemic made them more fearful of death, and that around a third of those surveyed said that their prayer life had been affected by the crisis. Justin Brierley, who hosts the popular program Unbelievable?, commented that he was especially impressed by the substantial number of those who, due to COVID, have experienced difficulty believing in a loving God. I should like to focus on this finding as well.

Of course, in one sense, I understand the problem. An altogether standard objection to belief in God is human suffering, especially when it is visited upon the innocent. The apologist for atheism or naturalism quite readily asks the believer, “How could you possibly assert the existence of a loving God given the Holocaust, school shootings, tsunamis that kill hundreds of thousands of people, pandemics, etc.?” But I must confess that, in another sense, I find this argument from evil utterly unconvincing, and I say this precisely as a Catholic bishop—that is, as someone who holds and teaches the doctrine of God that comes from the Bible. For I don’t think that anyone who reads the Scriptures carefully could ever conclude that belief in a loving God is somehow incompatible with suffering.

There is no question that God loves Noah, and yet he puts Noah through the unspeakably trying ordeal of a flood that wipes out almost all of life on the earth. It is without doubt that God loves Abraham, and yet he asks that patriarch to sacrifice, with his own hand, his beloved son Isaac. More than almost anyone else in the biblical tradition, God loves Moses, and yet he prevents the great liberator from entering into the Promised Land. David is a man after the Lord’s own heart, the sweet singer of the house of Israel, and yet God punishes David for his adultery and his conspiracy to murder. Jeremiah is specially chosen by God to speak the divine word, and yet the prophet ends up rejected and sent into exile. The people Israel is God’s uniquely chosen race, his royal priesthood, and yet God permits Israel to be enslaved, exiled, and brutalized by her enemies. And bringing this dynamic to full expression, God delivers his only-begotten Son to be tortured to death on a cross.

Once again, the point, anomalous indeed to both believers and nonbelievers today, is that the biblical authors saw no contradiction whatsoever between affirming the existence of a loving God and the fact of human suffering, even unmerited human suffering.

Rather, they appreciated it as, mysteriously enough, ingredient in the plan of God, and they proposed various schemata for understanding this. For instance, sometimes, they speculated, suffering is visited upon us as punishment for sin. Other times, it might be a means by which God effects a spiritual purification in his people. Still other times, it might be the only way that, given the conditions of a finite universe, God could bring about certain goods. But they also acknowledged that, more often than not, we just don’t know how suffering fits into God’s designs, and this is precisely because our finite and historically conditioned minds could not, even in principle, comprehend the intentions and purposes of an infinite mind, which is concerned with the whole of space and time. Practically the entire burden of the book of Job is to show this. When Job protests against what he takes to be the massive injustice of his sufferings, God responds with a lengthy speech, in fact his longest oration in the Bible, reminding Job of how much of God’s purposes his humble human servant does not know: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth . . .”

Once again, whether they half-understood the purpose of human suffering or understood it not at all, no biblical author was tempted to say that said evil is incompatible with the existence of a loving God. To be sure, they lamented and complained, but the recipient of the lamentation and complaint was none other than the God who, they firmly believed, loved them. I don’t for a moment doubt that many feel today that suffering poses an insurmountable obstacle to belief in God, but I remain convinced that this feeling is a function of the fact that religious leaders have been rather inept at teaching the biblical doctrine of God. For if human suffering undermines your belief in God, then, quite simply, you were not believing in the God presented by the Bible.

I want to be clear that none of the above is meant to make light of the awful experience of suffering or cavalierly to dismiss the intellectual tensions that it produces. But it is indeed my intention to invite people into a deeper encounter with the mystery of God. Like Jacob who wrestled all night with the angel, we must not give up on God but rather struggle with him. Our suffering shouldn’t lead us to dismiss the divine love, but rather to appreciate it as stranger than we ever imagined. It is perfectly understandable that, like Job, we might shout our protest against God, but then, like that great spiritual hero, we must be willing to hear the Voice that answers us from the whirlwind.


Bishop Robert Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.