Weekly Inspirations

Mary of Magdala at Christ’s Tomb

When you read or hear the Scriptures about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, do you imagine what the disciples must have thought or how they felt when they saw the empty Tomb of Christ? Or what about Mary Magdalene who was one of his followers and witnessed the crucifixion?

She is mentioned in all four Gospel accounts in relation to the resurrection of Jesus. How interesting! The four do not mention that the apostles or other disciples were the first to see the empty tomb where the body of Jesus was placed after his crucifixion. They were informed later by Mary of Magdala and the women with her. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke; we learn that Mary Magdalene and women with her discover the empty tomb and see angel(s) informing them that the Lord Jesus had been raised. He is not there.

However, in the Gospel of John 20:11-18, after Mary of Magdala saw the empty tomb and ran to tell Peter and the apostles, she returned to the tomb and wept. Jesus appears to her, although she thought it was the gardener; she was deep in sorrow.

It wasn’t until she heard her name Mary called out; when she turned and saw Jesus. She then went and told the disciples: I have seen the Lord!

Imagine yourself there with Mary of Magdala, seeing her weep—and then Jesus appears and calls her name. There would be a change in her face; from sadness to an immense joy, seeing her Lord before her! The gaze of the Lord Jesus upon Mary of Magdala transformed her when she first encountered him in Galilee. She was from a predominant fishing village by the Sea of Galilee called Magdala. She was the woman from whom seven demons had gone out (cf. Luke 8:2). Her encounter with him changed her life. She received her dignity as a child of God, began to follow Jesus and provided for him and his apostles out of her resources. Yes, Mary of Magdala met Jesus, believed he was the Messiah, was healed by him, and embraced his teachings. Her fidelity led her to follow Jesus to his death on Calvary.

Mary of Magdala was the first to whom Jesus appeared to after his resurrection, and for this reason she is given the title the Apostle to the Apostles, referenced by Pope John Paul II in his 1988 encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem.

The gaze of Jesus upon Mary of Magdala is a gaze, we too, can experience! Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains it well:

Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. […] There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.

Would you like to see the empty tomb? Would you like to experience bending down to enter the tomb where the body of Jesus laid after his crucifixion, the very site where he resurrected? Would you like to sit before this sacred place and ponder what happened here? Would you like to see a prayer area nearby commemorating where Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene? I invite you to join us on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land! My husband, Deacon Tom, and I are pilgrimage leaders and have been there 56 times. Yes, I have visited the empty tomb, have venerated numerous times and never tire of it. It is sanctified by the Lord; how can one tire from seeing, touching the place where his body laid? Alleluia!


Mary Jane Fox, D.H.S. is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with her husband, Deacon Tom 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. Mary Jane is an invested member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Dame 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.

Mercy, Love’s Second Name

We recently celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, and are in the midst of the Easter season. This is the perfect time to dwell on God’s love and mercy so we might all yearn for it, be restored by it, and be more grateful for it.

As I am writing this, I am looking up at an image of Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son (inspired by the parable from Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) that hangs in my office. This painting has long captivated me and took on even greater meaning after I read Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.

My attention is always drawn to the hands of the father, holding the son, as if to say, “You are forgiven…everything is going to be okay.” It makes me think of all the hugs or abrazos shared over the years with family and friends, following an exchange of apologies over saying or doing something we regretted. By far, the most powerful and significant were the embraces shared with my parents. In these moments, I felt forgiven, loved, secure, and at peace.

Nouwen’s book enabled me to see that total surrender to God the Father is the key to truly being healed of past hurt and guilt. With that realization has come a greater appreciation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and for the Paschal Mystery. And also, for the Eucharist.

Total surrender is not an easy thing to do, because it involves giving up control and acknowledging our failures. Nouwen wrote, “One of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life is to receive God’s forgiveness.”

Gifts of Mercy

St. Pope John Paul II wrote his second Encyclical Letter Dives In Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), with St. Faustina Kowalska on his mind. This is a profound document which offers a new perspective on the theme of Divine Mercy:

  • God’s merciful love is his “most stupendous attribute.”
  • Christ came to make God present as love and mercy
  • When mercy is properly given, there is no humiliation, only gratitude
  • Love & Mercy in the world make conversion possible
  • Mercy is love’s second name

It was nineteen years ago on April 30, 2000 that John Paul II canonized St. Faustina and designated the Easter Octave – Divine Mercy Sunday. Faustina was given the message of Divine Mercy from Christ. In 1938 her journals were published as the Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul.

As a result of the apparitions of Jesus to St. Faustina we were given four devotions:

  • The Divine Mercy Image
  • The Chaplet of Divine Mercy
  • The Novena of Divine Mercy
  • Divine Mercy Sunday (receiving Reconciliation and Holy Communion)

During this Easter season, as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection and in anticipation of Jesus sending forth the Holy Spirit, consider dedicating yourself to the devotion of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy throughout the year.

Not only can these prayers help to keep you focused on the Passion & Crucifixion of Christ, but they can also give you a greater appreciation of the Eucharistic offering.

Responding to Mercy

Our staff at Pilgrim Center of Hope prays the Chaplet daily during the Hour of Mercy which begins at 3 pm, the hour of Our Lord’s death on the cross.

The opening prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet says it all: O Blood & Water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you (Diary 84).

And then there is the call and response prayer that we repeat 50 times: For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us & on the whole world (Diary 475-476). 

Reading John Paul’s Dives In Misericordia and practicing the devotion of the Divine Mercy Chaplet has allowed me to recognize and give thanks for all the times I have been shown mercy. More importantly, I am more conscious of the need to be more merciful toward others.

Pope Francis put it this way, “May we make God’s merciful love ever more evident in our world through dialogue, mutual acceptance and fraternal cooperation.”

In order to bring more hope into the world and restore people’s dignity and humanity, we need to remember love’s second name and show more mercy and forgiveness in our relationships.

It all begins with our appreciation and understanding of God’s Divine Mercy.

So, let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help (Heb. 4:16).


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.

God Looks At You with Love

When I used to imagine how God looked at me, I felt like I was being judged.

However hard I tried, I felt that God would always point out something I had done wrong. Needless to say, I had difficulty connecting with Jesus’ parables about a God who celebrates and rejoices over one person, even though I could recite the parables and all their details.

One day, I earnestly prayed for openness as I read the day’s Scriptures. As I read from the Hebrew Scriptures in the Old Testament, I realized that my idea of God was wrong. As I read the New Testament with a new perspective, my eyes were opened:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:10-11)

Jesus said, “You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone. And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me.” (John 8:15-16)

How Jesus Looked

Although we don’t have a photograph of Jesus, we know much about how he looked at people.

Consider how Jesus simply “passed by” Matthew as he was working as a tax collector, at his daily post. Jesus only said to him, “Follow me,” and Matthew left his whole life behind to follow Jesus. In Pope Francis’ letter “The Joy of the Gospel,” he points out how powerful the gaze of Jesus must have been:

let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (JG, no. 120)

Can you imagine how Jesus must have looked at them? What kind of expression is so powerfully loving that it causes people to change the entire direction of their lives?

Let Jesus Look At You

There are so many possible reasons why we may struggle to imagine a completely loving and merciful God. One reason is our experience of hurts, wounds, painful experiences, and sins committed by others or ourselves. In my case, it took time along with the power of prayer, spiritual direction, the sacraments, and professional counseling, for me to gain a healthy and reconciled view of God… but it is still a journey.

So I ask you: Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy. (Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, no. 151)

I have this little prayer that I say now, “Father, help me to see myself as you see me.” When I struggle to love someone as I’m called to, I pray, “Jesus, help me to see (person’s name) through your eyes.”

God’s gaze is truly healing, truly loving, truly merciful, and truly beyond our comprehension… but it is not beyond belief. Amid the dark times we all experience, let’s strive to see and believe.


This month and beyond, Pilgrim Center of Hope is offering many opportunities to help you discover God’s loving gaze. Answering Christ’s call, we guide 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.

Divine Mercy, Now and Forever

 

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he said this he showed them his hands and his side. (John 20:19-20)

Even though the doors were locked, Jesus stood in their midst because his resurrected, glorified body does not have the same limitations as our physical body. For this reason he shows them his wounds. In another Gospel, he asks for something to eat to prove he is not a ghost.

The Power of This Feast

He then breaths on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.” He gives the Apostles and their successors the authority to forgive sins. This is the basis for the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which Jesus himself forgives the sins of those who confess to priests and bishops who are successors to those who were in the Upper Room.

It is fitting that we hear this Gospel on Divine Mercy Sunday, because the Sacrament of Reconciliation is especially a sacrament of our Lord’s mercy. When we confess our sins to a priest, Jesus not only forgives our sins and relieves us the burden we carry; he also gives us grace we need to help us overcome temptation and grow in virtue. It is for this reason that we should try to go to confession at least once a month. If we only go to confession a couple times a year, so many of the things we do that offend our relationship with God and others will begin to pass unnoticed and become part of our life routine. Small sins that are habitual, lead to more serious sin. It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, and stubbornness that cause us to become a negative person, and this negativity affects all of our relationships. If you have not been able to forgive someone, ask Jesus to help you forgive, because you know he wants you to forgive and be relieved of the burden of that sin.

In 1934, Jesus revealed to St. Faustina that he wanted the second Sunday of Easter to be known as Divine Mercy Sunday. In her diary, Divine Mercy In My Soul, she wrote down this message:

I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and a shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day are opened all the divine floodgates through which graces flow. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.

Even if we are not aware of having committed serious sin, we still need the mercy of God to dominate our lives so that we can remain close to him. As it says on his image, our daily prayer should be, “Jesus I trust in you.”

If you have not been to confession for a while, you can still receive the graces of this feast if you receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) within the next 14 days. Jesus longs for us to come to him and receive his mercy.

Living In Peace – Now and Forever

The Apostle Thomas was not with the others when Jesus appeared to them Easter evening. Thomas said he would not believe that Jesus was alive unless he would put his fingers in the nail marks and his hand in His side.

Our human logic is very powerful. Even though the disciples Thomas trusted told him that they had seen Jesus, Thomas would not believe them without proof. For him, it wasn’t logical that someone would rise from the dead, even Jesus.

That’s the world we live in. We are at the point where just as many people do not believe in God as those who do believe, and that number continues to grow. One way we see this lack of a relationship with God manifested is in so much hatred and violence. The only thing that that can reverse this present trend is the love of God and his mercy, which he freely offers, but he does not impose it upon us. In his Church, Jesus has given us everything we need to live in peace and happiness, but we must approach him in faith and humility. Jesus says, “Come to me… and I will give you rest.” The rest he offers us is the peace he promises to those who put their trust in him, especially when experiencing trials. Even the most hardened sinner can experience this peace if he would turn to Jesus in humility and ask for the grace to turn away from sin.

I am reminded of a woman I visited many years ago who was dying of cancer. She was in much pain, and death was not far away; yet she said she thanked God for the cancer because it gave her a chance to turn back to God. She said if she would have died suddenly, her soul may have been lost.

Salvation is not a casual thing, but God’s love and mercy are not only about saving our soul. It is first of all about a daily relationship with God that fills our lives with joy and hope. He has shown us how this is possible in the Scriptures and in the Church. The solution has been revealed to us, but do we believe?

Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas needed proof to believe. Do we?

What we all believe right now is a consequence of the choices we have made up until this moment. Does our faith influence the most important decisions we make? Have we asked Jesus to be the Lord of our life and then pray for the grace we need to trust him in every situation of our life? If every day, throughout the day we pray from our hearts, “Jesus I trust in you,” it will become a reality. He will gently guide us if we are sincere.


Deacon Tom Fox 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. Tom continues to serve as a permanent deacon, at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio.

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.

Mercy: The Secret to Healing

Statue at the Sea of Galilee depicting Christ and Saint Peter after Peter is forgiven for denying Jesus.

 

In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), Saint Pope John Paul II writes,

by becoming for people a model of merciful love for others, Christ proclaims by His actions even more than by His words that call to mercy which is one of the essential elements to the Gospel ethos. In this instance, it is not just a case of satisfying a condition of major importance for God to reveal Himself in His mercy to man: “The merciful […] shall obtain mercy.” (II, The Messianic Message)

What is the pope saying?

He is saying what we all know we are called to do if we profess to name ourselves Christian; followers of Jesus Christ. We must, like our Master, be merciful through the action of forgiving those who hurt us.  Ouch!

There is something more…

The pope says it is not just a matter of what we are called to do (satisfying a condition); it is the way for God to reveal Himself in His Mercy to man (i.e. you and me):

…“The merciful […] shall obtain mercy.”

Finding Healing through Mercy

I have found this to be true. There are people who I feel have let me down. Whether real or just in my imagination, I have felt slighted, unrecognized, dismissed. Through the grace of God, I have chosen in my hurt to offer a prayer: “Lord, ________ hurt me, yet through You, I will to forgive.”

This ‘willing’ to forgive does not deny the justice due to me; it just puts the gavel in the hands of God—our Savior and Just Judge. I have discovered in my surrender to his will, by being merciful to the ones who hurt me, I have received healing. Even more amazing, I have received the recognition, the acceptance I felt was denied me by others through the grace of a closer relationship with Jesus. God sees me!  God knows!  God cares!

God’s Mercy for Us Now

We have a great opportunity this week to enter Healing through God’s gift of Divine Mercy.  Pope Francis has called this time we live in especially filled with God’s Mercy, saying,

“[L]isten to the voice of the Spirit that speaks to the whole Church in this our time, which is, in fact, the time of mercy. I am certain of this… It is the time of mercy in the whole Church… ]” (Pope Francis, address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome, 3/6/2014).

Next Sunday, April 28, is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Our Lord Jesus said to St. Faustina about this Feast:

On that day [Divine Mercy Sunday], the very depths of My tender mercy are opened. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. […] On that day, all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. (Diary of St. Faustina, no. 699)

Finding God’s Mercy

To forgive may be Divine, but it is also very hard! Why not take advantage of this gift of “a whole ocean of graces” by participating in the Feast of Divine Mercy?!  If you need assistance finding a parish that is offering Divine Mercy Sunday services, contact us at Pilgrim Center of Hope.

Pilgrim Center of Hope is offering a unique experience this year to encounter Jesus through our monthly Meet the Master events.  Our May event will be held during the annual Catholic Seniors’ Conference, which is open to all ages.

Jesus asked in the Gospel of John (1:38-39), “What are you looking for?” He responds to our request for healing and mercy, just as he responded to those in the Gospel, “Come! and you will see.”


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.

What Is True Humility? – Life Lessons from Holy Weeek

Over time, humility has become more and more under-rated and misunderstood. A lot of this has to do with the fact that we see ourselves through the eyes of the world instead of through the eyes of God.

Palm Sunday not only signals the start of Holy Week, but it can also show us the way to true humility. Through the Paschal Mystery; Jesus’ passage from life to death to new life, lies the path to:

  • Embracing humility & suffering
  • Learning how to surrender our will to the will of God
  • Learning about our true personal dignity in God

The more that we can focus on the path of Jesus’ own humiliation throughout this week, the more we will be able to grow in true humility. Pope Francis tells us that, “there can be no humility without humiliation.”­

In Our World Today

This is extremely hard to do in a world pre-occupied with wealth, power, and control. Too many of us, me included – at one time or another – have been consumed by the desire for a bigger paycheck and having more prestige & influence.

Consider that, not long after the triumphant parade of Jesus from Bethany to Jerusalem, he was met by:

  • Betrayal, denial, violence, and the incomparable cruelty leading up to the Crucifixion
  • Institutional corruption and deep injustice fueled by the vanity of the Pharisees (pride and a desire for control leads to the majority of arguments & quarrels in our lives)      

In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul calls us to practice humility, in the face of adversity, like Jesus:

he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

What Is Real Humility?

Only until we are able to gratefully accept the humiliations that come our way can we experience real humility:

  • Real humility involves being able to say thank you for both our blessings and the pain that we endure.
  • Real humility involves serving others and seeking their good above your own advancement, even when they are ungrateful or disappoint you.
  • Real humility is when you realize you are not better than or less than others, but equal, as brothers and sisters of God the Father, especially when others belittle or offend you.

In his book, The Furrow, no. 259, St. Josemaria Escriva describes how humility is the foundation of all virtues:

  • “Prayer is the humility of the man who acknowledges his profound wretchedness and the greatness of God. He addresses and adores God as one who expects everything from Him and nothing from himself.
  • Faith is the humility of the mind which renounces its own judgement and surrenders to the verdict and authority of the Church.
  • Obedience is the humility of the will which subjects itself to the will of another, for God’s sake.
  • Chastity is the humility of the flesh, which subjects itself to the spirit.
  • Exterior mortification is the humility of the senses.
  • Penance is the humility of all the passions, immolated (offered up) to the Lord.
  • Humility is truth on the road of the ascetic (austere) struggle.”

Humility is the key to discovering who we are in Christ!

How to Begin

“Knowledge of oneself is the first step that has to be taken for the soul to reach the knowledge of God.” – St. John of the Cross

As you focus on the Passion, the Crucifixion, and the Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ all this week, think about all that he accomplished through his humility and surrender:

  • He permitted the darkness of the world to envelop him
  • Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world
  • On the cross, he drowned all the sins of the world in an ocean of Divine Mercy

The triumph of God’s love and mercy was made possible through the humility of Jesus. May this type of genuine humility lead to your spiritual conversion or reversion.


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.

How Your Lent Can Be A Journey to Freedom

There are two ways that many people think of the Lenten Season:

  • Some  may think it to be constricting; because in these forty days, the Church is guiding us to fast, give alms and spend time in prayer.
  • On the other hand, some people see this Season of Lent as a journey of healing that can lead to true freedom in Christ.

Before we decide which of these you agree with, let’s look at this question: What does it mean to be have true freedom in Christ?

He Fell On His Knees

While on a recent pilgrimage, our group of pilgrims had an opportunity to spend time in prayer at a holy site; where there was a garden, sitting places, quiet atmosphere, warm breeze; it seemed perfect. During this time, priests were available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As our time concluded and the group regathered for prayer, we were able to share our insights.

There was a young adult who had previously shared with the group about his stress, and worries about family and work. Now, he began sharing how he had never experienced such peace or extended time in prayer; it had been years since he had been to Confession. As he spoke, he fell on his knees. With tears in his eyes, arms extended, he began thanking God for the immense joy he was experiencing—the relief of burdens. He asked, “How can this be? Can Christ be so attentive to me?”

Setting Us Free

Freedom in Christ is freedom from the slavery of sin, of the burdens that weigh us. Sure, we will have stress and concerns in our daily lives. However, when we move our eyes from focusing on these things to focus on Christ—imploring his guidance, we can experience peace and freedom.

Jesus said:

If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31-32)

As the young man cried out, “Can Christ be so attentive to me?” Yes! Christ knows each one of us. His Sacred Heart yearns for our love. The Church is his plan to assist us in our daily lives, which is another reason the Church is often referred to as Mother Church. We need the Season of Lent to remind us of the realization of Christ’s love for us.

Truly Cleansed

The world offers ways to cleanse ourselves of unhealthy foods and contaminations; the greatest cleansing is of the soul! The Season of Lent can be a journey to freedom in Christ, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Do not be afraid: this sacrament—also called Confession—can help you begin anew. It is never too late! The guidelines of Mother Church leading us to fast, sacrifice, and take the initiative to spend time in prayer, are steps in this journey that can lead us to experience peace and freedom.


Mary Jane Fox is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with her husband, Deacon Tom 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.

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.

A Deeper Look at the Prodigal Son

The parable in this Sunday’s Gospel reading is often referred to as “The Prodigal Son,” because it seems to focus on the behavior of the younger son. However, there much more to reflect on here.

The Prodigal Son

Certainly, we see how the selfishness of the younger son drew himself into deeper sin, which brought him to the point of despair. He set aside the love of his father and the security of his home to satisfy his attraction to pleasure and self- indulgence. He even asked for an inheritance which was not rightfully his until his father died; as if saying to his father, “My inheritance is more important to me than you are. I wish you were dead.”

It wasn’t until he ran out of money that the son was able to see the tragedy of his choice. When he began to starve, he remembered how good he had it before he left home. His repentance was not of the best of motives; his main reason for returning home was to satisfy his hunger. However, he did confess that he no longer deserved to be called his father’s son & was willing to be treated as a servant.

The Father

The most important person in this parable is the father. Even though he was treated with disrespect, he longed for his son to return.

As the Gospel states, “While he (the younger son) was a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” He restored his son to the position he’d had before he left.

This is an image of our heavenly Father’s unconditional love for us.

  • No matter what we have done, he longs for us to return to him and to renew our relationship as son or daughter of our Heavenly Father.
  • For this renewal to happen, like the younger son, we must have a contrite heart and return to God, so that we can experience his unconditional love.
  • He never stops loving us, but when remove ourselves from him we do not have a since of his loving presence. When we do so, we lose sight of the plan he has for us and become sad, even hopeless.

The Eldest Son

Meanwhile, when the older son hears the reason for the celebration, he becomes angry; his brother is welcomed back after such a shameful departure. The older brother’s jealousy prevents him from sharing his father’s joy upon the return of his brother. It seems he would rather his brother continue to suffer the consequences for his selfish behavior—which of course is also selfish behavior.

His father tries to convince him of how much he is loved, and wants him to share in the joy of his brother’s return.

Finding Ourselves In the Story

With which of the three characters in this parable can you identify?

  • How about the younger son? Have you ever made a selfish decision that hurt someone else deeply? If so did you return to ask forgiveness? The best reason for reconciliation is not that we find ourselves desperate and believe that it’s the only way we can get what we want. The best reason is because our conscience tells us it is the right thing to do. Unless we have allowed our heart to become hardened, we cannot be at peace with ourself when we know we have been unjust.
  • Maybe we can relate to the older son, who allowed his jealousy to blind him of the joy his father wanted him to share in. Jealousy does not allow us to recognize our own gifts and talents, and prevents us from becoming what God wants us to be. Like selfishness, jealousy can cause us to be unhappy and hopeless. To refuse to forgive is to choose bitterness over happiness.
  • With the help of God’s grace, I hope we all can relate to the father. I hope that at times we all have been able to forgive for the sake of forgiveness & love for the sake of love.

I personally have been able to relate to both the younger and the older sons at different times in my life. I have also been able to forgive myself and others, and develop a desire to love God above all things and my neighbor as myself,  for the love of God.

We all are on a journey; what we were yesterday and what we are today, should not be the same as what we will be tomorrow.

Hopefully, this parable will convince us of the unconditional love of our Heavenly Father, and what we can do to experience that love. Forgiveness is a choice, and love is a choice.


Deacon Tom Fox 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. Tom continues to serve as a permanent deacon, at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio.

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.

Our Weakness, His Strength

Throughout salvation history, God has chosen to accomplish great things through men and women whom he calls into his service beginning with Abraham. In today’s first reading God calls Moses to lead the Chosen people out of their slavery in Egypt. To get Moses’ attention God speaks from a burning bush and reveals his name as “I am who am.” Moses is speaking with the Almighty, He who is without beginning or end and he must take off his shoes in His presence.

Trapped by Our Weaknesses

In the next chapter of Exodus, we will see that even though Moses has heard the voice of God and is given miraculous powers, he still doubts his ability to carry out the mission God has given him. He was focused on his own weakness instead of the power of God.

Especially, in matters of faith, we can be like that.

Freedom In Faith

In baptism, we received the gifts of faith, hope and charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, we all start out equal as children of God. We become members of His body, which is the Church, and in this Church we have every means to grow in our faith and discover the gifts that God has given us. Which will be necessary for our vocation and for the building up of the Body of Christ. God expects that the gifts he has given us will bear fruit, but we can stifle those gifts by just living for ourselves and whatever makes us comfortable.

You are planted.

This brings us to the Gospel and the parable of the fig tree. The purpose of the fig tree is to bear fruit. The owner of the tree wants to cut it down because it does not produce fruit, but the vine dresser asks for more time to cultivate the tree hoping that it will produce fruit. Jesus is the patient vine dresser and we all are fig trees in this parable. In baptism, we are planted in the kingdom of God through water and the Holy Spirit. We receive equally everything we need to come into full maturity and produce fruit according to God’s plan for us. Through the Eucharist and Confirmation, we receive nourishment to sustain us. We are pruned through the sacrament of reconciliation and the sacrifices and reparations that make up our life’s experiences.

Get fed.

No matter what our career is, our most important purpose is to produce fruit for the kingdom of God and for this we all have an equal opportunity. Our fruitfulness depends upon our own desire to be faithful to what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We cannot produce fruit on our own; we must be connected to God. By having a personal relationship with Him by daily prayer, reading the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, living the sacramental life, and being involved in our faith community.

Bear fruit.

This is where we discover and use the gifts God has given us and by continuing to be formed in the faith. When we live our lives close to God in this way, we become witnesses of His presence so that others might come to believe in him. God’s plan for the salvation of the world is that those who believe in him will live and share their faith, so that others will come to believe in Him.

Like Moses, we may not feel adequate to play a role in God’s plan of salvation, but like Moses we must say yes anyway, take our eyes off ourselves, keep focused on God, and allow him to work through us. It is only in God that we will find the strength we need to carry us through the painful circumstances of our lives and the grace that will enable us to make the difficult choices we know we must make.

This is when our faith truly bears fruit, so that we can experience the peace and hope that only Christ can give!

Pilgrim Center of Hope offers spiritual resources to help nourish & guide you on your journey and connect you to God and His Church. Visit us in person, by phone at 210-521-3377, or explore our website!

You do not have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ.


Deacon Tom Fox 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. Tom continues to serve as a permanent deacon, at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio.

Connecting with Our Creator: An Experiment In Healing

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Closeup of a bronze lifesized Stations of the Cross sculpture wherein Jesus is being nailed to the cross

In the movie Mary Shelley, the author’s father says of Dr. Frankenstein (the scientist who is bent on creating life in her novel Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus),

[The story] ascertains the absolute human necessity for connection. From the moment Dr. Frankenstein’s creature opens its eyes, it seeks the touch of its creator. But he recoils in terror, leaving the creature to its first of many experiences of neglect and isolation. If only Frankenstein had been able to bestow upon his creation a compassionate touch, a kind word; what a tragedy might have been avoided.

Juxtapose those words with what Scripture says about human connection with the Divine Creator:

You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you know.
My bones are not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.
(Psalm 139:13-16)

Only 18 years old when she wrote her famous work, Mary Shelley had already experienced death, grief, betrayal, and abandonment. Upon reading the novel, her half-sister—who has just been rejected by the father of her unborn baby, tells Mary, “It chilled me to the bone.”

Mary replies, “It is good to enjoy a ghost story now and then.”

Her sister responds, “We both know this is no ghost story. I have never read such a perfect encapsulation of what it feels to be abandoned.”

Our Personal Monsters

In one way or another, we can each tell our own ghost story about the monsters of loss, grief, betrayal, abandonment, and loneliness that rage within us. They are the consequences of evil wrought by sin; the reality of living in an imperfect world.

Mary Shelley’s lover at the time, Percy Shelly, advises her to re-write the story so that instead of a monster, Dr. Frankenstein creates the perfect creature. “Imagine,” he tells Mary, “He creates a version of ourselves that shines with goodness and thus delivers a message for mankind. A message of hope and perfection.”

Mary looks at him—the man whose selfish choices are responsible for much of her feelings of betrayal and abandonment—and responds, “It is a message for mankind! What would we know of hope and perfection!? Look around you! Look at the mess we have made!? Look at me!”

We understandably question, and should question, why evil exists. We should work to eradicate it and certainly not be a cause of it.

Our error comes in accusing God for the evil in the world. Mankind’s folly is always in falling for the ancient lie that we can do a better job of creating than God.

Healing from Our Creator

However, with our Creator, praise God, we have true hope of authentic freedom from evil.

He (Jesus Christ) did not come to abolish all evils here below, but to free men from the gravest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God’s sons and causes all forms of human bondage. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 549)

Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, who recoils in terror at the sight of his imperfect creature, God comes to us in our imperfection, through His Son, Jesus Christ…

And even when you were dead [in] transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

God came in the flesh, and continues to come to us through . . .

  • His Word
  • His Sacraments
  • His Church

God knows our deep desire for the good and the perfect; He is the one who created that desire in us, so that we would seek our true self, found only in relation to Him. Saint Pope John Paul II states this in Dives in Misericordia (God, Who is Rich in Mercy), “Man and man’s lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His Love” (DM 1).

In a final scene of the movie, Percy Shelly tells a group who thought it was he who wrote Mary’s book, “You could say the work would not even exist without my contribution. But to my shame, the only claim I remotely have to this work is inspiring the desperate loneliness that defines Frankenstein’s creature.”

Of ourselves, humans are capable of great evil. Of ourselves, we are finite. Mother Church teaches us that true healing—which is authentic freedom from sin—begins with this knowledge. She encourages us to, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15), using the very words of the Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, who leads us to our Father, and His Love.

During Lent, many parishes offer reconciliation services, providing opportunities to re-connect with God and receive healing through the rich Mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We invite you: contact your local parish office for more information, and participate in this true healing and freedom!

Only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful that to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. (Pope Benedict XVI)

Pilgrim Center of Hope offers spiritual resources to help guide you on your journey and connect you to God and His Church. Visit us in person, by phone at 210-521-3377, or explore our website!

Join us for our newest program, Meet the Master. You are invited to attend one or more of this nine-part monthly series, as we hear and reflect on the words of Jesus and spend some quiet with Him in our Gethsemane Chapel.  You do not have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ.


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; a Catholic evangelization ministry that that answers Christ call by guiding people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.