The Pilgrim Log

Weekly Inspiration to Live Your Daily Pilgrimage

Facing Difficulties – Lessons from St. Patrick and the Irish

Image Credit: Tom Szustek, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ireland’s greatest saint is remembered March 17, which falls during Lent, and while most Americans might shrug at this and chug their green beers, Paddy is actually more closely connected to fasting and penance than to feasting and beer.

St. Patrick, determined to evangelize the Irish, was at first unsuccessful at preaching. Legend tells us that when he preached about Hell and Purgatory, no one would believe him — UNLESS! — a man could go there, live, and come back to tell them. (Sounds outrageous until you consider that these were Irish folk, and if I know anything about my Irish family members, it’s that we live for a good story.)

St. Patrick became furious at their lack of faith. It’s said Christ led Patrick to a cave, where he saw visions of Hell and Purgatory. One story leads to another, and it’s said a man was lowered into the cave, experienced Purgatory, and ‘lived to tell’.

Owain’s World

We learn more from the story of Sir Owain, or Knight Owain, whose journey through the famous cave is re-told in Tractatus de Purga-torio Sancti Patricii (Treatise on St. Patrick’s Purgatory). This Treatise is clearly the product of Irish didactic storytelling. From it, we can glean a few gems to help us with our trials here on earth:

What We Should Think

As Owain enters the cave, monks advise him that although the road ahead is treacherous, he can survive by thinking about one thing: “Hold God in your heart, and think upon the Passion that he suffered on the cross for you.”

This advice has been passed down to us from the apostles and saints through the centuries, but we seem to meditate on Jesus’ Passion only during Lent. Why? Perhaps we’re too caught up in our search for comfort and pleasure, as if these would solve our problems. But only through meditation on God’s ultimate sacrifice, on Christ’s love-above-all-love for us, can we rise above our trials.

What We Should Speak

Owain is also advised: “Use God’s exalted name and the fiends can do you no harm.” Scripture tells us that at the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth…”

Owain learns the power of Jesus’ name as fiends tie him up to be burned, but he “called out to Our Lord and at once the fire disappeared and not so much as a coal or a spark remained.” Soon, he realizes that whenever he speaks Jesus’ name, or thinks about His love, the fiends are rendered powerless. This holds true for us, too. Demons may seem frightening, but what is actually frightful is that they are so weak(!), and we can only be damaged when we give in to their weakness. Rather, strength comes from humility; when we rely on God. So in our trials, we should pray in Jesus’ name for protection.

What We Should Ignore

As Owain walks along, he sees people undergoing unthinkable sufferings, which correspond to their sinful attachments on earth. Each time he observes one of these horrors, Owain hears demons cry out to him, variations of this message: ‘You are such a terrible sinner! Look at what penance you’ll have to endure! But you don’t have to endure suffering! We’ll take you to be our friend, and where there are comforts!’

Owain simply ignores the demons and continues forward. What a simple, yet profound, lesson! Jesus teaches us this lesson; during his temptations, he rebukes Satan with the words of Scripture. We ought never to believe our tempters, because they serve the Father of Lies. Rather, we should ignore them and continue on our journey, trusting in God.

St. Patrick and Almighty God

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit o’ Irish lore; filled with timeless truths. As we remember St. Patrick, let’s remember this great saint — great because he knew these truths, and thus knew the power of God’s mighty love.

“So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. […] He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties.” – St. Patrick of Ireland (from his Confession)


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

Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, having served at the apostolate since 2010. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.

The Blessing of Turning our Why into What

What is your response when you don’t believe God answered your prayer?

Do you humbly respond,

“Lord, You know what is best for me. I trust that You have a better plan for my good.”

Or . . . do you respond more often like Naaman, the highly esteemed and respected army commander suffering from leprosy that we read about in today’s Mass reading from the second Book of Kings (5:1-15)?

After hearing from his wife through her Israelite slave that a prophet of Israel can cure him, Naaman asks permission of his master to go and see the healer and prophet Elisha. He travels into a foreign land with his entourage bringing gifts to impress the king so as to gain access to the prophet.

In other words . . . he goes all out in hope his efforts will bring about a healing.

When Elisha refuses to see him, sending him a message instead, Naaman has a tantrum and yells,

“I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand there to call on the name of the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the place, and thus cure the leprous spot!”

Naaman then “turned about in anger and left,” (2 King 5:12).

Sound familiar?

How often do we expect God to come as we say and when we say?

Naaman was an army commander and therefore expected people to do what he said. Aren’t we all a bit like that?  We expect control of our situations. When God does not respond as we want, we are easily tempted to question His motives and fall into the sin of pride. We become angry and demand why, “Why did you not heal/fix this?” which can be translated, “Why are You not doing what I tell You to do when I tell You to do it?”

What we can learn from Naaman is that God wants so much more than just healing Naaman of his leprosy, He wants Naaman for His own. God desires to be seen and known by Naaman. Had it been as Naaman expected, he could have assumed his healing was due to his own efforts in visiting the prophet.

He would have been healed, but never encountered God, the Source of all healing.

It is normal for us to do the same. We think praying x-number of Rosaries, keeping the Sacraments and/or offering our devotional prayers regularly will secure all the blessings we ask for. They are necessary to be sure, but if our attitude is one of control, “If I do this or that I will get what I want,” we may find ourselves stomping mad like Naaman.

What should we do?

Wonderful advice I received is to replace our demands on God to answer our ‘whys’ with an invitation to come into our ‘whats.’

Here’s an example of a prayer of what: “Lord I know You are Good and You want the best for me. I don’t understand what You are doing here.  I feel like You have abandoned me, but I know You never abandon us, so what am I not seeing? Come into this place where I hurt, where I am so angry, and please help me to understand what You are working in this situation.”

This simple change of ‘why” into ‘what’ takes God off the defensive and into the reality of who He is. I have never known the prayer of ‘what’ to fail. I may not get what I expect, but I receive so much more. I receive God’s Presence with me, bringing His light, His warmth, His consolation, and an eventual answer to my prayer that always heals, fixes or restores in ways so much better than I could have imagined!

In surrendering his expectation, Naaman learns the same. He returns at the advice of his servants and obeys the instruction of Elisha receiving the full healing of his leprosy and best of all . . . God Himself!  Naaman says,

“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel!” (2 Kings 5:15).

Naaman’s conversion in faith was so profound this foreigner and Gentile won entry into Jewish Scripture, and 500 years later, recognition on the lips of God. In rebuking the people of His hometown of Nazareth for refusing to believe Jesus as a prophet, our Lord says in the Gospel of Luke (4:27), “Again, there were lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet no one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”


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.

The Transfiguration Makes a Way for the Cross

“Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray.”

In the Gospels, there are several moments of significance when Jesus takes Peter, John, and James to be alone with him. Here, on Mt. Tabor, the three apostles will witness something that the other apostles did not. They will see Jesus glorified speaking with Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. All that God had revealed to His Chosen People could be summed up in the Law and the Prophets. Now Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah and he is above them; he is the fullness of God’s revelation, being God and man.

Mt. Tabor is unlike most of the mountains or hills in the region which are usually connected or part of a chain. Mt. Tabor is a mountain all by itself in the middle of several valleys and is only a few miles from Nazareth and Cana. As a matter of fact, you can see Nazareth from the top of Mt. Tabor which you reach by way of a zigzagging road that is too narrow for a bus.

Nowadays, when you arrive at the top you see a beautiful church with three domes; the one in the center is larger and taller because it is over the altar dedicated to Jesus Christ. The one on the left is dedicated to Moses and the one on the right is dedicated to Elijah. These three domes were inspired by the words of Peter:

“…let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

For the moment, Peter was caught up in the ecstasy of that mountain top experience and wanted to remain on the mountain.  However, if they would have remained on the mountain, they would have neglected their mission. It is a temptation for all of us to hope we will find a place where everything will be okay and we won’t have to be concerned with trials and difficulties. However, that was not a reality for the Apostles and it is not a reality for us. The Lord will continue to take us to places where we must depend upon him so that we can become spiritually mature and be filled with hope, even in the most difficult circumstance.

By his transfiguration, Jesus is preparing Peter, James, and John for the scandal they will witness when he enters into his passion. There will be many things they will see and hear as they follow Jesus that will challenge their faith and so he has given these three this glimpse of his glory to strengthen them so that they, in turn, can strengthen the others.

We must make concrete choices

We are beginning the second week of Lent. The purpose of this liturgical season of Lent is to renew the mission of Christ in our lives so that by cooperating with his grace we will be reconciled to God and one another. It doesn’t happen automatically. We must make concrete choices. That is why once again we look at prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as a means of surrendering our hearts to the Lord. If we do not have time to pray, if we are not generous with what we have and if we allow our appetites to dominate us, we are far from the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ is not just a God of miracles that we look to in our time of need, hoping he will fix everything for us. Sometimes he does that, but most of all he wants a personal relationship with us that draws us into intimate and fervent prayer that leads us to trust him completely with every aspect of our lives. This trusting relationship will free us from anxious dependency on our own resources so that we will be generous with what we have, knowing that God can not be outdone in generosity.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves and the people we love is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus by being faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. He is the one who brings peace and happiness into our lives, but on his terms because he knows what is best for us. If we do not look to God for direction as we make our plans we are destined for unhappiness.

St. Augustine once said:

“Our hearts are restless O’ Lord until they rest in you.” Lord, you have created us to be in relationship with you. There is no other way we can reach our potential for happiness. Give us the grace Lord to love you above everything else and our neighbor as our self so that we may be happy now and for all eternity.


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

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