Weekly Inspirations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a costly moment. It requires my all.

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

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

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

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


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

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

What Jesus Offers Us, the World Does Not

Have you ever asked yourself what inspired men to drop everything to follow Jesus, when He called out to each of them? How is it that a man whose life depends on his career, leave his work to follow a man named Jesus?  What did they see or experience that would cause them to follow?

The gaze of Jesus upon these men and others who followed Him, was extraordinary and different from any other person because he is God; he was sent by the Heavenly Father to tell us of the Father’s love and to die for us so we can experience true freedom from the enslavement of sin.

This gaze of God penetrated the soul of each person, with love and true humility.

People in the Bible such as the apostles, Mary of Magdala, and others who encountered Jesus stayed with him. They were recipients of this gaze of God.

They would hear Jesus say:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

What Following Jesus Offers Us

Following Jesus offers us something that the world cannot offer. We will never find real rest and peace unless we go to Jesus. St. Augustine said: Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in thee.

People are busier now versus 50 years ago. All the appliances and modern technologies that were supposed to make life easier, have made our lives more complicated. The more we have – the more there is to do. Daily routines are so busy, there is little time for relationships – for families to be together. So, there is little time for peace. Our main purpose is not to do, but to be… To be truly human – living in a right relationship with God.

Do you want the rest and peace that Jesus is offering you?

We naturally want to do things our own way, according to the way we understand things – our human logic.   No matter how smart we are, or how much money or things we have – we will never have true peace and rest without Jesus.

Accepting Jesus’ Invitation

Take to heart the words of Jesus to you: Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. We must have the desire in our hearts to approach Jesus; he will be there for you.

Do you believe Jesus can bring new meaning into your life?

Thirty years ago, I decided to take the words of Jesus seriously. Yes, I had to make some changes, like everyone else who decides to take the words of Jesus seriously. For example, if we are going to accept his invitation to come to him, we must develop a discipline of prayer and spend some time reading the Scriptures every day, so that we can know him better through the Word. I joined a prayer group, and after a few weeks I began to feel closer to Jesus. I even had an internal vision of him reaching out to me, as to draw me close to him. This happened at a low point in my life when I was sick, both physically and spiritually. This encounter was life-changing and gave me confidence in Jesus’ love for me even though I didn’t feel worthy.

In his love and mercy, he healed me to see the changes I needed to make with the help of his grace. I have come to welcome the ongoing call to conversion, because I trust Jesus will gently guide me to become the person he has called me to be. I have entered the process of discovering my potential for happiness now and for all eternity.

Jesus is inviting us to come to him. The first step may be difficult… however, once you make that first step, the rest of the journey to his heart is a journey that leads to true freedom and peace.


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.

A Simple Guide: How Can I Better Respond to Jesus?

The Apostles, who left everything to follow Jesus, decided to accompany him on his way to Jerusalem. They were angered when a whole community rejected Jesus because his destination was Jerusalem. The Apostles wanted to retaliate, but Jesus rebuked them and moved on to the next village.

As their journey continued, those who were invited to join the disciples offered excuses to remain behind. Of these, Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

In another place Jesus says, “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” (Matthew 5:37). Our decision to follow Jesus must be decisive. If we recognize the urgency of the decision, our answer will be yes. As we see in the Gospel accounts, Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew left everything and immediately followed Jesus. We should pray that what they recognized in Jesus, we also will recognize. This does not necessarily mean we will leave everything, though some will. However, it does mean that we each recognize Jesus as the Son of God and our savior, and that he commands us to follow him with great urgency… not “at our convenience.”

  • If our answer is yes, it will be reflected in the decisions we make and in the happiness we experience.
  • If our answer is yes, we will spend time in prayer every day, because we want to be connected to God and receive his help and guidance.
  • If our answer is yes, we will want to frequent the sacraments of reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist, because we need the grace Our Lord makes available to us through the sacraments.

Saying Yes – In Our Decisions

We may be tempted to respond like those in the Gospel who were invited to follow but were unwilling to make the commitment. Certainly, our life will be different if we follow our Lord faithfully. He does not promise that we will not have trials; however he promises that he will be with us when we experience those trials and will give us the grace to persevere. He promises happiness, hope, and peace for those who follow him. Do we believe him?

You are called. If you are a doctor, lawyer, mechanic, technician, secretary, teacher, housewife, or any other profession; you are called to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. If we truly follow Jesus, we will not be the same as others who share the same career, because we will be changed by the grace we receive from the Sacraments of Reconciliation & Holy Eucharist, by our commitment to daily prayer, and by our desire to be faithful to the Gospel and the teachings of our Church. If we follow Jesus, the decisions we make will be influenced by our faith.

Opportunities to Say Yes

What awakens someone to desire a more meaningful life that can only be satisfied by drawing close to God? Sometimes, it is an extraordinary experience. Our Catholic faith makes available to us an abundance of opportunities to enter into an intimacy with God that will be life-changing if that is the desire of our heart.

Many years ago, as our former pastor Msgr. John Flynn was walking from the Church to the administration building, a woman approached him and said, “A year ago, I was contemplating suicide, but then I heard about your chapel being open 24 hours a day, and I decided to visit the chapel. I have been visiting every day for a year, and now I want to become Catholic.” She entered RCIA, and was received into the Church the following Easter. She did not know anything about the Catholic faith when she first came to the chapel, but she experienced the presence of God there, and she wanted to build on that experience.

  • Take Advantage of the Sacraments: Next to our salvation, the greatest gift Jesus has given us is the gift of himself in the Holy Eucharist. There is nothing more important in our life than receiving our Lord in this sacrament, and yet it can become routine if we do not properly prepare ourselves through the sacrament of reconciliation and by having a prayerful disposition. (It is for this reason that we fast from everything except water and medicine an hour beforehand, to remind us that we are moving from our normal routine into a supernatural experience. This is also why we have holy water at each entrance, so that as we renew our baptism, we ask our Lord to prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.)
  • Read Lives of the Saints: The saints came from every walk of life. Some had a longing for God at a very early age. Others didn’t make that discovery until later on in life. However, everyone who became a saint was inspired either by a personal encounter with God, or by someone else who was striving to live a life close to God.
  • Make A Retreat: Experiencing a retreat weekend can stir-up our hearts, but there is always the danger of falling back into our old routine if we do not follow up that experience with a commitment to make the necessary changes that will help us to draw closer to God.
  • Make A Pilgrimage: Through the ages, pilgrimages to holy sites have been a way to discover deeper spiritual meaning and intimacy with God. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1984 changed the lives of my wife Mary Jane and myself forever. We had been routine Catholics, but two weeks of visiting the places made holy by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ awakened us to the true meaning of our faith and of our responsibility to live and share it.

If you are a routine Catholic like we once were, God has a better plan for you that will take you out of your normal routine when you say yes to his invitation to follow him as a faithful disciple. Jesus wants to be the reason you do what you do, and he promises he will be with you always and will give you the peace and happiness that can only be found in a relationship with him.

How Can I Possibly Make A Difference?

Life can be overwhelming, especially when we consider all the problems in the world, in our country, our state, city, neighborhood, family, and our own selves.

Most of us do not have vast circles of influence, nor huge sums of money to fund solutions to the giant questions and tough issues of our time. We’re people who work, are retired, handicapped, sick… So, how in the world can we reconcile our daily lives with Jesus’ bold prophecy?

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Especially in the United States, we tend to maintain an attitude of “taking things on” and “tackling” them ourselves. However, as our Pilgrim Center of Hope chaplain reminded us at Mass this past Friday, we are not alone! When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we don’t say, “My Father who art in heaven…” Each of us is a member of a family; of the Body of Christ.

Examples of Hope

Driving home this reality is a long list of people who lived in almost complete obscurity, and are now saints who are celebrated worldwide.

This year, our staff has been teaching each other about a different holy woman or man. Among them is Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who was inspired by Jesus’ life of obscurity in Nazareth. Although he lived as a hermit in the Middle East, there are still communities of people who have been inspired to follow his example of simplicity.

Another saint we have met is André Bessette, who lived in Canada filling ‘hidden’ positions such as doorkeeper, laundry worker, and sacristan. Yet, his relationship with God was so obvious to those who encountered him, that his prayers were greatly sought-after. Even during his humble life on earth, many miracles were attributed to his prayerful intercession.

Although we may think that we cannot make a difference in the people or situations of our lives, we can look to the saints and to the Gospel for reminders of the truth. You are an important member of the Body of Christ. Ask God to invite others into the lives or situations that you feel you cannot impact alone. As long as we strive to follow Jesus, uniting ourselves with the entire Church as the Body of Christ, God’s grace will change the world far beyond what we could imagine.

Let’s strive to live each day of our lives with 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.

Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, having served at the apostolate for nearly 10 years.

Do I See Myself as God’s Good Creation?

Once as I was enjoying the outdoors, I noticed a tree. From what I could tell, no human hands have ever touched this tree; it is just growing as it is created to be. An amazing revelation came to me… this tree looks exactly as God wants it to!

I asked God, “So, Lord, you want this tree to have gray thickly lined bark with knobs growing on the side?” Though I did not hear a response, the answer was obvious for it would not be, if God did not create it.

I wondered, if this is true about a tree, it is true about all of God’s creation. It means God wants trees and plants in many different color greens. He wants both flowers and grasses, and he wants them in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. He wants bunnies with soft ears. He wants dandelions with scratchy pointed leaves. He wants melodious songbirds and he wants buzzing mosquitos. For if he didn’t, they wouldn’t be.

I realize that if it is true about all of God’s creation, it is also true about me, and it is true about you, for we are all his creation.

Uniquely God’s

During a recent frustration, I decided to take our Lord at his words to St. Faustina from her Divine Mercy diary, “My daughter…why do you not tell me about everything that concerns you, even the smallest details?” The small detail is my changing post-menopausal body of which I am none too pleased.

“Lord,” I complained, “Where did this belly come from?  I work out, I eat healthy, I keep portions low and sweets to a minimum and yet it will not go away!”  What I heard astonished me, “Who told you that you are supposed to have a flat stomach?”

This response gave me great pause and caused me to ponder, ‘If God creates trees and plants and animals and insects with such variety, and if everything he makes is good (cf. Genesis 1:31), why are we spending so much effort trying to look differently than how we have been made? Are we not also created good?’

The Word of God testifies to our uniqueness:

How varied are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures (Psalm 104:24)

Do you see yourself as God’s good creation?

True Diversity

If we are conceived, it is because God has willed us to be. How we come into the world, male or female (cf. Genesis 5:2), is how God wants us to grow. But it is more than that.

He creates not only our physical attributes, but also our personalities, our emotions and our intellect. He made some of us analytical and lovers of numbers and others, like me, quite the opposite. He made some of us to prefer sports to books and some of us to love them both. He creates us extroverts, who are energized through others, and introverts who require solitude instead.

The Church testifies to Truth that humanity is united in God’s good creation:

For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Ephesians 2:10).

The world speaks diversity, yet it is often just talk. It wants us all to look the same, act the same, and believe the same based on what the culture determines is beautiful and valuable. It is the culture, through the mass media, that told me my stomach is supposed to be flat!  It is God, who prefers working into infinite combinations from the same earthly matter his creation, both united and unique.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes how we can live this life of goodness we are created to be,

And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is.

Pilgrim Center of Hope exists to guide people to God. At our annual Catholic Women’s and Men’s Conferences, we provide speakers who teach, inspire, and challenge us in living out who we are created to be as men and women. We offer opportunities to encounter Jesus Christ through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Sacrament of Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration.

God is here… come 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.

Encouraged, At My Friend’s Funeral

Attending funeral services is both sad and inspiring. Sad, because we are mourning the loss of a family member or friend. Inspiring, because it reminds us of the way the Catholic Church honors the deceased person through the prayers, incensing, and blessings.

I attended a funeral service of a dear friend in his parish church. The casket was placed in the front of the main sanctuary. The piano and violin spiritual music in the background added to the atmosphere of sadness, but also as a reminder of our final destination—eternal life with God.

Memories of my friend came to mind; his blue eyes, his gentle soul, his big smile, and his love for God. He was now lying at rest, in this Church where he had worshipped with his family, where he had experienced a community of friends and support through the years.

The service begins when the priest sprinkles the casket with holy water as a reminder of our baptism. Then, a white pall is placed on top of the casket by his family members. As a child, he was baptized and dressed in white; now we once again dress him in white. The priest offering Mass may something similar to this:
In the waters of baptism (name of person) died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May he now share with him eternal glory.

The entire service, which is the Mass of the Resurrection, is rich in its prayers—reminding us of the omnipotent mercy of our Savior. At the end, the priest offers the last prayers for my friend.

Saints of God, come to his aid!
Hasten to meet him, angels of the Lord!
May Christ, who called you, take you to himself;
may angels lead you to the bosom of Abraham.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.

I was inspired at my friend’s funeral Mass. These same words will be prayed for me one day. The saints of God will come to my aid! The angels of the Lord will meet me and lead me to the bosom of Abraham. What hope! This reminded me of the vast spiritual richness of our Catholic faith! As baptized members, we are united in this One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church! The words of these prayers are written for all Catholic clergy to follow throughout the world. These prayers unite us as members of the Body of Christ.

As I continued to think about this, I walked out of that Church, following my friend as he was escorted by family and friends to his final resting place.

The Psalms abound in hope:

My soul, be at rest in God alone,
from whom comes my hope.
God alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not fall.
(Psalm 62:6-7)

Guiding people to live each day with this hope is our mission for Pilgrim Center of Hope. As our chaplain Fr. Pat Martin says, “What a gift.”


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.

Do I Know the Holy Spirit?

The Forgotten Person

Other than when you make the sign of the Cross or pray the Apostles’ Creed, how often do you mention or talk to the Holy Spirit?

If you said, not very often… well, you are not alone. The vast majority of Christians do not have an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit. For me, that relationship didn’t really take shape until I was in my 40s.

Since that time, I have had more epiphanies or eureka moments, where all of a sudden a light goes on and something or everything makes sense. I have learned to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and also take every major decision in my life to prayer that involves going to the Holy Spirit to discern and discover what God wants me to do. What will be most pleasing to God?

St. Josemaria Escrivá had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit, because according to Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, St. Josemaria felt that the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity was not known, had been forgotten, and was neglected.

Embracing the Spirit

As we prepare to celebrate Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and our Mother Mary (this coming Sunday), now is the perfect time to embrace the Holy Spirit and grow in relationship to him.

Our peace truly lies in the promise of Christ, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us; a gift which as Catholics, we received together with the Father and the Son at our Baptism. Know, too, that the Sacrament of Confirmation intensifies that presence.

It’s not too late to join in a novena to the Holy Spirit (which began on Ascension Thursday this past week), or perhaps you can learn and recite St. Josemaria’s Prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Come, O Holy Spirit: enlighten my understanding to know your commands: strengthen my heart against the wiles of the enemy; inflame my will…

I have heard your voice and I don’t want to Harden my heart by resisting, by saying: later…tomorrow.

Nunc corps! Now! Lest there be no tomorrow for me! O, Spirit of truth and wisdom, Spirit of understanding and counsel, Spirit of joy and peace! I want what you want, I want it because you want it, I want it as you want it, I want it when you want it. Amen 

When we receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts, he will help us and guide us to the truth. It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to know ourselves better, which strengthens our hearts and open our eyes. With the Holy Spirit you can do all things in Christ. Life without the Holy Spirit leaves us wandering in the dessert.

I encourage you to go the Catechism of the Catholic Church and look up numbers:

  • 697 – Symbols of the Holy Spirit
  • 1848 – the Consoler
  • 2671 – Come, Holy Spirit

Stronger with the Spirit

It was only after the Apostles received the Holy Spirit that they were able to leave the sanctuary of the Upper Room and go out into the world to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, without any fear of torture or death. We can rejoice in knowing that at Pentecost, the Paschal Mystery was completed and fulfilled. Pentecost is considered the birth of the Church.

Even if we may enjoy a relationship with Jesus Christ, he is always calling us closer and deeper into intimacy with himself and his Holy Spirit.

I leave you with the words of St. John of Avila, who said about devotion to the Holy Spirit:

However sad a soul may be, he (the Holy Spirit) is sufficient to console it. However worthless, he can make it valuable. However lukewarm, he can put fire into it. However weak, he can strengthen it. However lacking in prayerfulness, he can aflame it with ardent devotion.


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.

Finding Peace In Our Times

How can we find peace in our times?

Let’s start by looking at Sunday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which shows us the first council of the Church, the Council of Jerusalem, resolving a conflict that was disturbing the peace of the early Christians.

Jewish converts to Christianity were expecting that Gentile converts should undergo circumcision and abide by the same guidelines that were fundamental to the Jewish faith. This Council marks the first time that a collective decision was made for the faith community which was not confirmed by Mosaic Law or the Jewish Scriptures, but rather on the authority given by Christ to the Church. The Apostles said, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriages.” Thus, the Council relieved the new converts of those burdens.

Church Councils: Working for Unity & Peace

Did you know that, through the centuries, the Church has similarly convened councils to define matters of faith which affect our practice of the faith today? For example, the Church formulated a set of beliefs called the Nicene Creed which we recite at every Sunday Mass, during the Council of Nicea in the year 325.

Also at that time, many written letters and texts were circulating among the Christian community and used during gatherings for prayer and liturgy. At the Council of Nicea, the Church decided which of these scriptures were the inspired Word of God.

The latest council (the Second Vatican Council or “Vatican II”), was convened at the Vatican to bring new life into the Church. In spite of the holiness of many people, others had fallen into living as a “Church of routine.”

I was a freshman in college when changes happened. One Sunday, the celebration of the Mass was as usual; but the next Sunday, my local church implemented the Vatican II changes. The altar was moved with the priest facing the congregation, and the Mass was in English instead of Latin. The main reason for these changes was the Council members’ hope that every Catholic would be more formed in their faith and influenced by it—instead of expecting that the priests and religious should have the main responsibility of living out the Word of God. The Council was especially directed to the lay faithful and our personal responsibility to live and share the faith as a response to our baptism. Other documents would follow, such as “On Evangelization in the Modern World,” which is a beautiful directive on how the entire Church is expected to live and share the faith. It was a directive that is still waiting to be fulfilled.

Experiencing True Peace In Our Lives

This Sunday’s Gospel could be a brief explanation of why Vatican II was necessary. Jesus says,

Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and, we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

Each of us is personally responsible to live our lives in communion with God. No one can love God for us and no one can keep his word for us. Even though we are sustained by the unconditional love of God, our personal experience of that love depends on two things: Loving God above all else and keeping his Word.

It is natural for us to want to relate to God on our own terms, but it is impossible for a relationship to happen that way. God has revealed a plan that will bring purpose and happiness to our lives; we see how this plan works in the lives of the saints. Still, somehow we think there may be a different plan for us that won’t require such a commitment. However, if that were so, God would be untrue to himself.

The world we live in does not offer us the peace that gives rest to our soul. That peace is found in a personal relationship with God who is the source of all love and everything that is good. If we want to know how to love God and experience the peace that Jesus offers, we should:

  1. Decide to believe what God has revealed to us. Seek to understand God’s revelation to us through the Church and the Scriptures.
  2. Ask for the grace to do what you know is right, but often find difficult to do. Ask for the grace to forgive people who have hurt you deeply. Hatred, bitterness, stubbornness, resentment and jealousy are a few of the sins that are obstacles to experiencing the love of God and the peace he offers us.
  3. Remain close to God by participating in the sacraments. Almighty God, who wants us to call him Father, knows us better than we know ourselves. For this reason, our Heavenly Father has given us the Church and her sacraments as the means to make grace available to us. If we want to love God, we will then want to be reconciled to God and to others through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We all sin and need the help of God’s grace to overcome temptation and grow in virtue. We will want to worship Our Lord during the holy sacrifice of the Mass and receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion and spend time with him in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

When we remain close to Our Lord in this way, God will help us to experience true love and peace in every circumstance—even the most difficult trial, because Our Father is true to his word.


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

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

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.