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The Kingdom as Seed

“This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” (Mark 4: 26-27)

Only in the Gospel of Mark, is the parable told about the seed that grows in secret. What are we to make of this? Maybe that how the Kingdom of God grows is as mysterious as how a seed grows?  Can we as humans ever wrap our minds around the mystery of how twelve Apostles preaching and teaching and scattering the Good News of Jesus Christ, would have grown to over 1 billion believers today?!

Mysteries of the Seed Growing in Secret

When I reflect on examples of this mystery of the seed growing in secret, I recall the experience of being part of the RCIA team at my parish. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is the communal process in which adults become full, participating members of the Catholic Church.

When we gather for the inquiry phase of RCIA, we ask each person:

“Why are you here at this time, this year, at this place? What are you seeking?”

The stories I have heard almost always speak to a seed growing in secret that has led the person to inquire more about the Catholic faith. A few illustrations of these seeds:

  • Memories of a grandparent and their strong Catholic faith, taking them to Mass, praying the Rosary with them, and talking to them about God
  • Engaged to be married to a practicing Catholic, and asked by their future spouse to be open to converting so as to share a lifetime of faith together
  • Witnessing the strong faith of someone fighting a battle with cancer or a life-changing disability and the peace and strength that is present in their life
Sowing the Seeds of the Kingdom

What becomes apparent in these stories is that our words and our actions, while not the cause of God’s Kingdom, do still matter in the coming of the Kingdom.  Our words and actions sow the seeds of the Kingdom.

But the Kingdom arrives not through our efforts but by God’s grace…

Planting and gathering depend upon human work.  Sprouting and growth depend upon God’s design. God takes what we do and puts even the smallest seed to magnificent use.

We ask the RCIA candidates once more as they are closer to being received into the Church at the Easter Vigil, that same question about what brought them here…. and this time their response moves beyond the person who sowed the seed, and they recognize the hand of God and His grace in growing the faith within them. The Holy Spirit has revealed the mystery of the seed sown in secret once again!

Jesus’ parable gives me such great hope and encourages me to be aware of my words and actions, to be persistent in prayer for those who are separated from God’s love, and to trust that God will use my words and actions to reveal His love to others. Jesus’ words are a challenge to ask myself: how is God calling me to plant and water the seeds of faith, and how am I inviting God into my life to help me do so?

This excerpt of a prayer written by Msgr. Kenneth Untener, speaks so well to the mystery of our earthly pilgrimage and our time spent sowing the seeds of God’s Kingdom:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future that is not our own.

This beautiful prayer gives me the hope I need when I am discouraged that the seeds of faith I sow in secret may not bear fruit and may not lead souls to God.

Lord God, you have given us the gift of faith. Help us take time to water that seed of faith in our hearts and the hearts of others. Let us always invite you into our hearts to give it growth, and may we remain your steadfast prophets of hope.  Amen.


Debbie Garza is a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Leon Springs, and is an experienced Pilgrimage Group Leader with Pilgrim Center of Hope. She has traveled with Pilgrim Center of Hope to the Holy Land, Italy, and Greece. She says, “On pilgrimage, I know the ears and eyes of my heart have been opened by God’s grace and I’ve experienced the Joy of the Gospel. I am committed to helping other pilgrims experience their personal journey of faith.” Debra is also a member of Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Speaker Team.

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.

Joy in Tying the Knot!

What is true joy? Joy is mentioned at least 219 times in the Bible. Fr. Pierre de Chardin, S.J. states:

“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God!”

When we encounter Christ Jesus and accept Him into our lives as our Lord, our Savior, we experience joy and hope. To encounter is to meet and experience; to accept is to acknowledge and believe. Our journey towards the Heavenly Jerusalem begins with this encounter and believing in God’s presence.

As a couple embrace their love for each other in the Sacrament of Matrimony, they begin this new journey with Christ Jesus, inviting him to walk with them for the rest of their lives! Oh sure, there are valleys and perhaps some pits we all experience along the way; for this reason, our Savior instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let us praise God for this great gift!

Yes, when couples “tie the knot”, it is a sign of their willingness to love and sacrifice for their spouse.  Let’s use this word “knot” as an acronym:

  • K – Knowledge of God
  • N – Now!
  • O – Obedience!
  • T – To live and share the faith.

K – Knowledge: The Apostles Creed is the foundation of our faith! When explaining to family members, friends why you are a Catholic and why you have chosen to be married in the Catholic Church; this Creed gives many reasons! The Apostles’ Creed is divided into what we refer to as 12 articles. It is a solid profession of the fundamental truths of our faith. When we pray the Rosary, we begin with his proclamation of our faith and then add the beautiful Gospel prayers included in the Rosary. There is always joy and fruit when couples pray together.

N – Now! There is no better time to begin anew than now. Simple words such as “I love you” and “I am sorry” can be jump starters towards healing.

O – Obedience: Our free will is the greatest gift God has given us and it is the only thing that can separate us from God’s plan for us. To be obedient to God’s natural and moral laws is to be given freedom and a road map to true happiness. There is always fruit in obedience!

T – To live and share the faith: Living the Sacramental life gives us the grace to live and share our faith. So many people are in need of authentic witnesses and sincere messages of hope. When couples witness their love for each other, their commitment to God; people will perceive there is hope!

What has sustained the Church are people who have encountered the Lord and accepted the Truth of His revelation and trusted in His Divine Providence.

Yes, joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God. No matter what age we are when we marry, no matter how many years we have been married; when God is invited to be a part of that relationship each day; believe you will always have the hope needed to sustain you!


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.

The Fifteen Most Powerful Words

We read in the Gospel of Luke:

“After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke. 3:21-22)

This was the first time that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were witnessed together as distinct persons. This relationship we call the Holy Trinity; One God, yet three divine persons.

Our Belief in the Holy Trinity

St. Francis De Sales said:

“The fifteen most powerful words in the English language are in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The words themselves are powerful because they are a testimony of our belief in the Holy Trinity, but they also call to mind our salvation through the passion and death of Jesus Christ as we trace the cross over ourselves. As Catholics, all of our prayers, including the Holy Mass, begin and end with the sign of the cross. Those fifteen words, along with the sign of the cross, identify us as Catholic Christians. This formula is the official blessing of the Church by way of Holy Orders for special occasions and designated items and individuals. However, we all should bless ourselves throughout the day, asking God to guide and protect us. It is very meaningful for children to have their parents bless them in the morning before leaving home and in the evening before bed. When faced with an urgency, it is very simple to say,

“God come to my assistance, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

We have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our purpose for being on this earth is to bring to completion the good work that was begun in us at our baptism. God has a great plan for humanity that can only be realized in a relationship with him. It is for this reason he has given us the Church and the sacraments. We must remember that in our humanity, we inherited a fallen nature, and often we are tempted to want to live for ourselves at the expense of others. God has made it possible for us to overcome these temptations which lead to sadness and even hopelessness. He desires to pour his grace into the hearts of those who believe in him. We need God; he created us to be in a relationship with him.

Equipping the Called

In the Gospel, Matthew tells us that when the Disciples saw the Lord, they worshiped, but they doubted. This would be the last time they would see Jesus before he returned to heaven, and they doubted. For three years they heard his teaching, witnessed his miracles and were present during his apparitions after he rose from the dead, and still, they doubted. It can be difficult to overcome the limitations of our logic. However, Jesus wasn’t disheartened by their lack of faith. He immediately commissioned them and said:

“Go, therefore. And make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age”.

Jesus knew that on their own they would not be able to complete the mission he charged them with. He would send his Holy Spirit so that all he commanded them to do he would accomplish through them. The same is true of us. God expects us to do things we can only do with his help, which he freely offers. Every baptized person has a vocation, whether it be religious, marriage, or single life. As our life unfolds, if we remain close to God, he will help us overcome the challenges that we might give up on if we did not ask for his help.  We all will have to endure things we may now think we cannot endure or to accomplish things that we think we cannot accomplish. But if it is God’s will, he will bring all things to completion in and through us. We must discern what the will of God is by remaining in the state of grace through the sacraments, a discipline of prayer and faith formation. God is as close to us as his name on our lips.

As we remember our veterans this Memorial weekend, I am sure there were moments when many had doubts about the mission ahead.   If they knew exactly what was before them perhaps it would have been more difficult for them to fulfill their duty. These warriors too were in the hand of God and it is they, who with his help completed their mission, even if it was with the sacrifice of their lives. God bless America and the veterans who preserve our freedom.


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.

Fear & Anxiety

I think most will agree that 2020 gets the award for worst year in the 21st Century. One reason would be the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 virus closely following the most contentious Presidential election in memory. The virus and its aftermath of masks, social distancing, isolation, national shutdowns, deaths of close friends and relatives, mental health issues, hospital crowding, etc., compounded by the extreme vitriol, hatred, and divisiveness of the election has driven most sane Christians into a mental cage of sorts closely resembling solitary confinement in San Quentin Prison. We are emotionally sitting on the floor, probably in a fetal position, wringing our hands and enveloped in palpable fear.

Do Not Be Afraid

But wait! Why are we afraid? Why are we anxious? We’re people of faith, and fear is the antithesis of faith, right? And Our Lord told us to expect what we are now seeing, right? So why am I afraid and anxious?

Even people of great faith are not immune to the fear brought on by the upheaval and changes we are seeing. But fear is a hungry monster. It is fed by media hyperbole, the unknown, herd mentality, insecurities, and the list goes on. If fear was visible, it would be a morbidly obese monster. There’s so much food we can give it.

What do we do? Well, first of all, we need to understand that the only way to acquire the peace that only Jesus can give us (John 14:27), we need to get closer to Jesus and try to listen harder than we have been. The closer we get to Jesus, the more Heavenly peace we acquire. Jesus tells us:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Here is a suggestion on how to get on how to put the fear monster on a diet:

  • Consider disconnecting your cable. The provider will fight this and try and keep you. Fight the temptation: lose the cable. Get a digital antenna if you really need to have access to the news and weather when those storm warnings come around. Other than the cost of installation, there are no monthly charges once you install. When you’ve cut the cable, STOP.WATCHING.THE.NEWS! News producers pick the blood and gore and put the icing of hyperbole on the stories that will most alarm, frighten and appeal to our baser senses. A priest once gave me some great advice:

“Don’t watch the news. It will disturb the very peace Our Lord is trying so hard to give us, and will drown out His voice.”

Our Lord never told us that if we believed that we would never suffer. Quite the contrary: He told us to take up our crosses and follow Him every day (ref. Matt. 16:24). That includes the hefty crosses we make for ourselves. If you really think about it, newspapers and cable subscriptions are really crosses meant to create those very monsters we’re afraid of, and make them materialize in our lives, adding to our fears and anxieties.

Let’s not add to our crosses. Every day comes with its own set of crosses, and they’re plenty to deal with, without adding to them.

Find Strength and Peace in Jesus

Pray to the Holy Spirit, then pick up your Bible. It’s like a big telegram from Heaven. Our Lord is trying to talk to us. Read it in a quiet place. Maybe take it to your parish’s Adoration Chapel and read it before Our Eucharistic Jesus for 15 minutes, and then gradually increase the time. Before you know it, you won’t want to leave the refuge of the Sacred Heart, and you will thank yourself for getting rid of the noise and distractions that come with the media you got rid of.

Pray the Rosary. The gift of peace that Our Lady has given us in the Rosary is a treasure waiting to be opened by you.  “The Rosary is the best therapy for these distraught, unhappy, fearful, and frustrated souls, precisely because it involves the simultaneous use of three powers: the physical, the vocal, and the spiritual.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen

But the bad things haven’t gone away. I know.  Let us remember, Jesus’ peace is not the same kind of peace the world gives: it is more durable and is rooted in your very soul. No matter what comes your way, no matter how bad it may be, Jesus’ peace will stay with you and help you cope with whatever comes.

And once you remove the callous of noise and distraction that encases you, Our Lord can come closer than ever before, and allow you to realize that He is walking right alongside you, whispering “Don’t be afraid. Be at peace. All is well. I am with you.” You are feeding your faith, instead of your fear, and the gift of faith is freedom from fear. Pope Francis says it well:

“Christian hope is rooted not in the attraction of the future but in the certainty of what God has promised and realized in Jesus Christ. If he has guaranteed never to abandon us; if the beginning of every vocation is a ‘Follow Me,’ with which he promised to always go ahead of us, why should we be afraid?”


Victor Negrón is a husband, father, grandfather, practicing lawyer, former judge, past-President of the San Antonio Catholic Lawyers Guild, lay evangelist, Board Member of Pilgrim Center of Hope and A Woman’s Haven. Judge Negrón became Board Certified in Family Law in 1987. As a lay evangelist, Victor has served as a leader for Eucharistic Adoration of San Antonio, Inc., and has been involved with Pilgrim Center of Hope’s evangelizing activities since its early years – formerly as emcee for the Catholic Men’s Conference, and currently as a member of the PCH Board of Directors.

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.

This blog appears slightly edited from its original publication.

Living Our Call

“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”
– Santa Teresa of Avila

Searching in and out

A few months ago, I was listening to a mother of three kids, two of them with special needs sharing how difficult it has been losing her job, keeping piles of unpaid bills, and even worst, looking for a place where to find the next meal for her children. Usually, during difficult times people say: “everything is going to be ok.” Instead, I prefer to share the Psalms 31:25:

“Be strong and take heart, all who hope in the Lord.”

There are many reasons why someone might feel confused or sadden, especially during the past months when many might have felt “left behind”. However, people’s actions might change the course of events. I was amazed about how wonderfully generous hearts get out of their comfort zone to care for others in need by working extra hours giving up their rest, volunteering to either deliver food to the elderly unable to get their own groceries, standing for hours giving food to those who lose their job or calling to their neighbors just to check on them. The list goes on.

God among us

Some have decided not to harden their hearts and become Jesus’ witnesses with their actions by caring for others or strengthening their faith by holding tight to prayer.

“Encourage yourselves daily while it is still “today,” so that none of you grow hardened by the deceit of sin” – Hebrews 3:13

However, others are struggling with their faith. I am sure I am not the only one who has heard people say: “I want to see Jesus.” We need to be attentive and look around with a different lens so we can be able to see God’s hand in our midst or even more, listen to his voice. We need to BELIEVE that it is God who is calling us by name to go out and do his will. (1Samuel 3:7-8)
We need to realize that being a real follower and friend of Jesus means trusting, obeying, and surrendering our self-will to who love us the most, Jesus our Lord. If we want to journey this life with Jesus and be feed by his teachings, we need to get closer to him to know him more, and consequently love him more as well. Some are willing to lend a hand to teach His words and life as Pilgrim Center of Hope through conferences, pilgrimages, and various media productions. I encourage you to come and see and discover what Jesus has in store for you, as I did one day.

Living in love

Knowing Jesus is surrendering our intellect and heart to him by showing the world that he knows us better than we know ourselves and his plan in our life is better than we can imagine. He will guide us in every step and provide what is needed sometimes with unimaginable surprises as we remain in his love and follow his commands.

We should live a faithful life dressed up with Jesus’ love as we fulfill our everyday life, and one of God’s commands, love one another (John 15:17). God is calling us to bear fruit remaining in him, the vine.

It is necessary to shorten the distance between us and  Jesus. If we keep our mind and heart away from him, we could make the mistake of believing that someone or something else is able to meet our needs. However, we need to realize that as long as we remain in Jesus, he will work through us to continue building a community of which we are part of. We cannot prescind from our union with others if we want to fully live our faith. We cannot divert from Jesus who provides to us, the branches, everything to bear fruit. We are called to be instruments of God if we want to fulfill our purpose of knowing him, serve him, and love him. After all, God has written in our hearts the desired to see him and is always drawing us to him because only in him we will fully live the truth and happiness that we are always searching for. (CCC 27)


Veronica is a bilingual wife, mother, lay evangelist, and a member of Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Speaker Team.

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.

Viviendo nuestro llamado

 

“Nada te turbe,
nada te espante,
todo se pasa.
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia todo lo alcanza,
quien a Dios tiene nada le falta;
solo Dios basta”.
-Santa Teresa de Avila

Buscando dentro y fuera

Hace unos meses, escuchaba a una madre de tres niños, dos de ellos con necesidades especiales quien compartía lo difícil que ha sido para ella perder su trabajo, acumular facturas por pagar, y lo que es peor, buscar lugares donde encontrar la siguiente comida para sus hijos. Usualmente durante tiempos difíciles las personas dicen: “todo estará bien”. En su lugar, yo prefiero compartir el salmo 31:25, “Fortalezcan su corazón, sean valientes, todos los que esperan en el Señor”.

Hay muchas razones por las cuales alguien se puede sentir confundido o triste, especialmente durante los pasados meses cuando muchos se pudieron haber sentido “ignorados”. Sin embargo, las acciones de las personas pueden cambiar el curso de los eventos. Me sorprendí de que maravillosamente algunos corazones generosos salieron de su zona de comodidad y seguridad para ayudar a otros en necesidad trabajando horas extras renunciando a su descanso, trabajando como voluntarios entregando comida a las personas de la tercera edad incapaces de obtener su propia despensa, de pie durante horas dando comida a aquellos que perdieron su empleo o llamando a sus vecinos para checar como están…la lista es larga.

Dios entre nosotros

Algunos han decidido no endurecer sus corazones y convertirse en testigos de Jesús con sus acciones cuidando a los demás o fortaleciendo su fe a través de la oración. (“Mas bien anímense mutuamente cada día, mientras dura ese hoy; que ninguno de ustedes se deje arrastrar por el pecado y llegue a endurecerse” Hebreos 3:13). Sin embargo, otros caminan luchando en su fe. Estoy segura que no soy la única que ha escuchado a personas decir: “Quiero ver a Jesús”. Necesitamos estar atentos y mirar alrededor nuestro desde una perspectiva diferente para ser capaces de ver las manos de Dios entre nosotros o aún más, escuchar su voz …necesitamos CREER que es Dios quien nos está llamando por nuestro nombre para salir y hacer su voluntad. (1Samuel 3:7-8)

Necesitamos darnos cuenta que ser un verdadero seguidor y amigo de Jesús significa confiar, obedecer y entregar nuestra propia voluntad a quien nos amó más…Jesús nuestro Señor. Si queremos hacer el viaje en esta vida con Jesús y quedar impregnados por sus enseñanzas, necesitamos acercarnos más a él para conocerlo más y consecuentemente amarlo más. Algunos están deseosos de ofrecer una mano para ensenar su palabra y su vida como Pilgrim Center of Hope a través de conferencias, peregrinajes, conociendo a los santos y más. Los animo a “venir a ver” para descubrir lo que Jesús tiene para ustedes como yo lo hice un día.

Viviendo en amor

Jesús es todo acerca de amor incondicional y verdadero. Conocer a Jesús es entregarle nuestro intelecto y corazón mostrando al mundo que él nos conoce mejor que lo que nos conocemos a nosotros mismos y que su plan en nuestra vida es mejor de lo que nos podemos imaginar. Él nos guiará en cada paso y proveerá lo que se necesita algunas veces con sorpresas inimaginables mientras permanecemos en su amor y seguimos sus mandamientos.

Debemos vivir una vida de fe vestidos con el amor de Jesús mientras cumplimos con las obligaciones de nuestra vida diaria, y uno de los mandamientos de Dios, “ámense los unos a los otros” (Juan 15:17). Dios nos llama a dar frutos permaneciendo en él, la vid.

Es necesario acortar la distancia que nos aleja de Jesús. Si mantenemos nuestra mente y corazón alejados de él, podemos cometer el error de creer que alguien o algo más es capaz de satisfacer nuestras necesidades. Sin embargo, necesitamos entender que mientras que permanezcamos en Jesús, el trabajara a través de nosotros para continuar construyendo una comunidad de la que somos parte. No podemos prescindir de nuestra unión con los demás si queremos vivir plenamente nuestra fe, de la misma manera que no podemos prescindir de Jesús quien nos provee, las ramas, todo para dar fruto. Somos llamados a ser instrumento de Dios si queremos cumplir nuestro propósito de conocerlo, servirlo y amarlo. Después de todo, Dios ha plantado en nuestros corazones el deseo de verlo, y siempre nos está atrayendo hacia él porque solamente en el viviremos plenamente la verdad y felicidad que siempre estamos buscando. (CCC 27)


 

Verónica es esposa, madre, evangelista laica y miembro del Equipo de Oradores del Pilgrim Center of Hope.

Respondiendo al llamado de Cristo, Pilgrim Center of Hope guía a las personas al encuentro con Él para vivir en la esperanza, como peregrinos en la vida diaria. Vea lo que está sucediendo y permítanos viajar con usted! Visita PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.

Pruning My Own Branches

The Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Easter concerned the Vine and the Branches. We will only have Life if we are a part of the Vine. However, the Gospel also spoke about a vinedresser needing to prune those branches that do not bear fruit, that they may bear more fruit. See, John 15:1-2. Here’s the problem I have: can I correctly identify those branches IN ME that are either not bearing fruit or are not bearing enough fruit? How do I do that? At this point, we may be thinking, “I already feel like I have pretty good fruits.” But, then, I’m not the vinedresser, am I?

Practical Ways We Can Be Pruned

For starters, those of us who are lucky enough to have a spiritual advisor are already on the right path because if we are candid, that spiritual advisor can help us identify those aspects of what we do, how we think, who we are. But most of us do not have a spiritual advisor. What then?

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a wonderful way to air out those problems that prick our consciences and tell us that we’re going in the wrong direction. Before we go to Confession, though, we can self-examine by reading through an examination of conscience online or in a booklet to start us down the path with a very good flashlight. How about telling a fellow, devout Catholic friend how I feel about certain people or certain things, that can help us find those pesky dark corners of our lives that need cleaning out?

A man was once trying to make his Lent a successful one, so he asked his wife if she would write down those things about him that needed improvement. She replied by saying “There isn’t enough paper.” Some of us may feel that way at times, but we have to remember that Jesus is Mercy itself. He understands our humanity but also wants us to progress along the road to holiness. We are, after all, called to be saints, right?

Still, needing that flashlight? Read Scripture. Study your favorite parables. The parables are the flashlight Jesus uses to shine light upon those parts of our human nature that cause us to succeed or to fail. The parables are often as much about virtue as they are about the weaker sides of our nature.

These examples of virtue can be found in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Do we strive to practice, and therefore strengthen, those gifts? Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to work within us? Those gifts are charity (or love), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, modesty, self-control, and chastity. (Gal. 5:22)

Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Fruits of the Holy Spirit

So what’s the difference between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Holy Spirit? Well, the gifts are the virtues, or the seeds, which produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. “Fruits” are another word for “actions”. So, allowing the seeds of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to take root in us will give rise to the actions resulting from those gifts. Our actions will be born out of the seeds, the virtues, that we cultivated.

Other gifts/virtues/seeds of the Holy Spirit:

  • Witnessing Power (Acts 1:8)
  • Mutual Encouragement (Romans 1:11-12)
  • Ministry, Romans 12:7; Teaching, Romans (12:7)
  • Encouraging, Contributing, Leadership, Showing Mercy, and Spirit of Unity (Romans 15:5)
  • Wisdom and Knowledge (I Corinthians 12:8)
  • Healing (I Corinthians 12:9)
  • Prophesying, Miraculous Powers, Discernment, Tongues, Interpretation (I Corinthians 12:10)
  • Administration (I Corinthians 12:28)
  • Revelation (Ephesians 1:17)
One Last Recommendation

Finally, Adoration before the Eucharistic Jesus, with our spiritual or holy reading. When we take this sort of reading as we spend time with Jesus, the Holy Spirit is there to guide and encourage us along the Way. Choose books and themes from a reliable Catholic source, as we can be misled by the many authors who have decided that the Magisterium is theirs to change. There are so many books and videos that help us to meditate on how to get to where Our Lord wants us to go. Our reading can be a wonderful source for our self-examination, helping us to see ourselves as God sees us, and making those changes and adjustments that are needed.

These are just some ways to “prune” ourselves. Our work now will help us to continue pruning with the new tools we have acquired that are right for the job. Choose any one of these, and soon you will see yourself blossoming abundantly like an apple tree in Spring.


Victor Negrón is a husband, father, grandfather, practicing lawyer, former judge, past-President of the San Antonio Catholic Lawyers Guild, lay evangelist, Board Member of Pilgrim Center of Hope and A Woman’s Haven. Judge Negrón became Board Certified in Family Law in 1987. As a lay evangelist, Victor has served as a leader for Eucharistic Adoration of San Antonio, Inc., and has been involved with Pilgrim Center of Hope’s evangelizing activities since its early years – formerly as emcee for the Catholic Men’s Conference, and currently as a member of the PCH Board of Directors.

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 Jesus’ Peace Today

What do you think of when you hear the word “peace”? A carefree day? A family without disagreements? The absence of war or political conflict?

Recently, I was both greatly challenged and encouraged when I discovered Jesus’ definition of “peace.”

Appearing to the disciples after his Resurrection, “he stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (Luke 24:36) This was not simply a greeting.

Before Jesus’ death, he had instructed his disciples that his peace was not the common secular peace – Pax Romana; absence of war. He said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

In the Hebrew language, the word for peace is “shalom.” Shalom denotes wholeness or completeness. Jesus’ shalom is a mutual agreement between persons; not a lack, but a positive presence of serenity. Shalom is a blessing; it is God’s grace made manifest.

If we’re paying attention, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus’ peace doesn’t refer to a lack of concern or conflict. The Prince of Peace spent his days precisely with those who experienced difficult situations, and he himself entered into great suffering and death.

Fruit of the Spirit

As Jesus’ followers, then, how can we be truly and sincerely “at peace”, while division occurs all around us?

To pursue peace as Jesus did is not something we can do on our own. Scripture teaches that peace is a “fruit of the Spirit.” Peace is a fruit – or a sign, that God’s Spirit is present.

The key is this; God’s Spirit is a gift to be received. Jesus taught that our ability to have an exchange and shalom with God is contingent on our being reconciled with others.

“If you bring your gift to the altar,” Jesus taught, “and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

The early Christian St. Cyprian summarized plainly;

“God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord, and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

In short: The key to peace is in our will, our heart, from our own choice; to bind and loose the bonds of forgiveness and unforgiveness of those who offend us.

“It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2843).

Experience True Peace

When we are wounded or offended by others, it hurts! We may want to build up our walls and protect ourselves (fear), or perhaps heap injury on those who hurt us so that they will understand what we feel (trouble). Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.” When we embrace or act on these thoughts or feelings, our will – our heart – is no longer united with God’s.

God wills good for everyone. “He causes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)

For us to experience peace, we must choose to will our offenders good and not evil. When we do, we are not excusing their behavior, but we are loosening the bonds of unforgiveness that tie us to the offense.

Then, we can be free to receive the gift of God’s Spirit living within us, and we can experience true peace; the peace of Jesus.

Find some practical advice in Archbishop Gustavo’s pastoral letter, Transformed by Hope: “We need to find a time and a place that allows us a moment of silence. There we can, so to speak, look at ourselves from the outside and review how we relate to our environment; acknowledge what feeds or causes our emotions, feelings and affections; reexamine our ideas, prejudices, perceptions, assumptions, reactions and relationships. Finally, we can encounter ourselves and God. In this way we will find peace and a deep joy, beyond that which comes and goes with different situations. The Holy Spirit will transform us into a new creation and others might discover in us instruments that God sends.”


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.

I am the Good Shepherd

In the Gospels, Jesus identifies himself with several titles that begin, “I am…”. For me, the title that is most tender and compassionate is when he says,

“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

Jesus reveals in his ministry that he is the ultimate good shepherd because his purpose is to save the souls of all humanity and he completes his mission by laying down his life on the cross.

Although Jesus Christ completed his mission, he established his Church to carry on that work of saving souls. He built this Church on the confession of Peter who he charged with tending and feeding his sheep. Through the priesthood, he gave Peter and the Church the authority to forgive sins and to change bread and wine into his own body and blood so that those who believed in him might have eternal life.

Priests and Deacons

In an unbroken line from Peter and the Apostles to our present Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests Jesus continues his role as Good Shepherd as they all perform their ministry in persona Christi, which means in the person of Christ. As they minister the sacraments of the Church it is Jesus Christ himself who makes the sacraments effective through them.

Deacons are also ordained into this unbroken line dating back to the beginning of the Church. Though their ordination differs from that of bishops and priests, they are nevertheless called by Christ to serve his flock through the ministry of the Word and other services that require special formation. They can perform baptism, funerals, and witness marriages in the absence of a priest, or at the assistance of a priest. The Diaconate ministry covers a wide spectrum of service to the Church including but not limited to liturgy, evangelization, visiting the sick and imprisoned, faith formation, and assisting the bishop and their pastors as needed.

Consecrated Life

The consecrated life of the religious is also essential to Our Lord’s plan of caring for souls. Through the ages, the religious have been a heroic sign of the presence of Jesus Christ as they educate, evangelize and serve all who are in need. Religious organizations have produced thousands of canonized saints and their work has been indispensable in the passing on of the faith.

As the numbers of clergy and religious continue to decline we all must pray every day for vocations. Certainly, the Good Shepherd continues to call men and women to participate in his work of saving souls. Our prayer is for those he is calling to respond to the call, not only for the sake of the souls they will be helping, but also for their own sake because we can only reach our potential for happiness in this life by following the plan the Lord has for us.

Laity

We see the beauty of Jesus’ plan as he continues to shepherd souls, but what about the rest of the Church? Does he expect the small number of clergy and religious to be solely responsible for the salvation of humanity? There is a huge army that is expected to participate in this saving work called the laity. We are all baptized and have received the theological gifts of Faith, Hope, and love as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every one of us is equipped and expected to participate in the work of saving souls by praying for the conversion of those who have separated themselves from God and by being a witness of what we believe by what we say and do. If we have experienced God’s love, mercy, and providence we certainly want to share this Good News with others.

When we pray for vocations, we also pray for holy marriages and sanctified single life. Every baptized person is expected to be a light in the world, bringing the presence of Christ into our homes and the workplace. When we read the lives of the saints and hear the stories of clergy and religious, we find that most discovered their calling from God through the faithful witness of their parents. The home is where children should first learn about God’s love for them as they are taught how to pray and ask for God’s guidance at a very early age.

There is no baptized person who does not have a calling from God. When we order our lives to God by a commitment to daily prayer, by living the sacramental life and continue to be formed in the faith through spiritual reading we give God the opportunity to influence our decisions as we continually draw closer to him, and then promises he gives us in the Gospels become a reality in our lives. In addition to the magnificence of creation, the reality of the existence of God should be apparent through the witness of those who believe in him.

How can we follow the Good Shepherd?

If there is chaos in our lives, in society, or in our world there is only one explanation- we, the society or the world are not following the Good Shepherd and the plan he has for us. His plan doesn’t eliminate all sickness, suffering, and disasters but he gives us the grace and peace to persevere with the confidence that he will bring us through. We see this reality repeatedly when we read the lives of the saints. Because God is patient for our salvation, it is never too late to begin anew in Christ. As a matter of fact, we know from his own words that he seeks out those who are lost. He will find his way to any soul that has a humble, contrite heart.

We know the words to say,

“Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Good Shepherd, lead me into the security your Sacred Heart.”


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.

Amidst Chaos: Simple but Powerful Steps to Peace & Trust In God

I remember a few years ago, standing in the Southwest Airlines ticket line at the San Antonio airport. My husband and I were eagerly awaiting our flight to a family get-together.

But our mood was disturbed as a woman furiously pulled her luggage into the line behind us.  From her loud phone conversation, we immediately knew that her flight home had been cancelled due to tornado warnings elsewhere. After hanging up, she began spewing expletives into our shared air, seemingly unaware of the folks around her.

My annoyance turned to sadness for this woman, when she (angrily) revealed to an agent that she had an ill family member at home, with whom she needed to be present.

Whether by a trip to the airport, the grocery store, a walk around our neighborhood, or even staying home and scrolling the Internet, it’s easy to see how chaotic our lives can become. People get sick, accidents happen, tasks need accomplishing, not to mention injustices in our communities…

As life piles up, how can we maintain peace and trust in God?

At several points in the Gospel, Jesus’ disciples think they’ve got it made. We get it now, they say. We understand you and your message now!

But Jesus hands them a reality check:

Do you believe now?
Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived
when each of you will be scattered to his own home
and you will leave me alone.
But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but take courage, I have conquered the world.

Sometimes when we feel strong in faith, we get a reality check: something doesn’t go according to plan, and we panic.

Waving the White Flag?

Look at our first pope, Peter.

  • As guards arrested Jesus, Peter fought back; cutting off a man’s ear!
  • Afterwards, he tried to escape the situation; denying three times that he ever knew Jesus.
  • At the Crucifixion, Peter was nowhere to be found.

What happened to Peter later in life, so that he finally had peace amid chaos? How was he finally able to “take courage” and face his own persecutors and death?

Peter learned to surrender.

That word invokes negative connotations. “Surrender” seemingly epitomizes weakness… and who wants to be weak? Yet, the centrality of surrender amid suffering is the message that Peter hammers home in his letters, which are now books of our Bible (1 and 2 Peter).

Why surrender? My spiritual director once instructed me to read a spiritual classic: Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Its author directly addresses our desire to fight or escape God’s will:

If that which God Himself chooses for you does not content you, from whom do you expect to obtain what you desire? If you are disgusted with the meat prepared for you by the divine will itself, what food would not be insipid to so depraved a taste? No soul can be really nourished, fortified, purified, enriched, and sanctified except in fulfilling the duties of the present moment. What more would you have? As in this you can find all good, why seek it elsewhere? Do you know better than God? As he ordains it thus why do you desire it differently? Can His wisdom and goodness be deceived?

Wow. In what we could call the “School of Surrender,” the first step to maintaining peace is to see my daily life as a personalized gift from an All-Good, All-Loving, Most-Wise and All-Powerful God.

If my day is filled with challenges, I have to trust that I’ve been offered resources & graces tailor-made to overcome those challenges. As my day is peppered with good things, surrendering means trusting that God has also willed those good things exactly for me at that moment.

What a source of joy!

Finding Peace

Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, we deal with a number of challenges. Amidst them all, we gather each day in Gethsemane Chapel with our CEO (the Lord Jesus). We begin with a Consecration to the Holy Spirit recommended by Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller. We pray, “O Holy Spirit… I surrender myself to You…”

Let’s make an effort to address our own daily ways of “fighting” or “escaping from” the everyday situations entrusted personally to us by our loving, Heavenly Father. What will we choose to do; complain? drag our feet? ignore some duty that we know is best for us? escape through many hours of entertainment?

Instead of complaining, let’s choose to praise God: “Thank you, Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, for being with me at this moment.”

Instead of dragging our feet, let’s stand confidently in the graces that God has given us.

Instead of ignoring our duty, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to turn our eyes to face what is before us with courage.

Instead of escaping, let’s ask Jesus to take us by his hands that were pierced as a promise of his love and constant presence.

Come, Holy Spirit.  Help me to find peace in surrender.


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.