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The Spark: How to Succeed When Failing

It is not unusual to be asked, “What are you living for?”  But, what would you say if someone asked you, “What are you dying for?”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers, “The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life” (no. 1020).

Our answer to both questions is Jesus!

We should be looking forward to the day of our death even as we live, to ensure that day is many years to come. As St. Augustine said, “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you are going to die tomorrow.”

Because Jesus became one of us by being “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4) and thereby sanctified humanity, our life is not to be just a waiting until we die nor is it a living only for this life. Rather, we are to live as a sign of contradiction; the more we die to Christ the more fully human and alive we become. We achieve this transformation through God’s gift of grace, which was merited for us through the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Spark

Grace is the power of God at work in us. Father Wojciech Giertych, O.P., Theologian of the Papal Household, teaches that we can ignite and move this grace through human acts, which he calls, “The Spark of Faith.”

Father Giertych uses the example of the hemorrhaging woman from the Gospel of Luke (8:43-48). He explains that when Jesus says, “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me,” this exchange of grace from Jesus to the woman was achieved because of the woman’s act of faith. Her touching of his tassel caused the spark that ignited and moved grace from Jesus into this woman, restoring her to health. Jesus acknowledges this spark she caused with his words, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

We see from the hemorrhaging woman that an act of faith is not only our prayers. Any human movement, physical, mental or spiritual, in which we honor God’s gift of our creation sparks grace. Here are just a few examples:

  • Taking care of our bodies by eating nutritious foods and maintaining a healthy balance in exercise, recreation, work and rest, to keep ourselves fit and free of illness and disease.
  • Increasing our knowledge of the wonders of the world, honing our talents, and learning new skills, in order to expand our abilities and intellect.
  • Living in community with others by following Jesus’ teaching to treat others as we would like to be treated.
  • Growing in virtue and practicing morality.
  • Seeking a closer relationship with God by living the sacramental life of the Church through participating at Holy Mass, meditating on his Word in Scripture, regular confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and spending time with our Lord in Adoration.
  • Offering our sufferings by joining them to Christ for our salvation and the salvation of others.
  • And yes, praying daily; be it through Scripture, the Rosary, devotional prayers, speaking from the heart, silent contemplation.

But what if we fail?

What if, instead of honoring God and acting in faith, we act selfishly?

This can serve to be even more successful in stirring up grace! Father Giertych explains, “What is decisive, however, is the repeated returning to God.” In using the example of distraction in prayer, Father says, “Such mangled prayer, in which there are multiple returns, is very fruitful, because the living faith is expressed several times, and it is faith that opens to grace.”

Just as with the power that flowed from Jesus to the hemorrhaging woman, Father says, “This perseverance in faith ensures an immediate encounter with Jesus.” Wow!

At Pilgrim Center of Hope we like to say, “You do not have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ.” As we make our journey to Eternity, let us never miss the opportunity to begin anew to ignite grace when we stumble or downright fail to act in faith. Let us turn immediately back to God so that, like St. Paul, we can one day proclaim,

“I have competed well; I have finished the race; have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance” (2 Timothy 4:7-8.)


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 Am I Living For? Hope When All Seems Lost

Here in San Antonio, we recently participated in Daylight Savings Time, and we all got “an extra hour” added to our busy week.

How often do you wish for more time?

Life can rush past us so quickly. That is—until we hit a wall; illness, death of a loved one, a financial challenge, relationship problem, employment crisis, etc. Then, it seems we all pause and find ourselves wondering: What is the meaning of all this? What am I living for?

A Man Who Lost Everything

One of the most relatable stories I’ve ever come across is that of Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, also called Alfonso. He…

  • had poor health
  • lost his father at age 14
  • lacked a basic education, since he had to drop out of school and take over the family business
  • was a widower by age 31 after only 5 years of marriage
  • lost all three of his children at a young age
  • suffered the collapse of his family business

Having hit “rock-bottom,” he pursued a religious vocation. This required further education. Alfonso bravely enrolled in classes with young people sitting all around him, but he failed to pass.

He spent two years with a spiritual director before entering the Jesuits as a brother. He worked as a school doorkeeper and did odd jobs. Frequently, he was upset with scrupulous thoughts and suffered other mental issues. Finally, he began to lose his memory.

When Everything Fails

Can you imagine hitting as many walls as Alfonso did? (Perhaps you have.)

We all want to be happy. Happiness can be pursued in security, success, health, family, friends… but when we lose what is dear to us, ultimately, we come to question: What am I living for?

Finding Purpose

Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez left no speeches or writings. His legacy and humble witness of life are what teach us about living with purpose.

Faced with that ultimate question of purpose and meaning, he could have attempted to wrestle with it all by himself. Instead, he sought a trusted advisor to keep him on track. We can all do the same.

Even after failing his initial attempts at religious life, Alphonsus came to believe that everything meaningful he sought in life was found in God. Although it took him 16 years before he could make his final vows as a religious brother, a life dedicated to God was worth the wait.

Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez discovered the reason why thousands of people over millennia have left behind everything they had to follow Jesus Christ. It is also why many people who have lost everything, like Alfonso did, can continue to live with joy.

Jesus said: I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly. (cf. John 10:10)

Dare to seek a God who gave everything for you. Dare to ask Jesus: I need hope. Show me the abundant life that you came to give me.

Are you ready to discover a new reason to live?


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. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.

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).

Join us this Saturday for a morning of reflection – “Jesus, Teach Me to Forgive” at Pilgrim Center of Hope. All are welcome.


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.

Peace or Division: Did Jesus Contradict Himself?

The same Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” also proclaimed this in Sunday’s Gospel reading:

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)

Did Jesus contradict himself?

During this month’s Meet the Master session at Pilgrim Center of Hope, I addressed this head-on with our participants. There are many instances in Scripture, even in the Gospel and the words of Jesus, where contradictions seem apparent. As mature Christians on our pilgrim journey, we need to learn how to wrestle with these questions rather than avoid them or write them off using trite statements.

Who Is This Jesus?

To avoid answering our main question from a particular point of view or agenda, we need to look at the entire context: the person of Jesus, his life, his words, his actions. That is why the Gospel is essential reading for us. As St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

Let’s fine-tune our original question, Did Jesus contradict himself? by looking at these seeming contradictions.

Jesus As A Peacemaker

Did Jesus wish peace upon others?

  • He taught his disciples to wish peace to those they met. “As you enter a house, wish it peace.” (Matthew 10:12)
  • Those whom Jesus healed, he sent away in peace. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mark 5:34)
  • As Jesus appeared to the disciples after his Resurrection, he greeted them with peace. He stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36)

Let’s look deeper into the meaning of “peacemaker.” For the Hebrews, this was a “pursuer of peace” like Aaron, who during conflicts would sit with each party individually. Aaron would speak with and listen to each individual until all bitterness was removed from each one’s heart. Finally, the parties once-at-odds would embrace and be reconciled. (cf. Rabbi Hillel, Avot) To be a pursuer of peace means to foster reconciliation.

Was Jesus a pursuer of peace?

  • He and his disciples shared meals with those in society who were despised. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. (Matthew 9:10)
  • He accepted invitations from not only the despised, sick, and desperate, but also the leaders & revered members of society. (ex. Luke 7)
  • Jesus forgave people of their sins, and taught his disciples that they should forgive perfectly and without exception. (cf. Matthew 18:22)

By all of the above, it is clear that Jesus did bring peace – and Christians throughout time attest to his continued peacemaking throughout history and in the world today.

Jesus As A Source of Division

However, our original question considers Jesus’ assertion that he came to bring division (symbolized by “the sword” in Matthew 10:34).

Jesus “did not come to establish peace upon the earth” because, contrary to popular hopes at the time, he did not come as the mighty Messiah expected to end all war. Rather, Jesus himself became a cause for division.

  • When Jesus healed and forgave sins, he was often criticized by the religious leaders. (ex. Matthew 9)
  • When Jesus tended to the despised members of society, he received similar criticism. (ex. Luke 15:1-2)
  • For having revealed himself as the Son of God, religious leaders had Jesus condemned to death. (cf. John 5:18)

Jesus’ pursuit of peace and reconciliation thus brought conflict and division among those persons who would not accept it. While he desires God’s peace to be with all, the Prince of Peace causes controversy.

How Can We Truly Be At Peace?

As Jesus’ followers, how can we be truly and sincerely “at peace”, while division takes place all around us? As we strive to reconcile people with each other, with themselves, and with God, we will experience joy tinged with discomfort and desolation. Not everyone is ready to accept the radical message of peace and reconciliation that Jesus brings. We have all been there once; preferring control and security as the Pharisees and scribes did.

Instead, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection shows us that the way to perfection is vulnerability and self-giving love. Jesus did not contradict himself, but he tells us the truth while subverting his listeners’ expectations.

As Pope Francis says, For Christians, (holiness) involves a constant & healthy unease (Gaudete et Exsultate, no. 99). Let’s reflect on this while Our Lord’s words echo in our hearts:

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)


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. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.

What Is the Solution to All the Problems In Our Lives?

In the past few weeks, I have experienced some unexpected challenges. After receiving a disappointing phone call, I put down my phone and sighed, “Jesus, I trust in You,” for I know from Scripture and from personal experience, God works everything for the good (Romans 8:28).

Even though we may know we can trust him, persevering confidently in God’s trust until we can witness the good can be very difficult. It is precisely in these out-of-our-control situations that we are called to act in faith and discipline ourselves to not withdraw into our fears. Instead, we are to order our thoughts toward and prioritize our gaze on God and on his fatherly providence and protection.

With burdens weighing me down, I kneel in front of our Lord in his Eucharistic Presence in a parish’s Adoration Chapel. As I look up at the Lord enthroned in the monstrance, a thought is allowed into my mind: ‘I am putting all my trust into a little piece of bread.’

Immediately comes the counter-attack, ‘No, you’re not! You are putting your trust into the Creator of the Universe who died on the Cross so that you could have eternal life and in Whose great kindness condescends to become present in a little piece of bread so that you may enter into his life here and now!’

This truth comes by privilege of placing myself before the very presence of God in which no lie can stand.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1380) states,

[…] In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us, and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love:

The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease.

It is important in our world with so many anxieties, inconveniences and things just not going our way to spend quality time with our Lord in prayer every day. It is even better, if we place ourselves in his Presence through Holy Mass (at least every Sunday) and in Eucharistic Adoration, as often as we can.

We find confirmation of this path through the life of Saint Alphonsus Liguori. He experienced suspicion from civil authorities and betrayal by a fellow priest. In the face of people and situations out of his control, this humble man chose to bring it all to the One who orders all things and controls all things. He writes, “If you desire to find him immediately, see he is quite close to you. Tell him what you desire, for it is to console you and grant your prayer that he remains in the tabernacle.” Pope Saint John Paul II simply says, “In that little Host is the solution to all the problems of the world.”

And, of course, there is the Virgin Mary, the exemplar of constancy to God!

In just a few days, we will be celebrating her Assumption into Heaven. Her eternal reward follows a lifetime of perseverance, putting the priority of God’s will before her own, discipline to remain close to Jesus through the temporal obstacles, and a vigilance to dare to believe that what God revealed to her in prayer would be realized.

Take advantage of this great feast day and holy day of obligation by celebrating the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15. Make this the first of many frequent encounters with Christ in his Eucharistic Presence. Ask his Mother to help you persevere as she did.


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.

Redeemed from Destruction

Has your desire for productivity seeped into your faith or prayer life?

What have I done for God today? is a common question in religious circles – whether in personal reflection or otherwise. For years, I focused on what I was doing… or not doing …for God. My good intentions steadily morphed into unhealthy scruples. Even as I spoke of his mercy, my heart actually regarded God as a strict judge who needed appeasing. Then I saw my various trials as punishments from God, and I figured that I deserved them all.

But no; I had it all wrong. Instead of punishing me, God had placed two people in my path who helped me see clearly.

A Familiar Connection

When I pray Morning Prayer with my coworkers at Pilgrim Center of Hope (PCH), I think of my deceased great-uncle. Holding open his Christian Prayer book, I see where he had moistened his finger to turn the now-yellowed page corners.

For forty-six years, he was a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), and he was widely-beloved. Twenty years of his life as a religious priest, however, he spent on a leave of absence.

Were it not for the personal struggles that brought him home to San Antonio, I may never have known him. But because I remembered the musky smell of his chair in my great-grandmother’s living room, and because I had been entrusted with some of his most treasured possessions, I gained an interest in the founder of his Congregation: St. Alphonsus Liguori. 

An Unexpected Advisor

Alphonsus is often depicted as an elderly man, bent over a desk, writing away with a wry smile on his face. His arthritis kept his neck bent over so much so that his chin bruised his chest. Alphonsus was a brilliant man; someone we’d call today a prodigy. His life story is inspiring; look him up!

The most ironic thing about him is that he was so brilliant, knew Church law and moral theology backwards and forwards, was a merciful confessor, yet he himself battled scrupulosity. What kind of God allows a scrupulous man to become a Doctor of the Church who is known for his teaching on morality? Only our God – who redeems everything in our life for good. As St. Paul wrote, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:11)

In his famous work, The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, Alphonsus quoted St. Teresa of Avila: “God never sends a trial, but he forthwith rewards it with some favor.” In other words, while our trials and struggles don’t come from God, God’s love can turn what is bitter into something better.

Letting God love us is the key. As our PCH chaplain Father Pat Martin reminded us during Mass last week, what is essential is what God does for us! Why were the Pharisees threatened by Jesus’ teachings and actions? Perhaps it was because their relationship with God had been based upon what they did for God; checking off boxes and maintaining control. Jesus invited them to consider a God who loved everyone, who dined with even the people who did not check the boxes!

Allowing someone to love us requires vulnerability and loss of total control. Are you ready to let God love you?

God loves us so tenderly, that he not only desires, but is solicitous about our welfare… Let us, then always throw ourselves into the hands of God, who so ardently desires and so anxiously watches of our eternal salvation. Casting all our care upon him; for he hath care of you (1 Peter 5:7). – St. Alphonsus de Liguori


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. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.

What Effect Does the Lord’s Prayer Have?

What is prayer and why should we pray? We saw in Sunday’s Gospel that even Jesus, the Son of God, spent time in prayer. When his disciples ask him to teach them to pray, Jesus teaches them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Here in the gospel according to Luke, we have an abbreviation of the prayer we are familiar with from Matthew – the prayer we pray together at every Mass and many other times throughout the day.

Are we really aware of the importance of what we are saying and of the far-reaching effects of this prayer?

Jesus tells us to pray: “Father, hallowed be thy name”

Prayer is first of all a relationship with Our Father in heaven who loves us, is interested in our good, and is near to us. He is the Father of all humanity, but especially of us who have been baptized and call ourselves his children. We are not praying to an unknown god who is far away from us. When we say hallowed be thy name, we are acknowledging that God is holy, almighty; the creator of all things and we are his lowly creatures. We should praise God every day throughout the day for his benevolence. He is our Father now and for all eternity, and he wants a personal, intimate relationship with each of us, so that we may know his goodness and experience his goodness.

“…your kingdom come”

In the prayer we are familiar with from Matthew, we add, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Kingdom of God is at hand when we do the will of God. God has a great plan for humanity, and has revealed that plan through the Scriptures and the Church. We reach our potential for happiness in this life when we discover the specific plan God has for each of us by asking for his help every day in prayer and by keeping the commandments he has given us to guide us in the right direction.

“Give us each day our daily bread…”

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are dependent upon God even for our next breath. It is God who keeps everything in existence. Everything we have is a gift from Him and He expects us to be good stewards of what we have received. When we are concerned about what we need ,we should first turn to God. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells us:

“Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat? Or what are we to drink, or what are we to wear? All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

When we place God first in our lives, he will help us make good decisions about what we really need.

God provides our daily bread par excellence in the Bread of Life; Jesus Christ himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. What more do we need than God himself? He is the source and summit of our lives.

“…and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive anyone in debt to us”

Forgiveness is essential for our spiritual, mental, and physical well being. There is no offense that may be committed against us that we should not forgive; unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, hatred, etc., are all obstacles to the love of God. They enslave us to a life of misery – even to the point of affecting our physical health. If there is something we have not been able forgive, we can begin by asking God for the grace to desire to forgive because he commands us do so. He will liberate us from our enslavement.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus Christ himself forgives our sins through the priest and gives us the grace to make progress in our spiritual life. If we want to deepen our faith, we should participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month for the reason that we need the help that our Lord wants to give us through this sacrament.

“…and do not subject us to the final test.”

Our whole life is a process of purification. The closer we are to God through our worship, prayer, and sacramental life, the more aware we will be of how close he is to us in the challenges and difficulties that come our way. If we ask, God will give us the grace we need for every circumstance of our life. No matter how bad we have it on the worst day of our life, there will always be someone who has it worse and yet is still able to experience peace & joy – because of their faith and trust in God.

God’s Promise & Our Persistence

Jesus follows with a parable about the necessity of persistence in prayer; “I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him what ever he needs because of his persistence.”

We also must be persistent. Saint Monica prayed for her son Augustine’s conversion for sixteen years. Her perseverance was not only instrumental in her son becoming a great saint; it was also instrumental in Monica becoming a saint.

If we persevere in prayer, we can be confident that it will be answered. It may be answered in the way we hoped it would be, or we may discover that God has a different plan, more consistent with the coming of His kingdom.

This Gospel closes with a promise; “… how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” If we ask, seek, knock and persevere, the Lord will send us the Holy Spirit to help us know his will – so that we remain close to him and be happy now and for all eternity. It’s a promise.


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.

Do You Have An Intimate Relationship with God?

I recently attended a weekend conference on the Spirituality of the Cross, presented by the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. A presentation called, “Do This in Memory of Me: A Process of Holiness,” by Fr. Vicente Monroy, MSpS, reminded me of how important mental prayer is to the spiritual life of every Christian.

Father Vicente pointed out that we need to focus more on God and not ourselves, and that instead of being obsessed with our own interests, we need to devote more time to growing in holiness. Father said, “A baptized Catholic who is not growing in holiness, is a failed Christian.”

He went on to say that our soul must be fed constantly, and that if a relationship with God is important to us, we will make the time and put in the work necessary to grow spiritually.

“I’m Too Busy / Too Distracted”

If this is your reaction to the idea of mental prayer, the good news is that mental prayer helps you to detach yourself from the world and from distraction in the same way that a good heart-to-heart conversation with your closest confidante helps you to regroup in the face of a crisis.

Wouldn’t you love to have those same type of intimate conversations with God? Wouldn’t you love to rest your head against the chest of Jesus – simply resting in the Lord – the way St. John did when he needed to be consoled and renewed?

Mental prayer takes us beyond our vocal prayer—where we often end up simply saying words instead of engaging in a conversation with Our Lord.

“The Father Is In; No Appointment Necessary”

For those who want to add mental prayer to their spiritual life, Jesus has prepared the way. Jesus set the example. He would withdraw from daily life, activities, and the demands of his ministry to be alone with his Father. Jesus invites us to do the same.

Getting Started

Begin with a loving heart and a reflective mind. Next, engage the three powers of the soul: your memory, your intellect, and your will.

Start small by adjusting your daily schedule by 15-minutes; getting up earlier and going to bed earlier. Mornings tend to be the best time, as they are often much quieter and peaceful.

Choose a spot where you can focus on a crucifix or a piece of sacred art. If you live near a church with a perpetual Adoration Chapel, you can spend your 15-minutes in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

Place yourself in God’s presence. Open up your heart & soul, surrendering yourself so you can receive God’s thoughts & promptings.

Come Prepared

As you prepare for mental prayer, remember the four C’s:

  • Concentrate – Bring along your Bible or the spiritual writings of a saint. This will help to guide you and keep your mind from wandering.
  • Consider – As you reflect on what you are reading, consider what God is saying to you through the Scriptural passage or saint’s words. Invite the Holy Spirit to work within you by increasing His fruits & gifts.
  • Converse – This is the time to have that heart-to-heart conversation with God. Offer up the day in thanksgiving. Over time, this will lead to your becoming more adept at waiting and listening for God’s response.
  • Commit – Make a resolution to grow in a particular virtue or to work on a vice or bad habit that may be hindering your spiritual growth. The resolution can also involve your committing to dealing with a difficult person or trying situation with more patience, understanding, and compassion.

Be Patient with Yourself

Mental prayer is a process much like the Walk to Emmaus where, with burning hearts, we are compelled to walk with Jesus, to listen to him, and finally to recognize him and become fully conscious of his presence within us.

When one has begun to meet Christ daily on this level of friendship, his entire relationship with to God will undergo a revolutionary alteration. Christ will no longer be a historical figure who lived some two thousand years ago. He will, instead, be a living, personal, knowable friend. – Peter Thomas Rohrbach, Conversations with Christ

Mental prayer is to your spiritual life, what an engine is to a car, it is crucial to your being able to fully experience God’s love & wisdom. St. Teresa of Avila called mental prayer the “royal highway to heaven,” a journey which leads us to meditation and eventually into contemplation.

Our Meet the Master mornings of prayer and reflection are an excellent way to introduce you to mental prayer. Consider joining us. We invite you to visit us at our peaceful place in northwest San Antonio.


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.

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.