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Seeking Answers from Jesus

As a college-aged adult, I actually looked to Jesus for answers. The frustrating part of it all? Jesus didn’t give me answers.

Following the advice of my parents, pastor, vocation director, and so many other people, in prayer I asked Jesus, “Why is (fill-in-the-blank) happening?” and “What do you want me to do with my life?” and “Should I choose Option A or Option B?”

When did Jesus ever give people satisfactory answers? He didn’t, really. In the gospels, people who questioned him were often presented with a question, parable or a riddle in return. Jesus’ listeners were challenged to encounter God more deeply, to examine themselves, to give themselves in love, and to trust in him and his heavenly Father.

Jesus did not deal out ‘answers.’ What Jesus gave in the gospels was himself.

“Come to me,” he said, “all you who labor and are burdened.” He didn’t continue, “and I will give you answers and solutions to all your problems!” Instead, he concluded, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” (cf. Matthew 11:28-30)

You Are Not Alone

Jesus offers you himself, to share your burden alongside you.

If you ask Jesus to fix all your problems and save you from ever experiencing pain, confusion, worry, or anger; he will not do that for you. His own disciples and holy mother experienced all of the above.

Instead of doling out answers or solutions, Jesus will give you himself. I guarantee you that he will do so, one-thousand percent of the time, for eternity, if you welcome him daily.

Having lived through uncommon physical and emotional challenges, I can say with confidence; Jesus’ gift of himself to each one of us is a far greater gift than answers or solutions.

Why?

Without challenges, we do not learn. Without trials, we lack humility. Without suffering, we lack compassion. This is not how God created the world to be, but it is the reality in which we now live.

God chooses the better option, saying: In the midst of this challenge, trial, and suffering, I will come to you. I will share it with you. As we walk together, I will teach you. Thus, the burden will become light.

In many circles, God is accused of being cruel and abusive. On the contrary, we see in the life of Jesus that God does not force himself upon us. In the person of Jesus, God is an unassuming, young adult who willingly takes everything we’ve dumped on him, upon his shoulders. He invites us, by name, to come and learn how to live, alongside him. He gives us his own self, his own life.

“I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly,” he said (John 10:10). Jesus does not call us slaves; “I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

Look to Jesus for Direction

If you are looking for direction, look to Jesus. Don’t look for him to be a floating genie-god who hovers above you, and provides ancient and future knowledge. Instead, realize the greater gift Jesus offers.

As St. Bernard of Clairvaux so well advised;

“Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. […] If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy.”

Look to Jesus, God-become-Man. Look to Jesus the person; so that in looking to him you may know him, and in knowing him you may love him, and to learn from him you may walk with him and his Body, the Church, daily.

This is what gives me joy; not that I have all the ‘answers,’ but that I know Jesus who is Truth. Not that I see where my path will lead, but that I walk with Jesus who is the Way. Not that my life is picture-perfect, but that I love Jesus who is Life. (cf. John 14:6)

In this very moment of your life – with all its complications, aches, responsibilities; I invite you to spend some moments in prayer with Jesus and accept his invitation.


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.

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.

Live Life to the Fullest, with Hope

 

The ministry of Jesus was unlike any other because he spoke with authority, the authority of God, and he performed miracles revealing his power over nature, sickness, and evil. Jesus uses his teaching authority and his miracles so that the people might believe in him as the Messiah. However, he does not want the people to look to him as a political leader who will deliver them from the Roman occupation. His teaching is always about the Kingdom of God; about our need for conversion, to turn away from sin and to be faithful; to love God above all things and our neighbor as our self.

Why did Jesus teach in Parables?

When the Apostles heard Jesus, they immediately left everything and followed him. There were others who were attracted to Jesus just because they heard of his miracles and hoped he would do something for them. And then there were those who refused to believe in him and looked for an opportunity to prove he was an imposter.

They all heard the same thing and saw the same thing, but their response was different. It is for this reason that Jesus frequently taught in parables. The parables were an invitation to look deeper and to believe and not be among those who had eyes and could not see, ears and could not hear, and hearts that would not be converted.

 Embrace a Relationship with Jesus

The same is true for us today. We all hear the same Gospel, we all have seen or heard remarkable things that can only be explained as God’s intervention, and our responses can be quite different. So, the question that has eternal consequences for each of us is, do we believe Jesus is God, and do we want to follow him? Do we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that are willing to be converted?  Do we want to embrace a relationship with Jesus – which means to trust in His providence every day and embrace his message which causes us to make changes to the way we live?

Some people hesitate because they think they will have to give up too much to be a disciple of Jesus. On the contrary, a relation with our Lord will lead us to live life more fully – with hope. Perhaps we think we aren’t good enough to follow our Lord. Jesus knows that our fallen nature is an obstacle to faithful discipleship; that we are inclined by our nature to be selfish. For this reason, He said we must deny our self, take up our cross and follow Him. Knowing how difficult this is for us He pursues us and gives us opportunities to discover His Love and mercy. Sometimes an addiction can rob a person of all hope and they finally turn to God and begin life anew. It may be a serious illness or financial difficulty that causes a person to realize they need God. It may be through a retreat or a pilgrimage experience that a person is awakened to the presence of God and then begins to commit their life to prayer and the sacraments. Or perhaps it is a simple challenge to wake up and take God seriously.

Is Jesus the Lord of Your Life?

About forty years ago someone asked me if Jesus was the Lord of my life. I don’t remember my response, but in my heart, I knew I should say no. I went to Mass every Sunday but gave God little thought after that. My faith had little influence over the decisions I made. So, the question remained, did I or did I not want Jesus to be the Lord of my life? That thought haunted me for a while before I decided to do something about it. Within a few weeks, I bought my first Bible, joined a prayer group at the parish, and began to spend time in prayer every day. Those three decisions began to reshape my life and created a desire to draw close to God. My wife Mary Jane had the same desire and we started going to daily Mass and becoming more involved in our parish.

We know from our personal experience that there is a great difference between knowing about God in a casual way instead of having a desire to know God in a personal way and wanting to be faithful to what He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. Our relationship with God brought new joy to our marriage and to our life in general. God has a great plan for all of us, and He wants us to invite Him to be in the center of that plan.

The Lord knows our struggles and for this reason, He established His Church so that through the sacraments we have access to all the grace we need to be faithful and intimately connected to Him. Jesus is still alive in His Church and He still speaks with authority and He still works miracles. For our part do we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that are willing to be converted?  If Jesus is not yet the priority of your life, make a commitment today to take the first step –in a moment of silence – approach Jesus in humility – open your heart to Him who waits for you. He will give you the grace to do what you cannot do on your own. It’s never too late to begin anew with Christ!


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.

Mercy, Love’s Second Name

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts of Mercy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responding to Mercy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Robert V. Rodriguez is Public Relations & Outreach Assistant for Pilgrim Center of Hope. He combines a passion for the Catholic faith together with years of professional experience as a TV news journalist, video producer, and PR/marketing specialist. Robert also serves as Chairman for our annual “Master, I Want to See” Catholic Men’s Conference.

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

A Deeper Look at the Prodigal Son

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

The Prodigal Son

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

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

The Father

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

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

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

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

The Eldest Son

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

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

Finding Ourselves In the Story

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

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

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

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

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


Deacon Tom Fox is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with his wife, Mary Jane Fox. The two left their careers after a profound conversion experience and began working full-time in ministry at their parish in 1986. After several years and having impacted tens of thousands of families, the Foxes founded Pilgrim Center of Hope in 1993 as a response to the Church’s call for a New Evangelization. Tom continues to serve as a permanent deacon, at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio.

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

Our Weakness, His Strength

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

Trapped by Our Weaknesses

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

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

Freedom In Faith

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

You are planted.

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

Get fed.

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

Bear fruit.

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

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

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

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

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


Deacon Tom Fox is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with his wife, Mary Jane Fox. The two left their careers after a profound conversion experience and began working full-time in ministry at their parish in 1986. After several years and having impacted tens of thousands of families, the Foxes founded Pilgrim Center of Hope in 1993 as a response to the Church’s call for a New Evangelization. Tom continues to serve as a permanent deacon, at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio.