The World's Greatest Coach

It might seem odd to you, but I often think of Jesus as the World’s Greatest Coach. I teach fitness as you may recall if you’ve read this column for a while. Coaching is a second career for me, so it has been interesting to learn over the last 8 years what makes a good coach. 

To be a coach, teacher or mentor in any field, and in the game of life, one has to first learn from a coach—and I’ve been blessed to learn from some smart and caring fitness coaches. However, there is no greater coach in my life than my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

One of the most important attributes of any good coach is to believe in what you are teaching and to impart that to your students to the best of your ability. When we look to our coach Jesus, we know that he learned from the best; after all, he’s the Son of God, and his Father’s will is his will. He knows exactly what he's doing and why he’s doing it and even stuck to it amidst temptations. He is infinitely qualified and motivated to lead us closer to God so that we can be in heaven with him someday.

Another key to being a good coach is to be a good listener and to respond appropriately to your student’s needs. If one of my students says her knee hurts, and I ask her to do sets of 10 squats, I’m probably not listening to her needs.

We see in Jesus, a coach who is the ultimate listener. We can tell him everything because he knows everything already — and loves us anyway for who we are, not because of what we do. Jesus is listening (and responding) to us every second of the day. This listening is especially profound in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we vocalize sorrow for our sins and Jesus responds by setting us free from sin.

To be a good coach, one has to believe in their students and persevere in helping them learn. Sometimes we have to work creatively with our students, but there is much joy and satisfaction in helping people do something that doesn’t come easy to them. Sometimes we don’t want to be helped, coached or guided and so this becomes an opportunity to grow in humility.

Isn’t this how Jesus works with us? He loves us, believes in us and works creatively with us to guide us to accomplishing God’s will. While we might get down on ourselves for sinning over and over, or failing to pray, or acting selfishly, Jesus never gives up on us on. In fact, Jesus, his Mother and the saints model and intercede for us to humbly carry on despite life’s difficulties. 

A final attribute I’ll share with you about being a good coach is to encourage consistently healthy habits to support the athletic journey, such as getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, managing stress/illnesses/injuries, and giving time to developing a healthy spiritual and emotional life. It isn’t possible to see good results in our athletic endeavors if the rest of our lives are totally out of whack.

When we look to Jesus as our coach, we see a loving guide who wants us to be holy and healthy in every area of our lives—not just on Sunday, not just with our church friends, not just when everything is running smoothly in our lives, but also in the little, hidden, everyday activities and when we face big challenges, sufferings, failed plans, health issues and the loss of loved ones. Jesus desires that we live the Gospel message 24/7, in all circumstances, and he’s here with us to make that happen.

Let us close with a prayer to the World’s Greatest Coach. Jesus, thank you for believing is us and coaching us through this difficult thing called Life. Grant us the humility to give you control of every aspect of our lives and for the strength to carry out the unique mission you have each one of us. Amen.

St. Peter the Rock

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It is both holy and healthy to reflect on the New Testament readings from daily Mass this Easter season as the apostles are on fire with the Holy Spirit and begin to teach, preach and evangelize freely.

From Acts of the Apostles 4:13-14, “Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, the leaders, elders, and scribes were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus.”

Peter went from denying Christ to preaching boldly in the name of Jesus at risk of imprisonment and even death. His courageous words challenge us to live and share our faith with others in our daily lives.

It can be difficult to know how to specifically do this in our lives today, but if we stay committed to a daily prayer life and receive the Sacraments as frequently as possible, we might be surprised how God’s grace will work in us to inspire, form, transform, and enliven us with the Holy Spirit to be more fully alive in our faith — and willing to bravely share the Gospel message in the ordinary circumstances of our lives.

I’d like to use the Knights of Columbus as an example. Their humble service in parishes around the world is a beautiful example of being St. Peter-like by serving in many ways in their families, parishes, communities as a result of their relationship with Jesus. 

We are all called to serve and evangelize in different ways — most often the ways are quiet and behind-the-scenes, such as cleaning up after a Fish Fry, adoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, making dinner for a sick friend, and even allowing someone to go ahead of us while we are driving, but Jesus sees all and loves all that we do — even the tiny seeds of desire to serve that haven’t sprouted yet do not go unnoticed by our Lord.

It is my hope and prayer that as we move through this Easter season we do so with an uncommon courage and glorious hope in the power of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

St. Charles Borromeo said, “God wishes us not to rest upon anything but His infinite goodness; do not let us expect anything, hope anything, or desire anything but from Him, and let us put our trust and confidence in Him alone.”

Let us spend time in silence to get to know Jesus even better and to open our hearts to what he is asking of us. It matters not whether our time with God involves a walk in nature, listening to spiritual music, reflecting on sacred art, reading scripture, or just sitting quietly in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

May we take to heart these words from St. Peter the Rock in 1 Peter 3-5: 

“By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Conversion

I’ve been helping people get physically stronger for nearly eight years. In that time, I’ve gone through a lot of changes in how I teach others and how I train and care for my own body. I’ve watched my students learn and grow. I’ve seen my training program, change, evolve and it continues to do so.

Change is inevitable in all areas of our lives, and it can be good, but sometimes life hits us hard with any number of challenges in family, work and life. On top of that, we are aging and dealing with forms of physical suffering, such as injury, illness and infirmity. In our physical difficulties, we learn about the spiritual power of suffering with love and perseverance—and by God’s grace, we have an opportunity to grow spiritually and to develop more compassion for the hardships faced by others.

Spiritual conversion is similar in that changes occur in us that can be both uplifting and challenging. We may experience many conversions in our lifetime as God seeks to bring us closer to him to help us grow in holiness. Changes, both big in small, by the grace of God, can lift us up, lead us into darkness, move us into new ways of serving, living and doing for God and for others. The changes might surprise us, even frighten us a little, and we may, believe it or not, even have an occasional longing for some sins that we’ve left behind.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1989: “The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high.”

Sometimes conversion, or this movement away from sin and toward God, means we change how we use our resources, our time, our energy, and even the people we spend our time with. We might be called to simplify, to give more, to lead or to follow in new ways, to pray more, or to just be more. God works with us so personally that the path of conversion is not predictable nor is it ever universal.

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I look to the saints for wisdom on this journey of conversion which we pray continues throughout our lives here on earth. The saints are regular people who had many points of conversion in their lives and grew to great holiness by their gradual, yet eventual submission to God’s will.

Pope Saint John Paul II encourages us. “I plead with you! Never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

The fruit of conversion can in fact, be the gift of journeying more fully with and for others. Other times, it can be more of a dark and lonely road like St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced when God didn’t feel near to her — and so we rely on faith to keep moving forward without the clear light of His presence guiding us.

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In our physical journey, as in our spiritual journey, there will be changes, conversions, movements, big and small, good and not so good — I pray that we listen to our bodies and respond with prudent care — and more importantly, listen to God, accept and cooperate with his grace with a steely focus on the ultimate goal of eternal life.

St. Padre Pio knows well the struggles we face. “The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the heart of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

Wideness

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Wideness is interesting word to ponder in spiritual terms. There is a beautiful hymn called the “Wideness of God’s Mercy” and that hymn inspired me to think about the many ways the Wideness of God can shape our lives.

God’s mercy is so magnanimous that it’s incomprehensible—and yet we are called to that same mercy with each other, 70 x 7 times. To think of the Wideness of God’s mercy as a never-ending, vast stream of love washing over us, healing us, forgiving us and bringing forth new life is a beautiful image that fills me with hope.

Wideness is akin to openness—the openness we are called to with God in prayer— sharing our triumphs and challenges, joys, sins and sorrows—giving him room to work to help us grow stronger. We are also called to live this openness with our brothers and sisters by authentically celebrating and protecting the good in them.

In Luke, 9:11 we see the Wideness of Jesus’ love as, “He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured.”

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Wideness lends itself to an image of big, outstretched arms welcoming another with a hug and a smile in a spirit of hospitality. May the Wideness of our thanksgiving for each other carry us out of the narrow focus on ourselves. May we instead be poured like a libation into a Visitation frame-of-mind where we live in the Wideness of loving and caring for each other.

Wideness can be giving God the time and space to work in our lives, whether through the Sacraments, in reading Scripture, by adoring him in the Blessed Sacrament, and with prayerful listening for God amidst the activity of family, work and play.

Let us give God the latitude to transform us by inviting him into the great expanse of us … body, mind and soul. May we magnify the Lord by courageously seeking his strength rather than limiting the fullness of God’s plan for us.

Lyrics from “Wideness of God’s Mercy” speak of the majesty of God. “There is grace enough for thousands … For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind;  And the heart of the Eternal is most kind.” He pours his grace out to us constantly… do we notice and do we respond? 

Let us boldly ask God for the “strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth” giving thanks for the miraculous Wideness of God’s merciful love.




Our Lady of Good Help National Shrine - A Place of Hope and Healing

Lori originally wrote this post for the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference blog, January, 2019.

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I was very excited to recently learn about the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help located in Champion, Wisconsin, 17 miles north of Green Bay.

This is the site where our Our Holy Mother appeared to a young Belgian-born woman, Sister Adele Brise, 160 years ago in 1859. The apparition was formally approved on December 8, 2010, by Bishop David Ricken, becoming the first Marian apparition approved by the Catholic Church in the United States. In 2016, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) officially designated these grounds as a National Shrine.

The National Shrine is open every day of the year, and welcomed 160,000 visitors last year, and continues to welcome pilgrims from around the world, including Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Much like the apparition sites of Lourdes, Fatima and Guadalupe, the National Shrine is the site of numerous miracles and graces to this day.

National Shrine Marketing and Development Director Corrie Campbell said that when people visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, they experience an “overwhelming peace, healing grace and a heaven-like feeling that can often be quite emotional. Many carry this in their hearts for their entire lifetime. Many young people come and experience the joy of hope and healing in this holy place which is so needed in our times.”

Adele Brise

The story of Our Lady of Good Help began in the Fall of 1859 when Our Holy Mother appeared three times to Sister Adele Brise and asked her to teach the children in the area about their Catholic faith.

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Our Holy Mother had already appeared twice to Adele between two trees – one a maple, the other hemlock – along a rural trail. When she appeared for the third and final time, young Adele asked, “What more can I do, dear Lady?” Mary’s direction was simple: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

“But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?” Adele asked.

Mary replied, “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.” Adele devoted the rest of her life to spreading Mary’s good news.

The Great Fire

In 1871, there was a great fire in the area and the families that Adele visited gathered at the site of Our Holy Mother’s visits to pray the Rosary for the safety of their community. The fire raged and burned everything around them, but the fire stopped exactly at the line of Shrine location.

The National Shrine Today

Today the National Shrine enjoys the help of 200 volunteers—most of whom had their lives touched by Our Lady of Good Help in some way as many are the great grandchildren of those who experienced Our Holy Mother’s intercession during the great fire.

The National Shrine offers Masses and the Sacrament of Reconciliation and hosts many special events during the year. They recently opened a new prayer and event center. In remembrance of Our Holy Mother’s care during the fire, they host an overnight rosary event on October 8 and 9 with a procession and an an all-night prayer vigil in which the Rosary is prayed every hour, on the hour.

From October 1-9, we are all encouraged to pray the National Novena to Our Lady of Good Help for her intercession. The National Shrine also sponsors a 21-mile walking pilgrimage in the area. Please visit their event calendar for more information.

May we all prayerfully consider making a pilgrimage to this holy and wooded location in Wisconsin to grow closer to Jesus through Our Holy Mother. Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us!

Haste Does't Always Make Waste

It’s funny how the Holy Spirit sends you a thought, inspiration or even just a word that you have to take to prayer to try to figure out how to respond.

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For me recently, the word was ‘haste.’ During Christmas, I reflected on ‘haste’ as it related to the Three Kings and the Shepherds as they made haste to meet the newborn King Jesus. Haste can be positive or negative and we see both in Sacred Scripture. 

At the Visitation, we see Mary move with beautiful haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth to care for her and to share her joy of the impending birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus.

In Proverbs 19:2, we see another side of haste: “Desire with knowledge is not good; and whoever acts hastily, blunders.”

We might think of haste in this way—as being rushed, hurried, or that we’ve been negligent or wasting time on something else less important that sets us behind so that we’re forced to respond in a way that is rash or reckless and leads to mistakes.

This could be true. But if we approach haste prayerfully, and in the context of our spiritual lives, haste might be exactly we need to get busy responding to God’s call or to sharing our love of Jesus more openly with others. May we be like the  Samaritan woman who left her water jug behind in her haste to share the news of the Messiah with the people in her town.

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Are we inspired to make haste to attend daily Mass, to meet Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to read Scripture, to pray daily, to commit to a Holy Hour, to start something new for God, or to invite others to experience Jesus?

Could haste be the key to getting unstuck from a prayer rut, or out of a spiral of sin or selfishness or feeling reticent because we don’t clearly see the path Jesus is laying out for us? Let us rise up with holy haste to pray, discern, and take some action—even if we start small.

May our haste start with getting to know Jesus better so we an share him with others in whatever way God is calling us. Let us move forward in our life’s mission with courageous haste that bubbles over from a life of prayer and discernment. We’ll make mistakes, but if we stay close to Jesus. and his will for us, he can make our well-intentioned haste work for good.

St. Ursula Ledochowska (foundress of the Ursulines of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus) urges us onward, “You must never ask Jesus to wait.”

Jesus and Our Resolutions

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This time of year we might think about developing new healthy habits such exercising more, eating healthy, perhaps getting more sleep, de-stressing and so on. There is nothing wrong with making some resolutions, but do we include Jesus in this process?

It’s funny how we don’t call on Jesus to help us with our physical goals and other needs in times of good health and prosperity the the same way we do when we are experiencing illness, injury, infirmity or other trials. Jesus desires to be part of our lives in difficult times and in good times. 

Jesus, help me to make food choices that are give me strength and vigor to serve you and others. Jesus, guide to me to some like-minded Christians to begin to gain more physical strength with safe and sustainable exercises. Jesus, order my day so that I have to time to rest and recover. Jesus, help me to maintain a habit of praying and and being physically active daily. Jesus, help me to be at peace with my body.

We know from Scripture that Jesus cares about all of our needs and concerns and that includes our physical needs. We see Jesus respond to the physical hunger of the crowd of 5,000. He see him repeatedly pair physical and spiritual healing. He understands that we get tired and hungry, that we grieve, that fasting is difficult, and that we are in need of a balance of activity and rest.

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Why are we prone to separating our physical and spiritual lives when we know that body and soul are one—and we know that Jesus cares about, and wants to be part of, every single aspect of our lives?

Unfortunately, we don’t see ourselves, and others, as Jesus sees us. When it comes to the physical, we can be influenced by popular culture which focuses on aesthetics. When we see our face or body in a mirror, do we exclaim with delight because we are temples of the Holy Spirit, his beloved children, made in his image and likeness? Or are we more likely to lament about aging or some aspect of our physical appearance?

What would happen if we gave thanks for the gift of God’s magnificent creation before us in the mirror and asked Jesus to guide us in our quest for a physical life that reflects His love and helps us advance in our unique mission? Can we be childlike and turn to Jesus to guide us in prayer and good works on our way to developing new holy and healthy habits?

Jesus, help us to be gentle with ourselves, to set realistic physical goals, to accept our physical limitations, whether injury, illness and infirmity, and to unite our physical crosses with your cross. Jesus, remove the scales from our eyes so we see our physical appearance as a reflection of you, and your great love for us, rather than succumbing to a cultural view that attributes beauty to worthiness.

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Jesus, we give you our temporal concerns because we know that you care about everything we care about and you know what is best for us. We pray to move forward with you, in faith and trust, to humbly address our physical and spiritual challenges, desires and concerns, both big and small in the new year.

How will Jesus respond? I think that’s the exciting part. We don’t know because he works so individually with us. We may even be surprised to find that what we thought was a physical need, like a thirst for a cool drink of water, is actually a thirst for spiritual strength, or in the words of the Samaritan woman, a cry for living water—water that will last.

Jesus, we pray for the courage to entrust you with every aspect of our lives, and to seek you first on our journey to be more holy and healthy.

Astonishment

We see repeatedly in Scripture that people were astonished, amazed and surprised at the teachings of Jesus. 

From Luke 5:26, “Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, “We have seen incredible things today.” 

They hung on his every word, they followed him wherever he traveled, and they were in awe of his teaching, preaching, healing and forgiveness of sins. Jesus barely had time to eat or sleep, but he prayed to be filled with the Father’s love to continue to minister to the people then—and to you and me now.

Astonishment can be described as a feeling of great surprise, wonder and awe and it defined Christ’s public ministry.

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We also see that whenever Jesus astonished the crowd, it angered the Pharisees who wanted to arrest him, yet they were afraid of the reaction of the astonished crowd.

Do we experience astonishment at the words of Jesus? Are we surprised when his words reveal to us exactly what we need to do to respond to a problem or to a person, or to address an area of sin in our lives? Do we give thanks, with a sense of awe, when he heals one of his beloved children physically or spiritually? Is his endless mercy something we reflect on in prayer with wonder and joy?

St. Augustine said, ”In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me."  

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I don’t want to miss moments of astonishment, and in fact, I want to meditate on, celebrate and share these moments with others as Jesus calls us to evangelize and encourage each other on our spiritual journey. 

I pray to grow in humility and childlikeness so that moments of wonder and dazzlement change me and make me more like him. We pray for him to pour his grace into us as grace can open the door for us to make real changes in our lives.

Recently, I felt called to go to Confession. I wasn’t sure how to make that happen with a full schedule of family, work and ministry commitments. So I prayed for Jesus to make it possible whenever the time was right.

About a week later, I attended daily Mass at another parish and I was astonished when the pastor announced that the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be offered afterward—as Reconciliation isn’t typically offered after daily Mass at this parish. Jesus led me to that place, at that time, and worked out the details so that I could receive this vital sacrament.

Astonishment can take many forms and I love hearing stories about how Jesus works in peoples’ lives in astonishing ways, both in suffering and in joy, in little ways and in big ways too.

I pray that we cultivate a childlike openness so that we see and appreciate Jesus guiding and protecting us in our everyday affairs. May our hearts be open to an astonishing journey with Jesus.

Holy Friendships

This Scripture passage really hit home recently, from Matthew 12:47-49, “Someone told him, “your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wishing to speak with you.” But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? And stretching out his hand toward his disciples he said, “Here are my mother and brothers.”

This Scripture can be a confusing because we love our mother and our brothers. However, recently I gained new clarity when I had the opportunity to visit St. Louis to meet new people, speak and lead SoulCore Rosary prayer and exercise at a parish.

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A sister in Christ read a blog post that I’d written for soulcore.com and she contacted me to see if I could speak at her parish. The Holy Spirit worked out the details, and I had a wonderful visit to share, learn and grow with some marvelously faithful sisters in Christ.

Studies show that they key to a long and happy life, well into our senior years, is strong connections with others. When you love Jesus, and are united to him in Baptism, and you have that in common with someone, I have found that friendship comes easy. You have a bond that is not of this world, and God willing, can help prepare our hearts for the next. That is what I experienced with my new friends in St. Louis.

It is both holy and healthy to build authentic and loving connections with our brothers and sisters in Christ. While we are called to love and serve all of God’s children, but those who are on the journey with us can play a special role as they challenge, support and intercede for us.

Holy friendships can inspire us to be more faithful to the Sacraments, to nurture an active prayer life, study Scripture and to become more bold about sharing our faith with others.

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The disciples traveled in pairs and small groups—and for good reason; we need each other! We are called to love God and love neighbor and we can get all caught up in ourselves if we try to do it alone. God works through each of us differently, and in many cases, speaks to us through those friends with which we have a spiritual connection.

When I have a life challenge, I have no qualms about asking a friend to pray for me for strength. Intercessory prayer is powerful!

St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori said, “How pleasing to Him it will be if you sometimes forget yourself and speak to Him of His own glory, of the miseries of others, especially those who mourn in sorrow; of the souls in purgatory, His spouses, who long to behold Him in Heaven; and of poor sinners who live deprived of His grace.”

When people express concern about having a personal relationship with the Blessed Mother, I explain that seeking Our Lady’s intercession is just like asking a friend to pray for you. Our Lady loves each of us and wants nothing more than to grow in friendship with us to continually move us closer to her Son and his will for us.

We have to make some effort to foster holy friendships. When you ask the Holy Spirit to bring holy friends into your life, you might be surprised what happens next. That was my prayer a few months ago and I see the Lord placing new people in my life who are striving to grow in holiness and who desire to be a saint—and they inspire me.

May these words from St. John Vianney challenge us to persevere in our quest to build holy and healthy friendships: “O my dear parishioners, let us endeavor to get to heaven! There we shall see God! How happy we will feel! If the parish is converted we shall go in procession with the parish priest at the head … we must get to heaven!”

We're All in Marketing

Before I moved into the field of fitness, I had a small marketing communications company that allowed me to help small businesses and entrepreneurs develop their messaging and branding.

I discovered that one of the biggest frustrations for business owners was marketing. They were experts at their field, whether they provided a product or a service, but marketing often overwhelmed them. They felt unsure about how to talk about their business to others in a compelling manner.

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That’s where I came in. I enjoyed writing and helping them zero in on what made them different. I helped them write and share their compelling story in the marketplace.

Often I would say, “we are all in Marketing”—every person, every minute, as everything we say and do impacts how people see and evaluate our brand, our mission, our product or service.

Marketing, at its essence, is the sharing of information, experiences, and stories, in a way that attracts people—whether it’s supporting the mission of a non-profit, or buying a product or service.

I found myself recently saying to a friend that Marketing applies to Jesus as well. What I meant was that those of us who love Jesus, and desire to grow in our relationship with him, inevitably want to share our love and our faith with others. This could be called Marketing, but as Catholics, we more commonly refer to this as Evangelization. We are all called to evangelize—each in our own way—loving God and neighbor, and by example, bringing people to the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1913, states, “Thus, every person through these gifts given to him, is at once the witness and the living instrument of the mission of the Church itself, ‘according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.’”

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When I think of Sts. Peter and Paul, two extraordinary disciples, we could say they were masterful at Marketing. I think about their travels, their speaking, teaching, writing, caring, healing and performing miracles to bring people of all cultures and backgrounds to the truth of Jesus Christ. It feels odd to call that Marketing, but in a way it is because they were communicating Christ’s love with a desire to attract others to to him.

"Go 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 to observe all that I have commanded you." Mt 28: 19-2

In the wise words of St. Augustine, “Truth is not private property.” May we also answer the call to be marketers of Christ’s mission by courageously sharing our faith and love for Jesus, each in our unique way, relying on the gifts and talents God has bestowed on us.

Efficiency

One of the things I am learning from Pope Francis is to focus more on people and less on efficiency. What that means is that in our quest for efficiency we can miss Jesus in the face of our neighbor when we are solely focused on completing a task, a mission, even if it’s a good work. A right and just activity should not be forged at the expense of kindness and care for others.

“We must grow in passion for evangelizing,” the Pope said. “If we must sacrifice something, let’s sacrifice organization and move forward with the mysticism of saints.”

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As the Pope exhorts us to be witnesses to the Gospel in our work and play, we might ask ourselves how we can live the “mysticism of the saints” in our daily lives? This is an immense topic to take to prayer that can help us become more holy and healthy.

I’ll share an example from my life. I’m part of a spiritual book group with some women from my Church. We meet weekly—and at first we efficiently marched through the books sharing our thoughts, but staying on track with the topic at hand. Over time, we started sharing more personal stories and experiences (that related to the book most of the time), but now it can take us months to finish a book. We might only get through a few paragraphs in one meeting.

When I look at how our time has changed, we are definitely less efficient, but I see in our approach the Pope’s call to us to live with the “mysticism of the saints.” Sharing, learning, loving, praying and caring for each other has had a profound effect on each of us. We leave our time together feeling that God has touched us and that we have shared the Gospel with each other in new, personal and substantial ways. We’ve learned that it’s not how efficiently we can review a book that matters, but that it’s the listening, loving and moving forward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that really impacts us.

Pope Francis said, “Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed.”

Being “found and healed” is such a powerful sentiment. These words remind me that efficiency isn’t solely about slowing down, but it’s also about truly tuning in to each other. The beauty of this practice is that when we pause to care, God softens our hearts and amazing changes can unfold in both the giver and the receiver.

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Here is another personal example. One day I was taking communion to the hospital and I really wanted to make it to daily Mass afterward. I admit, I hurriedly visited patients, but it quickly became clear that this was not being a good witness to the Gospel. Desiring communion for myself is a good thing, but not at the expense of taking communion to the sick. So I slowed down and took more time to converse and be present to the patients. An amazing peace came over me and I left the hospital feeling Christ’s presence in a way that was quite honestly akin to receiving him in Holy Communion. What a powerful lesson in efficiency that was for me!

So I urge you to prayerfully consider the Pope’s call in your own life and ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can be a ‘wave of missionary passion” to others.

The Present Moment

There is nothing like the present moment. It’s right here, right now, and it demands our full attention. I first discovered the spiritual importance of living in the present moment when my husband and I moved to New Hampshire as a young, newly-married couple. 

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We registered at the Catholic Church in Hampstead, New Hampshire and I’ll never forget attending our first social event at St. Ann because we met a very wise priest. He asked us about our lives and we shared all of our plans and goals to start a family, expand our careers and much more.

I will never forget his reply to us. He said these two little words, “Just this.” He told us to focus on the here and now, the present moment, whatever was happening right here before us in our lives and to let the future unfold with full trust in God’s plans for us. 

I admit that sometimes it’s easy to do, and sometimes I look ahead or look back too much, so I am renewing my commitment to “Just this.”

As you and I seek to become more holy and healthy, these two little words, “Just this” can guide us to move throughout our day, week, month, year and entire life, with the Holy Spirit taking the lead with our hearts, minds and bodies focused on the present moment.

When we replay past events in our minds, with worry or regret, we miss the joys and sorrows of the present moment. We can’t change the past anyway, but in our humanness we go there, or perhaps we’re led there by the evil one, and what good does that do for our soul?

If we look ahead to the future, the present moment is sidelined, in fact maligned. Yes, some planning takes place in our lives, but when our future plans overwhelm the present moment, and fill us with unrest and worry, we are not truly lifting our hearts to God and living these words, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

We see Jesus teaching us to embrace the present moment in Scripture often. From Matthew 6:34, Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

I have discovered that one of the reasons people enjoy exercise is because it forces them to be in the present moment. The do-lists, family concerns, and work struggles are not on one’s mind when they are lifting a weight overhead or swinging a kettle bell. That is part of the joy of exercise—being fully present to something that helps us feel better and become physically stronger for the mission God has set before us.

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The saints advise us to live in the present moment with trust and a spirit of childlikeness. St. Faustina of Kowalska gave us this beautiful Prayer for the Present Moment which is at my bedside to pray daily:

Oh  My God,
When I look into the future, I am frightened,
But why plunge into the future?
Only the present moment is precious to me.
As the future may never enter my soul at all.

It is no longer in my power to change, correct or add to the past;
For neither sages nor prophets could do that.
And so what the past has embraced I must entrust to God.

O present moment, you belong to me, whole and entire.
I desire to use you as best I can.
And although I am weak and small,
You grant me the grace of Your omnipotence.

And so, trusting in Your mercy,
I walk through life like a little child,
Offering You each day this heart
Burning with love for Your greater Glory.

~St. Faustina’s Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, Notebook 1 (1)

I pray that we all discover the treasure of the present moment and that it brings us true joy and peace.

 

Simplifying our Lives for Jesus

Trying to live a more simple life can help us to become more holy and healthy. What is a simple life? That will vary for you and for me. Here are some thoughts for us to consider.

A good place to start is looking at areas of our lives where there are excesses. I’m thinking about my kitchen pantry right now that has built up with too many items; it’s time to clean it out and give food to my local food pantry. Too much stuff weighs us down. In the example of my pantry, I can’t find things quickly and easily, so it takes extra time to prepare a meal. I also end up buying duplicate items because I can’t see anything in the mess. Simplifying helps me be more efficient at home and giving food away helps others.

Another area of our lives to consider is our activity level. Do we have too much going on, feel stressed, too busy, rushed or worn out? These are signs that we might be doing too much and not doing God’s will. Taking this to prayer can help us sort out what God is calling us to do—and then we can reduce or eliminate activities that are not using our gifts and talents to be balanced and peaceful servants for Christ.

We can also look at how we spend our time. Time management can be critical in simplifying our lives. For example, we can examine how much time we surf the Internet, watch television or pursue a hobby. If we are not finding time to pray or keep up with work and family responsibilities, we might need to adjust activities that are not essential to our vocation. 

Simplifying our lives doesn’t necessarily mean we are doing less. Before making changes, we should pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us order our lives. It might mean adding in more activity that is aligned with God’s will for us and removing those that don’t contribute to our desire to be holy and healthy. Maybe we need to add more silence to our lives, commit to a regular Holy Hour to talk to Jesus, exercise for more mental clarity, read a good book, or reconnect with a friend.

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Simplicity can make more room for God to work in us and help us be better to serve the people we love—and this can help us grow in holiness. 

“Order your soul. Reduce your wants.”―Saint Augustine

The Holy Spirit has showed me that I need to give more time to nurturing friendships. I’m trying to organize my time so that I’m more available to meet friends in person, talk on the phone and hand-write notes. Simplifying my exercise routine and spending less time online is helping me do this.

When our lives are too busy, too complex, with too much stuff, activity, or noise, we can feel lost, lonely, out-of-control, and out-of-touch with God and his mission for us.

Think about a saint you know and love. Look at that saint’s life and you will see a spirit of simplicity. One thing common among the saints is their desire to love and serve God and to do his will—and they make a lot of changes in their lives to do this. Ask your special saint to intercede for you as you seek to simplify your life to be more free to respond to God’s call to you.

The more you have, the more you are occupied. The less you have, the more free you are.” ―St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The Slippery Slope of Sloth

Have you ever thought about the sin of sloth? It’s number four on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. I haven’t thought about it either, until recently, when I would catch myself having difficulty attending to both temporal and spiritual responsibilities.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2094 states that “spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God, and to be repelled by divine goodness.” Wow, that’s more serious than I thought!

“Because of laziness, the rafters sag, when hands are slack, the house leaks.” Ecclesiastes 10:18

I was looking at sloth as laziness in my temporal activities, but more importantly, I was reminded how much sloth leads us away from God. If we ignore our day-to-day responsibilities, we can fall prey to the evil one who would like us to think we don’t have what it takes to serve God either. Sloth can lead us into a lonely pit of selfishness and despair.

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St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Sloth is sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good. it is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds.”

It’s not holy or healthy to be slothful. So how do we get off the slippery slope of sloth?

We are nearing the end of Lent, so hopefully we’ve been trying to be faithful to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Acts of love, where we put the needs of others first, can strengthen us. Reading Holy Scripture fortifies us. Frequenting Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation help lead us away from sin and toward God.

In my own life, I see the lure of sloth in unstructured time, so I often ask the Holy Spirit to order my day and set my priorities. Isn’t it amazing how much we can accomplish when we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us? Haven’t you been amazed at what you can do when you seek God’s will in your daily affairs… especially when you think you don’t have the time, energy or resources you need?

“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13.

Some closing thoughts for staving off sloth:

First we can pray and ask God for everything, anything, big and small. Don’t limit God. He knows our needs better than we do and He delights in helping us with even our smallest corporal concerns.

Second, we can look deeper to see what is tempting us to sloth. There may be an issue behind our sloth that needs to be taken to prayer or addressed with a spiritual director or a faithful friend.

Finally, sloth is a sin against God and it will harm us spiritually, especially if we are not fulfilling the duties of our vocation. We have to fight like St. Paul to be Christ-like, put on the armor of God, and run to finish the race … because God is counting on us.

Our Great Need for Others

I’ve been blessed with good health, through nature and nurture, but I recently experienced a medical emergency that I could never have imagined.

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While driving to Adoration recently, my vision blurred. I was able to turn my car around and safely drive home and my husband Al drove me to Riverside Hospital emergency room. 

I felt pretty good, siting up talking normally, but my heart rate kept falling dangerously low. After five hours of testing in the ER, my body proved to be healthy, but they found what appeared to be a failure in the electrical system of my heart.

That was quite a surprise to someone who was not ill, exercises daily and teaches others to exercise as well. I’m considered relatively young to be a cardiac patient (in my 50s), I didn’t have much medical history to speak of, and this was my first time in the ER, so this was truly a humbling experience!

There I was with concerned nurses, doctors and family members hovering all around me. When they attached the paddle pads as a precaution, I knew I had to take this seriously. 

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So I prayed. I can honestly say that for the first time in my life, I prayed as Jesus calls us to pray … without ceasing. I prayed to the Holy Trinity, my guardian angel and asked for the intercession of Our Lady and the saints, especially two of my favorites, St. Padre Pio and St. Therese of Lisieux. I also felt an urgent need to pray for my family and friends, every hospital worker and patient, and the Holy Souls in Purgatory … who are closer to heaven than we are.

Much like an athlete who trains for a physical event, I felt this was it — time to run the race, to lean on God, my faith, and my loving family and friends for strength and to give every ounce of my will to prayer. Years of receiving the Sacraments, praying and serving — all the things we do as active Catholics — must mean something in the drama of our daily lives …. and for me, this was it.

So the first night in the hospital, I had a long conversation with God. I told him that if this is my time, I’ll go, but I didn’t feel ready. I still need to grow in holiness (as he knows) and there are some milestones I’d like to be here for to share with my husband, children, extended family and friends. But your will be done Lord!. Give me courage. Give my family strength. I received the Anointing of the Sick; it was time to, “Put on the Armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:11)

We need each other as we are Christ to each other.

We need each other as we are Christ to each other.

It’s always about both prayer and action. The doctors educated me about putting in a pacemaker to regulate my heart rate. It seemed like a reasonable solution. I had to be obedient and prayerful and let the doctors and nurses do what they are trained to do. Praise God for the gifts he bestows on us so we can serve others! I was keenly aware of my great need for others and I continued to pray for them.

The day after I returned home from the hospital, I read this beautiful reflection from Pope Benedict XVI that sums up our need for others in illness.

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“It is nonetheless true that illness is typically a human condition in which we feel strongly that we are not self-sufficient, but need others. In this regard we might say paradoxically, that illness can be a salutary moment in which to experience the attention of others and to pay attention to others!”

My condition of dependence led to a beautiful crack in my faulty heart to feel a new and urgent need for God and for others. I tried to stay in the present moment—I believe this helped me stay upbeat and hopeful and freed me from the evil ones’ snares of worry, fear and ‘what ifs.’

I received a pacemaker and my heart is now operating at full speed. I feel amazing and I’m amazingly grateful for my faith and family and basically everything in this life. No exercise for a while, but I’ll return to it slowly, honoring my body and continuing to be grateful to God and to the people he has placed in my life. 

God is teaching me through this experience. He is the great physician, and his ways are not our ways. I remain in awe of his glorious love for us and I pray that my heart remains open to whatever He has in store for me next.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

One of the gifts of the Church is the privilege of praying before the Risen Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We are blessed to offer Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at many parishes here in central Ohio, in which we can see Jesus there before us in the Eucharist, beckoning us … body, blood, soul and divinity.

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Adoration is surely a way to grow in holiness and to develop a healthy spiritual life. I have been adoring our Lord since the tragedy of 9/11 when a friend invited me to Adoration in honor of those who were called home during the tragic fall of the trade towers. 

I remember being in awe of God’s majesty as I sat in His presence to pray and to listen, and to be consoled by His love when I was trying to process that horrific event.

I wondered why I had never intentionally prayed in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament before that invitation from my friend. I realized that I had never reflected on the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist in this manner and something deep within me stirred.

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Being called to adore our Lord is truly a call from God. It is a gift of his grace to us, but we have to cooperate with that grace. Perhaps we’re called to this ministry at different times and in different ways. This call opens our hearts to spending gentle silence with the Lord in person, much like spending time with our beloved family and friends.

At times, we may feel called to invite others to join us for Adoration. I know I have, but since we are all at different points in our spiritual journey, we shouldn’t be discouraged if others don’t feel an immediate draw to pray in this manner. All in His time and in His way.

While a Holy Hour can be an amazing hour of tranquility and prayer, it can also be an hour of struggle and distraction. I’ve experienced both and you probably have too. Yet we know that God will work in us, even in our distraction and even in our falling asleep—as we are resting in His loving arms.

St. Therese of Lisieux urges us on. “Heaven for me is hidden in a little Host Where Jesus, my Spouse, is veiled for love. I go to that Divine Furnace to draw out life, And there my Sweet Savior listens to me night and day.”

He listens, He loves, He knows, He understands, He gives, and He delights in our presence and He will work in us interiorly even though His ways are mysterious to us.

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This gift of time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament can be a time to lay out the troubles of our lives to Him, a time to thank Him, to seek our life’s purpose in Him, to laugh and to cry with Him, and to just be with him. It is a joyful interlude of beloved friends.

Let us close with these words from St. Padre Pio: “A thousand years of enjoying human glory is not worth even an hour spent sweetly communing with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament."

May we rest in Him often,

Lori

Holiness in All Environments

It’s pretty easy to feel holy sitting peacefully in Church, whether at Holy Mass or in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, but it sure gets a lot harder once we walk out the door.

We are called to be holy, which means loving and serving God and our neighbor, in every environment, all the time. This is something the saints managed to do well by the end of their lives here on earth. We know from the stories of their lives that they struggled like we do. Only with God’s grace, aided by prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments, can we also hope to achieve this goal.

Can we be holy in our work environment?

Can we be holy in our work environment?

I realize that most of the time, it’s not the environment that challenges us most, but the people in that environment. Sometimes it’s the combination of the two, such as a person in the workplace who we simply don’t gel along with very well.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Some people come into your life as blessings and other people come into your life as lessons.”

I know this to be true in my life and maybe you do too.

Some people challenge us to grow in a virtue, such as patience, kindness or humility. The Blessed Mother is a beautiful guide for us here as we seek to grow in holiness; we can ponder in our hearts, as she did, all that is happening around us and our role in it.

Addressing our challenges head-on, no matter how small, with time and attention in prayer, and with gentleness toward ourselves and others, can go along way in helping us grow in holiness. Maybe you’re like me and you even laugh when you ponder a situation and suddenly realize how silly your behavior was at that moment. Sigh.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta encourages us onward, “God doesn’t require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.”

So we continue to strive for holiness with all people and in all environments; at home, at work, on the playing field, at church, at the grocery store, in the car … there is no time or place where we aren’t called to be holy.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “You have to be holy where you are – wherever God has put you.”

So we can’t give up or move away! We must call upon God often to help us turn these little scoundrels into sturdy strengths.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s words light the way, “Nothing can make me holy except the presence of God, and to me, the presence of God is fidelity to small things. Fidelity to small things will lead you to Christ. Infidelity to small things will lead you to sin.”

St. Catherine of Siena

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Have you ever had a saint burst into your life and you’re not sure why? St. Catherine of Siena has been pursuing me recently, so I became inspired to look more closely at her life and teachings.

I am a convert who has been Catholic for 32 years and I continue to be amazed at the lives of the saints and how we can develop such personal relationships with them. The saints watch over us and assist us when we call on them. They are our heavenly friends who teach us and intercede for us at different times in our lives and stand along side us on our march toward heaven.

St. Catherine of Siena is a doctor of the Church, canonized in 1461, and she is a patroness of Italy and Europe. She was a third order Dominican who lived to the age of 33. She was a spiritual guide to many, and in the words of Pope Benedict, “guided  people from every walk of life: nobles and politicians, artists and ordinary people, consecrated men and women and religious, including Pope Gregory XI who was living at Avignon in that period and whom she energetically and effectively urged to return to Rome.”

She had a profound “mystical marriage” to Christ whom she loved with intimate faithfulness. She is one of a small group of saints who Pope Benedict identified as having an extraordinary devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

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I feel connected to St. Catherine in many ways; I admire her directness and the poignant simplicity in her words inspired by her love of Christ and her understanding of the spiritual life. “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.”

It’s funny how sentiments from centuries ago resonate in our times. “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.” 

Her words inspire me to deeper reflection with Lectio Divina.“All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’”

Just as our friendships with certain people seem to start almost naturally, and can feel like we’ve known them forever, our friendships with saints can happen in the same way. 

During this month of All Saints, St. Catherine nudged me along as she became our Walking with Purpose table name. I discovered that was the saint in a small image that I had in my kitchen (who I mistakenly thought was St. Teresa of Avila until a friend cleared that up!) St. Catherine’s reflections jumped off the page as I was preparing SoulCore Rosary meditations for All Souls Day. And I am blessed to lead SoulCore at, where else but, St. Catharine of Siena Catholic Church.

I continue to pray for this amazing saint’s intercession to help me stay centered on Christ, to be courageous in speaking the truth and guiding others to Christ with humility. May we all open our  hearts to this saint, friend and “coach” as we seek to discern and live out the mission Christ has in mind for each of us.

Changes in Our Spiritual Lives

I’m writing to you from the dock on our backyard pond and I am contemplating change. While it feels like a mid summer day, it is fall, and change is in the air. Leaves are landing all around me and the wind and sun’s warmth on my face is intoxicating. This spot in nature is where I pray the Rosary, talk to Mary and Jesus, wait and listen for God to prepare me for the day.

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As I reflect on the beauty of God’s creation, I feel a rush of uncertainty in the change of seasons. While I tell my friends that I like change, I know that with change comes new responsibilities. With the advent of fall, the fireplace needs cleaned, firewood ordered and stacked and gardens and porches cleaned and prepared for winter.

Isn’t it the same in our spiritual lives? Change can be seasonal, constant, comfortable, unpredictable or a little of all of these. As we head into the winter months, we might have a tinge of excitement about change and our plan to start a new spiritual book, begin a bible study or make a retreat.

It’s funny … at the gym, my students tell me one of the things they like most about how we exercise is that it’s never the same. It may feel that way, but there is a consistent structure, and while the tools and movements vary, the change has a pattern that is familiar and comfortable to them … so there isn’t as much change as they think.

Similarly our spiritual lives may change in the way we feel called pray, but we have the sturdy anchor of the Holy Mass, Eucharistic Adoration and perhaps a calling to pray the prayers of the Catholic Church, such as the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The Church and our parishes give us a sturdy structure, along with other constantly changing ways to grow in our faith no matter where we are on our spiritual journey. 

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When I contemplate change, I think of the Blessed Mother and her preparation for the birth of her Son who would change the world forever. Change must have been on her mind on her long journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also expecting a son, John the Baptist. She must of known that her life would be one of constant change, but with the sturdy structure of uniting her will to the will of the Father. May her example inspire us to stay strong in our faith amidst the changes in our lives.

Let us pray: Blessed Mother, you give us the perfect example of embracing change according to God’s will for your life. We pray to imitate your surrender to God’s plan for our lives with joy, trust, and patient perseverance. Amen.

How Much is Enough?

When it comes to exercise, the general train of thought is that more is better. Sometimes my first task as a fitness coach is to gently move people to a new way of thinking that developing quality technique is more productive that doing lots of work without careful attention to how the body is moving and recovering.

Most people are exercising for general fitness and overall health for life and sport. Even when they are training for a specific event, such as an obstacle course race or a marathon, focusing on the quality of training, rather than the quantity, is essential to prevent injury and ensure they are well prepared.

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I was reminded recently, in a conversation with a friend, that sometimes we have the same view of our prayer lives … that more is better. That may not always be the case.

If we set a goal of a specific quantity of prayer, rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us as to what and how to pray, we might not even start, or if we do, we might rush through without any heartfelt contemplation at all.

We might be expecting too much from ourselves based on our vocation and especially with our full lives serving family, community and our employer— which, with the proper intention, are also forms of prayer.

Asking the Holy Spirit to guide our prayer lives and coach us on how to pray can be freeing and spiritually productive — without a time element. So we start by setting aside a little time and space, in our schedule and in our hearts, and trust that the Spirit will move us to pray in the way he desires us to pray.

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St. Teresa of Avila said, “Much more is accomplished by a single word of the Our Father said, now and then, from our heart, than by the whole prayer repeated many times in haste and without attention.”

What if it isn’t clear how we should pray? 

We can stop, listen and have an openness to the gentle movement of the heart to pray, for example, a fervent decade of the Rosary for a family member. Maybe later in the day the Holy Spirit will prompt us to pray another decade. We may have a lunch date cancel and we have a desire to attend noon Mass. We might comfort a suffering friend with spontaneous prayer. We can pray the Gospel for that day in a few minutes at bedtime. The possibilities are endless and the Holy Spirit might just surprise us!

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I know that each of us have had ‘God instances’ when we asked for help with time to pray and get everything else done too. Then we look back over the day and see how Our Lady and her Son worked it out all in a way that we could never have imagined.

St. John Vianney reminds us that prayer is love rather than an item on a checklist. “Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself.” With that thought in mind, let us pray with joy and confidence in the way the Holy Spirit is individually and intimately moving each of us.

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