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!

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.

 

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.

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.

Perseverance

Perseverance is a virtue that helps us get something done despite difficulties.

When we begin to exercise, perseverance is vital because there is a lot of learning that isn’t easy and it takes time for the body to acclimate to new movements. Building a new habit of regular exercise, on certain days and times each week, also requires a commitment to good time management.

I admire people who have persevered in the habit of exercise over many years. It is exciting to see how physically strong they become; I especially enjoy hearing how their perseverance in exercise has helped them build positive changes in other areas of their lives. 

It’s not surprising that commitment to one healthy habit can contribute to the practice of other healthy habits, such as setting aside daily prayer and spiritual reading time. getting plenty of sleep, de-stressing and seeking life/work balance.

Perseverance is vital for a healthy spiritual life. 

We know that St. Teresa of Kolkata persevered in prayer and service to Christ, and to the body of Christ, despite years of darkness in her prayer life. We hear stories about many of our saintly brothers and sisters who persevered through spiritual and physical hardships so severe that their stories read like adventure novels. They inspire us and give us a exciting examples of spiritual and physical strength.

One of my favorite stories of perseverance from sacred Scripture is the ‘shipwrecked’ passage from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:24-26.

“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.”

We can pray for the grace to seize our St. Paul moments with hope and trust. Difficulties can shape and sharpen us when we look at them in light of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. Offering up our difficulties for the greater good, or for the good of someone we love, is a beautiful way to persevere through a hardship or challenge, no matter how severe.

May we aspire for the perseverance of St. Paul, 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Sport at the Service of the Spirit

Sport and physical culture can contribute to a better understanding of ourselves and our relationship with God and neighbor. The topic of sport has been addressed by many pontiffs including Pope Pius XII who made this statement entitled, Sport at the Service of the Spirit, July 29, 1945.

"Sport, properly directed, develops character, makes a man courageous, a generous loser, and a gracious victor; it refines the senses, gives intellectual penetration, and steels the will to endurance. It is not merely a physical development then. Sport, rightly understood, is an occupation of the whole man, and while perfecting the body as an instrument of the mind, it also makes the mind itself a more refined instrument for the search and communication of truth and helps man to achieve that end to which all others must be subservient, the service and praise of his Creator."

There are some phrases that stand out for me as someone who teaches physical skills to others and seeks to grow in holiness. I encourage you to pray about what stands out for you.

Courage: It takes courage to challenge the body and mind to explore new limits in a physical endeavor. Courage is also necessary to authentically live our Catholic faith in everyday life. Physical courage can help us develop the confidence to be courageous in living out our faith in the way God is calling us.

Gracious victor: It takes humility to be a gracious victor. Practicing humility in athletics can prepare our hearts and minds to be gracious, humble and hospitable to those people who challenge us at home, work and in our community.

Steels the will to endurance: Life on earth is a marathon, not a sprint. Learning to be physically strong can parallel our journey of growing spiritually strong. In both cases, we strive under the leadership of Jesus Christ who is with us in all endeavors. Cry out to the Holy Spirit for assistance when you, or your loved ones, are on the court, in the gym or pool, on the field, road, rink or trail.

Makes the mind itself a more refined instrument: One of the most powerful results of properly-directed physical activity is mental clarity. Physical activity can leave you feeling physically energized and mentally calm and clear-headed; this can help you focus in prayer, at work, and respond more patiently to the needs of others.

Service and praise of the Creator: If you are a faith-filled person who enjoys physical endeavors, you probably already praise God for the gift of your physical vitality. Ask him to guide you in caring for your body so you can continue to serve God and your neighbor with spiritual and physical vigor.

Community

I attended two beautiful weddings recently and this reminded me of the importance of our community of loved ones, both family and friends, that care, guide, challenge and support us through the everyday joys and challenges of life. Our community of loved ones is our front line, our village that is ready to do whatever we need whenever we need it.

It might seem like an odd comparison, but people join a gym to be part of a community too. They depend on the coach and other exercise enthusiasts with similar goals to guide, care, challenge and support them on their journey to improved health and strength. Some might have started out doing it on their own at home, then discovered that it can be more fun and rewarding to learn, practice and train in a group that pushes them to levels they might not explore or achieve on their own.

It’s the same with our spiritual lives. Our brothers and sisters in Christ guide, care, challenge and support us in different ways as we seek to grow closer to Jesus and to know him better. Those who know us best, and love us the most, are often how God speaks to us about the direction and priorities in our lives. 

In my own life, my husband Al has often been one who can help me discern whether something is my will or God’s will. It’s a gift to have those people in our lives who help us to stay on the road to holiness. The fewer detours the better!

Because we are generally social creatures, we may gravitate toward groups almost naturally in different areas of our lives — especially our spiritual lives. Sometimes it might be tempting to to stay safely enfolded in prayer in the quiet of our homes even when we know that praying in community, authentically sharing our spiritual struggles with others, learning from one another on retreats, and serving in ministry can be special opportunities for spiritual growth.

There is perhaps no one more more aware of our need for each other than St. Teresa of Calcutta. She enjoyed the company of her Sisters immensely. She spent private time in prayer daily before the Blessed Sacrament. She gave her life to public ministry. She reminds us that we’re all called to care for others, wherever we are in our lives, and it can be as simple as offering a smile and kind words:

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

Take a moment today to pray in gratitude for the communities you are part of and how they guide, care, challenge, support and love you.

Moderation and Consistency

I heard a priest say recently that he does three things every day: pray, celebrate Mass and exercise.

The first two are obvious, but why exercise? 

He wants to keep his body and mind strong and healthy so he can vigorously serve his flock. 

Exercise, when done moderately and consistently, can be a wonderful way to increase our physical and mental energy to be God’s hands and feet in the world. Since diocesan priests are serving their parish 24/7, good health and physical vigor is truly a blessing.

It’s funny that the word Moderation can sometimes feel counter-cultural.

A few years ago, I posted ‘Moderation and Consistency are the Keys to Fitness’ on the whiteboard at my gym. 

One of our gym members strongly disagreed with this sentiment. He told me it sounded weak. His philosophy was to go all out all the time. Unfortunately, he had many former injuries from extreme exercise so maintaining the habit of moderate and consistent exercise proved to be challenging for him and he ended up quitting altogether. 

Unfortunately, our go-go-go culture can make us feel that we must always do more and push harder.

There are circumstances where extreme physical preparation might be necessary, for example, in the military and in law enforcement where your job is to protect and save lives. However, the average person will benefit greatly from doing most activities with Moderation and Consistency.

The principles of Moderation and Consistency can guide our spiritual lives as well. 

While we may desire to pray silently at home every day for an hour, that might not be compatible with how God is calling us to serve in our vocation. We might not start to pray at all until we have a full hour — but if you are like me, that might not happen very often! We can become discouraged and stop praying altogether, so setting realistic expectations is key.

At my weekly Holy Hour last week, I was distracted. I had a hard time praying, reading or even really being present to the Lord. So much was going on in my mind about family and work. I know that God sees and loves our desire to pray even when we do it imperfectly, so we have to keep trying.

Like the priest I mentioned who prays, celebrates Mass, and exercises daily, we can greatly benefit from maintaining healthy habits, in a spirit of Moderation and Consistency, to serve God and the people God places in our lives.

Adventure

I believe that most people who walk into the gym have a bit of an adventurous spirit. They might not know it at first, but they soon discover many new things about themselves as they start to lift weights and move in new ways. 

Some gym members tell me they were a little unsure at first. Others say exercise has helped them get to know themselves better. More than a few have said they never dreamed they would be doing this and that they are excited to see what’s around the corner.

I am very grateful for my gym members who trust me to keep them safe and to teach them a new skill. Life is an adventure and learning a sport can be an exciting part of that adventure.

However, I believe that our faith journey, with Jesus as our guide, is the greatest adventure of all. 

Our Catholic faith is rich and deep and gives us the opportunity for a lifetime of learning about God, ourselves and serving others.

This adventure with Jesus doesn’t require us to travel to faraway lands. St. Therese of Lisieux wanted to visit all five continents to share God’s love with others, but illness and death at age 24 didn’t allow her to leave the convent. Her adventure centered around prayer and a desire to grow in holiness in her daily life. She is patron saint of missionaries.

From Story or a Soul: “For me, prayer is an upward leap of the heart, an untroubled glance towards heaven, a cry of gratitude and love which I utter from the depths of sorrow as well as from the heights of joy.”

Growing closer to Jesus is an exciting adventure that might make us feel like my gym members expressed: a little unsure at first, learning about ourselves, doing things we never dreamed of and excited about what’s around the corner.

We don’t know how our daily adventure with Jesus will unfold, but we trust in His love for us and we know He is right there with us. 

A friend recently told me that she thanks God for every part of her daily adventure with Him — from the gentleness of a summer morning, to time spent with loved ones and even for little conveniences in everyday life.

The pursuit of a God-centered life is an incredible adventure. We might not know what’s coming next, but through faith we know we are in good hands.

Guest Post: Spiritual Fitness by Lisa Marino

It doesn’t take a doctoral degree to understand the poor health of our nation. Most can cite the rising incidence of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, let alone those we know affected by cancer and stroke. Yet, St. Mother Theresa of Kolkata, in her pure and holy wisdom, diagnosed the chief cause in 1975: spiritual poverty. 

“You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is.

“What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”

Can you imagine? A simple woman living amongst the outcasts of society and the deathly ill for over 50 years. Sum up every cry she has heard, every wound she has touched, and every illness she has nursed and it still doesn’t even touch the sickness of our souls in the Western world. She once said, “It was easier to deal with poverty and death in India than the lack of spirituality in America.” 

I have no doubt most of you here are working towards a fitness or health goal- awesome! Keep it up! Always remember our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and we are made to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor 6: 19-20).  Being physically fit gives us the energy to work, to care for our family and friends, and to share the Good News with vigor.

So my question for you becomes: How much do you work out your soul? Not that this can be quantified by time or reps, but how is your living relationship with God? Have you stretched yourself to remain devoted to prayer, Eucharistic adoration, daily mass, confession, or a bible study? Spiritual fitness requires daily training even more than diet and exercise demand of us. 

The fruits of being physically fit are obvious: health, energy, confidence, and must I say appearance. The fruits of being spiritually fit are a bit more elusive. Yet I would argue they are infinitely more desirable than we care to admit: happiness, hope, mercy, love, purity, obedience, and peace to name just a few. Our souls are made to be refined like gold by fire, taking “feel the burn” to a whole new level (1 Peter 1:7). For the true journey we are on, my friends, is to be fit for heaven. 

Lisa Marino, PT, DPT

Peace

I sometimes wonder what it would be like if it was normal in our culture to greet each other with, “Peace be with you!” instead of our standard, “Hi, how are you?”

It would be a wonderful reminder that Christ’s peace is always available to us and that we can offer Christ’s peace to others any time.

In Matthew 8:23-27, we hear the story of the storm that rocked the boat that contained the disciples and the sleeping Jesus. The disciples became frightened and awoke Jesus in a state of panic. Jesus reminded them to trust and assured them that God cares for all their needs — even if it isn’t in the way we expect or according to our timeline.

Truly turning our lives over to God requires a child-like trust that He will care for all of our needs, big and small.

Each of us will face periods of calm and storms in our lives. We can pray for the grace to be peaceful and remain trusting in God’s providence and fatherly care in good times and in hard times.

I remember a friend telling me a story about traveling to Italy and having her purse stolen in the airport as she prepared to return home. She said she thanked God for this and then went on to deal with the problem of having no passport— lots of time and inconvenience to be sure!

I was struck by her comment that she thanked God first! Of course she was not happy about the situation, but she remained calm, prayerful and trusted that somehow she would get home. She attended to the details that were required of her because trust in God doesn’t mean that we sit back, wait, and do nothing. She knew that Jesus was there with her and she did eventually return home.

Remaining peaceful in the midst of trying circumstances might not be easy, but as people of faith, we are equipped to persevere. We know that Jesus does not abandon us and His friendship brings us a peace that is not of this world.

Peace be with you!

Strength

Originally published in The Catholic Times, June, 2016.

Variations of the word ‘strength’ appear hundreds of times in the bible. I am especially moved when I read Scripture or hear the word ‘strength’ mentioned during the readings at Mass. References to strength move me to go deeper into prayer and reflection.

Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and he helps me.

The type of strength that I teach at the gym is physical strength, which is fleeting. I know that the strength that matters is the strength we receive in our relationship with God. Allowing His strength, which is love, to fill us up and then flow out of us in service to others is what we are called to do as Christians.

How many times a day do we remind ourselves that God is our true strength and that we can rely on Him in everything? We may know intellectually that His strength is always there for us, but how often do we actually ask for it?

Sometimes it’s difficult to discern when we are relying on God’s strength, by cooperating with His grace, and when we are relying on our own strength. Since we are free to cooperate (or not) with God’s will, there are probably times when we miss the signs that point in the direction God desires for us. His generous love for us means that even in our missteps, He is still there offering us His strength and guidance.

References to God’s strength in Scripture sometimes sound like we are preparing for battle — which we are — the battle for souls, the battle against evil, the battle to stay on our daily walk with Him.

Psalm 18:32 It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.

St. Paul the Apostle gained his spiritual strength from God. Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.

St. Paul also reminds us that we need our brothers and sisters in Christ on this journey. For St. Paul, it was Sts. Timothy and Titus. 

Who is it your life? Maybe this is a good time to reconnect and strengthen friendships with other Christians who rely on God’s strength in their daily lives so you can help each other.

In closing, I offer you St. Paul’s encouraging words:

1 Corinthians 16:13 Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.

Humility and Confidence

St. Teresa of Calcutta is the epitome of humility and confidence to be His hands and feet in the world..

St. Teresa of Calcutta is the epitome of humility and confidence to be His hands and feet in the world..

I begin this column asking the Holy Spirit to guide me; the topic of humility and confidence is currently on my heart, so I will share my thoughts with you.

We might view humility and confidence as opposites, but when we look at this through the eyes of faith, we see they work beautifully together in our lives of service to others.

By remaining close to Jesus in prayer, receiving the Sacraments, and asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that our gifts and talents, and even our desire to serve others, flows from our relationship with Jesus. All that we have is meant to be shared. We know that it takes great humility to live this authentically.

If we are rooted in humility, we can move forward in confidence doing His will. He needs us to be bold to be His hands and feet in the world—each in our unique way.

Sometimes His plans for us are not clear, so we discern the best we can and move forward with small steps. Acting with humility means we are willing to try, accept failure, adjust, and keep right on going!

I think about St. Paul’s confidence in Christ that resulted in him being shipwrecked, stoned, imprisoned, exiled, flogged, starved, nearly drowned, robbed, slandered and stripped. Yet he persevered, with confidence, in his mission to share the word of God with as many people as possible.

St. Paul’s humility in Philippians 2:3–5 is a beautiful reminder for all of us.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.

How do we know if we are acting with humility and confidence in our daily lives? If we are feeling peace and joy that is good sign. We may see positive fruits from our labors. We might know through prayer or through the words of those whom we serve.

Jesus needs us to serve with both humility and confidence, in our homes, churches, businesses and communities. Are you ready to answer His call to you?

Warmup or Workout?

Originally published in The Catholic Times, May, 2016.

People often ask me how to warm up and if warming up is really necessary before exercising. The answer is a resounding yes because it is important to stimulate and prepare the muscles before you challenge them to do intense work. 

There are many ways to warm up, but generally we prefer dynamic movement to get the entire body moving. Warmup also helps people tune in to how their body is feeling that day to help prevent tightnesses and injuries.

Typically, warmup flows naturally into the workout. Sometimes I am asked whether a movement is still part of warmup or if we’ve crossed into the workout. That makes me smile.

We lift the heaviest weight at the end of class when we are really warm and have slowly increased how much weight we are lifting. People think they will be stronger when they are fresh at the beginning of the workout. Surprisingly no. It is unsafe to attempt to lift heavy without a gentle progression of lifting heavier weights while listening to your body. 

Warming up is also necessary for us as followers of Jesus Christ. 

I consider a spiritual warmup to be some form of prayer and study. Listening and asking in prayer and reading the Word of God can help prepare our hearts and minds to know how Jesus is calling us to serve others and take action in our everyday lives.

I have found that without the spiritual warmup of prayer and study, it can be easy to get off course in our actions. Since God works so individually with us, there is no prescribed warmup. We can approach prayer and study by asking for guidance from the Holy Spirit, staying close to the Sacraments, and reading the Bible. We may also be inspired by other books, music, art, nature, and spending time with people who challenge us to be holy.

Warming up those spiritual muscles before taking action will hopefully increase our self-knowledge and direction. The spiritual warmup and workout should flow naturally in and out of each other with a balance of prayer, study and action.

This cycle should never stop. Ideally, we exercise our physical and spiritual muscles on a regular basis. We warm up and work out to challenge our muscles to get stronger to support our health. We warm up spiritually with prayer and study to prepare us to move into action by serving others in our homes, churches and communities.

Weaknesses

Originally published in the Catholic Times, April 24, 2016

One of my tasks as a strength coach is to help people identify physically weak areas of their bodies and then put them on the path to strengthening those weaknesses.

For example, single-leg balance is often challenging, but important to practice as this is helpful in daily life. We work on mobilizing the foot and ankle, activating the muscles in the leg that is off the ground, rooting the foot supporting the body, and so on, to increase stability and strength for improved balance.

As long as there is no medical issue, and with patient practice and good technique, balance typically improves. Where there was once weakness, there is now strength that can be developed further with more repetitions or by adding weight to the movement. 

Usually it’s more fun to work on movements we are already good at rather than addressing our weaknesses. That’s our human nature. But we’re only as strong as our weakest links. If we ignore our weak links, it can limit our development and even put us at risk for injury.

This is not unlike addressing weaknesses in our spiritual lives. Sometimes we are lucky enough to work with a spiritual director, who is a coach of sorts, to help identify, guide and strengthen us in those areas where we are weak, unsure or maybe even unaware that there is an issue in our spiritual lives.

Our spiritual weak links might be holding us back from a deeper relationship with Jesus and maybe even with our family and friends. It may make us hesitant to serve our Church, community, and those who are less fortunate than us. It may make us less open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives. We might miss the joy God desires for us.

We can ask God to show us how and where we can grow spiritually stronger. He may show us in surprising ways.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, waits patiently for us to ask, listen, and respond, each in our own way, to what He is calling us to do. We know that He loves us beyond measure, even with all of our weaknesses. Our most generous God can turn our weaknesses into strengths when we cooperate with His will.

Lord, grant me the humility to see where I am weak and help me to cooperate with your grace so that I can grow into the person you have created me to be. Amen.