Wideness

Wideness1.jpg

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.”

outstretched arms.jpg

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.




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.

catholic1.jpg

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.

living faith.jpg

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

January.jpg

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.

faith.jpg

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.

prayer1.jpg

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.

jesus-public-ministry.jpg

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."  

Jesus.jpg

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.

Thomas.jpg

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.

jesus-walks-with-two-disciples-GoodSalt-lfwas0746.jpg

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!”

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.

St Augustine.jpg

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

St. Catherine of Siena

St.-Catherine-of-Siena.jpg

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.

St-Catherine-of-Siena-2.png

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.

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.

ForMePrayerIsABurst St Therese.jpg

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.

st teresa of avila.jpg

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!

rosary.jpg

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.

St John Vianney.jpg

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.

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.

Wonderfully Made

Originally published in the Catholic Times, Jan. 31, 2016.

"I praise you because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!” Psalm 139:14.

This Scripture passage is on my mind a lot as I talk with people about ways to build new healthy habits in the new year.

The human body is an amazing gift from God. 

Sometimes, it can be easy to dwell on the things we don’t like about our physical bodies, and harder to be grateful for all that our bodies can do. The human body is amazing vessel for us to serve God and the people in our lives; to be his hands and feet in the world.

With 640 muscles, 600,000 miles of blood vessels, 300 million capillaries, 270 bones, and our incredibly complex brain, this magnificent gift is beyond comprehension. 

We can develop healthy habits to honor our body any time of the year. Here are 5 simple ways get started:

  • Move More - Prolonged periods of sitting can cause tightnesses in the back, legs, hips and shoulders. When we work at a computer, setting the alarm to remind us to get up and move every hour or so is invigorating! Moving our joints throughout the day and praising God for our ability to do so is a healthy practice. Mobilize the neck, shoulders, thoracic spine (middle back), elbows, wrists, fingers, hips, knees, ankles. Include your family in this fun activity.
     
  • Use Safe Technique - If we have a physical job, or enjoy physical hobbies, we should be careful how we move, reach, bend, lift, carry and stand with a load. We can use a hip hinge, for example, when we pick up something heavy off the floor, rather than shifting forward overloading our knees. Packing our shoulders and carrying heavy loads close to the body helps prevent harming the low back.
     
  • Flow 5 Minutes Every Day - 5 Minutes of gentle moving and stretching, and pairing this with our daily prayer time, is a great way get blood and nutrients flowing into your muscles and joints to prepare us mentally and physically for all that God is asking us to do that day.
     
  • Have Good Posture When Standing and Sitting - It is recommended to stand upright and align the ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles for good posture to help prevent tightnesses, asymmetries, pain and injury. This also improves breathing capacity and heart function. When sitting, think 'heart up to heaven' with an upward chest instead of hunching forward over a phone or computer. A posture correction can also be a 'God pause' that reminds us to offer up  a little prayer thanking God for the many blessings in our day..
     
  • Practice Getting Up and Down Off the Floor - This skill is vital to independent living and helps prevent falls. We can enlist the help of a movement coach or medical professional to safely practice this skill to build strength and confidence in our bodies.

Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for help in developing healthy habits, practicing good self-care and for a spirit of gratefulness for being wonderfully made in His image and likeness.

Always and Everywhere

Originally published in the Catholic Times, Feb. 28, 2106.

A few weeks ago, I had only one student for my evening strength class. I was a little disappointed that more people didn’t make it to class, even though I understand that work, traffic, family plans or simply being tired after working all day can make it hard for people to make it to class.

However, this turned out to be a great opportunity for me to work one-to-one with this student on his weight-lifting technique. 

I ended up training as well because it makes it more fun for the student, and it can be helpful, especially if the student is a visual learner.

We had a great time challenging each other to moving well and lifting strong. 

Our conversation shifted from training to a new topic when the student revealed a struggle he/she was having in daily life. I listened and offered encouraging words. I felt blessed to know this student who has been working to develop new healthy habits over the past few months. 

By the end of class, we were both feeling energized from talking, laughing and training.

As I was driving home, I said a little prayer for my student. Life can be hard and praying for each other is so powerful. I am really proud of my student’s progress inside and outside the gym; I prayed that this child of God will continue to be strong and active in his/her faith in daily life.

I started thinking about how God felt so present to me, through this student, in the gym while we were training. I am always a little surprised that God’s presence is so clear to me in my workplace -- in the middle of what I do every day.

But why not? God is always and everywhere -- which surely means he is where we are in the midst of our ordinary activities. How often do I miss seeing him because I am too busy? 

The one-to-one time with my student was an important reminder to me that God reaches us through the people and events in our daily lives just as powerfully as he does in our quiet prayer time. But if we are moving too fast, we’ll surely miss the little miracles.

I see in my neighbor the Person of Jesus Christ. - St. Gerard Majella