St. Peter the Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conversion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!”

The Present Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Simplifying our Lives for Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Slippery Slope of Sloth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some closing thoughts for staving off sloth:

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

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

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

St. Catherine of Siena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changes in Our Spiritual Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much is Enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interior Focus

One of the aspects of strength training that I really enjoy is executing a heavy barbell or kettlebell lift with careful, thoughtful, methodical precision. You are interiorly focused, especially if the weight you are lifting is near your maximum effort. You are not talking or laughing or thinking about what you have to do later that day. For that moment, you are laser-focused on the lift. You apply patient perseverance and trust your body to make a go at cracking the bar off the floor or heaving weight overhead.

Thinking, feeling, moving mindfully, and with perfect technique can be challenging especially if you haven’t developed an interior focus. New students often comment that the hardest part of lifting weights is the ability to think, feel and concentrate without distraction.

It can be like that in our prayer life as well. We might not be used to sitting in silence, interiorly focused, and waiting patiently for God to speak to us in our hearts. If we are able to quiet the mind, and ease out distractions, speaking to God and listening can be a transformative time of prayer.

Yet for many of us, that silent interior focus can be elusive.

So when I heard that Robert Cardinal Sarah, with Nicolas Diat, had written a book about silence, I felt drawn to it immediately. While I seek silence to pray, I often fight restlessness, so I sought inspiration and insight from Cardinal Sarah’s book, The Power of Silence. A sample:

“Without the moorings of silence, life is a depressing movement, a puny little boat, ceaselessly tossed by the violence of the waves. Silence is the outer wall that we must build in order to protect an interior ediface.” (pg. 68, paragraph 112)

This topic of silence and deeper interior focus is critical to a strong contemplative prayer life to grow closer to our Lord and illuminate God’s will for our lives. 

You probably agree that spending time in silence is counter-cultural; more than ever it can be challenging to find silence even in our own homes. Cardinal Sarah refers to this as the dictatorship of noise.

Back to our lifting example … when we lift heavy weights, the muscle fibers in our bodies change, grow and and over time we become physically stronger. We may not see the changes right away, but we know it’s happening as we progress to heavier weights. 

Similarly, our time in prayerful silence transforms our hearts even when we don't immediately see changes or feel any different. We trust that God’s grace is at work in us and that over time a strong interior prayer life will yield sweet fruit in our lives.

June is Devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The month of June is devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque is recognized as the saint associated with the Sacred Heart of Jesus due to her private revelations in 1673-1675. She responded to Jesus by promoting the Feast Day of the Sacred Heart, First Friday devotions, and the Holy Hour of Reparation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 478) states that Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony and his Passion, and gave himself up for each one of us: "The Son of God. . . loved me and gave himself for me." He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, "is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that. . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings" without exception.

When I contemplate the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the beautiful statue in our Church, I am reminded that he is constantly pouring out his grace to us to strengthen and guide us. With the present day challenges, turning to devotion to Sacred Heart of Jesus can comfort us and prepare us for what lies ahead in our lives.

When Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will rest, for My yoke is easy and My burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30) he is truly calling us to share in his love … love poured from his Most Sacred Heart and we are called to respond to his love by building a loving relationship with him and with our neighbor.

We recently enthroned our home to the the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary. This a beautiful and way to bring Jesus and Mary into our hearts in a new and special way to receive his grace. Visit www.sacredheartcolumbus.org for information about home enthronement.

The Sacred Heart Feast Day is June 23 and here is a beautiful prayer to the Sacred Heart:

O most holy heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore you, I love you, and with lively sorrow for my sins I offer you this poor heart of mine. Make me humble, patient, pure and wholly obedient to your will. Grant, Good Jesus, that I may live in you and for you. Protect me in the midst of danger. Comfort me in my afflictions. Give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, your blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death. Amen.

Living the Gospel in Athletics

St. John Paul II welcomed and addressed sports teams at athletic events all over the world throughout his many years as pope.

His words inspire and remind us that in athletics, as in every area of our lives, we are called to live the Gospel message. There is no ‘time off’ from being a Christian or trying to grow in virtue.

“Every Christian is called to become a strong athlete of Christ, that is, a faithful and courageous witness to his Gospel.” -St. John Paul II

He viewed the playing field as an opportunity for educational and spiritual growth that helps to “build a more fraternal and united world; sport which contributes to the love of life, teaches sacrifice, respect and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person.” -St. John Paul II

We learn a lot about ourselves in any athletic activity, whether recreational or competitive. The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, is a gift that is to be respected body, mind and soul.

“Every care must be taken to protect the human body from any attack on its integrity, from any exploitation and from any idolatry.” - St. John Paul II

In a 2004 address, St. John Paul II reminds us that the playing field is a place to grow virtue. 

“The Christian can find sports helpful for developing the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance in the race for the wreath that is “imperishable,” as St. Paul writes.”

His words of encouragement to athletes often center on being a joyful, virtuous and humble role model who leads others by example. 

“I believe that we do not err to recognize in you this potential for civic and Christian virtues. In a world in which we often painfully recognize the presence of youth who are lifeless, marked by sadness and negative experiences, you can be for them, wise friends, expert guides and coaches, not only on the playing field, but also along those paths that lead to a finish line of the true values of life.” -St. John Paul II

By keeping the role of sport in the proper perspective, we can, as St. Paul said, "Glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:20).

“The body, according to Christian concept, deserves due interest, real respect, loving and wise care, invested as it is with natural dignity, capable of a mysterious sacrality and destined to ultimate victory over death itself, as our faith teaches us.” -St. John Paul II

My Journey to SoulCore

Some of us enjoy being physically active for recreation and some also enjoy combining prayer and physical movement. Walking or running while praying the Rosary is a popular practice, but it’s not one I was ever able to do well. I also tried to pray between sets of lifting weights … and that led me to look for a method of praying the Rosary with gentle movement.

I discovered SoulCore and attended a SoulCore Prayer Leader Retreat and discerned a call to share SoulCore with others. SoulCore is gentle stretching, strengthening and movement (not yoga) done while praying the Rosary. We reflect on the fruits/ virtues of each Mystery with Sacred Scripture passages and wisdom from the saints. 

As it turns out, the Hail Mary prayer is the ideal amount of time to hold a stretch or to move in and out of a position, such as a squat or single-leg balance hold. Praying the Our Father prayer during planks or pushups is an excellent body and soul offering because it’s challenging!

Auspice Maria ... Under the Protection of Mary

Auspice Maria ... Under the Protection of Mary

Exercise helps strengthen the body and settle the mind and heart in prayer and is a beautiful physical and spiritual offering to Jesus through Mary. 

Praying this way feels natural to me as our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit that should be celebrated with joy, gratefulness and gentleness. Being made in the image and likeness of God, and honoring our bodies in this way, is refreshingly different from the methods of exercise in our secular culture.

As with any physical activity, there must be rest and recovery. With SoulCore, we pray a reflection for each Mystery, while in a quiet and reverent position, where we can reflect on the Mystery, the life of Christ and his great love for us.

I will close with this beautiful message about our bodies from St. John Bosco:

"Health is God’s great gift, and we must spend it entirely for Him. Our eyes should see only for God, our feet walk only for Him, our hands labor for Him alone; in short, our entire body should serve God while we still have the time. Then, when He shall take our health and we shall near our last day, our conscience will not reproach us for having misused it.”

The Lost Sheep

The group of adults who I have the privilege of teaching to use kettlebells vary in their athletic backgrounds. Some people pick up the skill of lifting heavy things very quickly. Most students make steady progress over time. Every now and then someone really struggles to learn to move well for a variety of reasons.

I find the greatest joy in helping that struggling student progress. The student has to first have the courage to start, then the persistence to persevere and practice, and finally the patience to allow their bodies to adapt to the movement over time.

We have a supportive, non-competitive gym environment, but it can still be tough when you feel like you’re the only who isn't getting it in the group.

So that student is the one who makes my day when they step up to a challenge or improve in a weak area. That one improvement is more exciting to me than if the entire group lifted heavier than they ever did before. That one student is the one my husband will hear about when we have dinner together that evening.

That may be why one of my favorite Scripture passages is Luke 15 3-7 about the one lost sheep.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

An interesting thing about the one lost sheep in the gym is that the other sheep also rejoice when that person makes progress. They might even applaud that person. Before you know it, that lost sheep might inspire others to accept new challenges or to develop a new spirit of gratitude for what their bodies can do.

Aren’t we all lost sheep at some point in our lives, whether spiritually, physically, emotionally or intellectually? Aren’t we happy when someone notices and comes after us to help us?

We can ask the Holy Spirit to show us who needs us and how we can help. One person, powered by God’s grace, can do great things to help another.

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” ~St Teresa of Calcutta

Prayer Tracking

Wearable fitness trackers measure heart rate, number of steps, sleep patterns and the variety and intensity of exercise. These are popular and the information can be useful in helping build new healthy habits.

While this tool can make a difference in how much we exercise, and our approach to exercise, I like to take a break from technology when I’m exercising. 

In fact, I thrive on fitness freedom, and maybe you do too. 

Moving, lifting, and stretching is a sensory experience for me and a much-needed break from the phone, computer, iPad and television. I like the challenge of listening to my body and responding appropriately with varied movements and intensity without technology.

I like freedom in my prayer life as well.

There are plenty of books available about how to pray, methods to use to grow closer to God, and at certain points in our lives, those resources can be helpful, if not critical. But we know from Scripture, and wisdom of the saints, that methods of prayer are secondary to simply giving time to the Lord in prayer to grow in a loving friendship with him.

Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything. ~St. Theresa of Avila

How we feel called to pray can vary and the freedom to pray any way we’d like, anytime and anywhere, is a beautiful gift that reminds me just how personally God works with us.

While I’m not a fan of fitness trackers, I think it would be interesting to track how many times a day we think about God,  pray, read holy books, mediate on Scripture, pray the Rosary, offer an action or sacrifice to God, make a change in behavior due to a prompting from the Holy Spirit, fast, or give alms.

We are called to pray unceasingly, and even our desire to pray pleases God, so it would be interesting to see just how much time we spend with God daily compared to the other activities in our lives. Unlike fitness tracking, this type of information could be life-changing! So let's make prayer a priority in our daily lives.

Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love. ~St. Theresa of Avila

Prayer: The Keystone Habit

Time is a precious commodity especially during the Christmas season. I hear people say that their busy lives don’t allow them time to exercise.

It’s the same with our prayer lives. We may have the desire to pray, but we don’t know how to get started, we can’t seem to find time in our daily schedule, or people and activities seem to zap our time and energy.

Now is the time for us to dig deep, flex those spiritual muscles, and make time for prayer as a top-priority, healthy habit for the New Year.

Do you think ofprayer as a healthy habit? Do you consider prayer the most transformational habit in your life? 

Giving God time in prayer not only deepens our relationship with him, but helps us grow in virtue and can help us reorder our lives—and not just our spiritual lives, but every aspect of our lives.

In business training, we learned about the Keystone habits — these are are habits that lay the groundwork for developing even more practical habits that will ‘supercharge’ our lives and help us become ‘successful’ in business and in life. There are different lists out there, but here is a basic summary:

  1. Set goals
  2. Manage you time well
  3. Exercise
  4. Practice daily gratitude
  5. Learn a new skill

While these are effective habits, I would argue that Prayer is the Keystone habit that will lay the foundation for these five habits — and every other habit and activity in our lives. Through prayer, we learn to know ourselves better and to know ourselves through God. 

This enlightenment through prayer can change our behavior, clarify priorities, lead us to spending our free time in more meaningful ways, remove unhealthy attachments, connect us with people who inspire and encourage us, soften our hearts, bring us more peace, confidence, joy, love, wisdom, kindness, understanding, and so much more. 

The impact of prayer on our souls, and on the Body of Christ, is truly infinite!

“Give me a person of prayer, and such a one will be capable of accomplishing anything.”
~St. Vincent de Paul

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.