Holy Friendships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We're All in Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Mt 28: 19-2

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

Efficiency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Present Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Simplifying our Lives for Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Slippery Slope of Sloth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some closing thoughts for staving off sloth:

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

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

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

Our Great Need for Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we rest in Him often,

Lori

Holiness in All Environments

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

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

 Can we be holy in our work environment?

Can we be holy in our work environment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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