The World's Greatest Coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Peter the Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conversion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wideness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adele Brise

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

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

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

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

The Great Fire

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

The National Shrine Today

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

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

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

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

Haste Does't Always Make Waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus and Our Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astonishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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