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St. Catherine of Siena

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80), a one of only three  women who have the title Doctor of the Church.  Over the summer, I picked up a biography of this great saint entitled The Road To Siena written by Edmund Gardener.  I’ll leave it to you to find out more about Catherine.  I just wanted to bring her up because, as I learned through reading this biography, she was one tough person who rose above the difficulties of her time and became a shining example of holiness.

Sometimes, actually, I think most of the time, every generation thinks that they have it worse than another other age.  We wonder how we will ever survive, yet alone thrive through whatever comes our way.  Reading the story of St. Catherine reminded me that we have been through worse times.  Catherine lived in a time of plague, heresies, schisms, object poverty and absolute decadence.  Sinful behavior seemed to reign.  In the end, though, people like St. Catherine kept it together, calling people to task, challenging those in power at the time to live for holiness.  Her forceful voice remains with us today, and her words speak to our time.  Maybe Pope Paul VI had this in mind when, in 1970, he declared her the first woman Doctor of the Church.   Read up on her.  Ask for her intercession, for ourselves, and for our Church.

Ignatian Spirituality Mind Spirit

Fresh Start

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ve picked up on the fact that I enjoy sunrises.  I’m an early riser, and I love to sit on my back porch, coffee in hand and watch the dawn of a new day.  It’s worth the effort!

Yesterday, a young man I know started a new job.  I’ve been friends with Diego and his parents for almost fifteen years now, and  I guess you could say that I’ve become one of his mentors.  Like most twenty-somethings, he’s always got something going on in his life to talk about.

About four months ago, Diego quit his job in a huff.  The boss wasn’t the nicest person, and he had had enough.  Although he found another job quickly, it wasn’t exactly right either.  But he stuck with it, and it has paid off well for him.  A few weeks ago the owners asked him to become the manager of one of their busiest and nicest restaurants.  That’s a big complement for someone so young, but he’s got tremendous potential and they saw it.

He has been so excited over the last few weeks, talking about all his big plans.  I have really enjoyed those many conversations, since over the years, working in the same job, it’s been easy to fall into the trap of mediocrity.  Why change, if its already working? If you’re creeping up into middle age, I’m sure you can relate.

Just listening to this young man share his dreams and hopes has gotten me dreaming and hoping again.  His fresh start, which began with such excitement yesterday, has got me thinking about some fresh starts I need to make in my own life.

No matter what we do, or how old we are, the new day always provides us with the potential of change.  When Diego called yesterday morning, asking if he could stop by on the way to his new job, I said of course.

He pulled up and almost jumped out of the car.  He looked great, dressed in clothes he had purchased the night before.  He was ready to conquer the world.  What a joy it was to share a few minutes with him, and what a blessing that he thought to spend some this with me.   When I walked back to my office, I had a little extra bounce in my step.  Happiness can be contagious, can’t it?

Body Ignatian Spirituality Mind Spirit

Time to get moving

Probably like you, I’m on several email subscription lists.  Just about every day I receive an email from John Eldridge, and they contain some quote from one of his many great books.  I thought today’s quote from his book, Sacred Romance was a great one to share:

Journey or Homestead?

Every great story involves a quest. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins ran from the door at a quarter till eleven without even so much as a pocket handkerchief and launched on an adventure that would change his life forever. Alice stepped through the looking glass into Wonderland; Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter stumbled through the wardrobe into Narnia. Abraham left his country, his people, and his father’s household to follow the most outlandish sort of promise from a God he’d only just met, and he never came back. Jacob and his sons went to Egypt for some groceries and four hundred years later the Israel nation pulled up stakes and headed for home. Peter, Andrew, James, and John all turned on a dime one day to follow the Master, their fishing nets heaped in wet piles behind them. The Sacred Romance involves for every soul a journey of heroic proportions. And while it may require for some a change of geography, for every soul it means a journey of the heart.

The choice before us now is to journey or to homestead, to live like Abraham, the friend of God, or like Robinson Crusoe, the lost soul cobbling together some sort of existence with whatever he can salvage from the wreckage of the world. Crusoe was no pilgrim; he was a survivor, hunkered down for the duration. He lived in a very, very small world where he was the lead character and all else found its focus in him. Of course, to be fair, Crusoe was stranded on an island with little hope of rescue. We have been rescued, but still the choice is ours to stay in our small stories, clutching our household gods and false lovers, or to run in search of life.

I don’t know about you, but I think the time has come for all of us to make that leap of faith and run towards the prize that St. Paul speaks about.  It’s time to hop on the bridge that will take us somewhere new…

Ignatian Spirituality Spirit

God’s Grandeur

Through my silent retreats and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I was introduced to the writings of a Jesuit poet named Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Fr.Hopkins (1844-1889) was born into an Anglican family, but later converted to Catholicism and later entered the Society of Jesus.

As I was out walking today, I realized that the heavy scent of all the neighborhood lilac bushes has started to fade.  For about two weeks, the beautiful fragrance was almost overpowering.  Those of us with sinus problems had a time of it.  I suffer from all the pollen during these days, but I am open to getting a headache over breathing in all the spring scents.

Well, this transition of the lilacs made me remember one of Hopkins’ most famous poems entitled God’s Grandeur. The poem is a reminder that nature is constantly changing, that God is moving, watching over all, looking around to see what’s blooming next, wondering where the next rainbow will appear.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed.  Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

and all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell:

the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

All, for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last nights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward,

springs –

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright


It is exciting to see what tomorrow will bring in this ever-changing rhythm of nature.  What scents will we smell?  Will we recognize it is all a Gift?

Ignatian Spirituality Mind Spirit

Where the wind has blown

Today has been a day of recollection.  As I enter my last week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I’m to review my journal and look for ideas/concepts/situations that remind me of how God has been moving in my life over the last 30+ weeks.

I hardly got through my first entry written on  September 23rd, 2009, when I acknowledged just how present God has been to me throughout this time. As I flipped through the many pages of these daily entries, I was struck by the fact that this has been the first time I’ve really stuck with the task of journalling.  I’m grateful that I’ll always have a record of all these many, many experiences, and I’m hoping that I’ll keep with it.  I guess in some sense, this blog will also fulfill the role of a daily journal, but now I get to share my experiences with you 🙂

Through my reading of my journal, I was also reflecting on how much more disciplined I’ve become over the last several months.  I’m a procrastinator by nature, I guess, although I do have pretty good follow-through once I start something.  But you have to be disciplined if you want to get something out of this great legacy of St. Ignatius.

When he penned the Spiritual Exercises in the 1500’s, Ignatius was writing as a layman, and he intended the exercises for laypeople.  Only later did he form the group that would eventually become the Society of Jesus.

There are two main ways to complete the exercises as Ignatius intended.  The first way is to do a 30 day silent retreat, done with the help of a spiritual director.  The second way, which is how I am doing them, is called the 19th Annotation, and is usually done over the span of 34 weeks.  It can be done one on one with a spiritual director/guide or it can be done in a group setting.   For those who are adventurous, it can even be done online through Creighton  University.

I’ll be writing a lot more about the exercises in upcoming daily blogs, and may even create a separate page so as to do them justice.

I leave you with these words from the autobiography of St. Ignatius, entitled, A Pilgrim’s Journey.  He was writing about himself when he wrote,

He was astonished at these changes, which he had never before experienced, and said to himself, “What kind of life is this that we are now beginning?”

So, as St. Ignatius points out, the end of the Exercises marks a new beginning.  Where will the Wind take us?


Tomato Time

First thing tomorrow morning, I’m heading up to a big nursery in Maryland called Valley View Farms.  They carry over thirty varieties of tomatoes, along with an unbelievable amount of veggie plants and seeds.

I was telling my friend Brian about my annual pilgrimage, and he asked to join me.  He already has some tomatoes planted. Maybe he’s planning a little friendly competition?

At least four plants will go into the earth boxes my brother gave me a couple of Christmas’ ago.  The info sheet that came with the boxes said that, if you followed all their instructions exactly, you would get a record crop, and that I did.  I was giving tomatoes away left and right.  Now that I’m doing a lot more cooking, my hope is that this year I would try my hand at doing some home canning.  I can already taste the little red gems, right from the mason jar, along with garlic and basil.  I’ll be remembering summer straight past New Year’s.

Well, that’s a good goal to have at least.  I want to put a lot of veggie seeds in soon as well.  Our last frost date around here  generally occurs the first week of May.  Only days from now!    Pictures of the crop will be forthcoming.  What are you going to plant?

Gardening Ignatian Spirituality Spirit

Earth Day

I wish we could have sat together today under the pergola.  The warm air was heavy with the scent of lilacs.  We have Hans and Mary to thank for this one, planted years ago and still going strong.  I’ve added my own to the mix, a white one on the side of the house. Will the people who come after me know my name, or why I planted a white one?

Yesterday, a dvd from Netflix arrived in the mail. It was the second part to Ken Burns’ documentary on the National Park System.  What a master film maker!  It was ironic that it would arrive on the eve of Earth Day.

As I watched, I realized what a debt of gratitude we owe to people like Teddy Roosevelt.  What would have been lost had he not taken a little trip out west in his youth, and who one day had the power to stop a destruction that could have never been reversed.

We also need to thank the people who have cared for the land, who planted the trees, designed the gardens and parks we enjoy.  What would Central Park be had it not been for Olmstead?  Descanso Gardens without Boddy?  We have lots of people to thank for giving us the pleasure of experiencing the joy that comes from nature. Most of all, thanks to the Master Himself, who created it all, and called it good.

All of earth is crammed with heaven

And every bush a flame with God

But only those who see take off their shoes.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Ignatian Spirituality Mind Spirit

Time With Friends

Yesterday, some elderly friends of mine returned to Maryland after spending the winter in Florida.  This year, it was cold down there for much of the time, and they were excited to come north.

I’ve known this couple for nearly twenty years, and they are faithful friends. I have watched them grow old, and now they are beginning to struggle with their health.  Their friends are dying off, several this winter while they were away.  They didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.

I know from them and other people I’m close to, its hard to get old, to not be able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, to slowly lose control.  As I was driving home, I was thinking about the passage from John’s gospel, where Jesus says to Peter, “when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you are old, someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). I guess Jesus wasn’t just talking to Peter, but to all of us. It will happen. The important thing, I think, is what we do with it.

My friends continue to be as active as they can, take care of their sickly neighbors, and keep a positive attitude.  When I told them I was bringing over Lentil soup, they were genuinely excited to try it.  They know I’m trying to eat healthier, and they are too.  They loved the soup, especially on a cold rainy day like it was here in Maryland.

Just about everyone I know is trying to get healthier, especially focusing on what they eat.  I’m finding it so much more fun to do it with the people I care about most, whether it’s in person, on the phone, or through this blog.


Catching Up

I took a little time off from work yesterday in an attempt to catch up on some personal things.  The grass growing season is in full swing.  Having been cut just four days before, it was already time for the next trim. The first round of edging was needed, along with some general clean-up.  As I was racing through the yard, I stopped to see how beautiful this little Bleeding Heart’s (Dicentra) pendulous flower sprays were.

Like all good things, these early spring blossoms will come and go.  Time keeps moving, and the next things to bloom are just forming their buds. It is good to be alive in springtime, and what a gift it is to have eyes that can see, noses that can smell the fragrance, ears that can hear the birds.  We are so blessed.

I am in the last days of my 34 week retreat based upon the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  After cleaning up around the house and garden, I just sat for awhile in my back yard.  It’s a time for reflection.  As I was flipping through the pages of my journal that I’ve been keeping since I began the retreat, there were so many great thoughts, quotes, prayers that could/should be shared.  This one comes from a book entitled Spiritual Direction, written by Henri Nouwen,

Remember, you belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born, and you will be loved by God long after you die.

Your human lifetime, long or short, is only a part of your total life in God.  The length of time doesn’t matter.  Life is just an opportunity for you during a few years to say to God, “I love you too.”  (pg. 49)

Main Course Vegetarian

Mission Accomplished

This photo was taken last night at my house.  It’s a big bowl of Pasta Primavera, enough to feed about 10 people.  My five guests and I did a good job, but there was quite a bit left.  Leftovers for the next couple of days!

For those that didn’t read my earlier posts, this dinner was the first of many “sacred feasts” I hope to host once a month going forward.  The idea came to me in prayer, and my aim is to show people that its pretty easy to eat good, healthy food, minus the meat.  I’m not trying to convince people to become vegetarian, but rather just remind them that you can enjoy a good meal without meat.

I’m going to write more about the various courses I prepared in other posts, and today I want to talk about the Pasta Primavera.  First off, if you go to a “real” Italian cookbook from someone like Guiliano Bugialli, you won’t find a recipe for it.

The reason is that it was created in the 1970’s at a famous New York City restaurant. Customers kept asking for lighter and healthier food, and Pasta Primavera was born.  I decided to try it out since primavera means spring, and we’ve have a wonderful one so far, so it seemed fitting to celebrate the season with food!

Although the dish is a bit labor intensive, since all the vegetables have to be diced, I think it was worth it.  I was surprised that the recipe didn’t include garlic.  Brian, one of my guests, thought it was because of the zucchini and squash, whose delicate taste would have been overpowered if garlic had been added.  Makes sense.  Overall, a very successful dish, and perfect for a early spring dinner with good friends.

I served the pasta with a 2008 Vernaccia wine from La Mormoraia vineyards in San Gimignano, Italy.   To me, this pairing was good, but not great. I’m going to keep making this dish, and I’m going to keep searching for the perfect wine to go along with it.  Let me know if you have any suggestions.

You can find out how to make Pasta Primavera by clicking the recipe on the right. Enjoy!