Inspiration Italy Prayer Travel

Fireworks and St. Francis

One year, I was leading a tour of Italy and we happened to be in Assisi for the 4th of July.  I had a bunch of teenagers with me, and they reminded me that they had never been away from the US on our Independence Day.  I knew I wasn’t going to find any fireworks, and I also realized that it wasn’t necessarily the place to whip out our American flags.

So, we did the next best thing.  We sat around in the piazza outside the doors of the Basilica of St. Francis, and prayed.  One person had speakers attached to his ipod, so we listened to some praise and worship music, praying and singing, as the sun went down.  It was a really beautiful and powerful prayer experience for me and my fellow travelers.

But what causes us to remember that evening is the fact that, as soon as the sun went down, somewhere on the opposite side of the valley below the Basilica, fireworks began shooting into the sky.  The display didn’t last long, but, as I recall, it was a good-sized display.   It had been like a miracle and we all stood there awestruck.  Then we laughed like crazy.

God wanted to give us a little gift that night, and He surely did.  I don’t think anyone on that trip mentioned being homesick again.  Our God is a God of miracles, some big and some small. No matter how bad things might seem, we can never lose sight of His love and care for us.


Bad Foods We Eat

I read this article today and thought it was good enough to share. Sorry to break the news to you.

There are no bad foods, right? Only food you should eat in moderation? Well, not really. The following foods are so bad for your body that there is not really any reason to eat them. Not only do they have zero nutritional value, but they also give your body a healthy dose of toxins, which should make the idea of eating them really hard to swallow.

1. Doughnuts

  • full of free radicals and trans fat (store-bought doughnuts contain 35-40 per cent trans fat)
  • high in sugar, nutrient-free and calorie-dense (an average doughnut contains about 200-300 calories, mostly from sugar, and few other nutrients)
  • full of white flour (in most varieties)

2. Soda

  • high in sugar (one can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar – 150 calories)
  • high in caffeine (30-55 mg of caffeine per one can of soda)
  • loaded with artificial food colors and sulphites
  • filled with harmful artificial sweeteners and sulphites
  • no nutritional value
  • studies have linked soda to bone weakening, obesity, tooth decay and heart disease
  • there is a thought that consumption of diet soda stimulates people to crave sugary foods, supporting a recent study that found that people who were more likely to drink diet soda were obese
  • diet soda should never replace water or milk as a source of rehydration.

3. French fries (and all commercially fried foods)

  • high in trans fat (potatoes cooked at high temperatures in vegetable oils)
  • high in free radicals harmful to the body
  • high in acrylamide (up to 82 mcg per serving), a potent toxic chemical formed as a result of unknown chemical reactions during high-temperature starchy foodsfrying or baking of starchy foods
  • consuming foods that are fried in vegetable oils contributes to aging, clotting, inflammation, and weight gain
  • foods that are fried in vegetable oils like canola, soybean, safflower, corn, and other seed and nut oils are particularly problematic
  • polyunsaturated fats easily become rancid when exposed to oxygen and produce large amounts of damaging free radicals in the body

4. Chips (corn chips, potato, tortilla, and other chips)

  • high in sodium and trans fat (present in most commercial chips)
  • high carcinogenic acrylamide (up to 25 mcg per serving).

5. Hot dogs (and processed meats)

  • high in calories, fat, and sodium
  • processed meats such as sausage, jerky, bacon, hot dogs, use nitrates to preserve color and maintain microbial safety
  • nitrate can convert to nitrite, which can form nitrosamines, a powerful toxic chemical, in your body.

6. Fried non-fish seafood

  • fried shrimp, clams, oysters, lobsters are high in trans fat and carcinogenic acrylamide
  • loaded with toxic mercury
  • can be contaminated with parasites and resistant viruses

7. Margarine (hydrogenated & partially hydrogenated oils)

  • trans fats are man-made fats that occur in foods when manufacturers use hydrogenation, a process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to turn it into a more solid fat.
  • hydrogenation changes the liquid vegetable oils to a solid
  • hydrogenation process requires the use of such toxic catalyst-metals such as nickel, palladium, platinum or cobalt
  • while it is true that margarine contains no cholesterol, the process of hydrogenation changes not only the physical form of the oils, but alters the way they are metabolized by the body
  • most of the beneficial oils have been changed to a trans fatty acids.
  • related with increases LDL cholesterol level
  • increases Lp(a) lipoprotein, a type of LDL cholesterol found in varying levels in the blood
  • raise triglyceride levels
  • increased risk of coronary heart disease

8. Sugar and artificial sweeteners

  • Refined sugar and mixtures containing refined sugar, including sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, brown sugar, turbinado. Avoid artificial sweeteners.

9. Salt

  • Salt creates untold physical problems and suffering. Yes, the body needs salt (sodium), but it must be in an organic form in order to be useful to the body. Table salt, sodium chloride, is an inorganic sodium compound that combines with chloride. It is extremely toxic to the body and causes the body to retain fluid. High intake of this substance thickens and stiffens arteries and increases the risks of strokes, and cardiac failure. It accelerates the rate of renal functional deterioration. Sodium chloride draws calcium from your bones, which is excreted in your urine. This leads to early and painful osteoporosis, or the thinning and fracturing of your bones.

10. Crackers, Toaster pastries, sugared cereals

  • All these foods contain trans fats.

Catholic Church Papacy

Peter and Paul

Tomorrow the Church marks the great feast of Saints Peter and Paul.  Years ago, when I was in the seventh grade and getting ready to be confirmed, I chose the name Peter as my confirmation name.  As best I can recall, the sole reason was that Peter and Paul sounded good together.  That’s a seventh grader for you :/

It was only in my adulthood that I began understanding the spiritual connection between me and St. Peter.  Like most of us, when I look back on my life, I can see plenty of good choices, but also plenty of bad.  Sometimes, we get caught up focusing on one or the other, either making us feel great, or feeling pretty lousy.

St. Peter had some pretty amazing highs, but he also had some really deep lows.  He’s the guy who was right there at some of the greatest moments of Jesus’ life.  And in the end, he was the one who denied Him three times.  But in spite of that Jesus loved him all the more, forgave him, and turned him into a Rock.

So, I came to understand what a blessing it was for me to choose Peter as my confirmation name all those years ago, and link his name to my baptismal name.  Peter is a great example of someone on whom the Lord looked mercifully, despite his many failings.

St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us.


Lighten Up

I was thinking the other day that a lot of my blog postings deal with some pretty serious stuff.  We’ve all got issues that we’re grappling with, but sometimes, don’t you think it’s good just to lighten up and have a laugh?  I’ve heard it said that laughter is the best medicine.  With that in mind, here’s a joke for you.

The distinction between “professional” and “amateur” is often very slight, often amounting to little more than the former being paid while the latter is not. This is in no small measure because professional arrogance has been known to become intolerable if left unchecked.

So it happened that a patient was making his first visit to the doctor. “And whom,” began the physician with utmost dignity, “Did you consult about your illness before you came to me?”

“Only the druggist down at the corner,” replied the patient.

The doctor could not conceal his contempt for the medical advice of those he deemed unqualified to practice medicine.

“And what sort of ridiculous advice did that fool give you?”

“He told me,” replied the patient innocently, “to come and see you.”

Enjoy your Sunday 🙂

Gardening Inspiration Prayer

Grow Where You Are Planted

About three weeks ago, my first bulb catalogue came in.  For a gardener, it’s like  seeing the first Christmas merchandise roll into the stores after Labor Day.  I’m not quite ready to think about it yet.  I took this photo of these single late tulips this past spring.  Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the name, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re not included in this year’s catalogue. I know I’m not thinking about it, but what’s wrong with a quick look?

I’m reading a book right now called Close To The Heart: A Guide To Personal Prayer. The part I read today caused me to remember these beautiful flowers in my back yard.  Here’s what Margaret Silf wrote,

“If only I could have my life again, choose a different job, a different lifestyle, begin again, knowing what I know now…”

Almost everyone indulges in this daydream from time to time.  When I feel these thoughts coming on, a short respite in my innermost garden helps me see things rather differently.  For instance, sometimes “spring bulbs” tell me their story – of being buried beneath a suffocating weight of the clay.  There in the clay that is cold, wet, dark and lonely. But at the same time deadening clay is the provider of the bulbs’ nutrition all through the unobserved growing months.  From them I see that the circumstance we so often long to escape is the very place, and the only place, that can provide the means of our growth and bring us to the moment of rebirth in due season.

For so many of us, we’re always looking for ways to  quickly escape our  present circumstances. Our lives are filled with the thought “if only…” In this excellent book, the author reminds us that, if at all possible, we should be content with our present circumstances, trying to see the positive, instead of dwelling only on the negative.

If I decided to plant my bulbs in pots, and then keep those pots inside through the winter, fearing that the weather would be too hard on them, I would have no flowers the following spring.  The bulbs need the winter freeze to bloom their best when the weather warms.

I trust in the fact that there are times when just being open to change and new growth is all that is asked of us.  Eventually, that fresh start, a transformation,  or that new life we long for will come to us, but it will happen in due season.  As Matthew 6:28 reminds us, “look at the lilies of the field…”

Ignatian Spirituality Inspiration Prayer

God’s Well Tended Flock

“For this is our God,

whose people we are,

God’s well-tended flock.”  Psalm 95:7

I know they might be a bit hard to make out, but there eight little ducklings in the photo above. They were really small, about half the size of my fist.  I want to share with you the story behind the photo.  I think it’s a good one.

On the last day of my retreat last week, I drove over to Patapsco State Park, about a ten minute drive from the retreat center.  I’ve been to the park and was impressed with its size and the fact that, during the week, there’s hardly anyone there.

As I walked the trails, trying to get my thoughts together about my retreat, I saw a trail sign pointing to McKeldin Rapids.  It looked like the trail wasn’t especially arduous, so I decided to take it.  It was a good call.

The trail led to the rapids, which fed into a large pool of water.  The rapids weren’t especially large, but there was a lot of water flowing through them.  As I started climbing the rocks leading to the top of the rapids, an adult female duck took flight and flew just above the water, landing in the pool some distance down river.  The duck seemed out of sorts to me, and I was thinking maybe it was injured.  As I turned to look back up-stream, I saw the coolest thing.

In front of me was a little group of ducklings trying to go up the rapids, and, due to their size, they were having a very hard time of it.  As they struggled, the force of the water kept tossing them back down.  One by one, however, they made it up, much to my amazement.

As I settled down on a rock, I began thinking/praying, and writing in my journal.  After about five minutes, I heard all this quacking coming upstream.  I stood up just in time to see the eight little ducklings who had struggled so greatly to get away from me, begin to race down the swift water.

It was really pretty awesome to see them try to make it down.  I’ve been whitewater rafting several times, and it can be pretty scary at times.  I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be a little duckling tumbling down, some getting caught up in the turbulent, swirling water.  In the end, they all made it to the peaceful pool at the end of the rapids, and I watched them wade out one by one on the opposite bank.

As soon as this experience was over, I began to ask God what He wanted to teach me in this.  I just happened upon this scene, and I knew there was something God wanted to say to me in it. Here’s what I figured out:

We’re living in some pretty turbulent times right now.  Personally, the transfer of my pastor at the church where I work will force us to go through some major changes soon.  Change is never easy.  This will be major for me and my parish community.    Other people reading this might be going through health problems, unemployment concerns, relationship or financial problems.

I think God allowed me to watch this scene unfold because He wanted to remind me that there was no need to be afraid.  I’m part of a well-tended flock, and although we might be very apprehensive about what the future might hold, He’s in control and has a plan.

The future might include some turbulent times,and I might have a sense of being tossed about like one of those little ducklings.  But we, like them, will make it through.  The trip might not be easy, but we’ll reach the prize, just as St. Paul reminds us.

If you’re worried about something today, say a quick prayer, asking God to give you some wisdom and peace.  Ask God to show you the way.  Remember that you are special in His eyes, and you are part of His well-tended flock.

Catholic Church Inspiration Travel

Making All Things New

Using laser beams, archeologists working in Rome recently uncovered what are believed to be the oldest surviving frescoes of the Apostles Peter, Andrew, John, and Paul.  Dating from the 4th century these works of art are located in the catacombs of St. Tecla. They’ve known that there were frescoes there, but they were covered with a thick layer of centuries old calcium build-up.  It took specialized lasers to remove the deposits, and what was underneath was truly amazing.  Making All Things New.

I know they call it the Eternal City, but isn’t it amazing that archeologists and scientists are still discovering such things? These catacombs are located below an insurance building near the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.  In an article I read about the find, they said that these images might have influenced all the other early depictions of these saints.

Once, when I was on tour in Rome, our guide said something that stuck with me.  As we were standing in the Roman Forum, Gino made the comment that, when you visit such places, you come to realize that “what was once old suddenly becomes new.”  Everything is constantly evolving, sometimes being used for the same purpose, other times for something completely different.

As I was praying this morning, I got to thinking about these images and what they might mean to me.  I thought about the tedious process of removing all that calcium.  I began thinking about what might be waiting to be re-discovered in my own life.

For many people today, certainly in these tough economic times, some of their most important and precious dreams have been covered up and buried.  Maybe something immediately comes to your mind? If this is the case for you, maybe it’s time to uncover them and start the very important work of making all things new.

Throughout the summer, I want to keep refining our understanding of the theme of this blog, Making All Things New.  I think there’s a lot to be uncovered in each of us, and what better way to spend our summer down time than reflecting upon how it might get played out in our lives.  Have a great day:)


Simple Things

Yesterday, I had some visitors from Italy.  My friend Diego brought his grandparents over for a quick visit, and although they don’t speak any English, and I don’t really speak any Italian, we got by great.

Diego’s maternal grandparents were at my house once before.  I had just purchased the place, and it was a wreck.  It had some pretty big structural problems, and ultimately the entire first floor had to be replaced.  Although they seemed to be happy for me as we walked around inside, as soon as they got in the car, they told Diego’s parents that I had bought a money pit.

Six years later, I was so happy to show them how the place turned out.  I think they were surprised 🙂

We opened a bottle of prosecco and a box of biscotti, and I told Diego to have everyone sit in the living room.  When I made it in from the kitchen, I found everyone not in the living room, but already sitting around the dining room table.  It struck me that when most Americans gather with friends, they get comfortable in the living or family room.  But when Italians get together, they do it around the table.  I think I like the table idea more.

Yesterday was a quick and simple get-together, and it was perfect.  By the way, prosecco and biscotti go together very nicely 😉

Ignatian Spirituality Main Course Vegetarian

Food Habits

When I began changing my eating habits, I was encouraged by the line in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus asked, “isn’t life more than food..?” (5:25).  So much of our lives today revolve around eating and drinking.  In and of itself, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems to me that many of us have taken it to the extreme.

On the NBC evening news last night (6/21/10), I happened to catch a segment on overeating.  They pointed out that 70% of Americans are overweight, mainly because we’re eating lots and lots of cheap food.  According to NBC, one of many reasons why we are eating so much is because our plate sizes have increased over the last fifty years.  In 1960, we ate our dinner on 9 inch plates.  In 2010, our plate size averages 12 inches, representing more than a 30% increase!

Over 400 years ago, St. Ignatius wrote his spiritual exercises.  While I was on retreat this past week, I learned that within the exercises, Ignatius wrote several paragraphs about food (#210-217).  As I read the passages, I was amazed at how his words have so much relevance today.  Here’s some key points,

It is good to discover a proper mean for myself in my eating habits. (In other words, don’t overeat) #213

If the whole focus of my attention at meals is upon food itself, I can find that I am carried away by my appetites.  I may also discover that I am bolting my food so hurriedly that there is little evidence of a Christ-behavior in my activity of eating a meal.  Both in the amount of food eaten and in the way it is eaten, I should be ordering my life in Christ.  (In other words, if all I am doing is savoring the food, without thinking of anything/anyone else, then I will more than likely overeat.  In everything, including what we eat and how we eat it, should have God as a focus) #217

Maybe for some, we love food, drink or something else, more than we love God.  For the vast majority of us, excess food isn’t making us stronger, it’s making us weaker.  In place of happiness, overeating is giving us increasing misery.  Can that really be what God wants for us?

So, what should we do?  Get our lives in order.  Not just the physical, but also the spiritual and mental/emotional.  We need to be asking ourselves if our lives are balanced.  Upon prayerful examination, if the answer is no, then now is the time to start.  Don’t worry about yesterday.  Start fresh tomorrow.    Since summer is here and the heat is on, here’s a great recipe to get you started.  By using Dreamfields Pasta, you reduce the total number of carbs per serving by nearly 70%.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing


1 box uncooked Dreamfields Elbows
1 can (14 ounces) artichoke hearts (packed in water; quarter if whole)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, diced
1/4 cup chopped pitted Kalamata or black olives
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise (more if desired)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano or 1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; rinse with cold water and drain again.
  2. In large bowl combine pasta, artichoke hearts, feta cheese, tomatoes, red peppers and olives.
  3. In medium bowl combine mayonnaise, herbs and vinegar. Stir to combine. Add to pasta mixture; toss until well coated (add extra vinegar if necessary for consistency). Season with salt and pepper as desired.
  4. Refrigerate, covered, 4 hours or overnight to chill completely.

Makes 6 main dish servings.

Nutrition information (1/6 of recipe): 365 calories; 12 g protein; 18 g digestible carbohydrates*; 11 g total fat; 3 g saturated fat; 20 mg cholesterol; 863 mg sodium; 8 g total dietary fiber. (information provided by Dreamfields Pasta)

For those of you who can’t cook, here’s a video link to the Dreamfields website that will help get impressive results.   Enjoy!

I almost forgot one last thing…  Get some smaller plates 🙂

Main Course Vegan Vegetarian

Summer is Here

Tomorrow marks the “official” start of summer.  Around these parts, its felt like summer for several weeks now, with plenty of heat and humidity.  While I love the heat, I can do without the humidity, thanks very much.

It seems like forever ago that I mentioned that Morningstar Farms website has a bunch of summer burger recipes on their website.  I can’t decide which one to try out first, but the Black and Blue burger seems to be calling my name.  I don’t eat much cheese any more, but I think I’ll use some blue cheese dressing, then bring the bottle in for my coworkers to use on their salads. 

Morningstar even has a pdf document covering the basics of grilling veggie burgers.  They think of everything 🙂

Although the photo above doesn’t quite fit the image of a veggie burger on the grill, it was too nice looking not to put up.  Sadly, it was probably taken of some beach on the Gulf Coast before the oil started washing ashore.  We need to keep praying for some Divine intervention with that unending crisis.

Happy Father’s Day to everyone, especially my brothers!