Making Time for God and Others

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling lately.  While I enjoy seeing new places and meeting new people, travel sometimes leaves me exhausted, longing for familiarity and my own house and my own bed. Recently, I was at a conference in Avalon, New Jersey.  After a long drive, it was great to see the ocean, smell the salty air, and get my feet wet in the waves.  For me, there’s nothing like the sea to bring a sense of calm to my heart.  It reminds me that I’m a little drop in a big ocean, and that there is so much more out there than I see on a daily basis.

The ocean also reminds me of the grandeur of God, the immensity of creation, and how much exists below the surface of things, both in the water and in our daily lives.  We like to think we’re in control of our lives, but, when you really think about it, there are so many people and things which influence our actions and decisions, both big and small. 

I was thinking about this while sitting on a bench one morning in Avalon.  I had much on my mind, thinking about all I needed to do.  I realized my mind was racing, and I knew I needed to slow it down.  I walked back to my room, got another cup of coffee, my bible and my journal, and headed back to the bench.  I spent about 45 minutes reading a few of the Psalms, then moving on to a wonderful prayer time.  I was so grateful to God for being at the beach, on a beautiful fall day.  I was also grateful for my friends and family, a job which I enjoy, and all the good things God has provided me.

After my time of prayer was over, I headed back to my hotel room, refreshed, encouraged, and excited for the day ahead.  I realized once again how important it is to make time for God in the midst of what daily life brings me, whether it be sitting on a bench by the sea, or going about my daily routine at home.  The same is true for people in our lives.  The world is moving faster than ever, and time is a commodity that seems to be in ever shorter supply.  

When we make time for God and others, our life is enriched, our strength renewed, and things just seem to be a bit more joyful.  Give it a try. 


The Great Jubilee and Ribollita

I know, what an odd title for a blog post.  The past few days have been cold and rainy where I live, and, early this morning, I woke up thinking about an event which took place in Florence, Italy. I’ll fill you in on that experience in a moment, but first, a bit about our trip, which took place exactly 15 years ago.   My family and I were traveling Italy to celebrate the Jubilee in 2000, and it was an experience of a lifetime.  We started in Milan, and the next day we traveled to Turin, where we viewed the Shroud of Turin.  Next, on to Padua, which is a great place to stop if you ever find yourself in Northern Italy. 

Our hotel in Padua was just down the street from the train station, and my sister and I surprised our mom with a quick train ride for dinner. Our destination was Venice.  Ah, dinner in Venice.  More about that another time!  From Padua, we went to one of my favorite travel destinations: Florence.  I have been there many times now over the years, and I always find something new to see and try.  I guess I woke up thinking about this trip because the weather in Florence was pretty much like it is today.  As I thought this through, I realized that the experience I’m about to share took place Florence 15 years ago this past week.  Amazing how life moves, isn’t it?

It was lunchtime, and we were in the Piazza Signoria, the main square in Florence.  We were cold and hungry, and there was a little trattoria on the piazza that looked inviting.  As I looked at the menu, I saw a very Tuscan dish I had always wanted to try.  It was a soup called “Ribollita” which means reboiled Tuscan Minestrone.  I know, strange, huh?  But my family and I have always loved a good soup, and my mom would make it even on the hottest days of summer.  On that cold Florentine day in early October of 2000, I ordered my first bowl of Ribollita. 

In Tuscany, when Minestrone Soup is made, it’s usually prepared in large quantities, so that there will be enough left over to make Ribollita the next day.  Yep, this is basically a leftover soup, with the addition of some broken up pieces of stale Tuscan bread.  Overnight, the minestrone will thicken, and when you reheat it the next day, you simply bring it to a boil, add two bread slices (torn into pieces), and stir until  the texture is almost homogenous.  Ladle into bowls, and put two teaspoons of good olive oil over each serving.  That’s the recipe for Ribollita, and let me tell you, as the Italians like to say when something tastes amazing, my mouth sang the first time I had it, sitting in the Piazza Signoria with my mom and sister.  The next day, we would be off to Assisi to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, and after that, on to Rome.

So today, in honor of that authentically Tuscan gastronomical experience, I’m heading out in a few minutes to my Farmer’s Market to buy what I need to make a pot of Minestrone, so tomorrow, I can have a  bowl of Ribollita.  Here’s a simple Minestrone recipe from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.


serves 4-6

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 1/2 -2 cups hard vegetables, like potatoes, winter squash, turnips, peeled if necessary and cut into smaller than 1/4 inch dice

6 cups vegetable stock (I used Trader Joe’s low salt variety)

1 cup chopped tomato (canned ok, with juice)

1 1/2 – 2 cups soft vegetables, like green beans, cooked beans, zucchini, and greens like kale or spinach

1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves

salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese and olive oil for serving

Put 3 tb of the olive oil in a large, deep soup pot over medium heat.  When hot, add the onion, carrot, and celery.  Cook, stirring until the onion softens, about five minutes.

Add hard vegetables, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring, for a minute or two, then add the stock and tomato; bring to a boil,  adjust heat so the mixture bubbles gently.  Gook, stirring every now and then until the veggies are fairly soft and tomatoes broken up, about 15 minutes. 

Add soft vegetables and parsley and continue cooking about 15 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.  Add remaining olive oil, and serve.

note:  I love rosemary, and I add about a teaspoon, finely chopped, to my minestrone. 

To make Ribollita the next day, follow the added instructions above, and enjoy!


What About You?

Last Saturday, September 26th, Pope Francis was right up the road from me, in the city of Philadelphia.  He had come to the United States just a few days before, and after visiting Washington DC and New York City, the City of Brotherly Love was his final stop on what must have been an exhausting trip.  But, you couldn’t tell that by looking at him.  He seemed boundless in energy, smiles, and good will throughout.  Just amazing for someone getting close to 80 years old.

I plan to write about more about his visit, including the Canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra in Washington DC which I had the blessing to attend, but for now, I want to focus on a little story woven into his homily given on Saturday morning at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in downtown Philadelphia. Here it is:

“Most of you know the story of Saint Katharine Drexel, one of the great saints raised up by this local Church.  When she spoke to Pope Leo XIII of the needs of the missions, the Pope – he was a very wise Pope! – asked her pointedly: “What about you?  What are you going to do?”  Those words changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission.  Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church.”

So, as we begin to ease our way into the weekend, which for my area is going to be rainy and cold, I hope you’ll reflect on these challenging words.  “What about you?  What are you going to do?”  We all have a part to play in the mission of the Church, and it’s time for each of us to step up and get into the game.