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Happy New Year

Well, it’s hard to believe 2022 is now behind us, but I’m looking forward to all the hopes which come with today’s dawn. I don’t know about you, but this past year was a tumultuous one for me. There are lots of reasons for this, but the one I’m thinking about right now is the unexpected death of my brother Don, the first of my siblings to pass away.

His death has left a void in our hearts and lives, and I guess I will leave it at that. I pray that he’s now at peace and happy to be reunited with our parents.

After much discernment, I left a job I enjoyed and achieved quite a bit of success. My ten years there were filled with many blessings, along with a lot of stress tied to the pandemic. For some time I had been wanting to get back into a ministry position where I felt the Lord could use me more effectively, where I could use the gifts he gave me for as long as God desired it.

Part of my discernment had been about what changes I might need to make to help people get back to church and return to some pre-pandemic normalcy. I’m happy to say that the changes we implemented had the desired effect, although there is more work to be done. When asked why we made the changes we did, my general response was that the fruit flowed from a long and proper discernment.

That being said, I’ve come to realize that many don’t even know how to properly make a decision flowing from a well done discernment, not in isolation but with the help of others. More on this in an upcoming post.

Maybe you have been discerning what changes you might want to make in 2023. What do you think the Lord might be calling you to do this year, so that you can be a holier person, a more loving person, a more compassionate and kind person, a person who tries to find God in all things and strives to live a life pleasing to the Lord.

I have my New Year’s list together, and I’ve already accomplished at least two tasks. I still have a few more, which will need a few more days to begin, but I’m glad I have started. Now, as it always is, how successful will I be with the next 364 days? Only time will tell…

May God bless you and those you love in the year ahead. May God bless our world with the peace that only He can give, the peace we need so badly and should desire with all our hearts.

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It Is Solved By Walking

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading an Ignatian Retreat and I was touched by the engagement level of the retreatants, especially with our conversations around discernment. Usually, my retreats begin Friday afternoon and end Sunday morning. This one, however, was Thursday through Sunday, which gave us an opportunity for extended conversations and time for reflection.

Sadly, one of the Ignatian practices I wanted to discuss but ran out of time was Ignatius’s Rules For Eating. When I was going through the version of the Spiritual Exercises called the Retreat in Everyday Life (lasting about 30 weeks), my Director told me about these rules/guidelines because I had recently been diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

Because Ignatius referred to himself as “the pilgrim” in his autobiography, I linked the rules for eating with the idea of being a pilgrim. This is a very providential decision, and throughout the retreat, I chose to go all in on three key disciplines: praying throughout the day, closely monitoring what I ate , and walking twice a day, every day.

At the end of the retreat, I was like a new person! I had lost 65 pounds, which led to me testing outside the diabetes range, and my prayer life had never been better. The funny thing was, as I encountered people who knew me well, they asked if I was sick! Here I was, in the best shape I had been in a long time in all areas of my life (body, mind, and spirit), and people assumed I must be sick. Back to walking…

Centuries ago, St. Augustine coined the term “solvitur ambulando” which means “it is solved by walking.” Now, St. Augustine was talking about solving a problem by thinking it through while walking, maybe very long walks, but for me, I realized I didn’t need a gym membership or expensive equipment to improve my health. I just needed a good pair of walking shoes and the discipline of walking in the morning and afternoon/evening every day without fail. If it was raining, I was in the mall. If it was sunny, I was out walking in my neighborhood or on local walking trails. I brought friends with me whenever I could, and soon, others were having success similar to my own.

Well, those initial experiences were several years ago now, and I have to admit that I’m not as fit as I was in those initial days. But Ignatius would remind us that everyday can be a fresh start, so just this morning, I got out and walked a route I hadn’t been on for months. This trail, on an old golf course, took me about 45 minutes. It was a cool morning, and it felt great to be out in nature once again. I had some things to think through on this walk, and although there was no resolution quite yet, I did feel like I was closer to solving the situation.

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The Feast of St. Ignatius 2022

Today, the Feast of St. Ignatius, marks the end of the Ignatian Jubilee, honoring the 500th Anniversary of Ignatius’ wounding at the battle of Pamplona. It was during many months of recuperation and healing that God began working on Ignatius’ heart, leading to one of the most epic conversion stories in the Catholic Church.

On the last day of my recent eight day retreat, one of the retreatants asked me a question. “So, just what made this retreat “Ignatian”? Now, I must be honest in saying that the question surprised me. On each day of the retreat, I introduced an Ignatian exercises/concept, such as the First Principal and Foundation, the Examen, Discernment of Spirits, Meditation and Contemplation, etc. I spoke about Ignatius’ conversion and how each of these exercises/concepts were part of his document known as the Spiritual Exercises. How could this connection not have been made by the retreatant? I explained the concepts once again, and I think they “got it” in the second go-around.

Ultimately, I realized that I can always do a better job of explaining these concepts which are part of my daily life now. I’ve had more than a decade now to wrestle with them and integrate them into my life. In the weeks ahead, I hope to write a blog post which has links to trusted resources which will help anyone reading this blog better understand Ignatius and the spirituality which developed out of his lived experience of God, which is still impacting the world today.

Happy Feast Day!

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An Ignatian Retreat

Not long before the pandemic began, I had the chance to attend a conference for Spiritual Directors with Fr. Joseph Tetlow, SJ, a renowned expert in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. One of the great benefits of attending this conference was an opportunity to sit down with Fr. Tetlow and review my presentation outlines and handouts from my retreats.

During that long conversation, Fr. Tetlow provided some great insights and suggestions, which I begin putting into place as soon as I was able to begin leading retreats again after the COVID restrictions were lifted. The feedback from those making my retreats has been great, which I owe in large part to Fr. Joe.

During that sit down with him, Fr. Joe asked if I had led an eight day retreat in the Ignatian Tradition, and I responded that, although I had made more than a dozen 8 day retreats, I had yet to lead one. He told me that he thought I should take that next step, so when I got back to Maryland, I made an appointment to speak to my contact at the retreat center I use. She told me that with the pandemic still causing havoc, I would have to wait awhile to get something scheduled, but we set dates for one in the summer of 2021. I’m happy to say that the wait was worth it, and with the help of two other spiritual directors, we led a wonderful retreat. It was a graced experience for me and I was humbled by the experience. Not long after this first experience, I began prayerfully preparing for the next one, which just occurred last week.

As it always seems to happen, we had a very diverse group of retreatants, including women religious, ministers and pastors of other Christian denominations, some folks who made the first retreat last year ( a great sign), and plenty of new faces. In fact, this retreat was sold out months ago, another good sign that people want to experience this Ignatian retreat, rooted in the Spirituality flowing from the life and conversion experience of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius’ conversion began after a serious battle injury 500 years ago.

Because the Catholic Church in the United States began a two year Eucharistic Revival just last month, I knew I wanted to do my part to help people not only come to know Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, but also have time to pray daily during a time of Eucharistic Adoration. We’ve done Adoration in the past on my retreats, but I wanted to make this year’s experience more powerful, more beautiful, and more memorable. As this photo shows, I think we accomplished all three objectives.

If you’ve never been on an Ignatian retreat, or if it’s been a long time, please consider making one sometime in the next year. I know you’ll be glad you did.

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A Ponderous Thought

Recently, I came across an old book written by Fr. John Hardon, SJ, and sadly, even the reprint of All My Liberty is long out of print. Knowing Fr. Hardon’s solid and trustworthy teaching, I spent more than I ever have for a used paperback book. In All My Liberty, Fr. lays explains the theology of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises.

I’m only in the beginning pages, but something he wrote really struck me, as I and many others sense the rapid and disturbing changes occurring in our culture and country right now. Fr. Hardon references a document from the US Bishops, which had recently been issued (1948), over seventy-five years ago. I doubt those bishops realized how prophetic their pastoral letter would be. Sadly, we did not heed their warning.

In their national pastoral letter of 1948, the American bishops warned against the prevalent tendency “to teach moral and spiritual values divorced from religion and based solely on social convention. Unless man’s conscience is enlightened by the principles that express God’s law, there can be no firm and lasting morality. Without religion, morality becomes simply a matter of individual taste, of public opinion, or majority vote.” Once God is removed from the concept of morals, sin becomes a label for superstition or an name for divergence from accepted custom.

And now, in May of 2022, it appears that’s what many people (but not all) in our county, including many of our leaders (but not all), have come to believe.

Friends, we need to step up our prayer. God has put us on this earth now, for such a time as this. Let’s get in the game, remembering that God is still on the throne, and He has already secured the victory.

Lord, have mercy on us!

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Holy Week

For the first time in several years, I’ve had the blessing to work with a group of people who are converting to the Catholic faith. We began meeting in October, and we had our last regular session yesterday, Palm Sunday.

This week is rich with ritual, symbol and sacrament. Beginning yesterday, Christians throughout the world remember Jesus’ passion and death, and we also remember the institution of the Priesthood and Eucharist. Finally on Holy Saturday, we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. Those throughout the world, millions of people who have been learning, praying and discerning, will receive the Easter Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Others, already baptized, will make a profession of faith and receive the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist.

May these holy days leading up to Easter be filled with peace and consolation for all these wonderful people, including those I’ve had the privilege to walk with these many months, so that together, throughout the whole world, we can celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

Let us also pray for the people of Ukraine and those who find themselves in difficult situations, including violence, poverty, illness, and loss of loved ones. May they link their suffering to that of Jesus, our merciful Savior.

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St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier

Today is the 400th Anniversary of the Canonization of these two great saints. Below are excerpts from a letter Xavier wrote from Tuticorin to Ignatius in Rome:

“May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Lord be always with us. Amen.        

I wrote a very long letter to you from Goa about our voyage from the time that we left Lisbon until we arrived in India, and also that I was going to Tuticorin with some Fathers from that city…

Whenever I reached a village, the children would not let me say my office or eat or sleep until I had taught them some prayers. Then I began to understand that of such is the kingdom of heaven. Since it would have been impious to refuse such a holy request, I began with the confession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creed, Our Father, and Hail Mary, and taught them in this way. I saw that they were by nature very gifted; and I am convinced that, if they had anyone to instruct them in our holy faith, they would be good Christians…

As for me, trusting in the infinite mercy of God our Lord and the great assistance of your sacrifices and prayers and of all those of the Society, I hope that, if we do not see each other again in this life, we shall do so in the next with greater peace and joy than we have in this world.”

Your son in Christ,

Franciscus de Xabier

From Tuticorin, October 28, 1542

Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier, pray for us!

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Easy And Delicious Keto Soup

As I wrote in my last post, I’m really working on sticking to my Keto diet, and so far, so good. With the wintry weather we’ve been experiencing the past few weeks, I wanted to find a new Keto recipe to prepare for some friends coming over for lunch.

I didn’t have to look any further than Simply Keto by Suzanne Ryan, which I also mentioned recently. So, I have to say this right from the beginning that this is probably one of the best soups I’ve ever made, and my friends raved about it. One even took some home. Slow Cooker Loaded Cauliflower Soup was amazingly easy to prepare with just nine ingredients (not including salt and pepper). Although Suzanne suggests using precooked bacon or bacon crumbles as a shortcut, I used regular (hickory smoked) bacon slices and that smokiness added a great depth of flavor you don’t get from precooked. That being said, I did try another shortcut, and that was using frozen cauliflower florets, which I thawed overnight. I thought they worked great! I would like to mention that one of my friends said he usually doesn’t like cauliflower much, but if I hadn’t told him what was in the soup, he would have guessed potato cheese soup instead. Of course, a serving of Potato Cheese Soup (from a recipe on the All Recipes website) is loaded with 37.1 carbs, while Suzanne’s tasty Cauliflower recipe has 6 net carbs, or about 84% less carbs per serving. Since my Nutritionist from Johns Hopkins wants me to try for about 30 carbs per meal on my modified Keto diet, I was able to have two servings of this very filling soup, with plenty of room for a sugar-free low carb desert. I really hope you’ll give this cauliflower soup recipe a try before the weather warms up.

Slow Cooker Cauliflower Soup (cook time 4 or 8 hours, yielding 10 one cup servings)

10 slices bacon
2 large or 3 small heads cauliflower (I used two 16 oz. bags of frozen cauliflower florets, thawed overnight)
4 cups chicken broth (I used no salt variety)
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 1/3 cups)
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for garnish (I used extra sharp)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and Pepper
Snipped green chives or sliced green onions for garnish (I used green onions)

1  Fry bacon in large skillet over medium heat until cooked.  Remove from pan and chop.  Set aside in refrigerator.
2  Core heads of cauliflower and cut the cauliflower into florets.  Place florets in a food processor and chop into small to medium sized pieces.  Do not rice it!  If using frozen, put frozen pieces into food processor and chop as noted above.  
3  In a large slow cooker (Suzanne used 5 1/2 quart slow cooker), combine chicken broth, onion, garlic, butter and cauliflower.  Stir, cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.  (I cooked mine on low for 8 hours)
4  Once cauliflower is tender, switch the slow cooker to "keep warm" setting and use whisk to stir and mash the cauliflower into a smooth consistency.  (I used my immersion blender which gave the soup a wonderful consistency).
5  Add about three quarters of the chopped bacon, the cheese and the cream.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir well until the cheese is melted.
6  Serve hot and garnished with additional cheese, the remaining bacon and chives/green onions, if desired.  

When I first started cooking soups many years ago, my mom taught me to always prepare soup the day before you intend to serve it, which allows all the flavors to blend together. When making this recipe, I followed my mother’s wise advice, and I’m sure it made this delicious and hearty soup all the better! Enjoy!

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Give Keto A Try

Can you believe we are already three weeks into the New Year? If you made any resolutions, how have you done? Hopefully, you’ve followed through with them, or at least made an attempt. History shows, however, that by the end of January, most of us have given up on the majority, if not all, of the resolutions we intended to achieve.

One of my big resolutions was to work on my health: body, mind and spirit. For the body component, I intend to go back to a diet which has worked well for me in the past, and that’s the Keto Diet., This diet is basically a low carb/high healthy fat diet, and has been around for the last hundred years or so. As a Type II diabetic, I’ve seen my blood sugar levels normalize within three or four days when I’m on this diet, and I am grateful for my body’s quick response.

Just before the pandemic began, I met with a nutritionist based out of the Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center, where I see a specialist every six months. After ten years of dealing with this disease, I wanted to be sure I was working with true experts who have devoted their medical careers to helping people like me thrive despite having this chronic illness. I am very blessed to have such a place nearby. After I shared my diabetes history with him, the nutritionist suggested a modified Keto diet, one where I would keep my intake of carbohydrates to less than 100 per day, or about 30-35 per meal.

I quickly found that I could do that, and as my blood sugars levels came way down, so did my weight. Thanks to the travel limitations placed on us during the pandemic, my usual work trips stopped, which meant that I wasn’t traveling like I normally do. I was able to totally control all the food I was eating, and I was feeling better as each week passed by.

In the past couple of years, I’ve found three books on the Keto Diet especially helpful: Simply Keto by Suzanne Ryan, Keto For Life by Mark Sisson, and Keto for Dummies by Rami and Vicky Abrams. Of the three, I especially appreciated Suzanne Ryan’s easy to understand “All About Keto” chapter, which spelled out the rationale for this diet, along with the benefits and also struggles which come from integrating it into your daily life. Mark Sisson’s book emphasizes how the Keto diet can help you live a long and healthy life by targeting “four pillars,” which are: Metabolic Flexibility, Movement and Physical Exercise, Mental Flexibility and Rest and Recovery. His “21 Day Biological Clock Reset” provides daily challenges from each of the four pillars. The Keto Diet for Dummies is just what you would expect from this “… for Dummies” series of self-help books. In addition to providing an easy to understand rationale for the Keto Diet and a step by step plan, it’s chock full of recipes, has a section on healthy fasting and one on the importance of developing an ongoing fitness routine.

I know and realize that the Keto Diet may not be for everyone, but it certainly has been effective with my goal of improving my physical health. I hope you’ll check out one of the books I’ve mentioned and consider giving this diet a try. Of course, there are literally hundreds of books on this this topic, but I found these three especially helpful. NOTE: As with any decision which impacts your health, please consult with your medical care provider before making any changes.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting about my 2022 personal goals in the areas of mind and spirit. St. Ignatius of Loyola took a cura personalis (care for the whole person: spirit, body, mind) approach to living and helping others, which I really appreciate and try to live out in my daily living. It fits so nicely with St. Paul’s hopeful message in First Thessalonians, “May the God of peace sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit, soul and body be kept sound and blameless…” (5:23).

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Ribollita

Because of our impending winter weather, I woke up yesterday thinking about soup. Within that same dreamlike state, I remembered a blog I used to visit frequently, looking for healthy recipes, including many for soup. 101 Cookbooks is a California-based food blog written by Heidi Swanson, and the focus of the blog is on healthy recipes for everyday living.

With that catchy name, I easily remembered it, and with my morning coffee, I visited the blog to literally “see what’s cooking.” Looking under “winter” I found an old favorite of mine, a hearty Tuscan soup I first tried and fell in love with more than twenty years ago.

I was in Florence in October of 2000, making a Jubilee pilgrimage with my mom and sister, and we stopped here for a few days before moving on to Cortona, Assisi and finally Rome. On our full day, it was cold and rainy, and after some sightseeing, we went to the Piazza della Signoria for lunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the name of the restaurant, but it was on the Piazza directly across from the Loggia dei Lanzi. Although the weather was messy, we were comfortable sitting outside under a heated tent. When I saw Ribollita on the menu, I knew I was going to order it, not only because it would be a perfect match for the weather, but also because it had been on my list of Tuscan foods to try.

Ribollita has been a part of Tuscan cooking forever, and the name literally means “reboiled.” It begins the day before as a minestrone, and then the next day some bread (also day old) and maybe some additional left-over veggies are added. The whole mixture is heated up and served with a generous dose of olive oil poured on top. Pure deliciousness in a bowl, and on that day in Florence, it was a revelation to me about what food is supposed to taste like. Simple and humble ingredients, prepared with love, can be more pleasing than the most expensive meal you could have.

I could go on and on, but I think I’ll stop now and give you the 101 Cookbooks recipe for Ribollita. The photo was taken yesterday, just before I ate the whole bowl. I hope you’ll give it a try sometime soon.

RIBOLLITA (serves 8-10)
Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb  Tuscan Kale, stems trimmed off and leaves well chopped (note:  my store didn't have Tuscan Kale so I used regular kale which worked/tasted fine
4 cups cooked white beans ( I used store brand Cannellini)
1/2 lb crustless loaf of bread (I used  a French baguette and included the crust)
1 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
Zest of one lemon (don't leave this out!)
Lots of well-chopped oily black olives ( my store's choices were limited due to Covid, so I settled for sliced Greek Kalamata Olives from a jar, and they tasted great)

Instructions
In your largest thick-bottomed pot over medium heart combine the olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot and red onion.  Cook for 10-15 minutes sweating the vegetables, but avoiding any browning.  Stir in crushed tomatoes and red pepper flakes, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, long enough for the tomatoes to thicken up a bit.  Stir in the kale, three cups of the beans and 8 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the kale is tender, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, mash the remaining beans with a generous splash of water- until smooth.  Tear the bread into bite-size chunks.  Stir both the beans and bread into the soup.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the bread breaks down and the soup thickens, 20 minutes or so.  Stir in the salt, taste and add more if needed.  Stir in the lemon zest.

Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate overnight.  When you do serve the soup, finish it off with a drizzle of olive oil and some chopped olives.

Enjoy!