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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!


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Another Year Gone

Well, we’ve arrived at the last day of another tumultuous year. I just got back from a ten day trip to see my family in California, and it was so good to be together. Other than my sister, I haven’t been been able to see everyone in almost two years, thanks to the pandemic. There are more than thirty of us in my immediate family, and I had the chance to spend time with just about everyone. In fact, we had big and small gatherings just about every day, with dinners, lunches, morning walks, trips to gardens, museums, and the beach. We’re an active group, and we enjoy each other’s company, which I guess is a major feat given our numbers.

Although my mother passed away several years ago, we carry on her legacy of throwing a party for just about any occasion, especially birthdays. Sadly, since the pandemic began, I’ve only been able to join in via zoom, which pales in comparison to being physically present. My mom also liked to go to Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA. On Sunday mornings, it’s a short drive from the house where I grew up. So last weekend my sister and I went there for Mass, and while looking at the nativity near the sanctuary, I was struck by the facial expression of the angel in this photo. “Awe” was all I could think of, and I don’t think in all my travels I’ve seen an angel’s face so beautifully captured.

Although it’s good to be back home in Maryland, I’m already looking forward to heading out to California in the not too distant future. Ever since I moved to the East Coast, I really never felt homesick until I began getting ready to fly West. These past two years had left me in a kind of permanent homesickness, and now that feeling has been broken, I’m praying that this pandemic will loose it’s grip on just about everything and everyone, and we can move forward boldly and without fear. That’s my prayer this last day of 2021, and please Lord, let it come quickly.

May God bless you and those you love in the New Year soon to be upon us.

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31 Days With Ignatius

Each July, Loyola Press (the company I work for) offers a series of daily reflections/resources/activities, all leading up to the Feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, July 31st. These days will be extra-special this year, because 2021 marks the 500th anniversary of this amazing saint’s battle injury which ushered in his epic conversion.

Please join people from around the world in participating in these 31 Days With St. Ignatius. You’ll be glad you did!

A prayer to celebrate the Ignatian Year from the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States

God of all people,

You were there when the cannonball shattered the leg of St. Ignatius, shattered his dreams, and shattered what he assumed his life would be. Even in a moment of pain and uncertainty, doubt and darkness, you spoke to Ignatius a word of peace and light. You showed him the path to you and the person he might become.

We may not be soldiers, standing in the path of a literal cannonball. And yet, we’ve been hit all the same. Cannonballs shatter our own hopes and dreams and expectations.

Like Ignatius, may we hear the compassionate voice of your Son in the aftermath of these cannonball blasts. May we seek the face of Christ even when our dreams are shattered. May we turn and follow Jesus with the courage it takes to change and grow.

As we journey through this Ignatian Year, may we be shown the path to you, God of all people, and live out our vocation, becoming the person you have invited us to be. Give us the grace to work for reconciliation every day: with you, with others and with your creation. Open our eyes so we might see all things new in Christ.

Amen.

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Journaling

I’m going to be leading my first eight day Ignatian retreat at the end of July, and I’ve been discerning how best to provide meaningful resources for those I’ll be working with. I’m grateful that I’m not starting from scratch. Beginning in 2008, I have made a yearly (well, mostly yearly) eight day retreats, ten in all over that time.

As I began discerning the Ignatian practices/Scripture passages I would share with others, the first place I turned to was the journals from my own retreats, and I started with the black spiral bound 1 subject notebook I probably picked up at Walmart for $1, maybe less. This notebook, now precious to me, documents the rich and life-giving experience I had in the summer of 2008. As I sat this past Sunday morning on my patio, I began moving through the pages of my thoughts, longings and aspirations jotted down thirteen years ago.

I was new to Ignatian Spirituality in those days. The very beginning of my Ignatian adventure took place at a Chicago restaurant called The Mystic Celt, sadly now out of business. I was in Chicago to attend a week-long meeting, and that first night, there were about twenty for dinner at a very long table. As providence would have it, I ended up at the end of the table, and opposite me was the Jesuit publisher George Lane.

After the waitress took our order, Fr. George asked me where I was from, and “what do you know about Ignatian Spirituality?” Sheepishly, I told him, “almost nothing.” That set the stage for a very nice conversation about Ignatius of Loyola and the spirituality which developed from his conversion nearly 500 years ago. Getting up from the table, we said our goodbyes and I thought that was the end of it. Little did I know it was really the beginning of something which continues to shape my life to this day.

When I came to our conference room the next morning, I noticed a little pile of books, tied with a red ribbon, sitting on the table behind the sign with my name written on it. I was unfamiliar with the titles, but they were all short introductions on Ignatian Spirituality. I put the bundle in my backpack and got myself ready for a long day of meetings.

During the morning break, Fr. Lane stopped by and I thanked him for the books, with a promise that I would begin reading one that night when I got back to the hotel. He said he had been thinking about our conversation, and in addition to reading the books he gave me, he encouraged me to find a retreat center when I got home and try to make an Ignatian Retreat.

Well, that’s exactly what happened, and I signed up for an eight day retreat that summer. I could go on and on, but since this post is about journaling, I better get back to task.

Before the retreat started, I opened up my blank notebook and wrote down a series of prayer intentions. For people I work with, for my family and friends, and for all the ministries I was engaged in at that time. After I got settled into my room, I went to the chapel and prayed over those intentions. It was a wonderful way to begin my retreat, and that time of prayer set the stage for a week long conversation with the Lord.

My spiritual director/companion for the week was Steven Wade, a retired Episcopal priest, well versed in Ignatian Spirituality. At our first meeting, Steve asked “Who is God for you right now?” and “Who is this God you’ve come to be with?” Wow, such profound questions, and I quickly realized this was going to be a rich, deep experience. For a Scripture passage to pray with on this first day, Steve gave me Psalm 139 to reflect and meditate on. I was familiar with this Psalm, and I had always loved the last lines, “Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my concerns. See if my way is crooked, and lead me on the ancient paths.” I wrote in my journal after my meditation, “The last lines are the ones that I think speak to me the most. Maybe that’s what this retreat is all about for me. With Steve and God’s help, I need to make my crooked paths straight. Take out some of the detours, kinks in the road, the potholes.”

I would love to tell you that I did just that during those eight wonderful days, and figured everything out and left the retreat center with a perfect plan to be implemented. Well, you know how it goes. I’m still trying to work on straightening out those crooked paths and avoiding detours.

I now have ten retreat journals to pour over, and I’m so grateful to have them. As I went through the first journal, I realized how far I’ve come. Those journals give me a glimpse into my ongoing pilgrimage to God, and they are such a source of consolation for me.

Those retreat journals led me to start journaling regularly throughout the year. I now have an entire shelf of them, starting a new journal each year. I no longer use the cheap Walmart notebooks, since they are not intended to hold up over the years. Now I use Moleskine notebooks to document my thoughts, prayers and discernment and general conversations with God and others.

So, this is a rather long post about journaling. Please think about keeping a journal to document your daily pilgrimage. In these crazy days in which we live, so distracted by so many things, journaling keeps us, I think, focused on the things that matter and keeps us on track.

I hope you’ll give it a try!

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An Ignatian Year 2021-22

Today, May 20, 2021 marks the beginning of an extraordinary Ignatian Year. On this date 500 years ago, Ignatius of Loyola (1491- 1556) was struck by a cannonball during a fierce battle against the French in Pamplona, Spain. Although many wanted to surrender, Ignatius kept fighting, and encouraged those fighting with him to do the same.

In the end, it was Ignatius’ injury which led to surrender. The French soldiers were so taken by Ignatius’ bravery, they carried him home to his family castle in the Basque country. The trip took several days, and there’s no doubt it was a hellish one for Ignatius. This photo, taken by me while visiting the castle on pilgrimage, captures Ignatius’ arrival home.

During many months of painful recovery, Ignatius began to think about life, both his past and what might come next. He felt a stirring in his heart and mind, and with his turning to God, a conversion began.

I’m intending to post regularly on this Ignatian Year in the weeks and months ahead. I believe its an incredible opportunity to learn about this great Saint, but also discern for ourselves where God might be calling us.

For today, here’s a couple of links focused on the Ignatian Year.

Loyola Press

Jesuits USA

Some final words from Master Ignatius:

There are very few who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves entirely to His hands, and let themselves be formed by His grace.

A thick and shapeless tree trunk would never believe that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture… and would never consent to submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor who, as St. Augustine says, sees by his genius what he can make of it.

Many people who, we see, now scarcely live as Christians, do not understand that they could become saints, if they would let themselves be formed by the grace of God, if they did not ruin His plans by resisting the work which He wants to do.”

Ignatius of Loyola

(In a letter to Ascanio Colonna, Rome, April 25, 1543)