Being Thankful

I’m a little late with getting this Thanksgiving post up.  I have a good excuse in that, in the not too distant future, this site will be migrating back to WordPress, and with nearly 2,000 posts done over several years, there’s some back work which needed to be done. I didn’t want to create extra work for the person helping me (thanks!), so I haven’t been doing much posting lately.  All that will change in the near future, and I’m very excited for what’s on the horizon.

Back to being thankful.  Overall, it’s been a great year, but there are some things which I recognize as wonderful events needing an extra dose of thankfulness and gratitude.

At the beginning of 2019, I was talking with a friend of mine, and he told me about an upcoming Ignatian Spiritual Conference being led by Fr. Joe Tetlow SJ.  I had heard from others that, given his advanced age, he wasn’t active anymore. Wrong.  Let me just say this amazing Jesuit priest is very much active and the knowledge I’ve gained from him this year has been transformative.  Lucky for me that I attended not one but two conferences with Fr. Tetlow and his team, both taking place at Montserrat Retreat Center in Dallas.  These events were completely unexpected gifts, for which I’m especially thankful.  Over the next year, you’ll be reading here about some of the graces flowing from my learning.

In early October my great niece Maeve was born.  She came a month early, and as to be expected, there were some initial health issues.  Thankfully, she’s doing great now and I have loved to see all the photos coming via text.  Little Maeve is the first baby born in our family in about ten years, and I’m looking forward to meeting her at Christmas.  Such a gift!

Also in October, I met for the first time with a nutritionist.  I was encouraged by my diabetes specialist to make the appointment, and I’m really grateful I did.  It’s been ten years since my initial diagnosis of type II diabetes, and although my numbers are good, they are not where I need them to be.  My doctor thought setting some new nutrition goals were in order, so the appointment was important.  When I arrived, the nutritionist told me that the appointments after me had cancelled, so he had some extra time to talk.  He was so helpful and had great advice.  Although I have been slow to implement some of his suggestions, I’m using the Advent season to get on track.  I know that the holidays are not the best time to make dietary changes, but I’m up for the challenge.  I want to set the stage for the New Year.

Well that’s enough for today, the First Sunday in Advent.  Hard to believe how fast 2019 went by and I’m guessing it will be the same for 2020.  Let’s use the Advent season to reflect on all the ways God has blessed us this year, rather than focus on all the negativity and craziness which seems to permeate everything right now.


I Like To See The Sun Rise

I recently came across a  blog post which mentioned a new movie called I Like To See The Sun Rise.  The movie is about the life of Saint John Paul II, and the title comes from the response John Paul gave when asked “Holy Father, why do you get up so early each day?”  After all these years of reading John Paul’s writings and also stories written about him, I was surprised that this is a quote I’d never heard before.

It resonates so much with me because I too love to see the sun come up each day.  I was at a meeting earlier this week and each participant was asked “how do you find God in all things?”  For me, dawn is one of the most profound ways I find God, and it’s rooted in St. Ignatius’s Daily Examen prayer.  The last point in this five-point prayer is a call to look toward the day to come. So often we get stuck in the messes of yesterday, trapped in what could have, should have, ought to have been.  Friends, yesterday is gone.  Of course, we need to seek and give forgiveness as needed, but Ignatius also challenges in the beginning of the Examen to always be grateful for the gifts given to us.  In our culture today, it seems as though many are so focused on the negative that we loose sight of the positive.  That’s no way to live as a Christian.

As I’m typing these words, I can see the sun coming up through my window.  It’s going to be a good day.  Like St. John Paul II, my day actually began a few hours ago.  Like him, I’m an early riser and I enjoy some uninterrupted prayer time, sipping my coffee and thinking not only of yesterday and praying for those in need, but also thinking about the day to come, and how I might be a better person throughout the day, seeking God in all things and rejoicing that I have eyes to see and ears to hear.  As St. Theresa of Calcutta used to say, we don’t have to do great things.  Just do little things with great love. I don’t know about you, but if we could all live out that quote, we could change the world, one sunrise at a time.


Summer’s End

In my area, kids are going back to school today, which generally marks the end of summer.  It seems like it flew by this year, and I feel grateful that I was able to get a little R and R in this past week.  My sister came in to visit, and we decided to head to a place where neither of us had been.  Solomons Island is in Southern Maryland, just a little over two hours away from where I live.  It’s not a big resort town like Ocean City, and for that, we were happy.  After settling into our hotel, off we went to explore the island, just an easy 30 minute walk down the road.  We were surprised that it wasn’t more crowded, given that it was Labor Day weekend, but we were happy to do our part for the local economy.  I’m sure the shop/restaurant owners were hoping for the place to be packed with tourists.  Maybe next year.  Anyway, we did a lot during our three days.  From dockside meals, a boat trip, looking for fossils at Calvert Cliffs, more walking miles than I can count, and capturing beautiful sunrises and sunsets, we ended our trip with a hope to return in the not too distant future.

I hope you had the chance for some down time during the last few months.  If not, fall is great time to get out and explore.  We all need downtime, especially in these crazy days.  Even if it’s just an overnight, or maybe a weekend, make some plans.  Find a new place to explore, and savor your time there.  You just never know if you’ll have the same chance again.


The Feast of St. Ignatius

July 31st is the day the Church throughout the world recognizes and honors St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was only about ten years ago that I  got to know Ignatius and the spirituality that developed out of his powerful conversion and his experiences he wrote down in a notebook, later to be known as the Spiritual Exercises. Now, I’ve adopted his spirituality as my own, and I share what I know with others, the goal being to recognize God’s presence all around us and to live our lives as faithful companions of Jesus. It’s a good way to live!

“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

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)


Healthy Kale

I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for books which can help me improve my health.  And there are plenty to choose from, some good and helpful, while others are pretty bad and not worth buying.  Recently, I came across Genius Foods by Max Lugavere and Paul Grewal, and its a book which I want to recommend to you.  It is well written and researched.  The book came about because Lugavere was trying to understand the causes of  his mother’s early-onset dementia.  He’s made it is mission to find ways we can improve our brain/overall health by focusing on what foods we  should eat and what foods we should avoid.   The title of Chapter Three is “Overfed, Yet Starving,”  and the focus is on the fact that the vast majority of food most of us eat provides little/no nutritional support needed by our bodies for good health.  Because our bodies are starving for these nutrients, we eat more and more food, but for most of us, this food has been highly processed and loaded with sugar and carbs.  The research out there shows that such a diet affects not only or mental health, but, as the obesity epidemic makes visibly clear, our physical health as well.    The book focuses on a number of healthy foods which the authors call “Genius Foods,” hence the title. They recommend consuming a variety of them on a daily basis.  One of the foods they recommend are dark leafy greens.  The authors note “they are low in sugar and packed with vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients that the brain desperately needs to function properly.”  One of my favorite greens they recommend is kale.

Now, I haven’t always eaten kale, but I grew to really liking it after a Dietitian I brought in for one of my retreats gave a demonstration on how to properly prepare it.  She made a tasty salad, making the kale  tender by massaging them with her hands to break down the sometimes tough and fibrous leaves.  Delicious, and a joy to eat!  I’ll have to find that recipe….

For the last three years, I’ve been growing kale in my window box planter shown in the photo.  Granted, the kale doesn’t grow as large this way, but it’s perfect for me.  When the leaves get about 8-12 inches long, I cut them at the base with a pair of scissors.  Within a few days, the leaves are growing again, so I’m able to get several cuts over the span of a couple of months.

Genius Foods includes a simple and tasty recipe called “Cheesy” Kale Salad.  At this time of summer, kale is very easy to grow or find at a store/farmer’s market.  I hope you’ll give the recipe a try.

“Cheesy” Kale Salad  (serves 2-3)

1 bunch kale, center ribs and stems removed (reserve these for juicing or eating later)

2 tb. extra virgin olive oil

2 tb. apple cider vinegar

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup nutritional yeast (or Parmesan)

1 tsp. garlic powder

3/4 tsp. salt

What to do:

1 Tear the kale leaves into small pieces and place them in a large bowl.  Add the oil and vinegar and stir or massage it into the leaves to start to soften them.  Add the green pepper, then the nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt.  Toss until everything is well combined.

Eat as is, or mix in some anchovies.  Or throw a grass-fed beef patty on top.


31 Days With Ignatius of Loyola

Every year around this time, Loyola Press offers people who want to grow deeper in their understanding of the spirituality of St. Ignatius a fantastic opportunity. Throughout the thirty-one days of July,  their microsite will give you some fantastic insights to reflect on and maybe integrate into your daily life.  You can click the link below and start your 31 day journey, starting July 1st.  Don’t worry if you get a late start.  There’s something for everyone, and I hope you’ll commit at least a little bit of your day to pondering what you read on 31 Days With Saint Ignatius.  Enjoy!


Ah Summertime

I can’t believe July is almost here.  What happened to June?  For me, it’s gone by like a whirlwind.  I have been doing a lot of travel, mainly for work, and although that’s been fun, it also left me longing for home, knowing that my garden needed constant maintenance due to all the rain we’ve had.  My sister made it out from California for a week or so, and we got the chance to spend the day with our niece who lives in New York City.  From there it was off to Lake Placid for a conference.  I first went there last June, and knew if I had the chance to go back, my sister would want to see this beautiful little town in the Adirondacks. She enjoyed it as much as I thought she would.

I love summer, especially the length of daylight.  It gives me the chance to get out and do some yardwork nearly every day, and between flower pots, hanging baskets, roses, tomatoes, lettuce, and kale, there’s something to care for each day.  I love it.   In fact, I picked my first tomato just this morning, and can’t wait to eat it tonight with dinner.  To me, there’s nothing much better than to eat (and share) something that you’ve grown yourself.  At  a retreat I led last May, I gave everyone a tomato plant to take home.  I chose varieties which could be planted in either the ground or in containers, and one person in particular had great success with hers.  On a regular basis, she sent me photos of her bounteous crop.  Seeing those photos made me really happy, as I knew that those tomatoes brought her some added summer happiness. It’s still not too late to plant something in your garden.  Make your way soon to a nursery near you and find something you would enjoy eating and sharing with others.

When my sister was visiting, we went for some exercise on a walking trail near my house.  At one time, the trail was actually a golf cart path, as the property was once a wonderful golf course.  Sadly, it went bankrupt in the 2007 crash, but the owners decided to turn the property over to the city, who opened it up year round for the community, providing a place to walk, jog or bike.  My friend Alex introduced it to me a few months before he passed away.  A lasting gift from him to be sure.   As my sister and I walked the path, we came upon a huge patch of thistle, with bees flying all around for the pollen.  It was a beautiful morning, and I wanted to share this photo that day. When I attached it, I thought it would probably have been better to show you one of my tomatoes, but that will have to come with another post.  For now, today, this photo reminds me of God’s grandeur all around me, even in a plant some would consider a weed.  Like the bees, I saw more than a simple weed that day.  I hope you do as well.


The Ignatian Way

A few years ago, the director at the retreat center which partners with me to offer retreats in the Ignatian tradition planted an idea in my head.  I had been doing the same retreat a few times a year for some time, and maybe I should think about a second retreat with a few new presentations and experiences.  After a time of prayer and discernment, my Ignatian Way retreat was born.  This past weekend, I led an Ignatian Way retreat, with the help of my friend Nancy, and it was a wonderful, powerful time, not just for the retreatants, but Nancy and I as well.  God was gracious to everyone and I felt so blessed as I drove down the hill which the retreat center rests upon, and headed home.

There are many spiritual paths people can take, and most of us have tried several of them before settling on one which seems to fit their life.  I know that was the case for me, and it wasn’t until I was in my 40’s before I began to experience the Ignatian Way.  My introduction to this 500 year old spiritual tradition came by chance, but it came at a perfect moment.  I had just been diagnosed with a chronic illness, and I realized I had to do something.  God lovingly and mercifully put some people in my path, in two different parts of the country, and both were living the Ignatian Charism. These people, who have never met, started, very slowly, introducing me to St. Ignatius and the spirituality which came about through his own life experiences of God.  A massive and life-altering conversion came about, because he needed it.  He spent the rest of his life helping people fall in love with God, not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of others.  Ignatius’s gift was not just meant for himself, but was to be given freely to all who might be helped.  That’s how the Ignatian Way is, and that’s how Nancy and I present it.  To be sure not perfectly, but to the best of our ability, so that the retreatants can know in maybe a new and/or deeper way, God’s incredible love for them.

Some of the retreatants who were with us this weekend did not plan to be there, even days before.  Divine Providence was at work, and one person said she felt “compelled” to register, not even knowing what the retreat was all about.  God sometimes works like that, for whatever reason, and I for one am very grateful for that.  He works the same with me, and God does for you as well, even though sometimes you may not realize it at the time.

Yesterday, I told the retreatants that I hope I can continue helping people learn the Ignatian Way for the rest of my life.  It’s a beautiful and profound way to live, and I believe with all my heart it’s a perfect way of living for the times in which we live.  It can be a much needed antidote for the poisonous and toxic rancor which seems to be coming at us from all sides.  Maybe it be just the antidote for what’s ailing you.


Divine Mercy Sunday

It was St. John Paul II who created Divine Mercy Sunday, which falls today, the first Sunday after Easter.  In fact, he canonized one of the  20th century’s chief promoters of Divine Mercy, St. Maria Faustina Kowalski in 2000, making her “the first saint of the New Millennium.”  As Providence would have it, this great and holy pope passed away on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2005.

Friends, you can click on either of the links above to learn more about this rich devotion of the Church. I would like to propose to you today that we are at an important time in history, and our calling upon God’s divine mercy in our daily prayer (see Divine Mercy prayers using links) will have positive affects beyond our understanding. Let these words from St. Faustina be some of the first and last of our daily prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”


The Cathedral of Notre Dame

Like many today, I had a hard time taking my eyes away from the television images coming from Paris. The incredible Cathedral of Notre Dame was being destroyed by a raging fire.  I was flooded with sadness over such a loss, but also grateful that I had the chance to experience this glorious and majestic place of worship.  Started in 1163, this cathedral was meant to glorify God, and so it has for over 800 years.  Many years ago, I was talking with a priest friend who was living in Rome at the time.  We were talking about St. Peter’s Basilica, and he shared a thought.  Even though the building is a magnificent work of architecture and art, it was built for one purpose:  The celebration of Mass.  It was built with one goal in mind: To glorify God.  The same can be said for Notre Dame.   
I was only in Paris once, in the mid 80’s, me a college student with a friend studying in Germany.  We planned such a grand tour that some of my family wanted to come.  We were together in Rome for Christmas, and then my friend and I headed to Switzerland, while my family went… I can’t remember!  I’ll have to check with them on that.  Anyway, our plan was to be together again in Paris for New Year’s.  I know, what a life. 
On December 31st, my friend and I  arrived in Paris and checked into our hotel.  I asked the attendant if my family had arrived, and he checked the registration book.  Desk top computers were still several years away, and no one had cell phones.  “There’s no other reservation for someone named Gallagher.”  I told him that was impossible, so he checked again, then gave me the book to see for myself.  I knew there must be a mistake, so when I got to my room, I made some calls back home.  First, I tried the travel agent who made all our reservations, but being New Year’s Eve, they were closed.  Next, I was able to reach one of my brothers, but he only had the itinerary, not the list of our hotels.  I was in Paris, I guessed my family was in Paris, but the travel agent booked us in different hotels, and we didn’t know where the other was staying.
To say I was upset was an understatement.  My traveling companion recommended we go out to dinner and do our best to celebrate New Year’s in the City of Lights.  Yes, the food and wine were great, but I really missed not being with my family.  I’m sure I wasn’t the most fun person to be with that night, but my friend understood.  We walked around the streets, happy to be in Paris to bring in the New Year, but eventually we went back to the hotel room in somber moods. 
I woke up early the next morning with an idea.  Since New Year’s Day is a Holy Day for Catholics, I knew for sure my mom would go to Mass.  When I told this to my non Catholic friend, he was indifferent.  “Paul, we saw tons of churches since we’ve been in Paris.  How would you know which one she would go to?”  “Notre Dame,” I replied.  “I’m sure she would go to Notre Dame.”   After breakfast, we headed out to find the Cathedral, which from our hotel, was no easy trip.  As I recall, we got lost a few times before eventually making it to our destination. 
When we arrived, Mass had already begun, and the Cathedral was packed.  I learned later that the church held over 9,000 people, and let me tell you, there was probably 9,500 there that morning.  My friend asked how I would ever find my family in such a crowd.  “Come with me,” I said, and off we went. 
You see, my mom was a creature of habit.  In those days, she tended to sit in the same area of the church, regardless of what church she was in.  Hoping beyond hope, and silently praying, off we went, making our way to the left aisle of this huge cathedral.  About half way up, just where I thought I would, I found my family.  If I were to talk with my friend today, I would guess that he would say he was still shocked that I was able to find them so easily.  Maybe St. Mary was guiding me, answering my prayers, but I can’t say for certain.  All I know is that in a vast cathedral, filled with many thousands of people, I walked right up to my mom like it was all planned, and we reunited for one of the best New Year Days I have ever had. 
After Mass, we had the chance to walk around and tour the Cathedral.  I will always remember those beautiful rose windows, with the  glorious richness of the light shining through the blue glass.  Today, I texted with my sister and brother who were with me that day, and we all mentioned the rose windows, lost forever now. 
After walking inside for awhile, my buddy and I walked up the spiral staircase, all 387 steps.  Only my trip up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty was more, well, thrilling would be the wrong word, but anyway, when we eventually made it to the up and outside, my friend took this photo of me.  The image has faded with time, but my memory of that day hasn’t.  I call it my “miracle of Notre Dame,” and I’m still amazed at the blessings which came to me that New Year’s Day in 1987, a lifetime ago now. 
For those people who have lost their beloved Cathedral, where generations have been baptized, married, received Eucharist and reconciliation,  been buried from, and where millions have come to pray in this place built to glorify God, I am so sorry for your loss.  Our faith is bigger than buildings, though, even the most ancient and glorious of them.  As the prophet Jerimiah reminds us, when we seek the Lord with all our hearts, we will find Him.  St. Ignatius would remind us that we can find God in all things, and I would add all places.  The loss of Notre Dame is a great one, but God was not lost at the same time the fire destroyed the building.  Just look around.