United By Our Struggles

I had an amazing day today. Well maybe that’s not the right word. My emotions have been running wild. We got through Mother’s Day, now Father’s Day is here, then my birthday at the end of the month, not to mention 4 teenage girls and one preteen with all their emotions flying around. Add that all together and what do you get? Chaos.

In the midst of all this I got a call a couple of nights ago from my friend David asking me if I could take him to take him to run a few errands. He lives in a group home and is mentally disabled but was homeless and living in Motel 6 when I first met him. Many of you know him because he makes religious bracelets for a living and gives them out for free. Twenty years ago he lost his 2 year old daughter in a car accident and her birthday is this week. He’s feeling that and the pain of Father’s Day as well.

So I started the morning at my men’s group and then went to get David and take him on his errands. I thought spending some time with him would cheer me up and it certainly did. I took him to Michaels and AC Moore for supplies for his bracelets and then to ShopRite so he could food shop. We brought his dog Lucky with us because he doesn’t like to leave him alone in the house. So while David shopped, me and Lucky stayed in the car. Then I needed a few things from Michaels so David and Lucky stayed back while I went shopping.

On our way back to his house we passed an abortion clinic. I’ve heard of it before and know several people who go there to pray the Rosary but never went. As we were driving by, there was a lone young woman standing on the side walk with her Rosary hanging from her hands. I said to David, “She’s praying the Rosary! I have to stop!” So I pulled over, put my car in reverse and parked in a Walgreens driveway and told David I’d be right back. I left the car running and briskly walked to where the young woman was. I said to her, “I can’t stay long because I have someone in the car but can I pray a decade of the Rosary with you?” She said, “Absolutely! We are going to pray for two women by name today. The first one is a woman who has had 6 abortions. The second one is her daughter, who is in there right now getting an abortion. She’s 16 years old. And she’s doing it for the sake of education so she can continue in school.” My heart almost stopped. I just couldn’t believe it. So we began a decade of the Sorrowful Mysteries. When we finished I told her, “I have to go.” She said, “It was so good that you were able to stop and do this!” She held out her hand to shake mine and I looked past it and wrapped my arms around her and embraced her. She flashed a beautiful smile and I was on my way. It was amazing.

After I dropped David off I went to work at my church. I stopped in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and knelt down and wept. I wept for my problems and my children’s problems, for David’s problems, for all my friend’s problems and for the people at the abortion clinic. I ended the day with another visit to the chapel full of tearful gratitude. I wanted to thank God for giving me some great examples of courage throughout the day – For David, who lives daily challenges that only mentally disabled people would understand. For the woman at the clinic who took time out of her day to pray the Rosary. For Jesus, who committed the most courageous act of love ever. But mostly, gratitude towards God for teaching me to begin and end my day with him and to turn to him in my times of need. I was reminded that we are all united by our struggles and our problems. And he put me with people this day so I could understand their problems. And by understanding theirs, I found relief from my own.

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Staying Positive

Recently I was texting my mom about a situation that didn’t turn out as I had planned. She expressed her disappointment in her reply and I answered back saying, “I’m staying positive and having patience. That’s my calling in this life LOL!” Her reply was awesome and filled with the wisdom I’ve come to expect from her: “That’s good. It will come in God’s time, not ours.”

After I reread the texts I began to realize how true the responses really are. For over 20 years now I’ve been working on my attitude trying to keep it positive. It’s amazing how difficult it is. If you listen to my training calls every other Thursday morning at 9 a.m., you know that I teach what I still struggle with and this is certainly still an area of struggle.

If you asked anyone that I associate with they would probably tell you that I’m one of the most positive people they know. While that’s true, what they don’t realize is that I have to work very, very hard at it. I do that by having daily prayer time, reading good books, watch who I spend my time with, listen to a lot of self talk and positive information, turn off the TV and really try and learn about the mind.

The other thing I do is try and eat healthy, exercise and drink the right kind of water. Proper hydration is so important for the brain because the brain is 80% water and clear thinking, depression, tiredness and a host of other things can affect your brain processes if you don’t drink enough of the right kind of water with nothing added to it.

All these things help me stay positive. But even though I practice these things, sometimes life doesn’t go as expected. That’s what happened in this little situation I was texting my mom about. And her response reminded me that no matter what we do to keep ourselves healthy, positive, in tune and on top, we have to include God in the equation. It really is about his timing and not ours. There’s a Bigger Force in charge and the quicker we realize that the better off we’ll be.

Have you noticed that you’re not in charge? Comment below, share you’re experiences and join in the conversation!

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The Thoughts You Think

I’ve been studying a lot about neuroplasticity lately. Its brain science that shows our brain changes with every thought we think. In other words our thoughts change the literal structure of our brain. The science itself is complicated but the concept is not.

We’ve long known that our moods and attitudes are affected by the thoughts we think. So if we want to lift our mood all we have to do is think positive thoughts. At least that’s what “they” say. Easier said then done. The real truth is that whatever the majority of our programs are, positive or negative, that’s how our thoughts are.

Follow me for a moment. Your brain is like a computer. Whatever information you put into it, it returns back to you. If you’re a more negative person, examine what you put in your mind. If you read trashy novels, watch a lot of TV, gossip a lot and hang out with negative people, chances are that’s the reason. On the flip side, if you’re more positive you probably read good books, laugh a lot, like to have fun and hang out with positive people, pray and go to church more than the average person.

Programs make up everything that comes through your senses and a lot of it can be controlled through the choices we make. The more negative programs you allow in, the more negative your thought patterns will be. The more positive, the more positive your thought patterns will.

Check this out by looking at your childhood. The environment that you grew up in is probably pretty close to the environment you live in now. Coincidence? No. You’re just modeling what you know. If you were lucky to be raised in a positive environment, that’s probably similar to the environment you live in now. Knowing this, you can change what goes in and it will change your brain and move you in the direction you’d like to go.

Stay tuned for more on this in the coming weeks. And remember what Earl Nightingale said many decades ago about this: “You become what you think about most.”

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Big Food, Monsanto and GMOs

I don’t know if you’ve been following the battle going on about labeling foods that are genetically modified (GMO). Its huge news. The state of Vermont just recently passed a law requiring that all foods sold in that state have GMO labeling – meaning the labels will identify if the food has genetically modified organisms or not.

Some research shows there’s a long list of health challenges that come with GMOs. The argument is that these foods are causing health challenges and Big Pharma is in on it. So we eat GMOs, get sick, and the pharmaceutical companies have to continue making drugs and forcing the doctors to give them to us. It’s a vicious circle that never ends. No wonder why the U.S. is on the bottom of the United Nations Life Expectancy list. We are number 40 out of 40. Japan is #1. Even Cuba, a third world country is in a better position than us!

One of the biggest companies involved is a company called Monsanto. They are leading the fight to keep labeling these foods at bay. They are also very involved in the federal government. What’s amazing to me is all the other big companies that support Monsanto that are part of the 300 member Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). Do you recognize any of these: Dow, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kraft, Kelloggs, Campbells, Smuckers, Hersheys, and General Mills?

So these are companies that make our food but don’t want us to know what’s really in it. To me that means they are part of the problem, not the solution. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that they know that we won’t buy their crap if we know what’s in it. I think if we are giving them are money then we deserve to know what’s really in our food. It’s time we woke up to what’s really going on. Go here to boycott these companies. And for a helpful alternative that can combat what’s in our foods, go here.

What about you? What do you think? Comment below and get in on the conversation.

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Forced Gratitude

We have a family friend who sends money every 3 or 4 months and it’s amazing how useful it is and how it comes at the right time. Today, after another tough Mother’s Day I sat down to write a thank you note to these friends. I’m experiencing a little desolation as I just came off chaperoning a weekend in Cape May, NJ with our youth group. It was powerful and connecting and life changing. But now it was time to get real again.

As I began to write the note, I wanted to update my friends on everything my kids are involved in and how they’re doing. Desolation was immediately replaced with consolation as I was filled with gratitude at how my kids are developing and growing and living successful lives. I was immediately transported to that land where proud parents live when their children are doing well. I stopped and read the note a couple of times, put it down and just smiled. I slowly said to myself, “This is a great moment right now.” And it truly was.

What was most amazing is how I wasn’t feeling grateful when I started the letter but ended up with an overwhelming sense of it and the feeling that everything is going to be alright. While my intent was to give gratitude to my friends, I received it myself in abundance. Is there someone that you should write a thank you note to? Maybe it’s time to do it.

Leave me your thoughts after you’ve done it. I’d love to hear from you. Comments are always open.

(Check out the new tagline at the top of my site. Just a little better explanation of how I’m helping people become better. Let me know if you like it.)

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Give Up Everything?

This coming Sunday’s gospel ends with a statement that will shock you: “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Another translation says, “None of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.” (Luke 14:33)

This is one of the hardest things we are asked to do. We work hard for years to get to a certain lifestyle. If we lose our job, we have friends praying for us so we don’t lose everything. Our culture dictates to us that we need more and more and more. There’s absolutely no end in sight. Many of us hoard our belongings and don’t want to get rid of them so we save them for years knowing we will never use them.

How are we to do this? I invite you to leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on this. It’s a worthwhile discussion to have. St. Ignatius said this: “The only reason to have or keep an attachment to something or somebody is if it’s in the service, honor, and glory of God.” (my paraphrase). So how can you keep everything so that statement is true for you?

God Bless and please leave your comments below.



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Take Up Your Cross

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

This is a very tall order. In fact it’s really impossible in today’s world. Who has the time for this? We’re just supposed to drop all of our responsibilities and walk away from everything? What about my goals and everything I want to accomplish for myself and my family? How am I supposed to balance all this?

These are good questions, and questions we should be asking ourselves regularly. This is not an easy life. In order to get along we have to continually ask ourselves these types of questions. We have to continually try to improve ourselves. The good news about this passage is that you don’t have to do anything. Jesus says to only do this if you want to follow him. If you don’t, then I guess it doesn’t matter what you do. But if you’re going to follow him, then follow him. Don’t do it half-heartedly.

So what does it really mean to take up your cross daily? I think there’s two ways to look at it. One way is to resolve to accept the fact that your life is miserable and you have to deal with it. There’s nothing you can do about it so why complain? Just accept it and deal with it. Try not to have too many interactions with people, because all you’re going to get is their opinion or advice. You don’t need people budding into your life anyway, right?

The other way is to accept it, but ask God to help you accept it. Look at the situation and find Jesus in it. Talk to others to get their perspective. Unite with Jesus in your life. There’s a beautiful scene in “The Passion of the Christ” where Simon of Cyrene was ordered to carry Jesus’ cross. Simon wanted nothing to do with Jesus. He was with his family and didn’t want any part of this. He was traveling on the road, going somewhere with his family. Busy with his life. Is that you? Notice what happens next. Jesus moves next to Simon, locks arms with him and they walk to Calvary together. That’s how Jesus wants us to carry our crosses. With him.

This week I challenge you to ask Jesus how he wants you to carry your crosses. There are many ways; just listen to him for the answer. With us alone, it’s impossible. But with God, all things are possible.

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Happy Father’s Day everyone! I hope you were able to enjoy the day with your families.

The Mass readings for Father’s Day were perfect. In the first reading, David gets a message from God through the prophet Nathan for taking Bathsheba as his own and then killing her husband Uriah the Hittite. What does he get? Forgiven. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is having dinner with a Pharisee when a sinful woman comes in, interrupts the party, anoints Jesus, kisses his feet, cries and dry’s his feet with her hair. What does she get? Forgiven.

Who knows more about how to forgive than a father? After all, our Father in heaven is the greatest forgiver of all. But how many of us have someone in our lives who we haven’t forgiven or won’t forgive? We attend church, do all the right things, but don’t forgive someone who hurt us. Yet we stand before a forgiving God unwilling to forgive. And us Catholics, who believe that the Real Presence of Jesus Christ is manifested in our bread and wine every Sunday, stand before him, receive him in our bodies and refuse to forgive someone. And then we expect forgiveness for ourselves. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Those were Jesus’ words, a directive from him that we repeat often but don’t realize what we’re saying.

In essence, Jesus is telling us to first forgive who we need to forgive, then come ask for forgiveness. This is a hard teaching I know. It’s one that I struggle with often. But I must not stand before the Lord and expect a gift from him that I’m not willing to give to others. In fact it’s already been freely given to me. I just need to pass it on.

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In today’s Mass, the gospel reading was Luke 7:11-17. It’s the story of the widow in Nain whose son had died. Jesus was moved with pity and told her, “Do not weep.” Then he stepped forward, touched the coffin and said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And so he did. Then Jesus gave him to his mother. The gospel says that “fear seized them all.”

For those of us that know the loss of a loved one, we know that fear would absolutely seize us. But so would Joy. We don’t hear about the mother and her son and how their life went on from there. I can imagine the celebrations! A sad funeral turned into a joyous celebration of life! Probably many days of celebrating, and hopefully praising God. Do you think they went back to find Jesus to thank him? Did they follow him and become his disciples? I would like to think so and hope that I would do the same.

We live in a different kind of world today. When death comes close to us we do weep, and sometimes bitterly. Sometimes not at all. But we do deal with it at some point in some way in our life. We don’t have Jesus or the prophets to bring our loved ones back. At least not in the way they did two thousand years ago. But we do have something. We have the words of Jesus. In fact, we have the Incarnate Word, Jesus alive in the pages that tell the story of his life! And even though ancient, they speak to us in many different ways, at different times and differently each time. Read that story and then think quietly and hear Jesus speaking to you. “Do not weep! Arise! Carry on!” And as he gave the man back to his mother, he will give you back to your life.

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Be There With Him

Happy Holy Week!

As I head off to Chicago for my son’s graduation from boot camp, I had to write a quick note about this wonderful spiritual week. In a recent session I had with my spiritual director I talked about being away for Holy Week. I didn’t realize how important it was for me to celebrate these days. I was really upset about having to be away and not being able to celebrate with my parish family. She suggested that I take the daily Gospel readings and put myself into the stories and to become a friend of Jesus and accompany him through all his struggles this week. Let him bless the bread at table, let him wash my feet, be with him in the garden, stand by him when he’s arrested and accompany him to court. Walk with him on the road to Golgotha and help him carry that cross. Just stay close to him and be with him through it all.

She said in a way I am doing that by going away. All I’m giving up to be with my son. To enjoy him and enjoy his company and be totally there. It’s a sacrifice that’s not even close to our Lord’s sacrifice. At the same time, be with Jesus in his struggles as he goes about his day.

With this guidance on my heart, I went to church on Monday night for a spirituality meeting and had the opportunity to spend time with good friends from church as we studied the crucifix in our main worship space. The leader of the night asked us to come close and kneel on the floor for a few moments and adore Christ on the cross. It was dark with two small lights shining on Jesus. One of our music leaders played piano and sang a beautiful song called “When They Crucified My Lord.”

Kneeling there looking up at Christ just overcame me. For a second I was there at Calvary witnessing the last moments of his life. Rain was pouring down and the drops were dripping off his hair. Steam from the rain was rising off his still warm skin but his breath was already gone. His sacrifice was monumental to me as my eyes filled with tears. It was one of the most powerful nights in recent memory that was a great prelude for my week. Even though I won’t be around my home parish, I will take that memory with me as I travel. I will also take this picture with me that I took later that night.

Jesus, Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, NJWhat about you? Are you going to let this week pass by just like every other week? I challenge you to do something different and pick someone in this story and become that person for the next four days. If there’s no one you can relate to, insert yourself into the scene and accompany Jesus on this road no matter where you are or what you’re going through. You’re relationship with him will flourish as a result and he will be with you like never before.

God Bless you all during this Holy Week and Passover.

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