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Holy Trinity as model of spiritual friendship

On this Feast of the Holy Trinity, I thought I’d share this excerpt on the ways the Father-Son-Spirit model for us what spiritual friendship and right relationship are all about. This is from Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual FriendshipRead more

Real comfort food feeds the soul, not just the belly

Here’s a reader question that just came in, and I think it’s a good one, something we have to think about if we’re looking to break our food obsessions:

“I’m sure I need to read the book, but I’m wondering how to embrace the fact that food IS comfort on some level, we can’t really separate that from our experience with it. I love the image of Jesus cooking for the disciples on the seashore, when they had been out fishing all night. And in fact He gives HIMSELF to us as food! So it seems counter-intuitive to me to try to minimize the comfort aspect of our relationship with food in the quest for health, as people often do. How do you see this issue?” Read more

Knock, knock…

So the doorbell rings at 7:45 p.m. tonight and sitting on our front porch is a tiny little package from an undisclosed location in Mobile, Alabama. Addressed to me. I open it, and inside is the rooster you see here, with a pig on top of its head. Needless to say, I was somewhat freaked out, assuming some nut job had located me. Not that any of you are nut jobs. With all due respect. Read more

Join me for Theology on Tap tonight!

Attention all New York Capital Region readers:

I’ll be talking about spiritual friendship at Theology on Tap at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Jan. 19) at The Orchard Tavern on North Manning Boulevard in Albany. Please come by, grab a drink, and stay for the short talk and discussion.

The talk is based on my book Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship (Ave Maria Press, 2010).

See you at the Tavern…

An embarrassment of prayer riches

Okay, so here’s the deal. About a week ago, I was in a weird place. Due to a confluence of events, I found myself wondering — seriously — if perhaps I’d said all I had to say, in terms of my Catholic writing. I was thinking maybe it was time to hang it up. I actually suggested to Dennis that perhaps I would go over to Hewitt’s (our local gardening place) and see about a job there, as I have no other skills beyond writing, talking, writing, talking.

So, as I pondered all this and made Dennis absolutely crazy, I prayed. I asked God for some sort of sign that my writing wasn’t in vain, that I was supposed to keep going, that the people in my life aren’t just some figment of my imagination but really, truly have an interest in and care about my work and, well, in me as a person. I even emailed one friend asking for prayers and said that I wished God would write me a letter, spelling it all out in black and white so there would be no mistaking the message. That was last Wednesday and Thursday.

Fast forward to Friday. A letter arrived. From a religious sister I once worked with at my first job in the communications office of the Diocese of Metuchen. I haven’t seen or heard from this sister in about 25 years. She keeps up with my life through my Life Lines column, which runs her diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit. Here’s a snippet of what Sister Michaelita wrote: “Your efforts to lead a prayerful life amidst all your responsibilities and the demands that are made upon your time have truly impressed and encouraged me.”

I “encouraged” her? I was somewhat stunned, but so happy to hear from this long, lost person from my past. I really didn’t think anything more of it, beyond deciding to send her a copy of Walking Together.

On Saturday, I opened the mailbox and found a card from a fellow Catholic blogger, someone known for her knack for personal note-writing, but, still. Today? Right now? Fran thanked me for all I do and for my life “as a sign of Christ.” Wow. The card included a quote from St. Francis de Sales (one of my all-time favorites) about entering into silence (one of my most recent quests). Perfect.

I still wasn’t catching on…

No mail Sunday, but then came Monday. Two, count ‘em, two personal letters arrived. One was a note from my friend Maureen, which, among other things, offered encouragement as I embark on two big writing projects. The other was from Brother Christian, the Trappist monk I met on retreat last month. “See Jesus and Mary everywhere and adore their wills lovingly, and you will be a saint,” he wrote, in a handwritten card that also included a 1973 clipping about him and his monastic life and a page from a book on St. Therese.

As if that wasn’t enough, I received two email notes from spiritual friends I’d included in my book on friendship — one encouraging me in my work, the other offering prayers as he headed to a five-day hermit retreat where he would be in total silence and solitude.

Now I was getting suspicious. I had prayed for a sign, I had wished for a letter, and suddenly there were letters coming every day. And not just any letters. Letters that offered encouragement, prayers, friendship, inspiration. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by what God was doing for me in the most obvious and concrete ways. So often I whine about not knowing what God wants, never being truly sure if I’m doing His will or my own in disguise. This didn’t leave much room for doubt.

I thought that was the end of it, but Tuesday came along and the phone rang. I almost didn’t pick it up because I didn’t recognize the name, but I went ahead anyway. The woman on the other end had made a Cornerstone retreat with me several years ago, and we see each other once in a while after Mass. She’d never called my house before, so I wasn’t sure what she could possibly want or need.

She called, she said, to let me know how much she enjoys and appreciates my work. She apologized for not getting to a recent talk I gave at my parish and then stressed again the importance of my work. What are the odds? That call was really the icing on the cake. I felt humbled by the embarrassment of riches God was showering down on me. All I could do was say thank you and decide that maybe, just maybe, I am already doing what I’m meant to be doing, struggles and all.

All I can say is “thank you” — to God, for sure, but to all those people who, without even realizing it, gave me the answer I was desperately seeking. Not only the people who sent me letters or made phone calls, but all those friends who constantly but quietly support my work and encourage me on my spiritual journey. You are blessings in my life, each and every one of you.

Mass as it must have been in the beginning


My friend Bill (aka Msgr. William Benwell, vicar general of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J.) was up for a visit and asked if he could celebrate Mass at our house. I was only too happy to oblige. While he’s celebrated Mass at a vacation rental for us in North Wildwood, N.J., we’ve yet to have Mass in our own home.

As we were sitting and praying together, gathered so close to the altar, I couldn’t help but imagine how our experience must have been very similar to what it was like to worship together in the early days of Christianity, when disciples gathered in homes to share a meal and celebrate their new faith.

So here are some shots of our home-grown liturgy. That’s our living room coffee table altar above.

Celebrant and congregation.

An interactive homily on St. Martha, whose feast day we were celebrating.

Noah was the lector. Olivia and Chiara were altar servers. A first for Chiara. And I was minister of the cup, another first.

From Hundred Acre Wood to Deathly Hallows

In the span of about five days, I saw the new Winnie the Pooh movie with my 6-year-old, the Broadway show Wicked with my 11-year-old, and Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the last Harry Potter film, with my 14-year-old. Those are some pretty disparate entertainment choices – the benefit of widely spaced children – but the funny thing is that they’re not really all that different when you strip away the smoke and mirrors. And honey pots.

Okay, Potter’s Lord Voldemort and Pooh Bear’s “Backson” aren’t quite in the same league, but the overarching themes of all three of these productions are the same: the power of love, the importance of friendship, the willingness to confront our worst fears, no matter how terrible, in order to do the right thing. As it turns out, whether you’re in the Hundred Acre Wood or the Forbidden Forest, life still comes down to choices — between darkness and light, good and evil.

As I sat in the theater with Chiara, who was just a few days shy of six, I soaked up her enthusiasm for the beloved Pooh characters as they bounced and rolled and waddled along, doing what they always do – getting confused, helping each other, searching for the one who can protect them from the scary stuff in life, Christopher Robin. And, for a little kid not yet old enough to know real evil, a colorful, horned, cartoon “Backson” can be just as scary as anything J.K. Rowling conjured up.

Even in Wicked, the awesome prequel to the Wizard of Oz, the story of the wicked witch turns out to be a story of friendship, trust betrayed and trust regained, and, of course, doing the right thing even when the right thing gets you exiled, or, worse, melted.

How often do we face choices that have the power to change the course of a life – our own, our children’s, a stranger’s. I’m not talking about life-or-death choices, although those sometimes come along as well. I’m talking about the little choices that can have a big impact: the words we use, the look on our face, the things we do in the course of our day–to-day lives. Do we choose light over darkness? Do we cast someone aside out of mistaken notions of who we think they are or ought to be? Do we let fear keep us from doing what we know is right even if it’s hard? Do we have friends to walk the journey with us? Do we constantly keep an eye out for the One who can comfort us, protect us, guide us onto the right path?

Some things are universal. Whether it’s a quaking Piglet fearfully going out into the unknown to save his friends trapped in a ditch or a stalwart Harry Potter unflinchingly preparing to sacrifice his own life to save his friends and his world, the stories come back around to the same lesson: We are called to walk this path with others, and to give of ourselves – maybe even all of ourselves – for those we care about. And even for those we don’t. Sounds a lot like the Gospel, doesn’t it, with some animation, great music and special effects to drive the point home. I don’t know if my kids got all that, but I sure did.

Where I’ve been, where you’ll find me


I’ve been pretty scarce around these parts lately. Why? Because I’ve been spending all my time in the basement and at the Dollar Store. How’s that for a great combo? I’ve been prepping for the mini-retreat I’ll be giving in Warwick, Rhode Island, tomorrow for 60+ people from 11 New England dioceses. So…I’ve spent many hours at the Dollar Store buying supplies, actually two Dollar Stores, and the Christmas Tree Shoppe, and various party stores and more in New York and New Jersey. Yes, it’s a multi-state adventure. I’ve been at our local Dollar Store so often that the manager and I have become friends. He even gave me directions to Warwick, and I promised to come back and tell him how things went. That’s what happens when you talk too much.

After I found all the pieces for these projects, I had to assemble 70 bags/boxes, put prayer-based messages on the front and back of each one, cut squares of Styrofoam for each one with a serrated bread knife (I’m hoping I don’t have some rare lung disease from breathing in all that Styrofoam dust), stuff the bags with shredded paper, and then, the best part, stick each of those little doves onto the end of a toothpick and then stick the toothpick into the Styrofoam. I have to share this with all of you because, really, no one would ever guess these little things required that much effort. I’m sure the folks at the retreat will wonder why they’re getting a cheap little bag of paper. What can I do? I had to keep costs reasonable. It’s the love that’s put into it that counts, right?

Those are the little “prayer boxes” above and to the left. They’ll be part of an activity at the end of one of my retreat sessions. I’ve got another table full of votive candles for the closing activity. Let’s hope I don’t set off the conference center sprinklers with 70 candles going at once on one big table. That certainly would make for a memorable experience.

I sure hope they like all this stuff, not to mention the actual talks that will serve as the core of this event and the Powerpoints presentations (my first ever) to go with each of the eight songs I’m using to close and open the four segments. Phew.

It would really help if you could send some prayers my way tomorrow. I want to give these participants — all of whom are catechists for developmentally disabled adults and children — what they need and deserve on this annual day of renewal for them. I’ll let you know how things go when I get back.

A nice surprise in my inbox today

I love it when I open an email only to find an unexpected and wonderful surprise. That’s what happened today when I was sent the link to this review of “Walking Together” by Sarah Reinhard over at just another day of Catholic pondering. Thank you, Sarah.

Here’s what she had to say:

I remember, years ago, being shocked to silence when my boyfriend (who’s now my husband) told me that his best friend was his older brother. He said it so matter-of-factly, in such an “of COURSE he is” way.

I didn’t yet consider any of my siblings friends, and couldn’t quite picture what he meant. Now, many years later, I have a glimpse of it. I’ve become friends with some of my siblings and some of his.

It’s a wonderful thing, this siblings-as-friends experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I’ve come to realize, over time, that I have quite a few different kinds of friends. There are friends who are with me for a season, friends who I know through social media, and friends who I have the joy of being related to. There are friends who are more like acquaintances and friends who are more like family.

One of my favorite recent reads, Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship, by Mary DeTurris Poust, which I received as a review copy, has made me consider another kind of friendship that’s essential: spiritual friendship.

And you know what? After reading this, I realized something wonderful: I have a spiritual friend! I do! (Actually, I think I may have more than one, but one came to mind right away.)

This book is a gem of wisdom and insight, especially in an age of digital isolation. We need true spiritual friends now more than ever, when information is instant and feedback is constant. We need to be able to tap into the holy and sacred in other people, and this book will guide you.

You might find yourself nodding and recognizing those spiritual friends who already exist in your life. You might, on the other hand, find yourself longing for a spiritual friend after reading Walking Together.

DeTurris Poust offers suggestions that will strengthen existing friendships and help you take them to the “next level” and perhaps transform what began as “BFF” into “BFF…eternally.” She taps into both the ancient stories of saints and current lives of living Catholics to build what I’ve come to think of as a manual for growing into a better Christian.

I highly recommend this book, whatever your state in life.

Now, go visit Sarah’s blog. She’s got lots of great stuff there. Click HERE.