Blast From The Past

On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come! Post something by clicking here.

The Blood & The Rose Finally Complete!

It’s the end of July, which means it is nearing the end of summer and the end of these Blasts From The Past. But I wanted to commemorate and congratulate my good friend and producer of Grace Before Meals, Tim Watkins, who has just completed work on his film about Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, “The Blood & The Rose”! It has been 6 years in development, but it has all come together beautifully. The film is narrated by Eduardo Verastegui, who starred in “Bella” and more recently, “For Greater Glory” and was produced by Steve McEveety, who produced “The Passion Of The Christ”. You can check out an older trailer below by clicking the picture. And keep up with the film by checking it out on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr!

Watch the trailer for "The Blood & The Rose"!

Watch the trailer for “The Blood & The Rose”, finally complete!

Interested in Screening the Film?

Now that the movie is finished, the next step is to set up screenings in cities across the US. The hope is to have large events to screen the film, have speakers present on Mary and our role as “Messenger Eagles” to share our faith, and the chance to celebrate the Holy Mass. If this is something you would be interested in getting involved with, please email info@leomcwatkinsfilms.com to find out how to bring this important film to your city.

Since it has been 6 years, I thought it would be good to look back at when the film was first being developed back in 2007. The following eBlast was originally sent out on the Feast Day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, so you will notice references to Advent and Christmas. Additionally, some of the original links do not exist anymore, but it does not change the importance of this miracle for the Catholic faith and the effect it has had on millions. And when you consider that Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of both the Americas and the Philippines, I am certainly glad to share her message for all to hear. God bless!

Food for the Body

Our Lady of Guadalupe – December 12

Originally posted December 12, 2007

First, a bit of history: It was December 9, 1531, when a humble Mexican Indian convert Juan Diego first saw a mysterious vision of a woman.  He was on his way to daily mass, passing a hill known as Tepeyac, in Mexico.  The vision occurred again the next day. Each of the two days he was asked by the woman to relay a message, a request to build a church on that spot. Both times he was turned down by Bishop Zummeraga.  As Juan Diego begged for the woman to make her request to a man of more importance, she insisted that Juan Diego go once more – this time, though, she gave him proof.  She instructed him to pick the flowers on the hill and bring them to the Bishop.  Juan Diego once again stood before the Bishop, and as he unfurled his cactus cloth tilma to expose the flowers an image was revealed.  This was the sign to convince the Bishop and Juan Diego of the authenticity of this heavenly message…and the messenger.  This image is determined to be the Virgin Mary, the mother of God.  Prayerful devotion to the message of peace and holiness from this woman is known as “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”  The shrine, now located on that very hill of the first apparition, is one of the most celebrated pilgrimages in North America, and devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has brought about countless conversions to the Faith, miraculous healings, and a sense of a heavenly presence from a spiritual mother in Heaven.

Fast-forward to the Spring of 2006: the producer of Grace Before Meals, Tim Watkins – a faithful man and good friend, was invited to produce a documentary on this incredible story.  Even though I studied Mariology, the study of Mary’s life and veneration to Her, I did not know much of the information Tim uncovered in his research.  There is so much to this amazing phenomena, it will take a serious act of God’s Grace to produce this film.  And their production team is working hard, even now, to be instruments of God’s Grace!

At one point in the production, Tim and the film crew were invited to the Shrine in Mexico to capture the various parts of the history and the life of faith on film, including an up close view of this sacred image.  A small group was invited to go into the vault, where the image is mechanically drawn away from the Shrine’s apse, in order to view the image up close and in private.  I was fortunate enough to be part of that small group!  The sense of faith evoked from this image was difficult to describe.  I can just say it was a beautiful moment.

Unfortunately, many could dismiss this icon as a piece of “mediocre” art, especially if they do not study its importance.  Thank God enough attention was paid to this “stamped” image on poorly constructed fiber.  The fact that the image and the cloth have endured almost 500 years has mystified the scientific community.  This image is in much better shape than the Declaration of Independence!  Consider the scientific studies that discovered images of historical people in the cornea of the image’s eye.  Check out the NASA research of the constellation contained in the vesture of the image that documents the position of the stars on the exact day of the apparition.  And read up on the accuracy of Mexico’s historical topography embedded in the designs of the image’s clothing, and you’ll realize there’s more to this image than meets the eye.

The image shows a woman with a belt situated under her bosom.  This demonstrates the woman is pregnant – she is full of Life! Therefore, theologically, this image represents the sacred dignity of life, which we will celebrate in a special way on December 25.  A four-leaf flower petal – the only four-leaf flower in the whole image – is situated perfectly on her belly, the spot of the unborn child.  Cultural historians explain this flower image as a symbol of divinity and kingship.  The stars that decorate this four-leaf flower make up the constellation “Leo”, as the lion is king of the jungle.  Could it be the Divine Artist was describing for the natives how the child in her womb is the “King,” the Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ – Divinity Incarnate!

This miraculous image could not have come at a better time for the native people of that land.  Historically, this image represents the turning of the tide from the brutal bloodshed of human sacrifices done to appease the false gods worshiped at the nearby temples.  Now, this new King, quietly resting in the womb of the woman, will want bloody sacrifices no more.  In fact, he will demand the exact opposite: Let Life Live!  The virginal image of this tilma and the virginal image of this Holy Season of Advent remind us Mary chose life.  No wonder this image has become the symbol for the Pro-Life movement.

Every December 12, the Catholic world, especially the Spanish-speaking community, celebrates this great feast in honor of this mysterious but hopeful image.  Could it be just a silly pious tradition surrounding an historical image?  Or could the celebration of this feast, less than 2 weeks from Christmas, be a heavenly reminder that Life is the greatest gift we can receive?  This image and this universal celebration of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe cannot come at a better time for our own people, right here and now!  In our society, where people forget life is a gift and that a wrong choice can lead to an abortion and terminate the life of an unborn baby, this image reminds us we can fall into the temptation of being false gods too.  When we consider the number of abortions in our modern culture, we can see how we are not unlike the bloody culture of the past, willing to perform “human sacrifices” for the sake of convenience and to protect our own comforts.  One modern thinker has even gone so far as to say children are dangerous to the Earth’s resources. [Editors note: Dead link]  Thank God for the enduring message from the silent witness of Juan Diego’s tilma!

In preparation for the Holy Season of Christmas, when the image of the Woman with Child brings joy, peace, and hope, can we remember to do all we can to help pregnant women in need?  Should we not remind every man, starting from a young age, his responsibility to care for the mother of his child and to be a part of the birthing and raising of the child (as St. Joseph did)?  By our prayerful witness, can we help raise appropriate awareness in our politicians – as public servants – of the issues that are primarily moral, especially in regards to the first principals of the dignity of human life from conception to natural death!

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is another perfect image and symbol of Advent, for she waits for her child to be born.  And those who look at this image with devotion can also anticipate with joy the coming of her Son – who gives Life to the world!

Food for the Body

A Mexican Sweet Treat: Bunuelos

I was looking for a recipe that would be proper to the Mexican culture, especially in light of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I asked Christopher Ortega, a seminarian for the diocese of Savannah, who has a Mexican heritage, what type of treat he would like to eat to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe.  He mentioned his mother’s Bunuelos – a crispy tortilla with either a sugar cane glaze or powdered sugar.  Thanks again to Chris and his mother for sharing their recipe!  For the recipe, [click here].

Food for the Soul

A Prayer for Life!

This Blast is not intended to make people feel guilty, but to help people understand some choices can kill an innocent child.  Mary in the Nativity scene and Mary in the Guadalupe image would never call that Life in her womb a simple cluster of cells.  She would call that living entity her child!  In today’s culture, where life is treated without dignity – as witnessed by the hostility a child faces in the womb, the rejection the poor experience, the neglect of the sick and elderly, and the early termination of life because it can pose challenges and inconveniences – we need to listen to the silent witness of Juan Diego’s tilma.  Perhaps it may be a good meditation to put up this image in your home, near your Nativity Scene – so we not only celebrate the Life when born, but also when the Life is conceived!

Let us pray:

God our power and mercy, You blessed the Americas at Tepeyac with the presence of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.  May her prayers help all men and women to accept each other as brothers and sisters.  Through your justice present in our hearts may Your peace reign in the world.  We ask this through Christ our Lord! Amen.

 

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Blast From The Past

On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come!

NEW VIDEO:

Grand Opening: St. James Coffee Shop!

(Me with Amanda from St. Matthew’s Church, and some of her teens who helped me during a demo of “Board Breaking.”)

Take a look at this blessed an unique coffee shop in Rochester MN. Yes, there is a Eucharistic Chapel and yes, they are cheaper than Starbucks!

Having just returned from another Steubenville Conference in Rochester MN (truly fantastic once again!), I thought this would be a great time to promote the opening of a great new Catholic coffee shop called St. James Coffee, complete with a Eucharistic Chapel and good coffee to boot…and it officially opens today! Check out my tour of the place and if you are up in Rochester MN, be sure to stop in for more than just a good cup of Joe, but the Grace of God. The perfect place to share Grace Before Meals!

Want an Odd Job Assisting Fr. Leo?

Don’t worry, it is not that odd! Fr. Leo and the GBM team are looking for young adults with a culinary background and missionary-hearts living in the Baltimore area to potentially assist with the cooking at events in the future. As we seek to create the best presentations and demonstrations possible, there is much work that needs to be done at each event, so your help could make a big difference. The position is not regular, but does offer payment. If you are interested in this opportunity to help Fr. Leo with food preparation at different events, please send your resume and information to assistant@gracebeforemeals.com. Think of it as a cool and helpful way to gain culinary and spiritual training!

Food for the Body

Coming Home 20 Years Later!

Originally posted November 12, 2008

A few weeks ago, about 50 “ young” men returned to their alma mater for their high school reunion.  I wanted to stress “ young” because I was one of them!

We celebrated our 20 year Mount St. Joseph high school reunion.  It was strange to walk through halls where I once wandered aimlessly as a lost freshman, where friends played practical jokes on each other, and where I was yelled at a few times by teachers. We celebrated on the grounds of the newly constructed sports stadium with homecoming victories over our rivals in football.

For a few hours, several of my classmates shared life updates, visited old classrooms, marveled at the new structural additions, and most importantly, remembered moments that made high school more than just a building.  In that brief reunion with my former classmates, I must say that it was good to be home.

Students at Mount St. Joe are referred to as “Mount Men.”  Our patrons are St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, and St. Francis Xavier, the founder of the Xavarian Brothers, the order of religious brothers that staffs this school and many others around the world.  The Mount “Tower,” part of the original building, still remains a focal point for the modern campus.  It is a symbol of what each Mount St. Joe student is to exemplify – a strong, enduring, visionary beacon for the community and world.  Even though none of us former students would have admitted it 20 years ago, we were all very proud to be a part of the Mount family.

Looking back, I realize the high school years can be some of the most challenging for young people.  It’s a time of internal conflicts: bodies (and hormones) develop at an unbelievable pace, but limited psychological and life experiences prevent teens from fully understanding these inevitable changes.  As high school students, we wanted to be treated as adults, yet we tended to act like unruly kids.   Change occurs so quickly that some teachers hardly recognize students after a summer of growth spurts.  Parents marvel at how clothes sizes change as dramatically as voices drop from tenor to squeaky baritone.  The amount of transformation that occurs in a young person during this time requires the watchful eyes of faithful teachers.  Change can be good, if we change into something good .  Therefore, teachers must see that their objective isn’t simply to educate students so they can graduate.  Teachers must see their vocation as vital assistance to parents in the formation of these children through academics, virtue- based development, and by sharing the gift of service with others.

Thank God for good high schools like Mount St. Joe, a place where the Brothers, Priests, and lay teachers watch, guide, and care for students as they would a brother or son.  As parents entrust children to these institutions for about 8 hours daily, school should be an extension of the family. At the Mount, we are a large family of brothers.  Granted, it isn’t perfect, but what is perfect this side of Heaven?

During the reunion, I was so proud to learn that from a class of about 200 men, three of us became Catholic priests and one non-Catholic student was ordained as a Protestant Minister.  Many of my classmates are now working in secular industries. Some serve in the military, in manual labor, as doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, and a handful are fire fighters.  Classmates spoke lovingly about their wives and how proud they were to be fathers.   It did my heart good to see how one guy who arrived after the opening speech and prayer bowed his head to offer Grace before he ate his meal.  I was even more honored to celebrate the Mass for several of my classmates, many of whom expressed their congratulations and prayerful encouragement of my work as a priest and as host for the Grace Before Meals movement.  Some were surprised to learn that I entered the seminary only six years after graduating high school.

The homecoming reunion weekend at Mount St. Joseph made me reflect on the importance of religious orders that focus on the education of young people. We need more teachers who see that educating young people is more than a job, it’s a calling from God. We need more high schools that challenge young people to grow, not just in body, but in mind and spirit. We need families to ensure that what young people are learning in high school are life lessons and not just useless facts. Too often we hear stories of teachers who use the classroom to indoctrinate students in relativistic tendencies, to question authority (especially legitimate religious authority), and who try to convince children that opinion is fact

These problems in high schools are very real.   What is necessary to make certain high school becomes a good foundational experience for young people?  The parent, the primary educator of the child, who talks with sons and daughters about what’s being taught in school.  And after all, the best place for home schooling is the kitchen table.

After 20 years, it was wonderful to see a good number of us Mount Men, some prodigal sons, return for this special homecoming.   We may not have had a fattened calf prepared for us, but we did feast on four years of memories.  And at Mass, the greatest learning institution in world history, we celebrated the fact that we were more than classmates; we were students of truth, children of God, and brothers in the Lord .

Food for the Body

A Mature Palate!  Vitello ai Funghi – Veal and Mushrooms.

20 years ago, I never thought that I would become a priest, and I had no idea that food would become such an important part of my life.  20 years ago, I don’t even think that I could grasp a concept that combines priesthood and food .

Recently, I had an opportunity to be a guest on the show Franciscan University Presents where we discussed that very unique combination of theology, food, faith, and family.

In the discussion with Fr. Michael Scanlon and Dr. Regis Martin, the concept of maturity in regards to faith and food was presented analogously.  We can’t appreciate certain theological concepts or even certain foods as children, because we have not yet grown up.  20 years ago, I would have never thought that I could ever enjoy a pan-seared slice of veal with a wild mushroom sauté.  For me, pizza and nuggets were all I needed.  On occasion, I eat foods that young people enjoy, but I definitely changed in that I would much rather have something fresh, with more veggies, and bold flavors that doesn’t require ketchup .  Perhaps, moms and dads can make this very mature meal for their young high school students as a way to test the maturity of their palate.  I can tell you, we didn’t get this in our high school cafeteria.  At that age, I don’t think we’d even know what to do with it .

http://gracebeforemea.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/img_0865.jpg

Please click here for the recipe.

Food for the Soul

Homecoming!

Being back at my old high school forced me to examine how much I’ve grown up.  I did some pretty stupid things as a youngster , from which I have learned many lessons , especially through the act of confession.  I’m still learning some of those lessons.  One thing I’ve learned for sure, even after 20 years, Mount St. Joseph is still like a home.   The priests, brothers, and teachers of my alma mater made sure the students were raised to be men who would continue to be true gentlemen and lifelong students – always learning, always growing!

Let us Pray:

Father, high school can be a tough time for young people. We pray that all involved in educating high school students can do so with patience and familial care.  Give to the students a desire to learn and the motivation to grow.  Protect them from harmful things that can destroy a young person’s future, even his or her life .  Give to parents the grace to be patient with young people especially by helping them to remember, they, too, were young once . Let’s not forget to pray for the entire staff – the lunchroom crew, the janitorial staff, the coaches who urge us to victory, and even the bullies who hopefully grow up in life.  And Father in Heaven, during the month of November when we remember the faithful departed, grant to all our teachers who have died eternal rest .  Amen.

This was Brother Donald, the MSJ Librarian.  In all four years of HS, this man was the only one who gave me detention for talking too much in the library. We miss you!

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Blast From The Past

On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come!

Busy Break!

For a summer break, there’s certainly no time to relax! I’ve been all over the place for another great Steubenville Conference, this time in St. Louis, with plenty of cool kids who appreciated some of my dance moves- not bad for an old guy! Just playing. I’m currently filming the second season of “Savoring Our Faith”, so I hope you’re hungry for more episodes and recipes. I’ll be heading to another Steubenville conference in Rochester, MN this weekend, so be sure to be there if you’re up in the area. It’ll be a good time, don’cha know. (Bad impression, I know.)

(Me with Amanda from St. Matthew’s Church, and some of her teens who helped me during a demo of “Board Breaking.”)

Anyone, this week’s blast chronicles another Steubenville Conference from 2010, and the work and faith that is involved in each one. Please feel free to leave comments on our site as we look back, for we hope to impress you with the things to come.

Food for the Body

Young At Stomach!

Originally posted June 23, 2010

Young people look at life differently than the older generation.  The young at heart, can look at life with freshness, vibrancy, and enthusiasm.  Perhaps that’s one reason why Jesus admonishes all His followers to have a child-like faith.  No matter how old we are, we are constantly challenged to maintain that “young” disposition so that faith never gets old, out of style, boring, or lifeless.

(Me with Amanda from St. Matthew’s Church, and some of her teens who helped me during a demo of “Board Breaking.”)

(Me with Amanda from St. Matthew’s Church, and some of her teens who helped me during a demo of “Board Breaking.”)

My work with Grace Before Meals has provided me an opportunity to share the Good News with a diverse section of people – old and young alike.  Pastors and event organizers are impressed that our message applies to all groups equally.  Our parish missions and diocesan presentations draw families together.  I’m inspired to see a church or an event hall filled with groups of people of different ages.  Moms, Dads, grandparents, young adults, teens, and children have made a connection to our movement, simply because everyone needs to eat!

(Cooking for the Legatus Chapter, Des Moines, Iowa, in the private home of one of the members.)

 (Cooking for the Legatus Chapter, Des Moines, Iowa, in the private home of one of the members.)

What surprises me, however, is the unique ability of young people to eat so much more than adults.  I’m talking specifically about the amazing appetites of teens and young adults!  Young children may fuss and be picky, and older folks restrain and just get full more quickly.  But teens and young adults seem to devour food!  Young at heart is one thing, but being young in stomach is another!

(Teens praying for more food. Actually, they were praying that I’d “break-dance” at the Youth Conference.)

(Teens praying for more food.  Actually, they were praying that I’d “break-dance” at the Youth Conference.)

As being young at heart is primarily a very good thing, it also requires some attention simply because the lack of experience can lead one who is young heart down some dangerous roads.  That’s also true for the young stomachs – appetites that need attention and in some cases purification.  Young stomachs are hungry, and we need to pay attention to how and what we are feeding them.

(Andrew and Rachel, youth minister volunteers at St. John Baptist Church, where their parish has Grace Before Meals supper clubs.)

(Andrew and Rachel, youth minister volunteers at St. John Baptist Church, where their parish has Grace Before Meals supper clubs.)

I’ve experienced this time and again, especially at the recent youth group venues where I’ve given presentations.  One example is a recent presentation at Steubenville University.  Young people come from around the country to experience the faith made more digestible in the togetherness called “communion.”

(Teens design commemorative T-Shirts from their parishes/groups.)

 (Teens design commemorative T-Shirts from their parishes/groups.)

They feast on God’s word and by the example and testimony of the presenters and group leaders.  Young stomachs are hungry, and it’s the conference organizers job to make sure they are being fed properly – in body, mind, and spirit!

(Connor and Daniel – the two Young Adults on the side of the group – helped develop leadership skills among this youth gathering.)

(Connor and Daniel – the two Young Adults on the side of the group – helped develop leadership skills among this youth gathering.)

Thank God these events are a team effort.  It takes a team to organize the content and substance of the weekend, but also an impressive crew to set up, clean up, and feed the hungry crowd!

(Someone from the kitchen and youth support staff.)

(Someone from the kitchen and youth support staff.)

Seeing a weekend like this confirms the fact that no matter how bad or grim the news may be about the younger generation, there is real hope for the young at hearts and the young at stomachs.  There is an alternative to the political stump-filled rhetoric about hope, change, and new beginnings:  It’s the message that comes from God, who calls us to desire and sacrifice to both love and serve one another.

(The devoted kitchen crew that cooks for groups up to 2,200 people for every conference.)

(The devoted kitchen crew that cooks for groups up to 2,200 people for every conference.)

The teens that come to these events walk away with transformed expectations.  They know that making it through this life requires more than money and food for the belly.  They realize “success” requires faithfulness, believing in eternal truths, and having a real prayer life lived out with a community.  They also know that their Church and their Faith, even though it’s oftentimes ridiculed and denigrated in pop culture, has an authentic responsibility to feed all of God’s children with truth and Good News.

The young people at these conferences eat it up – like only young people can!  Such weekends give me great hope.  I admit I can no longer put it away like I used to when I was younger.  Sometimes I pray to be more appropriately “young at heart and stomach” again.

(“Glory Tent” – a break out session.)

(“Glory Tent” – a break out session.)

Food for the Body

Satisfyingly Stuffed Chicken

Here’s a simple recipe that provides flavors that seems to satisfy everyone’s taste buds, no matter what age.  It’s a tender piece of chicken stuffed with pancetta and Brie cheese.  The simple preparation, comfortable cooking time, and great flavors makes this chicken dish as comforting as chicken nuggets for the kids, hearty enough for the teens, and refined enough for the older guests.

Satisfyingly Stuffed Chicken

The making of the chicken

Click here for recipe

Food for the Soul

Praying for the Young at Heart and Young Stomachs

It’s ironic how young people on one hand can be easily misled when it comes to pop-culture, but on the other hand can be discerning when it comes to fashion, friends, faith, and food.  It shows how the teachers and parents of those young at heart and young at stomach must pay close attention to how these hearts can be molded and how their stomachs need to be appropriately satisfied.  As Christ became one of us, in all things but sin, parents and other authority figures need to be able to do the same when relating to young people.  That’s the only way they will follow!

(It’s natural and to follow the true Leader who will lead us to still waters.)

 (It’s natural and to follow the true Leader who will lead us to still waters.)

Let us pray:  Father in Heaven, no matter our age, we are Your children.  And in every age, You show how love requires patience, especially when dealing with the young at heart.  Give grace to those involved in youth ministry, so their actions and words will conform to Your loving plan.  Give our young people, especially in this summer season, the grace to follow, listen, and learn.  And above all, give us the hunger to be fed with truth that satisfies not only our stomachs, but our hearts as well.  Amen.

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Blast From The Past

On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come!

Happy 4th of July!

The month of July is going to be a time of looking back as we prepare ourselves to look forward to a new chapter in the Grace Before Meals movement.

Many changes are coming for Grace Before Meals, as we prepare for a new look, a new book, and new ways for each GBM “fam” to be involved. As our nation celebrates its independence on this day, we reflect on the freedoms that we are afforded, especially during this ever-important fight for religious liberty we face in our political landscape. It is in our freedom that we are most able to love God and all others, especially our families.

Click for a classic recipe for Beer-B-Q Italian Sausage and Onions

“Click for a classic recipe for Beer-B-Q Italian Sausage and Onions”

At Grace Before Meals, we not only want to stress the importance of family meals, but feeding others in need -body, mind and soul. With your help, we can not only make a difference amongst families, but in our society and world if we simply go out and share “Grace Before Meals”. We call this a movement because it is meant to allow for anybody to be part of the change and make the difference in our families and society. So as we look forward to the future, we hope you will be a big part of bringing families back to the dinner table to share a meal and share the faith.

God bless you and your families this July 4th.

-Fr. Leo and the GBM team

Food for the Body

Celebrating “DEPENDENCE” Day

In this week’s email blast I’d like to commemorate two important celebrations:  The Feast of Peter & Paul and Fourth of July, America’s Independence Day.

Last Sunday (July 29, 2008), the Church Universal Celebrated the Solemn Feast of the two “Princes of the Church” – Saint Peter and St. Paul.

This Friday, the United States will celebrate July 4th, Independence Day.  I realize many of our subscribers are from other countries, but most countries also have an “Independence Day” – a day to recognize the country’s freedom.  So, hopefully, this week’s email message can be taken to heart and applied to your own civic calendar, no matter where you live in our world!

Many of you may ask, how are these two celebrations related?

Let me explain.  In the United States, American citizens pledge to a nation that lets all citizens practice their religious customs without fear.  People died to protect this freedom from tyranny!  We can’t forget that America was founded on important principles, like religious freedom.  There are many countries today where the Christian Faith, like during the times of the early Christians, has to be practiced underground, lest followers be persecuted by the ruling government.  Unfortunately, America seems to embrace this freedom less and less, with neighbors suing neighbors for putting out a nativity scene, banning crosses from public places, and relegating the phrase “In God We Trust” to an obscure part of our currency!

It seems that modernity has added a new interpretation of Independence Day as meaning a freedom from moral codes, virtue oriented responsibilities, and the negation of the Supreme Law of God established in natural law.  Americans can’t forget that even though we live in a free nation, citizens must still hold to a common belief that we are one nation UNDER God and recognize what our Founders understood: IN GOD WE TRUST!

For Christians, that motto, “In God We Trust,” is actually a prayer uttered in particular by Saint Peter and Saint Paul.   Both saints traveled to different countries to remind people of every nation that we are under the care of a loving God.  And His Son Jesus and all of the Saints show us we can trust God’s loving plan and depend on God’s strength in the midst of carrying life’s crosses.

For Christians living in America, these two celebrations – although separated by the incorrect interpretation of the “Church and State” mentality – can actually be seen as a unique opportunity to unite ourselves to God.  You and your family can celebrate something I’d like to call “DEPENDENCE DAY!”  This is a day for all people to recognize how we, like Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and all of our nation’s fallen heroes can depend on God’s goodness – and especially, His mercy.

It is my pastoral viewpoint, that “Independence Day” when taken out of context (and it often is taken out of context) can lead us to believe that our independence somehow makes us self-sufficient and thus, unwilling to ask for help.  We may begin to think that if we “depend” on someone, we’re somehow not living up to our potential.  We have falsely believed that depending on each other turns us into weak creatures – even though we really are weak creatures.  A false independence makes us live for ourselves, forgetting that others may have to depend on us!  A negative understanding of independence makes us forget that we need to depend on each other to get through this life.  If we don’t depend on God, prayer, our family’s love, or our Faith, then we become a society of mere individuals separated by a lack of trust. Rather, we should aim to be a society that recognizes how we are called to be a “communion of persons!”

Perhaps we can consider how St. Peter and St. Paul approached “freedom.”  They did so by recognizing that a truly free person is one who freely trusts and depends on God!

In this email, I don’t want to minimize the importance of our nation’s Independence Day.  I believe we are called to evaluate what “independence” really means, and how the modern understanding of that word has led us down wrong paths – paths that have made us dependent on the almighty dollar, rather than the almighty God, our soul’s greatest treasure.  We have become dependent on drugs, alcohol, bad relationships, and other things that destroy us from within, while forgetting to depend on the power of Grace, the love of our families, and the reality of prayer that strengthens us from within.

Today, a day that falls between the Feast of Peter & Paul and Independence Day, we should consider celebrating a day to strengthen our Dependence on God!  Since July 2nd offers no liturgical or civic celebration, I say we can go for it.  Go ahead and proclaim, July 2nd as a “Family Depends on God Day!”  After all, in America we have the freedom to celebrate our faith!  So go ahead, celebrate “Dependence Day”!  Our country’s understanding of true independence depends on it.

Food for the Body

Depending on a Good Friend!

By now you may already know I was in Rome for the Pallium Ceremony.  I was part of a group of pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Baltimore who came to support the new Archbishop Edward O’Brien, who received the sacred pallium from the Holy Father last Sunday.  The pallium symbolizes the Archbishop as being “yoked” or “united” to the Holy Father.  It also symbolizes how the Holy Father now depends on the Archbishops to help preach the Gospel to all parts of the world in union with him.  It was a remarkable event, especially since I had the good fortune to distribute Holy Communion at that Mass!

ry stomping grounds, I had a chance to visit a few familiar restaurants and sample a few new ones.  I’ll have to blog about some of these later because there were just too many culinary delights that I want to share with you.  One meal in particular stands out.  It was a meal a priest friend of mine, Rev. Msgr. Christopher Nalty, made for me at his apartment in Rome.

Msgr. Nalty and I were classmates together at the Pontifical North American College.  On this trip, we had a chance to hang out and catch up.  More importantly, we had the chance to remind ourselves of the importance of good friendships!  Ever since our early morning prayer times in Rome, we recognized how we must depend on each other’s prayers and priestly fraternity to get through our difficulties.  In this trip, I truly depended on him, especially since he got me a room with an air conditioner and cooked a FANTASTIC dinner for me in his makeshift kitchen.

It shows that if you’re a real “foodie” you’ll create space to cook anywhere, including a Vatican Official’s non-efficiency apartment!  Check out the risotto and the tasty antipasti!

For the main course, he prepared a perfectly tender Ossobuco.  It’s  slow braised veal shank!  Click here for Msgr. Nalty’s Recipe, which I’m calling a “Naltso Buco!”  For the recipe, [click here].

Food for the Soul

A Dependence Prayer!

This week, we may prayerfully consider what we have become unhealthily attached to or dependent upon?  Our country’s dependence on oil, money, and technology is important, but can become unhealthy.  Have we forgotten to depend on God?  You may want to ask your family and friends if you are a dependable person.  Ask one another how you can all do a better job at depending on God – as a family.  Perhaps you can make a new start this day by praying a regular family prayer or by resolving to return to church if you’ve been away from it?  Perhaps you cold offer up a weekly family (or better yet, daily) rosary, scripture study, or even offer special daily petitions at the Grace Before Meals?

Let us pray: Lord, help us to be like Saint Peter and Saint Paul, who relied on Your goodness, Your strength, and Your mercy to bring the Gospel to all nations.  May we never forget how You truly are the source of all goodness, and therefore, we must always look to You to help us celebrate our Faith and our country’s Freedom.  Bless those who died to defend our country’s Freedom with Your forgiveness and an invitation to the Heavenly Banquet.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Ask Fr. Leo for fatherly advice.

Any submissions may be used in future Grace Before Meals publications.

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