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!
A Special September to Remember
This week, I wanted to call to mind today’s Feast of The Beheading of John the Baptist by remembering the anguish I felt when leaving my family to go to the seminary out in Rome over 18 years ago. As you will read, it was one of the worst days of my life, but it has led me to so much more than I could ever have imagined as a priest, with the opportunity to meet and help families, couples and individuals from around the world. I thank God for his mercy on me and the lessons I’ve been able to learn and share.
Which brings us to exciting news about Spicing Up Married Life, my newest book for couples, whether dating, newly-wed or celebrating their golden anniversary. For those of you who have not heard (I know, I know. I’ve been talking about this for a few years now), we have submitted the final layout to the printer and we are gearing up for a September 22 release, my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary!
(Spicing Up Married Life: Releasing on www.Gracebeforemeals.com on September 22, 2012.)
To promote its release, some may have heard me mention on a radio interview that we would like to offer a 10% discount to all those who register on our site for the newsletter and blasts.We are very excited to share this message and delicious recipes for all couples, whether young or old, especially in today’s world in which the sacrament of marriage is under attack. So stay tuned to upcoming blasts that will offer more news on the book’s release and a new look for September! May God bless our endeavors.
Losing your head or your soul?
Originally Published August 29, 2007
It was a terrible day, perhaps one of the most difficult days I had as a young man. The date was August 29, 1994. I felt as if my comfort zone was stretched to the limit. Thoughts of loneliness and sadness filled my head with swimming confusion. I had to put a smile on my face, but inside I was hurting pretty bad. What was this terrible day? It was the day I left my home for the seminary in Rome and would not be allowed to return for 2 years.
A little dramatic? You betcha. It was hardly a prison sentence, but Filipinos tend to be a bit dramatic – especially when it comes to saying goodbye. But that’s how I felt on the day I left my family, friends and all that was so comfortable to me. Although I could never deny the interior excitement I felt about living and studying in the Eternal City, the painful “weaning” process of leaving my loving and supportive family was no piece of cake. It kinda felt like my family – a unified body – was somehow being separated.
I remember that day and that particular feeling of separation because it was the Feast we celebrate every August 29, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist!
Despite the daunting and unusual reason for celebrating, I was actually consoled by it. It providentially reminded me of the cost of being a follower of the Lord. Find me a saint who was not willing to make sacrifices and be a martyr for God, and I’ll show you a false prophet. John was true to his words to the point of being willing to die for his faith. Others would follow, in particular a group of Carmelite Nuns who also lost their heads – but not their souls!
As a young 24-year-old seminarian wanting to become a priest, I needed a heroic Feast day like John’s Beheading to remind me that I should be willing to make some sacrifices and endure some homesickness for the sake of the Kingdom.
I am sure by now you can tell that I’m slightly dramatic when it comes to some of my spiritual thoughts. I think most people are. If we want to grow in our faith, we need to see how God teaches us through small things, such as times when families have to say goodbye for a while, and experience the sadness of separation. I think of parents saying goodbye to children leaving for school, military families who experience deployment, and even here at the seminary – young men who decided to break up with girlfriends or leave the comforts of a high-paying jobs because they were called to discern the Lord’s will! It’s strangely beautiful to see this type of sacrifice. At the very least, it’s inspiring. That is why we celebrate August 29, no matter how difficult it may be.
Today’s Feast day reminds me that we’re called to be heroes! That happens in small ways, not just in big ways. When a parent does not give in to worry, but instead trusts that God will watch over her child leaving home for the first time; when children going off to college don’t sell their souls to a false sense of liberal education, which I sometimes call “libelous” education; when a teenager avoids the wrong pressures of peers, even if he gets cut off from the rest of the group; when a priest takes it on the chin for preaching a difficult truth from the pulpit! They’re all heroes – albeit less dramatically than St. John the Baptist – but we all have to start somewhere – like leaving home for the first time.
After dealing with the sadness of homesickness, I began to realize that God sometimes calls us through difficult experiences to get us to trust him more. I still admit that leaving my home for Rome was one of the worst days of my life. But ironically, a close second worst day came when I left the seminary to go back home. The seminary became my home, and my classmates became brothers. Again, it was very difficult to say goodbye to them. Although inside I was excited to return to the US to preach the Good News, I couldn’t help but call to mind my “first worst day,” and the Feast celebrated on August 29!
My “last supper” before I left my family was breakfast. My last supper in Rome was a pizza, in particular a zucchini pizza. I thought of an interesting recipe to combine the two. A zucchini pizza omelet! This gives me a tasty combination of the 2 worst days of my life! Not such a bad life, huh? For the recipe [click here].
In the midst of struggles and challenges of this day, let’s remember the cost of discipleship. We all may not be heroes in dramatic ways, but following the way of Christ and trusting him in small ways is a good place to start. In moments of challenge, we turn to God and ask for His blessing to help us remember that life isn’t just “physical” existence, it’s also spiritual existence.
Let us pray:
God our Father, You called John the Baptist to be the herald of Your Son’s birth and death. As He gave His life in witness to truth and justice, so may we strive to profess our faith in Your Gospel. Grant this through Christ our Lord! Amen.
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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.
Grace Under Water
I’m heading down to New Orleans to visit some friends, so this week’s Blast From The Past looks back on a heated competition for best cooking priest between my friend Msgr. Nalty and myself, called “Grace Under Fire.”
(The proud parents, Godparents, me welcome Grace into the faith.)
Speaking of Grace Under Fire, this past weekend, I had the joy of baptizing my Project Manager’s daughter, Grace, bringing her into the church and opening her heart to the Holy Spirit. It was a great celebration and she did wonderfully. We thank God for the beautiful and important sacrament and pray for Joe, Erica and Grace, along with all children, families and individuals seeking to grow in the faith through our holy Mother Church. God bless and have a great week!.
(To hold Grace (and all babies) is to experience God’s Grace. Welcome to the church, Grace!)
Grace Under Fire
Originally Published July 9, 2010
My recent visit to the great state of Louisiana was filled with culture, faith, and lots of food. On one day, I offered a unique presentation unlike any other Grace Before Meals presentation. I agreed to a cooking competition with two of the best chefs in New Orleans!
(Me with Chef Justin of La Petite Grocery.)
I’m constantly being asked to participate in cooking contests – Iron Chef or Throwdown! style. While I’m confident enough in my cooking, I think the aspect of cooking competitions can take away from the Grace Before Meals message. Yes, I did the Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. But remember, that was a complete surprise! Also, preparing for a cooking competition requires incredible amounts of logistical preparations. It’s like creating a mini-Iron Chef cooking stadium!
On a more philosophical point, I normally turn down cooking competitions, because it makes more out of the Bobby Flay Throwdown! victory than necessary. Although that competition was very real, very serious, and very much a surprise, the primary objective of the show was to highlight the Grace Before Meals movement. Food should result in stronger family ties, not competition.
(Bobby Flay and Me – June 2009.)
However, I agreed to enter into this culinary combat against Chef Justin of La Petite Grocery and Chef Christopher of Commander’s Palace. This competitive cooking presentation was a favor to my dear friend, Msgr. Nalty – the doo-rag wearing priest who assisted me with grilling the steaks on the Throwdown! show.
(Me and Msgr. Nalty – getting hot under the collar.)
A few years ago he was appointed the pastor of the second largest parish in the New Orleans Archdiocese. He also had the difficult responsibility of merging two other church communities. Talk about a difficult task! While most Catholics feel at home in any Catholic church anywhere in the world, human nature attaches great importance to an actual church building. It’s understandable to feel at home where your family was baptized, married, or buried. A parochial mentality can make transition into a new community quite difficult. The closing of a parish building can feel like a death in the family. However, our Faith is not only parochial, it’s also universal. And unfortunately, nothing on earth remains the same forever. It was time for the community to get a little closer, necessitated by diminishing numbers and finances.
(Speaking to a sold out crowd at the “new” Good Shepherd Parish.)
Msgr. Nalty, being a faithful and innovative pastor (and a big foodie), had an idea to host a “food event” that would bring all three parishes together. He would invite local chef celebrities to “compete” against me. That could generate some local buzz and help bring merging community members to share an evening of fun, faith, food, and family! They called this event, “Grace Under Fire!” My cooking skills would be challenged again.
Perhaps people wanted to taste the Famous Fusion Fajitas or sample the cuisine from professional and popular chefs. Regardless of the reason, the crowds came and ticket sales had to close a few days before they could really even advertise!
(Participating Family. Ticket were sold individually or a lower priced for an entire family. What a bargain! Delicious gourmet food for everyone!)
What an opportunity to share the Grace Before Meals message with a community that hungers for a renewed sense of a parish family. The cooking demonstrations and competition became a means to a greater end: fun for this new parish family!
The emcee of the evening was Mary Matalin, Republican strategist, a recent Catholic convert, and the wife of Democratic strategist, James Carville. Talk about a unique opportunity to merge a marriage out of two completely diverse political backgrounds.
(Mary Matalin acting as emcee and asking me questions as I chopped the “Trinity.”)
Giving the final verdict was Judge Martin Feldman. Feldman, a Jewish born Catholic Convert (Justice Antonin Scalia is his godfather), expressed sincere gratitude to be part of this community-building event. Recently he made national news as the judge who declared Obama’s federal ban on oil drilling illegal. Rather impressive to know his decisions made national news!
The criteria of this cooking competition was simple. Create a family friendly recipe in 30 minutes or less, and use only 10 ingredients. Five points for plating and design, 10 for creativity, and 10 for taste. Time went quickly. Competition was fierce. The judges had quite a challenge. Both dishes were worthy and delicious! Judge Feldman read the verdict: a tie!
(After the decision – a “family picture” with the competing chefs and the judges.)
While it would have been great to “boast” another victory against some impressive chefs, it was much better to boast about the wonderful event that proved the power of our Grace Before Meals movement. This event showed Grace Before Meals, even when under fire, brings family and friends closer to the table!
Coconut Bourbon Cream Chicken and Trinity Rice
The two Chefs presented a delicious local black drum fish with a preparation called “Court bouillon,” which is usually served as a stew. Instead, he beautifully pan seared and then braised this dish over some popcorn rice. The Cajun-French, with their accent, simply call it “coo-boo-yon.” Whatever you want to call it, the first thing that came out of my mouth when I tasted it was, “OMG – delicious!” (Okay, that was more like 4 words!)
(“Coo-boo-yon” – short for black drum court bouillon.)
I prepared a dish that truly used only 10 ingredients, (they counted theTrinity – celery, pepper, and onion as one dish, and they allowed us salt, pepper, and oil as a given). My dish reflected the fusion aspect of my cooking, as it brought together some Asian flavors combined with Cajun spices and a tribute to Bourbon Street – a touch of bourbon to add some extra flavor to my coconut cream sauce. Enjoy!
(Bourbon Coconut Cream Chicken, with Trinity Fried Rice in a grilled red pepper ring.)
When Grace is Under Fire!
Msgr. Nalty’s responsibility to bring different parishes together puts a burden on many people who feel the pain of transition. As I said before, it’s sad to say “goodbye” to a place that means so much to people, especially the sanctity of a church building. I know this personally, as my own home parish no longer has a regular parish priest in residence, and the school was recently closed down due to low numbers and finances.
In such situations our faith can be tested – Grace is under fire! Yet our faith tells us that our citizenship is in Heaven, and our faith gives us the grace to move forward, never letting go of the beautiful memories we may have in the past, but never afraid of starting new ones for the future. As church buildings come and go, we can never forget that God wants “church” to begin in our hearts, minds, and souls – not in a building. Our ultimate goal is not to keep earthly buildings standing forever. Instead, our goal is to bring our souls (where Christ wants to dwell) forever in Heaven!
Let us Pray: Father, when our faith is tested, especially when the tests and challenging situations come from within the Church, give us Grace to stay committed to Your Church family on earth. Help us to have the proper balance of seeking and protecting holy things on earth – like churches, statues, and holy images. At the same time, help us never forget that spiritual faith can only be touched with the heart, mind, and soul; and that practice of our faith is never limited to one building or at one place only. Give us O Lord, the strength to always be Your family on earth and to reach out to those who do not yet feel a sense of community. May You, our Good Shepherd, feed us the Heavenly Food that makes one in the Body of Christ. We ask this, in Your most Holy Name. Amen.
(The Sanctuary of St. Stephen Church, New Orleans. NOTE – this is a correction from last week’s e-mail blast that had two pictures of the St. Louis Cathedral sanctuary. I apologize for the mistake in the photo descriptions.)
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.
Old Dog, New Tricks
Now I am not truly an “old dog”, though I feel like it sometimes when traveling non-stop or when doing a flying jump kick over some volunteers to break some boards (see picture below). But as the fall approaches, our Grace Before Meals team is preparing to launch some new “tricks” as discussed in last week’s blast, including the long-awaited release of my new book Spicing Up Married Life, coming out September 18.
And if I have to take the designation of being an “old dog performing new tricks,” as humbling as it may seem, I am glad to, as I know I am in good company- specifically, St. Dominic (whose feast day is August 8) and my former spiritual director, Fr. Frank McGauley.
I look back fondly on the many lessons I learned from this amazing priest, who passed away on July 15, 2008. He was 86 years old at the time, and yet, as you will read below, he was always learning something new about his faith and love for God, as well as God’s love for us. And much like St. Dominic, his faithfulness was inspiring and helped me to grow deeper in my own. So please enjoy this stroll down memory lane to remember this great priest and friend from whom I learned so much. And with St. Dominic’s intercession, we ask for God’s blessing on all priests and religious, families and communities, and all those, including Grace Before Meals, who seek to glorify God with their lives and devotion. May we please him by our faithfulness and true love.
St. Dominic – Old Dog, New Tricks
Originally Published August 8, 2007
My spiritual director is an 85-year-old Jesuit Priest who served in the missionaries of India for more than 30 years. He learned their languages and culture in order to serve the poor and local tribes as their pastor, spiritual leader, and friend. He’s worked with Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta and a host of other holy men and women who brought the Good News of Jesus to that part of the world!
His credentials were enough reason for me to “select” him as my spiritual director. But there are so many other reasons, such as his sincere joy, his holy fear of the Lord, his sensitivity and awareness to the battles against evil, and also his down to earth spirituality. Above all, he is humble!
I could jokingly say, he’s everything I’m NOT – but then, I wouldn’t be joking!
Every meeting, without fail, I receive so much spiritual food from his wisdom and counsel. But one thing I constantly marvel at is how this “old man” approaches suffering, trials and challenges – especially the challenge of growing older. He sees challenges as lessons in life, and he tells us that nothing goes to waste! He lives with knowledge and hope that even our problems can be useful in God’s hands.
In my last Spiritual Direction Meeting (I usually go once a month), I heard he had a nasty fall down a flight of stairs. He let go of the safety rail with his one hand because he was afraid of tipping over the plate of food he had in his other hand. Of course my ears perked up, simply because he mentioned food! (I secretly wondered if the meal was worth the fall!) But thank God his athletic skills from his younger days kicked in, so that he fell in such a way to avoid even worse physical damage. Though it could have been worse, it was bad enough to bloody him up and require medical attention. He thanks his angels for helping him out, especially at his tender age!
Yet in all of this, this man of God was able to learn a life lesson, which he conveyed to me. He mentioned that the plate of food could be a symbol of the many responsibilities, privileges, and issues that we carry. These things are precious to us and we are afraid to tip them over. BUT for him, the handrail was a symbol of GOD. No matter how tempted we may be to try and take control (i.e. use both hands) and manage our own affairs, we cannot let go of God. Look at what might happen if we do!
Here is a man who could call himself “a ragged old dog.” Yet he is so willing to learn new tricks! I used this phrase “old dog” because of the Feast we celebrate every August 8th – the Feast of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans. His name and the name of the congregations he founded literally means “Dogs of the Lord” – domini (Lord) canes (Dogs). An image of St. Dominic normally shows him in the beautiful white Dominican Robes pointing up, holding a book, and next to him a dog holding a torch in its mouth.
Even though my spiritual director is a Jesuit, I see in him a true “Dominican” – as he is ever faithful to the Lord, like the old dog “Fido” (which is a form of the word “Fides” – “Faith”). Sorry cat lovers, but that’s why they call Fido “man’s best friend,” because the dogs are ever faithful!
This old faithful – my spiritual director – reminds me that life should be a spiritual journey and that we can find spiritual lessons in every encounter – even if its challenging and full of suffering. After all, Jesus didn’t die on the cross to be jewelry, but to be a visible lesson and reminder of love, forgiveness, and the reality of human suffering, especially in our elderly population – who is so often forgotten. My spiritual director, and all of the elderly patients I minister to remind me of the importance to grow old gracefully and to realize that getting older presents its own challenges. We who are younger can learn tremendous lessons from them, even if the only lesson we repeat is patience, patience, patience!
I’ll close with this story I keep close to my heart whenever I consider working with the elderly. A young priest noticed the old Monsignor sleeping in his pew during prayer. One day the younger priest expressed his displeasure to the old man and questioned how he could sleep during his prayer. The old Monsignor explained that he tries to stay attentive to the Lord in prayer, but sometimes his age gets the best of him. “In those moments,” the old man explained, “I sometimes hear God say, ‘You’re not as young as you were, but your faithfulness is like a dog who sometimes serves his master best by simply resting at his master’s feet!”
With the prayers of St. Dominic, I want to ask God to bless my spiritual director with a long and faithful life – I obviously need that “old dog” around to teach me new lessons!
Orzo Ginger Chicken
The FDA has some ideas for healthy eating for our elderly community. Sometimes we have to wonder, how did people in generations past live such long lives without the FDA? I think they used common sense by eating appropriately, healthy, and festively – and they started young. So start now! But if you do have someone a bit older in your family life, you may want to make them a healthful and soul satisfying meal. Here’s an idea for a very simple and tasty dish that’s not only easy to prepare, it’s also really easy to eat! For the recipe [click here].
My spiritual director has taught me great ways of praying! He reminds me to make sure that “nothing goes to waste.” Therefore, if ever I have certain challenges, I try to reflect on them and ask, “What did I learn from this?” This examination of conscience not only reminds us that our challenges are not useless, but could also be helpful! My spiritual director’s fall taught him and me to always manage the “food on my plate” by not overdoing it, and to always, no matter what, hold on to the railing!
Let Us Pray: Lord, when life gets a bit more complicated, help me to take a moment to gain true balance, so that I can better walk with You and with Your people. Help me to be strong, but at the same time humble enough to keep me dependent on Your loving guidance. Help me to walk, hand in hand, with You! Amen.
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