Posted July 31st, 2013 | Blast from the Past, Past Emails, Prayers, Recipe
 Half Empty or Half Full?

Originally published August 11, 2011

In my younger years, I competed in local, regional, and even national speech contests for “Optimist International,” a group seeking and dedicated to bringing out the best in young people and fostering a sense of optimism and empowerment.

Some of the young men who helped me pack up and move into my new living residence. As a gag gift I gave them Pez to help keep them happy!

It was more than 20 years ago, but I remember clearly that almost every other contestant explained how someone with an optimistic outlook would rather see a “half empty” glass as “half full.”  A cooking version of this would be something like, “turning lemons into lemonade.”   And there’s always the expression, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

Costa Rican sunset after a storm.


Optimism rests in a person’s ability to see how life’s setbacks do not mean that life is not worth living.  It all depends on how we look at things.  We’ve all met negative people.  We know their way of living and thinking doesn’t make things better for them or for anyone else.  At the same time, we know people that, by their energy, enthusiasm for life, and their generally happier disposition, seem to have the “power” to change a bad situation into something more manageable.  It can even make it “better.”

Without optimism our lives take a rather ugly turn!  But optimism, which comes from human ability, substantially differs from “hope.”  The characteristics of hope and optimism possess similarities.  But they are distinct.  As said before, optimism comes from a positive human disposition.  Hope comes from a higher power.  Hope’s origin, sustenance, and finality rest in God’s promise to be with us through thick and thin.  God promises to be in the “kitchen of life,” especially when the cupboards run empty and when the kitchen gets overheated!  Read the prophetic experience of the widow and her son who had no more food! (1 Kings 17: 8-16)

At a recent event, a GBM follower gave me a gift: homemade bread with the image of the Last Supper imprinted on it. Amazing and delicious!


As cooks, we all have challenging culinary experiences: not having the right ingredients, cooking equipment, or enough time to finish a dish!  How we handle those situations determines the outcome of the food and, ultimately, the experience of the meal.  Recently, I’ve had to cook in very new situations and under great pressure.  Practicing a calm disposition (a human developmental trait) and praying for trust and inspiration in God (a theological and spiritual developmental trait) eventually lead to successful and even imaginative new recipes! 

The “matriarch” of the Taylor Family Winery. Even though the crop of grapes didn’t turn out as expected, they still harvested and created a delicious dessert wine.

To survive in this life, we need optimism, but ultimately, we have to rely on hope.  We need optimism because it helps us deal with other people in a better, more pleasant way.  We need hope to help us deal with our private thoughts and our own fears in life.  Hope helps us realize that a positive outcome does not depend on our efforts, but ultimately, it comes from God.  

A group of young people from Steubenville on the Bayou, ready to face the struggles of life with faith in God!


I bring this up, not just because the idea of a half full or half empty glass can help a struggling cook to improve.  The topics of optimism and hope can help families get through the difficult economic news.  As summer is definitely half over, parents can help young children deal with the potential sadness and “depression” of the dread of the start of the school year!

Here, I’m preaching to myself.  I need a more optimistic disposition as the summer comes to a quick close, and the busyness of speaking/presentations/filming kicks back into high gear!  While I need an optimistic outlook, especially in my dealings with others, I ultimately need hope in order to see how all these busy things will eventually get done when I rely on God.


In the home of Deacon Joe and Jenny Stephens with the production crew for “Savoring Our Faith,” airing in the spring of 2012.

These are a few one-liners that help describe the collaboration between hope and optimism, may be helpful for your discussion with family, colleagues, and even in your own prayers,

I can do all things in Christ who strengthen me.” -Philippians 4:13

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” -Albert Einstein

Work as if all things depend on you. Pray as if all things depend on God.” -Saint Augustine

Now that your summer is more than half over (I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it is), I hope you and your family have left room in your schedule for more inspired opportunities to be filled up with even more Good News!


The Basilica of St. Ann De Beaupre in Quebec Canada.

 Is there an area in your life that needs a bit more optimism and a lot more hope?  


Do you have any success stories of when you had some difficulty but eventually everything turned out for the best?  


Do you have any “invented” recipes – things you had to make up in a pinch – to share with our community?  


Your comments, questions, ideas, and suggestions help motivate us and keep our small (but busy) operation more optimistic and hopeful.  It lets us know you all care!  Please share your thoughts and comments below. And please forward this to your friends and family to help create more discussions at the dinner table.

Let us pray:  Lord, change our fear into hope.  Change our negative attitude into something more optimistic, lest our faith be questioned because of our bitterness and fears.  Teach us Lord, by our determination to pray at all times,  for You are with us, shepherding us to green pastures and still waters.  Amen. 




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Catholic Culinary Confessions:

Venturing to the Holy Land

 Originally Published in 

“Culinary Confessions” encourage readers to explore different parts of the archdiocese and to taste the goodness of the Lord in restaurants near and far. It’s edifying to hear suggestions from readers about restaurants in their area, giving me a chance to explore some food finds. These reviews help me to learn about what makes the restaurant successful, observe how things can be improved, and relate these lessons to how we provide a “spiritual food service” at our churches.

While it’s a great experience to meet wonderful people and taste their cuisine, the challenge is actually getting to these places. I’d rather dine at familiar places. But, being challenged to step away helps me to see the bigger picture – the “catholic” or “universal” – even if it means driving to a different part of the archdiocese for my meal.

That spirit of adventure and the search for God through the gift of food encouraged one Catholic Review reader to reach out to me with a great idea: a Catholic culinary pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Edita Krunic owns a travel agency outside Philadelphia, specializing in trips to the Holy Land. Recently she met “Chefs for Peace” a group of Christian, Muslim and Jewish chefs. Despite the political tensions, Chefs for Peace show the world it’s possible to work together in one kitchen, prepare meals, and feed each other. Despite their differences, they show true faith by sharing the blessings of food, reminding us that peace is possible if we just come to the table hungry for it.

From this powerful experience, Edita thought of the work I do with Grace Before Meals, approached me with an idea, and now we’re inviting you – faithful foodies – to an experience of the Holy Land. “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” (Psalm 34:8)

The food and faith pilgrimage to the Holy Land is scheduled for January 19-29, 2014. The cost is $4095.00 including airfare, taxes, accommodations, professional guides and ground transportation, security, and exquisite meals – including cooking demonstrations of traditional foods and exploring the land that flows with milk and honey. (Exodus 33:3)


This unique trip provides pilgrims full sensory experiences of the sacred sites, opportunities for prayer and meditation, hands-on experience of the culture and cuisine, eat and celebrate with the locals, and of course many sacred moments to grow deeper in love with Jesus Christ and a profound respect for the land called “holy.” We will trace Jesus’ footsteps, marvel at the natural surroundings of his earthly life, and be fed – body, mind and soul.

We’re calling this a “Nourish Your Faith Pilgrimage.” The unique features of this trip will give each pilgrim a new insight into the Scriptures we read, helping them to savor their faith.

To reserve your space for this journey of faith, friendship and food, call Select Travel at 800.842.4842 or visit

Next Month’s Culinary Confession will honor barbecue with “Seoul” at Nam Kang Restaurant. Email me at   

In honor of Pope Francis being in Brazil for World Youth Day, I encourage you to read this article on the National Catholic Register, featuring many of his hopes and prayers for the youth in our world to stand up against false idols and to be with God through Mary. Here is an excerpt: 


“Let us never lose hope,” he urged. Though there are “moments of discouragement” as we try to evangelize or “embody our faith as parents within the family,” he encouraged the faithful to “always know in your heart that God is by your side.”



Pope Francis is down in Rio de Janeiro and there are more than 2 million people anticipated to be there for it. Let us spread the word and share the news on the event for all to see so that we can “Go and make disciples of all nations”. 




 My friends Tim Watkins and team, including my Project Manager Joe Hansbrough, are currently there to share the film “The Blood & The Rose”. You can keep up with their adventures by visiting


They are also being featured by National Catholic Register, The Catholic Review, EWTN, and Catholic News Agency! 




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Food for Eternal Life

Originally published June 1, 2011


Prior to the date, people asked me about the May 21st prophecy of the “end of the world.”  According to the preacher who originally predicted the failed date, the doomsday has now “moved” to October 21st.  A waitress, a gas station attendant, and people sitting next to me waiting for planes, along with a few e-mails I received reflected people wondering just how true the prediction could be.  My standard answer was always the same.  I quoted Matthew 25:  “You know neither the day nor hour when the Son of Man will return.”

St. Paul’s Basilica “Outside the Walls.” with a mosaic of Christ as Judge who calls the Sheep to “Drink the wellspring of Eternal Life.”

In other words, I can’t tell you when the end of the world will be.  Anyone who believes they do know this exact date and time are usually either mentally disturbed, scheming to make a couple of bucks, or just theologically untrained.  In many cases, it’s the combination of all three.

When people ask me about these so-called prophecies, I try to treat them with great respect, but also a fatherly firmness.  I treat them as people who are seriously trying to determine God’s will, but at the same time recognize they are simple sheep being fed a spoonful of confusion about Jesus Christ’s message regarding the end of the world.

Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Emmitsburg, Maryland – statues of the Three Shepherd Children of Fatima who received private revelations regarding the end times.

In this Dinner Discussion E-mail Blast, I want to encourage families to talk about this – not to scare anyone, but to prepare people for the reality.  God comes to us every day.  Do we recognize Him?  Do we fear meeting God again?  And if so, why?

The hype prior to the May 21st date was sad and odd at best.  The news after the date was just discouraging.  Atheists and people who enjoy mocking people of faith had a field day, and it seemed to take away the reality of the Scripture’s message about the end of the world:  be ready, not just on May 21st, but every day!

Mount St. Mary’s Campus Mass on Wednesday Evening. These young college students don’t just go to church on Sunday; some go every day (not just on falsely prophesied doomsdays) as a way to “find God.”)

There is a food reference in all of this.  It’s called “viaticum.”  It’s the Sacrament of the Catholic Church that ensure people who are preparing to make the journey from this life to the next will be accompanied by Jesus Himself, through the Food of the Eucharist.  The word viaticum – although seemingly daunting – is a pastoral phrase that means, “via” – “on the way”;  “ti“- “you”; and “cum” – with.  In other words, the Eucharist is the Food that goes “on the way with you” to the other side.

Lourdes, France: Statue representing Viaticum and the Sacrament of the Sick.

Many people who believe in these prophecies of doom have been fed a heavy dose of confusion.  They are digesting errant approaches to theology as well as some maliciousness on the part of the people who spread these teachings.  I’ve known a few families who struggle because some members have left the True Faith and have joined unhealthy cultic communities that thrive on apocalyptic teachings.  The fact that such groups have come and gone, and continue to sprout up, shows that families need to address this topic at a dinner discussion.

I recommend that families talk about this in a way that respects the faith of those who are trying to be attentive and prepared for Christ’s Second Coming.  At the same time, families must also teach critical thinking skills to encourage one another to really learn about this topic, either through a trusted Scripture Study or a closer look at the Catechism.

Image from the Blessed Pope John Paul II Museum in Rome. Image of a young priest studying and praying on while on a kayak trip. Prayer and study are essential to protecting oneself from false teachings, especially the teaching that denies the Second Coming.

While specific dates and times can never be part of the “conclusion” of this discussion, families can definitely be assured that Christ does come to earth – again and again – through the Eucharistic Food we receive at Mass.  The fear, confusion, and anxiety that come whenever anyone brings up the topic of the end of the world can be greatly mitigated when we realize that the end of the world is represented as an invitation to a Banquet.  We can certainly be ready to accept Jesus’ invitation to this Eternal Feast, if we are willing to invite Him to our family’s dinner banquet by saying Grace before every meal every day of our life!

Transitional Deacon Class on their last day of school before their ordination to the priesthood for their home (Arch) Dioceses. Ad Multos Annos!


Dome of St. Peter’s, Vatican City State.

What did you tell your children or loved ones who wondered about the May 21st prophecy? 


Do you know anyone who really believed this date would be the end of the world, and how could you help them see otherwise?  


What were you doing on May 21st that helped you to recognize that God did in fact come to visit with us, just not in the doom and gloom as expected? 


Has your family ever talked about the end of the world at the dinner table, and what were some of the conclusions you reached?  


Your feedback is vital encouragement to our movement.  Please post your comments and questions below.

Let Us Pray: God our Father, help us never to fear Your Second Coming, but to welcome You with great joy – not just on one particular date but every day of our lives!  Keep our families strong and secure in the food that we receive in the true teachings of Your Church.  Help us always to be ready for that great day when our “foretaste of Heaven” through the Eucharist is fulfilled when we hear that invitation, “Come you who are blessed by My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Mt 25:34).”  Amen.





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Big Fish Story

Originally published August 18, 2010


I know very little about the technicalities of fishing.  What I’ve seen on TV about fishing is that it probably requires patience that I do not have.  Yet, the call to be “fishers of men” is a responsibility I fully recognize, even if at times I miserably fail at this lofty task.


Waiting to “Tarzan swing” from a 100 foot canopy.

On a recent vacation, I traveled with some priest friends from my seminary days.  If you’ve been part of the Grace Before Meals movement, you know I’ve been traveling with these guys for the past 11 years or so.  Every year, we get together in different parts of the world, filling our days with some crazy activities, even if we tend to move a bit slower than in our younger years.

These hallowed days are also filled with reliving memories of our time in seminary and sharing the joys and challenges of the priesthood.  We specifically set aside one day and dedicate it to listening to each other’s updates and encouraging each other in our walk – wherever the Lord takes us.  These annual gatherings affirm our call to be fishers of men.  They also encourages us to keep “fishing” even though it may seem that the fish aren’t biting.  And while we are supposed to be experts at bringing in the catch, these days of renewal remind us that the Lord’s also still trying to “catch” the illusive nature in us – His fishermen.  While God wants us to be effective in bringing in a large catch, He more importantly wants to bring us safely to the shores of Heaven.


These days are humbling because we share the realities of our struggles in the midst of the stormy waters, which sometimes make our job/vocation to fish a difficult task.  While we know our days together are filled with fun, fraternity, and lots of food (we’re all big foodies), we also recognize the necessity to come together and renew our efforts.

Inspiring pilgrim praying at the Cathedral in San Jose, Costa Rica.

We remember the Lord’s words when He counseled His first fishers of men, His Disciples, to cast the nets on the other side.  That is basically codeword for, try fishing His way, rather than the old way.  When doing anything – like fishing for food or searching for souls – His Way not only leads to a big catch, it also leads to a renewed faith in His plan.

In these winding days of summer vacation, I pray that each of you had some time to renew your faith with some rest and relaxation.  You don’t have to go far distances or pay lots of money in a fancy resort to be “recreated.”  Sometimes, it simply requires a few moments of quiet prayer in the deep recesses of your own mind, heart, and soul, aided by a visit to a quiet chapel or church on a day other than your already busy Sundays.

Pilgrims in quiet prayer. The faith in Costa Rica is very “rica” (rich) in history and devotion.

Those sacred days of rest, which we call vacation, helped to renew our faith and strengthen our desire to live lives that will catch people’s attention and set examples that they will hopefully follow.  And hopefully, these days of rest give all our “Gracers” (i.e., people who are part of the Grace Before Meals movement – yes, I just made that one up) a renewed strength to bring the big catch to the Boat of Peter and to eventually bring that catch to the shores where the Lord awaits with His special feast.

At Steubenville West. I popped into the lunchroom and visited with some of the teens.


I didn’t catch this fish.  It actually “caught me,” or at least caught my attention. 

Me with the big catch.

A local fisherman noticed us tourists wandering through a city market.  It was almost fate how he called out at the time when we were actually craving some fresh seafood.  I looked at the clear eyes of this 8-pound red snapper.  To determine its freshness, I gave it a good smell all over.  There was no “fishy” odor, only the scent of the fresh ocean air, indicating that it was caught just a few hours ago.  It was so fresh (and BIG) that I almost felt guilty paying so little for such a great feast! 

Do we totally look like tourists, or what!

As a way to share the blessing, I’ve provided two recipes in this week’s e-mail.  Because of the size, I decided to fillet one side of the fish in order to marinade and panfry it in sections.  The other recipe required roasting the fish whole in the oven, finished off with a garlic and chili infused hot oil, which crisped the skin and enhanced the natural roasted flavor.

This week’s featured recipes:


Prayer for the Fisherman

Let Us Pray: Lord, our God, You called Your first apostles to be fishermen – men who will put themselves out there to bring others to the Boat of Peter and to the eternal shores of Jesus.  Help Your Church’s ministers to be loving, patient, and appropriately zealous in bringing souls closer to God and closer to the eternal banquet.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.


One of the Beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica.




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The Right to be Free

Originally published July 1, 2009


One of the greatest culinary experiences I’ve felt is the feeling of being “free” from the restrictions of recipes.  Don’t get me wrong; I still review recipes all the time.  But after a period of studying particular recipes, learning proper techniques, practicing and critically experimenting with different cuisine, and even praying through many trials and errors, I feel confident enough to not be bound by following specific cooking instructions.

One of the Mount St. Mary’s seminarians from the Archdiocese of Atlanta sent me an interesting article about cooking more with a mentality of ratios rather than being enslaved to a recipe.  It’s something that relates to this week’s topic of Freedom.  The analysis indicated that cooking well has nothing to do with whether or not you are using a recipe.  No, Freedom in cooking is not a matter of “either/or,” but rather of “both/and.”

Me with some seminarians filming some webisodes -salmon Florentine!

In a certain sense, this cooking analogy applies to life.  Living the right to be free requires following rules, but also not fearing healthy exploration of things.  Freedom requires learning, study, and practice – as much as cooking, sports, and praying!  Sure, one can cook, play a sport, or go to church without all the trouble of formality and technique.  (And I’m not suggesting we throw away formality!  We need all of that too. )  But we also ought to consider how the true meaning of Freedom in anything requires discipline of learning about it as well as practicing it well enough to the point you’re comfortable doing it without a “recipe.”


Unfortunately, our modern, fast food mentality expects understanding Freedom to come as easy as ordering a Big Mac or a Whopper.  We don’t’ think twice about Fourth of July Freedom and the responsibility that comes with it.

Without discipline, Freedom is easily confused and all too often abused.  Without learning about the power of Freedom, it’s easy to turn Freedom into a destructive force.  If we do not practice the virtues that are required of a truly free person – such as patience, compassion, and humility – it’s easy to take our Freedom for granted and to even misuse it.  It’s easy to see how a confused understanding of Freedom leads to the self-destructive abuse of good things.  A poor understanding of Freedom can lead good things such as food, alcohol, beauty, or freedom of choice to turn into obesity, alcoholism, hedonism, and the death of a child.

We have a lot to learn about the true meaning of Freedom!

Mosaic in lower basilica in Lourdes, France. Jesus freely chose to carry the cross for our sins.

This week our country celebrates Independence Day.  It’s a day to remember how Freedom is an inalienable right that comes from God – not from the government.  We don’t learn Freedom from simply listening to political speeches.  To understand Freedom, we have to put it into practice.  Would you reading a recipe but never cook it?  To understand how Freedom is a right, we must also understand how Freedom is a great gift that requires great responsibility.  In this week’s blast, I’d also like to challenge my readers to consider how exercising Freedom is also a skill that requires practice, just like everything else we may consider important in our life – cooking, sports, a hobby, and praying!

Young child and mother praying at the tomb of St. Monica in the Basilica of San Agostino in Rome

It’s important to make sure that our Fourth of July celebration is more than burgers and barbecue.  Whether your country celebrates an independence day or not, we are all called to live in Freedom.  That that doesn’t mean a life without moral boundaries, legal protections, or even accepting limitations to our desires due to the limited nature of our humanity.  To be free is to ultimately recognize our citizenship in Heaven, and to live our life on earth headed in that direction. 

Angel pointing to the entrance to the Stations of the Cross in Lourdes, France.


Last week, I called into the very popular Sirius/XM radio show, “The Catholic Guy,” hosted by Lino Rulli.  Even though we’re pretty good friends, I never know what he’s going to say or do on air with me.  In fact, when I admitted that Jared, one of his producers is one of my favorite people on his radio show, Lino hung up on me!  I guess he was jealous that I didn’t say that he was my favorite person on his radio show.


Lino sitting across from me, with a group of seminarians traveling through New York.

The reason I called into the show was because he was asking the listeners about their practice of remembering celebrities in prayers.  We’ve had a lot of deaths of very well known people this past week: Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Billy Mays, and of course, Michael Jackson.  My call to Lino’s show was to offer my thought about praying for celebrities.  If we let our Hollywood people know we’re praying for them while they are alive – not in a judgmental way but as a parent or friend would pray for someone headed down a wrong path – then perhaps they would be more inclined to listening to us while they are alive, rather than listening to our prayers once they are dead. 


They definitely need our prayers, because of their public status and, therefore, their responsibility to the public.  Hollywood celebrities need to understand the privileges they have, because of their popular status doesn’t warrant an unbounded Freedom.  In fact, if they see Freedom as a gift, as a responsibility, and as a skill, then perhaps we would not have as many tragic young deaths of these popular figures.  Hopefully, and more importantly, then they wouldn’t have to live such difficult or conflicted lives.  My suggestion is to remember all of the faithful departed in prayer, especially those who have had influential roles in our world’s history and culture.  May they experience God’s Freedom, which the media seems to rob them of once they become famous.


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we pray for all of the beloved dead.  It’s always a good thing to pray for the dead because it helps us not to fear death, and in fact learn something important about life.  Namely, that life is temporary.  No matter how great we are in this world, we are still human and won’t live forever.  Therefore, help me to pray a sincere prayer for all of those who have died, especially those who have influence in culture, both great and small.  Have mercy on their souls and grant them Your forgiveness, which is ultimately an invitation to Your heavenly banquet.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Statues in Lourdes, France – Placing Jesus in the Tomb.



This week’s featured recipe:
Perfect for July 4th, enjoy these delicious burgers!
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