Posted August 28th, 2013 | Blast from the Past, Past Emails, Prayers, Recipe

We Need More Monicas!

Originally published August 27, 2008


August 27th is the Feast of St. Monica, the saintly mother who prayed for her son, Augustine, aka St. Augustine.  She prayed for her son to turn away from a sinful life and to reconcile his intellect to the wisdom of the Church. Her prayers worked! God, in His time, answered her prayers.  And Augustine finally understood why Faith meant so much to his mother.  Eventually, Augustine experienced an intellectual conversion and a change of heart. With St. Monica’s inspiration, Augustine became one of the greatest intellectual and theologically inclined saints in the Catholic Church’s history.Monica is a great example for many families who may feel frustration and even despair that their children may not be practicing their Faith as the parents taught them and want for them.  Parents write to me all the time, or stop me at a conference and ask, “what do I do?  My children aren’t practicing their faith anymore?”  Unfortunately, in these brief emails or meetings, I can’t answer all of the various situations that are posed to me.   However, I can suggest a few different ways that parents can preserve and encourage their family’s faith.

First, start young!  Children are naturally more receptive to faith when they are raised in it.  Teaching the basics in prayer means developing a prayerful foundation.  This young set of parents from Nashville is teaching their daughter Mimi to pray Grace Before Meals! Isn’t she like a little “poster child” for Grace Before Meals! They are only doing what they themselves learned from their parents!

Yet, teaching them from the start isn’t a “guarantee” your children will be saints. Therefore, if you did raise your children in faith, but they are no longer practicing or starting to question their faith, make sure you remain open to their questions and try to seek answers to their questions or issues of doubt TOGETHER! Don’t just dismiss them in your frustration. Instead, try to seek the response to their concerns. Keep open the lines of communication and try to grow more confident in your own faith by trusting that God still loves your child more than you can imagine.Another consideration is to make sure that you as parents are practicing what you preaching. While in Japan, I met several families who are trying to live their faith openly by taking time to pray together as members of an international group called “Couples for Christ.” While in Japan, I had a chance to do a Grace Before Meals Presentation for them.The formula for this gathering is simple. While the parents come together, share a meal, take time for sharing, offering each other support, singing a few songs and offering some petition prayers. The children join in the prayers for a while but also have some time to play with the other kids. The children see that mom and dad DO pray together and with others – and not just in church. The kids see that mom and dad ARE serious about their faith.The statement, “I believe faith is a ‘private’ thing” is unfortunately a temptation of the devil. We are tempted to not live our faith outside our home or church. The fact is, if you really have faith, you will not be afraid to share it everywhere! I realize that people are convinced that separation of church and state means that no one should talk about faith outside of church. But the fact is, God’s kingdom is not limited to church walls or my bedroom door! Make sure your children see that you are practicing your faith, and trying to practice what Christ preaches.

Here’s another little tip to help: make sure there is a balance between praying and playing! It would be nice if children and teenagers were naturally inclined to prayer. Although I do know some children who are, it is more likely they are more interested in playing outside or video games. The reality is, we can’t and should not force kids to say “formal prayers” all the time. That would be imbalanced. Remember, families are families. They aren’t mini-monasteries, or mini-convents, or mini-seminaries. Therefore, make sure you and your family has a healthy and balanced “diet” of activities: playing, praying, eating, relaxing, learning, talking, etc., etc.,If you’re whole life exists around a particular sport or hobby, to the exclusion of other wholesome and inspiring activities, then you may need to take a break from it. Especially if it’s slowly creeping out time for prayer, excluding family meals, and just ‘chilling out’ as a family! The balance of a healthy life requires us to make sure we master our schedules instead of having our schedules master us!

Another suggestion would be for the families to encourage their children to make sure they have good friends. Make sure parents ask their kids questions about what makes a good friend for you? How can your children be good friends for others? Ask, “how do you know if a friend is helping or hurting you?” Children should know how to make these important interpersonal relational distinctions.When I was in Toronto a few weeks ago, I met several young people as part of the BLD Youth Conference. In the Tagalog Language, BLD stands for “Bukas Loob Sa Diyos” – which translates to “Open Your Heart to the Lord.”

It was inspiring to see so many families in Canada and parts of the USA who are part of this growing International Group.  Like the Couples for Christ, this group also started in the Philippines, where family ties are strong – but not without the challenges faced by the families in the west.  But, these groups, and so many other ecclesial movements provide resources and relationships that can truly help your family grow stronger in communion with each other and God!  If you have questions about your family’s faith, do something about it and join a good group of people who, like St. Monica, want their children to be saints too!

To summarize, I know that St. Monica provides for us a living example of what is necessary to preserve your family.  Are you “waiting” for your children to grow up before making a decision to raise them in faith?  If you are, you are denying them grace now!  Are you telling your children to pray, but at the same time not praying yourself, or not letting your own children see you pray?  If so, then your children are receiving mixed messages from you!  Is there is a balance in your family, or do you just try to “squeeze in” prayers and church?  If there is an imbalance, trust that the devil will always push and pull us off the path that requires us to be balanced if we want to ‘walk the talk.’  Finally, are you helping your children to “flock together” with other good kids? Trust me, they ARE out there! Are we helping them to understand healthy distinctions in relationships by making sure we have good relationships ourselves – starting with your spouse?

Ultimately, your children will make their own decisions. You can’t force them to be a saint right here and now!  Just ask St. Monica who witnessed her son, Augustine, take baby steps in Faith only when she was ready to die!  We have to trust that God is hearing your prayers.  This week’s email blast is just one more way that God is trying to remind families of what is most important. This advice didn’t come from me, Fr. Leo.  It really came from the witness of the saints, especially Monica, who I humbly ask to pray for all families and all children who do not yet know Your love and call to be saints, now and forever!  St. Monica, pray for us! 

Prayer for Families


Parents have a great responsibility AND privilege to raise their children in faith. Don’t worry, you are not alone. And, above all, God knows that you are trying to do your best. And, if you’re not doing your best, then God can also give you the courage and strength to do your job better. Go ahead and talk with the one who helped St. Monica get through her difficult years with her son, who eventually became a great saint!


Let us Pray:


Father in Heaven, we can be so imperfect at times. We can forget the blessings and we so often focus on the bad. In a time when families struggle to stay together, help us to remember that a family that prays together stays together. And Lord, even when some of our family members turn away from You, help us to trust that you will never turn your back on them. Give us grace to strengthen our ties with one another and with You. Give us grace to seek the support and communities to keep our family focused on Your love, Your laws, and Your invitation to be part of Your heavenly family forever. Amen.

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Mercy- To Go

Originally published April 14, 2010


Here’s an interesting story.  I was en route to another city, walking through a busy airport.  I noticed this guy staring at me.  Any priest, especially in this day and age, walking through a busy airport will always get these awkward stares.  I originally thought he was going to ask if I was the priest he saw on the Food Network.  I’ve been getting that frequently after the Throwdown! with Bobby Flay.

The moment of the surprise Throwdown!

He didn’t approach me because of my delicious dishes, but because a priest wearing the Roman collar signifies a generous portion of God’s mercy.  God’s mercy!

My nephew, Emmanuel, wanted to see what it would look like if he were a priest. I say, pretty good. I’d really enjoy having him as my associate pastor someday!


Without asking for it specifically, he wanted to go to Confession.  I should have known.  I should have known God was at work in a special way that day.  It was Divine Mercy Sunday!


Image of the Jesus, the Divine Mercy.

Without breaking the seal of the confession, I can say this pastoral moment was a unique outpouring of God’s infinite goodness.  This man, who seemed to have it all, internally was “begging” to be welcomed back to the Father’s House.  He was Baptized Catholic, but stepped away from the Church at a very young age.  He claims it was because he was disappointed in the hypocrisy he saw from leaders and the people in the pew.  While that may seem like a legitimate reason, I don’t buy it, and neither did he.  He eventually admitted that his departure from church and religion in general (like the majority of people who leave the Church) was simply because he wanted to live his life precisely the way he wanted to live it – without anyone else having any say how.  By leaving the Church, he could make up his own rules, his own morals, and his own destiny – without any moral consequences. 

It’s true, hypocrisy in the Church is frustrating and discouraging.  But there is no perfect church because it is full of people who are sinners.  People who go to church, including priests and nuns, aren’t there because they are perfect.  People should go to church because they recognize that despite their sins, God forgives and helps us to be better.  When people start accepting the humanity of the Church, they will begin to see the divinity of our calling and go to church more faithfully.

Pilgrims on the way to the Basilica of Orvieto, Italy – March 2009.

Back to the airport story:  This guy walked up next to me and simply asked, “What do I do with all of my problems and sins?”  He didn’t have a lot of carry-on luggage, but carried his share of baggage much the same.  My job was to lighten his load and allow him to carry God’s ultimate message of Mercy with him to his true final destination:  Heaven.

Talk about asking for a priest to dish out God’s mercy, but mercy “to go?”

While he could barely remember how to go to Confession, his heart knew exactly what to do:  admit the sin, be sorry for it, and promise to not do those things again.   He didn’t know the Act of Contrition, but he did know how to be contrite.  He also did not even know the Our Father.  No one ever really taught him to pray.  Thank God for the prayer applications he promised to download to his phone.  On Divine Mercy Sunday, I helped this man make his 1st Confession in almost 15 years!  

Penitent going to confession.

There we were in the middle of this airport’s intersection – a “Cross” in the roadway of life.  At the heart of this busy airport intersection, I inconspicuously raised my hand over this penitent and prayed the words of absolution. 

He asked for Mercy, and God gave it.  Just like that.  While this only took a few minutes (we both had flights to make), this wasn’t a cheap form of “fast food” faith.  It was a sincere act of faith that will linger forever!

This man knows the next trip he is going to take will be to his local church to talk with the pastor.  He knows there is need for a more detailed examination of conscious and a new itinerary to get his life back on track.

What a way to celebrate the Divine Mercy of God’s bountiful goodness.  It shows that the grace of the Church’s ministry of mercy, while perfectly received when we go to church for Confession, is also meant to be served as “carry out.”  I think that’s why Jesus gave his Apostles the great command:  Go out to all the world and spread the Good News!

International Pilgrims in Lourdes, France – Pilgrimage in May 2009.

In this day and age, we who share in the Communion of the Lord have to remember that we shouldn’t take our faith seriously only when we are in church.  We must take our faith with us wherever we go.  And that’s the best way to live God’s merciful love:  to go – whether we’re walking out after mass or walking to our connecting flight!

This time of the year, 4th-year deacons are preparing to be ordained priests.  As part of their training, the faculty offers practical classes on how to give a good Confession.  These zealous young men preparing for the priesthood are very eager to help people get their life in order.  Sometimes, the youthful zeal can seem to intimidate  people who may be struggling with fear to go to Confession, for fear of being judged.  Not to worry, these guys know to be gentle as lambs in the confessional.  It’s the job of their professors to remind these men of Jesus’ Divine Mercy – which, although perfectly realized in the confessional booth, must also be proclaimed throughout the world.  Yes, we even have to teach these guys how to celebrate the Sacrament of Confession in busy airports too.  Jesus is truly “on the go” with His message of mercy.

Let us Pray:

Father, help us to experience Your grace of mercy and forgiveness.  In a special way, we pray for all people to return to the sacrament of reconciliation.  Help the Church to be an instrument of this great gift.  May all who desire forgiveness never fear to ask for it.  Help the world to see that forgiveness is offered anywhere, everywhere, and anytime!  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.



Fr. Leo in the news for his recent event appearance in NJ:


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Posted August 14th, 2013 | Blast from the Past, In Memory, Past Emails, Recipe

Nourishing Memories

Originally published August 12, 2009

Recently I received an e-mail from one of the Blast subscribers.  She told me about her brother who recently died at the young age of 54.  Her brother was a big supporter of the Grace Before Meals mission.  He was a food lover, even owning his own restaurant, until the sickness prevented him from working or even eating.  As a way to commemorate this man’s life, the family thought of having a big family meal together – cooking, eating, sharing, and praying together.  The family even invited me to be part of the celebration, even if the celebration would shed a few tears – and not because of the onions!  Needless to say, it was a very touching letter.

While my schedule these days prevents me from doing as many of these events as I would like, I thought to do the next best thing – write about it as a way of encouraging, affirming, and supporting all of the Grace Before Meals members in their quest for a banquet of peace, especially during difficult times, like this family mourning the loss of a beloved brother.

(Jesus in the garden of Gesthemane.)

I personally find myself in the same position as this family that mourns, because the Mount St. Mary’s family remembers the life, death, and hopeful resurrection of a beloved faculty member, Fr. Robert V. Zylla (1927-2009).  He has been a seminary professor for almost 40 years, training more than 1,200 priests, including six Bishops.   The church for the funeral Mass was packed.  There were about 100 priests, former students of this great professor of Thomistic Philosophy and Moral Theology.  The day of the funeral Mass was significant, almost providential, as it was the anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, patron saint of priests!

(Procession of Priests from Seminary to the Immaculate Conception Chapel. Statue on left is of Patron of Priests, St. John Vianney, on whose feast of August 4 we celebrated the Mass of Fr. Zylla.)


During the celebration my thoughts brought me back to the memories of other people who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith.  My grandfather, Telesforo; relatives; parishioners; my brother priests who have died; and the recent death of the father of one of my good priest friends, Msgr. Nalty, who helped me cook at the Bobby Flay Throw Down.  His father, Paul, was also a supporter of the mission to strengthen families and relationships around the dinner table.

(Paul Nalty (center) hosted a banquet for his son, Msgr. Nalty (right), and North American College classmates in New York in the spring of 2009. George Weigel (left), New York Times best selling author, apologist, philosopher, and critical thinker, was one of the invited guests.)

While these thoughts – admittedly, but not fearfully – bring me some sadness, they also bring comfort to my soul.  These thoughts remind me that if we didn’t feel some sadness, then we would have to question what type of relationship we had with the person who died.  The more we love the person, the more we hurt for them.  The closer we were to them on earth determines our longing to be with them in Heaven.

(La Pieta, Cathedral of Notre Dame in Avignon, France. Mary so longed to be with her Son in Heaven, that Jesus brought her to Heaven, commemorated in the Feast of the Assumption, celebrated August 15.)

As a parish priest, I celebrated too many funerals to count.  At the service, I would encourage the mourners to bring their memories to deep prayer, as a way of making sure the emotions, feelings, and thoughts do not remain at a human level, only.  That could just lead to depression.  But if we bring these painful realities to prayer, God’s Grace has a way of transforming the feelings of “emptiness” and turning them into moments that can actually nourish and enrich our lives on earth.  I’ve heard it said by many people, that they promise to live better lives in memory of those good people who have died.

I’m not sure how God can use such a painful moment and turn it into hope.  But I know that’s one reason the cross is at the center of our Faith.  We know God took the cross, a visual symbol of the ugly pain of death, and turned it into a sign of hope.  The pains of death in this life are only temporary, especially compared to the Banquet of Peace in Heaven that lasts forever.

During Fr. Zylla’s funeral homily, so many food references were made that I couldn’t help smile about how this man’s life, and even his death, was constantly “feeding” the future shepherds with the food he longed to eat in eternity!

(Knights of Columbus stand guard over the body of Fr. Zylla during the all night vigil of this beloved KoC Chaplain.)


During Fr. Zylla’s funeral homily, a reference was made to the screensaver he had on his computer.  It was a picture of him at the papal audience in Washington, D.C., in 2008.  I was asked to help care for him in the midst of the crowds and long walk.  What a gem he was that day!  Despite the heat, long lines, and standing and waiting, he didn’t complain once!  Here’s the picture he had on his computer.

(April 17, 2008.)

I’ve offered this prayerful thought before, but it’s definitely worth repeating, especially since a few of our subscribers have written to me about the death of a loved one.  Our Christian Tradition remembers the dead in prayer after a family meal.  It’s a way to make another connection, telling that person and telling God, how much that person is missed around the dinner table.  And so it is a pious custom to close the grace after meal, by saying, “And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace!”


So, why not start this family tradition, by concluding Grace after meals with this little invocation.  Then, fulfill the grace after meal by helping do the dishes!

Fiesta In America


August 16- 17

Meadowlands Expo Center

in Seacaucus, NJ

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Fearlessly Transfigured

Originally published August 6, 2008

The Feast of the Transfiguration (6 August 2008) resonates with something I experienced in Japan a few weeks ago.  Let me explain.


While in the Okinawa, I had the opportunity to do a presentation for a group of international students from Japan and China.  These were students in a college leadership program, and I had to give them a presentation about leadership skills and qualities to them?  Me?  Go figure!

I don’t speak Japanese, and I would never consider myself the most capable leader. On top of that, despite my Asian background, I have nothing in common with that culture.  I’m Filipino!  I have to admit this presentation was not easy.  It was challenging trying to communicate with the students, who hardly responded to my questions. They all seemed to be paying attention, but who knows what was going on in their minds?  But, thanks to my host, Virgil Lorenzo, the welcome encouragement of the team of teachers, and some very talented translators, we were able to communicate and learn from each other.

We talked about leadership qualities such as staying balanced on a strong foundation and keeping focus on the ultimate goal.  The majority of these students were not Catholic – not even Christian, in fact.  Yet, they easily grasped how these spiritual principals are not limited to faith, and can be applied to academic discipline and especially leadership.  We even managed to squeeze in a Grace Before Meals cooking demonstration of “Penne alla Arrabiata.”  It was my first time seeing pasta eaten with chopsticks. I realize the Chinese were the ones who introduced pasta to the Italians, but this seemed a bit surreal, even for me.

I recall this experience on the Feast of the Transfiguration because I saw a common characteristic – actually a common weakness or temptation – shared by the Disciples, these international students, and myself.  It prevents us all from being true leaders in society.  That temptation is fear.  Fear is what made the Disciples, particularly Peter, flee Jesus when He needed them the most during His persecution and scourging.  The Disciples feared the cost of being associated with the Lord.  Fear made them forget the beauty of the Transfiguration, which was supposed to help these future spiritual leaders deal with the scandal of the Cross.  Fear is what prevented these talented international students from attempting to speak in English with me, even though that was the purpose of my presence.

Fear is what will prevent these students from being true leaders for their peers.  If they don’t lead, they will follow.  And in this world, it’s very easy to follow the wrong crowd.  That was evident to me in my brief visit with them.  Despite cultural differences, it’s easy to see how they face the same struggles as their American and international counterparts.  Fear is what made me hesitant in coming to Japan in the first place, especially after the busy trip to WYD in Australia.  I was honestly hesitant to accept this invitation because I didn’t know how a non-Christian nation would respond to hearing about leadership from a Catholic Priest after all the bad press the Church has gotten.  I wondered if these students would even like my cooking.

Considering my minuscule attempts of evangelization, I can’t imagine what it was like for the Disciples, who, after they found their courage in God, went to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Christian message.

As natural as it is to fear the unknown, we have a supernatural force, called grace, to give us courage!  That courage in the face of fear helps us to be the leaders we are called to be.

Not everyone can be a leader in the hierarchical sense.  After all, a successful restaurant is not comprised of only executive chefs and you know what they say about too many of them!  Catholics have only one Pope.  And, even he knows he is not the leader, but a servant of God.  Therefore, consider how we’re all called to be leaders in the sense of being a good example.  Parents set good examples for their children, and students can be good examples for others.  In this good example, we become true leaders!  It’s an undeniable fact that we tend to follow the crowd or at least pay attention to the masses.  If we can inspire more people to see they are called to have the courage to be a good example to others, they can become true leaders in society.  Whether they see themselves as leaders or not, just by courageously setting a good example, they are leaders.

After I got over my fear (and my pride of not wanting to say anything stupid or have my simple pasta dish be rejected by the originators of pasta), I found that I enjoyed my time with these students and the opportunity to see more of God’s beautiful creation in a land and culture so unfamiliar to me.  That’s generally the case when it comes to the unknown.  We may find that looking at these situations with faith and grace can help us learn something valuable, even enjoy the new experience!  If these students find the courage to be good examples and leaders, they can find the courage to speak not only English to a complete stranger, but more importantly speak the Good News to their families and friends – near and far!  Just consider the Disciples.  When they finally allowed grace to help them overcome their fear, they spoke out in strange new territories.  Courage helped them to share a message of hope.  These simple students became leaders in their own right.  Now their influence and example extends to the ends of the earth!

These young students reminded me of how fear touches all people and cultures.  Even though we all look different, it’s easy to see that fear looks similar in each of us.  It looks like a lamp beneath a bushel basket, it is a talent buried in shame.  As the Good News needs good example, we should consider how the Transfiguration of the Lord can help us change from fearful followers into courageous leaders for our families and communities.


Let us pray: Father in Heaven, we can be so scared, especially when it comes to new experiences or unique challenges.  We can be like the Disciples who feared the cross and forgot the beauty of Your transfiguration.  Help us never forget that natural fear can be replaced with supernatural courage.  Lord, we pray for missionaries, especially Fr. Chris and all of those who are committed to sharing the Gospels’ message with people in all corners of the earth.  May we be strong in faith and courageous in our hope in You.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.



Fiesta In America


August 16- 17

Meadowlands Expo Center

in Seacaucus, NJ

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