Superstar Sisters

Last week we discussed the vocation of St. Joseph as a spiritual father to Jesus and as a Protector of the Church’s spiritually adopted children.  In my previous Blasts I devoted much attention to the priestly vocation, especially since at one point I used to work at a seminary.  But recently, perhaps by God’s providence, I have received such wonderful inspiration from the vocations of women, aka, nuns, sisters, and spiritual mothers.

Missionaries of Charity who raised this orphan girl to womanhood. She’s now married and pregnant with their first child, in Kolkata India.

The unfortunate cliché about angry nuns teaching in Catholic Schools with hand-slapping rulers just doesn’t work for me.  I never had that experience.  While I recognize that a nun can have had a bad day or that some may have been strong disciplinarians, that should never obfuscate the tremendous good and gentle presence nuns have given in the Church’s (and the world’s) history.  Nuns, as spiritual mothers, have to be strong, because mothers and women have to be strong.  That is what a nun is: a spiritual mother, a real woman, a gift from God.

Religious Sisters at 2013 Steubenville Conference in Rhode Island

The strong-loving-and-not-easily-fooled presence of a spiritual mother is sorely needed in our world.  Unfortunately, the idea of a “false feminism,” as needing to challenge (not compliment) masculinity, has confused and even diminished the role of religious sisters.  And evidence of this can be seen in the declining numbers of women wanting to become nuns in the world today.  But, in God’s providence, what may be missing in numbers is certainly made up for in quality.  And in some cases some religious groups for women continue to grow, bringing a positive influence on the world – a world that needs a mother’s guiding hand!

The tomb of Mother Teresa, The Blessed Saint of Kolkata.

Recently I taught a theology course to a group of Missionaries of Charity, the branch of religious sisters started by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (now spelled Kolkata).  The class was on Mariology – the role of Mary in the Bible and Salvation History.  It was a fitting course, as nuns aspire to imitate the virtues and loving influence Mary had on Jesus and the Catholic Church’s tradition.

One of the Missionaries of Charity making a pastoral visit to a resident in a community of people affected with leprosy.

Much like the Blessed Mother, these women are incredible witnesses – powerful, strong, disciplined, loving, and nurturing.  They showed me the incredible value of a feminine vocation well-lived.  While they are truly graceful, beautiful, and dignified, they are also very determined and powerful witnesses of the strength of the “feminine genius” – a term used by Blessed Pope John Paul II in a document dedicated to the role of women in the life of the Church.

These women, nicknamed “MC Sisters” (Missionaries of Charity Sisters), work in the poorest of the poor parts of the world.  They are leaders in the education, healthcare, and social reform of those parts of the world that desperately need a loving maternal presence.  And they do it with the simple basics: they feed God’s Children! 

These children were abandoned by their parents because of physical conditions. The Missionaries of Charity have taken them in their loving care and will continue to do so until they can be adopted into a loving home. If not, they will remain as well-loved children in the Missionaries of Charity family.

When I returned to the United States – and back to our world of technology – I received a twitter feed about a nun who shocked the Italian entertainment industry with a powerful musical performance on the Italian version of the hit show, The Voice.  As I watched this young woman, a very real nun (as she described herself), sing her heart out and stun both judges and the audience into a standing ovation, I had to laugh (with joyful tears in my eyes).  

Why would people be surprised about a nun that can sing and mesmerize God’s family with talents?  Has the world become so blind that they forget talent is not just reserved for the entertainment industry?  Is it because nuns wear religious habits that makes people think they can’t have fun and be inspiring through their God-given talents?

This nun has become a great heroine for me, especially because she espouses much of the Grace Before Meals and evangelization philosophy: God gave us talents so we could use them, not just “in the church” but for the evangelization of the world!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this video clip, just to see some of the biggest Italian stars weep in joy and actually ask for “God’s Grace” from this spiritual SUPER SISTER! 

Be sure to click on the English translation of the conversation after her jaw-dropping performance.)

For me, these recent experiences coincide with a spiritual exercise I’ve taken up during the Lenten Season.  I’ve been meditating on the 14 Stations of the Cross each day.  In the 4th, 6th, 8th, 13th, and 14th Stations of the Cross we reflect on the very powerful images of women who intimately participated in Jesus’ most powerful saving act of suffering for the sins of the world.  These meditations – along with the experiences of serving the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata and the  recent clip of a mega-talented-singing-sister – have reinforced what I have already known but sometimes take for granted: Women, whether they are biological or adoptive, moms or sisters, in blood or in spirit, reveal God’s love in singularly powerful way.  Without them, we wouldn’t have life! 

This couple from Switzerland adopted this beautiful child, “Hiya,” from the missionaries of charity. To learn more about adopting a child from the Missionaries of Charity Orphanage, click here – and call the Missionaries of Charity Group.

Food for Thought

  • Who is your favorite nun (religious sister) and why?
  • What was your experience of nuns growing up?
  • Have you ever considered joining a convent or encouraged a young girl to consider it?  How would you help them discern a possible religious vocation?

Please post your comments below as these help our movement learn and grow. 

 

 

 

Let Us Pray:  

 

Father in Heaven, You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the Mother of Your Son, Jesus our Lord.  In imitation of her, You raise up women to be “Brides of Christ,” professing their lives to You in service to God’s children, desperately in need of a loving mother’s presence.  May You bless these women in all things.  Keep them ever in Your care. Protect them from destructive tendencies of a false feminism.  May they have the blessings of children, spiritually, adoptive, or by biological, who will always value their presence, respect their dignity, and be ever grateful for their lives.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Statue of Mother Teresa of Calcutta taking in an abandoned child under her motherly care.
Click to watch Fr. Leo’s appearance on FOX45 for CRS Rice Bowl.
Tonight, tune into WMAR Channel 2 News in Baltimore for Fr. Leo’s appearance on “The List” at 7pm EDT.
 

This Week’s Lenten Recipe from CRS Rice Bowl:

 
 
Visit crsricebowl.org for more on Fr. Leo and 
CRS Rice Bowl Global Kitchen: For Lent, For Life
 
3/27/14
 
South Bend, IN
 
3/29/14
 
Jacksonville, FL
 
3/29/14-4/2/14
 
Lutz, FL
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Posted in CRS Rice Bowl, Dinner Discussion, Epic Food Fight, Lent, Prayers, Recipes, Vegetables, Video | 8 Comments »

St. Joseph: Husband and Father

Originally Published 3/19/07

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.

Every year on March 19th, I gather with several priests to celebrate St. Joseph’s Feast Day – Husband of Mary and Foster Father of Jesus.  Living in Italy as a seminarian gave me a new perspective on this celebration.  Italians consider it a National Holiday – their own “Father’s Day” – with traditions that call for setting up a small shrine for St. Joseph and lots and lots of food. Why?  Especially since the New Testament doesn’t even give Joseph any speaking parts!  How important of a role could St. Joseph play as “Husband” and “Father?”  The answer is in the question!

It’s no secret, but unfortunately fatherhood has unique challenges in today’s culture.  Whether it’s because society is pushing an agenda to see fathers as “not as smart” as mom or kids or whether it’s because dads are not stepping up to the plate, we can all observe a decline in family structures where fatherhood is not properly integrated.  This little email blast won’t solve the problems of deadbeat dads or unappreciated fathers.  But I can offer a gentle reminder about a father’s responsibility: to put food on the table and feed his children in body, mind and soul.  I recently read a powerful article about this and I immediately saw why St. Joseph’s day should be celebrated with Gusto!

Admittedly, the Scriptures say very little about this man.  My dad jokes, “I’m like St. Joseph in my family.  I don’t say anything!”  I know he’s joking because I’ve personally heard PLENTY from my dad.  But my dad (thank God) shares similarities to St. Joseph, who is described as being “Upright” (Mt 1:19).  Let’s admit, we would all want our dads to be “nice,” but have we ever appreciated that our dads are called to be “upright?”  It clearly doesn’t mean that dadIS always right.  But it indicates that dads should know the difference between right and wrong.  Together with mom, dad has the responsibility to teach and feed these very lessons to his children.  To teach children how to be upright, and to do it nicelymeans that our dads, like St. Joseph, are no “Ordinary Joes.”

 

 

If you want to discuss something at our Grace Before Meals table, please let us know!  Also, please be sure to check out the Blog Site and let us know what you’re thinking.  Our Grace Before Meals Family is growing, and it would be nice to meet each other at our cyber table.  So go ahead and introduce yourself to our growing family!

I was really young when dad came home from the office with his first paycheck, after struggling to get his own private medical practice up and running.  He took us all to a steakhouse chain restaurant called “Rustlers.”  Remember that place?  It was a cafeteria-style steak house where you ordered your steak, slid a tray along a counter, picked up your sides, paid the cashier and sat down for a family meal.  It was an extraordinary moment for me to see these huge grills cook my steak to order!

The Grace Before Meals Team tries to help families see the blessing of the food on the table and the blessings of the people around the table.  I’m sure St. Joseph felt that way.  Can you imagine how St. Joseph felt having breakfast with Mary, the Mother of God, and Jesus, the Incarnate Word – the Only Son of God?  I wonder what they talked about. More importantly, how did they pray before meals?  We’ll consider adding a special prayer for each person in the family along with the grace before meals.

Today, you may want to say a special prayer for dad. Tomorrow, mom, and the day after, one prayer a day for each child!  The prayer can definitely help us be more “upright” like St. Joseph’s family.

“Father, you entrusted our Savior to the care of St. Joseph.  By the help of his prayers, may your Church continue to love and to serve the Lord, by loving and serving one another.  Amen!”

 
This Week’s Lenten Recipe from CRS Rice Bowl:
 
 
Visit crsricebowl.org for more on Fr. Leo and 
CRS Rice Bowl Global Kitchen: For Lent, For Life
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Posted in Blast from the Past, CRS Rice Bowl, Feast Days, Lent, Recipe-Fish, Recipes, Video | 1 Comment »

Posted March 12th, 2014 | CRS Rice Bowl, From the Feedbag, Lent, Recipes, Video

 

Kitchen Confessions

NOTE: Last week, I started off talking about Lent….by referring to it as Advent. Sorry about that! Many readers caught it right away and it has since been corrected. Glad to know that Lent means that much to many of you, so God bless you during this Holy Season of Lent and beyond.

As we like to generate conversation, here is some FOOD FOR THOUGHT: 

 

  • How do you explain Confession to non-Catholics or non-practicing Catholics?
  • How many times do you think is a healthy number of times to go to Confession?
  • What’s the hardest part about getting to confession?  And how do you deal with it?

Post your questions and comments below.

 

 

—–

The soon-to-be SAINT John Paul II giving a much younger looking Fr. Leo and my chalice a special blessing.

Whenever I meet with chefs, I oftentimes get them to make a “confession” about how after a busy dinner shift, instead of cooking something healthy or fancy, they’ll often settle for fast, diner, or comfort foods. Confessions are just a part of life. In this “From the Feed Bag” we go deeper into the purpose of Confessions.

Dear Fr. Leo, 

Why do Catholics HAVE to go to confession? Why can’t they just get forgiveness from God directly? 

Thanks, KT 

Dear KT and everyone who asks themselves this same question,

Christ gave the apostles very clear commands, which I’ll summarize:

“Go into the world and preach the Good News! Baptize nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit! Forgive Sins – a sign that we are doing what He wants. And above all, LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

It’s funny how people forget Jesus created the Church in order to forgive sins. It’s more than a place to go when people need of a social service, a good background for wedding photos, or somewhere to socialize. Most importantly, Church is where we come to know God, and that we are NOT God. It’s a place to know God’s love by receiving His forgiveness.

The Wailing Wall, where Believers understand the wall as a physical manifestation of God’s Presence.

The Confessional is the place where the Alexander Pope cliché confronts our very reality: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” As we are called to become more like God, Divine Providence has given us the Church to be that place where forgiveness is understood as a sacrament and not just a good idea.

A healthier understanding of sin gives us a healthier understanding of humanity and the Church. God knew humanity so well, he gave us a place where we can be forgiven. In this question, so typical of a fast food mentality of forgiveness, we try to avoid or skip a real, accountable, and practical process of forgiveness.

For example, if we hurt a loved one, do we just say in our own minds, “Please forgive me”, and think,”That’s good enough.”?

Rather, we know a process is required, which includes an examination of what we did wrong, getting enough courage to go to that person, and humbly telling them we know we did something wrong – i.e., actual verbalization of our sins and sorrow. The process continues with hearing those words, I forgive you. Finally, the process of forgiveness requires some action to demonstrate true contrition and a willingness to do better.  

Traditional “Confessional Box” located in the sacristy of the St. John the Baptist Church in Israel.

These are the steps of forgiveness we take with others. It’s the same process we ought to take with God. This is exactly what happens in Church, which is “The Body of Christ” – the very person we hurt whenever we sin. We have to remember that Church is not a hotel for saints but a hospital for sinners.

In this Lenten Season we can keep questioning the process of forgiveness, or we can trust that the Church is God’s answers to our prayers. Remember, studying the history of confession shows that we’ve been doing this since Christ started His Church. A more knowledgeable, humbler, and trusting approach to this particular Sacrament can only help us in our relationship with God, simply by better recognizing the Church as “The Body of Christ.”

Young folks from St. Patrick Church in Oak Grove, Minnesota, who know the importance of Confession.

Let us pray:  

 

Lord, give us Grace to use this Holy Season of Lent to seek a humble forgiveness of our sins, so that by receiving Your mercy, we can in turn forgive one another.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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Check out crsricebowls.org starting this week for Fr. Leo’s weekly recipe from different countries around the world. And be sure to fill your CRS Rice Bowl with change to help those in need this Lent and beyond.

 

This Week’s Lenten Recipe from CRS Rice Bowl:

 
 
Visit crsricebowl.org for more on Fr. Leo and 
CRS Rice Bowl Global Kitchen: For Lent, For Life
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Posted March 5th, 2014 | CRS Rice Bowl, Dinner Discussion, Lent, Prayers, Video

L.E.N.T.

  As we like to generate conversation, here is some FOOD FOR THOUGHT: 

  • What’s the best way that you approach Lent?
  • Are you “giving up” a certain food during this season, and if so, how do you replace it? (For example, giving up salt and fatty snacks, and replacing it with fruits).
  • Is there a special prayer that you say during Lent?

Post your comments HERE to help us and our subscribers stay on track during this Lenten Season.

—–

Christians entering into the Holy Season of Lent, begin with the unique practice of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of humble repentance.  Besides the ashes, the practice of fasting and abstaining from certain foods throughout the season (particularly on Fridays) is accompanied by charitable almsgiving to the poor and increased prayer.  

Even babies can receive the ashes on the forehead.

We can approach these Lenten disciplines with the best intentions. But unless we have practical steps to take, we can easily let these good intentions remain at the level of theory and not practice.  So, here are a few practical ideas to help you put these intentions into practice this Lenten season, spelled out easily in the word LENT!  

 

Learning Experiencing Nourishing Timing

 

L (Learning):  This season consider doing some active learning about the faith by picking up spiritual reading.  My newest book has become a resource for Lenten Reading.  There are seven chapters, which you can read for each week of Lent! 

 

If we’re not actively learning about our Faith, we are actively making ourselves ignorant.  God gave us brains and a conscious to be fed and informed. I often find that people engaged in the faith grow hungry for more.  Those who avoid any type of active intellectual formation of the faith become quickly bored with it, take it for granted, and eventually stop practicing it all together. Arrogance usually follows. 

 

People who don’t actually learn substantial truths about the faith actually start believing their own opinions about it, as if these uninformed opinions are actually true.  They begin to question, without seeking knowledge, and start opining as if they are experts. Yes, without an active effort to grow in the faith we risk ignorance. Learning is all about feeding our mind and forming our conscious in order to develop the strength to make good decisions in life.    

First year College Seminarian Andy said that he will read my newest book Epic Food Fight as his Lenten Reading.

E (Experiencing):  One of the best forms of learning is experience.  This Lent, create opportunities to experience the Faith.  Parishes ought to provide these experiences by hosting Soup and Suppers or Lenten Fish Fries – an opportunity for the community to come together on Fridays to dine together and to pray.  Many parishes invite speakers or mission preachers, or even take local pilgrimages to nearby shrines.  All of these provide an educational experience. 

 

Click Here to Book Fr. Leo for your next parish mission – not just during the Lenten Season.

Too often parents will tell me their children are bored with church, which usually comes from a lack of experiencing its fullness and beauty.  That’s why I encourage planning a pilgrimage!  Next year we are planning three pilgrimages to the Holy Land, a trip to Italy for the World Fair, and a trip to Spain to experience the Spiritual Mystics.  Stay tuned for more information next month!  Plan on joining us and bring a family member in need of a fun and faithful experience.

 

Ask yourself, when was the last time I experienced something unique about the faith? It could be as simple as serving a meal in a soup kitchen, going to a different church, or visiting a museum to take in the beauty of religious art with an informed guide.  If we are not experiencing new things, our faith grows stagnant.  Experiencing something new stirs up the flame of faith in each of us.  

 

Each Year thousands of teens from all over the country participate in a weekend retreat called the Steubenville Youth Conference. Plan now for your church group to participate in these life changing experiences.

N (Nourishing): Lent gives us a chance to ask ourselves what we are putting into our hearts, minds and, in particular, our bodies.  And believe it or not, fasting and abstaining are two of the healthiest things we can do to nourish our lives!  Isn’t that why health conscious individuals nourish their bodies with healthy foods and fast from certain other, less healthy options? 

 

Notice that Lent encourages us to be healthier by eating and drinking more purely, naturally and simply.  Unfortunately, we are easily addicted to unhealthy lifestyles and food choices.  We have a chance to simplify and improve it, one bite at a time!

 

Beginning a regimen that includes fasting is not easy.  We may get weak, get a mild headache, and even go through some other withdrawal symptoms.  But, if we can get past these challenges, we will certainly put ourselves on a track that will sustain us throughout the season and even throughout the year.  Lent wants each practitioner to truly be healthy – body, mind and soul. This requires proper nourishment.  And in some cases, not to nourish (i.e., feed) unhealthy tendencies. 

 

Jewish, Christian and Muslim Chefs, all part of Chefs for Peace, give my pilgrimage group a presentation on healthy and religious eating proving how important it is- no matter what religion you are.

T (Timing):  All good cooks know that timing is a key ingredient to a successful meal.  Lent helps us to be better at this important skill.  To make Lent a success in fidelity, we need to make proper adjustments to our schedule, i.e, timing! 

 

We treat life with a “fast food” mentality thinking that prayer can be as quick. That unhealthy expectation of timing has led to all sorts of unhealthy symptoms. People who don’t regularly pray can more easily give into worry, bad temper, and a lack of discipline to be patient.  When we take time and plan our days, which includes prayer, we find ourselves less anxious, more productive, less lazy, and even more rested

 

Consider the things you need to be healthy, make time for these things, and make sure to stick to your schedule.  Timing in life, as in the cooking process, results in a quality product.  In this case, proper timing leads to a better quality of life. 

 

At the Nalty Tree Farm, our priest reunion group takes time for prayer – which helps keep our class united in God’s invitation to brotherly love.

 

Let us pray: 

 

Jesus, You give us this joyful season of Lent each year to recall how You suffered for us,  for the forgiveness of our sins, and to ultimately get us back on track to the path of Heaven.  Help us to take this time seriously, by our sincere efforts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  May our Lenten practices lead us to the eternal joys of the heavenly banquet!  Amen.

 

Scourged for our Sins, Statue Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church.

 

 
This Week’s Lenten Recipe from CRS Rice Bowl:
 
 
 
Visit crsricebowl.org for more on Fr. Leo and 
CRS Rice Bowl Global Kitchen: For Lent, For Life
 
 
 
CONGRATULATIONS TO JENNIE CINENSE
on winning the EPIC CONTEST to get a free copy of
 EPIC FOOD FIGHT. Thanks to all who participated!
 
3/8/14 – 3/22/14
 
Calcutta, India

 

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Posted in CRS Rice Bowl, Dinner Discussion, Lent, Prayers, Video | 3 Comments »