A Worthy Cost

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

This infamous Scripture passage, which was read at a daily Mass this week, is frequently quoted by Christians and can often be seen on large signs at football games or other big events. Matter of fact, one of the parishioners who goes to my church bought a bright yellow truck and has it wrapped with Scripture verses where he references John 3:16, which grabs lots of attention. During the homily, Father Greco unpacked this popular verse and described it as a great synthesis of the Gospel.

This verse points to the great bookends of the Christian life, which begins with the love of God for us and ends with life. In between these two bookends is belief, or faith. When we first encounter Christ and gaze upon him on the cross we are startled by the unfathomable love he has for each of us. The end which wraps this story up is life…eternal life. This life is meant to be discovered and lived out by each of us on earth and has the attributes of peace, joy and sacrificial love.

It is, however, the middle part where our story is peeled back layer by layer. The belief that is referenced in the text is not some sort of lightning bolt moment, but rather a process. It is a gradual unveiling of the One who is Truth and our response to Him. It is akin to the development of a relationship between a husband and his spouse. This process takes time and involves trust and surrender just as a healthy marriage deepens within the seasons of the relationship. The result of this journey is a joy-filled and peaceful life.

As Catholics, it is important we do not fall into the trap of Gnosticism, essentially focusing only on the intangible world while ignoring the body and what it represents. Our Faith teaches us that the Lord did not remain merely a spirit, but rather the Father “gave his only son,” and He took on human flesh. This is a reason the Church, in her wisdom, adorns our worship spaces with physical representations of our Lord and the saints. We are reminded when we enter any Catholic Church, of the radical love the Second Person of the Holy Trinity has for us. To take flesh, to live like us in the flesh, and to be crucified in that same flesh. We are reminded of the sacrifices and struggles, and ultimate joy, the saints before us have experienced when we see their statues.

As modern Christians, we, like the saints who witness for us a life lived radically for the Gospel, must be strong in body, mind, and soul to fight this fight. We cannot let our bodies become weak so as to not be able to fight when the Lord asks us. Rather let us follow our great Catholic tradition of recognizing the inherent good in our bodies, and the gift that they are from God.

The Wellness Journey

God has infused his creative life into the physical world. Our physical bodies, and the way they work, can be seen as an icon of the Theo drama that God crafts in our lives. The bookends of our wellness journey often begin with an encounter with someone who is fit and ends with our freedom and a well lived life. We often encounter someone personally or through media who has what we want. It is someone that is healthy and expresses self-mastery and confidence which draws us to them. The end of this journey is your own self-mastery and the freedom to live for others and remain strong.

The middle of this journey is also a process. After meeting someone who has what you want, there has to be a time of training. This is a period which requires sacrifice and trust in the process. If we are faithful in our physical training, which is necessarily demanding, the result will be the freedom to live a life which is less prone to disease and can enable you to remain active as you grow older.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work” – Thomas Edison

We can see that training our bodies is a process and can be a sign of the necessary development of faith that is described in the spiritual life of a Christian. Both begin with an encounter and the outcome is a full life. This free and exuberant life is the end which we all desire but is won through faithful training and trust as our story is written with the ink of self-sacrifice and commitment.

“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)

Overcoming a Spiritual Plateau

Our journey to heaven is constantly evolving and changing. Each day is new and we’re never quite sure what to expect as it relates to our walk with Christ.

But, one thing that’s safe to say is some days are going to be better than others. In fact, there are almost always periods in our spiritual lives where we feel as if we’ve plateaued and are simply going through the motions.

My family and I recently attended a family retreat with our Schoenstatt brothers and sisters in Christ.  It was an amazing weekend since my wife and I made our “Covenant of Love” with our Blessed Mother.  More to come on this in a future article.

During one of the talks an amazing priest, Fr. Patricio, talked to us about these “spiritually dry” periods in our lives.  He compared it to our day-to-day relationships with our spouses. There are times when things are great and moving forward and there are times our marriages could use a little spark to get things moving again.

Our relationship with God is no different.  There will be times when we’re on fire (think Ash Wednesday) and there will be times we’re running on fumes and simply going through the motions.  Fr. Patricio mentioned that these “dry periods” are actually a gift since it’s God telling us we need to change things up in order to reignite the relationship.

So, as just a few examples, if you and your family say the Rosary together on a consistent basis perhaps you can change things up from time to time and sing the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Perhaps you can seek out some solid Catholic podcasts or talks for your commute to and from work.  I’m a huge fan of Fr. John Riccardo.

And, last, but most certainly not least, perhaps you can find some time to quietly visit our Lord in the quiet of your church for at least 30 minutes a week (an hour would be even better if you can swing it).

No matter what you decide to do to change things up the most important advice I’d like to offer is to never despair or give up hope.  Our Lord loves each of us more than we can fathom.  And He’s never going to give up on us so long as we don’t give up on Him.

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

Stay in Check

With the Octave of Easter in full swing, it is an exciting time for Christians celebrating the greatest feast of the year. It is a time filled with joy and hope. A time of thanksgiving and wonder. The eight days of feasting which follow Easter is a cry of victory for all Christians, but we sometimes forget that it is also a battle cry. While Christ gave death’s sting a mortal blow, we still play a key role in the battle to win His world back.

Easter is a time to celebrate with friends and family and indulge in delicacies like chocolate or whatever your favorite palate teaser might be. After 40 days of intentional acts of penance to win back our freedom during lent, we now can truly feast and enjoy the foods and fancies that we went without. While celebrating is crucial, I would like to point to some practical ways to assess your freedom to be sure that you aren’t thrown back into old habits that can enslave us with regard to food and drink.

Pick a Meal

Choose one meal a day during this festive time to give something up. It can be giving up a piece of bread or choosing water instead of soda. By doing this once a day during Easter you can trigger in your mind that you are in charge of what you eat and what you eat is not in charge of you.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Alone

There are likely many occasions to get together to celebrate the Easter season with friends and family, so these are great times to crack open a beer or a bottle of wine. I recommend choosing to limit your alcohol intake to times when you are with others. This will ensure that you are keeping alcohol in check and direct any occasions to drink towards communion and relationships.

Don’t Overeat

When there is a smorgasbord of delicious food in front of you during these great festive times it can be easy to eat until it hurts. You can exercise self-mastery by slowing down and eat your favorite treats one at a time and appreciate the taste and memories you are creating in the company of those you love. By eating slower your brain will have time to keep up with your body’s natural satiety, so that you can call it quits before you have to throw on the pants with the elastic waist.

These guides are by no means meant to be a kill joy or take away from the great celebration that Christians should be taking part in. Rather, they are tools that can be used to ensure that your sword stay sharp and your mind clear and ready to do battle.

“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)

Have No Anxiety

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Phil 4:6-7

Anxiety, stress, and worry are silently destroying lives. Some stress about the past, others the present, and many of us worry about the future.

As just a few examples we might wonder, with anger in our hearts, why our boss (or co-worker, or really anyone) was such a jerk to us last week. We might worry if we’ll be able to send our kids to college. And, of course, what about the leak currently under our house that will likely cost thousands of dollars to repair (true story in the Pereira household)?

We all have issues. No one’s exempt. And, sadly, these obstacles – past, present, and future – aren’t ever going away.

So, the way I see it, we have two choices when it comes to dealing with these obstacles. We can accept and deal with them. Or we can allow them to cripple us into submission.

The Stoics often wrote about “amor fati” which, translated from its original Latin, means the love of fate. One of my favorite Stoics, Epictetus, once said, “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”

I especially love this quote since “loving our fate” doesn’t mean we have to sit around all relaxed and carefree. Instead, it simply means accepting what life throws at us while doing our very best to take the appropriate action.

Put another way, instead of worrying about whether we’ll die of a heart attack we’d be far better served by cleaning up our diets and mixing in some exercise. We can, after all, control what we eat and how we move our bodies.

And instead of worrying about money, we’d all be better off channeling our energy into creating and following a budget (Pro Tip: Mint.com is incredible). Again, we can control what we spend and what we don’t spend.

Oh, and what about the next time we get cut off in traffic? Will we get upset, honk our horn, and possibly communicate via a single finger “hand signal?” If you choose to get upset, and react in anger, what will you have accomplished? Not much. So, instead of getting upset try to accept the situation as it is and move on. And if you’re feeling up to it… say a prayer for the person that cut you off. Perhaps they’re rushing to be with a dying family member. You just never know.

Finally, and most importantly, instead of worrying and stressing about the state of our spiritual lives we’d be far better off getting to confession, if needed, before making our Lord, and His Holy Catholic Church, the center of our lives. This, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is within our control.

And as cool as the Stoics were… they’re no match for the Holy Prophet Isaiah who may have summed things up best when he wrote:

Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. -Is 41:10

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

Just Discipline

This Lent has been particularly difficult for me. I entered into the penitential season with zeal as my Exodus brothers and I brushed off any laxity that had crept into our habits and embraced the disciplined life. As the first week concluded, I found the excitement quickly faded. I was soon warily trudging uphill through the self-imposed disciplines like cold showers, no sweets or alcohol, and no media.

While my connection with my brothers on this Lenten journey certainly provided sparks of energy, I still found myself seeing the disciplines as exterior hindrances. Their imposition felt as if they were intended to snuff out my happiness and they rapidly felt cold and rigid. I knew that there wasn’t anything wrong with the disciplines, as they had led me to true freedom a year ago. What was wrong was my heart.

While searching to find the happiness I felt the disciplines were depriving me of, I cast off some of them and justified my actions quickly because well…my life is just too difficult right now to expect this type of rigid rule following. These times of laxity, with no surprise, didn’t bring peace or joy but frustration and desires left unfulfilled.

The Cross

After listening to the talk that Ron suggested from Venerable Fulton Sheen, it struck me that the reason that I had struggled mightily during this Lenten journey was because I had divorced the Cross of Christ from the disciplines. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross visibly, truly and startlingly expresses what love looks like. In order to love like that, discipline is simply a component of the training program to become His disciple.

Sheen brought to light the fact that societies like China and Russia are replete with discipline, but it is discipline which is divorced from the Cross of Christ. These regimes put off the aroma of discipline; self-denial and commitment to a common purpose, but they lack the Cross and therefore the result is the destruction of human liberty.

If discipline is not done in reference to Christ’s sacrifice, then it will snuff out our freedom and can take over our personality. Genuine Love, however, is fully revealed through the Cross and gives light to the purpose of discipline. When considering the cost that Christ bore for my salvation on the Cross, then I could begin to place discipline in its proper context, a training tool to love as He loves. On our own, we can’t love that way, regardless of how much discipline we can muster. But with His grace anything is possible. So long as we have the Cross as our point of departure, we can use discipline to build virtue through self-denial and living an ordered life. Therefore, discipline, performed in the right context, can provide fertile soil for the birth of true freedom which enables us to take action and live heroically.

If you find yourself struggling to implement discipline in your life, consider that it may be the result of separating the Cross from the efforts which you are trying to establish. Be not discouraged, but look to the man hanging on the Cross and ask Him to show you what love means first. Discipline will necessarily be a part of the journey towards freedom, but we must always recall that the radical love of Christ for you, by name, is what illuminates the path to liberty.

“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)

Crucify Him!

On the way to Mass this past Palm Sunday my 12-year-old daughter caught me off guard with a rather direct statement. She said, “Man, the Jewish people were hypocrites back in Jesus’ day.” After a few seconds of awkward silence I replied, “Why do you say that?”

She then went on to say that at least some of these Jewish people went from singing Hosanna in the Highest! to Crucify Him! a few days later.

Now, I’d like to say I had some incredibly rich, theologically sound, response. But, alas, I didn’t. Instead I just sat there and wondered what I would have done had I been part of the same “crowd” back then.

Of course we have no idea of knowing exactly how many of the “Crucify Him!” crowd were also singing “Hosanna!” a few days earlier. But, I do think it’s safe to say Jesus caused some eyebrows to rise shortly after arriving in Jerusalem. I mean he immediately went and turned tables over in the Temple and got pretty upset with the “money changers.”

I also think it’s safe to say the Jewish people expected Jesus to assert His political authority over their city once He got settled and when they realized this wasn’t going to happen the buzz around our Lord seemed to simmer.

And then, as we all know, the hostile, blood thirsty, crowd eventually laughed and mocked our Lord as they demanded a known criminal be released instead of our Lord. Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!

Of course, the convenient response to this story is to shake our heads in disgust and disappointment at the way the crowd turned their back on our Lord. You know… because we’d never do anything like that, right?

The fact of the matter is, if we’re being honest, we’re all far more like the Crucify Him crowd than we want to admit.

We’re full of laziness and excuses (spiritually and physically). We often choose to sin far more than we should. And, when it comes down to it, any sacrificial aspects of our spiritual lives pretty much stop at the end of Lent each year (if not a week or so into Lent).

Plus, He’s about to rise which means it’ll soon be time to get our drinky drink on while also getting our pancreas back in the game with a nice overdose of sugar and junk food, right?

Look, I’m so far from perfect it’s not even funny. I’m as weak as anyone reading this. But one thing I’m not is unaware of my issues.

I know I need to continue to be more disciplined with my spiritual life. I know I need to be more disciplined with my diet and workouts. And I know, for sure, that if I stop practicing all forms of asceticism weakness, sloth, and sin will slowly consume me like it did for so many years of my adult life.

What about you? Are you living the life God wants you to? And if you sang Hosanna in the Highest this past Palm Sunday how will you ensure your encore isn’t Crucify Him once Easter Sunday has come and gone?

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

Intentional Methodology

I’ve been involved in training/coaching for the better part of ten years now and have been able to develop methods that help progressively build those being instructed and incrementally put them in positions to succeed at the new skills they learn when the appropriate times arise.

Early on in my career as a Police Officer I had the honor of training new police recruits as they trudged through a grueling 17 week hands on training program. During the first part of this process, recruits were exposed to a full gamut of calls for service that they would soon be handling on their own, but they were only responsible for small parts of these calls in the beginning.

The amount of multitasking that is required when responding to a police call is astounding and can be a bit like taking a sip from a fire hose for new folks just starting out. Through systematically increasing their responsibilities during the program, officers who complete the process are given the tools and discipline to begin their own journey and create their own style in becoming part of the thin blue line that separates order from chaos in our society.

Where Have We Come From and Where are We Going?

Both Ron and I have taken our real life experience in coaching and mentoring folks and applied them to the Intentional Encounter Wellness Plan. I wanted to share with you the methodology behind its development and where it is headed once you get through the first 40 days.

My background as a CrossFit Instructor helped shape the workouts that we provide in that they are functional movements performed at relative high intensity. The workouts begin with three basic movements, push-ups, air squats and sit-ups or crunches. These are three functional movements that aren’t easy when performed with the full range of motion but help develop core strength, balance and power. The movements are plugged into various schemes and patterns which prevent boredom for the athlete but also challenges our strength and cardiovascular capacities.

As the program develops it continues to introduce more body weight exercises with varied rep schemes and timed patterns. The complete first phase lasts 90 days. This amount of time is intentional in order to create the habit of exercise and develop the necessary motor patterns and strength to move on to slightly more challenging workouts down the road. The secondary goal behind all of our workouts is that they can all be completed at home and within 15-20 minutes. This was important for us as Ron and I share in your experience of the real challenges inherent in leading our families and providing for them through our work.

Beyond the first 90 days, we have continued to develop a plan which will incorporate a minimal amount of equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells and sandbags. The method in developing these workouts are meant to uncover the warrior within us in both body and soul and create a band of brothers who are on the journey together.

If you are nearing the end of the workouts that you have been provided through Intentional Encounter and would like to fuel your journey with more, please reach out to us and we can provide you with a plan.

“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)

Praying as a Family

Last year my family was honored to participate in a new TV series which is being aired on the Catholic cable network EWTN.  The series came about when the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, better known as the Dominican Sisters of Nashville, realized that there was a disconnect with many married couples who they teach through their work of instructing the laity about the love of Christ.  They found a common thread between married couples today who feel the pull to change their lives and begin living radically for Christ, but simply don’t have the tools to do it.  The Sisters set out to show couples how to encounter Christ through prayer in their own families.

The TV show introduces the audience to numerous families throughout the country who are in the trenches of family life and have found the life sustaining importance of prayer.

The series started on 4/3/17 and my family was highlighted in this episode.  This show will air again on 4/8/17 at 5pm CT.  Here is a recorded radio interview describing the project by one of the sisters who we were honored to have spent time with, Sister Jane Dominic Laurel.

GRN Alive Sister Jane Dominic 3-24-17

“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)