The Nutshell Blog Archived

The Nutshell Blog 2010-2015 Archived – Major posts are contained below

Goodbye to the Nutshell Blog

In the coming days, The Nutshell Blog will be taken down and I urge are those following it to now follow my new blog, The Main Thing.  The content of The Nutshell Blog will be archived at the new site as well.  SEE YOU AT THE MAIN THING BLOG!

Basketball Excellence

I have to reflect for a few moments on Duke winning the national championship in men’s basketball.  The reflection is not on basketball really, on even on Duke, but on what can happen when there is a commitment to excellence, a commitment to become the best one can be with the gifts God has given them.  Really, all of the teams in the tournament had some degree of that commitment, and in fact, could have even had more of a commitment.  But in the end, the combination of commitment and talent left Duke at the top.

You cannot achieve much without a commitment to strive to be better today than you were yesterday.  I was recently asked by someone close to me, “Isn’t it enough to just be good?”  I had to pause to make sure I did not say the wrong thing.  Then my answer was, “Not if you can actually be better.”  That’s because when God gives us gifts, the expectation is that those gifts will be cultivated, grown into abundance, and then offered back to God.  By striving to be more, to do more, and give more, we glorify God.

spx basketball

My parish school’s girl’s basketball team recently completed their season with another great tournament victory.  In fact, victory is very common for these kids and this coach.  Currently, they are riding a winning streak of 97-0 over the course of several years.  Different girls have come and gone, but the results have been the same.  I am sure a loss will come around one day, but for now they can rejoice in the knowledge that they have become more, done more, and given more to God than anyone could expect.  When you have a commitment to become better today than you were yesterday, great things can happen. Imagine what would happen if we all had that same commitment.

Synod Debates

All of this Vatican buzz reminds me of Draft Days for professional sports. Everybody seems to know exactly what will be in the final document from the Synod. But the reality, just like on Draft Day, nobody knows a darn thing until all is said and done. One opinion that makes sense is one where letting the world see drafts of things well before they are final is a bad idea. I am glad my teachers through the years never saw my initial drafts. And now, with doing a decent amount of writing for a living, I might be fired if my editors thought my initial draft was the final product. Of course, I have my wife read everything before the end process. I guess since there are obviously no wives at the Synod, this might be a problem. 🙂

Enough is Enough

My son is a college freshman.  He is 18 years old.  He is half a man, and half a boy.  I trust that he will make decent decisions, most of the time.  However, his lack of life experience and still developing maturity dictates that he will make some bad decisions.  I trust that those in leadership positions are keeping a watchful eye on him.  I believe they have his best interest in mind.  They will discipline him if they have to and protect him from himself and others when they sense he is in danger.


But he is not a college athlete.  He accepts money from the university in the form of financial aid, instead of making the university money.  He watches college sports, but doesn’t play in them.  He is not expected to perform for crowds as if he were actually a paid entertainer.  He wants his team to win, but he doesn’t need to sacrifice his health for that to happen.

I believe there will be many things that he wants to do in college, and experienced adults will tell him no, or lead him to make wiser choices.  But if he were a college athlete, I cannot say that would be the case.  College athletes are there to serve the school, not have the school serve them.

This is the way it has become in many, if not most, college sports programs.  It needs to STOP NOW!  I have been a youth coach for several years.  Every decision is mine.  I am not a dictator, I am a coach.  If I ever make a decision that puts a youth at risk and then say it’s not my decision, that needs to be the last time I ever coach.

I used to coach my son.  But all the kids I coached were in a way my sons and daughters.  He is safer not playing college sports, especially for coaches and programs that have delusions that they are coaching professionals.  But unfortunately, I also follow a professional football team that will never have their franchise QB back to form because of a coach that said it wasn’t his decision to take him out, when he was already visibly hurt.

On the professional level, coward coaches that say stuff like that should be fired.  On the college level, coward coaches that say stuff like that should be arrested and charged with reckless endangerment.  Enough is enough.

The River of Bad News Can Seem Overwhelming

Today is 9/11 so we remember that tragic day 13 years ago and how our American brothers and sisters lost their lives in an act of sheer terror.  Unfortunately, much of the current news for today doesn’t provide many warm fuzzies either…ISIS…the Gaza conflict…Domestic Violence…etc.  It could easily seem that the river of bad news rushes against us so hard that we might just float away with it.

But for every bad story, I just know there are 1000’s of good ones.  For every act of violence, there are over 1000 acts of kindness.  For every senseless murder, there are 1000’s of people helping people.  For every act of prejudice, there are 1000’s of smiles toward a neighbor.  You don’t believe this to be true?  I think it is.  And if you don’t see evidence of it around you, what will you do today to help make it a reality.  A river is just made up of 1000’s of drops.

Life Upgrades

I haven’t been blogging much lately because all life as I know it has changed.  A month ago I took a new job after serving in parish ministry for 22 years.  I am now working with Liturgical Publications Inc. (LPi) writing, speaking, and coaching parishes and people in the areas of stewardship and engagement.  BIG CHANGE!  Then, all 3 of my kids are going to new schools, including my oldest who is now in college.  BIG CHANGES! So between moving into dorms and new home offices and such, this blog has not gotten much attention.  But that will be changing.

As part of my job I already write a lot.  But here I would like to really reflect and comment on some things that are happening in pop culture and the world around us.  So, I think you may be seeing more posts from me, but no promises.  We will see how it goes.

Also, follow me on Twitter: #tewelliver

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Snakes in the Grass

When is faith dangerous?  An odd question I know, but I am wondering when does faith become hazardous to our health?  Tonight I read that Jamie Coots, a snake-handler from a TV reality show, had passed away from… you guessed it… a snake bite.  A spokesperson from the channel said the producers of the show were always struck by his religious conviction.   But is all religious conviction really the same?

The Church honors martyrs for the faith by calling them saints.  Those who hold to their faith in the face of persecution, and perhaps even death, certainly experience a faith that is hazardous to their well being.  But we say it is worth it because these people have chosen integrity and truth over cowering to a world that would rather see them dead.  We also believe that the reward is eternal life, a “baptism in blood” as it were.

Sometimes faith provides a hope when it seems any emotion besides hope would be understandable.  Those who hope in the Lord when facing cancer or another serious illness certainly have a faith that seems admirable.  To place all your trust in God when it appears that you have been treated so unfairly by fate takes courage, fortitude, and certainly faith.

So what makes the faith of a snake-handler different than these examples?  The snake-handler wants to provide a proof of the power of God.  They look to show the world a miracle so they may believe.  The understanding is that the miracle needs to be clear and bold.  Of course, when it fails, observers find reasons to scuff and say faith is for the weak and immature.

But real faith doesn’t need grand gestures and Ripley’s-style astonishments.  The quiet example of the terminally ill patient who finds peace in turning all over to God speaks louder than the exhibitionist. The one who shows power by choosing powerlessness demonstrates more about faith than the one who seems to defy nature in the name of God.

Beware of those who promise signs that do not reflect love or do not emulate the example of Jesus.  Tonight a wife and children are without a father, and a community is left with big questions about what they believe.  Faith gives meaning to life.  It does not make it harder to bear.

Is The Holy Spirit on Vacation?

There is a controversy brewing in Christendom.  Until now I have not posted or written anything concerning Pope Francis.  But my growing irritation with those on both sides of the Church aisle motivates me to say something.

There is a constant commentary occurring concerning every word or action of Francis.  Some believe he has come to throw out “old-fashioned” ways and bring the Church into a new, more progressive era.  Others propose he is rejecting truth and serves to destroy the Church with a liberal agenda.  Both sides write long articles that read like critiques of American politicians, rather than the Vicar of Christ.

francis thumbs up

What is so irritating is that both sides provide viewpoints that often completely ignore a reality that mature disciples must attest to as truth: the Church is a human institution, but it is motivated and led by the Holy Spirit.  It is that same Spirit that led to the choosing of a “progressive” Pope John XXIII and a “conservative” Benedict XVI.  When people believe that only a group of human Cardinals elected the current Pope and that God played no role, the soil becomes rich for debates as if we are waging a war over Obamacare instead of talking about the Body of Christ.

I do not know what Pope Francis will or will not do during his pontificate.  But I have more trust in God and His ever present Spirit than I do in any single man.  We live in a time where people increasingly see ministry as “their ministry” and well meaning disciples see the success of parish programs and the parishes themselves dependent on their efforts alone.  By taking the name Francis, he follows a man whose philosophy was “make me an instrument of thy peace,” even if he really didn’t write it.  We are all just instruments, and I assure you, because it is what a Church of 2000 years teaches us, God is the one leading the Church.  The Church is a supernatural reality in a natural world.  If we choose to discuss the Church ignorant of this reality, we reduce it to a simple organization or institution like any other.

You Really Need to Smile More!

I have been collecting Smiley Faces for many years.  My office is filled with a large number of items that bear the great smiley.  It was an image created by Harvey Ball in 1963 as part of his job working as a freelance artist for the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, now known as Hanover Insurance.  He had been asked to improve low morale at the company so he created the image and placed it on buttons and posters to be distributed throughout the offices.

People collect all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons.  Sometimes it is about the monetary value.  I used to collect sports cards and the thrill of trying to find a card that was rapidly increasing in value fueled my drive to collect.  I sold many of them to help pay for college when I was younger.  I may be selling more in the near future to pay for college for one of my own kids.  But the market isn’t what it used to be.  In the end, they really are just cardboard and ink, and the more people who keep them in good condition thinking they will increase in value, the less they really are worth.

Some people collect things that represent experiences or moments in time.  My daughter collects snow globes, particularly those from family travels.  The various beach destinations represent those family summer vacations, some with family members who are no longer with us.  The amusement park globes bring one back to roller coasters and favorite childhood characters.   The collection really took off years ago when I started bringing her home one from each place I visited for conferences and speaking engagements.  Seven globes from Australia represent the month I was away visiting churches to teach about stewardship.  The Miami snow globe brings to mind the time the TSA agent threw in the trash my souvenir because it could have been a bomb, only for me to then repurchase the exact same item in the airport gift shop on the other side of security.  Simple glass and water that represent memories, yet they really never can be substitutes for the actual events.

So why smiley faces?  Well, I can tell you most of the items aren’t worth a lot. No kids will find themselves in the halls of a university due to the sale of Harvey’s creations.  And then, most don’t represent anything or anyone in particular.

I collect them because every time someone sees all those smiley faces for the first time, they smile back!  Those images can bring into someone’s day the very thing they symbolize: happiness.  Now I know that a bunch of smiley faces on mugs, clocks, and cookie jars can’t change the world.  But each real smile on a real human being does make the world just a little bit better.  I can talk about God to people and they might not get it.  I can share with others the stories from scripture and they might not understand.  But if I smile, and I flood their senses with images of smiles, they will almost always smile back.  And that is as good a start to a meaningful encounter as any.

Happy World Smile Day!

Give Me Some Real Love

Anybody remember an old Foreigner song from the 80’s, “I Want to Know What Love Is?”  The singer asks the object of his affection to show him.  He is drawn to her, but he still doesn’t really get it.  It was a popular song not just because it had catchy lyrics or an infectious melody.  It drew people in because by and large many of us don’t understand what love is either.

Over half of all marriages end in divorce in the United States.  The abuse of children through violence or pornography seems to be on the news nightly.  The American family no longer shares time with their neighbors next door.  Places of worship for all denominations are seeing fewer and fewer people as many find they don’t have the time or interest to turn to religion. If “all you need is love” has any truth to it at all, why is it that the one thing we need is sometimes the shortest in supply?

Perhaps it is that we have been fooled into believing that love is too hard to find, maintain, or rekindle.  We spend so much time looking for a distorted reflection of love that we often find in media culture, that we cannot see the real authentic love that might be right under our noses.  Images of love in our heads don’t always mesh with the longing of our hearts.  Often times when we find love, we assume it will always feel the same, with no work on our part.  When it seems to have lost its luster, we seek to find a new fix that will make it all seem new and easy again.

That distorted reflection gives us the impression that love requires no work, no pain, and no tears.  We equate sex with love because it feels good and we mistakenly believe that love always feels good.  I once heard a story of an elderly man who lost his wife and after her funeral he was found standing on his porch.  He sat down into his rocking chair and began to have this reflective look on his face.  He turned towards one of his family members and said, “It has been a good day.”  It was good because his heart ached so much for his beloved… and that is a pain she would never have to feel.  Love, the real stuff that makes living worth every breath, can cause the greatest pain.

A mother cries for her baby that has lost his way.  A sibling feels deserted when a job takes her best friend away.  A son grieves when he must leave his father for the last time in the hospital.  They all know the love that that old man in the story knew.  And they know the secret, even if it is hard to grasp at the time: the joy of authentic love makes all the hardship worth it!  Without the lows, the highs are void of meaning.  Without the sacrifice, the gift of love is empty.  If there is no pain, maybe there wasn’t love there after all.

During this month of February, the month of Valentine’s Day, may we all be invigorated with real love, not that which is sold to us by Hallmark.  Turn to someone you love and say, “loving you is worth everything,” and mean it.  Give of yourself freely to your loved one and you will “know what love is.”  No one will need to show you.  It will instead be obviously on display for all to see.

Don’t Let the Year of Faith Pass You By

I am writing this posting less than an hour before I will go over to the church and ring the bells in the bell tower for the start of the Year of Faith.  Churches across the country will ring their bells at noon today to celebrate the start of this year of growth and catechesis.  At least, we all hope it will be.

Let’s be real.  Catholics are the largest Christian community in the US but on many levels the least educated about their faith.  We are the least knowledgeable about the Bible, the least educated about our doctrines, and least interested in adult catechesis.  Of course, that is not all of us.  Since the 1999 publication of the US Bishops pastoral plan for a renewal of adult formation, Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, I have seen personally much change and growth.  Parishes have more offerings for adults.  Publishing houses are producing more quality materials.  And finally, more adults are responding by leaving their comfort zones and learning more about their faith.

But the Year of Faith serves to really give this continuing conversion process a shot of adrenaline.  The Year of Faith does not just focus on the knowledge of the faith, but also the devotion to the faith.  This is important.  The reality is that a heart truly devoted to God will endlessly seek a greater understanding of God.

Knowledge for knowledge sake can often be folly.  Being a great Trivial Pursuit player does not mean you are particularly committed to anything.  But if you have a strong devotion to something, then producing an answer to a question in a game becomes a source of pride and excitement.  Try playing with a huge sports buff and you will not only hear the right answers, but a full explanation of those answers.

That’s what the Year of Faith is asking of us.  We are asked to pray more, reflect more, and cultivate those seeds planted in us at our baptism.  This will grow in us a desire to learn more, read more, and feed those seeds in us with God’s Word and Grace.  It is an exciting time in the Church.  So…  you have 365 days to go.  (Actually, it is 409 days, Oct. 11 to Nov. 24.  Go figure.)  Don’t let them pass you by!

Let Us Pray for the First Time Catechists

I delivered a workshop this past Saturday to 20 or so catechists, most of them in a catechetical setting as a leader for the first time.  We discussed reasons they were now taking this leap of faith.  Some mentioned being strong armed by the Pastor or DRE.  Some said no one else would step forward.  And yes, there were some who felt called to the ministry.

I shared with them to the best of my ability catechetical theory and basic skills for being effective in their ministry.  We talked catechetical method, the pedagogy of God and of Christ so they could truly “teach as Jesus did.”  We went over lesson plans, looked at resources at their disposal, and shared with them mistakes I had made over the 24 years as a catechist.  

When it was ending, some had a look of gratitude and seemed stronger than when they came into the room.  Yet a few still looked puzzled.  They had a gaze on their face that said, “How did I get here.”

Then I said something to them I had never said before in the years of presenting this workshop.  I said that for some of them this may be their first and last year as a catechist.  I told them that God had created each and every one of us in a such a unique way that perhaps in their parish they have something to offer that no one else is able to… and that being a catechist may not be it.  And that was okay.  

I have come to realize in my journey with strengths that you can develop the strengths you have to get by in most any situation.  But you can’t thrive or ever become truly happy if your calling is to another place and time.  All those first time catechists throughout the world need to know this.  It affirms those who are truly called and liberates those who were “strong armed” by the Pastor or DRE.  We owe the truth to our faithful children and adults who are being catechized and to those who would seek to catechize them.

So, when you finish reading this, say an Our Father or Hail Mary for the intention of those in catechetical ministry for the first time.  They need our prayers, not just to succeed this year, but to succeed in whatever God intended for them to do.  Amen.

Blog posting appeared originally at Catholic Strengths & Engagement: Connected Community

St. Ignatius, The Stewardship Saint

Today is St. Ignatius of Loyola’s feast day and he should truly be the patron saint of Catholic Stewardship.  After so many attempts to educate people about real stewardship, the kind that does not really speak so much to tithing and volunteerism, but calls us to a mature discipleship of total self-giving, St. Ignatius gives us the key in his spirituality and theology.  In his words you hear the call of the US Bishops to respond to the call of Christ, regardless of the cost.

In Ignatius’ Suscipe, he prays, “Take Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will, all I have and call my own.”  What an important stewardship prayer!  In stewardship we so often talk about “portions,” but what we need to give is the “whole portion.”  We need to hold back nothing.

It is interesting in the current political debates that the word “liberty” is constantly batted around.  Liberty is not something given to us by a government or monarch, it is a gift freely given by God.  We need to be careful in our fight for liberty, which is at this moment extremely crucial, to not hold  it too tightly.  We always need to be able to give it freely back to God because only then do we experience true “freedom.”

Our memories and our understandings of how things are and have been can so easily become clouded and lead us astray.  Years after a uncomfortable experience we feel the discomfort less and less.  Often our fond memories swell and crowd out the less desirable ones.  Sometimes this is how sin leaves its marks on us.  We felt really bad when we hurt someone last month, but this month the sting has subsided.  Time heals wounds, but it also covers up guilt.  Giving all our time and mind to God allows true healing and forgiveness.

I frequently pray, “May we have the wisdom to know your will for our lives and the courage to follow that will.”  God never imposes His will.  He makes it known in so many different ways and then we are called to respond.  When we find ourselves trying to respond to His will, our will forms a huge obstacle.  Only by constantly handing our will over to God can we be ready to follow.

St. Ignatius ends the first part of his prayer with offering God “all I have and call my own.”  What will you and I give to God each day?  10%?  That means 90% for us!  The US Bishops pastoral letter on stewardship does not point out that God calls us to give a portion or even just the best portion of ourselves and our lives.  It says God wants it all!  Your smelly and moldy fruit is just as wanted by God as your “first fruits.”  That’s not because he needs it, but because you need to give it.  A tree releases all its fruit in a season so that it may be filled with fruit in the next.

St. Ignatius ends his prayer with, “give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”  We fear giving everything over to God.  But in not doing so, we endlessly yearn for something more.  St. Ignatius had it right.  When we give it all away, then, and only then, will we find ourselves with finally “enough.”

Can You Sign a Fidelity Oath?

In the latest OSV Newsweekly there is an article on the recent trend of some bishops to have catechists in the parishes make a “fidelity oath.” This goes hand-in-hand with the recent scrutiny given academic institutions that call themselves “Catholic.”  It would seem that there is a spirit growing in the Church that seeks to safeguard the catechesis or “echo” of faith that is being passed on to those already Catholic and those who seek to become Catholic.

I am reminded though of the Profession of Faith that those who seek acceptance in the Church say publicly.   As the profession of faith in RCIA #491 says: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.“  We catechize people so that when the time comes they can say those words truthfully.  I can remember spending much time working one-on-one with individuals that had one or two doctrines that they just could not wrap their head around.  It was my goal to get them to a place in their understanding that would allow them to make the above statement with confidence.  It might mean that they didn’t completely understand everything, but they were able to at least give an “ascent to faith” that the Spirit and the Church knew more than they.

It would seem that if those we catechize can be asked to make a profession, surely those who catechize should be able to also. A fidelity oath does not say you have parked your brain at the door.  It says you will faithfully execute the duty that has been given to you.  I will grant that some version of a fidelity oath may go to far.  But the spirit of the oath ensures that the “echo” that one hears is just that; not a new and innovative sound.

I have spent over 20 years in catechesis and have always taken my role very seriously.  I have my own power of reason and my own conscience, but I am an agent of the Church.  In fact, how can those I teach ever be able to honestly use their own reason to grapple with doctrine if I do not faithfully present to them Church teaching. Of course, it is also true, how can I be convincing at all if I do not believe what I am saying?

Unconditional, the Movie

I had the chance to see an advance screening of the movie, UNCONDITIONAL, and I had tears in my eyes much of the movie.  Of course, for me, that’s not saying much.  I have faucets for tear ducts.  Nonetheless, the movie presented a very moving story based on real life events and people.

A woman feels total despair after the murder of her husband and before she has the chance to end her life, her path crosses that of a child lying in the street after being struck by a car.  Her decision to assist this young girl and her brother leads her down a road filled with others suffering with their own hardships.  Reconnecting with a old childhood friend who seeks to bring some light into the dark lives of others makes her question many things about life, sorrow, and faith.

The movie opens September 21, 2012 and even though it won’t win any Oscars, there is a good chance it will win your heart.  Click on the following link to learn more: Unconditional Movie.

How Time Flies

So my oldest son turns 16 tomorrow.  Even though there realistically is little difference between 15 and 16 years of age, society deems 16 as a magical milestone.  Girls are labeled “sweet” and both girls & boys make a major step into adulthood with a driver’s license.  Sports cars leap off bedroom posters into reality for the lucky ones.   More than anything, all the trappings of the 16th birthday point to one important reality: freedom.

Of course, there are still many household rules to follow and in some ways greater responsibility means greater liability. Yet the first time one drives alone gets one giddy with the excitement of freedom.  For 16 years the human person has been completely dependent on others for travel, survival, etc.  For some, even getting a summer job means the end of total dependence on parents for funding.  Yes, when one is 16 they can begin to taste the sweet reality of adulthood: a time when freedom will be complete and all worries float away.

The reality that all adults then know?  Freedom can stink!  Freedom can mean  many bills, large debts, and constant concern of future.  It means no one cooks for you, the laundry is all yours, and the cleaning never ends.  The person who once begged to go to the mall now must worry about shopping for everything!

With God we oftentimes seeks freedom through our self-centeredness and desire to be our own man.  Yet, without God we are lost.  By ourselves we can accomplish nothing.

True freedom can only be found by giving all over to God.  To trust in God and fall freely into His arms means not being bound by chains that prevent us from falling.  When we empty our heart we find that we have room for so much more.

The hope and prayer for my son is that he realizes that freedom can be a risky proposition.  May he choose freely to give his all to God.  Only then will he learn the real gift in true freedom.

A New Beginning…

A lot has changed since I was writing a blog last: my father passed away, a few weeks later my sister died, my assistant moved to Florida, we hired a new youth minister at the parish, and my daughter started middle school.  Both of my parents are now gone and I am left with no siblings.  However, some days it seems the middle school development was the biggest change.  If you are a parent, you get it.  Who knows what is coming around the corner of life.   I know don’t and I didn’t.

I have always explained the development of my life as just allowing God to take me along like a boat on a river.  What seems to some as no decision is really the most important decision: to let God lead and then to follow.  After almost a year of stepping back and letting life happen, I sense the time has come to change some things.  God seems to be leading me to stretch out and have a greater impact in His name.  So a new blog is born.  A new website will soon follow.  Perhaps some new ventures are ahead.  Who knows for sure.

As Christians we know where we are going: the final destination.  Yes, we have a hope for an eternity with the One who loved us into being.  Yet where we find ourselves along the way, no one knows.  Make a plan, God will change it.  Think you have things figured out, God will reveal just how little you really know.  So here goes nothing and everything at the same time!  The end of every chapter of life is never really an end anyway.  It is only a new beginning…

Happy Leap Day

So today is Leap Day, a day added to the calendar every four years or so to correct our calendars since the earth does not revolve around the sun in precisely 365 days.  We can keep various days on the calendar on track by using this corrective measure.  People often wish they had more time for things so at least today’s an extra day.

Leap Day helps to correct a calendar.  What if you could add a day to correct other things.  How about one more day to study for that exam?  Would you like one more day to get that tag on your car renewed?  You probably do after you get pulled over and receive a ticket.  Do you ever need one more day during the busy Christmas shopping season?

Or do you wish you could have had one more day with a loved one before they passed away?   A day to say I love you or mend a relationship.  Are you endlessly seeking one more day to correct a mistake you made so long ago?  How about one extra day to just be able to live without fear or concern for the unknown?

For God there are no constraints with time and space.  There are no need for extra days.  At all times there is a chance for His creations to turn and love Him.   At all times He is present and available.

If you find yourself short on time, turn all your time over to God.  Rest in the One who set the stars and sun in the sky only for our own use and enjoyment.  If all your world seems rushed and you suffer from the plague of “if I had more time I could do this” syndrome, find consolation in the one place where time cannot touch you: God’s loving arms.

Old Posts From My Website  (Including Australia & New Zealand posts)

MARCH 10, 2011

At the Ash Wednesday liturgy we were reminded that we will all return to dust.  After all the years of building things, after all the accomplishments: dust!  Makes one think!  
In their pastoral letter on stewardship, the bishops remind us that if we are working to build up the kingdom, those things accomplished exist here and in the hereafter.  A good steward’s work doesn’t go to waste.  Of course, the challenge is to always be a good steward.  Sometimes we spend so much time with our egos, making a name for ourselves.  Only work in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ can ever last.  Lent is a time to examine our actions and see where we bear good fruit.  The best fruit will not turn to dust.  It will last forever.

JANUARY 27, 2011

Wow!  So sorry to any visitors who saw very little activity on the site and the blog in tha past few months.  When you become involved in many projects you often find it hard to be a good steward of your time.  Unfortunately, this website has suffered.  But 2011 is a new year and it is time to really kick it in.
My wife, Mariann, has started leading a book study on living simply.  It has received a good response because I think so many people are trying to simplify their lives after the recent years of financial uncertainty.  The reality is that when our life is cluttered with so much stuff & so many obligations there is no way to be a good steward.  Imagine giving of one’s first fruits when they are truly drowning in truckloads of fruit.  When we eat like monsters devouring all in sight, filling our freezers and pantries to bursting, can we really call ourselves good stewards when we donate the can of beans to the food drive?  Yeah, that can of beans that sat on the shelf for months because who wants to eat that “new flavor” anyway?
I know I will try to make 2011 a year of simplifying and getting back to basics.  LESS IS MORE!  Less TV!  Less food!  Less buying stuff!  All this will equal more time for God, more time for family, and a greater sense for what really matters in life.  JOIN ME NOW!!!

SEPTEMBER 26, 2010

I am so grateful to have met so many nice new people as well as reconnect with many friends at the San Diego ICSC Conference this past week.  Over 1000 people working towards one common goal of bringing a meesage of mature discipleship to the Church.  It was truly a blessed experience.
I was so happy to see the great turnout for my Stewardship & Catechesis workshop.  If you attended, I’d love to hear feedback.  You can find the link to download the powerpoint under the presentations button above.
I am happy to not travel again for a few weeks.  Next weekend will be the big Fall Festival celebrating 50 years of St. Pius X parish.  I will be at the entertainment stage all day.  If you are local, please stop by.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

Well I am off to the San Diego ICSC conference on Sunday.  It will be great to see many friends there.  Hope to see you there!
I remember years ago the pop psychologist Leo Buscaglia saying that when he was a kid at every family dinner, which happened every day, his father would ask him to say one thing he learned that day.  The expectation was that you always needed to answer with something.  Three things strike me about that upon reflection: 1) Fewer families ever have a “family dinner” anymore; 2) Many parent expectations are that high anymore; 3) Many families have much communication anymore.
At least in the Church, this cannot be the norm.  All of us, regardless of age, should at the end of the day be able to say at least one thing learned.  If we can’t, what does that really say about our stewardship of time?


The Down Under Blog is now officially the Nutshell Blog!  This will be a place of information, reflection, and discussion of how stewardship really is about a way of life and NOT a type of program or collection of slogans.  It will be about how catechesis is for EVERYONE and not just labeled “educators.”   And as always, it will be simple.  It will be reflections “in a nutshell.”  The blog will reflect what may be going on in my life, but others may be writing something from time to time: a bit of COMMUNITY BLOG!  Check back frequently.
For those of you who are heading to San Diego for the ICSC Conference:  SEE YOU THERE!  I will be presenting a workshop on Tuesday morning on Stewardship & Catechesis.  Hope to see you there.


I invite you to follow the trip and reflect on stewardship with me as I blog about my experiences.  I’ll try to make the blogging interesting so join me on this memorable trip!
August 3, 2010
I can’t wait to get home.  Even though the Down Under experience was so great, I miss so much my family.  When we talk about the good gifts God has given us, mine certainly are my wife and kids.
When I did stewardship presentations with youth I used my gold watch as a prop.  I had a volunteer hold it in his hand and asked him what if I told him the watch was worth $50, what would he say?  Then if I told him it was solid gold and worth $6000 how did the watch feel then in his hand.  Certainly, it seemed heavier or more fragile.  Greater care needs to be taken with things of exceptional value.
Particularly my children have this exceptional value.  I haven’t always held them with such great care.  But as time has elapsed, my sense of stewardship has led me to see them differently.  From God they are given and I must see to their growth and increase.  I must hold them so tenderly because their is no greater gift.
TODAY marks the end of this stage of the blog.  However, it will now change and become something a little DIFFERENT.  Stay tuned fellow stewards…
August 2, 2010
Well, it has been a whirlwind past few days.  After one presentation in Brisbane and serving on a panel, I had one horrible night with a bad bladder infection!  They got me to the doctor first thing on Friday but I had to miss my lunchtime presentation.  I was taken to the conference center where I was to lead the 2 day institute.  I began anti-botics and was taking some other stuff that the doctor told me to and slept there for 4 hours.  Luckily, the institute began on Saturday and I was able to feel well enough to speak.
120 people filled the center from all over AUS and NZ.  In the end, the institute went VERY well.  God helped me so much those two days.  I am so grateful.  I am also very grateful to Chris Ehler and the staff from Brisbane.  They really were great.
I was most impressed with a group of about 6 twenty-somethings that came to the institute.  Those who I hear endlessly say the young need to hear the stewardship message more than adults because they aren’t coming to church are wrong.  These young people were brave enough to see what our churches could become.  There are young people like them everywhere that are just looking for a mature discipleship response from parish communities.  We all need to belong to a parish community that really wants to change the world around it.  These young people at the institute were special because they will work to bring about that change: even if the older people just sit by and watch.
July 28, 2010
I have finally made it to Brisbane!  I did 9 presentations in 3 days! When I arrived in Sydney, I spent the night in a parish in Marrickville.  Then went off to Engadine for a whole day of topics.  We had 2 sessions for adults and 1 for teens.  It was especially focused on giftedness.  Then off to Campbelltown to spend the night.  Thank God I was there for 3 nights in a row, but alas, internet for that duration would have cost $90.  That didn’t seem like good stewardship to me. 
The next day was spent in the Southern Highlands, particularly Moss Vale.  Three presentations including one to teens.  But imagine my surprise when 5 minutes before speaking I was told that a class of 66 teens were joining us and english was their second language.  On top of that, they weren’t even Christian!  A talk about Catholic stewardship to a group of Asian non-Christian kids.  Surprisingly, it went pretty well.
The next I was off to Kiama.  Beautiful parish community; gorgeous area.  After the talk, I took off my shoes and socks and walked on the beach.  God is quite an artisan.
That evening I was in Macquarie Fields.  They had 100 people there and were so gracious.  After a good night’s sleep, it was off to the Sydney airport for a quick flight to Brisbane.
So many different people in so many different places in a short amount of time.  What will God with the help of these people grow in these communities?  I think that we have to give God time to do His work.  Some want great change very quickly.  But my prayer for them is that they will let God be in control.  Surely they will have to work and not just sit back and watch.  But the changing of hearts takes time.  To move people from complacency to total emptying of themselves to God is not an easy one.  I am just glad to be a small part of planting the seeds.
July 23, 2010
Wow…. I am so sorry to followers of the ongoing Down Under Blog.  I haven’t had much luck in recent days in getting suitable internet access.  E-mailing hasn’t been a problem but access to the blog has been impossible.  I have been in a different city or town every night.
I arrived in Melbourne on Monday and met up with Chris Ehler who works for the Brisbane Archdiocese but also heads up the NZ/AUS Stewardship Network.  We spent the day going ALL OVER Melbourne, seeing the sites.  After a night in a hotel, we were off to Ballarat.  There we spoke at the cathedral parish.  On these short trips I am primarily talking about my parish’s stewardship story.  That’s been pretty straight forward.
That night we stayed at Bishop Peter Conner’s residence.  We woke up and had mass in his personal chapel along with Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra.  That was quite something.  Then we traveled to Warrnumbool to a wonderful parish there, Saint Joseph’s.  After speaking and a hotel stay, we were off to Berwick by way of the Great Ocean Road.  We saw some amazing evidence of God’s creation on way. Now we are in Newborough at the home of a wonderful woman, Sophy Morley.  The presentation was during the day today, so tonight gives me some time for laundry and to just regroup.  Tomorrow I catch a plane to Sydney and then will be driven to Engadine to lead a day of stewardship reflections and seminars.
I have met so many people in the last several days.  All different types.  All trying to understand how they can better their relationship with God and help others to do the same.  When I awoke this morning, I cannot lie, I was very weary.  I was longing for home and longing to leave the road behind.  But today I was chatting with a woman named Trish after I spoke and she was so eager to begin a new chapter in the life of her parish.  She was so excited and was asking me for the best way to begin.  Her excitement gave me new life.  This is why no travel is too long, no group too small, no parish community too remote.  Tonight when I lay down for sleep I will thank God for people like Trish who make it all worthwhile.
July 18, 2010
Sorry all for the silence on the blog: technical difficulties with my hosting service.  SO… let’s get caught up.
Friday I spent 4 hours with parish priests, school principals, and some diocesan staff.  We had nearly 70 people there.  The presentation went so well.  The hospitality shown that night by the pastoral center staff was superb. After the talk we had dinner: meats of all kinds, many wines, awesome desserts.  It was amazing. I talk about honoring believers as “priest, prophet, & king” because that’s what they are by virtue of their baptism.  When people are treated this way consistently, they begin to see their special role in the Kingdom of God.
Saturday morning I spent with youth ministers and young adults of the archdiocese.  We introduced them to stewardship but then also tried to equip them with some tools to impart this message to young people.  Just a great morning.
That evening was spent at the Backbencher first, the pub in front of parliment, and then off to the All Blacks rugby match we went.  The archbishop and I had great seats and it was a highlight not just of my trip, but of my life.  I have heard from several New Zealanders about there visits to the US and being able to see NFL or MLB games and how special that was.  I know how they feel, but I bet this experience for me was bigger than some of them.  The All Blacks are a national obsession.  After the game, six of us had drinks for a few hours at the archbishop’s residence before going to bed.
I have been told that I have played now a major role in the stewardship history of New Zealand, or at the least Wellington.  Whatever I have given them, they have given back to be tenfold.  I will always remember how I was treated for a week like family.  Even though I will be back in the US in a few weeks, I will always have a part of me here in New Zealand. 
Tomorrow, up at 4AM to catch a flight to Melbourne.  A new chapter begins…
July 15, 2010
Well it is 10:30 in the evening here and it has been a full day despite no formal presentations: an interview with the archdiocesan newspaper, lunch with the youth and young adult pastoral team, a visit to TePapa, some time staring out over the ocean, and dinner at the home of the Pastoral Services Director, Lorraine McArthur, my now good personal friend.  It is interesting how even though you haven’t known someone long you can see them as a good friend.  It has something to do with meeting another follower of Jesus.  You begin with such common ground.  You are already “family.” 
The hospitality shown to me by the pastoral staff and Archbishop Dew here in Wellington has been superb.  They have treated me like “just one of them.”  Hospitality is one of Monsignor McGread’s three legs of stewardship.  They say that this country is just now hearing the message of stewardship for the first time.  I bet they have been practicing it it many ways for a long time.
July 14, 2010 (11:30 evening)
First workshop went very well.  At the end Archbishop John Dew said, “Well to my knowledge, Tracy, you are the first person to publicly deliver the message of stewardship in New Zealand.”  What a responsibility and an honor!  The joke has been from those at the pastoral centre that the hope of stewardship in New Zealand rests on my shoulders.  Even though that is just humor, my desire to do well for them is overwhelming. 
For those who know me well and have heard my testimony, you know that I have always only done what God has asked.  I never would have chosen North Carolina or the wonderful parish of Saint Pius X.  But that’s what God had planned.  To think that this is what God planned also is awesome.  I am no saint.  I am not holy.  But God’s humble servant I am and this experience is humbling “big time.” But that is really the stewardship message anyway, isn’t it?
 July 14, 2010
Some pics of where I will be working through Sunday.  The first is Sacred Heart Cathedral and the second is the Catholic Centre for the Archdiocese.  The third is a shoreline pic of Wellington.
This evening is workshop #1 given to parish council and finance council heads of various parishes. 

July 13, 2010

I just got settled in Wellington.  Great to take a shower after 22 combined hours of flying and airports.  No real jet lag at this point.

We were having a discussion over lunch about people finding it hard to own up to their talents and gifts.  I said so often they don’t even really know what they are for sure.  They are maybe asked to give of themselves in some capacity but they have no idea what they have to give.

Finding that out isn’t an overnight process. You have to find a process by which your talents can be identified.  Then you have to begin a second process of becoming familiar and comfortable with those talents. 

And those steps are very important because anyone can give what they are no good at.  But God never asks us for what we don’t have, only for what He has already given us.  And as followers, we should only care to give the best anyway.

JULY 11, 2010

I was sitting at LAX wondering what could happen if the entire mass of humanity that passes through this airport for just one day lived by stewardship principles.  What if they saw all that is around them as gift and as precious?  What if they wanted to share themselves without reserve for the betterment of all those around them?

I think that some simple yet profound things could occur: 

1)      People might smile more.

2)      They might plant a garden.

3)      They might write a letter to the one famous musician that makes the world more beautiful for them.

4)      They might buy a friend lunch.

5)      They might go see their parent in the nursing home and watch a baseball game on TV.

6)      They might tell someone how pretty they looked.

7)      They might leave a bigger tip.

8)      They might let their pre-teen stay up an extra hour to just talk.

9)      They might start to lose weight.

10)  They might pray.

I’d like to live in that world.  I guess that’s why I am sitting here at LAX.

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