Friday, July 31, 2009

On A Lighter Note-The Benefits of Laughter

Since my last two blog entries have been a bit "heavy," I thought I would write about a lighter topic like laughter. Laughter is healing and in these unsettling times, laughter is good medicine for the body, mind and soul. And tomorrow is the first day of August, perhaps you will be lucky enough to find some rest and renewal this summer. I hope so.  I wrote the following article for a newsletter I wrote for families last year. So here it is........
During the summer months, try to be mindful of the therapeutic effects of laughter and try to laugh more. Put more joy into your life and reduce stress. Research has shown that there are many benefits from laughing, including strengthening the immune system, relieving the physical, negative effects of stress and even reducing food cravings. Here are some findings from an article by Elizabeth Scott titled, "The Stress Management and Health Benefits of Laughter." Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenane and increases health enhancing hormones like endorphins, which means a stronger immune system, as well as fewer physical effects of stress. Laughter provides a physical and emotional release. A good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm and is a good workout for the heart. Laughter brings the focus away from anger, guilt and negative emotions. Humor can give us a more lighthearted perspective and help us to put situations and problems in a more positive light and keep them in perspective. Laughter is a great way to build positive connections with others and help others to elevate their mood. Laughter is a great stress management strategy and it's inexpensive or free. Amazingly, even if you only fake smiling or laughing, it still has the same positive benefits. Faking it may lead to real expressions of joy and happiness.  So try to see the humor in situations, when possible and laugh with friends and family. Instead of complaining about life's frustrations, think about your blessings and smile with gratitude. Laugh often this summer and help those around you to laugh too. 

All who would win joy, must share it; happiness was born a twin.
Lord Byron

Do not worry; eat three square meals a day; say your prayers; be courteous to your creditors; keep your digestion good; exercise; go slow and easy. Maybe there are other things your special case requires to make you happy; but, my friend, these I reckon will give you a good lift.
Abraham Lincoln

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Modern Fascination With Doomsday

One of the many ideas that modern culture is fascinated with are end of the world prophecies and doomsday scenarios. Many times Old and New Testament passages are cited out of context, which cause worry and anxiety. There are people who believe we are living in the end times, I'm not one of them. Mr. Beers, a documentarian and producer of a new postcatastrophic reality show called, "The Colony," attributes "the public's interest partly to post-9/11 anxiety. That emotion is compounded by economic woes." "The Colony" is a reality show which will portray the last men and women on earth and show the survivors "as they build new water systems, fend off bands of intruders and figure out how to support one another in isolation." "It seeks to capitalize on society's fascination with the postapocalypse." It doesn't sound like too much fun to me and I won't be watching it, as it sounds like it will be stressful to watch. But I'm sure there will be plenty of viewers.
Apparently, according to an article in the NY Times, It's Doomsday Once Again. Are We Having Fun Yet?, by Brain Stelter, The Colony series will "join a well-worn breed of fiction-part fear and part fantasy-about the challenge to survive, as chronicled in the best-selling novel 'The Road,' the cult favorite CBS show 'Jericho' and a raft of recent movies including 'I Am Legend and 'Cloverfield.' I haven't seen any of them, I don't like to scare myself. I tend to think too much to begin with........ "Doomsday will be a subject of no fewer than four films in the coming months, as well as an NBC series, 'Day One.' It seems, "The cinematic end of the world has been and still is, entertaining. " Not for me, as a life-long learner I'd rather read non-fiction books and Scripture than watch frightening movies or TV shows. But it seems there is plenty of interest in this topic.
So what would Jesus say about all this? I won't quote the biblical passages from Matthew 24 titled, "The Beginning of Calamities," or "The Great Tribulation." (I don't want to scare you or myself.) But I will quote Jesus when he says concerning the end times or the end of the world as we know it, But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, but the Father alone......Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.......So too, you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. 
Stay Awake, Jesus says. (I think He means- be alert, be careful, live mindfully. He certainly is not suggesting you lose sleep over this.)  And I would add, say your prayers, do good deeds, stay the course no matter what obstacles appear. When the trials come (and they will come, if you are on a spiritual journey), keep the faith, for God is real. God will always be near to us, when we ask in sincerity for God's mercy, help and divine presence. 

Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.  (Isaiah 54:10)

Do not be afraid! (Mt 10:31)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jupiter-The Savior Planet

According to a New York Times article titled, All Eyepieces on Jupiter After A Big Impact by Dennis Overbye, Astronomers were scrambling to get big telescopes turned to Jupiter on Tuesday to observe the remains of what looks like the biggest smashup in the solar system since fragments of the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into the planet in July 1994. Something-probably a small comet-smacked into Jupiter on Sunday, leaving a bruise the size of the Pacific Ocean near its south pole. Just after midnight, Australian time, on Sunday, Jupiter came into view in the eyepiece of Anthony Wesley, an amateur astronomer in Murrumbateman....'This was a big event', said Leigh Fletcher of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 'In the inner solar system it would have been a disaster.'
That's pretty scary....a bruise on Jupiter the size of the Pacific Ocean! What fascinated me most about the article were some details at the end of the article. One detail was that whatever hit Jupiter was probably pulled apart by tidal forces from the planet's huge gravitational pull before it hit the huge planet. Other amazing things stated in the article were quotes by Dr. Franck Marchis, an astronomer, who wrote in an e-mail that "humans should be thankful for Jupiter....The solar system would have been a very dangerous place if we did not have Jupiter. We should thank our giant planet for suffering for us. Its strong gravitational field is acting like a shield protecting us from comets coming from the outer part of the solar system."
How cool is that? Jupiter is like a savior planet....saving us from large comets which could harm our planet....Jupiter takes the hits for us, Jesus- saves us, helps us, protects us and suffers for us....... 
And how impressive is the work of the "amateur astronomer" Anthony Wesley. He was going to quit watching the universe for the evening and watch TV sports instead, but decided to go back outside and take one more look in his telescope. He's the one that makes the discovery and e-mails other astronomers to tell them what he's found.....I would say that his perseverance paid off in a big way. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hopeful Messages on Billboards

An anonymous donor from the East Coast who was getting depressed over the negative news about the economy decided to fund a billboard campaign titled, "Recession 101." The campaign began in June and now positive, hopeful messages are appearing on more than 1,000 billboards, including one in Times Square, NY. The billboard campaign seeks to spread optimism and hope. Here are some of the messages, Interesting fact about recessions.....they end. Another one says, Self-worth is greater than net worth. The overall theme of the messages is, "This too shall pass." 
In an article I read online by Kelsey Abbruzzese, an economist from the University of Rhode Island, Leonard Lardaro said that, "people shouldn't lose hope in a crisis and should instead look for opportunity, preparing themselves for other jobs or the economy's eventual turnaround....For people who are very capable and talented who lost their jobs, it wears away at you. It takes away your sense of worth which it shouldn't do. Don't think in a recession that nothing good can or does happen." After all, one of the billboards state, Bill Gates started Microsoft in a recession. 
I love the idea of posting optimistic, hopeful messages on billboards. I've often wondered why the Church doesn't advertise more on billboards. I think it would be great to have optimistic, hopeful, religious messages on billboards to encourage faith, belief in God and state the benefits of a prayer life, especially during trials or hard times. Belief in God gives people hope. Hope and prayer gives people courage and inner strength and enables them to look beyond the present time. Prayer helps and changes situations, especially when people are going through difficult times, prayer can be a great blessing and comfort. Optimism is good for the soul.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit..........Romans 5:5

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Eat Less, Live Longer, Do More Good!

In a fascinating new study, researchers have found that cutting calories by a third, in the diets of monkeys, slowed not only their aging, but also cut their risk of disease and prolonged their lives. Calorie-cutting monkeys had less than half the incidences of cancerous tumors or heart disease of the monkeys who ate normal meals. The researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison did the study. What we would really like is not so much that people should live longer but that people should live healthier, said Dr. David Finkelstein of the National Institute on Aging. The Wisconsin monkeys seemed to do both. The fact that there's less disease in these animals is striking. 
More research is needed to see if these dramatic calorie-cutting benefits help humans but it is likely, ( I believe) since numerous studies that I have read confirm that there are many positive health benefits of losing weight. For one, people with high blood pressure can sometimes go off their medication after losing weight. 
Being of Italian descent, I love food, as most Italians do and so it's a struggle for me to lose weight, especially since I love pasta, bread and pizza. I also love to cook and have mastered many Italian dishes, since as I've mentioned before, I come from a long line of fantastic cooks.  I've always loved cake and cookies, though I now try to substitute healthier snacks. When you love food, it's difficult to lose weight but I am trying. 
So what does this have to do with religion, because this is a religion blog, after all.  Well, obviously, the longer we live, the more experience we'll have to share and wisdom is good when you are on a spiritual journey, as I am. I'm hoping (and praying) that I'll be able to share my experiences, as I grow older through my writing.  I need good health to do that, as we all do. So I'm going to try to limit my calorie intake and exercise more, and if you want to live a long and healthy life, it's good advice for all. 

Sunday, July 12, 2009

We Can All Do Something

I was happy to read recently that Bill Murray and George Clooney visited the town of L'Aquila, Italy, that was devastated by an earthquake on April 6th. Thousands were left homeless. According to news reports, George Clooney told the people of L'Aquila that he'll shoot a film in their mountain region, beginning in September. He visited the homeless in a tent camp and told the survivors of the earthquake that he hopes to help the local economy by filming part of a movie there. That's good news for the town. 
I recently received a thank you letter from the founder and president of the Italian American Museum in Manhattan. According to the letter, the Italian Minister of Cultural Affairs in Italy has asked the museum to focus their efforts on the reconstruction of the National Museum of Abruzzo. He wrote, The rebirth of a people starts by the culture. A restored museum will contribute to heal the hurt souls of people from Abruzzo. 
Many churches were also damaged and I hope there will be efforts by Catholic Churches in our country to help in the restoration of those damaged churches. I would imagine that the faith of some people were shaken, understandably so, especially those who have lost loved ones in that tragic event. I pray there are people of strong faith, both religious and lay, who are building up and encouraging the people of the devastated towns. I hope their faith remains strong, in the midst of their suffering. 
Suffering only makes sense when we unite it to Jesus' suffering on the Cross and realize it's redemptive value. Suffering can only be endured when there are caring people willing to comfort, help, listen and show compassion. When faced with suffering, a wise old priest once said, the ultimate question is not, 'Why?' but 'What?'. What am I to do in response to this suffering? What is the Lord asking of me in these particular circumstances? And then the work of faith and hope and love begin. That quote was in a Sisters of Life newsletter that I saved because it contained many good insights on suffering. Also, in the newsletter, Mother Agnes wrote that, "In Christ and in Christ alone, suffering no longer has the last word, but love does." She quoted the late Cardinal O'Connor who used to say, "Do not waste your suffering!"  

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Is Anyone Listening?

In April, Pope Benedict during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square said that greed lies at the root of all evil and is the source of the current economic crisis. Greed-one of the 7 deadly sins has caused havoc. On July 7th, Pope Benedict's third encyclical, Charity in Truth, was released. The document took two years to write and many revisions were made to incorporate "fallout from the financial crisis." It was released the day before leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations met to coordinate efforts to deal with the global meltdown, signaling a clear Vatican bid to prod leaders for a financially responsible future.......(Newsday). 
In the document, Pope Benedict wrote, global economic activity needs to be directed toward pursuit of the common good and that businesses need to stop speculating for short-term profits at the expense of the larger community. 
Is anyone listening? If Pope Benedict is correct, which I'm sure he is, and if greed caused this global financial meltdown mess, then his words from the encyclical, that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity should be taken very seriously by world and business leaders. Obviously, lies, greed and selfishness is not working and is causing havoc, on rich and poor alike. American households lost $1.33 trillion of their wealth in the first three months of the year alone. 
Each day, according to Bread (published by Bread for the World), 26,000 children die due to preventable causes. Forty percent of people in the world today live on less than $2.00 a day. I support the work of Bread for the World and other charities and in these small ways I feel as if I'm doing something, doing my part to help. But there is still more to do. We can all do something, small or great to help improve the plight of the poor in our country and in the world. 
Perhaps when all of us who can help, start giving more and caring for our brothers and sisters, throughout the world, then things will begin to change. Then perhaps everyone's wealth will be restored.........The current course of action does not seem to be working for anyone.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

I always feel blessed on the 4th of July. I've been given many opportunities and blessings as an American and I will always be grateful. Here are some great quotes which capture the essence of what it means to live with freedom and liberty.

The cause of freedom is the cause of God. Samuel Bowles

Liberty when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.
George Washington

Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it. Thomas Jefferson

Our institutions of freedom will not survive unless they are constantly replenished by the faith that gave them birth.
John Foster Dulles

My God, How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of and which no other people on earth enjoy! Thomas Jefferson

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Martin Luther King Jr.

Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty. John F. Kennedy

Many blessings to all and a blessed 4th of July. To all who have given their lives and sacrificed for the cause of freedom.......Thank You!!