Stay on Schedule

By age 65 I will…

Pearls of wisdom from: Rumi / Gregory of Nyssa / Thomas Merton / CS Lewis / Hildegard of Bingen

At some point along the way, we all set up a plan for our lives.

Some things are more intentional and conscious than others… some things we set up as unspoken goals or dreams.  Whatever the case, there is usually a schedule in place as well.

By the age of 21, I will have accomplished this… by 35, I will be… by 50, I will have done… and on and on.  Maybe you’ve even created your own Bucket List!

What happens when life doesn’t go as planned?

When the dream fades

We all like to have plans.  It seems to be part of human nature.  I haven’t met anyone who entirely throws chance to the wind and lives without some sort of dream or goal to lead the way.  [ I know those people are out there… I just haven’t met any yet. ]

So we go through life pointing our noses toward some destination that draws our souls.  But what happens when circumstances beyond our control make us take a left-hand turn?  Or we get distracted for one reason or another… death / illness / family / job… and so we can’t seem to move closer toward what we seek?  After all, we want to stay on schedule.

Often there comes a point when we have to shout STOP! and then sit back and be quiet long enough to figure out what the next step is.

That moment is big… and challenging.  Usually it contains an element of fear… often in strange combination with exhilaration.

If you are HERE

We invite you to explore that moment more deeply in this new online retreat called Your Own Private Mount Everest.

The mystics have much wisdom and insight to offer us and we will read and talk about such pearls from Rumi / St. Gregory of Nyssa / Hildegard of Bingen / Thomas Merton and CS Lewis.

Everybody has their own private Mount Everest that they were put on this earth to climb. You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven. But if you don’t make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow line, years later you may find yourself wondering What if?

What is your path up the mountain?  And are you living it well?

Join us.  More info here:  SJU School of Theology.

Yea… But!

Do you ever catch yourself saying it?

You’re having a conversation with someone… both sides are engaged in good discussion about some issue or another.  And then there comes a deeper moment that maybe requires a bit more give-and-take than normal.

Or maybe there’s a hard and difficult relationship that you have to navigate a pathway through… could be heartache and tears involved… might need forgiveness and reconciliation.

Sometimes it goes like this:

Yes… I hear what you’re saying / Okay… I understand where you’re coming from / I think… we can work out a deal

and then


Yea… But!

There’s that little catch… a splinter in the brain that pokes deep enough to set up the situation on two or more sides.  That little word ‘but’ instantly creates a division.  Not that the division is insurmountable or impossible… just that it now exists.

We all know that sometimes those divides do grow and create pain and suffering… in ourselves and our families… in our communities and in the global world.

What if we could start using the word ‘and’ instead of ‘but’?  What could happen?

Maybe a little more compassion

I could go for a more compassionate world.  I’d be game for adding my contribution to the larger effort.

It would require a shift in thinking… a change in living… a transformation of the heart.  And the rewards… would be nothing short of tremendous!

A Discipline for Compassionate Living is just this sort of experience to give us some tools for creating a more compassionate way of life.

Here’s another invitation from Jeff.  Please consider joining us on the worthwhile journey.  Click HERE to register.

Invitation from Jeff Kaster

Do you need some spiritual renewal for Lent?

Professor Jeff Kaster sends you a personal invitation to join this great new retreat from Saint John’s School of Theology:  Why is it so difficult to forgive?

Reconciliation and healing are such important themes as we begin the journey toward Easter.  We experience Jesus’ forgiveness in our own hearts and then are called in turn to give it to others… to mend the broken relationships in our own lives… to heal the hurts that separate us from each other.

New online retreat beginning February 27!

So we have a great opportunity for you to grow in understanding and experiencing forgiveness.  Here’s a downloadable flyer to give you more details: Why is it so difficult to forgive?

And here is the link to go to the Saint John’s registration page:  Register today!

Call or email Jeff or Elaine if you have any questions.  We look forward to meeting you!

For more information contact:

Dr. Jeff Kaster

Elaine Menardi

What You Seek

When we’re hungry… we seek food.

When we’re thirsty… we seek drink.

When we’re cold… we seek heat.

When we’re restless… we seek exercise.  {Okay… well sometimes we do.}

When we’re sad… we seek a friendly face.

When we’re angry… we seek justification.

When we want to know God… we…

What about when our spirits feel empty?

Join the caravan of those who have turned their faces toward the sun.

It’s much easier to fill a physical need… to satisfy hunger / quench thirst / warm up the body / stretch the muscles.  But the soul is a whole different animal.  There’s more effort required on our part.  More intention.  More diligence.  More engagement.

What do you seek to fill that gap… to feed your soul?

Try these online retreats:

 Why is it so difficult to forgive… (<– click)
Begins on February 27.  Register by February 15.

A Discipline for Compassionate Living… (<–click)
Begins on March 1.  Register by February 23.

Your Own Private Mount Everest… (<– click)
Begins on April 16.  Register by April 9.

Do you really love me? I can’t tell.

Relationships are tricky business these days.

I was in eighth grade.  Scot and I had been childhood friends for a lot of years already.  Our parents were very involved in our CYO sports league at the parish and so we’d spent many a weekend running around at midget football marathons / shagging volleyballs in the gym and dishing out nachos at the concession stand / often keeping the dugout lineup for our parents’ own teams in their slow-pitch softball tournaments.

What began as simple friendship blossomed into a youthful romantic relationship.  We were together one New Year’s Eve when Scot asked me if I wanted to go with him.  “Sure,” I said, “where are we going?”  He was silent.  “Oh!” I replied… realize that back in those days, “to go” with someone meant that you were going steady with them… in today’s language “In a relationship.”

There was a certain innocence back then.  It was all so much simpler… and cuter.  We wrote notes on spiral paper with curly-q’s and hearts and dots for i’s… secretly passed them from desk to desk in hopes that the teacher wouldn’t catch us.  Unknowingly we played the Telephone game… tell her to tell him to tell his friend that I like him and that she will meet you after school… on and on.  It was a fun time.

What We Run Toward

And then there comes a moment when we begin to pursue someone or something with great intention… the object of our desire.  Sometimes it’s a person… but not always.  It could be a career / particular set of skills / prestigious job / money / things.  What we run toward defines a unique path in life for every person.

Then often we get to a point in our lives when we stop and re-evaluate our pursuit.  And in one form or another, this question rises to the surface:  Do you really love me?  I can’t tell.

Does the object of my desire really love me?  How can I tell?

The Relentless Pursuit

Sometimes we are so focused on what we are running toward that we don’t see who is running after us.  If we would stop for a second and look behind us… we would see how relentlessly God is pursuing us.

God is the Hound of Heaven as Francis Thompson reminds us in his eloquent poem… and yet we run.

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind…

Why We Run

Because we are hungry… for something… but sometimes we just can’t figure it out… and so we keep running.  What if we stopped and stood still long enough to ask the question and listen for an answer?

God… what am I hungry for?

That’s what we’re going to do in our new retreat block Your Own Private Mount Everest

This online block will meet on Mondays starting April 16 and will use the book God Hunger by John Kirvan.  Join us and invite your friends as we explore the wisdom of the mystics:  Rumi / Thomas Merton / CS Lewis / St. Gregory of Nyssa / St. Hildegard of Bingen.

Registration is open now and class sizes are limited so don’t wait.  Run toward this opportunity!  Click HERE to register.

God’s busy right now. Call back later.

Mabel at your service.

Good Morning.  This is Heaven.

Good morning, Heaven… please hold.
Good morning, Heaven… please hold.
Good morning, Heaven… please hold.
Good morning, Heaven… please hold.
Good morning, Heaven… please hold.
Good morning, Heaven… please hold.

Good morning.  This is Heaven.
How may I direct your call?

One-half of the conversation

Yes… Oh I’m so sorry to hear that…

No, not today… we’re scheduled out quite a ways…

That’s terrible… oh I know… I just don’t have even any small openings to fit you in…

Well yes… sometimes there are cancellations but not very often and I…

Seriously?!?!  You mean… ?!?!  Seriously… ?!?!

I can’t believe… they really did that?!?!  Oh you poor thing…

Oh… I know that’s hard… it’s going to be okay…

Take it easy… yes I know it hurts…

Oh sweet child… if I was there I would rock you and hug you.  Is there anyone nearby you can go to?

I know… I know… let all those tears out.

Now you’ve got me all misty-eyed… hold on… let me grab a tissue…

* * sniffle * * sniffle * *

Okay… let me see what I can do.  Yea… it’s no problem… He always makes time.

Okay… let me put you on hold for just a moment… don’t go anywhere, okay?

Compassion is hard to define.

There’s a certain intangibility to it… like love.  It’s one of those gifts that we know when we see.  Instead of definitions, we tend to describe it by example…

Compassion is like when…
She showed compassion the time that she…
To live compassionately is like when…

Even though it’s hard to define in words, we can be intentional about living it well.

In typical fashion, we go to the Latin root:  ‘compati’  means to suffer with.

But it’s more than just living alongside other people.  Compassion requires that we live as one of them… that we somehow try to live inside their skin… inside their experience… inside a life that is different from our own.

Compassion can be surface-level and sterile.  We can go through the motions.  But God wants more from us.

We can be intentional.

This is the goal of the new YTM School of Disciples block called A Discipline for Compassionate Living (<–click the link to download the .pdf info sheet).  This block will be led by Jeff Kaster and Kathleen Langer and begins on March 1.  Participants will meet online once a week for a group video chat.  Click HERE to go to the YTM School of Disciples registration page.

It’s the perfect gift to give yourself and others for the journey of Lent.

Let us all learn to live more compassionately.

The world really needs more compassionate people.

Are you really sorry? I don’t believe you.

Face meets tree.

My husband often tells this great story.

He and his brother Bob are playing two-on-two football in the park with another pair of friends.  The end-zones are duly marked with a pair of sapling trees at each end and the overall playing area is significantly smaller than a traditional gridiron… nonetheless it is always a healthy and intense competition between teenage boys.

In this particular contest, Bob is the receiver and my husband is the defender on the opposing team.  Bob is racing down field toward the end-zone to catch a touchdown pass.  My husband Dean is in hot pursuit.  Bob catches the throw and dips into the end-zone just in time for Dean to face plant into the sapling tree.  Smack!

And yes… just like you are imagining in the cartoons… the tree bends all the way to the ground and springs my husband up and over about 4 feet away.

I don’t believe you.

So of course Bob stands there laughing so hard that he’s crying… while Dean is trying to gather his wits enough so that he can go and pummel Bob to the ground.  To this day, Bob maintains that even though he knew he was close to the tree, he had no intention of trying to make Dean run into it.  In his words… “It was just a lucky turn of events!” and then he laughs some more.

Dean… on the other hand… still says that Bob meant to run him into the tree.  So no… he doesn’t believe Bob’s apology.

Are you really sorry?

There are so many things that we apologize for all the time… some big and some bigger… some serious and some not-so-serious.  Sometimes we say we’re sorry but don’t really mean it.  And then the next time we meet that person it can feel awkward between us.

Sometimes we think a person has truly forgiven us when in fact they haven’t.  Probably they tried… but for some reason couldn’t make it all the way.

What about those times… when we’re not as sorry as we should be… when we can’t forgive all the way… what about those times?

True forgiveness is hard.

Join us in the conversation.  Jeff Kaster’s online block Why is it so difficult to forgive (<– click) is starting on February 27.  Participants will meet for online video chats on Mondays from 8:00 to 9:00 pm CST on February 27, March 5 / 12 / 26 and April 2.  The cost is $25 and space is limited so register now (click –>) YTM School of Disciples.

We really hope you’ll come and share your thoughts with us!

What does it mean to live a good life?

How would you define a good life?

What does it look like?  How does it feel?  Does it mean you are well-fed and have a 5-digit bank balance?

And who decides what it looks like and feels like?  You… or society?

These are tough questions… especially in economic times such as this.  Just like the aftermath of 9/11, we are at a time in history where we need to go deeply inward to sort through all the masks we wear / all the mixed messages that have bombarded us / the true motivations which guide our hearts and souls.

Defining what a good life actually is… well that’s hard work.

Your Own Private Mount Everest

So we’ve designed a new YTM School of Disciples experience to help you take a look at some of these intensely personal questions.  This is more than just another online class…

It’s going to be more like connecting up with prayer partners.

It’s going to be more like going on a spiritual retreat… except you don’t have to leave your own living room (or you comfy bed!).

It’s going to be more like taking a break from the rush of everyday and settling down into an easy chair with God.

Yea… it’s going to be that good.

God Hunger

We will be exploring the wisdom of the mystics:  Rumi, Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Merton, Gregory of Nyssa and CS Lewis.  And using this great book by John Kirvan [ Sorin Books:  Notre Dame, IN  1999].

We will meet online:  Mondays from 8:00 to 9:00 pm CST on April 16, 23, 30, May 7 and 14.

Click Your Own Private Mount Everest to download more information.  And click HERE to register online.  The cost is $25 plus the cost of your own book.

If you want to talk to a real person just contact Jeff or Elaine.

Jeff Kaster

Elaine Menardi

How do you live compassion?

[Latin] compati:  to suffer with

The word ‘compassion’ comes from Latin roots that mean “to suffer together”.  Generally when we think of being compassionate people, we imagine walking alongside those who struggle with pain / working with those who live in poverty / advocating systemic change for those who are oppressed by injustice.

Compassion is a prominent theme in Catholic Social Teaching and indeed in all of Catholic Christian faith.  To be a person of compassion requires opening ourselves and our hearts to help alleviate the suffering of others in our midst.

How to Develop a Discipline for Compassionate Living

The big challenge is how we live this compassion on a daily basis.  What prayers and practices can we incorporate into our routine such that we see the world through God’s eyes?  This is part of the discussion in our next YTM School of Disciples online course.

During this 5-week block, participants will explore the immensity of God’s compassion as told through the story of Fr. Greg Boyle in his bestseller book Tattoos on the Heart.  Fr. Boyle’s description of ministry in the gangland territory of Los Angeles gives us an insider’s view of how truly deep is God’s love for every person.

This course begin on March 1.

Kathleen Langer and Jeff Kaster will co-teach this session and share their experiences of how God’s compassion works in their lives.

A weekly blog post will give you some prayerful reflection questions and students will meet online on Thursdays in March from 8:00 pm to 9:00 CST to share in video and audio format about that week’s theme.  Here’s a downloadable flyer: A Discipline for Compassionate Living.

Make this part of your Lenten journey!

Compassion is a perfect theme to guide you through Lent.  As we follow Jesus to the cross, we can also cultivate a deeper way of compassionate living in our own lives.

We invite you to join us on this journey!

If you have any questions or want to speak to a real person, please call or email us:

Jeff Kaster at 320-363-2620 /  or Elaine Menardi at 307-258-0552 /

Forgiveness is a challenge.

Introducing the Theme:  Dr. Jeff Kaster

Forgiveness can be really difficult… sometimes unthinkable or even impossible.  This course seeks to establish dialogue between our personal challenges of forgiveness and scriptural and sacramental texts.    We will explore writings about forgiveness from the Holocaust and apartheid in South Africa.  Ultimately, we seek to improve our practice of forgiveness.

A Couple of Detail Changes

This class was so popular that we’ve decided to offer it again this Spring 2012 so there are a couple of updates to the schedule.  Classes will meet online:  Mondays from 8:00 to 9:00 pm CST on February 27, March 5 / 12/ 26 and April 2.  Students will need to have high-speed internet access and a webcam and microphone to participate in the online video chats.
The cost of this non-credit class is $25 and the text is:  The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1976).  This block course will be taught by Dr. Jeffrey Kaster, professor at Saint John’s University in the CSB/SJU Department of Theology and at the School of Theology-Seminary.

Click Why is it so difficult to forgive to download more information.

Click HERE to go to the Registration page.

Open to All

Our goal is to create an online theological learning community to engage the conversation and discover God’s deeper presence in our lives.

Feel free to invite your family / friends / parish / pastors to join this class.  This course is for everyone and especially the parents of YTM youth / YTM youth / counselors / adult mentors / and alums of the YTM program.

For questions or more info, contact: Dr. Jeff Kaster: or 320-363-2620.


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