• IN GOD WE TRUST by Frans Tholenaar 
  • START A PALANCA BANK By Deacon Jim Mc Keon 
  • THE RUBBER BAND by Dick Andrejack 
  • GOD IS THERE IN THE SUN'S GLARE by Til Dallavalle 
  • A DOT CONNECTOR by Joanne M. Mrazik                          


(This letter, written by John Toman, was published in the Trenton Times on April 21, 2013.)
In an attempt to stem the landslide of petitions before the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal Department of Health and Human Services has broadened the definition of church-run organizations exempted from providing contraception and abortion insurance required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Under the new rules, coverage for these practices will be provided directly by insurance companies. HHS now argues that it has accommodated the moral objections of these institutions and now we can all move forward. Question: Does the First Amendment guarantee religious freedom for institutions or individuals? The current HHS ruling does not protect the freedom of conscience of business owners and individuals who morally object to contraception and abortion.

Putting aside, for a moment, the moral issues regarding contraception and abortion, my objection to the HHS ruling is its failure to protect an individual’s right to exercise his or her conscience. This right has long been recognized and adjudicated.

An example is the right to conscientiously object to killing in war. I wonder why, given this and other First Amendment precedents, HHS has neglected to recognize an individual‘s right to refuse to pay for contraception and abortion, when those practices violate that individual’s conscience.

While the HHS’ expanded definition of religious institutions is a small step in the right direction, the agency hasn’t begun to address individual religious freedom. The First Amendment is a right that Americans, regardless of individual beliefs, must protect.

If we allow the government to ignore one article of our Constitution, we are setting a very dangerous precedent.

(Shared at School of Leaders, February 18, 2011)

Prayer:  "Lord I ask for courage...the courage to live out in my daily life the faith I profess with my lips. Amen."

Pope John Paul II - in addressing the Cursillo community at the Third World Ultreya in Rome, ended his talk with this commission to the Cursillistas  - be courageous, "go into the deep." It is very often that I think about these words of our Holy Father for he was peering into the very heart of the Cursillista, encouraging us to go for it, to pursue that restlessness, that hunger for God which keeps us on our pilgrim road, our Fourth Day Journey, which brought us here tonight.

The title of this talk is "Ready to Greet Him When He Comes Again." We have all heard this phrase repeated time and time again at Mass but how often do we reflect on the fact that we are pledging our readiness to God at each mass we attend, when these words are spoken? The sacred scriptures have many references to being "at the ready," to be like the sentinel patiently stand guard, waiting for the be attuned to the voice of our master speak Lord your servant is listening... to go out to meet the bridegroom like the wise virgins with lighted lamps... and my personal favorite (just 5 words) “Now, is the appointed time!!

I believe that many times it is difficult for us to think of our role as Christians as pro-active, that Christianity requires action on our part. One of the most important reasons that so many people in so many parts of the world have grown to know and love the Cursillo in Christianity is because on our weekends and at School of Leaders, in our Group Reunions, Ultreyas and Masses, the fundamentals of what it means to be Christian are not so much taught as shown by living it. Cursillo is an on-going living classroom in what it means to be Christian. As Cursillistas we are always in the process of becoming. We are a pro-active movement that knows actions speak louder than words

With these things in mind, lets think about what is usually referred to as a fourth day talk...this is the talk given by the rector on Sunday afternoon...just before the new cursillistas are introduced back into their environments and it is very much a witness talk to "show" the candidates that this blessed three days can be lived and continued to be lived for the rest of their lives.  It is also a moment of truth for the members of the team who realize that the new found resolve and fire the candidates feel at this moment is a spirit that right outside the walls of the retreat house, the world is ready to snatch from them at any given opportunity. My dear brothers and sisters, the very reason that the Cursillo in Christianity exists is to prevent that from happening with the help of God! For the sacred scriptures teaches us that there is no snatching out of God's hand.

So now lets put ourselves in the shoes of the new and fragile babechicks...the little eaglets flying from the security of their nests for the first time imagine what it was like for us when we reached sunday afternoon on the weekend. With this mindset let’s look at the lives of three cursillistas who lived their lives at the ready! Three who lived as Christians when they were here among us, and were ready to greet their lord when he came to take them home.

First, Jeanne Hagarty. Feisty, authentic, God-fearing, God-loving Jeanne. She served as our palanca lady for so many years relishing this service, loving this service, doing a wonderful job with it, so joyfully getting all those precious prayers and sacrifices to us and making the need and the cause known all over the world. Jeanne bravely faced many hardships and made countless sacrifices in her life having lost a husband, a son and a daughter, in her time but Jeanne did not despair, did not lose heart, did not blame God but continued to serve him with faith, hope and confidence in his mercy.  She never lost her sense of humor or the fire of her Christianity which inspired others wherever she traveled. When our lord came for her, Jeanne was ready.

Second, most of you know my brother, Anthony died suddenly last summer when he was struck by lightning.  Eyewitness News reported my brother as a by-stander at the scene of a house fire at one of his neighbor’s home and our family would not have understood any better had it not been for the neighbors themselves, who came to his wake to tell the story to our family, in tears. They recounted how Anthony had gone to their home that night to be sure the family was safe after their roof was struck by lightning and set ablaze. He knew that there was a disabled child in the home and wanted to be sure the family was safe. That is the way my brother lived his life.He loved God and he loved his neighbor.  He put others before himself, and God was merciful to him. Tony, as many of you knew him, had come from Mass, novena, and prayer group less than an hour before he was struck. He had spent the time after receiving the Eucharist in prayer and petition for so many things....for others. The clock in his bedroom was flashing 8:50 that was the time of the strike and his dinner plate sat on his kitchen counter, uneaten, as he had rushed out to warn his neighbor. It brought to mind the gospel passage which reminds us "you do not know the day or or the hour." True, he didn't know it, but Anthony was ready.

Third...most of you knew Al Conde who lost his life in 911. For those who didn't know Al, he was a bright shining star as a cursillista...whenever you met Al he would ask "what can I do for you?"  God was very merciful to Al's family as well as his Cursillo family in allowing us to know how Al spent the last moments of his life. You see, Al had been at the World Trade Center during the first terrorist attempt had failed. At that time, he helped many of the people to get out of the building while ministering to them bringing them what peace he could in Jesus’ name.

On September 11, 2001, Al was probably at Windows on the World, as this was one of his favorite places in the city and he had even written an article on it for our Cursillo magazine. A group of people saw Al, once again ministering to a group of terrified brothers and sisters... and called out to him to come with them. How blessed we are to know what Al's last words were that fateful day. He waived on the people who asked him to join them in climbing to safety and said go ahead...that's ok....and then Al uttered the last words we know that he spoke in this life, "I'm ready". Al was ready.

This Cursillo community felt the loss of this holy man deeply and sorrowfully and mourned along with the entire world in the aftermath of this great tragedy. Do you remember what the environment was like after September 11th? The churches were packed. People were seeking out the counsel of priests and making amends with their brothers and sisters. It was said that there was virtually no crime in New York City for the first time in history.

Brothers and Sisters, these three lives are not tragic to the Christian, for in Romans 8:36:39 we read the scriptures tell us that "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

These three lives are not tragic to Christians but triumphant examples of how we, as Cursillistas, should be living our fourth day....everyday for living the life of a true cursillista is simply telling the world... our world... in our own environments that God loves them through his son, Jesus.

If you listen carefully to these three stories, you heard all three as "doers of the word."  There were the process of becoming. When their lord came to take them home....and what was Jeanne and Anthony and Al's response? I'm ready!" This is the legacy they left us. Now its up to us to be faithful and to be pro-active-- to be ready as we walk our pilgrim road. Listen once more to the words of Pope John Paul II  and "be not afraid"-- these words we associate so strongly with Pope John Paul II are really Jesus' words "Fear not for I am with you always even until the end of time"

My beloved Cursillistas, act on the words of John Paul II and "go into the deep." As scripture teaches - now is the appointed time!


IN GOD WE TRUST By Frans Tholenaar

From the beginning of time, the human race has believed that there is a supreme being that we can follow and worship. We in the Judeo-Christian community call him God; there are many more names that people of different beliefs call him.

All over the world, there are negative and evil forces working very hard so that those of us who believe will lose faith, throw our hands up and think that if there is so much evil and bad things happening around us, it may be possible that God either may not really exist or does not care about the sufferings of humanity. Unfortunately, we don't have to go far to find people who embody hatred and cruelty. Extremists right here in the land of milk and honey have not hesitated to kill, burn and abuse those who don't fit their image. Overseas, hate groups abound that don't hesitate to blow themselves up as long as they kill. Innocent men, women and children have fallen to their hatred. 

The United States of America was founded by men and women who believed and trusted in God. God, in return, rewarded their work, love and trust, making this the greatest country in the world.

The Philadelphia City Council recently ordered the removal of the word "Christmas" from the sign at the Christmas Village. (It was later restored.) We started showing our weakness when we agreed to remove prayers from our schools. Of course, from then on, negative forces have come up with one demand after another. 

Only God knows what they will demand next. I say that it is time that we, the people who share the beliefs of our founding fathers, say that enough is enough. We should put a stop to it and save what we have left before it is too late.


Since 2008, I have been a volunteer at Chandler Hall Hospice in Newtown, and the experience of dealing with the dying and their families, and the nurses and care managers that care for them, has profoundly changed my life.

Five percent of all patient care hours at a Medicare-certified hospice must be provided by unpaid, but trained and supervised volunteers. A few weeks after an introductory call, I interviewed with a hospice supervisor, and began a twenty-five hour training session spread over five weeks. When I first walked into the training room, the instructor said, “Oh, I know you. You're our GUY!” There were nine women in my class, and me. Apparently men don't often go for volunteering at a hospice.

Training covered the physical and emotional aspects of the dying process, and how Chandler Hall suggests we deal with patients and their families. Even with all that, I felt ill-equipped to deal with the emotional burden of helping someone who is dying, until I read an article entitled “In the Service of Life,” by Rachel Naomi Remen, a pioneer in the holistic health movement, and the Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine. In the article, she writes:

“...the real question is not “how can I help?” but “how can I serve?”

“Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength. People feel this inequality. When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness.”

“But we don't serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.”

“We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch. This is Mother Teresa's basic message. We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.”

Ms. Remen's article has guided me throughout my time at Chandler. I have met some amazing people and have been graced to share some time, albeit brief, with them. Here's some examples:

Chris worked at KYW in Philadelphia in the fifties. He recalls being asked to provide technical support for an interview in Princeton. He and the “talent” (the radio interviewer) lugged a new-fangled audio tape machine, then the size of two large suitcases, on a train to Princeton. By taxi there were taken to a stately home, where they picked up … Albert Einstein. They drove to the Institute For Advanced Study, where he worked. When the time for the interview arrived, the tape recorder didn't work. While the talent stormed off to rant and rave about the failure of technology, Chris got down on the floor and took the tape machine apart in an attempt to fix it. Einstein, who know boatloads about Physics but not a whit about tape recorders, got on the floor with him and asked about the machine. For the next two hours, Chris explained the workings of the machine as they reassembled the device. When it was back together, they switched it on, and IT WORKED! They were able to complete the interview, and Chris had the experience of a lifetime.

Grace had cancer in the face, and the disease had eaten most of her nose, leaving only a gaping hole. The nurses warned me that I might find her appearance jarring, but she could really use some company. They were right, Grace's physical appearance was startling, unnerving, but after more than an hour of heartfelt conversation (Grace talking about her life, her kids, her careers) her disfigurement just … disappeared. She was no longer 'the woman without a nose,' she was just Grace, a charming, witty, funny widower with a heart of gold. I visited her many time after that, and I never saw the hole again.

“Marion doesn't want visitors,” the nurses said, “just bring her dinner and leave.” So began my relationship with Marion. I was pleasant, but brief. “Here's your dinner, Marion,” “Thanks,” she replied, as I beat a hasty retreat. But Marion liked vanilla ice cream with lots of chocolate syrup, so every week after dinner, I got to bring her dessert, too. My visits grew longer and longer, until by the time she was well enough to go home, I would kiss her on the cheek and we would talk long hours about our kids and our lives. When she came back to hospice many months later, she nearly cried when I came into her room. “Oh, Greg! I've missed you!” Marion was near death now, and she told me “I don't know what God you pray to, but please tell him 'I'm ready now.' ” Marion and I held hands as she drifted in and out of consciousness. At one point she astonished me my telling me her age (91!), and about marrying her high school sweetheart (which didn't work out), and the love of her life, Gordon (which did). I never saw Marion again.

Rose was a tiny woman in her late eighties, so soft spoken you had to strain to hear her. We exchanged simple pleasantries, until I saw some tattered prayer cards and a Rosary at her bedside. (Hospice is not a place to proselytize, so I rarely speak about my faith unless asked.) I asked Rose about the prayer cards, and she said she was given them when she received First Holy Communion more than seventy years earlier! I asked if we could pray a decade or two of the Rosary some time, and she said “Yes!” Rose and I prayed often after that, me sometimes reciting the prayers in Latin for her. Rose's passing many months later was peaceful.

Melvin suffered from dementia and would often strike out at the nurses who cared for him, since they were ALWAYS strangers to him. One evening, the nurses asked me to help them change him and get him into bed. Knowing his reputation for physicality, I approached Melvin and grasped his hand firmly, bending close to him so he could see and hear me. His eyes, which had been unfocused and distant, locked onto mine and held there, as I explained how the nurses were caring for him. Without any resistance whatsoever, Melvin allowed the nurses to clean and bathe him and get him changed for bed. Other than the eye contact, I had no idea if Melvin understood what I was saying to him, so on a whim, as the nurses were finishing, I asked Melvin if he could smile for me. After a brief pause, Melvin's face broke out into a HUGE grin and stayed that way, long after the nurses had finished their care.

On the counter outside of the nurses station there is a little mobile out of which stick some loops of wire. The loops are designed to hold greeting cards. As each patient comes into hospice, the nurses print an index card with the patient's name and tape it to the doors of their room. When the patient dies, the card is removed from the door and placed on the mobile. One of the very first things I do every week when I walk through the door is to check the mobile. Each week there are names on the mobile that I have never seen. These are the patients that have come and gone in the week since I was there last. A stark reminder indeed of how quickly we can be called home to God.

For humanity, there is nothing more certain than death, and I am grateful for the chance to serve those nearing the end of their lives. The fruit of the mystery of Mary's Assumption to heaven is the grace of a happy death. It is one of the greatest gives God can give us.

Please keep those near death in your prayers every day, and remember especially their caregivers, who labor to provide the peace and comfort we all so desperately desire.

Ms Remen's article is at

START A PALANCA BANK By Deacon Jim Mc Keon (Written in 1999)

One of the features that impressed me most when I made my Cursillo was palanca. To think that so many people, most of whom I did not know, took the time to write to me to express their best wishes that my Cursillo would be a wonderful spiritual exercise for me and that it would lead me to a closer relationship with Jesus.

I remember thinking after my Cursillo that I wanted to respond to the generosity of those who took the time to send me palanca by carrying on what they had done and sending palanca not only to candidates, but also team members are future Cursillos. You remember the old cliché about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Well, I started off palanca writing with a bang but pretty soon I was writing less and less. My main excuse was that I didn’t have the time. I would get the list of team and candidates maybe a month before the weekend and, with a big factor of procrastination, before I realized it, the weekend had come and gone, and I was left with guilt feelings. Maybe I was able to get off a few “best wishes” notes but was unable to back them up with the prayers which I found so meaningful in my own palanca.

The thing I remember most about the palanca I received were the prayers and other good deeds which supported the good wishes of the people who wrote to me. The Masses offered for my intentions, the rosaries said for me, the ejaculations, the personal sacrifices and the good deeds done on my behalf made me feel that the people who wrote to me really cared. I remember another cliché came to my mind, “These people really out their time and effort where their mouth is.” That is what I wanted to do, to backup my wishes for the individuals and corporate success of Cursillo with prayer and other good works.

I took a sheet of paper and divided it up into five columns with the following columns: Masses, Rosaries, Short Prayers (Ejaculations), Sacrifices, and Good Deeds. (My wife said that some of our younger brothers and sisters might not be familiar with the term “ejaculations.” Ejaculations are short prayers like “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you” or “Jesus, my Savior, protect us and guide us.” Some may refer to these types of prayer as “aspirations.” In any event, they are short prayers that can be said very quickly and in my opinion, are very effective.

 When I offer up a Mass for a future Cursillo candidate or team member, I scratch a little line under the Mass column. The same is true for the other columns except ejaculations. I only make a mark under ejaculations when I have done a hundred. I usually carry my “palanca deposit sheet” in my wallet.

Using the bank, I can do palanca all year round. I don’t show my “deposit sheet” to anyone because what is on it is between the Lord and myself. So that’s it. When I want to offer someone palanca, I withdraw Masses or rosaries or what have you from my palanca bank and backup my good wishes with an offering from my bank. Why don’t you try it? It will make your palanca more meaningful and you will feel better about it. I know I do.

THE RUBBER BAND by Dick Andrejack (Written in 1999)

Rubber bands in a box of bands are soft, cushiony, restful and safe.

However, the reason they were made is that they would stretch and be put to work in other environments – so too with us.

It is safe in Cursillo, in community, in ultreya and in our small groups, but we were made and are called to stretch for Christ!

We were made to risk, to get out of the soft cushiony box and boxes we are safe inside of. We are called to live our faith to the max- to quiver and vibrate God’s Love – to reach out fully to our brothers and sisters.

Our potential, filled with God’s Grace is to do more. It is “ultreya” (Onward - Go Beyond!)


Find a rubber band, put it where it can be seen, touched and stretched. Use it as a small reminder. Let’s all expand our potential … to make friends … be friends … and bring friends to Christ.


I’ve had a dear friend for about seventeen years now who is quite a bit older than I am.  She’s 87, a cursillista, and in failing health.  She can no longer care for herself and its time for her to move from her home into a care facility.   Because my friend is a widow and has no children, the task of helping her with this transition fell to me.  It’s something I wanted to do because it would help her through a difficult time but I didn’t have a clue about the feelings that would come forth.   Others have certainly helped whenever they could but for me, it hasn’t been the physical work of closing the house or getting her settled into a new environment that has been the most difficult.  The most difficult thing has been the unexpected emotional roller coaster.  Probably many of you have had this experience with a parent or other relative.  With my own relatives I wasn’t the one who sorted through the years of memories, or had to decide what must be saved and what should be given away or discarded.  I didn’t know it would have this impact on me.  Seeing and touching the symbols of another person’s life has humbled me and left me with a feeling of reverence.         

We all have our designated number of years on this earth and we all accumulate things along the way.  Some of us manage to accumulate more things than others.  I don’t think this has much to do with finances.  It has a lot to do with saving ‘just in case I need that later.’   Often these ‘things’ are reminders of a different time and place and they are a comfort to us.  We all live our own experiences and accumulate our own memories but how often do we stop to think about the footprints we leave throughout our lives.  My friend left her footprints all through her possessions but there are other ways she and we can leave our footprints as well.

In Cursillo, it is often said that life is a journey and we must walk the talks.  These are simply ways of reminding us to live out our beliefs, practice what we profess.  Having keepsakes of another time and place are comforting to our loved ones, and us but we are called to leave other reminders of our lives as well.   Hopefully the footprints we leave will be ones of hope and encouragement, marks of kindness and charity and reminders to act justly.   Footprints that others can see easily and follow to Jesus.    

GOD IS THERE IN THE SUN'S GLARE by Til Dallavalle (Written in 1999)

This is a story about how God is present in the “every-day” parts of our lives.   It is also a story of how God reveals Himself to us especially when we keep ourselves open/tuned-in to an awareness of His presence.   If we can do this, wonderful things can happen.

I like the fall.  As the summer ends and the new school year begins there are many changes that occur in my household.  New routines are established and there is a transition my entire family seems to go through.  The pains and stress associated with change seems to subside as fall begins and our new routines are firmly established. 

Another change, a subtle change that comes with fall, is that the days continue to get shorter.  Sunrises come later and sunsets come earlier. In the summer, and throughout the year for that matter, I generally try to leave for work before 7:30AM to arrive somewhere before 8:00AM.  All summer long I am greeted with (for the most part) bright sunshine at this time of day.  In the fall, especially today, I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise and awesome sun glare.

Now the sun glare really got my attention this morning.  First of all because it was difficult to see where I was going, and second, because it appeared and disappeared as I traveled down roads on my way to work. The route I normally take to work takes me down a few roads that are blanketed by a canopy of trees, and other roads that are open to the sky.

My custom in the morning, as I drive to work, is to begin my day with prayer.  Today I chose to help myself become more aware of God’s presence by saying my prayer of the heart.   This is a prayer described by Father Henri J. M. Nouwen in his book, With Open Hands.  It is a prayer you can repeat over and over, feeling it go from your head to your heart.  

While I prayed, I experienced the sun’s glare in a new way.  Instead of feeling anxiety and fear as I lost my view of the road from the shear power and brightness of the light, I felt I had to trust more in God to get me through the light (the light of His love that surrounded me).  I also noticed that as the road turned and trees lining the road appeared and disappeared, I would become more and more aware of the sun’s glare, miss it when it was gone, and wait for it to return.

I continued on my way to work thinking how much this ride resembled my life’s walk with Jesus.  Each day brings a new beginning.  In the rising of the sun, we rise with Jesus.  In the blinding light of the sun’s glare, we are reminded that we must surrender our will to God and trust in Jesus to get us through.  In the shadows that come from the trees that line the roads of our lives, we are taught that while we may not see Jesus in front of us at first, we should look harder, knowing that He pokes through the thickest of canopies.  We can also take comfort in knowing that He is always there for us.  Around the next turn, the trees disappear and we are bathed with the light of His love once again.

I have a special pair of sunglasses that eliminates glare.   I didn’t wear them today.  I’m not sure I’ll wear them tomorrow.  God is there in the sun’s glare.

A DOT CONNECTOR by Joanne M. Mrazik (Written in 2002)

As a kid, my parents always took the family shopping on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  We would discover a new Mall each year.  One of the treats was to buy some type of book, coloring book, Math book etc.  I especially liked the coloring books with the connecting dots.  A picture appeared once a person connected numeric dots in sequential order.  Part of the excitement was figuring out the picture while connecting the dots.  Once the picture was determined, the coloring began.

As an adult, the memories of “connecting the dots” have taken on a new meaning.  These days I tend to look at myself as a “dot connector”.  In a coloring book, a line connects one dot to another but in life we, Christians, connect one person to another person or directly to God.  We may never see the completed picture but God will. 

I did not realize that I was a “dot connector” until someone mentioned a particular situation to me in which I had referred the person to another person for assistance.  Spontaneously, I replied that I was just “a dot connector”. 

“Dot connecting” happens in every phase of our lives, in ministries, at work, at home, with friends, with strangers, with family, with co-workers. It is a method of serving and supporting each other in living our daily lives.  Have you connected any “dots” lately?