Sunday, June 17, 2018

Planting Seeds of Faith, Hope, and Love

At our grade school--Sapa Un Catholic Academy
It's over a year since my last post and 10 and a half months since I left the Apostleship of Prayer (the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network) to become director of St. Francis Mission Among the Lakota (www.sfmission.org).  It feels as though I actually have three jobs--chief administrator, fund-raiser, pastor of the reservation--and as a result I haven't taken the time to blog.  Plus, I wondered whether it was appropriate to use this blog which was so closely connected to the Apostleship of Prayer.  However, those who make a daily offering and strive to live the spirituality of the AoP are always members.  And I've had a lot to "offer up" this past year.  That being said, I want to return to blogging and to begin with my homily for this weekend, the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

Last week I was in Omaha and I sure found Google Maps on my cell phone to be very helpful for getting around to see various people.  But this app would have been no help at all if I didn't know the destinations.  Without a destination there would be no directions on how to get there.

Each of us has an internal GPS that tells us something about our destination.  It's called "conscience."  It's an innate sense of right and wrong that doesn't need to be taught.  Just think of the following situation: A teacher tells his or her first graders that at the end of the day all the boys will get a chocolate bar and all the girls will have to stay after school.  There would be an outcry: "That's not fair!"  Who told them that it wasn't fair?  Children have an innate sense of "fairness" that doesn't need to be taught.  Of course, as time goes by this moral GPS or conscience needs further development, updates as it were, that help it grow and stay on track.

This is where knowing our destination is essential.  What's our goal or destination in life?  In our second reading (2 Corinthians 5: 6-10), St. Paul writes about his and our "home," our true home.  Earth is not our true home.  Life on earth is a journey.  Our true home or "haven" is heaven.  We are here on earth to learn how to breathe the atmosphere of heaven, to get ready to go to our true home.

But we don't go there alone.  A good friend of mine, Deacon Pat Coy of Custer, South Dakota, says that when we enter the pearly gates Jesus will be there to ask us "How many did you bring with you?"

In our Gospel (Mark 4: 26-34) Jesus presents another way of looking at this.  He uses the image of farming.  We are here on earth to scatter seeds--seeds of faith, hope, and love.  We can till the soil and get rid of the weeds, but we cannot make those seeds grow.  Only God can.  Thus we do the best we can but leave the results to God.  This is where faith and trust come into play.

Pope Francis put it well in his Apostolic Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel."  He wrote in sections 278 and 279:

Let us believe the Gospel when it tells us that the kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a great tree....  Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks.... This certainty ... involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit, without claiming to know how, or where, or when.  We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others.  ... The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results.  We know only that our commitment is necessary.  Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Transition


On the second Tuesday of every month, a group of volunteers come to the national offices of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network to stuff envelopes with our monthly leaflets.  Today a larger group than gathered.  It was a chance to say farewell.  

On July 17 Fr. William Blazek, S.J. will become the new director of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network in the U.S. and on July 29 I'll be moving to begin a new assignment.  The last fourteen years have been filled with many blessings, one of which is the group of volunteers who came once a month to pray together, to get the monthly leaflets ready to send out around the country and even across the English-speaking world, and to have fun together.

Everyone brought treats which we enjoyed after we celebrated Mass and before the work began.  One person brought a beautiful farewell cake and seven year old Quinn entertained us with his violin.

My blogging has been so sporadic lately because I find myself living in three worlds: current commitments, getting things ready for the new director, and getting ready to move and take over my new mission.  What is it?

Starting July 31 I will be the next director of St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation in western South Dakota.  Though I've never lived and worked there, this is a ministry with which I am familiar.  From 1977-80 I taught at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation, just west of the Rosebud.  From 1989-95 I worked at the Sioux Spiritual Center, a retreat house for Native people that served the five reservations that are part of the Rapid City Diocese.  With Fr. John Hatcher, S.J., whose place I will be taking at St. Francis, we coordinated the deacon and lay ministry formation program of the diocese.  And from 1995-9 I was the Wisconsin Province Assistant to the Provincial for Native Ministry.

In 1886, shortly after the Lakota people were forced to live on reservations, Jesuits founded St. Francis Mission and began serving their pastoral, social, and educational needs.  Here is the website for St. Francis--an old mission that has become a new mission with its innovative programs.  

I hope to continue blogging and working with Catholic radio stations around the country.  I'll also always continue to offer up each day, returning love for the great love Jesus has shown us and praying with and for the intentions of the Holy Father and of all Apostles of Prayer.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Doing Greater Works as We Climb

In the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A (John 14: 1-12), we see Jesus at the Last Supper getting impatient with his apostles.  He has been with them for several years.  He is giving them his final discourse and they clearly do not know him.  In response to Philip who asks Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus says: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”

Right before this Jesus had declared: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus, fully divine, is the truth about who God is.  God is love, a love that is willing to give all for the good of humanity.  Jesus, fully human, is also the truth about what humanity is meant to be.  Jesus is the way to live.  Following Jesus and the trail to heaven that he has blazed, we will come to the eternal life for which we were made.

In his Ascension Day homily in 2013, Pope Francis compared Jesus to a mountain-climbing guide: “In Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was taken to God. Christ opened the path to us. He is like a roped guide climbing a mountain who, on reaching the summit, pulls us up to him and leads us to God. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Savior, of our Advocate.”

Jesus is not only ahead of us on our journey through life, having arrived at life’s goal, he is with us.  He is present in the Eucharist.  He is present in his Body, in our brothers and sisters.

This latter presence is what some of the early Christians missed.  The first reading (Acts 6: 1-7) shows that the early Church wasn’t always the idyllic picture of harmony that is painted in earlier chapters of Acts (see 2: 42-47 and 4: 32-35).  There was racism and division.  The Greek-speaking Christians were being neglected by the Jewish Christians.  In response, a new ministry developed to care for the poor. 

But without a change of heart that leads one to see in every person a brother or sister in Christ, new ministries are not enough.  A deeper vision of unity is required.

The second reading (1 Peter 2: 4-9) provides that.  The Church is a “spiritual house” that has Jesus as its cornerstone.  Members of the Body of Christ are “living stones.”  We are “a holy priesthood,” “a royal priesthood.”  Through baptism we share in the priesthood of Jesus who replaced the old animal and grain sacrifices before him with his one perfect offering of himself on the cross.  This offering is made present every time we celebrate Mass.  There we offer the “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.”  We offer ourselves with Christ for the salvation of the world.  Then we go forth from Mass to live the “spiritual sacrifices” in our daily lives.  

This is the spirituality of offering that is at the heart of the Apostleship of Prayer.  We begin each day offering ourselves—all our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings; all our thoughts, words, and deeds; every breath and every heartbeat.  This offering of our day to God with Jesus is very important and can work wonders.

Jesus promised this when he said in the Gospel: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones that these, because I am going to the Father.” 

Really?  Do I believe that we can do greater works than the ones Jesus did during his earthly life?

Three events of the last one hundred years should convince us that our faith-filled prayers can work wonders.  All three are connected with the Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearances at Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

First, there is the story of Jesuit Father Hubert Schiffer about whom I wrote August6, 2016.  He and several other Jesuits, living near the epicenter of the first atomic bomb, survived and lived for several more decades.  A Defense Department expert could not find any physical reason for their survival.  He concluded that a power greater than that of an atomic bomb protected them from harm.  According to Father Schiffer, “we believe that we survived because we were living the Message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home.”

In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and I’m convinced that prayer was behind its destruction.  See my blog post of October 3, 2016 for a photo of a section of the wall that can be seen at Fatima.

Lastly, on October 13, 1991, a movie about Fatima was shown on Soviet television.  The movie was repeated on November 7, the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.  On Christmas Day, the flag of the U.S.S.R. at the Kremlin was lowered for the last time.  The Soviet Union broke apart and Communism ended its stranglehold on that part of the world.  Since then, 29,000 churches have been built or reopened, the number of monasteries has grown from 15 to 788, the 500 theological seminaries are full, and the Russian government spends over $100 million a year for the restoration of churches. 

I believe these are miracles wrought by prayer. 

But wars and conflicts continue.  The threat of nuclear war remains and has perhaps intensified.  The Message of Fatima is as essential as ever—prayer and sacrifice for the conversion of sinners.  When he visited Fatima a year after the assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II said: “In the light of a mother’s love we understand the whole message of the Lady of Fatima. The greatest obstacle to man’s journey towards God is sin, perseverance in sin, and, finally denial of God.  The deliberate blotting out of God from the world of human thought. The detachment from him of the whole of man’s earthly activity. The rejection of God by man.  Can the Mother, who with all the power of her love nurtured in the Holy Spirit, who desires everyone’s salvation, keep silence about what undermines the very basis of their salvation?  No, she cannot.”

Nor can we keep silence.  We pray and we offer our lives, one day at a time, for peace in the world and the salvation of all.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My Role in Divine Mercy

In the Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday (John 20: 19-31), Jesus tells the apostles gathered in the upper room: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  What did the Father send Jesus to do?  To take away the sins of the world.  To reconcile humanity to God and with one another.

But Jesus does not only commission them to carry on his work. He empowers them to do so.  He breathes on them and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” 

How are sins retained?  If God’s love and mercy are infinite, how is it that some sins are not forgiven?

In his 1980 encyclical “Rich in Mercy,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote: “Mercy, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father’s readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to His home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son.  No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it (#13).”

There is no limit that any human being can place on God’s mercy.  Except for one.  It’s the limit that arises from human freedom and divine love.  God cannot force his merciful love upon anyone.  He cannot force anyone to love him, for this would not be love but violence.  Thus, John Paul continues: “On the part of man, only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.”

Reconciliation is a two-way street.  God is always ready to forgive, but his mercy must be received and to receive it one must first recognize the need for mercy, ask for it, and then receive it. God cannot force his love and mercy upon anyone who does not want it.

The Church forgives sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But the Holy Spirit, given to the entire Church, is at work in the lives of each baptized Christian.  We all play an essential role in helping people receive mercy, in softening hard hearts. How?

First, we are to be holy, merciful, and loving.  As children of God, we are to be holy as God, who is Love and Mercy itself, is holy.

On one occasion when Jesus met St. Faustina, he revealed to her the greatest obstacles to holiness.  He said: #1488: “My child, know that the greatest obstacles to holiness are discouragement and an exaggerated anxiety. These will deprive you of the ability to practice virtue.  All temptations united together ought not disturb your interior peace, not even momentarily (Diary #1488).”

How do discouragement and anxiety prevent us from being virtuous?  When we become discouraged—with ourselves, others, or the world—we give up.  We think things will never get better and so we stop trying to be better.  Change in the world begins with each one of us and discouragement only encourages us to continue moving away from God.  And anxiety leads us to focus on ourselves, our own worries and problems, rather than keeping our focus on God.

The antidote to discouragement and anxiety?  TRUST.  This is the great message that Jesus wanted us to know when he revealed that the greatest divine attribute is mercy.

When we place all our trust in Jesus, in his love and mercy, then we find an inner peace which flows through us into the world.  Jesus told St. Faustina: “When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls (Diary #1074).”

We grow in holiness as we grow in union with Jesus, a union that is especially fostered in the Holy Eucharist.  One with Jesus, we see other people as he sees them and we respond as he would respond.  This is why St. Faustina, in words that echo St. Paul (Galatians 2: 20), made the following prayer:  “Most sweet Jesus, set on fire my love for You and transform me into Yourself.  Divinize me that my deeds may be pleasing to You. May this be accomplished by the power of the Holy Communion which I receive daily. Oh, how greatly I desire to be wholly transformed into You, O Lord! (Diary #1288).”

In his homily for the canonization of St. Faustina, the first saint of the new millennium, Pope John Paul II said: “Looking at him, being one with His Heart, we are able to look with new eyes at our brothers and sisters, with an attitude of unselfishness and solidarity, of generosity and forgiveness. All this is mercy! The message of divine mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God’s eyes; Christ gave His life for each one.”

Without exclusion, Jesus, the Son of God, suffered and died for every human person.  He told St. Faustina: “My daughter, write that the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy; urge all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all. On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls—no one have I excluded! (Diary #1182).”

When we grow in union with Jesus, we share more and more the desires and concerns of his Merciful and Sacred Heart.  Moved as his Heart is moved by sinful and suffering humanity, we pray and work for the conversion of sinners.  This is the work of reconciliation that the Holy Spirit empowers all the baptized to do. 

Praying for the conversion of sinners gives great joy to the Heart of Jesus.  He said: “Pray for souls that they be not afraid to approach the tribunal of My Mercy. Do not grow weary of praying for sinners (Diary #975).” And, “You always console Me when you pray for sinners. The prayer most pleasing to Me is prayer for the conversion of sinners.  Know, My daughter, that this prayer is always heard and answered (Diary #1397).”

This is so important to Jesus that he sent his own Mother with the same message.  At both Lourdes and Fatima she came asking us to pray and offer sacrifices for the conversion of sinners.

Do you believe that your prayers and sacrifices make a difference?  So often we are like St. Thomas who says he won’t believe unless he sees.  We don’t believe that our prayers and sacrifices, our very lives, make much difference unless we SEE results.  We give up praying because we do not SEE change in others and the world, or even in ourselves.

Jesus told St. Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Celebrating Divine Mercy as we do, we declare: “Yes, Lord, I believe. I believe my life, with its prayers, works, joys, and sufferings, offered daily to you for the salvation of souls does make a difference.  Jesus, I trust in you!  Jesus, I trust in your Holy Spirit at work in and through me, bringing your mercy into the world.”    

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Sunday Homily

The Gospel for Easter Sunday (John 20: 1-9) offers a contrast between Peter and “the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” traditionally identified as John.  Both ran to the tomb of Jesus, peered into it, and saw “the burial cloths there,” but no sign of Jesus.  Or rather, they did not see Jesus but they did see a sign that pointed to his resurrection.  One saw the sign and that was all while the other saw the sign with the eyes of faith and believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Peter saw the cloths and believed what Mary of Magdala had told him—“they have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”  But why would anyone remove the corpse and leave the burial cloths behind?  Peter saw but did not connect the dots.

John, on the other hand, “saw and believed.”  The cloths pointed to the fact that the dead body of Jesus had not been removed but that Jesus had risen from the dead as he had promised. 

Peter sees from a purely physical perspective, without faith.  John sees with the eyes of faith. 

We too walk by faith and not by sight.  We see signs of the resurrection, but do we believe?  Really believe that Jesus is alive and is present and at work among us and through us? 

Paul wrote that our “life is hidden with Christ in God” (second reading, Colossians 3: 1-4).  Just as Christ, who at this point in the Gospel who has not yet appeared to the apostles in his risen glory, so the full glory of the new life we have in baptism is hidden.  Yet there are signs of this new life already present in us.  What are they?

In the first reading (Acts 10: 34a, 37-43), Peter says that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  The Holy Spirit and the power to do good and heal those burdened by evil in our world—these are the signs.

In baptism we were anointed with the Holy Spirit and empowered to continue the work of Jesus.  We do good in our lives and bring healing to those wounded by sin.  In the renewal of our baptismal promises we reject the devil and his works and profess our faith in God and the new life we were given when we were joined to the Body of Christ.  But we need faith to believe, really believe, that we, joined to the Risen Christ, have the power to do good and avoid evil.  We need faith to believe that in the midst of the world’s darkness, the light of Christ shines through us. 

In “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis wrote about faith in Christ’s resurrection:

Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history (#276).

Do I really believe this?  How can I believe this when the daily news presents a picture of death rather than new life and beauty?  This is where faith enters.  Faith does not remove the struggle.  It requires surrender—to see the signs of death, like the burial cloths, and to believe that this death is not the end. 

Pope Francis continues:

Faith also means believing in God, believing that he truly loves us, that he is alive, that he is mysteriously capable of intervening, that he does not abandon us and that he brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity.

“Good out of evil!?”  Yes.  We can believe this because God took the worst thing that humanity could do—nailing the Son of God to a cross—and brought about the greatest good—forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the world.  If God can do that, God can do anything.  And so Pope Francis challenges us:

Let us believe the Gospel when it tells us that the kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a great tree. Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain (#278). 

We do not want to simply see, as Peter did, and hold fast to faithless theories. We want to see and believe as John did.  This faith in the power of Christ’s resurrection at work in the world through me and through you leads us to live the new life we’ve been given.  It empowers us to be light in the darkness, to reject evil and to do good.  In that way we answer the challenge that Pope Francis presents at the end of this particular section of his exhortation:

May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

God's Thirst

In the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman (John 4: 4-42), Jesus is thirsty and says to the woman who has come to fetch water from a well, “Give me a drink.”  As their conversation progresses it becomes clear that Jesus wants more than a drink of water to quench his physical thirst.  He has a deeper thirst.

He talks to her about “living water,” which she mistakes for “running water,” an aqueduct, perhaps, that she thinks Jesus can make in order to provide her with water at home so she won’t have to carry water every day from the well. But the “living water” that Jesus is talking about is the water of Baptism which will give her the Holy Spirit and eternal life.  The deepest desire of Jesus is for her to know him and his love which will open her up to receiving the Spirit who gives true and eternal life. 

In his 2007 Message for Lent, Pope Benedict reflected upon the thirst of Jesus.  He wrote:  “On the cross, it is God Himself who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. … The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome His love and allow ourselves to be drawn to Him.” 

The Son of God loved us so much that he died to save us.  This love is not conditional.  He did not die for those who deserved or had earned his love.  As St. Paul put it: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5: 8).  In fact, he even died praying that the Father’s mercy would come upon those who were killing them: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 34).  In the words of the contemporary Christian song “To Ever Live Without Me” by Jody McBrayer: “You would rather die than to ever live without me.” 

This is God’s thirst: to give each of us his infinite love and to receive us and our love so that we might be one with him forever.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What?! Me Worry?

In the summer of 1969, I and a Jesuit priest and five of my high school classmates embarked on a great adventure.  Every summer Fr. John Eagan, S.J. led a group of six Marquette High Juniors-about-to-become-Seniors on a two-week camping trip around the shores of Lake Superior. 

After a restless night of anticipation, we headed North. Fr. Eagan drove the station wagon. Two students sat next to him in the front and three in the back seat.  One got to lay down in the back of the wagon behind all the equipment.  We came to think of him as the lucky one and we took turns in that spot.  For as soon as we hit the highway, Fr. Eagan pulled out a rosary and invited us to pray.  We rolled our eyes, thinking this wasn’t  looking like it was going to be the fun trip we thought it would be. 

Two weeks later, when it was my turn to have the choice spot in the back where you didn’t have to pray the rosary, I declined and offered to sit up front.  Somehow I had come to enjoy praying the rosary every day as we drove.

I returned from the trip feeling like a new person.  The rosary, the beauty of God’s creation, the sense of community, Mass along the shores of Lake Superior at sunset—all of these worked together to get me past a difficult year.

I’d always done well in school and much of my self-worth was tied to my grades.  But in Junior Year I took Trigonometry and Chemistry and my grades went down.  With my grades went my self-image which also took a beating as I argued with my parents over curfew and the use of the car.  And why is it that just before Homecoming a big zit appears on an adolescent boy’s forehead turning him into a cyclops? 

That summer camping trip helped me turn a corner.  I began Senior Year feeling a lot better about myself.  A seed had been planted.  I thought that perhaps I would enjoy doing for others what Fr. John Eagan had done for me.  Maybe I should become a Jesuit priest like him.

But at seventeen, with my whole life ahead of me, I thought: “There’s plenty of time for that.  I want to see the world first.”  So I went to Dominican College in Racine, Wisconsin. I know: “See the world from Racine!?”  OK.  I wanted to experience more of life before going into the Jesuits. 

Before going off to college, I and a good friend from the previous summer’s camping trip decided, for old time’s sake, to do it again.  We took off, knowing that we would cross paths with Fr. Eagan and a group of six guys from the class behind us.  We camped near them and around the campfire one night we made fun of one of those Juniors.  Bill was an athletic kid, a cross-country runner, but during the day when we came to streams and had to cross by walking on logs, Bill got down and crawled across. 

The trip ended and I went off to college.  In September Fr. Eagan called and asked me to pray for Bill. He’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  In November I went to his funeral.  Seeing him laid out in the coffin turned the heat up on my vocation discernment. I decided not to delay doing what deep in my heart I felt called to do.  I visited the Jesuit novitiate, applied, was accepted, and entered the Jesuits after one year of college at the age of nineteen. 

The thought of our mortality—that we do not have forever—gives perspective to life.  Every Ash Wednesday we are reminded that we are dust, that our life on earth is not forever.  We begin Lent asking whether we are on the right track. 

A lot changed for me during those camping trips and what followed.  But one thing hasn’t changed—worry.  On our way back from that first camping trip we gave out awards for the best swimmer, diver, cook, etc.  The award I received was “Worry Wart of 1969.”  Throughout the trip I planned for the worst and asked questions: “What if it’s raining, how can we set up camp and cook? What if it’s dark?  What if we run out of repellent or lotion? What if, what if…?

When I told Fr. Eagan that I was going to apply to the Jesuits he challenged me about the worry.  He said that if I became a Jesuit my path, my future would be a great unknown.  I would have to let go of worry and be flexible.  I couldn’t prepare for every eventuality. 

That has certainly been true.  I entered the Society of Jesus to teach in an urban, Jesuit, college-prep school like the one I’d gone to.  I’ve never done that.  And if I’d known then about what I would face in my forty-five years as a Jesuit, I would have been too afraid to apply.  But I’m glad I did.  I would not have grown or become the person I am today without all those things I would have worried about.

Worry saps our energy and leads to stress that takes a toll on our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  Worry borrows tomorrow’s possible problems and crams them into today.  As Jesus said, “Sufficient for a day is its own evil” (Matt. 6: 34).

Worry fosters a negative attitude.  We see the world through dark glasses as we prepare for the worst.  Such preparation can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Worry was the “original temptation.”  Prior to the Original Sin, our ancestral parents worried about whether they could really trust God.  Maybe God wasn’t telling them the whole story.  Maybe God wouldn’t be there for them.  Wouldn’t it be better to get control?  There is a saying: “If you worry, why pray? And if you pray, why worry?”  When we worry we try to be in control, to be gods.  So what’s the point of praying if you are trying to be God?  When we pray we put our trust in God and not in ourselves, so there’s no point in worrying and trying to be in control of everything.

Since worry is a temptation, it comes from the devil who wants to get us anxious.  The devil disturbs our peace so that we take our focus off God and put it on ourselves.  When we worry we listen to the devil and not to God.

You might ask: “So Father, why do you still worry?” 

I think worry is inevitable, just as temptation in general is.  Temptations challenge us to exercise.  Virtues are “spiritual muscles” that require nourishment (prayer and the sacraments) and exercise (fighting temptation).  When worry comes my way I know I have a choice.  I can obsess or I can exercise by practicing its opposite—trust or faith.  This is where I find certain slogans from Twelve Step Recover programs helpful: “Let go and let God;” “One day at a time;” “This too shall pass.”  I also use the prayer that Jesus told St. Faustina to put on the image of Divine Mercy.  I take a deep breath and pray “Jesus,” holding this “name above every name” (Phil. 2: 9) in my heart and in my lungs as long as I can.  Then I breathe out my worries with “I trust in you.” 

Ultimately trust involves believing in the words of Isaiah 49: 15: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”  God loves each one of us with a deep maternal love.

St. Teresa of Kolkata once said:  “People say that God will never give you more than you can handle.”  Then she added: “I just wish God didn’t trust me so much.” 

Yes, God trusts us.  God allows temptations so that we can grow.  God wants us to grow in the trust that will bring freedom and peace.  Though loving parents are tempted protect their children from all pain and suffering, the world is not free of those.  Painful challenges are part of life.  Some decisions lead to suffering from which children learn important lessons about consequences.  God, loving us like a parent, does not protect us from challenges and consequences.  God trusts us more than we trust ourselves.  Through painful challenges we grow stronger.  Through suffering we learn empathy.

Easier said (or in this case written) than done.  I pray that I remember the words I’ve written the next time I start worrying….