Monday, December 28, 2009

The Holy Family

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. I celebrated Mass and preached at a local Milwaukee convent and the following is the gist of what I said.

St. Luke is the only gospel-writer to tell a story that occurs during the period of time from when Jesus was born to His baptism in the Jordan River when He was about 33. I wonder about that. Why was it so important for Luke to include this story? I think he did so in order to encourage and console families.

The Holy Family consisted of a sinless mother, a near-perfect foster father, and the sinless Son of God. A perfect family, and yet, they had their problems and misunderstandings as we read in Luke 2: 41-52. This fact should be a consolation to every family.

Yet Luke also challenges us in this story to see the bigger picture. In response to His mother Mary's questions, Jesus explained His behavior this way: "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Jesus challenged Mary to think not only in terms of their physical or blood relationship, but also in terms of the deeper spiritual relationship that Jesus had with His heavenly Father.

We see this same challenge later in Luke's Gospel. In Luke 8: 19-21, when His mother and close relatives were unable to see Jesus because of the crowd, He responded: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it." And in Luke 11: 27-28, when a woman praised Mary saying, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts that at which you nursed," Jesus responded: "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it." In both these cases Jesus teaches that the spiritual relationship is more important than the physical relationships of His family.

We are not physically related to Jesus yet we have a very deep relationship with Him. Through Baptism we've been joined to His Body. Through the Eucharist His Blood flows into our blood, His Body is joined to our body. In Baptism and the Eucharist we are transformed and can truthfully call God our Father, our Abba, just as Jesus did. Jesus is our Blood-Brother.

The challenge is for us to be aware of this in our daily lives, to "see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God," for "so we are" (1 John 3: 1), and to love one another as the brothers and sisters we are in Christ. This is how Christians today are a contemporary incarnation of the Holy Family.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Our Baby God

I wondered about the title I gave this particular entry. Somehow it didn't seem right. The expression "Divine Child" or "Christ Child" sounded better. Yet, the reality we celebrate today is that God became a tiny, fragile baby. The Divine Word through whom everything was created, became a baby completely dependent upon His earthly parents. He cried, had to be nursed and fed, couldn't roll over on His own, spit out his food, soiled Himself, and in time, talked baby-talk. It sounds almost scandalous to say those things, yet they are part of the truth that God became human and lived our human existence, including the first fragile days, weeks, and months of it. If this is at all scandalous, it's the scandal of the cross. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity began His earthly life on the wood of the manger and died on the wood of the cross. He, the eternal God, could die because He became human, lived as a weak baby and died as a crucified man. This "scandal" is the mystery of love, of what lengths God will go to prove His love for us.

Unfortunately much of our Christmas art makes it hard for us to appreciate this truth of our faith. I have Christmas cards and holy cards that make the newborn infant appear to be a two year old child with wisdom beyond His years, blessing the shepherds and animals and wise men who come to visit Him.

That's why my favorite image of the Baby Jesus is one that a Twin Cities artist, Christopher Santer, painted some years ago. I first saw it when I visited the National Evangelization Teams office in West St. Paul in 2000. In a corridor, on a wall, was a copy of a painting that had Mary raising her newborn infant in the air. And the baby looked like a real baby, with unfocused, startled eyes as though He were asking, "Whoa! Where am I?!" I immediately asked who the artist was and where I could get a copy of this painting. It now hangs in the office of the Apostleship of Prayer--a constant reminder that God loved us so much that He became a baby.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

To Denmark and Back

That title makes it sound as though I took another trip across the Atlantic, but the truth is that I went to Denmark, Wisconsin on Tuesday afternoon and returned yesterday. Denmark is the location of the Monastery of the Holy Name of Jesus, a group of nine Discalced Carmelite Sisters. Mother Mary Elizabeth had asked me to lead the community's Advent Penance Service.

I had the blessed opportunity to meet with Mother for about an hour after I arrived and had one of those "God-incidences" or "small world moments." I told Mother that I had just been to Fatima and her face lit up. Before entering the Carmelites, Mother had been part of a religious group of women associated with the World Apostolate of Fatima. She made several trips to Fatima and so we were able to share our experiences of that special place. She told me: "What Lourdes is for the body, Fatima is for the soul." That certainly rings true for me. I continue to reflect on my recent pilgrimage to Fatima and to savor the graces of that visit.

Before celebrating Mass I had another "God-incidence." In the sacristy was a copy of an icon that I have hanging in my room at the Marquette University Jesuit Community. It was given to me by Fr. Mark Kirby a few years ago when I visited with him in Hamden, Connecticut. He had been a Cistercian monk in Rome and is now founding the new Diocesan Benedictine Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Obviously, I thought, Mother also knows Fr. Mark and she later told me that he is a good friend of their community.

There is a word for these sorts of connections. A friend of mine, Fr. Raymond Gawronski, S.J., who used to teach at Marquette and now works as a spiritual director and professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, calls this "a web of grace." In the Body of Christ we are all connected. But it is also true that within this Body, there are some special connections, like the ones we have in the Apostleship of Prayer and through this blog. It is grace that brings us together.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fatima Itinerary

The story of Fatima goes back to 1916 when an angel appeared to three children--Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta--in preparation for the Blessed Virgin Mary's appearances. Then in 1917, on the 13th of each month from May to October, except for August, our Lady appeared to the three children in a pasture called the Cova da Iria. In August the children were detained in jail by government officials and Mary appeared to them on the 19th of that month at a place closer to their home--Valinhos. Today a large basilica and plaza have been built at the Cova and a replica of the original chapel (the Capelhina) is in the plaza next to the site of Mary's appearances.

On my recent pilgrimage to Fatima I, and 25 other pilgrims from Wisconsin, the Twin Cities, the Chicago area, and Austin, Texas, flew to Newark and then to Lisbon, Portugal, arriving on December 8. Fatima is about 80 miles north of Lisbon and on the way we stopped in Santarem, site of a Eucharistic miracle that occured in the year 1247. We were able to climb behind the high altar and venerate at closehand the miracle of a Host that turned to flesh and blood.

Our hotel in Fatima was located just outside the grounds of the shrine, a place filled with an atmosphere of peace. I celebrated Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at the main altar in the basilica and afterwards we visited the tombs of the three children, located just outside the sanctuary.

At mid-morning the next day, I celebrated Mass in the Capelhina, at an altar right next to a statue of Our Lady of Fatima which marks the spot where Mary appeared. Afterwards, we toured the large complex of shrine buildings which include a perpetual Eucharistic adoration chapel and reconciliation rooms. In the afternoon a Sister from the Philippines took us through an exhibit entitled "Fatima, Light and Peace" where we watched a video and saw the various offerings that people have left in honor of our Lady, including the crown which contains the bullet from the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II. At 5 PM I gave the first of three talks for our pilgrimage.

On December 10, after Mass in the Capelhina, we went to Valinhos, the site of the August 19 apparition as well as two of the three appearances of the angel. A short distance away is a village called Aljustrel where we visited the home of Jacinta and Francisco and the home of their cousin Lucia where the angel appeared at the family's well. We also visited the church where the children were baptized and where Francisco visited "the Hidden Jesus" in a wood tabernacle that is still in use. In the late afternoon I gave my second talk which focused on the story of Fatima from 1916 to the present.

Between the Cova and Valinhos there have been erected Stations of the Cross. On the next morning we walked and prayed the Stations which were given by Hungarian Catholics from around the world who had fled their homeland during the post-World War II period of Communist oppression. The Stations end at a beautiful chapel which they also financed. In the afternoon we celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Mass in a new part of the shrine located under the plaza and in front of another large church built to accomodate close to 15,000 people. I gave my third and final talk afterwards.

On December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass in the Capelhina as the sun rose. After breakfast we boarded our bus and drove to Batalha, where there is an impressive 14th Century church. We then drove to Nazare, a coastal town where one of the oldest known statues of the Madonna and Child is venerated. Many explorers and missionaries, including St. Francis Xavier, paid homage to our Lady here before embarking on their perilous journeys. Though the beach was deserted, I took off my shoes and socks and put my feet in the Atlantic Ocean which was warmer than I'd expected, warmer than Lake Michigan this time of year.

Finally, on Sunday, December 13, we celebrated Mass in the Holy Family Chapel, one of the many chapels in the shrine, and afterwards we burned all the many prayer petitions that we had carried with us to Fatima. We drove to Lisbon where we visited an old defense tower built on the Tagus River, a monument to the Navigators and Explorers, Jeronimos monastery, the Cathedral, and the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua. We ate lunch in central Lisbon at a sidewalk cafe on a sunny day on which the temperatures were in the 60's.

On December 14 we chased the sun across the Atlantic and arrived in Newark and then in Chicago, giving thanks for a safe journey filled with blessings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Back from Fatima

I returned late last night from my pilgrimage to Fatima. It was a very blessed time and I plan on writing about the experience over the next week or so. My favorite place was in the beautiful basilica where the three seers of Fatima are buried. Blessed Jacinta and her cousin Lucia (who died in 2005) are buried on the left side of the sanctuary and Blessed Francisco is buried on the right. Above Francisco's tomb there is a statue of him on the wall. He is sitting in a tree with a lamb on his lap and birds all around him. The birds are even on the outer edges of the slab of rock that frames the statue and on the tomb itself. Why?

There is a story told that one day Francisco ran into another boy who had captured a little bird. Francisco begged him to let it go but the boy refused. Francisco offered to pay him to release the bird and ran all the way home and back to get the "ransom money." When the other boy released the bird Francisco called after it, "Now be careful and don't get caught again!"

Like his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, this saintly boy loved God's creatures and didn't want to see any of them hurt. And so the birds surround his statue and his tomb.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pilgrimage to Fatima

In an hour I will be picked up by Juan Landa, director of Mater Dei Tours, and we will go to O'Hare airport in Chicago where we will catch a flight for Newark and then one for Lisbon, Portugal. I am on my way to Fatima!

Juan and I worked together in the summer of 2006 when I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Juan takes care of all the details and I serve as chaplain for the group. About two dozen of us are going to Fatima today.

I am very much looking forward to this pilgrimage. I don't know if I'll be able to blog while I am there, but you can follow our itinerary at the Mater Dei web site. I am carrying the Apostleship of Prayer and all its members, supporters, promoters, and benefactors in my heart and will be lifting everyone up to our Mother.

As I reflect on this pilgrimage, I think about the connection between the message of Fatima and the Apostleship of Prayer. Three words come to mind: prayer, sacrifice, reparation. When she appeared in Fatima in 1917, these are the things that the Blessed Virgin Mary invited the world to undertake more fervently. She assured us that prayer does make a difference and that sacrifices make prayer even more powerful. Finally, since sin has done so much damage to the world, she invited us to do what Jesus did: to make reparation or repair the damage that sin has caused. These three--prayer, sacrifice, and reparation--are certainly part of the program of the Apostleship of Prayer. I am looking forward to reflecting on this some more in Fatima.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Today, the feast of St. Francis Xavier, is the 165th anniversary of the founding of the Apostleship of Prayer. It wasn't formal foundation. The first members didn't gather on this day and decide to create a new organization. A Jesuit spiritual director simply gathered the seminarians under his care and challenged them to be "apostles of prayer" who offered every task and frustration, in fact every moment of their day, for the work of evangelization. Doing this, their routines and difficulties, which seemed so unrelated to the great work of spreading the Gospel, could have great meaning. They didn't draw up by-laws or elect officers. Theirs was a very simple and informal group with a very noble purpose. And so it has been ever since.

In 1985 Pope John Paul II met with national secretaries or directors of the Apostleship of Prayer and reminded them of both the simplicity and the importance this group.

He quoted Pope Pius XII who in 1956 said that the Apostleship of Prayer isn't one Church organization competing with others for the time and attention of the faithful. It doesn't promote a spirituality or devotion that takes time away from others. Rather, it's meant to be a spirit that pervades the entire Church. Pope Pius XII said that he hoped that "the Apostleship of Prayer [would] be so united to the other pious Associations that it penetrates them like a breath of fresh air through which supernatural life and apostolic activity are ever renewed and strengthened."

Why did Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II think the Apostleship of Prayer was so important that everyone should be a part of it? Because it's a Eucharistic way of living that doesn't add to what one is already doing but rather provides an awareness in the middle of all one's activities. Here's how Pope John Paul II put it in his address to the national secrectaries in 1985:

"The Apostleship of Prayer--which I have known and appreciated for many years--wants to highlight the apostolic value of prayer in the Church. ... By instilling the spirituality of 'offering' in union with Christ's oblation in the Mass, the Apostleship of Prayer is right in the line of Conciliar thinking which presents the Eucharistic sacrifice as the foundation, center and culmination of all Christian life.... The Apostleship of Prayer can bring a meaningful and concrete contribution to the diffusion, at all levels, of the great and consoling truth that all Christians can be intimately united to Christ the Redeemer by offering their own life to the Heart of Christ."

So, what constitutes membership in the Apostleship of Prayer? It's as simple as committing oneself to making a daily offering with one of the many proposed prayers or in one's own words.
With this daily offering one joins millions of people around the world who are making their own offerings and joining in a great prayer network that includes prayer for the intentions of all the other Apostles of Prayer as well as for the Holy Father's monthly intentions.

On this anniversary I am filled with gratitude for the mission I have received to be the national secretary or director of the Apostleship of Prayer in the United States. As I talk and teach about living the Eucharist with the help of the Apostleship of Prayer, I can't help being inspired to more consciously do so myself, one day at a time.

Friday, November 27, 2009


One of our motivations for "offering it up" is thanksgiving. Though we offer up the frustrations, irritations, hardships, sorrows, and sufferings of our day because of the assurance that they play a role in Christ's ongoing work of salvation (see Colossians 1: 24), we do so also out of a strong of gratitude.

This idea of making a grateful sacrificial offering of our lives can be found in the First Letter of John. "The way we came to know love was that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters" (3:16). And John continues: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he love us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. ... We love because he first loved us" (4: 7-10, 19).

In other words, our offering is a response to Jesus' loving sacrificial offering of himself. We do so in thanksgiving.

I thought of this yesterday at our community Eucharist when Fr. John Laurance, S.J., the principal celebrant, quoted from an early document in U.S. history. In 1777, at the beginning of our nation's War of Independence, the U.S. Continental Congress issued a declaration calling for a Day of Thanksgiving. In doing so they stated:

"For as much as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor...."

I couldn't help thinking: this is what it means to "live a Eucharistic life." Aware of God's many blessings, we show our gratitude by making an offering of ourselves to God, consecrating ourselves to His service. Thanksgiving leads to offering.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Magis Institute Retreat

I am at the Vina de Lestonnac Retreat Center in Temecula, California where I and Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. are giving a retreat to 17 people. The retreat is sponsored by the Magis Institute which Fr. Spitzer helped found and where, after serving as president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, he is now working. A recent article on the web site of "The Catholic World Report" reveals Fr. Spitzer's ambitious plans to bring together faith and reason and to provide training for ethical leadership. Our retreat ends tomorrow and it has been a pleasure for me to work with Fr. Spitzer whom I've known since we were Jesuit scholastics at St. Louis University studying philosophy. I also have to admit: it hasn't been too difficult leaving Milwaukee in November for southern California.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Real Thing

In my last blog entry, about the football pilgrimage, I talked about the desire within the human heart for transcendance, and that if we do not fill our hearts with that for which they were created, we will fill them with all sorts of substitutes. So, for what were our hearts created? St. Augustine put it well: "You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You." We're made for union with God. Our hearts exist to be united and filled with the Heart of Jesus.

A Jesuit friend sent me a link to a video about a group of Carmelite Sisters in Spain who just finished a retreat with Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Capuchin Friar who is the official preacher for Pope Benedict XVI and the papal household.

I can't help using good Ignatian discernment of spirits here. The pilgrimage to Lambeau was exciting but now it's over and done. The video of the Carmelite Sisters was exciting and is over but has left an afterglow of joy and consolation. If St. Ignatius were here, he'd say that those Carmelites have the real thing.

A Football Pilgrimage

On Sunday I made a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field. Though I grew up in Wisconsin and have been stationed here for the past six years, I'd never made the trip to Green Bay for a Packer game. A good friend of mine invited me to the game on Sunday and I can't help reflecting on the experience.

In many ways football games in the U.S. have become a kind of religion. It seems to me that the human spirit longs for a spiritual experience and when that hunger isn't filled by the real thing, we have all sorts of substitutes to fill the void. Here are some of the "religious" themes that I saw on Sunday.

1. There are rituals in preparation for the event. As we walked to the stadium we passed one tailgate gathering after another and most of them involved "spirits" to help people prepare for the game.

2. The approach to the stadium can only be compared to preparing to enter historic cathedrals. The crowds approach with awe and eager anticipation for the experience they are about to have. Statues of Vince Lombardi and Curley Lambeau stand watch over those entering the stadium.

3. Other "saints" of football are recognized in the stadium where all those whose jerseys were retired are listed as well as those who are in the NFL Hall of Fame.

4. Most of the people in the stands were dressed in special clothing, the jerseys of their favorite players past and present, or in the "liturgical colors" of Green Bay--green and gold.

5. There is a strong sense of tradition in which the past is honored.

6. We were directed to stand and remove our hats for the opening song ("the national anthem"), as a huge American flag was unrolled to cover the field. At the very moment that the song ended two jets flew over.

7. The congregation participated in the game with appropriate "liturgical movements and gestures:--cheers and jeers, jumping up, and giving "high-fives."

In all of this I couldn't help thinking about how the human spirit longs for tradition and ritual, and to feel a part of something bigger than oneself, something that leads you to transcend yourself.
I hope all this doesn't sound irreverent. The experience clearly made me think of how much energy was expended in this Sunday football ritual and how the human heart, if it is not filled with the Spirit, will look for spiritual experiences that take one out of oneself.

Finally, I have to make a confession: it was great to see the Packers beat the Cowboys!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Archbishop Designate Jerome Listecki

There is a lot of excitement today in Milwaukee, where the national office of the Apostleship of Prayer is located. A new Archbishop was named to replace Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Archbishop Dolan is a member of the Apostleship of Prayer who learned about the Morning Offering from his father, and he is deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What about our new Archbishop?

I met Bishop Listecki a couple years ago as he was vesting in the sacristy at Marytown, in Libertyville, IL. He was about to celebrate Mass and I was part of a group of priests that was preparing to concelebrate with him. When I introduced myself he showed immediate recognition of the Apostleship of Prayer and smiled. And his devotion to the Sacred Heart? Here's what a priest of the La Crosse Diocese where he has been Bishop for almost five years wrote about Bishop Listecki's Coat of Arms:

The red on the shield is employed for His Excellency's deep devotion to the Sacred Heart. The majority of the charges of the design are rendered in silver (white) which, with the red, are the colors of the Polish national flag. By these colors His Excellency honors the ethnic heritage that has come to him from his parents, Harry and Alfreda (Kasprzk) Listecki.

Naturally I was very happy to learn of Bishop Listecki's devotion and, being 100% Polish myself, I can't help rejoicing in his ethnic heritage as well!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

St. Louis Priests

This week I'm at White House, the Jesuit Retreat House in the St. Louis area, and I'm giving a retreat to 42 priests of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. We began on Sunday night and will conclude tomorrow. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson (who is a new member of the Apostleship of Prayer's board of directors) will come to celebrate Mass and then we will have the final talk of the retreat. Here is the schedule of talks:

Theme: "Living the Eucharist in Union with the Heart of Jesus"

Sunday evening: "Come away...." A self-intoduction and an introduction to the retreat. The "Come away" reference is from Mark 6: 31.

Monday morning: "Duc in Altum" These are words of Jesus from Luke 5: 4 that Pope John Paul used in his letter "At the Start of the New Millennium." All of us must go deeper in our prayer lives and you can't go any deeper than to enter the Heart of Jesus.

Monday afternoon: "The True Love Story, Part 1" From creation to redemption we have the story of God's love affair with humanity.

Monday evening: "The True Love Story, Part 2" The story reaches its climax on a cross where Jesus reveals to us the depths of God's love.

Tuesday morning: "The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus" Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father but remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament. His Heart beats eternally with love for humanity and from time to time Jesus has appeared to show the world His Heart. We are called to believe in His presence and to celebrate His love in the Eucharist allowing ourselves to be united to Him and transformed.

Tuesday afternoon: "Entering the Heart of Jesus through the Gospels" Jesus is the Word who is alive in the Scriptures. Our prayerful reading of the Gospels leads us to enter more deeply into the Heart of Jesus and to share His thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Tuesday evening: "The Merciful Heart of Jesus" The greatest joy Jesus had when He walked this earth was to heal people spiritually, to forgive their sins. Jesus continues to have this joy in the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Wednesday morning: "Our Call to be Priests, Prophets, and Kings" At Baptism we were anointed with sacred chrism to share in Jesus identity as a Priest, Prophet, and King. How do we do this?

Wednesday afternoon: "The Poor and Chaste Heart of Jesus" The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience are not just for consecrated religious who make these vows. They are for every Christian who has been joined to the Body of Christ in Baptism and is called to become more and more like Christ. How can we be poor and chaste as Jesus was?

Wednesday evening: "The Obedient Heart of Jesus" Of the three evangelical counsels, obedience is the one that is most often used to describe Jesus in the Gospels. Obedience requires humility. How do we live with an obedient and humble heart like Jesus' Heart?

Thursday morning: "Living the Eucharist with the Apostleship of Prayer".

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Final Offering

Throughout our lives we have to let go of many things. Some of those surrenders are easy and most of them are difficult. I recall seeing a T-shirt once that had an image of cat paws and then marks under which were the words: "Everything I ever let go of had claw marks on it." For most people that's especially true of the final letting go at the time of death.

Yet we have many opportunities to practice surrender. As we move from infancy into childhood we surrender having the world revolve around us. When we start our first day of school we surrender the safety of home and the freedom of play. When we marry and start a family we surrender our time and independence. As we grow older we surrender our strength, vitality, energy, and, in some cases, our hair! In time we surrender health and even more of our independence, until the day we are called to surrender our very lives.

We can approach all these calls to let go grasping with claws, or resisting but then gently letting go in trust--the trust that being emptied does not mean losing everything. We are emptied of this earthly life in order to be filled with a life that will never end, the resurrected life that Jesus won for us by emptying Himself completely and dying on a cross.

A book entitled "Monastic Practices" underscores this great secret of living and dying. In a chapter entitled "From death to life" the author, Trappist monk Charles Cummings, writes:

Monastic life is practice for death. ... Of course, a person may anticipate the stripping process of death without entering a monastery. Life itself seems to provide opportunities enough for anyone willing to make use of them. ...

Death takes us whether we want to give ourselves or not. But monastic life is practice in giving ourselves--to others, to God, to life itself. "Whenever we give ourselves to whatever presents itself," says [Brother David] Steindl-Rast again, "instead of grasping and holding it, we flow with it." In the flow is life and meaning. In grasping and holding back there is only frustration and defeat. Whoever would save his or her life will lose it; only one who has the courage to risk letting go of his or her life will save it (Lk 9:24). "Letting go is a real death, a real dying," says Steindl-Rast, but it is the price of possessing a deeper, truer life. Letting go is a sacrificial gesture, extending open hands. The monastic practice of "offering up" little sacrifices throughout the day trains us for death, trains us in how to flow with life, to give ourselves in countless situations so that we know how to do it at the moment of death. ...

At the moment of physical death, this ingrained habit should prompt us to surrender our life to the inscrutable mystery that conceals God's loving care: "Father into your hands I commend my spirit, my life" [see Psalm 31:6 and Luke 23:46].

While Cummings wrote these words from the perspective of a monk, they are true for all Christians and the simple yet profound spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer can help all of us live this "monastic practice" in the secular world of our daily lives. We pray an offering prayer each morning and strive to live that offering each day. As we encounter the surrenders and dyings that are part of life, we "offer them up." Our offerings help us to be open to the life that will come to us only through death--"What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fr. Richard A. McGarrity, S.J.

Yesterday I participated in the funeral of a member of my community, Fr. Richard A. McGarrity. He was 78 years old and had been battling cancer for a couple years. Over the last few months it was clear to all of us--the 50 or so members of the Marquette University Jesuit Community--that his battle would soon be over.

Fr. McGarrity was a fighter. Whether it was competing in a tennis match or battling the weeds at our community's villa in the Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin, Dick fought hard. He fought not only against the physical foe of cancer but the spiritual foe of despondency. While he lost the physical battle, he won the spiritual one. Clearly in pain as he moved from side to side, unable to stand still as he concelebrated Mass, he never gave in to negativity and despair.

I don't know if he prayed the Morning Offering or "offered up" his suffering. I regret now not asking him about that. I suspect he did, though. He was always supportive of me and the Apostleship of Prayer. As a member of the Wisconsin Province's "Jesuit Partnership," the development staff of my province, he periodically included our monthly leaflets in his "thank you" cards to benefactors. I can't help thinking that he must have had a daily habit of offering himself, of surrendering himself to God and His will, and that this prepared him well for his final surrender on October 26.

At his funeral, during the Preparation of the Gifts, we sang a song by Daniel L. Schutte based on the "Suscipe" or offering prayer of St. Ignatius. Its haunting melody and words were the perfect tribute to a man who embodied the Christian call to "offer it up." Here are those words:

"These Alone Are Enough"

Take my heart, O Lord, take my hopes and dreams.
Take my mind with all its plans and schemes.

Refrain: Give me nothing more than your love and grace.
These alone, O God, are enough for me.

Take my thoughts, O Lord, and my memory.
Take my tears, my joys, my liberty.

I surrender, Lord, all I have and hold.
I return to you your gifts untold.

When the darkness falls on my final days,
take the very breath that sang your praise.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

St. Theresa's in Little Rock

I'm in Little Rock, Arkansas this week giving a mission at St. Theresa's parish. The talks are as follows:

Sunday: "Put out into the Deep" Using these words of Jesus from Luke 5: 4--words which Pope John Paul II repeated in his Apostolic Letter "At the Beginning of the New Millennium"--we begin the parish mission recognizing our need to go deeper in our prayer lives.

Monday: "The True Love Story" We reflect on the best love story of all--the love of God that is revealed in the Heart of Jesus.

Tuesday: "The Merciful Heart of Jesus" We recognize our need for reconciliation and healing and that we meet the merciful Heart of Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Wednesday: "The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus" In the Eucharist Jesus gives us His Heart to transform our hearts.

Thursday: "Living the Eucharist" In his Apostolic Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" Pope Benedict called the Eucharist a mystery to be believed, celebrated, and lived. We reflect on how, practically speaking, we are to live the Eucharist.

On trips like these I often try to spread the message of the Apostleship of Prayer beyond the parish where I'm giving a mission. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with Bishop Anthony Taylor. While visiting the diocesan offices, I was also able to meet with Malea Hargett, the editor of the "Arkansas Catholic" newspaper. We talked about publicizing the Holy Father's intentions and possibly providing a link to the Apostleship of Prayer on the diocesan web site.

I find that parish missions are not only opportunities to share the Eucharistic spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer with large groups in a parish, but also to spread the word in parts of the country that may not know too much about it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

I'm on the mailing list for "Instaurare," the quarterly magazine of Christendom College. The latest issue begins with a message from Christendom's president, Dr. Timothy T. O'Donnell, who shared with readers his thoughts for his students and faculty as they began their new academic year. He wrote about the "new evangelization" and held up "the radiant example of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati" who died in 1925 when he was only 24 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990. In talking about this young saint, Dr. O'Donnell made mention of the fact that he was a member of the Apostleship of Prayer.

Blessed Pier Giorgio was clearly someone who not only prayed the "Daily Offering" but lived it. He showed us that Jesus can be met in all the events and people of our day. Here's an excerpt from a letter of his that Dr. O'Donnell quoted in his talk:

"How unfortunate are those who live without faith! To live without the faith, without this heritage to defend, without this truth to uphold by a struggle at every instance, is no longer to live but to waste one's life! for us, it is not permitted to 'just manage'; to live is our duty! A truce then with melancholia, let us lift up our hearts and go forward, always, for the triumph of Christ in the world!"

This heroic attitude led Blessed Pier Giorgio to defend the Church and to serve the poor. In doing so, as he hints in his letter, he never gave in to "melancholia" but kept a cheerful attitude that attracted people to him and to Christ. He found Jesus in friendships and fun. When we begin our day offering God our joys as well as our sufferings, we'll be ready to meet Christ in those joys and joyfully bring Him to others.

You can find out more about this young Apostle of Prayer at:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mount Sacred Heart

From Monday to Friday of this past week I was in Hamden, Connecticut, at Mount Sacred Heart, the provincial house of a group of Sisters called the Apostles of the Sacred Heart. Here's their web site:

I first visited the Mount a few years ago when I gave the Sisters a retreat based on the Litany of the Sacred Heart. This time I was there to give a talk on Monday night at the Caritas Christi Center (see about "Living the Eucharist," and to give classes about the Sacred Heart to the Sisters in formation. From Tuesday through Thursday, for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, I talked about the Sacred Heart. We began by discussing the meaning and importance of the heart and the symbol of the heart in contemporary culture. Then we talked about the the importance of a heart-centered spirituality and the Scriptural basis for talking about the Heart of God. From the Bible through the Patristic era and the Middle Ages, to St. Margaret Mary and the present, we looked at the history of devotion to the Heart of Jesus. We concluded by talking about how to practice devotion to the Sacred Heart today: the meaning of reparation, the role of lectio divina, the Eucharist and living the Eucharist in our daily lives.

It was a good opportunity for me to pull together a lot of things about the Sacred Heart and I'm hoping that the recordings we made of the classes will turn out so that I can share my thoughts on this devotion which Pope Benedict has called "indispensable for a living relationship with God" and of "an irreplaceable importance for our faith and for our life in love" (see his May 15, 2006 letter marking the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII's encyclical Haurietis Aquas:

It was a joy to spend time with these good Sisters--in class, at Holy Mass, over dinner. I had the special treat of meeting Sister Cecilia who is 102 years old and who works at the adult day care center that the Apostles run. She helps to feed those who need extra help and brings a smile to their faces with her warmth and care. On my last day at the Mount, Sister Cecilia was planning her Halloween costume--a dancing angel. The Apostles of the Sacred Heart truly embody their motto: "Caritas Christi Urget Nos" or "The Love of Christ Impels Us."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Durward's Glen

This weekend I participated in the second annual Fall Faith and Family Conference at a retreat center near Baraboo, Wisconsin--Durward's Glen ( The history of this place is fascinating and the location beautiful, especially as the trees in central Wisconsin have begun to change. There are several shrines on the property, including one to Mary, Mother of God and another to the Holy Family. I highly recommend Durward's Glen for a visit or a retreat. I celebrated Mass for the conference as well as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I also gave two talks, one on living the Eucharist, in which I present the spirituality of offering that the Apostleship of Prayer promotes, and the other on Family Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Children's Prayers

I've always thought that the prayers of children are especially powerful. With that in mind, when I'm giving parish missions, I always make myself available to talk to the grade school children about the Apostleship of Prayer. I usually begin my presentation by asking them, "Who do you pray for?" The most common responses are for sick family members, deceased grandparents, a friend, our soldiers, and pets. I ask them if they would pray for something that the Pope asked them to pray for and, of course, they all raise their hands and give a resounding "yes!" And then I ask the question that brings silence: "Did you know that every month the Pope has two special intentions that he wants you to pray for?" Unfortunately I've yet to meet a child who knows this. The Apostleship of Prayer really has its work cut out for it!

The other day, as I met with the children at St. Paul's Grade School in Danville, IL, I was able to share with them something new. In 2004 we began having a Children's Page on our web site. We tried to explain the Holy Father's intentions to children. Starting this month, with the help of Stephanie our administrative assistant and her sister Stacey, who recently provided the illustrations for our new Sacred Heart children's booklet, we now have a much more engaging "kids' page." Each month there will be simple reflections to help children understand the Holy Father's General and Mission Intentions and questions for them to think and pray about. And then there comes the "fun" part. Each intention has a word search and a coloring page. All of these things are in pdf format and can be downloaded. You can find them here:

When I projected these images on the screen in the audio visual room, the reaction was immediate and positive: "Cooooool!" Then I showed them the YouTube daily video reflection for September 1, when I reflected on being at the Minnesota State Fair. They enjoyed that and afterwards I heard that one of the things the kids most enjoyed about the presentation was that there was a priest showing them "good stuff" on the Internet and YouTube.

That's what we're trying to do. Like St. Paul, we're trying to bring the message to people of all ages wherever they are.

Monday, October 5, 2009

St. Paul's in Danville, IL

I'm giving a parish mission at St. Paul's Parish in Danville, IL, about four hours south of Milwaukee. I must admit that I had never heard of Danville before being invited here and on Saturday, shortly after my arrival, I learned that Danville was home to some pretty famous people--Dick and Jerry Van Dyke, Gene Hackman, Robin Yount, Donald O'Connor, Bobbie Short, and Zeke Bratkowski, who played back-up quarterback to Bart Starr during the glory years of the Packers when I was growing up. I even had breakfast on Sunday after the 6:30 AM Mass with Zeke's sister who is a parishioner here and on Sunday evening I had dinner with a retired priest who went to school with Zeke. It's amazing the things I learn as I travel around the country giving parish missions.

The pastor here, Fr. Gregory Nelson, asked me to give a parish mission that would bring together the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the Eucharist, and the Rosary, a devotion that Bishop Daniel Jenky has encouraged the faithful of the Diocese of Peoria to pray by calling for a Year of the Rosary. Here are descriptions of each of the evenings:

Sunday Evening: "The 'Why' and the 'How' of Life": The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are a tried and true manual for the spiritual life. Tonight's presentation will focus on what he called "The First Principle and Foundation"--basically the purpose and goal of our earthly lives.

Monday Evening: "Following Jesus with Mary": Most of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are a reflection on the life of Jesus, the one who shows us the way and helps us attain our life's goal and purpose. Who better to help us know Jesus than His own Mother. In tonight's presentation we will learn more about how the Rosary can help us to know Jesus better.

Tuesday Evening: "The Amazing Gift of the Eucharist": Jesus not only shows us the way to attain our goal but He actually gives us Himself to transform and empower us. Tonight we will savor the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist and consider the effects that is has in our lives.

Wednesday Evening: "Living the Eucharist in our Daily Lives": After the 2005 Synod of Bishops which discussed the Eucharist, Pope Benedict wrote an Apostolic Exhortation entitled "The Sacrament of Love." In it he wrote that the Eucharist is a Mystery to be believed, celebrated, and lived. In the context of a Holy Hour with Exposition and Benediction, we will talk about practical ways in which we can live a Eucharistic life.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

St. Therese

Today is a feast day for the Apostleship of Prayer. We are celebrating one of our two patron saints, St. Therese, who enrolled in the Apostleship of Prayer on October 15, 1885 when she was twelve years old. St. Therese is often called "The Little Flower," a self-description that comes from her autobiography. Here's how she tells the story of her father's response when she shared with him her desire to become a Carmelite Sister:

"Going up to a low wall, he pointed to some little white flowers, like lilies in miniature, and plucking one of them, he gave it to me, explaining the care with which God brought it into being and preserved it to that very day. While I listened I believed I was hearing my own story, so great was the resemblance between what Jesus had done for the little flower and little Therese."

The theme of "little flowers" shows up later in her description of how she made offerings of the moments of her day, especially the pains and sacrifices:

"Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love for you other than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love. ... O my Jesus! I love You! I love the Church, my Mother! I recall that "the smallest act of PURE LOVE is of more value to her than all other works together" (St. John of the Cross's "Spiritual Canticle").

This was the secret of St. Therese, the key to her holiness. She lived out her commitment to the primary duty of members of the Apostleship of Prayer--to pray the Daily Offering one day at a time. She prayed it and then, with God's grace, lived it. Truly she's an example for all Apostles of Prayer and for all Christians.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mission: Laos

It's amazing to me how sometimes the Pope's monthly intentions concern something that is going on in the news of the day. This is remarkable given the fact that the Pope chooses his monthly intentions at least a year in advance. Right now he is praying over and choosing intentions for 2011 and the list will be given to the Director General of the Apostleship of Prayer on December 31 of this year. But then again, in light of Providence, it isn't so remarkable that his monthly prayer intentions concern situations in the world that are in great need of prayer.

I ran across a story today about the persecution of Christians in Laos, one of the countries that Pope Benedict has asked us to pray for this month in his Mission Intention: "That by trusting the Holy Spirit, Christians in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar may, amid great difficulties, courageously proclaim the Gospel to their brothers and sisters."

Our prayer for Christians in Laos this month takes on greater urgency because of the following news story from a Catholic News Agency for Asia (

Vientiane (AsiaNews / Agencies) –Christians in Laos are being subjected to constant persecution, with arrests and threats against the faithful, who are sometimes even banished from their home village.

The group Human Rights Watch for Laos Religious Freedom (Hrwlrf) reports that on 3 September in the village Lainsai, in the south, the police arrested Thao Oun, pastor of the local Christian church in Boukham, accusing him of trying to destroy the nation and the government through adherence to the Christian faith. He was interrogated and threatened for hours, with the pressing demand to report on other believers. On September 5, Thao Aom, a Christian convert of only 10 months, was arrested. He refused to recant and authorities have banned him from returning to his village. The next day, Sunday, September 6th, the police surrounded the local church in Boukham and prevented the faithful from entering to pray.

Local authorities forbid Christians to send their children to school and deny them water, medical care and protection of the law, trying to make them outcasts. In this climate, frequent attacks by ordinary citizens, are also being reported, who know they can use violence against Christians without fear of consequences. The communist authorities accuse the Lao Protestant Christians of adhering to religions “imported from the U.S." which is regarded as a "threat" to the political system.

In the late '90s in the country there was widespread persecution and torture against Christians, to the point that Laos was placed "under observation" in the Annual U.S. Report on Religious Freedom, a step that indicates harsh criticism of the government. Following this Vientiane had shown greater religious tolerance, to avoid losing international financial support, which is essential for this poor country. But Hrwlrf warns that recently Vientiane has established closer relations with neighbouring totalitarian states like China, and the authorities have resumed their persecution of Christians. According to the U.S. Annual Report on Religious Freedom in July 2008 alone more than 500 Christians suffered threats and violence to make them recant, including prison, expulsion from their home villages, seizure of livestock (very important for the family economy), denial of the school to children, denial of identity documents.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Week of Travels

Saginaw. Four years ago I was recruited to go to the Diocese of Saginaw about once a month to be the spiritual director for 9 to 12 priests and parish administrators who wanted regular spiritual direction. After consulting my staff, it seemed like one more way to get the message of the Apostleship of Prayer out and it did indeed lead to retreat and parish mission opportunities. But the work of the Apostleship has greatly increased since then and a change in bishops in Saginaw provided a natural opportunity to end that commitment. So on Monday and Tuesday I went to Saginaw for the last time as a regular spiritual director.

Omaha. Last night I was in Omaha as the speaker at an annual banquet honoring people in the area who are working with the Jesuits there and who embody the ideals of St. Ignatius Loyola. I spoke about the Ignatian and Eucharistic spirituality of the Apostleship. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius culminate in a prayer of surrender (the "Suscipe" or "Take, Lord, Receive") which can be renewed every day by means of the Daily or Morning Offering. It's an act of love--returning love for God's love. As God has given us His very self in Jesus who became flesh in order to offer His flesh on the cross and in the Eucharist, so we return His love by offering our entire selves to Him, one day at a time. This offering is what it means to live a Eucharistic life, joining the offering of ourselves to the perfect offering Jesus made and renews in every Mass.

Northern, IL. Tomorrow I'll be at Marytown in Libertyville, IL for the annual board meeting of the Institute on Religious Life ( In the afternoon I'll drive to the Bellarmine (today's his feast!) Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, IL. From Friday evening until Sunday noon I'll lead the retreatants in the Spiritual Exercises by means of eight half-hour talks.

Though I've written about my travels, the work of the Apostleship involves so many more people--from my small staff of three full-time and two part-time employees, to all our financial supporters and promoters, to all those people praying with and for us. And our faithful local volunteers who gathered today to send out the annual Fall mailing of our flyer and the leaflet that has Pope Benedict's monthly prayer intentions for 2010.

AMDG. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. All for the greater glory of God!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Esto Vir

On the Interstate yesterday I followed a truck that had signs on the back indicating that it was part of "Sunday Night Football." I was on my way to Green Bay where I gave a talk today to over 100 men who are part of a Catholic men's group called Esto Vir (

I met with some of the leaders over a fish fry on Friday night and they told me about the origin of the group and its name. It comes from #4 in the first chapter ("Character") of St. Josemaria Escriva's book The Way: "Don't say, 'That's the way I am - it's my character.' It's your lack of character. Esto vir! - Be a man!"

I'm sure some people are put off by that line - "Be a man!" It's often used to tell men not to show emotion or weakness, not to cry. And the result is a "macho culture" with all sorts of stereotypes that are denigrating to men as well as to women. Esto Vir doesn't promote that; rather, it calls on men to be a man like St. Joseph who was the focus of the first speaker at today's meeting--Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay. Bishop Ricken told personal stories of how in times of need he was not too proud to ask for help. He turned to St. Joseph and went to the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal, Canada, where he asked the foster father of Jesus to help him raise over $100,000 to pay the bills of his seminarians when he was bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was inspired to have a special collection in his diocese and the people contributed over $300,000.

Bishop Ricken's simple message - "Go to Joseph" - is the title of a new book by the late Fr. Richard Gilsdorf that was made available at the meeting. The editor, Patrick E. Beno, drove to the printer the day before to pick up copies "hot off the press." The Publisher is "Star of the Bay Press" and copies are available through Catholic Word ( Bishop Ricken wrote the Forward and Appendix 3 contains Pope Benedict's homily for this year's Feast of St. Joseph, given in Cameroon, Africa.

The mission statement of Esto Vir is: "Challenging men to live extraordinary faith and leadership in everyday life." In a world that has very confused and distorted ideas about what it means to be a man, Esto Vir has a clear and simple message. To be a man means to be like Joseph, whose foster son - the Son of God - "reveals man to man himself" (Vatican II's Gaudiem et Spes #22), and, in a particular way, reveals true masculinity to men. Esto Vir encourages men to "put on Christ" as St. Paul says (Romans 13: 14), "and grow in the virtues of men empowered by the Holy Spirit: leadership, honesty, integrity, humility, fortitude, loyalty, obedience, chastity, spirit of service" (Esto Vir brochure).

I followed a truck on its way to broadcast a football game, something that in many ways is an unfortunate caricature of what it means to be a man today. I found an expression of true manhood in Esto Vir.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our Kids' Booklet

A recent issue of the Catholic Herald, the Archdiocesan newspaper of Milwaukee, had a very good article about our new booklet for children Do You Know the Sacred Heart of Jesus? It tells the story of the creation of this booklet by interviewing the author (me) and the artist (Stacy Schmude). The article can be found in their online edition:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back Home

After some vacation and a preached retreat in Minnesota, I'm back in the office. I supect many of us have the same reaction: it's good to get a break, but the work that piles up almost makes one wonder whether it was worth it.

What's helpful is knowing that I'm not alone in the work of the Apostleship of Prayer. Besides a great staff and group of volunteers, there are the many, many people out there who are praying for and with this apostolate.

In a recent monthly e-newsletter and in a letter that accompanied the monthly leaflets that we mail out, we asked for "testimonies." We wanted to hear from the many people who make a daily offering just what this offering means to them. How it helps them. Here are a couple of the responses that I've already received:

From Simon in Maryland: "I have been a member of the Apostleship of Prayer for over a year. I offer up my daily joys and sufferings to Jesus. I daily include the Holy Father, you, the members of the Apostolate while I pray the rosary. I daily visit the website and use the Spiritual Resources section. I go to the daily intention and read your thoughts and hear your message. It is such a blessing. I do indeed agree that it is a simple profound way of life. I am so happy to be involved in this apostolate. I am praying for increased membership and greater devotion to the Sacred Heart."

From Earl in Georgia: "Father I just love the prayers of the Pope's daily offering and monthly intentions and the prayers for the month. It adds so much to my own prayers. Opens up my prayer life to all the world and works of the church. Sometimes our personal prayers can seem to be a little on the selfish side. Well the Apostleship of Prayer takes care of that little guilt trip. Now we are praying for the whole world and in union with our beloved Pope and the Church. Seems like it opens my heart as much as it opens my prayer life."

And from Michele in New York: "When I say the Daily Offering prayer, I offer up all that I am and all that I have to Jesus. Everything--in what I do, what I say, what I wear, what I eat, who I see and/or visit; and pray that together, in union with the Sacrifice of the Mass, God will accept this offering (of Abel) in reparation for sins, salvation of souls, and reunion of Christians and answer intentions."

Being able to read how "offering it up" helps people makes coming back to work a real pleasure.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Offering Joys

In the traditional Morning Offering prayer we say that we offer our daily joys to the Lord, but those often go unnoticed and forgotten. We tend to turn more to God in our pains than in our joys and when we offer something up, it's often our sufferings and trials. That's important. We ought to join our sufferings to the cross of Jesus and in that way join in the work of salvation. That's what St. Paul did. In Colossians 1: 24 he wrote: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church...."

But the Lord wants us to offer up everything. He wants us to share our joys with Him as well as our sufferings.

With that in mind yesterday, I was more conscious of offering my joys to God. What were they? The joy of a beautiful day of vacation in Minnesota and the opportunity to golf with Denis, a good friend and longtime retreatant at the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo where I was on the staff for three years and where I continue to give about three retreats a year.

The day was beautiful. The golf course, Applewood Hills, with holes bordered by apple trees, was beautiful. The weather was perfect for golf. The flowers around the course were at their peak. The golf itself was so-so. Some good shots--enough to keep me coming back--but more bad ones. That didn't matter. In fact, the golf was more an occasion to share some quality time and good conversation with a friend while walking in the beauty of creation.

It was, I think, a taste of heaven. Another friend of mine calls these times, these joys, "little hors d'oeuvres of the heavenly banquet." Remember: Jesus described heaven as a big banquet. Earthly joys are appetizers of the banquet. They whet our appetite for more, for the joys to which earthly joys pale in comparison. If these appetizers are so good, imagine what the main course will be!

So it's good to consciously share our joys with the Lord. In doing so we savor them and our hearts become more grateful and our attitudes more positive. And out of a grateful heart we offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father. That's what it means to live a Eucharistic life, the simple and profound life that we promote in the Apostleship of Prayer.

Thanks Denis! And thank you Lord!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Daily Offering Prayer

Sometimes people ask me: "What's the official Morning Offering Prayer?" They wonder if they are praying in union with the Apostleship of Prayer throughout the world if they don't use the traditional formula, or one of the Daily Offering Prayers on our web site or in our printed materials. The answer is that any Daily Offering Prayer is acceptable, including the one that you pray spontaneously, with your own words, from the heart.

I usually make the Morning Offering as soon as I wake up and before getting out of bed, but I know that often, in my pre-caffeinated state of mind, my offering is more a mindless routine than a fervent prayer. I trust God knows my intention of making every conscious and unconscious moment of my day an offering. And I can always renew my offering later when I am more alert. This is where other versions of the Daily Offering--the Trinitarian Prayer from our international office in Rome or the Morning Offering of St. Terese--can be helpful. Different prayers, including our own spontaneous ones, can help us to pray the offering and not just say it.

The following prayer was sent to me by a Jesuit of the Maryland Province whom I recently had on retreat. It was written by Fr. James Devereux, S.J. several years ago when he was provincial and it was sent to every member of the Province.

O Jesus, I come before you at the
beginning of this day.
I gaze at your face, I look upon
your side pierced by the lance.
Your wounded heart speaks to me of
God's love poured out for us.
Take, Lord, and receive my heart:
the words of faith that I speak,
the works of justice I would do,
my joys and sufferings.
When I come to the Eucharistic table,
gather my offerings to your own
for the life of the world.
At the end of the day, place me
with Mary, your mother,
and for her sake take me to
your Heart.

Monday, August 24, 2009

David Kauffman

For the next week and a half I'll be vacationing in Minnesota and as I drove up here yesterday I listened to some CD's that a Jesuit friend of mine loaned me. They're by a Catholic recording artist named David Kauffman ( He has some wonderful songs both for meditation and for worship. One song from his album "Be Still" especially caught my attention because it's all about making a daily offering of one's life. Here are the lyrics:

I Will Make This Day My Prayer

I will make this day my prayer

I will give you everything that I am and do today
I will give you all my cares, all my joys and sufferings
I will make this day my prayer

And when I work may my work usher in your reign
And as I go may I go with you
And when I speak may my lips sing your praise again
May my words be light and truth

And when I see my friends may they see you in me
And may I see your face in them
And may our conversation lead us to the freedom
That your presence beckons in

And when I ask forgiveness may my heart be true
And may I offer forgiveness too
And when we reconcile may we be one in you
May forgiveness make our hearts new

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Padre Alberto Hurtado

On this day in 1952 a holy Jesuit by the name of Alberto Hurtado died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 51. In his youth he wanted to be a lawyer in order to defend and help the poor of Chile, but after graduation he entered the Jesuits. Deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he shared God's love for the poor and abandoned, getting involved in the labor movement and founding shelters for street children. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1994 and Pope Benedict XVI canonized him in 2005.

Padre Alberto is a model for us as we strive to make an offering of every moment of our lives. This is what it means to "live the Eucharist." In the following excerpt from one of his writings entitled "The Eucharist as Sacrifice," he makes it clear that each one of us is called to join the sacrifices that are part of our daily lives to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. This will make the "immolation" of our lives a perfect offering.

The Eucharistic sacrifice is the renewal of the sacrifice of the cross. Just as in the cross, all are incorporated into Christ, in the same way all are immolated in Christ and with Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice.

This is actualized in two ways. The first is to offer to the heavenly Father as our own, the immolation of Jesus Christ, for it is ours as well. The second way is more practical, it consists in adding to the Eucharistic sacrifice our own personal immolations, sacrificing our works and difficulties, our evil inclinations, crucifying our old selves with Christ. In this way, in participating personally in the victimhood of Jesus Christ, we are transformed into the divine Victim. As the bread is truly transubstantiated into the body of Christ, in the same way all the faithful are transubstantiated spiritually with Jesus Christ, Victim. In this way, our personal immolations are elevated to become Eucharistic immolations of Jesus Christ, who as head, assumes and makes his own the immolations of his members.

What horizons are thus opened to the Christian life! The Mass would become the center of the day and of life itself. With our gaze on the Eucharistic sacrifice, we would always be hoarding sacrifices to be made and offered in the Mass .

My Mass is my life, and my life is a prolonged Mass!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Outreach to Jesuits

I'm in Wernersville, PA again, at the old Jesuit Novitiate which is now a Spiritual Center for retreats and a community for retired Jesuits. I'm preaching an eight day retreat to over 30 Jesuits, primarily from the Maryland Province but also including a couple Jesuit students from other countries, the mission superiors for Micronesia and for Lebanon, and a couple other Jesuits from the New York and New England Provinces. The retreat is called "A Heart-Centered Approach to the Spiritual Exercises."

I'm not the only director. Fr. Phil Hurley of the Maryland Province joined the Apostleship of Prayer's national office on July 1 as the director of youth and young adult ministry [see]. Though the youngest retreatant here is about 40 and half are over 70, it's important that we work with other Jesuits in reviving the Apostleship of Prayer. In fact, Fr. Hurley will focus a lot of his attention on Jesuit high schools and universities, working with them to introduce their students to the Eucharistic way of life that the Apostleship promotes. Our hope is also to create a "mission band" of young Jesuits who will give youth retreats during the summer and be available as much as possible for retreats, talks, parish missions, and conferences during the school year.

We're very hopeful. At the beginning of the month we sent out our monthly email newsletter and within two days Fr. Hurley received two invitations--one from Houston and another from Monterey, CA.

Giving a retreat to 30 Jesuits is an opportunity for us to share the good news of the Apostleship of Prayer's revival in the U.S. and to invite them to be part of that.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Archbishop Raymond L. Burke

On Saturday I drove to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin (see Sister Christa Marie, whom I met in June when I gave a retreat to her order, the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George, had arranged for me to concelebrate Mass and to have lunch with Archbishop Raymond Burke. When he was Bishop of La Crosse, Archbiship Burke spearheaded the construction of this beautiful shrine. He is very devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and has promoted the consecration of families, homes, schools, and work places in every parish and diocese where he has served. When he was Archbishop of St. Louis he had a shrine to the Sacred Heart constructed in the cathedral. Currently he serves the Church in Rome where he is the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, which has been called the Supreme Court of the Catholic Church. I first met Archbishop Burke in 2003, shortly after I became the U.S. director of the Apostleship of Prayer, when we participated in a Men's Conference in Marshfield, Wisconsin. In various ways--through articles in his diocesan newspapers, by enclosing the annual leaflet with the Pope's monthly intentions in his Christmas cards, by his monetary gifts and personal encouragement--he has been a tremendous supporter of the Apostleship.

I shared with Archbishop Burke the new kid's booklet that we have published to introduce children to the Sacred Heart. He was very affirming of its catechesis and asked for extra copies for his younger relatives. We also talked about the growth of the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S. and our efforts to reach out to youth and young people through a new Jesuit staff member, Fr. Phil Hurley.

On the three hour drive to La Crosse I'd wondered whether I should be going. Was such a trip worth it? On my drive back Saturday afternoon there was no doubt in my mind that it was Providence that had brought the two of us together once again to support one another in our efforts to spread the word about the love of God revealed in the Heart of Jesus.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Jesus is Everything!

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of my religious order, the Jesuits. Every year I find myself reflecting on the life of this man and the order he founded--our history, spirit, and charism. When St. Ignatius and the first Jesuits began their work people asked them who they were. St. Ignatius was very clear: they were not to be known as the followers of Ignatius or "Ignatians." They were followers and companions of Jesus. He, not Ignatius, was to be their model. Thus came the name, which at the time was quite radical, "Company of Jesus," or, as it was translated from the Latin, "Society of Jesus." Jesus was to be the center of their lives. He was everything to them.

I thought of this today in conjunction with a story about Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the 28th General Superior of the Jesuits. In a series of autobiographical interviews early in 1981, before he was struck by a debilitating stroke, Fr. Arrupe answered the question: "For you, who is Jesus Christ?" His response would, I think, make St. Ignatius proud:

That same question was asked me, unexpectedly, during an interview which I gave on Italian television about five years ago. The question took me by surprise, and I answered it in a completely spontaneous way: "For me Jesus Christ is everything." And today I am giving you the same answer with still more strength and clarity, "For me Jesus Christ is everything." So, I would define what Jesus Christ represents in my life as "everything."

He was and is my ideal from the moment of my entrance into the Society. He was and he continues to be my way; he was and he still is my strength. I don't think it is necessary to explain very much what that means. Take Jesus Christ from my life and everything would collapse--like a human body from which someone removed the skeleton, heart, and head.

I think this is true for everyone. All are not Jesuits--companions or followers of Jesus in the Society that bears His name. But all the baptized are Christians--"other Christs," members of His Body, the Church. For every Christian, Jesus Christ is "the way and the truth and the life" (see John 14: 6). For all of us, Jesus is everything!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Spiritual Direction in Saginaw

I leave today for Saginaw, Michigan where I've been going almost every month since 2005. At that time Bishop Robert Carlson wanted to make sure that any priest and any lay or religious parish administrator had the opportunity to receive spiritual direction. I was recruited to help with that and have been going ever since. This will be ending soon. Bishop Joseph Cistone is being installed on Tuesday as the new Bishop of Saginaw and, with the growth of the Apostleship of Prayer over the past few years, I decided I needed to focus my time and energy on my duties as national director. Please pray with me for those I have been seeing for spiritual direction in Saginaw and for all priests during this Year for Priests. May the Holy Spirit touch all of them to recoginize the need for prayer and for growth in their spiritual lives.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Priest and Sacrifice, Victor and Victim

The Apostleship of Prayer, with its spirituality of "offering it up," is a Eucharistic spirituality. It's a way to fulfill our responsibilities as the baptized faithful who share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. We call this the "Priesthood of the Faithful." As "priests" in this sense, all the baptized are called to offer worship to God. The worship that we offer is the sacrifice of our lives, which St. Paul called "a living sacrifice" (see Romans 12: 1).

In the second reading from the Church's Office of Readings today, there is a quote from St. Augustine's autobiographical "Confessions." It goes like this:

Good Father, how you loved us, sparing not your only Son but delivering him up for us sinners! How you loved us, for whose sake he, thinking it no robbery to be equal with you, was made subject to death on the cross. He alone, free among the dead, had the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again. For our sake he became in your sight both victor and victim--victor, indeed, because he was victim. For our sake, too, he became before you both priest and sacrifice--priest, indeed, because he was a sacrifice....

Baptized into the Body of Christ, all the faithful are called to be sacrificial victims and victorious priests. We are called, as members of Christ's Body, to join the offering of ourselves and our day to the perfect offering of the Head of the Body, Christ. This is what living the Eucharist means. Making this offering unites us to the one who was victorious over sin and death so that we too will pass from this life victorious.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Offering Something Up

Everyone is familiar with Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." There are all sorts of corollaries to this basic "law" and one to which I usually attend is the following: If there's rain in the forecast and you take an umbrella with you, it won't rain; but if you don't take the umbrella, it will rain.

With that principle in mind I went to the dentist today for my semi-annual check-up and cleaning. I took my appointment book along figuring that, just as having an umbrella would somehow prevent rain, having my calendar with me would prevent my being asked to return for more work. I was wrong.

I have to go back in a week to have some old fillings replaced so that food won't gather in the spaces that are now there. It's a preventive measure and by no means close to receiving the verdict that one needs a root canal done.

As always I went to the dentist prepared not only with my appointment book but also with an intention in mind. As I sit in the dentist's chair and have my teeth worked on I like to have a specific intention that I pray for, offering up the discomfort and pain. Today it was for the staff here at the national office of the Apostleship of Prayer. We have undergone some transition recently with the addition of a young Jesuit priest, Fr. Phil Hurley (who will work with youth and young adults), and the temporary departure of Joseph Rutchik (a young layman who does our YouTube videos and other media work and who recently had a heart valve replaced). Transitions are always difficult and prayers for healing from surgery are always welcome. So I combined those two intentions as I offered up my time in the chair today.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Demontreville Retreat

I'm in Lake Elmo, MN this weekend giving a retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House which is known as "Demontreville" because it sits on the shores of Lake Demontreville. I gave my first retreat here in 1986 and was on the staff from 2000 to 2003. This is my 58th retreat here where they average 65 men a weekend for a silent retreat during which I give fourteen half hour talks based on the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius.

Here is how the schedule goes:

Thursday: late afternoon arrivals, 7 PM dinner, Orientation, 9 PM Benediction and the first talk in which I introduce myself and tell the retreatants that the real director is the Holy Spirit.

Friday: 9 AM talk: "The First Principle and Foundation" or why God made us.
10:45 AM talk: How death puts life into perspective.
2:30 PM talk: How sin frustrates our purpose and goal in life.
4 PM talk: The option of hell.
5:10 PM: Mass.
8 PM: Benediction and talk: Jesus our Savior; the Annunciation and Nativity.

Saturday: 9 AM talk: Jesus is God's Word to us; the Hidden Life; the virtues.
10:45 AM talk: What was Jesus like? Prayer as entering His mind and heart.
2:30 PM talk: Jesus' greatest joy; how Jesus forgives sins.
3:00 PM: Time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
5:10 PM: Mass.
8:00 PM: Benediction and talk: The Passion and Death of Jesus.

Sunday: 9 AM talk: Jesus' Descent among the Dead.
10:45 AM talk: The Resurrection.
2:30 PM talk: The gifts of Jesus' abiding presence: the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist.
4:00 PM talk: Keeping the retreat alive through the Apostleship of Prayer.
5:10 PM: Mass.
7 PM: Departures

In between the talks I am available to meet with the retreatants for spiritual direction.

It's a work-out but giving retreats is my favorite ministry and Demontreville is my favorite retreat house.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Sacred Heart for Kids

I met yesterday with Brian Olszewski, the executive editor and general manager of the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Catholic Herald. He interviewed me for a story he's doing on a new booklet we recently published called "Do You Know the Sacred Heart of Jesus?" In the the course of our interview I was reminded of how much Divine Providence played a role in the creation of this booklet.

For years the Apostleship of Prayer had a small, two-color booklet that was designed to introduce children to the Sacred Heart. When our inventory disappeared we had to decide whether to reprint it or completely redo it. We decided to redo it, keeping it simple and inexpensive, but making it more colorful, informative, and fun.

We began working with several authors and artists but nothing seemed to click. In the end, I took my experience of visiting with children in grade schools and at parish missions and wrote a text based on the question and answer format I used with the children. Thus, the children themselves contributed to writing the booklet. For example, in one parish I asked the children where their hearts were. They all put their hands on their chests to feel their hearts. Then I asked them to tell me where Jesus' Heart was in the picture I showed them. What was the difference between Jesus' Heart and theirs? Of course the answer was that their hearts were on the inside and Jesus' Heart was on the outside. Then I asked: "Why do you suppose Jesus' Heart is on the outside of His body? One girl raised her hand and answered: "Maybe He loves us so much He can't keep it inside." All I could think was: "Out of the mouths of children comes wisdom. Thank you, Lord!"

The question and answer format makes the booklet fun. On the right pages of the booklet are questions which children can answer for themselves, and then they turn the page to see the answer on the left side of the booklet. In that way the booklet goes through the imagery of the Heart of Jesus, explaining the symbolism of the crown of thorns, the cross, the fire, and the wound. All of these show us how much Jesus loves us. And knowing such love, our natural reaction should be to want to return love for love, to give Jesus our hearts, to give Him our whole life. Thus the booklet ends by leading the young reader into making a daily offering.

The art work was another challenge we faced. One artist hit a creative block trying to take a sacred subject--the Sacred Heart of Jesus--and presenting it in a way that would be accessible to children. After all, Jesus is, as Pope Benedict likes to say, the human face of God. And Jesus loved to be with children. So we needed images that would not frighten children but draw them close to Jesus and His Heart. Our administrative assistant, Stephanie Schmude, put together a "mock-up" of the images we had in mind to accompany the text, and shared them with her sister Stacey, a graphic arts student, who tried her artistic hand at illustrating the booklet. We worked with her and the results were beyond what we'd hoped for. I'll be honest: some of the simple images very much touch this adult's heart. Maybe it's a booklet not just for kids, but for all those who are young at heart. Remember, Jesus said that the mysteries of God's love are revealed to "the childlike" (Matthew 11: 25) and that unless we "turn and become like children" we "will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18: 3).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Broom Tree Retreat Center

In the First Book of Kings 19: 4-8 we read about a broom tree. The passage goes like this:

Elijah went a day's journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death saying: "This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers." He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water.... He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

On the mountain Elijah found a cave where he took shelter. God instructed him to stand outside the cave because He planned to pass by. Then there were three phenomena, all of which one would expect to be a manifestation of God: a strong wind, an earthquake, and fire. But God did not come in those ways; He came in an unexpected way--as "a tiny whispering sound."

Tomorrow I'll be going to the Broom Tree Retreat and Conference Center in Irene, South Dakota where I'll be giving a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to a group of men. The dictionary has several definitions for "retreat," and while two of them are positive--a refuge or place of quiet, and time spent in religious retirement--the first definition is quite negative--"to go back or backward; to withdraw." We usually think of "retreat" in terms of a military battle in which one army "retreats" because it is losing. And no doubt life can feel like a losing battle at times. But I see a "retreat" as not so much the admission of defeat as a wise use of time.

Elijah was under attack from Queen Jezebel whose prophets he had just killed. God sent him to Horeb for his safety and the renewal of his strength. When he felt like giving up and surrendering to death, God intervened and fed him physically and spiritually. He left Horeb ready to return to the battle.

The same thing happens today in places like Broom Tree Retreat Center. People come away from the battles of daily life and are strengthened physically and spiritually during a time set aside for rest and prayer. Though this coming retreat is based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius--and "exercise" can be hard and unpleasant work, a real "work-out"--the major work of a retreat is to slow down enough to listen to what God is saying in the depths of one's heart. Usually God speaks, as He did to Elijah, in "a tiny whispering." To listen for and to that "whispering" requires time away from the noise and busyness of our ordinary routine. It means time in quiet and silence. It means slowing down.

That's a "retreat" that everyone can use annually. And it's always a privilege for me to be part of other people's retreat into the silence where God whispers words of love to His beloveds.