Friday, February 27, 2009

Offering up Winter

Yesterday in Milwaukee we had over a half inch of rain. Last night the temperatures fell to below freezing. This morning I had to scrape ice off the windshield and windows of my car in order to drive to work. What a pain!...especially as the wind blew.

A few years ago I wrote a piece that appeared in the magazine Jesuit Journeys. The title of it was "Winter antidote--offer it up!" That article comes back to haunt me on mornings like today. It's easy to write about offering something up when you're inside, cozy and warm. It's another thing altogether when you're out in the cold trying to get ice off the car.

I pulled out a copy of the article to see what I wrote. Here's part of it:

Isn't winter, in the end, just one big pain? Yes, pain is part of it. It's an inevitable part of it. But when face with pain we have a choice. We can let it bring us down or we can lift it up.

The Lakota Sioux have a purification ritual called the "Inipi." One enters a sweat lodge to endure painful and stifling heat. The discomfort and pain are offered up as a prayer which is made more powerful by this physical suffering. One prays not only with one's mind, but with one's body.

"Offer it up!" In my Catholic grade school days, we often heard this advice. Whenever we encountered frustration, inconvenience, or pain, we were told to "offer it up." There is a deep spiritual instinct that crosses all religious traditions to offer our pain as a prayer. The Apostleship of Prayer encourages people to pray a "Morning Offering" in which we offer to God all our "prayers, works, joys, and sufferings" of the day. The first three are relatively easy to offer. Sufferings are not. I generally avoid them, and when they inevitably come my way I tend to ask God to take them away. I forget to use them as a prayer, to offer them up in union with that offering on a cross by which the world was saved.

Does that mean I now look forward to the pain of a Wisconsin winter? No. But it has lost some of its negavie dimension. It gives me an opportunity to take the pain and offer it as a prayer for others.

Having written that about four years ago, I am convicted every time I complain about the cold. And I'm challenged to practice what I preach. I'm glad I only have to do this one day at a time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jesuit Account of Conscience

I am a Jesuit priest and every year I meet with my provincial superior to make what is called an "Account of Conscience." This goes back to the founder of the Jesuits--St. Ignatius Loyola--and his desire that superiors know their men well. The primary purpose is so that Jesuit superiors will know the strengths and weaknesses, the talents and struggles, of the individual Jesuits who are under their direction and care. With this knowledge it is easier for superiors to assign the men of a province, making sure that they are in the best place both for themselves and for the apostolates.

On Monday I met with my provincial for our annual visit. We talked about my spiritual life and the work I do, my community life and personal health. I have always found this annual "Account of Conscience" to be a very consoling thing. Some people might be afraid of such openness but I've always found it to be quite freeing. I can trust that my superiors know me well, with my weaknesses and strengths. I don't have to second-guess them, thinking, "well if they knew this about me they would never assign me to this work." And since religious superiors represent Christ, my obedience to their commands allows me to trust that I'm doing the will of God right now. That's one of the beauties of the vow of obedience.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Archbishop Dolan, an Apostle of Prayer

The news was announced today that Archbishop Timothy Dolan will be leaving Milwaukee to become the next Archbishop of New York. Milwaukee is the location of the national office of the Apostleship of Prayer and we will miss this great friend of ours and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When he became the Archbishop of Milwaukee on August 28, 2002 he handed out a card with his picture and on the back significant dates in his life--his baptism, his ordinations as deacon, priest, and bishop. And then, under the dates, as a declaration of love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, these words:

All for Thee, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in Thee!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I believe in Your love for me!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, may your kingdom come!

Yes, Archbishop Timothy Dolan is a true friend and apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On June 15, 2007 he renewed the 1899 Consecration of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to the Sacred Heart. And on October 7, 2008 he re-entrusted the Archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. From 2006 to 2008 he served on the Board of Directors for the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S.

I became the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer in 2003 and shortly after I arrived in Milwaukee I made an appointment to meet with Archbishop Dolan. He wrote about our meeting later that year in "The Priest" magazine. Here's what he wrote:

It was going to be a hectic day. As I previewed my schedule, I could see that I had some tough meetings, with some neuralgic decisions to make on a parish merger, elimination of some staff positions due to a budget shortfall, a "come to Jesus" meeting with a brother priest whose drinking was causing a lot of concern and a group of parents upset about the catechesis in their parish school.

But one half-hour on the calendar vexed me most. Sandwiched in between all these "important" meetings was one that seemed perfunctory and unnecessary, and I was peeved that, on such a demanding day, I had to "waste" 30 minutes on such a "low priority" matter. Maybe I could have it rescheduled.

But he came, and the half-hour--it actually wound up going longer--ended up, so I concluded at compline that night, the most memorable and significant session of that "Excedrin day."

This appointment was with a Jesuit, who works out of Milwaukee, as director of the national office for the Apostleship of Prayer. Remember that? I sure did as he spoke, recalling the morning offering on the mirror in the bathroom at home growing-up, so we could dedicate the day to the Lord every morning as we washed our face and brushed our teeth.

As this priest movingly described his simple ministry, things seemed to calm down and become focused as he spoke of a project so simple it was downright profound: grounding each day in the Lord through a morning offering, conscious of a supernatural solidarity with millions of others within the communion of saints doing the same.

What sticks with me from that encounter is the call to a simple grounding in my life. ... What seems clear is that Jesus is calling [us] to simplicity, to a renewal of the basics in our spiritual life. As Jesus challenged, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God!..."

Bishop Fulton Sheen said that "the mark of a Catholic is to find the divine in the most ordinary and simplest places." He explained that our simple faith summons us "to find the divine in a baby in the arms of his mother at Bethlehem, in prayers tolled on beads, in bread and wine, and in the voice of an old man in Rome." ...

That demanding day with all its critical appointments "grounded" me in the visit of that brother priest who spoke to me about something as simple as turning to the Lord first thing every morning and offering the day to Him.

Thank you, Archbishop Dolan! Continue to stay close to the Heart of Jesus in your new assignment. May His Kingdom grow in New York as you place all your trust in Him.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Welcome! From time to time people have asked that I start a blog so they can keep up with my comings and goings, my thoughts and talks. I'm the United States director of the Apostleship of Prayer, an organization that goes back to 1844. Here's our Mission Statement:

"The mission of the Apostleship of Prayer is to encourage Christians to make a daily offering of themselves to the Lord for the coming of God's Kingdom and for the Holy Father's monthly intentions. This habit of prayer encourages a Eucharistic spirituality of solidarity with the Body of Christ and loving service to others. Nourishing this spiritual program is the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus."

That's where the title of this blog--"Offer It Up"--comes from. Many people grew up with the practice of offering up their pains, frustrations, irritations, difficulties. When something bad happened we were told to "offer it up" as a sacrifice and prayer that would play a part in the salvation of souls. This practice comes right out of St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians, Chapter 1 verse 24: "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."

In his second encyclical letter, "Spe Salvi," Pope Benedict asked us to consider a return to this practice if we had forgotten about it. He wrote:

"I would like to add here another brief comment with some relevance for everyday living. There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practised today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ's great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves" (#40).

So with this blog I hope to keep people informed about the work of the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S. as well as to offer ideas to help you "offer it up."