Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I'll be leaving tomorrow for villa. "Villa" is Jesuit parlance for vacation. This will be a short version of villa because I couldn't schedule a longer period right now. That will come later in the summer.

In the late 1800's some property on the Chain O' Lakes in Waupaca, Wisconsin was given to the Society of Jesus. The photo here is of a small island just across from this property located on Rainbow and Sunset Lakes. A large non-winterized house known as Loyola Villa was built to accomodate about a hundred Jesuit students who left the heat of St. Louis every summer to study in the Northwoods. Hot water for showers was added in the 1990's!

I'll be spending the time relaxing with about a dozen other Jesuits until next Tuesday. Though the area can get a bit noisy over the 4th of July weekend with all the fireworks, there will be plenty of time to sleep, to pray, to talk with friends, to swim, and to golf. Yes, a big part of my villa will be golf. I like to tell people that I learned to pray on a golf course when I was nine years old. That's when my father picked up the game and I became his golfing partner. I didn't hit the ball very straight and ended up walking by myself an awful lot. Walking and talking to myself. But actually, not to myself. I think those reflective moments alone taught me the value of silence, of being aware of God's presence in the surrounding beauty, and of simply telling God whatever was on my mind.

I won't be doing much walking alone now, though. Not because I hit the ball straighter but because I'll be sharing a cart with someone else. Still, I'm looking forward to this time away to be refreshed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Now that's a good goal for any vacation whether it's a Jesuit "villa" or something else.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Holy Father's Prayer Group

The March 17, 1991 issue of a newspaper called Catholic Twin Circle had an article entitled "The Pope's Own Prayer Group." It was about the Apostleship of Prayer which has a special spiritual bond with the Pope because he gives his monthly prayer intentions to the Church and the world through us. Pope John Paul II expressed his appreciation for this special bond in 1985 when he told Apostleship directors from around the world that the Apostleship of Prayer was "a precious treasure from the Pope's heart and the Heart of Christ."

He also told the directors: "You feel particularly bound to the Vicar of Christ and pray for him every day as the mother Church of Jerusalem did for Peter (Acts 12: 4); and you wish to deepen and make know to Christians the concrete problems that trouble the Universal Church, especially those of the Missions."

The passage to which Pope John Paul II referred is part of today's First Reading for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. As "the Holy Father's Prayer group," the Apostleship of Prayer is, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, very much like the early Christian community of Jerusalem that prayed for Peter when he was in prison. Today we continue to pray with deep affection for Peter's successor, Pope Benedict XVI.

This morning I ran across the following in Fr. Francis Fernandez's meditation book In Conversation with God:

Cephas was not a recognisable proper name, but it was one chosen by Our Lord to denote Peter's new function, a function that would be fully revealed to him later on, when he would become the Vicar of Christ. In our prayer today we can examine the sincerity of our love--shown with deeds--towards the one who takes Christ's place on earth. Do we pray for him every day? Do we make his teachings known? Do we second his intentions? Do we promptly spring to his defence when he is attacked or scorned? What joy we give to God when He sees that we love, with deeds, his Vicar on earth!

Good questions for every Catholic to consider today.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Culture of Vocations

June is a month of celebrations, a time for weddings and ordinations. I've been to several such celebrations this month. And I gathered with other Jesuits from my Province to celebrate anniversaries. One man celebrated 80 years as a Jesuit, two celebrated 60 years of priesthood, and others celebrated golden anniversaries of priesthood and religious life. Some good friends of mine in St. Paul celebrated 50 years of marriage and I sent a remembrance to them of how we first met 38 years ago when I was a Jesuit novice.

All of these are celebrations of vocations, God's call to individuals and couples.

It's been said that there is a "vocation crisis." When we hear that expression we usually think of the call to priesthood or consecrated life, but this is a crisis that also affects the vocation of marriage. Many people are choosing to live together outside of marriage and many marriages break up.

I think what's needed is to foster a "culture of vocations." The word culture comes from a word meaning "to cultivate" or "to till." Basically a culture is the environment within which one grows or develops. It's the soil, as Jesus pointed out in the Parable of the Sower, within which the seed of the Word of God is received. It's the soil in which a vocation is planted.

One way to develop a "culture of vocations" is to practice the Daily Offering and to teach it to the young. Notice: we need to "practice" the Morning Offering prayer; we need to really pray it and not just say it. When we pray the Daily Offering we offer ourselves with Jesus for the salvation of the world. Doing this creates a habit of offering, a mind-set of giving as opposed to taking.

With this habit of offering the seed of a vocation is more easily planted and can grow. This is true for all vocations. Certainly those who receive a call to the priesthood or consecrated life will more readily respond because they have been developing, over time, a spirituality of offering themselves to God and His service. But this is also very true for the vocation of marriage. Individuals who practice the Daily Offering will be more ready to commit themselves whole-heartedly and, in the living out of their marriage vows, will be in the habit of making a total offering of themselves to the other. Finally, this is true for the single vocation. Those who are called to this vocation are not following it because they are selfish or afraid of commitment or afraid of losing their independence. Those who are called to the single vocation find in it a way to offer themselves to God's service in ways that the other vocations do not allow.

The key is that every true vocation involves a call and a response, a gift of oneself. Every vocation involves an offering of oneself. God does not call people to be self-serving, to look out only for themselves, or to take and keep. God calls everyone who is baptized to a particular vocation which requires making an offering of oneself. By using the Daily Offering to foster the habit of making an offering of oneself, we will address the crisis of vocations and create an environment in which every vocation can flourish.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two Hearts Beat as One

“Two Hearts Beat as One”—the title and lyrics of a song by U-2. It’s a nice description of romantic love but it most accurately applies to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

The feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary used to be celebrated on August 22 but was moved to the day after the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. That makes sense. These two Hearts were physically close as Jesus developed in Mary’s womb and they were spiritually united in surrendering completely to the will of God the Father for the salvation of the world.

In the traditional Morning Offering prayer of the Apostleship of Prayer, we make a daily offering of our lives to Jesus “through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” That also makes sense. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of God, took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. As Jesus came to us through her, so we go to Jesus through her.

Praying in this way—“through the Immaculate Heart of Mary”—we express our desire to have hearts like hers. We want to have clean hearts, with no stain of sin, no obstacle for grace to work in our lives and in the hours of our day. We want to have pure hearts, hearts purely devoted, 100%, to the will of God.

Pope John Paul II, in his Angelus Address of July 2, 1989 said:

“The Spirit molded the Heart of Jesus in the womb of Mary, who collaborated actively with him as mother and educator. As mother, she adhered knowingly and freely to the salvific plan of God the Father…. As educator, she had molded the Heart of her son; with Saint Joseph she introduced him to the traditions of the Chosen People, inspired in him a love for the Law of the Lord, communicated to him the spirituality of the ‘poor of the Lord.’ She had helped him to develop his intellect and exercised a sure influence in the formation of his character. …Therefore we can truly say: in the Heart of Christ there shines forth the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit; in it there is also reflected the heart of his Mother. May every Christian heart be like the Heart of Christ: obedient to the Spirit’s action and to the Mother’s voice.”


Friday, June 19, 2009

"Irreplaceable" and "Indispensable"

Happy and Blessed Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!

We often speak of devotion to the Sacred Heart but I think there are some problems with that word “devotion.” There are many devotions in the Catholic Church and by speaking about Sacred Heart devotion the impression is that this is an optional devotion that depends upon an individual’s inclinations and preferences.

Not so, according to Pope Benedict. We can still talk about having a devotion to the Heart of Jesus, but we shouldn’t think of this as being one devotion among many others from which we are free to pick and choose. For Pope Benedict, devotion to the Sacred Heart is “irreplaceable” and “indispensable.”

Those are words he used in a letter he wrote to Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach on May 15, 2006. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s great Sacred Heart encyclical Haurietas Aquas. At that time Fr. Kolvenbach was the General Superior of the Jesuits and the General Director of the Apostleship of Prayer. It’s a beautiful letter that can be found on the Vatican web site. [http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20060515_50-haurietis-aquas_en.html]

Here’s part of what the Holy Father wrote:

"When we practise this devotion, not only do we recognize God's love with gratitude but we continue to open ourselves to this love so that our lives are ever more closely patterned upon it. God, who poured out his love 'into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us' (cf. Rom 5: 5), invites us tirelessly to accept his love. The main aim of the invitation to give ourselves entirely to the saving love of Christ and to consecrate ourselves to it (cf. Haurietis Aquas, n. 4) is, consequently, to bring about our relationship with God. This explains why the devotion, which is totally oriented to the love of God who sacrificed himself for us, has an irreplaceable importance for our faith and for our life in love. …

"Love is never 'finished and complete' (cf. Deus Caritas Est, n. 17). Thus, looking at the 'side pierced by the spear' from which shines forth God's boundless desire for our salvation cannot be considered a transitory form of worship or devotion: the adoration of God's love, whose historical and devotional expression is found in the symbol of the 'pierced heart', remains indispensable for a living relationship with God (cf. Haurietis Aquas, n. 62)."

So today’s celebration is not the expression of one devotion among many but of the devotion that we all have as Christians—our love for Jesus who loved us first and showed that love by dying and being pierced for us. In the words of Pope Benedict, this “cannot be considered a transitory form of worship or devotion.” It’s the Heart of our faith!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Retreating in Alton

I'm in Alton, Illinois giving a retreat to 35 Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George [www.altonfranciscans.org]. My retreat is based on the 33 invocations in the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It's been said that when you give a retreat you also make a retreat and I have to say that being on retreat with these Sisters is a wonderful way to prepare for the Feast of the Sacred Heart on Friday.

This community has a deep devotion to the Heart of Jesus. I'm told that their foundress, Mother M. Anselma Bopp, wanted her congregation to be known as the Sisters of St. Francis of the Sacred Heart, but that name had already been taken when they began in the late 1800's. They had their beginnings at St. George Parish in Thuine, Germany and thus became known by the title of this early Church martyr. Mother M. Anselma died in 1887 and her congregation was officially approved by Pope St. Pius X in 1909.

Their devotion to the Heart of Jesus is seen in their vocation brochure which says that they were "Founded for His Heart," and are "Seeking His Heart," are "Formed after His Heart," are "At One with His Heart," are "Serving His Heart," and are "United in His Heart."

Their Constitutions state:

"The spirituality which is the heritage of our congregation finds expression in the scriptural text: 'They shall look on the one whom they have pierced' (John 19: 37; see Zechariah 12: 10). The vision that we possess, drawn out of the overflowing sources of salvation of our crucified and glorious Lord, is indicated by Christ himself when he says: 'If any man is thirsty, let him come to me! Let the man come and drink who believes in me.' Scripture says, 'From his breast shall flow fountains of living water,' and the evangelist goes on to say: 'He was speaking of the Spirit which those who believe in him were to receive' (John 7: 37-39). His Spirit began to flow as 'living water' when the side of the Crucified One (who will forever be glorified--see John 19: 34) was pierced.

The Sisters shared with me the prayer book of their congregation and there, in the Midday Prayers, I discovered a page entitled "Prayers for the Apostleship of Prayer." Every day, at noon, the Sisters gather to pray an "Our Father," a "Hail Mary," and the "Apostles' Creed" for the Apostleship of Prayer and the intentions of the Holy Father. I've always said that one of the great things about the Apostleship of Prayer is knowing that millions of people around the world are praying for me, for you, and for all Apostles of Prayer, but it's always special to put a face on some of those millions. And to know that a group of women like this--so devoted to the Heart of Jesus--are faithfully praying for us every day at noon.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corpus Christi

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, now known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. As a feast in honor of the Holy Eucharist, it's one that the Apostleship of Prayer celebrates in a special way. What we call a "simple and profound way of life", is a Eucharistic way of life. In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI called the Eucharist a Mystery to be Believed, a Mystery to be Celebrated, and a Mystery to be Lived. This feast of Corpus Christi was initiated in the 13th Century to renew a belief in the Eucharist that had grown cold. This feast is celebrated to this day with special processions in which we take Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, into the streets. As we renew our faith in this great Sacrament of Love, we recognize that through Holy Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ we are transformed. We become what we eat. We are the Body of Christ called to live the Eucharist in our daily lives. But, practically speaking, how do we do that?

One way that we live the Eucharist is by making a daily offering of our lives to God. As Jesus offered Himself to the Father for the salvation of the world, so we join ourselves to the perfect offering of Jesus at every Mass--the ones at which we are present and the ones that are going on everywhere in the world at any given moment. This is what it ultimately means to "offer it up."

In the Divine Office--the Church's Prayer Book--there are three reminders of this in today's Morning Prayer. Two of the Intercessions are:

Priest of the new and eternal covenant, you offered perfect sacrifice to the Father on the altar of the cross, teach us to offer ourselves with you.

King of justice and peace, you consecrated bread and wine as the sign of your offering, unite us as victims with you.

And the "Alternative Prayer" for Mass and for the Office of the feast is:

Lord Jesus Christ,
we worship you living among us
in the sacrament of your body and blood.
May we offer to our Father in heaven
a solemn pledge of undivided love.
May we offer to our brothers and sisters
a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom
where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The daily offering helps us live a Eucharistic life. We offer ourselves to the Father in response to His love and we offer ourselves for the service of our neighbor.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

26th Anniversary

Today is the 26th anniversary of my ordination. I don't think it was a coincidence that I was ordained on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For almost six years I have been serving Him as the U.S. director of the Apostleship of Prayer--the primary way in which Jesuits promote the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus.

Sometimes people ask me if I always wanted to be a priest. I grew up in a fairly religious family where we went to Mass every week and to confession once a month. My parents emphasized education and encouraged me to go to Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, a school which they thought was the best Catholic school for boys in the area. It was there that I met Jesuits for the first time. One of them had a particularly good influence on me at a time when I was struggling and a seed was planted: why not do for other young men, what he had done for me? Why not become a Jesuit? Becoming a priest was just part of the package. After one year of college I entered the Jesuit novitiate with the intention of someday working in an urban Jesuit high school. In the thirty-seven years since, I've never taught in an urban Jesuit high school. God had other plans.

Since I entered religious life primarily to be a Jesuit, I had to consider whether God was calling me to be a Jesuit brother or a priest. I followed the usual course of studies and formation and basically didn't see a call to be a brother so I stayed with the plan with which I entered. When the time came to write a letter asking for permission to begin the process of discernment and approval for ordination, I told my provincial superior that I wanted to be a priest in order to be a conduit or channel for God's grace. I praise and thank God that this desire has been fulfilled beyond my expectations.

I also thank God for all the people who have prayed for me and my vocation. I am convinced that I would not be a Jesuit priest today without the prayer support of many people--known and unknown--over the years. I look forward to meeting them all some day, God willing, in heaven where one of the great joys we will share is seeing how our prayers and sacrifices and daily offerings played a role in one another's lives and vocations.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Board in New York

Notice: that's "Board in New York" not "Bored in New York." New York City's not the sort of place where one gets bored.

Earlier this week the Board of Directors of the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S. met at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. As an incorporated non-profit organization, we're required to have annual board meetings and they are by no means "window dressing." The board helps me make sure the Apostleship in the U.S. is financially sound and pursuing its mission.

Here are our board members:

President: Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., who hosted us at Fordham. Fr. Koterski is a professor of philosophy at Fordham and the editor of the International Philosophical Quarterly.

Treasurer: Fr. J. Daniel Daly, S.J., who is professor of accounting at Regis University in Denver, CO as well as the rector of the Jesuit community there.

Secretary: Fr. James Hayes, S.J., who is the associate chaplain for Jesuit Mission and Identity at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA and who is also the rector of the Jesuit community there.

Then, in alphabetical order, are the following members of the board:

Fr. Doan Hoang, S.J., who is director of Families of the Sacred Heart Program and the California Province of the Jesuits' director of the Apostleship of Prayer.

Mrs. Dorothy Ireton of Bethany Beach, DE who has served on many boards and is very involved in the pro-life movement.

Ms. Margaret Lyons of Greenwich, CT, a Certified Public Accountant and member of the Order of Malta.

I am an ex officio member of the board and Fr. Paul Macke, S.J., Jesuit Conference Secretary for pastoral ministries and Jesuit life, is a non-voting member of the board and serves as our liason with the Jesuit Conference in Washington, DC.

At the recent meeting Fr. Guillermo Arias, S.J., spiritual director at St. Vincent DePaul Seminary in Boynton Beach, FL, finished his five year term and Fr. Christopher Collins, S.J., who was ordained in 2006 and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Sacred Theology at Boston College was elected to take his place.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York resigned from the board a year ago and we are currently looking for a bishop to replace him.