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.