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!