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.