Monday, March 30, 2009

Christ the King in Des Moines

I'm in Des Moines, Iowa giving a parish mission this week at Christ the King parish. You can tell by their web site ( that this is a lively parish. Their pastor Msgr. Frank Bognanno is committed to nurturing the holiness of the parishioners.

The parish mission I'm giving is based on the first part of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Here's how the nights and talks break down:

Sunday Night: "What is my Life's Purpose and Goal?"
Monday Night: "Dealing with the Obstacles to my Goal"
Tuesday Night: "Experiencing Mercy from the Heart of Jesus"
Wednesday Night: "Following the Call of Christ the King"

It's really a very simple process. We begin by considering why God created us. The Baltimore Catechism said it well: "To know God, love God, and serve God in this life and to be happy with God forever in the next life." Created in the image and likeness of God, we're made by Love and for love, love of God and love of neighbor. We're made for union with God. We're made for heaven.

But because we're made for love, we're made with freedom. Love requires freedom. The history of the human race and our personal histories all show that we have misused our freedom, choosing not to love God and neighbor. Sin is the basic obstacle to attaining our goal and it comes in many varieties.

Yet God has not abandoned us. God reached into our helplessness by becoming human and sharing our life. Jesus is the truth about what it means to be human and the way that we can follow to attain our goal and the life that we will find when we attain our goal.

Knowing the mercy of God that comes straight from the Heart of Jesus, we can be free of the obstacles to achieving our purpose. We are free to follow Christ the King--the Way, the Truth, and the Life--who invites us to follow Him in a life of service on earth and eternal happiness in heaven.

That's St. Ignatius' simple formula for conversion and spiritual growth and it continues to help people centuries after he developed it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lolek Group

Last Tuesday I met with the Lolek Group ( ) . Up to 60 young adults, aged 18 to 35, meet twice a month at St. Mary's Parish in Elm Grove, WI. I was invited to speak about the Sacred Heart and Lent. After talking about how our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not performed to win God's favor but in response to His love, I talked about how that love is revealed most clearly in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I call this "The True Love Story." There are all sorts of ideas about love and that word is used to describe all sorts of things, but true love is found on a cross. Here's what Pope Benedict had to say in his first encyclical "God is Love":

This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (John 19: 37), we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: "God is love" (1 John 4: 8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move."

The "pierced side of Christ" is the opening to His Heart from which blood and water flowed to bring eternal life through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Jesus gave His life so that we might have life.

What is the history of this Heart? You could say the Heart of Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is eternal. God, who is Love itself, has an Eternal Heart. His Heart was set on sharing His love and eternal life with creatures He made in His own image and likeness. But when these creatures rejected His love, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity chose to become human. That happened at a moment in time--the Annunciation. When Mary said "Yes" to God's plan of salvation, when she surrendered her will to God's will. At that instant a new life was conceived in her womb. God took flesh and began to develop in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Within twenty-one days a new heart began to beat--the Sacred Heart.

The "heart" is more than the organ which pumps blood throughout the body. It's also a way in which we talk about the deepest core of a person. Having a "heart to heart" talk doesn't mean that our physical hearts actually communicate to one another. But it's important to keep the two together--the physical heart and the heart as the deepest reality of a person.

God continues to speak to our hearts, just as He spoke to Mary's heart through the Angel Gabriel. And when we say "Yes" to God's will, something similar to what happened to Mary happens to us. We give flesh to Jesus today. We live as His Body. Pope John Paul II wrote about this in his 2003 encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia":

The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood. As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord.

This is the "Eucharistic life" to which we aspire in the Apostleship of Prayer: to surrender to God's will one day at a time by praying and living a Daily Offering. Through this daily surrender and by receiving the Holy Eucharist we believe that we are bringing Jesus into the world anew. His Heart now beats within ours. His Heart loves in concrete and practical ways through ours.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Little Way

Yesterday I led a Lenten afternoon of recollection for the Milwaukee chapter of Catholics United for the Faith. As their local spiritual advisor I've been giving these annual talks for the last three years. My theme this year was "The Little Way of St. Therese."

St. Therese joined the Apostleship of Prayer on October 15, 1885 when she was twelve years old. I can't help thinking that the practice of the Daily Offering planted the seeds for her great spiritual doctrine known as "The Little Way." In her autobiography, she wrote that she had great desires: to be an apostle, a missionary, even a priest, and a martyr. But how could she fulfill these desires? She was a cloistered Carmelite nun. She wrote:

MY VOCATION IS LOVE! Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love. Thus I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized.

Yet, she pondered, what does it mean to "be Love"? Again, God helped her understand her call. She wrote:

But how will she prove her love since love is proved by works? Well, the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet scents, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of Love. Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love for you other than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love.

In my talk I told the story of Pranzini, a man who had murdered two women and a young girl and had been sentenced to death. All reports were that he was going to his death angry and bitter and unrepentant. Therese, only thirteen at the time, committed herself to praying and offering up sacrifices for his conversion. The day after his execution she secretly read the newspaper account of his death. Here is how she wrote about it:

Pranzini had not gone to confession. He had mounted the scaffold and was preparing to place his head in the formidable opening, when suddenly seized by an inspiration, he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him and kissed the sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!

Young Therese called Pranzini her "first child."

This is "The Little Way" of St. Therese which Blessed Mother Teresa also followed: to do everything as an act of love for God, to offer all the little (and big) hardships of life for the conversion of sinners.

I ended my talk by asking people to imagine St. Therese arriving in heaven after her death at the age of twenty-four. Who do you think was the first person to meet her? Her mother Zelie? Her father Louis? No. I think the first person to meet her on her arrival in heaven was a man with a big smile on his face who could hardly wait to thank her for the role her prayers and sacrifices played in getting him there. I think it was a murderer named Pranzini.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mother Knows Best!

That's the title of Emily Stimpson's "In Focus" section in the March 15, 2009 issue of Our Sunday Visitor. What caught my eye was the title that appeared on the cover: "Offering it up." What many have thought to be an outdated spiritual practice made the cover of a popular Catholic periodical!

Here's what Emily Stimpson had to say about the expression "Offer it up"...

"Believe it or not, this isn't Catholic code for "Get over it." Although Mom might have occasionnally used it that way, more often than not, when she pulled this one out of her repertoire of cliches, she was calling you to practice the daily habit of self-sacrifice, a prerequisite for sainthood. "

The entire four page "In Focus" section of the March 15 issue is on "Sacrifice" and has some very worthwhile suggestions to help you see the value of making little sacrifices that with God's grace become powerful prayers. I think extra copies of this section are available through the Our Sunday Visitor web site: .

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's in Scottsdale

After giving a parish mission talk at St. Daniel the Prophet Catholic Church this morning, I drove to a neighboring parish, St. Patrick's. Carol Campbell, who manages the parish's web site, has been posting the Apostleship of Prayer daily reflection YouTube videos. We took the opportunity of my visit there to film a brief word. You can see it at the following link:

Monday, March 16, 2009

On the Road Again

It has been much too long since I last wrote. That's one of the difficulties of being on the road and not having easy access to the Internet. Lent is a busy time of year because of all the requests for missions and retreats. Since my last posting--when I was in Aurora, IL for a parish mission--here's what I've been up to....

The day after the Aurora parish mission ended I flew to Orlando, FL and drove to Vero Beach where I met with the Knights and Dames of Malta who live in that area. I began my brief talk telling them about how when I was growing up and hurt myself and started crying, the religious women who taught us would say "Offer it up!" With this beginning to my talk there was an immediate connection. Many of us have had that experience; and many of us have forgotten it. In my travels and through the media, I'm trying to revive that lost sense of purpose. Suffering is inevitable. But what we do with it is our choice. May we make good use of suffering by joining it to the Cross of Jesus for the salvation of souls.

After only two days in Florida (not enough to even burn!) I flew back to Milwaukee, had one day in the office, and then flew to Saginaw, MI where I gave a three and a half day retreat to 28 priests. It's not always easy to talk to one's peers, but I am very committed to ministering to my brother priests. I presented 9 talks based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. In the final talk I talk about the Apostleship of Prayer. St. Ignatius Loyola ends his Exercises with a prayer called the "Suscipe." It begins: "Take, Lord, and receive...." It's a prayer in which we acknowledge that everything we are and have is a gift from God, and since God has loved us so much, it's natural that we return that love. God gave us His very Self in Jesus Christ. Now we give God ourselves through the daily Morning Offering.

After the retreat I returned to Milwaukee, had one day in the office again, and flew to Phoenix, AZ. Last Saturday night I spoke at the 25th anniversary dinner of the Radio Family Rosary show ( During the dinner I was privileged to sit next to Bishop Thomas Olmstead who told me that the Morning Offering has been a part of his life since childhood.

This last weekend I preached at the English Masses at St. Daniel the Prophet Catholic Church in Scottsdale, AZ and today I began a two day mission. I celebrated Mass this morning with parishioners and grade school children and afterwards, with the fourth through eighth grades present, I gave the first mission talk about "The Amazing Eucharist." This is the phrase Pope John Paul II chose to describe the Holy Eucharist. In the spirit of this great man, I try to help people see that if we really reflected on the gift that Jesus gives us in the Eucharist--His very Body and Blood--we would be amazed and would adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament and try to receive as often as we could.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Aurora Parish Mission

I’m in Aurora, IL at Holy Angels Parish these days giving a parish mission. This is one of the ways in which I am able to get the message of the Apostleship of Prayer out there. After preaching at all the weekend Masses (a total of six), I began the actual mission on Sunday night. About 180 people gathered in the church to pray and to hear the message of God’s love which frees us from sin and empowers us to love as Jesus loved. On Sunday night I spoke about “The True Love Story”—the story of God’s love. On Monday the parish celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation after hearing me talk about “The Broken Heart of Jesus.” Tonight I’ll be talking about “The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus” and on Wednesday, the last night of the mission, I’ll speak, as I generally do, on “Living a Eucharistic Life.”

This final talk refers to Pope Benedict’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” in which he says that the Eucharist is a Mystery to be Believed, a Mystery to be Celebrated, and a Mystery to be Lived. The Apostleship of Prayer is an excellent way to live the Eucharist in one’s daily life by making an offering of each day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Souly Walking

Yesterday, March 1, 2009, two young men set out on a difficult journey across the U.S. For seven months, beginning in Ocean Park, CA, they will walk twenty miles a day to Ocean City, NJ. What would possess anyone to do this? Are they raising money for a worthy project or protesting something? No. Inspired by St. Paul, they are going to walk, preach, and witness to the love of Jesus Christ. One of these young men, Jon Leonetti, is the host of a Catholic radio show on KWKY in Des Moines, IA. Jon interviewed me a month or so ago for his weekly youth-oriented show “Martyrs of the Third Millennium.” The title comes from a quote of Pope John Paul II. It’s what the late Holy Father called young people—those who would witness to the Gospel (the meaning of the world “martyr”) and be willing to lay down their lives for Christ. A “Martyr of the Third Millennium” is someone who continually dies to self in order to live for Jesus Christ, just the way St. Paul did. Jon and I had a great half hour conversation on the radio. I, with my desire to help people make an offering of their lives one day at a time through the Eucharistic spirituality of the Apostleship, and Jon, with his desire to help young people develop deep prayer lives which help them live not for themselves but for Christ—we were very much “on the same page.”

Jon and his fellow walking witness, Jesse Weiler, will be blogging, posting photos and videos, and creating a documentary of their journey. You can find out more about all this and see if they’re coming anywhere near your hometown on their web site: . Please join me in praying for them—their safety and well-being, and that they may touch the hearts of many people, young and old, through this amazing journey of over 3,500 miles on foot.