Friday, December 31, 2010

John's Prologue

On the last day of the calendar year, the Gospel reading at Mass is the Prologue of John, the first 18 verses of John's Gospel. Prior to the liturgical changes that followed the Second Vatican Council, the first 14 verses were read at the end of every Mass and were known as the Last Gospel. They culminated with the words: "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth." Taking the entire Prologue or beginning of John's Gospel, as we do today, one might have the impression that verse 14 is the climax. It isn't.

The Prologue has a chiastic structure. It forms an "X" with the theme of the first verses being repeated in the last verses, and the second set of verses being repeated in the second to the last verses, and the third set of verses being repeated in the third to the last verses. This leaves the most important verses in the very middle. And those verses are not "the Word became flesh."

Take out your Bible and see for yourself, but remember that when the Scriptures were written they were not broken down into verses. The chapters and verses that we now have didn't come about until the 16th Century. So looking only at the number of verses, and not the themes, the verses of John's Prologue are not a perfect chiasm. However, the themes of the verses are what make it chiastic.

The first verses--1 to 5--speak of the Word of God who gives light and life. The last verses--16-18--echo that theme, speaking of the grace that comes to us through the only Son of God who is closest to the Father. The next set--verses 6 to 8--speak of John the Baptist and verse 15 repeats the witness of John. Finally, part three--verses 9 to 11--speak of how the Word came into a world which did not accept Him and the third to the last part--verse 14--declares that the Word was made flesh and came among us.

Which leaves, as the center of the chiastic structure of the Prologue, verses 12 to 13: "But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God." We, the baptized, are at the center of John's Prologue. The Word became flesh and lived, died, and rose among us so that we could become children of God. This happens through the Holy Spirit who joins the baptized to Christ, making us one with Him.

All of this is a way of saying that we are very important to God. Or, as John writes a little later in his Gospel: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son..." (3: 16). Joined to the Son through baptism, we are now very close to God. How close? The last verse of the Prologue, verse 18, tells us. Joined to Christ, members of His Body, we are, with Him, "at the Father's side."

That translation--"at the Father's side"--is from the New American Bible. There are other translations that make even more clear the intimacy that Jesus and we have with the Father. The Douay-Rheims and King James translations both say that the Son "is in the bosom of the Father." In ancient Hebrew culture, to be "in the bosom" of another described the closest intimacy possible. It was an expression that was used to describe the relationship of a mother and a child, as well as that of a husband and a wife.

The New Revised Standard and New Jerusalem translations have "who is close to the Father's heart," while the old Jerusalem Bible and Revised English Bible translate this phrase "nearest to the Father's heart."

It's natural, when we come to the end of the calendar year, to look back at all the things we've done, and to look forward, anticipating all the things we're going to do in the coming year. I'd suggest that we do our end-of-the-year reflections a little differently. Look back at all the things God has done for you this past year. And instead of looking forward, spend some time savoring your identity. As a beloved child of God through baptism, you are "nearest to the Father's heart." You are "in the bosom of the Father." If we can begin the new year convinced of that, then we will be ready. For what's most important is not so much what we do, but what God has done for us and who we are. We want all that we will do in the coming year to flow from that.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Mother's Eyes

I'm a great fan of icons and anyone who has been to my office or rooms can easily see that. I have icons all over the walls. They are reminders to me of my family, the Family of God. Many of my icons come from St. Isaac Skete, a tiny Orthodox monastery tucked away among the hills and coulees of southwestern Wisconsin near a town called Boscobel. If you can find your way there and visit their gift shop, you'll be able to purchase slightly damaged "seconds" for half price and, in gratitude for the efforts you took to get there, they'll send you away with a gift icon.

One of my favorite icons is known as The Virgin of Vladimir, The Mother of God of Vladimir, or Our Lady of Tenderness. It was created by a Greek icon writer and was taken from Constantinople to Kiev in 1183. Twenty years later it was taken to Vladimir where it remained until 1395 when it went to its current home in Moscow. What's most striking to me about the icon are the eyes of the Blessed Mother. What those eyes must have seen over the centuries and especially during the time of Communist oppression!

In the sitting area where I pray next to my bedroom, I have on the wall a copy of this icon in a reduced size that emphasizes the Mother and Child. When I pray Vespers and come to the Magnificat I look into her eyes. The Magnificat is a song of joy, but I find the eyes of the Virgin of Vladimir sad.

Lately, as I look into her eyes, I find myself thinking about the Holy Family's flight into Egypt, and today's Gospel (Luke 2: 22-35) where Simeon prophesies that Jesus "is destined ... to be a sign that will be contradicted" and, to Mary, that "you yourself a sword will pierce." We know it was the sword of sorrow, the suffering that only a mother could experience watching her son tortured and dying on a cross. The eyes of this Virgin Mother of Vladimir contain that sorrow.

It's underscored by the Child who clings to His Mother. It's almost a desperate clinging, His eyes fixed on her eyes.

As I look into those eyes I seem to hear Mary saying to me: "Do you see my Child? Do you see how they want to hurt Him and kill Him? This is what sin does to Him. Will you also threaten Him, hurt Him, and kill Him with your sins?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Animals

I remember being fascinated by my grandparents' Nativity scene when I was growing up. It was a complex arrangement with a beautiful background and all sorts of interesting figures, including animals. I wanted to play with them, but they were not to be touched.

Most Nativity scenes have animals, especially sheep. Though sheep are not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the Nativity, it seems natural to include a few with the shepherds who were the first to visit the newborn infant. Nativity scenes, like the one in the main chapel of my Jesuit community, usually have two other animals--an ox and a donkey--which are also not to be found in the Gospel but which were probably the residents of the stable where Jesus was born. A few days ago I ran across a Scriptural reference to them: Isaiah 1: 3.

An ox knows its owner,
and an ass, its master's manger;
But Israel does not know,
my people has not understood.

When I was growing up and we set up the Nativity figures, my mother told me to put the animals close to the manger where they could breathe on the baby Jesus to keep Him warm. This passage from Isaiah is another reason to place the ox and donkey close to the crib. They recognize their Creator.

Pope Benedict's Mission Intention for December has been: "That the peoples of the earth may open their doors to Christ and to his gospel of peace, brotherhood, and justice." When someone knocks on our door we are reluctant to open it unless we first recognize and feel safe with the person knocking.

According to Isaiah, while the animals recognized their Master, Israel (and we could add, the world) has not recognized and welcomed Him. Is it fear that keeps us from opening the door and letting Him in?

Shortly after his election as pope, in the homily at his inaugural Mass, Pope Benedict XVI used this image of opening doors, an image that Pope John Paul II also used frequently. Pope Benedict said:

At this point, my mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in Saint Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” ... Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you...: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.

We have spent Advent preparing to open the doors of our hearts to Christ this year. As we now celebrate His birth, let us recognize our Maker as we draw near to His manger.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

St. Ignatius' First Mass

On Christmas Day, 472 years ago, St. Ignatius Loyola celebrated his first Mass. He had been ordained 18 months earlier, on the feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 1537. He had been hoping to celebrate his first Mass in the land where the Son of God took flesh and was born, but because of the threat of Turkish pirates no ships would sail from Italy to the Holy Land. He settled for the next best place--the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. This church, one of the major basilicas of Rome, was the first Roman church built in honor of the Mother of God. In it was a chapel dedicated to the Nativity and relics from the manger where Jesus was laid after His birth. If he couldn't celebrate his first Mass in Bethlehem, he would celebrate it there, on Christmas Day.

Christmas is a Eucharistic feast. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took flesh and was born in order to give His flesh for the life of the world. The Bread of Life was born in a town named Bethlehem, a name which means "House of Bread." His mother placed Him, who would one day say, "my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink" (John 6: 55), in a manger, a feeding trough.

After (and probably during) that first Mass and throughout his ordained life, St. Ignatius cried during Mass. Such tears are a sign of spiritual consolation which St. Ignatius describes in his "Spiritual Exercises" as "when some interior motion is caused within the soul through which it comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord.... Similarly, this consolation is experienced when the soul sheds tears which move it to love for its Lord..." (#316). His early Jesuit companions testified that St. Ignatius felt cool and without consolation if he did not shed tears three times during Mass. It got so "bad" that "his doctor forbade him to surrender to tears because it was destroying his eyesight and his overall health. As was his wont, he obeyed his doctors and received even more consolation, albeit without tears" (Harvey Egan, S.J., "Ignatius Loyola the Mystic," page 190).

If we pause and reflect, it will be clear that today, Christmas, is a day of consolation. How much Jesus loved us by becoming incarnate, being born, living our human life with its joys and sorrows, and even sharing in our death so that we who die might share in His resurrection. How much Jesus loves us by giving Himself to us in the Eucharist. If we really thought and prayed about this we would have what Pope John Paul II hoped for the entire Church in his Encyclical on the Eucharist--"amazement." It's an amazement that could even bring us to tears.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"In the Bleak Midwinter"

The other day a member of my Jesuit community asked me if I was familiar with a poem by Christina Rosseti which she wrote in 1872 in response to a request for a Christmas poem from the magazine "Scribner's Monthly." I said "no" and he not only sent me a copy of the poem but also the link to a beautiful rendition of the poem by the composer Gustov T. Holst. So, as my Christmas present to all the followers of this blog and others, here is the poem and the link, embedded in the title:

"In the Bleak Midwinter"

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

This is the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer and "offering it up." Jesus is the Son of God who took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mother. He loves us with a Heart that is human and divine. Having given His Heart to us, He asks one thing, whether we are rich or poor. He asks for our hearts in return.

As we celebrate His birthday, let us give Him the best present, the one that He desires most. Let us give Him our hearts.

Blessed and Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"This Tremendous Lover"

One of the nice things about this time of year, especially for someone like me, living in a large Jesuit community in a city where a lot of Jesuits return to visit their families, is reconnecting with friends. That happened last night. I was about to enter my room for the night when I ran into a Jesuit friend of mine. I was his vocation director back in 1987 and he is currently in special studies in the Washington, D.C. area. He's back visiting his family over the Christmas holidays. He was in one room of our community library, next to my room, and he had a book in his hands. It's a classic of modern Catholic spirituality called "This Tremendous Lover" by the Cistercian monk Fr. M. Eugene Boylan. I told him it's a great book that I'd begun reading a couple years ago and, for some reason, had put down after 300 pages with only 70 pages to go. So this morning I pulled out my copy to look at my underlinings and highlightings in order to see what exactly I liked about that book. My eyes fell upon two pages in particular and what I read amazed me because this book, first published in 1947, sounded just like Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

First John Paul, who in his Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," written right after the Jubilee Year 2000, wrote that Christians need to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus. Look at what he says in #29 of that document:

We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you! It is not therefore a matter of inventing a "new programme". The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Now, compare that to Fr. Boylan at the end of a chapter entitled "Conversation with Christ:"

...we are so anxious to put the beginner in touch with our Lord as soon as possible in prayer, and urge him to try to develop a sense of continual partnership and friendship with Jesus in all the works of the day. For Christianity is not a set of rules; it is a Person--the Person we call Christ.

Then Fr. Boylan goes on with words that describe the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer and the Daily Offering in which every work and activity of the day can be united to Christ's perfect offering:

And it is in Christ that all things are to be re-established and reuinited and reconciled to the Father (Colossians 1: 19-20; Ephesians 1: 9-10). And since Christ came on earth to do the will of the Father, He can always be found where that will is being done; and the ordinary round of the day's work is part of that will, so that this personal friendship and continual search for Christ is an excellent way to restore the unity of one's life and to supernaturalize all one's work.

And how does Fr. Boylan sound like Pope Benedict? In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, "Sacramentum Caritatis," he writes:

Christianity's new worship includes and transfigures every aspect of life: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Christians, in all their actions, are called to offer true worship to God. Here the intrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (Romans 8: 29f). There is nothing authentically human – our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds – that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full. Here we can see the full human import of the radical newness brought by Christ in the Eucharist: the worship of God in our lives cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of our existence. Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an offering to God (#71).

Significantly, the Synod Fathers stated that "the Christian faithful need a fuller understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and their daily lives. Eucharistic spirituality is not just participation in Mass and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It embraces the whole of life." This observation is particularly insightful, given our situation today. It must be acknowledged that one of the most serious effects of the secularization just mentioned is that it has relegated the Christian faith to the margins of life as if it were irrelevant to everyday affairs. The futility of this way of living – "as if God did not exist" – is now evident to everyone. Today there is a need to rediscover that Jesus Christ is not just a private conviction or an abstract idea, but a real person, whose becoming part of human history is capable of renewing the life of every man and woman. Hence the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived "according to the Spirit" (Romans 8: 4f; Galatians 5: 16, 25) (#77).

Now, here is what Fr. Boylan, on a page just before the previously quoted passage, wrote:

What has written in the earlier part of this book makes it quite clear that religion applies to every moment of our life. Christ wants to share every single action which we perform and what He cannot share is well nigh worthless. ... And, we may add, the solution of this general problem of making Catholicity a vital force in the everyday life of the laity is one of the most urgent needs of the day. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the fate of Christendom depends upon it.

Fr. Boylan wrote this more than 60 years ago, but it shouldn't be surprising that he and our recent popes are in such agreement, for what they propose is perennial. Our lives will have significance and meaning, and our world will find the just order that can lead to lasting peace, only when we live in union with Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Retreating or Progressing?

I'm back from my annual eight day retreat and in reporting on it I can't help thinking about the word "retreat." It often carries negative connotations. Armies retreat when they are losing the battle. Going on a spiritual retreat, however, is just the opposite. I'd like to think of it as a way to make progress, to grow, or to move forward. Just the opposite of retreating. And this was certainly my experience of retreat this year.

God was very good to me, but that shouldn't be a surprise. God is always good and, when given the opportunity for quality time with us, He responds generously. My retreat was very blessed and I'll probably need a while to reflect upon all its graces.

First of all, because I was away from the city, my work schedule, and my alarm clock, I was blessed with great sleep. I must have needed it because it seems I'd go to bed around 10 PM and wake up around 7 AM every day. Secondly, I was able to take a walk after lunch every day and the meals I made for myself were pretty healthy. Since our praying spirits are enfleshed in bodies, these things--rest, exercise in fresh air, good food in moderation--contribute to helping one make a good retreat.

I followed what turned out to be a good schedule for prayer, with Mass at noon and holy hours at 9 AM, 11 AM, 4 PM, and 6 PM. In between I prayed the Breviary, cleaned the little house where I stayed, brushed snow off the car and shoveled a bit, did some other reading (back issues of "One," the magazine of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association), or prayed a Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Besides the Bible and the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius, I used two other books that I highly recommend: 1) Fr. Michael E. Gaitley's "Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat Inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius," and 2) Fr. Thomas D. Williams' "A Heart Like His: Meditations on the Sacred Heart of Jesus."

After my 7 PM supper I watched videos. Don't be scandalized. Here is a listing of the videos I saw: "The Island" (a Russian film about a monk who struggles with the memory a murder he thought he committed when he was a soldier in World War II); "The Pope: Life and Times of John Paul II"; "Sanctity Within Reach: Pier Giorgio Frassati" (an EWTN show about this beatified member of the Apostleship of Prayer); "Saint Therese of the Child Jesus: An Echo of the Heart of God" (a film that was created in 1997 in honor of the centenary of her death); "Clear Creek Abby: Living the Liturgy" (a promotion DVD from Benedictine monks in Oklahoma); "With God in Russia: The Story of Fr. Walter Ciszek"; "Solanus Casey: Priest, Porter, Prophet"; and "Servant of All: Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen".

I find following the stories of saintly people a good way to relax during retreat and so, in addition to those movies, at night before going to bed I began reading a book about a Jesuit who had been the director of the Apostleship of Prayer in Ireland. The book was published three years after his death in 1921 and it's called "Life and Work of Rev. James Aloysius Cullen, S.J." Fr. Mark Kirby, a friend and fellow blogger (Vultus Christi) loaned it to me last summer when I visited him in Tulsa.

It was a great retreat but I have to admit that for the last two days back in the office I've found a lot of work to "offer up."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Off to the Hermitage

I'm about to become a hermit. Later this afternoon I'll be leaving Milwaukee, driving about 40 minutes, and beginning my annual eight day retreat. I can't recall ever making my retreat during Advent but it seems like a natural thing to do. I'll be at a small house that my community owns on Lake Five in the beautiful Kettle Moraine country of Southeastern Wisconsin. It's a familiar place where I've gone for other retreats and weekends of quiet.

I give a lot of retreats during the year. It's been said that everyone who gives or directs a retreat ends up making the retreat as well. I've found that to be true, but I also know that I need time for my own retreat. I cannot give what I haven't received.

Beginning my retreat on the eve of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception seems providential. I want to be like Mary, completely open to God's presence and activity in my life. I want to slow down in order to be attentive and open to whatever God wants to do in the coming days. The First Antiphon for the Psalm in today's Office of Readings in the Breviary confirmed this for me: "Surrender to God and he will do everything for you."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Two Mountains

The readings at Mass today (Isaiah 25: 6-10 and Matthew 15: 29-37) show us two mountains.

In the Gospel, after walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus "went up on the mountain, and sat down there." It says that "great crowds came to him." They included "the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others" in need of healing. How did Jesus look upon them? What went through His heart? After healing them, the Gospel says that Jesus still felt compassion for them because they were hungry. Jesus told us what was going through His heart, saying, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd." We can just imagine how Jesus, looking upon this sampling of suffering humanity, shared their pain. His human and divine heart felt all that a human can feel in the face of suffering, but with divine intensity. Thus, after healing them, He fed them.

This miracle in which loaves and fish were multiplied in abundance anticipates another meal, the Holy Eucharist. There we are both healed and fed. There we receive healing and food, not just for our physical lives on earth, but for eternal life.

These miracles--the multiplication and the Eucharist--point to the other mountain and another meal described in the first reading: "On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces...." This mountain, where death is destroyed forever, is obviously heaven where there will be a feast never-ending. On that mountain the word "good-bye" does not exist. As St. Augustine wrote: "We shall have no enemies in heaven; we shall never lose a friend."

On this weekday in Advent, the Church wants us to have longing: to long as the heart of Jesus did for healing and a life that will never end; to long for God's holy mountain where every tear will be wiped away. Come Lord Jesus! Take us to that mountain and feast!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rest in Peace, Fr. Redemptus

Today I concelebrated the funeral Mass of Father Redemptus of the Cross, of the Order of Discalced Carmelite Friars. He died on November 13, just shy of his 93rd birthday, and today his body was laid to rest on the grounds of Holy Hill, the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians.

I last saw Father Redemptus on Friday evening, November 5 when I celebrated the opening Mass for the monthly All Night Vigil of Reparation and Prayer. Father Redemptus was one of the founders of this vigil which has been going on in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for 45 years. This coming Friday and Saturday will be the 543rd vigil since its beginning and it will be held at St. Florian's, the Carmelite parish in West Milwaukee where Father Redemptus served for 27 years.

As the Clerical Moderator of the All Night Vigil, Father Redemptus was the spiritual heart of a little community of the faithful that has formed. Whenever I celebrated Mass or spoke at one of the vigils, I made a point of seeing Father Redemptus. I always felt that in the presence of this gentle and affirming priest I was in the presence of holiness. His smile and words radiated the joy and love of the Good Shepherd. Father Redemptus was there at every vigil, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation with the many people who lined up to confess their sins and receive absolution from this man of God. Then he would concelebrate Mass, in recent times from a wheelchair and earlier this month, hooked up to oxygen.

The funeral was a fitting tribute to God's grace and the wonders it can do in the lives of all who surrender completely to it. Father Jude Peters, the Prior of the Carmelite community, spoke before the final commendation and he ended with these words: "And now it begins." What begins? The new life of Father Redemptus, for on the back cover of the funeral program, next to a drawing that St. John of the Cross sketched of Jesus looking down from the cross, were words of St. Therese: "I am not dying; I am entering into Life!" But I think something else is beginning as well. I can't help thinking that Father Redemptus, connected to us in an even deeper way now that he has passed from this life, will begin interceding for all those who were so dear to him in this life. He had always interceded for them, but now, having entered into eternal life, he can intercede for them in more powerful ways. Good-bye Father Redemptus. Thank you for being so supportive of me and the Apostleship of Prayer. I look forward, with the help of God's grace and your own intercession, to seeing you again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


On Monday I spoke at the annual Thanksgiving Breakfast sponsored by the West Allis Community Improvement Foundation. It's an event that raises money for food pantries in the area and the theme is "Thanks and Giving." Here is the gist of what I said.

Think back on the first words that a child learns. Usually it's "Ma-Ma" or "Ma," "Da" or "Da-Da." They are words that show the recognition of a loving care-giver, protector, and provider. Jesus taught us to recognize God in the same way, calling upon God as "our Father" or "Abba."

What are the next words that a child learns? Most kids, thinking only of themselves, grab for things. Parents ask them, "What do you say?" And they respond, "Please." Jesus also taught us to ask for what we need as God's humble and trusting children. God knows what we need, but we ask because in asking we show our love and our trust. We say "Please" to God.

And the next important word that a child learns? It often happens that after the child receives that for which he or she politely asked, the parents again ask, "What do you say?" And the child responds, "Thank you."

Thus we come together today to say "Thank You" to God our Father.

While the legend of the beginning of Thanksgiving Day takes us back to the 1600's and the Pilgrims of Massachusetts, the first officially proclaimed Thanksgiving Day was in 1777, in the middle of our nation's War of Independence. General George Washington and the Colonial Army had won the Battle of Saratoga and the Continental Congress proclaimed a day on which to give thanks. Here is part of that proclamation:

"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, ... It is therefore recommended to the, legislative and 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...."

Later, in 1889, President George Washington proclaimed another Thanksgiving Day with these words:

"Now therefore do I recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us."

However, it wasn't until 1863, in the middle of perhaps the greatest crisis the United States has faced--its Civil War of state against state, citizen against citizen--that President Abraham Lincoln declared a Thanksgiving Day that has been celebrated annually ever since. It's amazing to think that in the midst of such difficult times, Lincoln would focus on gratitude. He wrote in part:

"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God."

Then, after acknowledging as well the "civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity," Lincoln continued to enumerate the many blessings the nation had received, including the fact that other nations had not used the Civil War as an excuse to exploit our weakness and attack us. He went on:

"No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God.... It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

After proclaiming this Day of Thanksgiving, Lincoln went on to acknowledge the sins of the nation that led to the Civil War, to ask that his fellow citizens look after those in need, and to pray for peace:

"And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union."

After learning "Please" and "Thank you," a child must often learn another word. The child's tendency, having received something, is to hold on to it and say "Mine!" Parents step in at this point to say "Now share some with your brothers and sisters."

Jesus taught the same. He taught that our one, Heavenly Father's sun shines on the just and the unjust and His rain showers upon all His children. We come together not only to give thanks but to give, to share of the bounty we have. This is the community spirit that makes a great city.

Our world tends toward a selfish and greedy individualism, insisting "Mine!" Jesus shows us that true happiness is found in giving. Ultimately all that we have and all that we are--all our talents that have enabled us to achieve and acquire anything--is a gift. Without having first received the gift of life from God through our parents, we would be nothing, we would have nothing. Thus, recognizing that all is a gift, we share all, we return all to God.

General George Washington and the Continental Congress in 1777 said this as well. After declaring the first Thanksgiving Day they said:

"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...."

"Consecrate." The word means to dedicate or to set aside for a holy purpose. This is what the Apostleship of Prayer recommends that people do every day by making an offering of their day to God. After acknowledging that every day with all its minutes and hours is a gift from God, we say "Thank You" and share the gift by consecrating or offering our day to God. We share our day with God and the people God places in our lives each day. This is the meaning of St. Paul's words in his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 12, verse 1: "Offer your bodies, [your selves], as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God your spiritual worship."

This is what our nation was founded upon. This is what we need to keep alive. This is what you are doing. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Examen

I'm going to try to piece this post together from my faulty memory. I like to tell people that I have a steel-trap mind, shaped like a sieve. Last Sunday I gave a talk at St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Glenview, IL, a suburb of Chicago. The talk was part of a monthly series on the topic of discernment, and my talk was on finding God in the details of the day. Unfortunately, I misplaced my folder with notes and materials for my talk, and friends are now joining me in prayers to St. Anthony to find it for me.

From 1984 to 1988 I was the vocation director for the Jesuits of the Wisconsin Province, a seven state area in the upper Midwest. You could call it the "W Province" because it stretches from Wisconsin in the east to Wyoming in the west. As vocation director I helped people discern their vocations. In some cases that led to men applying to and being accepted into the Jesuits. In other cases, just as much "success stories," I helped young men discern that God was calling them to other vocations, including marriage. In fact, a couple years ago at a parish in Minnesota, I met a woman who told her two daughters that I was responsible for their birth! I had helped her husband discern that God was calling him to marriage and in following that call he was given a wonderful wife and beautiful daughters. One of the things I highly recommended to people discerning their vocations was the practice of the Daily Examen or what we at the Apostleship of Prayer like to call the Evening Review.

The idea is this: we don't discern in a vacuum. In order to make a major decision, in order to discern God's will in regard to a vocation, it's important to develop the habit of looking for signs of God's presence and activity every day. This helps us to have a discerning heart, one that is tuned into God's wavelength and better able to see the directions that God is giving us every day.

But before we can do this, it's important to become more familiar with how God operates. We have a record of that, a record of God's activity in the lives of individuals and nations. It's the Bible. Thus, to develop a discerning heart it's important to spend a little time every day prayerfully reading the Bible. In this way we will become familiar with the ways that God works. By trying to enter into the mind and heart of Jesus in the Gospels--what He was thinking and feeling, how He acted--we can receive direction for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

When we look at Jesus in the Gospels, especially in the Gospel of Luke, which will be the focus for the Sunday Gospels in the coming year, we see that Jesus often spent time alone at night in prayer. I think that part of that prayer involved looking back on His day and seeing how God the Father was present, walking with Him and speaking to Him. Just look at the parables that Jesus told. They were drawn from every day events. He drew lessons from watching a farmer sowing seed in the field and seeing it fall on different types of soil. He saw the Kingdom of God in a woman baking bread and using a little yeast to make a large amount of dough rise. He saw the Provident care of His Heavenly Father in the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. He heard the news of the day--a tower falling on some laborers and killing them--and used this experience to teach. Yes, Jesus certainly must have gone over the events and people of His day, finding in them the presence and love and direction of His Father and ours.

From this basis, then, we can commit ourselves to reading the Bible of our lives. God didn't stop speaking to us when the last page of Scripture was written and the books of the Bible were officially approved. The God who spoke throughout history, whose activities and words are recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, and who spoke definitively through His Word made flesh, His only-begotten Son, continues to speak to us through the events and people of our lives. Sometimes the word He speaks is an affirming word. Sometimes it's challenging. Either way, we won't hear it unless we take some time each day to listen, to look back on the events of the day in order to discern what God was trying to tell us through them.

So the first thing to do, in the words of a commercial, is to "just do it!" Schedule time every day for a review of the day. St. Ignatius Loyola felt this was so important to the members of the order he founded, the Jesuits, that he told them that apart from the Eucharist and the required prayers of the ordained, this is the one devotion or prayer that they ought never omit. Through the daily examen they would be able to seek and find God in all things.

There is no magic in when the examen is to be done. I find that in the evening I am often too tired or too distracted to do it and so I make it part of my morning prayer. With a cup of coffee at my side I look back on the previous day and I write. I find writing helps me to focus. Others may find taking a walk after supper and reflecting on the day helps them to not not only exercise the body but also the spirit. At the Apostleship of Prayer we have an Evening Review CD that people pop into their car on their way home from work and this leads them through a prayerful review of their day.

Is this the Examination of Conscience? I've heard that the word that we translate as "conscience" has various meanings in other languages. Strictly speaking, an examination of conscience focuses on our weakness and sins, what we've done wrong, what we are sorry for. We make such an examination when we prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But this examination or examen is broader and so it has been called the "Awareness Examen" or the "Examen of Consciousness." Fr. George Aschenbrenner, S.J., in a 1972 article, popularized this approach. A condensed version of that article can be found on a web site that's sponsored by Loyola Press.

There is also no magic in how the examen is to be done. Different individuals and groups offer different approaches or steps. The following is one five step method:

1. Spend a moment slowing down and being aware that you are in God's presence. St. Paul, quoting a Greek poet, said that in God we live and move and have our being. God is always present to us, but we are not always present to God. We are often distracted and so we begin our brief period of prayer pausing to reflect on God's presence.

2. Spend a brief period of time in thanksgiving. What are you thankful for at this very moment? This prayer of gratitude puts you in a positive frame of mind that allows you to be more open to God's presence in your day. It "primes the pump" for your review.

3. Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to see yourself as God sees you. Most people tend to see the glass as half empty rather than half full. If I tell someone nine very positive things about him or herself and one negative or critical thing, that person will tend to go away thinking only about the one negative thing. You need the Holy Spirit to have perspective, to see yourself with honesty and also with love, unlike the one whom Scripture calls "the Accuser" who loves to disturb you by leading you to focus only on what is negative.

4. Review your day. Imagine you are watching a video of your day, seated on a couch with Jesus. Some parts you may fast-forward through, but other parts you will pause at in order to savor or reflect upon: what was God telling you through that event or person? How did you feel? What do those feelings tell you? Was God affirming you or challenging you through that moment of your day? You may want to fast-forward through some parts but Jesus may want you to pause so that with the help of the Holy Spirit at that moment He can teach and guide you. This part is the core of the examen.

5. Have a heart-to-Heart talk with Jesus. What comes to your mind as you finish your review? How do you feel and what do you want to say to Jesus? Are you sorry for anything? Are you grateful? Are there any signs in your day that point in a specific direction for the major decision you are making? You might write those down and keep an ongoing record of them to share with a spiritual or vocation director. Finish your prayer with a resolution or act of faith, hope, or love, committing yourself to following the Lord as best you can in the next day that God is giving you.

At the Apostleship of Prayer we encourage people to not only make an offering of their day with a Morning Offering, but, when the day is over, to review the offering that one has made. Doing this will help you to be more sensitive to God's presence and direction in your daily life. It will make you more aware of the many opportunities to renew your offering during the day and to seek God's will in the events of your life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Magis Institute

I stayed an extra day in southern California after my recent retreat there. No. It wasn't just to avoid the cold and gray Wisconsin November in order to bask in the warmth and sun. I went to visit a Jesuit friend, Fr. Robert Spitzer, former president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA and currently running the Magis Institute located in Irvine, CA.

It was an amazing visit. Fr. Spitzer's latest book is already in its fourth printing. It's entitled "New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy." As a result of this book and his response to the Physicist Stephen Hawking's claim that "the universe can come from nothing," Fr. Spitzer was invited to be on "Larry King Live." He recently traveled to Rome where, after speaking, he received invitations to 22 different countries to speak about his work. He is in the process of creating a curriculum for schools and on his Magis Center of Reason and Faith web site he has an "Ask Fr. Spitzer" column as well as other great resources.

Fr. Spitzer and I talked about ways that the Apostleship of Prayer and the other part of the Magis Institute--the Magis Center for Catholic Spirituality--might collaborate. I've already been working a bit with the Center which has an email service that sends daily reflections written by Jesuits to subscribers around the world.

I'm blessed to have such a brilliant friend who is also a holy Jesuit. In his homily at Mass on Monday morning, he talked about the story of the blind man of Jericho (Luke 18: 35-43). Jesus answered his prayer that he might see by healing him. Fr. Spitzer has made this same prayer. His eye sight is very bad and he needs the help of others to read the books he uses for his research. How much more good he could do if only he had good vision! Yet, he pointed out, that while God has not answered his prayer for healing, he has received another gift that is perhaps better. Humility. I'm reminded of what St. Ignatius wrote in "The First Principle and Foundation" of his "Spiritual Exercises": "Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created." That end? "To praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to" find salvation. Thus, "as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness," or, in Fr. Spitzer's case, good eye sight to poor eye sight. Of course it is natural to want good eye sight and to pray for it. But in the end, when God has a better gift for us that is more helpful to our ultimate goal of salvation, we can accept even blindness as a gift. It's tough, but holiness isn't for wimps. I'm grateful to Fr. Spitzer for the reminder.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Magnificat Women's Retreat

On Thursday I got up bright and early (something more to "offer up") in order to catch a 6 AM flight to Orange County, California where Kathleen Beckman picked me up. Kathleen is a regional coordinator for a Catholic Women's group called "Magnificat" and is the author of several books including one entitled "Rekindle Eucharistic Amazement." We drove about an hour to the Passionist Retreat House located in Sierra Madre, north of Los Angeles, where I'm helping on a retreat for about 85 women.

We began Thursday evening when I gave a talk introducing the retreatants to the "Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius," and leading them in a consideration of what is called "The First Principle and Foundation." Yesterday I gave two talks: "The Call of Christ the King" and "Discernment."

Today I'll be available for spiritual direction and the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Claretian Father John Hampsch, noted for his ministry of healing, will be giving talks on the gifts of the Spirit and healing the family tree.

Our retreat ends tomorrow and I'll be giving a talk on St. Ignatius' last exercise, "The Contemplation to Attain the Love of God," and how we can live the total offering he proposes by praying and living the Daily Offering.

Though Milwaukee was in the 60's when I left, our plane had to be de-iced in Denver--a sign of things to come in the upper Midwest. Thus I'm drinking in the beauty of California: the sun, the warmth, and the fragrant flowers right outside my window. I'm also drinking deeply of the faith of the retreatants who are an inspiration as they open themselves up to the Holy Spirit and follow the call to go deeper in their spiritual lives this weekend. This too--this joy--is something to be offered up.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Put Out Into Deep Water..."

I'm not in "deep water" but in Leipsic, Ohio, at St. Mary's Parish, for a mission that began with my preaching at the weekend Masses. The title of this mission is "Pray Always?" The bulletin description of the theme goes like this: "St. Paul said to 'pray always' but how can we do that? Isn't that impossible?" The three evening talks are: "Put out into the Deep," "Entering into the Heart of Jesus," and "Living a Eucharistic Life."

Last night I began my talk with a passage from St. Luke, Chapter 5: 1-6. In this story Jesus asks Peter to allow Him to use his boat as a platform from which He could address the crowd that had assembled by the shore of the lake. Peter agrees and afterwards Jesus tells him, "Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch." You can just imagine Simon Peter thinking, "what can this carpenter's son tell me about fishing?" Yet he follows Jesus' instructions. Why? He trusted Jesus; but where did this trust come from? He had spent time with Jesus and became His friend. Out of this friendship and trust came obedience. And how that obedience was rewarded! The story says that Peter caught so many fish the nets began to tear and he had to call over his partners in another boat. Even then, both boats were close to being swamped. Trusting Jesus and following His directions give what we need.

Pope John Paul II used those words of Jesus to put out into the deep, or "Duc in Altum," in his Apostolic Letter as we began the new millennium, "Novo Millennio Ineunte." He wrote that the Church didn't need new programs; rather, each individual Christian needed to go deeper in his or her spiritual life. He wrote: "our Christian communities must become genuine 'schools' of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly 'falls in love'" (#33). Notice, besides prayers of petition, Pope John Paul mentions six other ways of praying that have more to do with giving and receiving than asking.

Peter didn't ask Jesus for anything. He listened, received the word of Jesus, responded to it, and then received. Of course asking or prayers of intercession are important, but they should not be the only prayers we make.

But how do we "pray always" as St. Paul directs? I don't think anyone has answered that question better than Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. in his book "He Leadeth Me," the story of how he not only survived the Soviet Gulag but also grew in his faith there. He writes:

" my opinion, the Morning Offering is still one of the best practices of prayer--no matter how old-fashioned some may think it. For in it, at the beginning of each day, we accept from God and offer back to him all the prayers, works, and sufferings of the day, and so serve to remind ourselves once again of his providence and his kingdom. If we could only remember to spend the day in his presence, in doing his will, what a difference it would make in our own lives and the lives of those around us! We cannot pray always, in the sense of those contemplatives who have dedicated their whole lives to prayer and penance. Nor can we go around abstracted all day, thinking only of God and ignoring our duties to those around us, to family and friends and to those for whom we are responsible. But we can pray always by making each action and work and suffering of the day a prayer insofar as it has been offered and promised to God."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dishonest Stewards?

Last night I celebrated the opening Mass for the monthly All-Night Vigil in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. I thought the readings fit in very well with our call to offer ourselves, in St. Paul's words (Romans 12: 1), as "a living sacrifice."

The Gospel (Luke 16: 1-8), the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, should strike us as shocking. That's the nature of Jesus' Parables. They are designed to get people's attention and make them think. In this case we have to wonder: is Jesus commending dishonesty? No, He's commending prudence. He says that "the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light."

People who succeed in worldly affairs have a plan and stick to it. They have foresight and plan ahead. They keep their focus on their goal by getting a daily planner and making sure that every hour of the day is used in a way that helps them achieve their goal. One slogan they use is: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

Are the children of light so focused? Clearly St. Paul in the first reading (Philippians 3: 17-4:1) thinks not and it brings him to tears. "Their minds are occupied with earthly things." They focus on food and other bodily pleasures. Paul reminds them that "our citizenship is in heaven." That's our goal and should be our focus. We should plan our days and live them with that goal in mind.

We hear the Parable of the Dishonest Steward and point our fingers at him. What a crook! Yet we must look at the three fingers pointing back at us. He is each one of us. How? It's really quite simple. The Dishonest Steward used his Master's wealth to buy friends and security for himself. We are the Dishonest Steward whenever we do something without God in mind. All that we have and all that we are is not our own. Our talents, our possessions, our bodies, our very life--all this belongs to God. All is a gift from God given to us to be used responsibly, to be used according to God's plan, to be used to help us attain the heavenly goal for which God created us. When we use our talents, our time, our lives in any other way, we are actually stealing from God.

This is where the Morning Offering comes in. Each morning we want to recognize that everything is God's gift, including our life and the minutes of the day ahead of us. It is God's gift that has been entrusted to us and we are to use the gift of each day for His glory and honor, in service of God and our neighbor. Having recognized each day as a gift, we then offer that day to God. Then we try to live the offering we've made and at the end of the day reflect back on what we actually ended up offering to God. Was it worthy of Him or not? Or did we misuse the gift that was given?

If we do this, we will be prudent. We will live with our sights set on our heavenly goal and we will make choices that help us attain that goal.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Vatican II on Offering It Up

I received a short note today from someone who is struggling. In a previous note I learned that she struggles with an illness of the mind. She is able to do some volunteer work and to participate in some activities at her parish, but she still feels useless because she does not have a job and receives disability checks. She wrote: "I always feel like I'm not good enough and God is mad at me." I wrote back and shared with her a favorite but often overlooked quote from the Documents of the Second Vatican Council.

On December 8, 1965, at the close of the Council, Pope Paul VI delivered Messages from the Bishops to various groups. One of them was addressed "To the Poor, the Sick, and the Suffering," and it speaks to a common temptation--thinking that suffering is a sign that God is "mad" at you. On the contrary, the Bishops said that people who suffer are not being punished by God, nor are they abandoned by Him. The Bishops called them "the preferred children of the kingdom of God," and stated emphatically, "you are not alone, separated, abandoned or useless." Why? Because, as the Council Fathers said, "You are the brothers of the suffering Christ, and with Him, if you wish, you are saving the world."

When our sufferings are united to the Cross, they play a part in the salvation of the world. When our sufferings are offered up with Christ in His perfect sacrifice at Mass, they "are saving the world." At one time or another suffering is inevitable. It's part of life. But we do have a choice in regards to what we do with the suffering. If we wish, we can use it, as members of the Body of Christ, to carry on the work of Jesus, the Head of the Body. We can, as St. Paul wrote, fill up "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (Colossians 1: 24). We can help save the world.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Magnify the Lord

On Friday I drove a good Jesuit friend of mine to Denmark, Wisconsin, to the Carmel of the Holy Name of Jesus. I’ve blogged about the Carmelite Sisters there before and it’s always a treat for me to visit them. My Jesuit friend is going to be their chaplain for the next few months during a time when the weather near Green Bay can be very “iffy” and could affect the travel of a visiting priest who comes to celebrate their daily Mass.

On Saturday I had the privilege of celebrating Mass for the Sisters and the visitors who join them for their daily 7 AM Mass. One line in the first reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians really caught my attention: “now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body.” It’s a beautiful image: how we magnify the Lord. That’s what the Magnificat of Mary is all about, as one translation has it: “my soul magnifies the Lord.”

Does God need “magnification?” Isn’t God beyond “magnification?” When I was a boy I used to take a magnifying glass and test its power of concentrating the sun’s rays in a way that would burn leaves or paper. Jesus is the Son of God, our Sun, our Light. He loves and respects us so much that He has included us in the great work of salvation. He shines on the world, but our lives—the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of each day—when they are offered to Him become a magnifying glass that concentrates His light and warmth and power so that they reach the world through us.

We see this in the life of Mary, the humble young woman chosen by God to be the Mother of the Son. Through her total surrender, her “yes” to God, the power of God was concentrated in a way that brought the Son to earth. We see this throughout the Gospels. We offer God what seems so little and insignificant, like five loaves and two fish, and His power magnifies the little offering, multiplying it so that it can feed thousands. We see it in the hidden lives of the Carmelite Sisters whose prayers and sacrifices are magnifying God’s grace and working wonders in the world.

With the eyes of faith, we can see this magnification in our lives as well. What may seem very small and insignificant, when offered and united to the perfect offering of Jesus in the Mass, takes on a significance that we can only imagine on this side of eternity, but which we will see fully on the other side of eternity. However, it works both ways. We can magnify the Lord and His grace or we can obstruct Him and His work of salvation. The choice is ours each day, each moment.

May we, like Mary and St. Paul and so many others who have said “yes” to God and offered themselves one day at a time for His will to be done, magnify God in our bodies, in our lives.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Family's Consecration

Yesterday evening, I celebrated Mass at my friend and fellow blogger Anne Bender's house. After my homily her family celebrated the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, using a ceremony that the Apostleship of Prayer has created for this purpose. The tradition of placing an image of the Sacred Heart in a prominent place in one's home, gathering as a family, and declaring Jesus to be the King and Center of one's family, goes back especially to the early part of the 20th Century and to Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey who, when asking Pope St. Pius X if he had permission to promote such enthronements, responded: "No, no, my son. I do not permit you, I command you, do you understand? I order you to give your life for this work of salvation. It is a wonderful work; consecrate your entire life to it." His successor, Pope Benedict XV, wrote Fr. Mateo as follows:

"We have read your letter with interest and likewise the documents that accompanied it. From them we have learned of the diligence and zeal with which for many years you have devoted yourself to the work of consecrating families to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, in such a way that while His image is installed in the principal place in the home as on a throne, our Divine Savior Jesus Christ is seen to reign at each Catholic hearth. ... Nothing, as a matter of fact, is more suitable to the needs of the present day than your enterprise. ... You do well, then, dear son, while taking up the cause of human society, to arouse and propagate above all things a Christian spirit in the home by setting up in each family the reign of the love of Jesus Christ. And in doing this you are but obeying our Divine Lord Himself, who promised to shower His blessings upon the homes wherein an image of His Heart should be exposed and devoutly honored."

After Communion, each of us recited a personal Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which Anne had copied for us. It's a beautiful prayer that I had never run across. Here it is:

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I consecrate myself to Your Most Sacred Heart. Take possession of my whole being; transform me into Yourself. Make my hands Your hands, my feet Your feet, my heart Your heart. Let me see with Your eyes, listen with Your ears, speak with Your lips, love with Your heart, understand with Your mind, serve with Your will, and be dedicated with my whole being. Make me Your other self. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, send me Your Holy Spirit to teach me to love You and to live through You, with You, in You and for You.

Come, Holy Spirit, make my body Your temple. Come, and abide with me forever. Give me the deepest love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus in order to serve Him with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Take possession of all my faculties of body and soul. Regulate all my passions: feelings and emotions. Take possession of my intellect, understanding and will; my memory and imagination. O Holy Spirit of Love, give me an abundance of Your efficacious graces. Give me the fullness of all the virtues; enrich my faith, strengthen my hope, increase my trust, and inflame my love. Give me the fullness of Your sevenfold gifts, fruits and beatitudes. Most Holy Trinity, make my soul Your sanctuary. Amen.

I like this prayer because it is very Eucharistic. In consecrating ourselves to the Sacred Heart, we are asking that we may be one with Him, that we may truly be His Body. We are asking to be transformed so that we may think and feel with the mind and heart of Jesus. This transformation begins at Baptism and continues through the Holy Eucharist. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and so it's natural that in consecrating ourselves to the Sacred Heart, we ask that the Spirit help us to live that consecration one day at a time. With our own powers we cannot be faithful to our consecration. We need that same Spirit who empowered the early Church at Pentecost to empower us to do this.

After the Eucharistic banquet, where we were fed spiritually, we had a delicious meal for our bodies. I can't help thinking that though Jesus has been present in the Bender family all along, He will be present in an extra special way in the future.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"In His Most Sacred Heart"

When I'm not travelling, I try to catch up on reading the various newspapers and periodicals to which I subscribe. Usually I'm weeks or months behind. Having worked in western South Dakota for nine years, I subscribe to the Rapid City Diocese's newspaper "West River Catholic." It's a way that I can keep up with the news of that special piece of God's creation and my friends there.

In the September issue there was a special Vocations Section that included a reflection by a seminarian, Tom Lawrence, entitled "In His Most Sacred Heart." In it he wrote about his experience of the suffering that resulted from a near head-on collision that left him with a broken femur and tibia, three broken ribs, and a ruptured spleen. Here is part of his moving reflection:

"During my recovery, God showed his unfailing presence to me through the love and wisdom of my mother. God also stripped away those things that used to get me through hard times. All that I had left was God himself. I was given the realization that if I tried to push through or ignore the pain or turn inward on myself, simply remaining in my mind, then I was being distracted from seeing Christ who was with me. He gave me the ability to see beyond my fear--the fear that this pain would never end.

"I have come to know--through prayer and experience--that Christ will never abandon me. He is the one who is most intimately present to me now, and he has been intimately present to me throughout my whole life. Christ has given me the faith to embrace him everywhere, especially in his suffering upon the Cross. It is Christ who carries me through my suffering into his most Sacred Heart. I have received this grace by uniting my suffering to his upon the Cross. By resting in Christ's love he deflates our pride, so that the person God has created us to be may 'fit' in his most Sacred Heart--within his infinite embrace of love. This is the beautiful place where Jesus takes us to find rest from our fears and our anxieties. This is the place where we discover our true selves. This is where Jesus brings us to the fullness of life!"

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sheboygan Gathering

On Saturday I spent the day in Kohler, Wisconsin, where the Catholic parishes of the Sheboygan area hosted a conference on prayer entitled "Conversations with God." On Friday evening Fr. Phil Hurley, S.J. spoke to young people about "Making Prayer Real." Our friends, Mike Mangione and the Union, offered a fantastic concert to close the evening. This local group will be playing in New York today and in Boston tomorrow. What a blessing to have them play during our "Hearts on Fire" events this summer and in Kohler this weekend!

On Saturday afternoon Mark Nimo, a doctoral student in Chicago, who is from Ghana, West Africa, gave a rousing presentation on "Intercession and Spiritual Warfare." His topic flowed naturally into mine--"The Eucharist in Daily Life." While Mark spoke about the power of intercessory prayer and the need for it in our contemporary world, I was able to talk about the most powerful prayer there is--the Eucharist--what the Second Vatican Council and recent Popes have called "the source and summit of the Christian life." I talked about what we believe and how we celebrate the Eucharist, which led into my usual presentation on living a Eucharistic life by making an offering of ourselves and our daily life. Some of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, including their novices and postulants, were there, and Sister Julie Ann wrote about the conference on the Sister's blog. The conference closed, most appropriatetly, with Archbishop Jerome Listecki and the celebration of the Eucharist.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Glorious Mysteries

The special Relevant Radio two day retreat continues today and this afternoon I was on the "On Call" show with Wendy Wiese, talking about the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

The Rosary was Pope John Paul II's favorite prayer. He said so in his Apostolic Letter, "On the Most Holy Rosary," where he also quoted Pope Paul VI who said: "without contemplation, the Rosary is a soul without a body." Thus, in order for the Rosary to be alive, to breathe life into our prayer lives, we need to reflect on the Mysteries. Such reflection can involve reading a Scripture passage for each Mystery, visualizing the scene described, and applying the Mystery to one's life. Looking at the Glorious Mysteries as a whole, Pope John Paul II said that they help people to "rediscover the reasons for their own faith." They are Mysteries of hope and joy.

The First Glorious Mystery is The Resurrection. According to St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15, the Resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. If we don't believe in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus then we are the sorriest of people. Our Christian faith is in vain. Though the Gospel scenes of the Jesus' appearances after His Resurrection are very confusing, one thing is very clear: Jesus comes to console and strengthen people. The apostles, except for John, had abandoned Jesus in His hour of need and were cowering behind locked doors. When Jesus appeared, they were afraid. Was He a ghost? Was He there to condemn them? The first words out of Jesus' mouth were, "Peace be with you."

Do you need peace? Do you need hope? Do you need the Lord's consolation as you struggle with loss and grief. Invite Jesus into the tomb of your heart. He has power over death and He can be with you in your grief to give you hope. Because He died and rose, we too will rise. We were not created to be angels, bodiless spirits, but human beings, body and soul. When death separates our bodies and souls, we know that we continue in existence and that one day, as the Creed we recite at Mass on Sunday says, we will experience a resurrection like that of Jesus. As Jesus' body and soul came together and His body was glorified, so will ours.

The Second Glorious Mystery is The Ascension. For this Mystery we turn to the Acts of the Apostles 1: 8-11. After the Resurrection, Jesus returned to the right hand of His Father in heaven. He who is fully divine and fully human, now sits with the Father in glory. Human nature is in glory where God intended it to be from the beginning. Jesus, as St. Paul taught, is the Head and we are members of His Body. The Head is now in heaven. Where the Head has gone the Body will follow.

And so we keep our sights set on our ultimate destination. But this doesn't distract us from the business of life on earth. We are on a journey and like any journey it's important for us to know our destination so that we can follow the best route to get there. Jesus has blazed a trail for us and shown us the way to arrive at our heavenly destination. As we keep our goal in mind, we also watch our steps on earth to make sure that we are on track and headed in the right direction.

The Third Glorious Mystery is The Descent of the Holy Spirit. From Ascension Thursday until Pentecost Sunday was nine days. During that interval Mary and the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room where the Last Supper was held and they prayed for the Holy Spirit to be given to them. This was the first novena or nine days of prayer in history. Though Mary is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit who overshadowed her at the Annunciation, and though the Holy Spirit had been active in the work of creation and the life of Israel--inspiring prophets and anointing kings--Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit in a new and wonderful way. He even said at the Last Supper that it was better for Him to go so that He could send the Holy Spirit from the Father. With Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes not only to guide people through an external influence. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to dwell within people. Now we have not only a destination and a map, but an internal guide to lead us to heaven.

Christians receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism. The presence and power of the Spirit are further confirmed and further enhanced in the Sacrament of Confirmation. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul said, and the Spirit dwells within us. God is not far away but very near. As near as our own breath. And just as our breath gives us life, so does the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit, give us spiritual and eternal life.

The Fourth Glorious Mystery is The Assumption of Mary. Though we do not have this event in the Gospels, it is a dogma of the Catholic Church. This Mystery follows upon the preceding three. Jesus has power over life and death. He has risen and ascended and has sent the Holy Spirit to make us Temples. Mary was the purest of Temples because she was preserved from all sin from the very moment of her conception. Her body was a tabernacle in which Jesus was conceived and in which He developed for nine months. Since He has the power, doesn't it make sense that Jesus would preserve His Mother's sinless body from one of the effects of sin, bodily corruption and decay after death?

This Mystery reinforces our hope. Mary's Assumption body and soul into heaven is another example of what God intends for all of us--that we shall be body and soul in heaven one day. This Mystery also challenges us to be sinless in our bodies and to use our bodies to give glory to God as Mary did.

The Fifth Glorious Mystery is The Coronation of Mary. Again, we don't have this in the Gospels, but it makes sense that Christ the King would crown His Mother as Queen when she arrived in heaven. She is the Mother of the King, our Queen Mother. She is Queen of heaven and earth. She reigns with Jesus and so is a powerful intercessor for us. As our Queen Mother we turn to her in need and we also offer ourselves in her service.

It shouldn't be so strange to think of Mary as sharing in Christ's royal dignity. We too, through Baptism, share in His royal dignity. In the anointing with sacred chrism at Baptism, we hear that as Jesus was anointed to be a priest, prophet, and king, so are we. We begin to share in this royal dignity and it will reach its fulfillment in heaven when we will share in the glory of Jesus and His Mother Mary. But again we are challenged. In the Our Father we pray that Jesus will reign over us, asking "Thy Kingdom come." Mary surrendered her life to the service of the Kingdom and now she shares fully in the glory. We too must surrender and let Jesus and Mary reign over us so that one day we will share in their glory.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Luminous Mysteries

Relevant Radio is doing a special Marian retreat today and tomorrow. Today I was on "The Morning Air Show" talking about the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

For centuries people have added mysteries to the Rosary's traditional three sets. The Joyful Mysteries end with Jesus at the age of twelve in the Temple and the Sorrowful Mysteries begin with Jesus' Agony in the Garden after the Last Supper. People have filled in the public life of Jesus with reflections on His Parables or Miracles. In his 2002 Apostolic Letter "On the Most Holy Rosary," Pope John Paul II proposed the addition of the "Mysteries of Light" or the "Luminous Mysteries." Why? In #19 of his Letter, the Holy Father wrote: "This addition of these new mysteries ... is meant to give it [the Rosary] fresh life and to enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary's place within Christian spirituality as a true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory."

It is good to consider the meditations that compose the Rosary as "mysteries." They invite us to approach the events of Jesus' life with a humble and open heart, the only way to truly approach a mystery. We don't try to "figure out" the mystery. We try to open ourselves up, in prayer, to what God wants to reveal to us about Himself through the mystery.

The First Luminous Mystery is The Baptism of the Lord. Each of the four Gospels speaks of this event in Jesus' life when He went to the Jordan River and John the Baptist baptized Him. At first John resisted. He was baptizing people as part of a purification ceremony in which people declared their desire to change, to let go of sin. But Jesus is the Sinless One, the completely innocent Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world. Why does Jesus submit Himself to this purification rite? He tells John that it is "to fulfill all righteousness." Jesus became human and entered into our sinful world. He took upon Himself the sins of the world. In entering into the darkness of the water, Jesus prefigures what He will do on the Cross. In the words of 2 Corinthians 5: 21, God "made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him."

What happened at Jesus' Baptism happened to each of us at our Baptism. The heavens opened and the Holy Spirit came upon each of us, making us Temples. At Baptism we were filled with Sanctifying Grace; we were made holy as God is holy because of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. And the Father declared to us, as He declared to Jesus: "You are my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." At our Baptism the Father claimed us as His own beloved children, sons and daughters, pleasing in His sight.

The Second Luminous Mystery is The Wedding Feast at Cana. This comes to us from John's Gospel, Chapter 2 where we read that Jesus and His Mother and His disciples were all invited to a wedding feast. Some people have the idea that if you are holy, you aren't any fun. Jesus shows us that He, the All-Holy Son of God, enjoys a party. He enjoys good wine. He enjoys the legitimate pleasures of life. No doubt this miracle of turning water into abundant and good wine led to the many invitations to the parties with sinners and tax collectors that are so common in the Gospels.

At first Jesus seems to be reluctant to help. After His Mother Mary tells Him that the wine has run out, Jesus says: "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come." In John's Gospel the "hour" of Jesus is the time of His suffering, death, and resurrection. By performing this, the first sign of His divine power, Jesus will begin the journey that will lead to the Cross.

Mary tells the servers: "Do whatever he tells you." This is always Mary's role. She points us to Jesus and tells us to obey Him. This is what the servers do and the miracle occurs. Ordinary water is transformed into extraordinary wine. We can apply this to ourselves as well. It's the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer. Every day we offer the moments of our day to God. They are very ordinary moments of prayer and work, joy and sorrow. But when joined to the perfect offering of Jesus on Calvary and in the Mass, they become extraordinary. Like the water turned to wine, our lives are transformed.

The Third Luminous Mystery is The Proclamation of the Kingdom. At the beginning of Mark's Gospel, Chapter 1, verse 15, we read: "Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: 'This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'" Jesus comes proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God and calling for repentance so that sins may be forgiven. When he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict XVI said that the message of Fatima is right in line with this message of Jesus.

In the history of Israel there came a time when the people tired of having judges and prophets lead them. They wanted to be like other nations. They wanted to have a king. God said that the people weren't rejecting the judges and prophets but Him. This has been the sad history of humanity: the rejection of God and His lordship. Rather than following the Law which was designed to bring peace and harmony, humans have tended to declare themselves to be kings and lords of their lives. We have rejected God's Law and become laws unto ourselves.

Jesus calls for a conversion from this rebellious attitude. In every "Our Father" that we pray, we accept the kingship of Jesus Christ. We pray that His Kingdom may come, that He may reign over us, that God's will may be done in our lives.

The Fourth Luminous Mystery is The Transfiguration. Three of the Gospels tell how Jesus once took His closest disciples--Peter, James, and John--and went up a mountain where Moses and the Prophet Elijah appeared and Jesus was transfigured before their eyes. The glory of Jesus' divinity shines forth through Him and the Father's voice echoes the words spoken at the Baptism: "This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." This is what Mary told the servers to do at Cana. This is what the Father tells us to do. This is what it means to accept the kingship of Jesus.

This moment of glory was given to the disciples to prepare them for the trial that would come when Jesus would be arrested, spat upon, forced to carry a cross and then nailed to it. But at this moment the disciples don't understand. Peter, it seems, wants to hold on to the glory by building tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.

In our lives we often want to hold on to the moments of glory--the consolations and joys of prayer. God knows us so well and doesn't allow us to become attached to those feelings. He hides them and we enter into darkness and a desert. This is the normal rhythm of the spiritual life: consolation succeeded by desolation succeeded by consolation. In times of desolation, St. Ignatius Loyola taught, God is purifying us and our desires, challenging us: are you seeking the consolations of God or the God of consolations? We are given consolations, little tastes of glory, to strengthen us for the trials that are part of life. They are a little foretaste of our own future glory. They are appetizers of the heavenly banquet.

The Fifth Luminous Mystery is The Institution of the Eucharist. All four Gospels give us an account of the Last Supper that Jesus had with His disciples before going to Gethsemane where He underwent His Agony in the Garden. Pope Benedict has a wonderful reflection on what happened at the Last Supper. It's the Homily he gave at the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany. The Holy Father says that there, at the Last Supper, the "hour" of Jesus arrives. He anticipates what He is going to do the next day on the Cross on Calvary, when He will transform hatred into love, and death into life. He anticipates this change at the Last Supper. As the Holy Father said: "This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood."

It is in the Eucharist that we receive a true taste of heaven. At the Eucharist we are given the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus who unites Himself to our flesh so that the two may become one. This is what we were made for--union with God. It begins here on earth most particularly in the Holy Eucharist. This is the greatest gift Jesus could have given us--Himself to always be with us and to be one with us.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Prayer and Social Justice

Yesterday I gave a talk at Marquette University's Faber Center for Ignatian Spirituality. It was entitled "Working for Social Justice: The Unity of Prayer and Action" and here is what I said:

A few years ago I participated in a conference in Denver that brought together Jesuits and their co-workers who labor in the field of social ministries. A number were surprised that I was there. What was the director of the Apostleship of Prayer doing at a conference on social justice? Isn't the Apostleship of Prayer concerned with the Sacred Heart of Jesus? A few of the workshops were about spirituality and prayer, and a theme during the small group sharing was the need for a strong spiritual life for people in social ministries. Without one there is a tendency to burn-out and discouragement.

Isn't that word "discouragement" interesting? It comes from the word "cor" or "heart" and it basically means to lose heart. Clearly a strong prayer life is necessary so that we don't lose heart, but I think it's important to go deeper. I want to talk about three aspects or movements of prayer and with each one we will go deeper.

First, I want to talk about intercessory prayer, a powerful force. Unfortunately, our culture tends to emphasize action over prayer. When problems arise we tend to work harder rather than to pray harder, and then, when our work doesn't accomplish what we hoped for, we pray as a last resort.

There are some other tendencies that go against intercessory prayer and they arise from a lack of faith. I've often heard people say something like this: "What's the point of praying? God knows everything. God knows what we need and God is all-powerful. My prayers don't do anything and are really superfluous given that God knows everything anyway. I'm not informing God of anything He doesn't already know when I pray for others." Another tendency is to think of God as stingy. Like the unjust judge in the Gospel, God answers our prayers only after receiving so many of them that He's tired of hearing from us. He has a certain quota of prayers that He needs to get before He will act. This is not the God in whom we believe and to whom we pray.

God is all-knowing and all-powerful. He loves and respects His creation. He shares His work with us. According to Genesis, God created the world and then invited humanity to be stewards of creation. God invites us to share in His enterprise of caring for the good creation He made. Like a loving parent who really doesn't need the help of the children to bake a cake or plane a piece of wood, God invites us to share in His work because doing so is a sign of love and respect.

Moreover, God did not create human beings to be robots programmed to do the right thing. God created us to be free, like God Himself, and that means we have a choice whether or not to join in God's work. The history of the human race shows that the predominant choice has been to refuse to accept our responsibility to care for creation as God had planned for us.

Because God is Love and respects our freedom, God does not force us. God knows what we need but God wants us to freely choose and ask for what we need. A great example of this is in the Gospel where Jesus heals a blind man named Bartimaeus who has been crying out "Son of David, have pity on me?" What does Jesus do? He first asks: "What do you want me to do for you?" Doesn't it seem like a no-brainer? Here's a blind man crying out for help and Jesus, able to read human hearts, asks him what he wants! Jesus respects him too much to assume what he wants. He wants the man to be in touch with his desires and to ask. In this way Jesus shows him the utmost respect and reverence.

The same is true for us. Through intercessory prayer we first get in touch with our desires. We give thought to the movements and desires of our heart and then we put them into words. In doing this we show our humility and our dependence upon God who, like a loving parent, loves to be asked for help.

Then, when we pray, we become the co-laborers that God created us to be. We become instruments for God's grace to enter the world. It is as though our prayers open up channels for God's grace to enter the world. It's not that God is stingy and waits for so many people to pray before choosing to act. God respects our freedom and invites us to work with Him. The more of us who pray for a particular intention, the more God's grace can enter into the situation for which we are praying.

Prayer is indeed powerful, but it's also a mystery. What about "unanswered prayers?" Some people complain: "I pray and pray and God doesn't hear me." No. God hears and answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is not what we want. God sees the bigger picture. God respects every person. We may pray for the conversion of another, but God will never take people's freedom away or force them to choose a path they do not choose themselves.

Intercessory prayer calls us to humility and faith. It challenges us to go deeper, which brings us to the next movement or element of prayer: it changes the one praying.

My second point is that prayer challenges us to be consistent. We cannot pray and then act in a way that contradicts our prayers. For example, we can't pray, as we do periodically with the Holy Father's monthly intentions, for humanity to care for the environment, and then make choices that disrespect and abuse creation. Our prayers lead us to examine ourselves. If we pray with honesty and integrity, then our behaviors and actions should match our prayers.
Our prayer will also lead us to learn more about the people and issues for which we are praying. It will lead us to action.

But prayer takes us deeper yet. Prayer transforms us. It's not enough to know; we need the power to act on our knowledge.

Anyone who has read the Bible knows that God wants justice and peace for His people. The Law of Moses addresses the needs of orphans and widows, strangers and aliens. The words of the Prophets address social injustice and inequality. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke of forgiveness and love, even of our enemies. We know these things. But we do not carry them out. We don't have the power to carry them out.

There are two places in the Book of Ezekiel (Chapters 11 and 36) where God, through the Prophet, makes a big promise. God promises to take from us our stony, hard hearts and give us natural, human hearts. Where was this prophecy ever fulfilled? Only in Jesus. Jesus gives us that new heart, His own Sacred Heart.

In his encyclical "Veritatis Splendor," Pope John Paul II relates the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus what good he needed to do to attain eternal life. Jesus told him that he knew what he needed to do: follow the commandments. But the rich man says that he has done this and asks what more needed to be done. Jesus told him to follow Him. It's not enough to know what we need to do. For centuries humans have known this. We need the power to act on what we know. Pope John Paul II points out that the ethic of Jesus is an impossible one, humanly impossible, that is. Only with Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, only with a new heart, can humans do what is right.

St. Paul also makes this clear in his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 7. Remember: this is Paul after his conversion, after he met Jesus face-to-face on the road to Damascus and experienced a radical change. Even after that profound conversion, Paul wrote about his struggle, saying that the things he wanted to do, he didn't do, and the things he didn't want to do, he did. Who, he asks, will save him from this situation of helplessness? Thanks be to God, he says, he and we have a Savior--Jesus Christ.

Jesus comes to us in Word and Sacrament at the Eucharist to transform us. He give us a new heart, His own Heart, in Holy Communion. He speaks to us through the Word which is proclaimed. It's a Word that is living and effective, as Hebrews Chapter 4 says. Through prayer with the Gospels we can enter more deeply into the mind and heart of Jesus and be transformed.

Let's for a moment access our own interiors. Let's get in touch with some of the movements of our own hearts.

What brings you sorrow? What brings a lump to your throat and tears to your eyes? What situations or people lead you to say, "My heart goes out to them?" If you feel this way sometimes, how much more does Jesus? An actor named Bruce Marchiano once played the role of Jesus in a movie of the Gospel of Matthew. A good actor, as we know, can't approach a scene and think: "Now what would Jesus do here? How would Jesus play this scene?" The actor must become the character he is playing. And so it was for Marchiano. But at the last moment, before the first scene, a crowd scene, was about to be filmed, he was desperate. He still didn't feel that after all his prayer and study he had entered into the mind and heart of Jesus, that he had become the character he was about to play. He still didn't have Jesus' point of view, how everything would have looked through Jesus' eyes. And so he prayed a simple prayer: "Lord, show me what it all looks like through your eyes."

He writes about what happened next in a book entitled "In the Footsteps of Jesus." God answered his prayer and he describes what happened this way: "it was as if the wind got knocked out of me; I couldn't breathe, and my heart just broke. It broke on a level I never knew existed, and I just started shaking, and weeping. For the first time in my life, I understood what the word 'compassion' means when it comes to Jesus Christ. I understand that it isn't just a feeling sorry for people; it's a heartbreak so intense, so deep it's like your gut is getting ripped open. It is a heartbreak that screams in utter agony for the needless, pointless pain of people...."

Jesus felt deep sorrow. Through our prayerful reading of the Gospels, entering into Jesus' thoughts and feelings, we will be better able to see others as Jesus sees them.

A second interior movement: anger. What makes you angry, so angry that you get flushed and begin to shake?

Jesus felt anger like this. All four Gospels relate a scene in the Temple when Jesus became so angry he turned over tables and drove people and animals out of the Temple. He was upset not only because God's house of prayer had been turned into a marketplace, but because of the injustice that was being done there. The money-changers took foreign currency, stamped with the image of the Emperor and "unclean," and changed it for coins that were "clean" and could be used to pay the Temple tax. But, commentators tell us, they were doing so at an unfair exchange rate so that people, who only wanted to worship God, were being cheated in the name of religion. Similarly with the animals for sacrifice that people were trying to buy. They were being charged an exorbitant fee for them and people were getting rich from religion. To this situation, Jesus reacted with anger.

You see, anger is the appropriate response to injustice. There are things in the world that ought to make us angry, and that anger should motivate us to right the wrongs. But we always do this as Jesus did. We don't destroy the evil-doers. We don't treat them as somehow less than human, as objects to be disposed of rather than brothers and sisters of our one Heavenly Father. We may confront them with tough words, as Jesus did, but we never hate them. In the end, we are willing to die for them as Jesus did, wanting their conversion and salvation, and praying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

A third interior movement: joy. What brings you joy? We're not talking about pleasure, but that deep interior happiness or satisfaction that we call joy.

Jesus felt great joy and it often had to do with the conversion of sinners. He experienced deep joy when sinners asked for mercy and He could forgive them. He felt joy when he saw humans treating one another as God wanted them to act. In our lives, we want to share this joy of Jesus. We want, in our prayer and our actions, to be instruments of God's reconciling love in the world so that we may give to Jesus once again the greatest joy He had when He walked this earth. We are His Body and he told His apostles after He rose from the dead: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

But to be sent by Jesus to continue His work of calling people to conversion and reconciling them, we need to be transformed ourselves. We need to go deeper in our spiritual lives. It's not simply a matter of having the resources to avoid burn-out or discouragement. It's not only about being people of integrity whose prayers and actions are consistent. It's not enough to be channels for God's powerful grace to enter the world. We need to be united to Jesus who said that He is the Vine and we are the branches and that apart from Him we can do nothing. We will only be able to treat others justly, with respect and love, if we are united to Him.

Years ago a musical group called "The Police," with their lead singer "Sting," sang a song "Spirits in the Material World." It had the following line: "There is no political solution." It's true. If we don't go deeper, if our hearts aren't transformed, all the political changes in the world won't change a thing because injustice finds its beginning in the human heart.

That's why I want to conclude with a little addition to the saying of Pope Paul VI that has often appeared on posters and bumper stickers. He said: "If you want peace, work for justice." I would add to this: "And if you want justice, pray!"