Sunday, February 28, 2010

Retreat as Transfiguration

The weekend (actually Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon) retreat is over here at White House Retreat in St. Louis. A Jesuit friend of mine is picking me up later and we will go out for supper before I catch a flight back to Milwaukee. Today is the Second Sunday of Lent and the Gospel at Mass for this day is always the story of Jesus' Transfiguration. For me, that event has always been a metaphor for going on retreat, and I talked about that in my homily at Mass today.

Luke's version of the Transfiguation says that Jesus went up a mountain to pray and three of his closest friends accompanied Him. That's what we do when we go on retreat. Just as Jesus took special time away from His busy life to commune with the Father, so do we. We accompanied Jesus up the mountain this weekend to pray with Him and to Him. Being with Him, we received a little taste of glory, just as His disciples did during that first Transfiguration.

The apostles received a taste of glory to prepare them for the difficulties that lay ahead. Soon their faith would be sorely tested when the Master would be arrested, tortured, and crucified. Jesus tried to strengthen their faith for those faith-testing events by allowing them to see a bit of the glory which was normally hidden from their sight. Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah to show them that the Hebrew Scriptures and the Prophets of old witnessed to Him.

Though Peter wanted to keep the experience of glory going as long as possible by building tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, the taste of glory ended and the apostles had to descend from the mountain and go on with their normal routines. So it is with a retreat. We too leave the mountain-top of retreat and return to our lives in the world. But we take something with us. Every spiritual experience is given to us to build up our faith and that of our brothers and sisters.

I've often heard people sigh at the end of a retreat: "Now it's back to the real world." I'd like to think that what we do when we go away on retreat is to get in touch with the really real world. So often in our busy lives we forget what is most important, why we exist, where we are headed, and how much God loves us. Retreat is a time to get in touch with those things and to have our faith strengthened for the road ahead.

As we leave the retreat we want to savor the words of God the Father which were spoken about Jesus at the Transfiguration: "This is my Chosen Son. Listen to Him." We return to our normal routines knowing that we need to listen every day to Jesus. We do that in two ways. One is to listen to Jesus speaking to us in the living word of the Scriptures, especially the Gospels. The other is to listen to Jesus speaking to us in our daily lives. It's a good practice to pause at the end of the day and to review it: to see how the Lord was present throughout the day, speaking to us through the events and people of our daily lives.

We also need to hear those other words of the Father that were spoken about Jesus and can now be said about each one of us, the baptized. When we were baptized we were joined to Christ, to His Body. We became sons and daughters of the Father of Jesus. As a result, in the words of one of the Prefaces from Mass, the Father sees and loves in us what He sees and loves in Christ. We are chosen. We are God's "choicest" sons and daughters. Our future glory, like Christ's except for the Transfiguation, may be hidden, but the reality is there. We just need, from time to time, to pause and perceive it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

At the White House

No, I'm not in Washington, D.C. The President hasn't asked me to join the Health Care Summit.

I'm at White House Retreat, the Jesuit retreat house in the St. Louis area. Since 1922 they have offered preached retreats based on the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius and around 5,000 people a year take advantage of the opportunity to come here on retreat. This weekend there are 66 men on retreat, 9 of them for the first time. It's a silent retreat and during the course of it I will be giving 10 talks based on the "Spiritual Exercises" and I'll be preaching at the three Masses.
I told the group as we started last night that there are three reasons that I am happy to be here. 1) In February it's always nice to go south. Of course St. Louis isn't too far south from Milwaukee; nevertheless it is a bit warmer here. 2) I am a Billiken. For those not-in-the-know, the Billiken is the mascot of St. Louis University, my alma mater. So coming to St. Louis means returning to a place that I called home for four years of my Jesuit life. 3) Giving retreats is one of my favorite things to do. I guess the best way to put it is this: I really believe in the Good News of God's love and His desire to enter into an intimate relationship with each one of us. And like any good news, it's hard to keep to oneself. I very much enjoy having the opportunity to share the greatest news of all time with others.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Arrivaderci Roma!

Goodbye Rome! I flew out Sunday morning and with the sun chasing me across the Atlantic I landed in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon. After a bit of a layover there, I got to Milwaukee by 10 P.M., just in time for a new snowfall.

To give an idea about the meeting of the newly formed international advisory council of the Apostleship of Prayer...

The Apostleship of Prayer exists in an official way in 61 countries. In two of those countries (Ethiopia and Kenya), the national directors are Religious Sisters; in two others (Switzerland and Belgium), they are lay people. In the rest, 57 countries, the national directors are Jesuits, half of whom are over 75 years old. Of the half who are under 75, only 17 have the Apostleship of Prayer as their full-time or primary ministry. Every diocese is supposed to have a Diocesan Director of the Apostleship of Prayer who is appointed by the Bishop, but in the U.S. there are only about 24 dioceses that have such Directors. When I go around the country giving retreats and missions it is not uncommon to meet with a Bishop who knows nothing about the Apostleship.

Thus our little group met in Rome with the International Delegate and our Director General to discuss the renewal of the Apostleship. It is not something that should die. From its beginning in 1844 it has offered to people a profoundly Eucharistic way of living. We "offer up" our entire day through the Daily Offering and in that way find meaning as well as God's will in the daily routines and sufferings of life.

Here in the U.S., I see a renewal of the Apostleship of Prayer going on. A lot of that is due to the Internet, as well as radio and other media. Where in the past people became a part of the Apostleship by enrolling through their parish, today people are finding us on the Internet and becoming part of our prayer community. I won't call it a "virtual community" because it is a very real community that is connected at the deepest level possible--at the level of the heart by means of prayer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Long Roman Days

It´s late here in Rome...about 9:30 PM. Given our schedule, this is actually the earliest that I've been able to write. Our meetings of the advisory council of the Apostleship of Prayer begin at 8:30 AM and continue into the evening. Tonight was the first time that we were actually free after supper, which is usually late--around 8 PM.

Fr. Fidelis Jaybalan from India was not able to get a visa to enter Italy for this meeting, but he saw God's hand in this because he is being given a different assignment and will no longer work as the coordinator of the Apostleship of Prayer in India. So we are a small group of five: I, who speak English and understand and speak some Spanish; Fr. Frederic Fornos from France who understands English and speaks both French and perfect Spanish because he lived in Bolivia for two years; Fr. Juan Antonio Medina from Uruguay who speaks Spanish; Fr. Rigobert Kyungo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who speaks French, English, and Italian; and our international delegate for the Apostleship of Prayer, Fr. Claudio Barriga, who speaks English, French, Spanish, and Italian. I must admit it is not easy having a meeting or even communicating at meals with such a diverse language group. Yet we have many things in common, including a love of the Apostleship of Prayer and a desire to see its renewal and spread. Naturally how this will happen will be different in various parts of the world.

On Tuesday morning we shared our vision of the Apostleship with one another and three members of the Jesuit Curia. It was very consoling to see how inspired these advisors to the General of the Jesuits were as we shared with them the important role we see the Apostleship playing in the world. In the afternoon we talked more among ourselves about how we see that role.

On Wednesday morning we met with Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, the General of the Jesuits and the Director General of the Apostleship of Prayer. His words resonated with us, especially with regard to his desire that the Apostleship be renewed for our times, his encouragement that we help people understand what it means to have a well-grounded Eucharistic spirituality, and his challenge that we develop links with many different groups and people. In the afternoon we met again by ourselves to talk about the essential qualities of the Apostleship of Prayer--that it is Eucharistic, Ecclesial, and for Mission. In other words, the Eucharist and our daily offering of ourselves in which we join ourselves to Jesus' perfect offering of himself on the cross and in the Mass insert us fully into the Church from which we are sent forth to bring God's love into the world. We also discussed how the daily offering prayer is not simply a prayer to be recited but one that has to be lived; in order for that to happen there is need for growth in prayer and the spiritual life. We all need, in the words of Pope John Paul II who loved to quote Jesus' words to Peter (see Luke 5), to go deeper.

Today we continued our discussions about how we would describe the program of the Apostleship of Prayer to people of today and then we moved on to some more concrete and practical matters. We heard a report about the Eucharistic Youth Movement whose mission is to introduce children and young people from 7 to 25 to the way of the Apostleship. We talked about a meeting of the Movement that will happen in Argentina in 2012 and about World Youth Day 2011. Then, in the afternoon, we discussed the 1968 Statutes of the Apostleship and addressed the question of whether they needed revision ("yes") and we asked the question for whom the Apostleship of Prayer was meant and if there were groups on which we should in a special way focus our attention. Obviously, the way of the daily offering is for everyone, but in our times it may be especially important for young people searching for meaning, for sick and elderly people who may see no meaning in their sufferings, for busy people who have little time for long formal prayer, and for seminarians who would find this method helpful for the people they will one day serve.

Tomorrow, I will moderate the discussion and act as secretary, writing the minutes of our day up in the evening, when we return from enjoying a Roman pizza. In the afternoon we meet again with Father General Nicolas. It will be a long and full day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Rooms of St. Ignatius

On Monday evening I celebrated Mass with the other small group of Jesuits who are here in Rome for a meeting to discuss the Apostleship of Prayer. We celebrated in a little chapel which used to be one of the rooms where St. Ignatius dwelt and where he died. Monday was the feast of St. Claude la Colombiere, who lived a little over a century after St. Ignatius, and it was appropriate that we began our meetings with Mass on his feast and in the rooms of St. Ignatius. St. Claude was the spiritual director of the great Sacred Heart visionary, St. Margaret Mary.

In my homily I spoke about the connections between St. Ignatius, St. Claude, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Apostleship of Prayer. St. Claude, formed by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, had a deep, personal love for Jesus and in particular for his humanity. Jesus loves us with a Heart that is human and divine. Knowing the love of Jesus which is symbolised by his Sacred Heart, St. Claude, following the direction of St. Ignatius, would have listened to what this Heart had to say to him in his prayer and would have responded as one friend speaks to another. He would have had a heart to Heart conversation with Jesus.

But love, as St. Ignatius taught, is expressed in more than words. In fact, it is expressed best in deeds. At the end of the Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius invites the retreatant to ponder all the good things God has done and to ask, what would a reasonable person do? The answer is to give as one has received. Since we have received everything from God, and since God has held back nothing of himself, then we too ought to make a total offering of ourselves to God. Such an offering is best renewed each day, one day at a time.

And such an offering will ultimately involve sacrifice. It will mean surrendering our own plans, desires, and will to God. This is what happened in the life of St. Ignatius who wanted to be a priest directly serving people in pastoral ways and ended up the last decade of his life as a priest-administrator. Out of love for Jesus, he gave himself to the task of organizing the Jesuit order he founded and writing its Constitutions. He sacrificed his will for the will of God. Love inspired him to do so.

Similarly, St. Claude sacrificed his plans and desires. After serving as St. Margaret Mary's spiritual director he went to England where he was ultimately imprisoned, became ill, and was released lest his death create a political crisis with France. He died a short time later at the early age of 42.

The Daily Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer can only be made as an act of love. If it doesn't arise out of the knowledge of God's deep personal love, it is in danger of becoming a routine or a part of a business negotiation with God. That idea is one of the things we discussed yesterday and today. But more on those discussions another time....

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

St. Peter's Basilica

I'm a day behind in posting, but yesterday morning I went to St. Peter's Basilica. It was an amazing experience. I raced through the church looking for the tomb of Pope John Paul II, the first place that I wanted to visit. I asked a guide who directed me outside the basilica and then downstairs. Many popes are buried there and on my way to Pope John Paul's grave I passed and prayed at Pope Paul VI's grave. After that it was easy to find Pope John Paul's grave because of the people praying in front of it and the guide directing people past it. I was able to stop and pray with the small crowd present there.

Then I made my way to the basilica again and walked all around. Pope Pius XII is buried in the main church, as well as Blessed Pope John XXIII. (I have to admit that I was surprised recently at some letters in the Milwaukee Archdiocesan newspaper which complained about the causes of Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II being advanced and Blessed Pope John XXIII being ignored. Obviously the letter writers weren't following their Catholic news very carefully.)

The art and architecture of the main basilica is truly amazing. I took my time walking around, checking out all the large statues to see which saints were given that honor, trying to see around the crowd that gathered in front of Michelangelo's famous "Pieta," and stopping at the foot of the statue of St. Peter to touch his foot and to pray for a special intention that had been entrusted to me.

But I have to admit that the most beautiful site was behind a curtain. I walked past the curtain and the guard who was there and entered the chapel where there is 24 hour Eucharistic Adoration. As I knelt down I thought about all the beautiful things I had just seen and prayed: "But You, Lord, You are the most beautiful of all. I'm grateful to be here at St. Peter's and to see all these wondrous works of art created to give You glory. But in the end, You, here present in the monstrance on the altar, are the most beautiful of all. And I don't even have to leave home to see You. Thank You for Your Eucharistic Presence!"

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rome, Day 2

On Sunday I celebrated Mass in Spanish with three other Jesuits in the St. Joseph Chapel of the Jesuit Curia. Then at noon we went to St. Peter's Square for the Holy Father's Sunday Angelus Message. Though the weather was cool, the reception for the Holy Father was warm, especially from the various pilgrim groups who came from Spain, Portugal and Brazil, and other parts of Italy.

I had the great privilege of sharing lunch with Archbishop Raymond Burke, formerly Bishop of LaCrosse and Archbishop of St. Louis and currently Prefect of the Signatura, the Supreme Court of the Church. Archbishop Burke has a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and is a great supporter of the Apostleship of Prayer. When I arranged for this meeting, he asked me to bring along 20 of our childrens' booklet, "Do You Know the Sacred Heart of Jesus?" On the ceiling of the chapel in his apartments he has three hearts: the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Purest Heart of Joseph.

After lunch Fr. Jim Grummer and I continued our tour of Rome, visiting 7 churches in three hours, and seeing some of the other famous Roman places like Trevi Fountain. I particularly liked the church of St. Andrew which used to be the chapel for the Jesuit Novitiate and where the body of St. Stanislaus Kostka is buried. In the 16th Century, St. Stanislaus longed to be a Jesuit but his parents opposed his desire and so he walked from Poland to Vienna to Rome in order to enter the Society. He was accepted into the Novitiate but died before taking vows.

We returned to the community for supper followed by a simple social. They say that jet lag usually gets you on the second night and that was the case: I woke up ready for another day at 3 A.M. Many monks rise at that hour to pray and so in my own way I joined them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

First Day in Rome

Flying from Milwaukee to Philadelphia to Rome, I arrived at Leonardo da Vinci Airport around 9:15 Saturday morning. A good Jesuit friend of mine, Fr. James Grummer, who works in the Jesuit Curia in Rome as our General's Assistant for the U.S., had arrived about 45 minutes earlier, returning to Rome after a meeting in the U.S. Together we negotiated the Roman train system and made our way to the Jesuit Curia which is a few blocks from St. Peter's Basilica.

The main meal in Italy is taken at 1:00 P.M. and Fr. Grummer asked our table about the latest news. And the big news was that he had just missed the snow! The last time Rome saw snow was about 25 years ago and the other day it had snowed enough to cover the trees and roads. I must admit that after all the snow storms in the U.S. recently, I was happy to miss this unusual Roman snow.

After lunch Fr. Grummer took me on a tour of the area. We walked down busy streets and quiet streets, past the Forum and the Colossium, to the Church of San Clemente. After praying in the main church and seeing the beautiful mosaic behind the altar, we descended stairs into various layers of history: the original church with frescos from the 4th Century and the original temple to Mithras over which the subsequent places of worship were built.

From there we proceeded to the beautiful Jesuit church, Gesu, where we attended a special music and light show during which paintings and a statue of St. Ignatius were lit as passages from Scripture, the Autobiography of St. Ignatius, and the Spiritual Exercises were read. From there we went to the church of St. Ignatius and to the Bellarmino, the House of Studies for Jesuits pursuing advanced degrees in Rome, where we celebrated Mass with the English-speaking Jesuits in Rome.

It was a full day, but after a 10 hour sleep, espresso coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice, and the fine Italian food, I'm ready for Sunday.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Off to Rome

People are usually very surprised that I--57 years old, a Jesuit for 38 years and a priest for 26--have never been to Rome. It's the truth. I've been to South Korea, Guatemala and Mexico, the Philippines, Chile, the Holy Land, Spain and Portugal, and, of course Canada, but I've never been to Rome. Next week that will change. I leave tomorrow and arrive in Rome on Saturday for a week of meetings about the Apostleship of Prayer.

Fr. Claudio Barriga, S.J. is the Director General's Delegate for the Apostleship of Prayer and the Eucharistic Youth Movement. He has formed a group that he calls his International Counselors and we will meet next week with him as well as the Director General, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, the General Superior of the Jesuits. I'm arriving a bit early in order to get over jet-lag and to see some of Rome. I'm told that the Jesuit community where I'll be staying has computers with internet access for visitors and so I'm hoping to post reports during my week in Rome.

The other Counselors are: Fr. Juan Antonio Medina, S.J., the National Secretary of Uruguay and the Coordinator of the Latin American Apostleship of Prayer; Fr. Fidelis Jayabalan, S.J., the National Secretary of India; Fr. Frederic Fornos, S.J., the National Secretary of France; and Fr. Rigobert Kyungu, S.J., the National Secretary of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Coordinator of the African Apostleship of Prayer. It is a privilege for me, as the National Director or Secretary of the U.S. Apostleship of Prayer to be a part of this group and its discussions.

We begin on Tuesday and go through Saturday. The proposed schedule is as follows:

8:30 AM Work Session
12:15 PM Prayer
12:45 PM Break
1:00 PM Lunch
3:00 PM Work Session
5:45 PM Break
6:00 PM Prayer
6:30 PM Mass
7: 15 PM Supper
8:30 PM Informal Sharing

Fr. Barriga's "General Objective" for us is to "discuss ways that the Apostleship of Prayer can be renewed." I'm eager to talk about how I am seeing such a renewal in the U.S., primarily as a result of old media (radio) and new media (internet, blogs).

I'm looking forward to these meetings, to seeing Rome, and to tasting a lot of what I can honestly say is my favorite food--Italian pasta.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fatima and the Apostleship of Prayer

I led an afternoon of recollection yesterday for the local St. Gregory VII Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith. My two talks were entitled "Fatima and Lent: the Call to Prayer and Penance."

The story of Fatima begins, I believe, before Our Lady's appearance there in 1917 and before the appearance of the Angel of Peace in 1916. I think it begins in 1909.

Last May Fr. Jaime Rasura, S.J., who is an associate pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in San Diego, sent me a copy of a 1909 leaflet of the Apostleship of Prayer. In those days the Holy Father had only one prayer intention that he gave to the Church through the Apostleship of Prayer. In 1929 he added a monthly Mission Intention. His General Intention for January 1909 was "Catholicity in Portugal." The reflection in the leaflet for this intentions reads: "One of the aims of the Apostleship is the union of Catholics in prayer for the needs of the Church. At the opening of the New Year Our Holy Father, who knows so well the wants of his children, urges us to pray for Portugal, which at present is in great danger...."

What danger? In 1908 King Charles I had been assassinated. The country was in turmoil and Pope St. Pius X asked the world to pray for Portugal. Matters only got worse. In 1910 there was a socialist revolution and an anti-religious party took over the leadership of the country. The papal nuncio was expelled, religious houses were closed, processions were banned, priests and religious were forbidden to wear their clerical garb or habits, priests and bishops who opposed these measures were imprisoned or exiled. Perhaps some people at the time thought that their prayers the previous year were in vain.

A few years later God sent the Angel of Peace and Our Blessed Mother to three children and to the world. Part of Secret that Our Lady gave to the children during her appearance on July 13, 1917 was: "In Portugal, the dogma of the faith will be kept always."

I believe that the events in Fatima and all that has followed are directly related to the prayers of the Faithful who answered Pope St. Pius X's call for prayer in January, 1909. In his note that accompanied the leaflet, Fr. Rasura wrote: "How about this 100 year old leaflet? Pray for peace in Portugal and soon after Our Lady appears to the three children at Fatima. Prayers of the A.P. are powerful."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Vocation to Consecrated Life

I celebrated Mass this morning with the Sisters of St. Francis at Clare Hall. The following is the homily that I gave.

In today's readings we have three vocation stories. All of us have a vocation. At baptism we were called to follow Christ; we became Christians or members of His Body. But within this basic baptismal vocation or call there are other calls. There is a call within a call that most of here have heard--the call to consecrated life.

In the first reading we have the Prophet Isaiah's call (Chapter 6). He had a profound experience of God's presence and sensed his own sinfulness. After the fire of God's love purified him he heard the Lord call "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" Having experienced God's love he responded "Here I am, send me!"

In the second reading we have St. Paul's call (1 Corinthians 15: 1-11). Paul talks about the death and resurrection of Jesus and how after He rose He appeared to the apostles and many others. Then he says, "Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me." Actually Paul wasn't so much the "last" as the "first." Those other appearances of the Risen Lord were before His Ascension into heaven. Paul is the first recorded apparition of Jesus after He ascended. He is the first in a line that includes St. Margaret Mary, St. Faustina, and St. Francis of Assisi. From this profound experience of God's love that started his conversion, Paul responded.

Finally, in the Gospel we have the call of St. Peter and some other fishermen. Jesus tells Peter, who has been fishing all night with no results, to go out again and cast his net. Peter knows in his head that Jesus is wrong. No doubt he thought, "I'm the fisherman. What does this carpenter know about fishing?" But in his heart Peter responded to Jesus' challenge. Peter followed his heart, not his head.

Isn't that so often the case? When we think about the call to religious life all sorts of questions and doubts come up in our minds. If we listened to our heads we would never have responded to Jesus' call. So we, like Peter, have listened to our hearts. The result is a profound experience of God. In the face of this Peter tells Jesus to get away because he is a sinner. That may be our response as well, but Jesus doesn't take "no" for an answer, then or now. Jesus tells Peter and us, "Do not be afraid." Then He tells Peter that from that moment he will be "catching" people and not fish.

I'm not a fisherman. My brother-in-law Joe is. He's such a fisherman that he even had "Muskie" as part of his email address. I'm not a fisherman, but I know enough about it to know that it requires three things. First, you have to have patience. Fishing involves a lot of waiting. Second, you have to be quiet. You can't yell at the fish to get into the boat. Third, you have to have the right bait or lure. That's one of the things that Joe spends time on, creating various lures and perfecting them so that the fish will be attracted to his line.

I think Jesus chose fishermen because they would naturally know something about evangelization. You have to be patient and gentle, and you have to use the right bait or lure. What's the bait that we use? Ourselves, the witness of our lives. We are the way in which Jesus will lure or attract people to Himself. Notice: we don't attract people to ourselves but to Jesus.

Today would be a good day to spend a little time reflecting on your own vocation story. What drew you to consecrated life? What attracted you to this community?

For me, it was a camping trip the summer before my senior year of high school. A Jesuit priest named Fr. John Eagan invited me to go with him and five classmates on a camping trip around Lake Superior. That was the "bait" for me. But what was it about that "lure" that attracted me to the Jesuits?

Several things. First, the sense of freedom and fun, being away from my parents and doing something I'd never done before--the adventure. Second, the beauty of nature. In that beauty I experienced the beauty of the Creator. Third, the friendship and sense of community that developed among the seven of us. And lastly, the prayer. Not that we were praying all the time, but in the midst of God's beautiful creation and by sharing that experience with others, I had a profound experience of God. I especially remember celebrating the Eucharist on rocks overlooking Lake Superior as the sun began to set in the west.

A seed was planted. I began to think about doing for other young people what Fr. Eagan had done for me. I was drawn to God and to mediating an experience of God for others.

Last Tuesday, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, was also World Day of Consecrated Life. I want to share with you some things that Pope Benedict said in his homily that day because they contain these same themes.

First, he said: "Consecrated life witnesses and expresses in a 'powerful' way the reciprocal seeking of God and humanity, the love that attracts them to one another. The consecrated person, by the very fact of his or her being, represents something like a 'bridge' to God for all those he or she meets...."

While every human person has a hunger for God and seeks God, God also hungers for our love and seeks us. There is a mutual attraction. Nothing in the world ultimately satisfies our hunger. As consecrated persons we are called to show the world this reality by what we say and, more importantly, by what we do. We are to be a "bridge" for God to enter the world with His love and for people to experience God and His love.

Secondly, he told the consecrated people he was with: "Each one of you has approached Him as the source of pure and faithful love, a love so great and beautiful as to merit all, in fact, more than our all, because a whole life is not enough to return what Christ is and what He has done for us."

Ultimately each of us entered religious life because we had an encounter with God and experienced His profound and intimate love. Our call to consecrated life was a desire to respond to the love of God which led us to give all of ourselves to Him.

Thirdly, Pope Benedict said: "Finally, dear friends, we wish to raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be! Beyond the superficial valuations of functionality, consecrated life is important precisely for its being a sign of gratuitousness and of love, and all the more so in a society that risks being suffocated in the vortex of the ephemeral and the useful. Consecrated life, instead, witnesses to the superabundance of the Lord's love, who first 'lost' His life for us. At this moment I am thinking of the consecrated persons who feel the weight of the daily effort lacking in human gratification; I am thinking of elderly men and women religious, the sick, of all those who feel difficulties in their apostolate. Not one of these is futile, because the Lord associates them to the 'throne of grace.' Instead, they are a precious gift for the Church and the world, thirsty for God and His Word."

Our world focuses on production and wealth. A person is valuable in so far as he or she produces. You stand against this tendency of our culture. You witness to the reality that everyone is important because God calls everyone to an intimate relationship with Himself. You may feel now that you have very little to give to the Lord. You're not able to do what you had been doing for so many years, what you entered consecrated life to do. You may, like Isaiah and Peter, feel very little or very weak and sinful. But Jesus says to you, "Don't be afraid!" Continue to follow your heart. Give Jesus the little you feel you have and like Peter you will receive a lot. By continuing to give all, you will receive all, not the things of the world which can never truly satisfy, but the One for whom we were made, the One who gave us His all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Prayer

Today was a busy day in our national office here in Milwaukee. It's the first Wednesday of the month, a day when about a dozen volunteers show up to help get out the mailing of the monthly leaflets. We began with Mass at 8:30, which today included the St. Blase Blessing of Throats. Then they went to work. Before breaking for lunch at noon we paused to pray the Angelus together. We added another prayer today, one that was printed in the latest issue of the Wisconsin Province of the Jesuits' periodical entitled "Jesuit Journeys." The reason we chose to pray this prayer is because it was written by one of our volunteers, Roland Starszak, who composed it after he and his wife went on a retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh. Since we are the Apostleship of Prayer and it's a beautiful prayer, I thought I'd share it with everyone. Here it is:

God bless my spouse for being God's great blessing to me.
God bless my children with a true path to holiness.
God bless my grandchildren with a yearning to know Him.
God bless all my relatives with a life-long grace of happy relationships.
God bless all my friends, new and old. May they know the friendship of Christ.
God bless our civil and Church leaders to always aid in spreading the Kingdom.
God bless the world. May all peoples seek the reign of true peace.
God bless all my ancestors who in some way have affected my personhood.
God bless my parents who truly mirrored the relationship of the Father to His Son.
God bless me that I may know His will and always strive to accomplish it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Retreat for Chicago Deacon Couples

Over the weekend I gave a retreat at the Cardinal Strich Retreat House in Mundelein, IL to about 40 deacons and their wives. In the past few years I'd given retreats there to priests from the Gary Diocese and the Chicago Archdiocese, and last summer Deacon Richard Hudzik, the director of the retreat house, asked me to come and give a retreat to deacon couples from Chicago. He has been interested in the spirituality of the Sacred Heart and wanted me to give a retreat with that theme. In fact, he blogged about the Sacred Heart last July and expressed some of the mixed feelings that many Catholics have about this devotion.

The retreat consisted of five talks. In the first, on Friday evening, we entered into the quiet space of the retreat by hearing the invitation, "Draw Near to His Heart." On Saturday morning I told what I like to call "The True Love Story," talking about how devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus begins with God's devotion to humanity, His love for each and for all. Our devotion or love is always a response to God who loved us first, creating us and redeeming us. Then in the afternoon and evening I gave two talks in which I shared much of what I recently said in Cleveland: that we can grow in our devotion to the Heart of Jesus by entering more deeply into the thoughts and feelings of His Heart as we imaginatively pray with the Gospels; that we are given the Heart of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist to transform our hearts. On Sunday morning I spoke about "Living the Eucharist" by praying the daily offering that the Apostleship of Prayer promotes.

It was a blessed time for me. I found an old saying about giving retreats true: "In giving a retreat you also make the retreat." Besides praying with a wonderful group of deacon couples, one of whom was in the first class ordained in Chicago (1972) after the Second Vatican Council and some of whom were ordained as recently as 2003, I enjoyed the hospitality and community that I've always found when deacon couples gather. The other blessing was that they were clearly inspired to share the Eucharistic spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer with their parish communities.