Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Priesthood of the Faithful

Yesterday, Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter, I came upon a favorite sermon of mine in the Breviary. It's from St. Peter Chrysologus and it's based on a Scripture passage (Romans 12: 1)that we often use in the Apostleship of Prayer to provide a Scriptural basis for making a daily offering of ourselves, all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of our day.

The sermon begins with love. We are only able to make a loving offering of ourselves if we are deeply aware of the offering that Jesus has made for us. Thus, St. Peter Chrysologus writes:
Listen to the Lord's appeal: In me, I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death. These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no loss to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.

Then St. Peter Chrysologus talks about the call of the baptized to make a return offering of themselves to the Lord. He says:
Listen now to what the Apostle [Paul] urges us to do. "I appeal to you," he says, "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice." By this exhortation of his, Paul has raised all men to priestly status.

How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself. The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.

A bit later, St. Peter Chrysologus, after making reference to a quote from Psalm 40 that also appears in Hebrews 10, he concludes with a practical exhoration on how to live the offering that all the baptized faithful are called to make:

Paul says: "I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy." The prophet said the same thing: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me." Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest. Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you. Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity. Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection. Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you. Keep burning continually the sweet-smelling incense of prayer. Take up the sword of the Spirit. Let your heart be an altar. Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice. God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago today I left Holy Transfiguration Skete in Eagle Harbor Michigan. I had been there for over 7 months while on a sabbatical. I was there discerning whether or not God was calling me to a new vocation as a monk in this Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic monastery on the shores of Lake Superior. I was convinced that God was calling me out of the Jesuits and into the monastic life, but every day for about 7 months I prayed the following prayer: "Lord, I really want to be a monk here. I think You are calling me to be one. But if this is not Your will, if this is not want You want, hit me over the head!" I've always thought that it's a good idea to be direct with God.

I wasn't literally hit over the head, but after those 7 months, when I had about three weeks left in my monastic sabbatical and discernment period, God made it clear that He wanted me to remain in the Society of Jesus. In retrospect I see what a blessing all this was.

It was a blessing to experience the rich traditions of the Eastern Church. I can say that for those 7 months I learned to breathe a bit with the Eastern lung of the Church, as Pope John Paul II used to say. And, I returned to my life as a Jesuit renewed.

Ten years ago today I left the shore of Lake Superior and arrived here, on the shore of Lake Demontreville, where I worked for the next three years at the Jesuit Retreat House here. I'm In all of this I see God's hand preparing me for my current assignment as the U.S. director of the Apostleship of Prayer. I'm glad that this ministry gives me the opportunity to return to Demontreville to give retreats from time to time. This is a ministry where the words from the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis ring true: "It is in giving that we receive."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Joy at Demontreville

Demontreville is the name of a lake in the St. Paul suburb of Lake Elmo. It's also the name by which most people know the Jesuit Retreat House that is located here. I gave my first retreat here in 1986 and have given over 60 retreats since then. The retreats start at 7 PM on Thursday and end at 7 PM on Sunday. They are silent retreats for men and consist of 14 half hour talks that lead the retreatants through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

I'm giving the retreat this weekend and, as always happens, I can tell how I'll be feeling around 4:30 PM on Saturday afternoon. Not tired. Not down. Consoled and "flying high" would be the best description. Why? On Saturday the period after the 2:30 PM talk is set aside for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The 71 men on retreat this weekend all had the opportunity to go to confession to one of four Jesuit confessors. I know from experience that when the time for confession is over I'll be feeling the way I'm feeling now.

As a priest, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the most consoling things that I do. Through it I get to share in the joy that Jesus has in forgiving sins. I believe that this was the greatest thrill that He had when He walked this earth. He came to take away the sins of the world and it gave Him great pleasure to tell people, "Go in peace, your sins are forgiven." And so as His instrument of forgiveness today, I share in the pleasure He feels every time people bring their burden of sins, say they are sorry, and ask for pardon and absolution.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"Spring" Ministry

On Wednesday, on my way to the St. Paul, MN area, I stopped in Spring Valley, Wisconsin, a small town not too far from the Interstate on which I drove. Sacred Heart Church invited me to meet with their young adult group. After a fabulous pot-luck supper (it seems parishioners always outdo themselves in providing the best of their recipes for things like this), I met with the young people from 6 to 8. I began by telling the story of St. Ignatius and how he went from being a very worldly young man to being on fire for the Lord. It all started with a canon ball, a badly injured leg, an illness that almost killed him, and a couple books. Laid up from his wound and the subsequent surgeries, Ignatius ended up reading the only things that were available in his family's castle--a book of the life of Christ and another of the lives of the saints. His dreams gradually changed from continuing his worldly path of doing brave deeds to win the hand of a fair maiden to doing brave deeds for Jesus. I used this story of his life to talk about discerning one's way through life, one's vocation, and how important it is to pay attention to the movements of our hearts.

I then talked about how St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, taught a method of prayer involving the use of one's imagination. We are to read a gospel passage and imagine ourselves in the scene. I always like to take that a step further and invite people to imagine what was going on it the mind and heart of Jesus and, in that way, learning to think His thoughts and feel with the deep desires of Jesus' Heart.
Before our break, I played a song entitled "Salt and Light." I've always thought of this song as an example of how the symbol of the heart is universal. While Catholics may speak of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, all Christians speak of a desire to have this Heart. This song, written and played by Evangelical Christians, speaks to me of what devotion to the Sacred Heart is all about. Here are the lyrics:

You make me want to be like You
Your holiness I will pursue
I want the heart of Jesus
Show me the meaning of Your grace
I want to give the world a taste
of the love of Jesus.

Make me salt
Make me light
Let Your holy fire ignite
Reveal Your glory in my life
I am not ashamed
To lift up Your holy name
Make me salt
Make me light

As a city on a hill
A lamp on a stand
Mold me in Your image
The work of Your hand

Did you notice how even some of the imagery of pictures of the Sacred Heart is in this song? "Let your holy fire ignite." That holy fire is the fire of love that burns in the Heart of Jesus. It's a flame that will set us on fire and then spread to others. That, I think, is the essence of every vocation. The vocation of every human being is to know, love, and serve God. We come to know God through Jesus who reveals the depths of God's love. As we come to know God we can't help but love God and this love shows itself in action, in how we live our lives. So no matter what vocation we are called to--marriage, consecrated life, priesthood, single--we will only truly live that vocation faithfully if we do so in response to the love of God, if we are on fire with the love of God revealed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blessed Bernardo de Hoyos

My religious order, the Society of Jesus, has a new "blessed" today. Blessed Bernardo de Hoyos, who lived from 1711 to 1735, was beatified in Spain. This young Spanish Jesuit joins an illustrious group of young Jesuit saints: St. Stanislaus Kostka who was 17 when he died, St. John Berchmans who was 22, and St. Aloysius Gonzaga who was 24. Bl. Bernardo de Hoyos was also only 24 when he died but unlike the others he was a priest. Wait a minute! Doesn't Jesuit formation take 10 to 12 years or more from the time of entrance to ordination? Yes. So did Bl. Bernardo rush through the normal course? No, not really. Why? Because he entered the Jesuits when he was only 14 and he served less than 11 months as a priest before he died of typhus.

What makes this new Jesuit blessed especially important to the Apostleship of Prayer is that he is known as the first apostle of the Sacred Heart in Spain. In a short time, Bl. Bernardo grew in holiness through his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In 1732 he wrote: "I see that everything in my heart is moving towards God, drawn like iron to a magnet. It desires only God, searches only for God, and longs only for God." Within a year of this he felt a deep call to promote devotion to the Heart of Jesus. He wrote: "I felt in my spirit an extraordinary motion--strong, gentle, not abrupt or impetuous. I then placed myself before the Blessed Sacrament, offering myself to His Sacred Heart in order to cooperate as much as possible ... in propagating devotion to it."

These two quotes remind me of something that Pope John Paul II wrote in his letter announcing the Year of the Eucharist, "Mane Nobiscum Domine:" "The presence of Jesus in the tabernacle must be a kind of magnetic pole attracting an ever greater number of souls enamoured of him, ready to wait patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart."

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Deus Caritas Est"

I'm in Alhambra, California, at the Sacred Heart Retreat House which is run by the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. Though I haven't been here since December, 2008, this is my fifth retreat and it will be for about 40 women. The retreats go from Friday evening until Sunday noon.

The Sisters choose a theme for the year and for 2010 it's "Deus Caritas Est" or "God is Love." The five talks I'll be giving are: 1) God is Love, but what is Love? 2) God is Creative Love; 3) God is Redemptive Love; 4) God is Self-Sacrificing Love; 5) God is Eternal Love.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Faith in Recovery

Last night I went to St. Mary of the Hill Parish to speak to their "Faith in Recovery" group. What is "Faith in Recovery"? They describe themselves as "A Mental Health Ministry in Faith Communities." There are a number of groups that meet throughout the Milwaukee area.

The title of my talk was "Can Suffering Have Any Value?" and the ad for the talk described it as follows:

"Suffering can be mental, physical, or due to circumstances in our lives such as job loss, broken relationships, stress and anxiety. The world approaches suffering as having no value. How can we have a balanced approach to suffering? Does our Christian faith give us an answer to this question? What about the spirituality of 'offering up' suffering?"

One of the goals of "Faith in Recovery" is to help people understand mental illness. One of their brochures has the following facts: 1) "mental illness is far more common than cancer, diabetes, heart disease or arthritis;" 2) "more hospital beds are occupied by people with serious mental illnesses than with any other disease;" 3) "it is estimated that 1 in every 4 families is affected by mental illness."

My family is among the 25% that has been affected by mental illness.

I began my presentation talking about my family and how my oldest sister Judy struggled for years with a dependency on pain-killers. Both of my parents died of cancer, my mother when she was 68 and my father when he was 75. When my sister turned 60 she developed a terrible anxiety that she too was going to suffer and then die of cancer. She was so afraid of dying of cancer that she could no longer face living. In early 2003 she went through a series of 13 electroshock treatments. On December 23, 2003, she put a plastic bag over her head and suffocated herself.

Why? That's the question that went through everyone's mind. Of course we knew the immediate answer. She couldn't kill the pain of her depression and anxiety so she killed herself. But why was this illness of hers "terminal?" Why couldn't she get better? Why didn't God answer all our prayers for her the way we wanted them answered? Why, as the title of the book goes, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

It seems easier to deal with physical illnesses and the deaths they cause. We don't blame the person with cancer, unless he or she was a smoker. We don't tell them to just work a little harder and they'll get better. Somehow the illnesses of the mind don't receive the same sympathy. We tend to blame the person who is depressed and expect that if they just tried harder they could get better. We don't get angry at the person with cancer, but we easily slip into anger at the person with a mental illness. We don't tell the cancer patient to get over their symptoms and we feel sorry for them when they experience bad side effects from their medications and treatment. We don't have the same sympathy for the mentally ill; we expect them to use will-power to get over their symptoms and we try to ignore the side effects of their medication.

I can't help thinking that Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit poet of the Nineteenth Century, struggled with depression and/or spiritual desolation, perhaps "the dark night of the soul." Some of his verses certainly describe what people who struggle with an illness of the mind feel.

In one sonnet, he writes:

"O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there.

Those who struggle with mental illness know the mountains of the mind and how dangerous they can be. At times they hang, as it were, by a thread over a precipice. Those of us who have not struggled in this way have a hard time understanding.

Another among what are known as "The Terrible Sonnets," captures the experience of darkness and despair and the silence of God.

"I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day,
What hours, O what black hours we have spent

This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must yet, in longer light's delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

How does the poet deal with this? How does he try to deal with himself?

"My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.

Illness, pain, suffering--these lead us to ask "Why?" But there is no satisfactory answer. It is a mystery in the truest sense of that word. Not something we will understand this side of eternity. And suffering is inevitable in everyone's life, but we have a choice in how we deal with it. I offered three suggestions that I have found helpful.

First, the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Basically this is a prayer of acceptance. It leads us to accept suffering when it comes and cannot be avoided instead of reacting with resentment, blame, self-pity, or denial. Acceptance doesn't take away the pain, but it can lead to inner peace.

Second, the 12 Step spirituality of recovery programs. The 12 Steps of AA are not just for alcoholics, drug or sex addicts, over-eaters, or the spouses, children, and friends of them. They're for everyone. Bill W., the author of the 12 Steps and founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, used the 12 Steps to deal with a compulsion to drink that was out of control. After some time of sobriety he ended up facing a new challenge--depression. He came to realize that he could use the same program that got him sober and helped him maintain sobriety to deal with depression. He wrote an article about this called "The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety."

Third, the Apostleship of Prayer. At the beginning, in 1844, the Jesuit seminarians learned to make a prayerful offering of their frustrations and sufferings. In this way they found meaning and purpose in them. Years later Dr. Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, wrote a book about his experience entitled "Man's Search for Meaning." He concluded that under the terrible conditions of a concentration camp, people didn't survive simply to survive. Those who survived generally had a purpose that transcended mere physical survival. They were committed to surviving for a greater purpose that transcended themselves--a family, a research project, a work of art, God.

Ultimately the secret of the Apostleship of Prayer is that the pains and sufferings we meet in life can have value. It's the value of prayer which, when joined to sacrifice, becomes most like the prayer of Jesus. To offer up the pains and sufferings that come our way helps us find light in darkness. It helps us to trust that even when all we have to offer is our pain, we are doing a great work because it's joined to the work that Jesus accomplished on the Cross when He saved the world.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Homily for Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

On Saturday, April 10, I was honored to preach at a special Mass honoring Fr. John Hardon, S.J., during the annual conference of the Institute on Religious Life. The readings were for Saturday of the Octave of Easter: Acts 4: 13-21 and Mark 16: 9-15. Here is what I said:

I am grateful and deeply consoled to be preaching in honor of my brother Jesuit, Fr. John Hardon. I only met Fr. Hardon once, and briefly at that. It was at a fund-raising dinner for Mercy Academy, a small, private, Catholic school in Milwaukee. I remember his talk as though it were today. He said that in the future Catholics, if they are going to be faithful Catholics, will have to be ready to be martyrs. It was a striking statement which, as I thought about it, rang true to me. In the more than ten years since, his words have proven to be true.

And this shouldn't surprise us. Jesus Himself predicted that His followers would be persecuted. He even said that this persecution would come from members of one's own family. It shouldn't surprise us if opposition and persecution arise from within our family, whether it's our blood family or religious family, or from within the Church itself. This is the story that we see so often played out in the Acts of the Apostles, including today's reading.

Fr. Hardon once said: "You do not remain faithful to the Savior without paying for it." That was true for the Apostles of Jesus' time. It's true for modern apostles, like Fr. John Hardon. And it's true for us.

Why? Because Jesus is the Truth. He said that He was the Truth and that He came to witness to the truth. The world has always questioned truth. Our ancestral parents questioned the truth of what God had told them. Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" The world rejects truth, so much so that Pope Benedict has said we are living in a "dictatorship of relativism."

I'm sure at one time or another you've heard someone say something like this: "Well, that may be true for you but it isn't for me. You have your truth and I have mine." I'm always tempted to ask, in response to that, "But how do you know that's true?"

You see, deep down in every human person there is a sense of truth. There is a standard by which we judge something to be objectively true or false, right or wrong, good or bad.

But people deny this. Why? It's part of the "hardness of heart" for which Jesus rebukes the Apostles in today's Gospel. Before Pentecost, the hearts of the Apostles continued to be hard, closed to the truth. Our world continues to have unconverted, hard hearts that reject the truth.

Where do we find the ability and courage to witness to the truth, and to do this as Christ did, as Fr. John Hardon did? Where do we find the ability to speak and witness to the truth without rancor, without resentment, without hating those who oppose or persecute us?

We can see the example of Jesus and of Fr. Hardon and try to imitate them in speaking the truth boldly with love. But that isn't enough. It isn't enough for us, just as it wasn't enough for Fr. Hardon. We need something greater that will give us the power to speak the truth with love.

Fr. Hardon found the ability, the strength, and the courage to love in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He practiced devotion to the Sacred Heart in very practical ways. He used invocations like "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in Thee!" He did this throughout the day. He once said: "Over the years, every time I pick up the telephone, before I talk to whoever called, I make an aspiration to the Sacred Heart. It helps; you never know who is on the other side."

Fr. Hardon was deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus whom he found in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Holy Eucharist. He often wrote about the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. He articulated our belief that since Jesus is truly present, Body and Blood, soul and divinity, in the Most Holy Eucharist, His Heart is present there as well.

There are two places in the book of the prophet Ezekiel, chapters 11 and 36, where a great promise is made. Through the prophet, God said that He would take from our bodies our stony, hard hearts and give us natural, human hearts. Where was this prophecy ever fulfilled? I know of nowhere except in Jesus who gave Himself for us on the cross and gave Himself to us in the Eucharist. There He give us His Heart to replace our hard hearts.

The imagery of the Sacred Heart shows a Heart on fire, on fire with love. This Heart is on fire with love for the Father. It's on fire with love for the truth. It's on fire with love for souls. The fire of love burned within the Heart of Jesus and He could not keep it to Himself. Nor could the Apostles, once they were enflamed with the fire of the Holy Spirit. It was impossible for them to contain the truth and the love they knew. As they declared in the first reading today: "It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard." They could not keep it to themselves. They could not hold it inside. It had to come out, just like the Heart of Jesus.

I once asked a group of children to whom I was showing an image of the Sacred Heart, "Why do you think Jesus' Heart is on the outside of His body?" One little girl responded, "Maybe He loves us so much, He can't keep it inside." So it is for the one who, like Fr. Hardon, knows the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He must speak the truth and do so with a love that bears witness to the truth.

Jesus shares with His Apostles and with us the work of communicating the love of God. He told them: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." Fr. Hardon answered this call. But notice, Jesus said to proclaim the Gospel to all creatures, not just human creatures. What does that mean? Even though Fr. Hardon's middle name was Anthony, I don't think he ever followed his namesake and preached to the fish. Nor did he follow St. Francis' example and preach to birds and other animals. Fr. Hardon wasn't a Franciscan but a Jesuit.
I think he answered this call to preach to every creature by faithfully living out the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. At the beginning of them there is a reflection entitled "The First Principle and Foundation." St. Ignatius has us reflect on our purpose in life. We are here on earth to prepare for heaven. We are here to give glory and praise to God. Thus we are to use the creatures of the world in a way that helps us fulfill that purpose. If some creatures get in the way of our attaining our purpose, we are to reject them. If they help us in attaining our purpose, we are to use them. In using them in this way, we ennoble them. Like the beautiful music of this Liturgy, the sounds alone mean nothing, but when brought together for God's glory and praise, they become beautiful and noble. This is what it means to preach the Gospel to all creatures. We lift up the creation around us and bring it under the reign of Christ the King. We proclaim to all creation its purpose--the praise and glory of God--and in doing so we claim all for the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This brings us to another of aspect of the Spiritual Exercises that can be found in Fr. Hardon--his zealous response to the call of Christ the King. In the Exercises there is a meditation on the call of a king. St. Ignatius has us first imagine the call of an earthly ruler who wants to set the world right. If such a leader captures our imagine and desire to overcome the evil in our world, how much more ought Christ the King? Fr. Hardon answered that call with his all. Fr. Hardon was a true soldier of Christ. He battled for the truth. He battled for the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. He battled for the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

But his battle was also a hidden one. Yesterday morning, Fr. Benedict Groeschel said that Fr. Hardon was "utterly dedicated" but "not a fanatic." He was not an extremist. That's because he won the interior battle. He resisted the temptation to resent or hate those who opposed him. He won the battle for love, for pure love with no ego concerns. He did not battle to win the esteem of others or support for himself, but to win souls for Christ.

And the weapon in this battle was the Cross, the love of Christ. His weapon, which he so often talked about, was sacrificial love, suffering.

We are all called to do battle. No one is neutral or on the sidelines. In this regard I'm reminded of a statue in Omaha. It's in Heartland of America Park near the downtown and the riverfront and it's dedicated to the veterans of World War II. It consists of a group of figures. First, there is a soldier dressed in his khaki dress uniform, holding his cap in his hand and bending down to a girl who is running into his arms. He's the veteran of the front lines who's returning to his family. The girl, holding a stick with a small American flag on it, represents all the people who prayed and who through their patriotism supported those who were fighting far from home. And then there's a boy, saluting the returning soldier and pulling a wagon that's filled with all sorts of odd things and junk: paper, wire, cans. In the effort to fight the forces of evil, nothing was wasted. The boy represents all the saving and sacificing that people back home did in order to support the war effort. And then there's a woman dressed in overalls with a wrench in her back pocket. Her name is ... yes, "Rosie, the Riveter." She represents all the women and wives who remained behind and worked in the factories to provide the materials for the war. Lastly, there are two other figures, a man and woman standing side by side, an older couple whom, when I first saw the group of statues, I assumed were the parents of the young man returning. But as I went around the statues and looked at them from the other side, head-on, I could see they weren't his parents. Together they were holding in their hands the tri-folded flag representing the sacrifice they had made--the son who didn't return.

We are all called to do battle in a war that is bigger than World War II. The battle line for this war crosses each of our hearts. We are called to do battle with ourselves, with temptation and sin, with the devil, with the world that is under the influence of the devil. And our weapon in this war is love.

We are called to love, and to lose. That's right, to lose. To lose ourselves in Christ. To die to ourselves. To offer all to Christ and with Christ, in every Mass, to the Father. This is the meaning of the Morning Offering which Fr. Hardon prayed and encouraged others to pray as part of their involvement in the Apostleship of Prayer. In offering ourselves and losing ourselves we find ourselves. We find Christ and eternal life.

This is the meaning of the "martyrdom" that Fr. Hardon predicted. It's only in that Daily Offering, in living in union with Christ's perfect offering at Mass, in living a Eucharistic life by offering ourselves with Christ, in letting the Heart of Jesus reign over us and transform us--only in this, will we be able to survive as Catholics.

Seven days after Fr. Hardon's death on December 30, 2000, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter to the Church for the new millennium. It's called "Novo Millennio Ineunte" and in it the Holy Father challenged the Church to go deeper, "Duc in altum!" I want to conclude with words which echo Fr. Hardon's:

"Christians who have received the gift of a vocation to the specially consecrated life are of course called to prayer in a particular way: of its nature, their consecration makes them more open to the experience of contemplation, and it is important that they should cultivate it with special care. But it would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer that is unable to fill their whole life. Especially in the face of the many trials to which today's world subjects faith, they would be not only mediocre Christians but 'Christians at risk'".

We must go deeper. We must enter more deeply into the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus as Fr. John Hardon did. Then we will be able to speak the truth courageously with love. Then we will be able to pray in a way that fills our whole life. Following Fr. Hardon there, entering into the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we will offer all and receive all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fr. John Hardon, S.J.

Jesuit Father John Hardon lived from 1914 to 2000. I only met him once, briefly, and heard him give a talk at a fund-raiser for a private Catholic academy in Milwaukee. Archbishop Raymond Burke has opened up his cause for canonization and the more I learn about him the more I find myself enlisting his intercessory support for the work of the Apostleship of Prayer.

Fr. Hardon was a true apostle of the Sacred Heart. He was on fire with the same love that burns in the Heart of Jesus. He couldn't keep the fire to himself and did everything he could to spread it. He was a teacher, the author of numerous books and articles, a retreat director and the spiritual director of countless individuals, including Blessed Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, the founder of the Institute on Religious Life and the Marian Catechists Apostolate. A Media Apostolate was founded at his request after he died.

The Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Archive and Guild is located in St. Louis. Its web site has a number of striking photos of Fr. Hardon including one in which he is visiting Blessed Mother Teresa in the hospital near the end of her life. The Institute on Religious Life has created a web site on which people who knew Fr. Hardon can share their stories.

The following is a prayer for the beatification and canonization of Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.:

Almighty God, You gave Your servant, Father John Anthony Hardon of the Society of Jesus, the grace of consecration as a religious dedicated to the apostolate and the grace of consecration as an ordained priest, after the Heart of Your Divine Son, our Good Shepherd.

Through Father Hardon, You provided Your Flock an extraordinary teacher of the faith.

You entrusted Father Hardon into the loving care of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose counsel, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn. 2: 5) he faithfully followed and whose intercession he unceasingly invoked.

If it be Your holy will, please grant the request I now make, calling upon the help of Father Hardon, so that his herioc sanctity may be recognized in the whole Church.

I ask this through Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with You and the Holy Spirit, is one God forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"For the Greater Glory of God"

AMDG. For the Greater Glory of God. That is the motto of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, and it was the title for the 2010 National Meeting of the Institute on Religious Life that was held this weekend in Mundelein, IL. This annual meeting is always a blessing and this year was a special one because it was held to honor a brother Jesuit--Fr. John Hardon--who died on December 30, 2000 and whose cause for canonization has been opened. The subtitle of the meeting was "The Theological, Spiritual, and Apostolic Legacy of Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J., Servant of God."
The meeting began on Friday morning with a special session for consecrated persons at Marytown, a place that has had 24 hour Eucharistic Adoration since 1928. Mother Assumpta Long, foundress and superior of the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, gave a talk entitled "In Pursuit of Perfect Charity: Father Hardon's Quest for Authentic Renewal of Religous Life." She said that Fr. Hardon "loved God with his whole being, and loved those whom God loves in the same way." She was followed by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, whose talk was "Loyal Son of Ignatius: The Religious and Priestly Witness of Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Servant of God."

Archbishop Raymond Burke presided at Mass Friday afternoon and gave the keynote address which was entited "For the Greater Glory of God: The Lasting Legacy of Fr. John A. Hardon."
On Saturday there were two main addresses in the morning. Journalist Jay McNally shared stories from the biography of Fr. Hardon which he is writing and Fr. Louis Guardiola, of the Fathers of Mercy, spoke on "The Eucharistic Spirituality of Fr. John Hardon, S.J."

In the afternoon there were various workshops available that covered a variety of topics: the canonization process; the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius; Mary as Model, Missionary, and Mother; evangelization; and the one I attended, "Preaching the Gospel to the Digital Generation."

Archbishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, IL celebrated Mass and I had the honor of preaching. I plan on posting the homily I gave in the next few days. A specially commissioned muscial composition and score in honor of Fr. Hardon was premiered at this Mass.
The day ended with a wonderful banquet at which Archbishop Burke received the annual "Pro Fidelitate et Virtute" award which is given to individuals who manifest a strong love for the Church and a zealous commitment to the consecrated life. Archbishop Burke knew Fr. Hardon and helped him in founding a group called the Marian Catechist Apostolate.
Today there was another major address by Douglas Bushman of the Institute for Pastoral Theology--"Responding to the Call to Martyrdom." All the talks are available from the Institute on Religious Life.

Fr. Hardon founded the Institute on Religious Life in 1974 and it was a deep consolation for me to be a part of this meeting in his honor. Fr. Hardon was very devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and was a great promoter of the Apostleship of Prayer. I had been thinking how it was too bad that he didn't live to see the current revival of the Apostleship and how that behind the revival is the devotion of many younger Jesuits to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But then it occured to me: Fr. Hardon's intercession after he died is what's behind the current revival.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

First Wednesday Volunteers

On the first Wednesday of every month a group of volunteers arrives at the national office of the Apostleship of Prayer to sort and stuff envelopes. Every month we send out about 22,000 leaflets which explain the Holy Father's two monthly intentions and offer suggestions for prayer. These go out in various quantities to about 3,650 individuals and institutions. We depend upon volunteers who generously give their time to put this mailing together.

Yesterday, at the beginning of the Mass we celebrate together before beginning the work, a woman and five children arrived. One of the children, an eighth grader named Redmond, had organized his sisters and brother and grandmother into this family volunteer group. Redmond and his siblings attend Mercy Academy and they were on spring break this week. Every year a local retired school teacher gives us a donation and asks us to send leaflets to several local private Catholic schools. Redmond's teacher had passed those leaflets out and he in turn went on our web site where he learned about our need for volunteers. He called, found out about the first Wednesday group, and asked his grandmother to drive the youngsters to our office so they could help us out for a couple hours.

A friend of mine calls things like this "a web of grace." Though I periodically celebrate Mass at Mercy Academy, it was the leaflet that the retired teacher had us send out which landed in the hands of Redmond which led him to go on our web site which led him to organize his family to volunteer. Truly grace spreads, and we are all instruments of God's grace for others.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bright Week

For seven months in 1999 and 2000 I lived at Holy Transfiguration Skete on the shores of Lake Superior near Eagle Harbor, Michigan. I was on a sabbatical and wanted to spend time learning, as Pope John Paul II put it, to breathe with the Eastern lung of the Church. Holy Transfiguration Skete is a Ukrainian Catholic Byzantine monastery that is part of the Eparchy (the Eastern word for Diocese) of Chicago.

In the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, the week after Easter is called "Bright Week." For the entire week the doors of the iconostasis, the wall which separates the altar and sanctuary from the rest of the church, are open. This is the only time that they are left open. Two things are signified. First, the open doors represent the stone that had been rolled away from the tomb of Jesus. Second, they represent the fact that Jesus, by His resurrection, opened the doors of heaven.

Eastern Christians greet each other these days with "Christ is risen!" And the reply is "He is risen indeed!"

The antiphon that is sung over and over again is "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life."

Happy and Blessed Easter to all!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday

This morning I gave a talk in Burlington, Wisconsin on "Living the Eucharist" to a group of men who are part of a group called "Men of Christ." Besides an annual conference for which several thousand men gather, the group promotes spiritual growth throughout the year by means of local gatherings like today.
Since it's Holy Saturday and we were not able to celebrate their usual monthly Mass, I led the group in praying the Midday Prayer for Holy Saturday. As part of our prayer I talked about a curious line that appears in the Apostles' Creed: "He descended into Hell." Here's how the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" explains that line:
"Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there. [See 1 Peter 3: 19 and 4: 6]

"Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, 'hell'--Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek--because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into 'Abraham's bosom' [See Psalm 89: 49; 1 Samuel 28: 19; Ezekiel 32: 17-32; Luke 16: 22-26]: 'It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell' [quote from the Roman Catechism]. Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him."

This is what happened that first Holy Saturday and it is depicted in religious art as "The Descent into Hell" or "The Harrowing of Hell."

I invited the group today to accompany Jesus to the abode of the dead and to pray for people we have known who have died: relatives, friends, enemies. We did so reflecting on words of Pope Benedict XVI that can be found in #48 of his encyclical on hope, "Spe Salvi":

"The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death--this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? ... Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other--my prayer for him--can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain."