Sunday, May 30, 2010

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity

Though I've not actually seen it, I imagine that this annual feast in honor the Most Holy Trinity brings many parish priests to tears. What can you say about this greatest mystery of the Christian faith? How can you talk about the very nature of God, a Mystery of Three and One? What does this mystery have to do with the daily lives of the congregation?

Yet, the Catechism of the Catholic Church #234 states: "The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life." Notice, this mystery is not only central to our Christian faith--what we believe--but also to our life--how we are to live.

The mystery of the Trinity brought St. Ignatius Loyola to tears, but not because he felt helpless in the face of preaching. In his autobiography #28, speaking in the third person, he described it this way:

One day while saying the Office of Our Lady on the steps of the same monastery [of the Dominicans near Manresa, Spain], his understanding began to be elevated so that he saw the Most Holy Trinity in the form of three musical keys. This brought on so many tears and so much sobbing that he could not control himself. That morning, while going in a procession that set out from there, he could not hold back his tears until dinnertime; nor after eating could he stop talking about the Most Holy Trinity, using many comparisons in great variety and with much joy and consolation. As a result, the effect has remained with him throughout his life of experiencing great devotion while praying to the Most Holy Trinity.

What St. Ignatius shows us is that ultimately we are to approach God more with the heart than with the head. Our intellect will never be able to understand the mystery of the Trinity. We cannot dissect God like a piece of scientific data. We must, in the words of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, "fold up the wings of the intellect and descend into the heart." We must approach God with humility and love, allowing God to reveal Himself to us.

This is what Jesus told His disciples to do. Matthew Chapter 18 begins with the apostles arguing over which of them was the greatest. Jesus called a child over and said: "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." This echoes words of Jesus that appeared earlier, in Chapter 11, when Jesus prayed: "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."

These two passages are a call to conversion. We must "turn" away from our usual way of thinking in which we tend to say "I won't believe, I won't trust, unless I can understand," and become humbly receptive to what God reveals of Himself through the Scriptures and the Church. We are called to approach God not with suspicion and a "prove-it-to-me" attitude, but with love, the love of a child who is assured of the love of the parent and responds with trust, allowing him or herself to be led and even carried.

The Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is an invitation to enter into the Love who is God, to be filled with a love that can bring you to tears, and to return that love with an offering of your entire self.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mary Help of Christians

Today there are several feasts in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One is Our Lady of the Way and is celebrated in my community, the Jesuits. When St. Ignatius Loyola arrived in Rome he venerated Mary under this title and asked for and received her special protection. In the Church of the Gesu in Rome there is a lovely side chapel where an old and recently restored image of Madonna Della Strada is venerated.

It is also the feast of Mary Help of Christians. After the resounding and miraculous defeat of the Turkish navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, Pope St. Pius V added an invocation with this title to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then, in 1814, after six years of exile in France under Napolean, Pope Pius VII was allowed to return to Rome and arrived on this day. He attributed his safety during his exile and his return to the intercession of Mary Help of Christians and instituted a feast in her honor for this day.

The National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians is one of my favorite pilgrimage spots. It's only about 40 minutes from where I live and as a child my parents took me there from time to time. I remember two things about those visits: the scary ascent of the bell tower and the crutches that were left outside of the small side chapel/shrine by people who had been cured.

In 2007 Pope Benedict wrote a letter to the Church in China and in it he promised the prayers for the entire Church on this particular day which is also the feast of Our Lady of Seshan. The prayer that Pope Benedict composed for this annual day of prayer for the Church in China can be found at the Apostleship of Prayer's daily calendar page under "Reflect."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More Daily Reflections for Magis

Here are the rest of this week's reflections with I wrote for the Magis Institute.

May 19, 2010
Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

A couple years ago a fifth grader asked me a question: “What was Jesus’ middle name?” Obviously he thought that “Christ” was His last name and so he wondered if Jesus also had a middle name. I explained to him and the class that “Christ” was not Jesus’ last name but a title that meant “the Christ” or “the Anointed One.”

Each of us who is baptized is “another Christ.” We too were anointed when, at Baptism, we received the Sacred Chrism on our heads. This is the holy oil that is used on four very special occasions: 1) at Baptism; 2) at Confirmation; 3) at ordinations when the hands of the newly ordained priests are anointed; and 4) at the consecration of a new church when the four walls and altar are anointed. Notice how the sacred chrism “consecrates” or sets apart for a holy purpose the space of the new church, the altar, the hands of the priest, and those who are baptized and confirmed.

In the first reading Paul prays for the leaders of the Church of Ephesus, commending them to God and asking that the word of God will build them up and give them “the inheritance among all who are consecrated.” And in the Gospel Jesus prays for the apostles at the Last Supper, asking that they may be “consecrated in the truth.”

We are anointed, consecrated, set apart for a holy purpose. You can renew that consecration every day with the simple prayer of the Morning Offering in which you thank God for the hours and minutes ahead of you and then make an offering of all your prayers, works, joys, and sufferings, every thought, word, and deed, every breath and heart beat. This is what it means to fulfill Paul’s words to the Romans: “I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (12: 1). This is the way to live your consecration.

May 20, 2010
Optional Memorial of St. Bernardine of Siena

Today’s saint was a Franciscan who lived around the year 1400 and who was very devoted to the name of Jesus. This is the name of which St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2: 9-11). This is the name that all Christians hold dear and use in their prayers to the Father.

Yet, while Christians are one in honoring the name of Jesus and professing that He is Lord, we are divided. Our first reading today shows us how St. Paul, called before the Sanhedrin or religious leaders of Jerusalem, exploited the divisions between Sadducees and Pharisees to escape from harm. As the saying goes, “United we stand, divided we fall.” The Church today is being dismissed by the world partly because of the divisions among Christians. Jesus prayed, as we hear in the Gospel, that His followers would be one just as He and the Father were one. We are not answering Jesus’ prayer.

Some would take an easy road and say that deep down we are one because we are all baptized, and that we should be welcoming and offer the Eucharist to whomever wants. But this would be a lie. The world sees that we are not one and such sharing of Communion, while it might make some people feel better, won’t solve the problem of our divisions. We don’t like pain and so we are tempted to gloss over the painful divisions among Christians. Instead of treating the causes of our divisions we cover over the symptoms.

Let’s commit ourselves today to answering Jesus’ prayer that all be one. Let’s pray and fast and then do everything in our power to overcome the divisions that hinder the Church’s efforts to speak the truth with love to a world that desperately needs the truth.

May 21, 2010
Optional Memorial of St Christopher Magallanes and Companions

Today we honor 22 priests and 3 laymen who were martyred in Mexico less than a hundred years ago. They are a reminder to us that in every age Christians must be ready to hear the words that Jesus spoke to St. Peter in today’s Gospel when He predicted that in time someone would lead him where he did not want to go, thus “signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.”

At this point in Peter’s life, however, he wasn’t yet ready to follow Christ to such a death. Our Gospel repeats one that we heard during Easter Week. In contrast to Peter’s triple denial, Jesus asks three times: “Do you love me?” And Peter responds three times: “Yes, I love you.” The English translation of the Greek in which the Gospel of John was written misses an important distinction in these questions.

In the first two questions of Jesus the word for love that is used is “agape.” Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me in a total, self-sacrificing way?” And Peter, using a different word for love (“philia”), responds: “Yes, Lord, I love you as a friend.” The third time Jesus asks, He comes to Peter’s level and asks him if he loves Him as a friend, to which Peter responds: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you [as a friend].” It is before Pentecost. Peter is not yet ready to risk everything, including his life, to show his love for Jesus.

But this is OK. Jesus takes Peter where he is, knowing that with the gift of the Holy Spirit, he will have the courage to witness to Him and even lay down his life for love of Him. He isn’t ready now, but one day he will stretch out his hands and be led where he would prefer not to go and be martyred for the faith.

One dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises is to be grow in the awareness of where we are free and where we are not free. Peter wasn’t free at this point to say that he loved Jesus in a self-sacrificing way. In time he would. We may not be ready either, but we can pray for the grace to love that way and in our prayer we can be assured that the same Holy Spirit who empowered Peter to love totally will empower us as well.

May 22, 2010
Optional Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia

Tomorrow we will light the Easter candle one last time. For the rest of the year it will be used only at Baptisms and funerals. The Easter Season ends with Pentecost and today’s first reading, with the story of Paul’s arrival in Rome, the center of the known world, brings our Easter readings from the Acts of the Apostles to a conclusion.

Today’s Gospel is also a conclusion, the end of John’s Gospel. After Peter’s triple attestation of his love for Jesus and Jesus’ prediction of his martyrdom, he asks about John. What will happen to him? Jesus responds: “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”

A common temptation is to wonder how we compare to others and what others think of us. Such comparison and competition is deadly. We either end up judging others harshly in order to build our own ego, or we end up with the short end of the stick, comparing how they look on the outside to how we feel on the inside. Jesus challenges Peter and us not to worry about others but to keep our focus on Him and to follow Him.

St. Rita must have known this. She is called “The Saint of the Impossible” because of the impossible odds she faced in life. As a child she wanted to be a nun but her parents opposed her desires and married her off to an abusive and unfaithful man. She prayed hard for his conversion and was rewarded when, after he got into a fight with some other men, he died in her arms begging forgiveness. Her two sons decided to avenge their father’s death and she prayed for their conversion. Before they could carry out their plan they took sick, forgave those who killed their father, and died. Now free to follow her dream, Rita applied to the Augustinian order of religious women only to be refused entry because she had been married. After much prayer and several attempts she was finally accepted.

In the midst of impossible situations and difficulties, Rita kept her eyes fixed on Jesus. May we always do the same.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Penance and Reparation

A group of young Jesuits has been writing a blog called "Whosoever Desires" for almost a year and I recently commented on a post about penance. Here's what I wrote:

Here are a few thoughts on mine on the topic of penance.

1. The 12 Step Program of recovery from alcoholism and addictions includes penance. It's in Steps 8 and 9: "Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others." The person in recovery recognizes that a harm was done and cannot be changed. Making amends is a way of trying to bring balance into the relationship. Even if it is not possible to make amends directly, a person in recovery can do something that, on a spiritual level, brings balance into the broken relationship.

2. The Church has always spoken of "reparation" in conjunction with penance. In my explanations of the traditional formula of the Morning Offering I like to explain "reparation" as "repairing the damage" that sin has caused.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his second encyclical "Spe Salvi," wrote about justice, reparation, and grace in Numbers 42-44. Quoting Theodor Adorno of the Frankfort School, he wrote that "true justice--would require a world 'where not only present suffering would be wiped out, but also that which is irrevocably past would be undone.'"

How is that possible? Only, as was pointed out in the "Whosoever Desires" post, on the Cross. The Holy Father continues: "God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man's God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an 'undoing' of past suffering, a reparation that sets things right."

In the next paragraph, Pope Benedict elaborates on this mystery: "God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things--justice and grace--must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value."

As members of the Body of Christ, we continue the work of repairing the damage that sin has caused by sharing somehow in the mystery of the Cross. or, as St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church..." (1: 24). In most cases the work of reparation will involve "offering up" the suffering that is an inevitable part of human life.

3. It seems to me that penance is part of all religious traditions and in that way could be called a "spiritual instinct" that all humans, as spiritual beings, have. Penance is a way that we "pray" with our bodies, whether it be through fasting from food or some other ascetical practice. This became clear to me when I worked among the Lakota people of South Dakota and witnessed the "inipi" or sweat lodge where the participants offered their discomfort and suffering as an intercessory prayer for individuals and the tribe. There was a strong sense of "communion" as participants would pray "Mitakuye Oyasin" ("All my relatives") and seek, through their personal purification, the good of their families, friends, and all creation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Daily Reflections

The Magis Institute, with its Center of Faith and Reason , is still working on the web site for its Center for Catholic Spirituality. Part of the latter's work is to send out daily emails with reflections by various Jesuit authors. I've been filling in when for one reason or another the scheduled author is unable to provide the reflections and I'm doing so this week once again. Here are some reflections for Sunday through Tuesday.

May 16, 2010
The Ascension

In many parts of the U.S. today is the transferred feast of the Ascension. In the Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius places the Ascension at the end of “The Mysteries of the Life of Our Lord.” He includes three points: 1) how Jesus showed Himself to the apostles for forty days after His resurrection and told them to wait in Jerusalem for “the promise of the Holy Spirit”; 2) how Jesus led the apostles to the Mount of Olives where He was lifted from their sight; 3) how angels appeared to the apostles as they gazed heavenward telling them that Jesus would one day return.

It’s natural that the apostles would fix their eyes on the sky as Jesus ascended. Here was their friend and Lord leaving them in a most unusual way. As members of the Church that was founded on the apostles and as followers of Jesus, we too should fix our sights on the destination of Jesus which is ours as well. This doesn’t mean walking around with our “heads in the clouds” but keeping in mind that our goal in life is heaven.

And like any journey, we will only reach our destination by taking the right path. We follow the path Jesus trod—fulfillment of God’s will. Our desire for heaven focuses our attention on earth where we are striving, one day at a time, to be faithful to our call to do God’s will. Thoughts of heaven do not distract us from our life on earth but reinforce the choices we make everyday to be faithful to the Gospel. Only if we faithfully walk the trail that Jesus has blazed for us will we arrive at the glory He enjoys and for which we were created.

May 17, 2010
Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

We are in the middle of the Church’s first novena or nine day period of prayer. Between the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost the apostles and Mary gathered in the Upper Room where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper and they prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon them and the community. As we anticipate Pentecost next Sunday we too are praying for a renewal of the graces of the Holy Spirit that we received in Baptism and Confirmation.

While we may not be saying, as the disciples in Ephesus said in today’s first reading, “we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” still, it could be that we are not too familiar with the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. We should be. We were created to know God and that means knowing the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. We ought to get to know the Holy Spirit better and to pray to the Spirit every day.

Here’s something Peter Kreeft wrote about the Spirit in his book The God Who Loves You: “The Father is God outside you. The Son is God beside you. The Spirit is God inside you. Once God is inside you, you are spiritual dynamite. What is that dynamite? What turned the world upside down at Pentecost? What made saints saints? … The most effective argument for Christianity is Christians who are saints, lovers. The saints are the Spirit’s salesmen and saleswomen. You can’t argue with a saint. He’d just kiss you, as Jesus did to Judas…. How do you fight love? You don’t. You lose. That is, you win.”

May 18, 2010
Optional Memorial of St. John I

Today’s saint died in prison in 526 from thirst and starvation. Theodoric, the barbarian Ostrogoth king who was an Arian, a heretic who did not believe in the divinity of Christ, was responsible for his death. St. John I stands in a long line of popes and saints like Paul who valued the truth more than their lives. And so should we.

In today’s first reading Paul said that he was “compelled by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem to witness to Jesus. He also said “the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me.” Witnessing to the truth in a world that is under the rule of the father of lies (see 1 John 5: 19) is never easy. But Paul courageously proclaimed, “I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.”

These words echo “The First Principle and Foundation” of the Spiritual Exercises. There St. Ignatius says that we are “created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord,” and in this way to find eternal life. Everything in life either hinders us from this purpose or goal or helps us attain it. “Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life.” Those are tough words that challenge us to ask ourselves: “Is witnessing to the truth of Jesus Christ and attaining eternal life the most important thing to me? If not, what is more important?”

Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” Let’s pray today that the Holy Spirit may help us to truly know God and ourselves so that nothing will stand in the way of our attaining the goal of eternal life.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament

Yesterday was the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the 93rd anniversary of her first appearance to the three children in Fatima, Portugal. May 13 is also the day, in 1856, on which St. Peter Eymard founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament which has, as its patroness, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. In many places this day is also celebrated in honor of Mary under that title.

It was most appropriate that I celebrated Mass yesterday for a small group of people at the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Marian Shrine. A young girl named Fautina Philomena Marie Rozewski made her First Holy Communion at that Mass and afterwards we prayed a rosary in front of the beautiful grotto with its statues of Our Lady of Fatima and the three young shepherds.

The title Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament makes absolute sense. I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the summer of 2006 and at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth I was able to celebrate Mass at an altar a short distance from the spot where tradition has it Mary was when she said "yes" to God's plan that she become the Mother of His Son. I couldn't help thinking: There, more than 2,000 years ago the Word became flesh and here, in a few moments, the Word will become flesh again. Because He became flesh there in Nazareth when Mary conceived Him in her womb, He could give His life on the cross and give His Body and Blood to us in Holy Communion.

In his encyclial "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," Pope John Paul II called Mary "Woman of the Eucharist" and said that she "has a profound relationship to it." She gave flesh to Jesus, thus making it possible for Him to give His flesh for the life of the world. Pope John Paul's words should lead us to "Eucharistic amazement," a favorite expression of his, because they challenge us to make an act of faith in the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and in ourselves when we receive Him. Here's how Pope John Paul II described the Eucharistic meaning of the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity:

The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood.

As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived “through the Holy Spirit” was “the Son of God” (Lk 1:30-35). In continuity with the Virgin's faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.

“Blessed is she who believed” (Lk 1:45). Mary also anticipated, in the mystery of the incarnation, the Church's Eucharistic faith. When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a “tabernacle” – the first “tabernacle” in history – in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary. And is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Culture of Vocations Revisited

Last June I posted an entry entitled "A Culture of Vocations" in which I wrote about how the Daily or Morning Offering can help foster an environment in which young people can begin to see that life is about "giving" rather than "taking." Such a mindset will lead to generous vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life, marriage, and, yes, the life of the single lay person who faithfully lives out his or her baptismal promises. Tomorrow I will be giving a talk at a staff retreat for the Institute on Religious Life and I plan on expanding on this topic of creating a culture of vocations.

I believe that the Eucharistic spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer can play an essential role in creating a culture that 1)helps Catholics see that everyone who is baptized has a vocation, and 2) helps young people to be open to a vocation to priesthood or consecrated life. How does this happen? In five movements.

First, we begin with a knowledge of God's love. It is a deep and personal love that is revealed most clearly through the pierced side of the Crucified Jesus who continues to show us his love in the Eucharist and his Sacred Heart. A deeper knowledge of this love is essential for a "vocation friendly culture." Besides promoting devotion to the Heart of Jesus, I also lead people through the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius. In both of these I see the words of an early Church Father named Diadochus come to life: "The measure of our love for God depends upon how deeply aware we are of God's love for us."

Knowing the love of God in a deeper way leads to a response. Devotion to the Sacred Heart entails making a consecration, individually or as a family, and then periodically renewing that consecration or offering. The "Spiritual Exercises" culminate in a prayer of offering known as the "Suscipe:" Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. Out of a deeper awareness of God's love for us flows the response of a total gift of self which is at the heart of every vocation. The Daily or Morning Offering is one way to keep this gift of self fresh.

The third movement involves living this offering in daily life. Whether one is young or old, lay or ordained, married or consecrated or single, each of us is called to make every moment of our day an act of worship, an offering to God. The "Suscipe" or vows (marriage or religious) or Morning Offering--these need to be lived in the moments of daily life. Thus we strive throughout the day to be aware of how we are being called to make an offering of "our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings," as the traditional Morning Offering puts it.

The fourth movement is at the end of the day when we review it. The Examen, Evening Review, or Examination of Conscience asks the basic question which reinforces our response to God's love: "What have I offered to God today?" Some of what was part of the day we offered may make us happy. We are pleased that we offered something that surely pleases God. We share in the pleasure God has in our offering. But some of what became part of the day we offered may not be so pleasing to us or to God. We may be ashamed of some things that became part of the day we offered to God. These are the things that are not worthy of God--our faults and failings and sins. By reviewing our daily offering with both gratitude and contrition we end the day reminding ourselves of our basic identity as Christians who are called, as St. Paul wrote, to offer ourselves "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12: 1). This daily review also nurtures the habit of discernment by which we more easily see God's presence and direction in our daily lives. Discernment is another important element of the culture of vocations.

Lastly, our response or offering has a communal dimension to it. We make this offering in union with Jesus who offers himself in every Mass and in union with the whole Church, the Body of Christ. Part of a culture of vocations is having this ecclesial mindset and it is fostered in the Apostleship of Prayer when we make our Daily Offering for the Holy Father's monthly intentions. These prayer requests of the Vicar of Christ help us to think with the Church and to see ourselves at the service of the Church.

To sum up: the Apostleship of Prayer's Five Step Method for Creating a Culture of Vocations is:

1. To know God's love revealed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
2. To respond to that love with an offering of oneself.
3. To renew that offering through the events, prayers, and works of each day.
4. To review the day's offering in the evening.
5. To serve the Church by praying for the Pope's monthly intentions.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More Magis Reflections

My retreat with priests and permanent deacons ends tomorrow and I return home to Milwaukee. Here are some more of my Magis Ignatian Reflections for this week:

5 May 2010
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

In today’s Gospel we have a beautiful image describing our relationship with Christ. He said: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” It was for this that each of us was created—union with God. While the image is poetic, it describes a reality that is made clear in Jesus’ words: “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” This is Eucharistic language. Jesus gives us His Body and Blood and unites Himself to us. This union transforms us so that we live now in Him, or, as St. Paul wrote, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2: 20).

After the Synod of Bishops in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “The Sacrament of Charity” in which he called the Eucharist a mystery to be believed, a mystery to be celebrated, and a mystery to be lived. We believe in the reality of the Real Presence and celebrate it accordingly. If Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, then He really lives in us when He comes to us in Holy Communion. United to Him in this way, we can live a Eucharistic life of self-giving love, beginning each day by making an offering of ourselves and our day.

Only one thing can cut us off from the Vine—sin. Just as the image of the vine and the branches is not simply a symbolic description but a reality because of the Real Presence, so mortal sin is exactly what it says—deadly sin. It cuts us off from the life-force of the Vine. It really kills us spiritually. But we need not remain separated from Christ like dead branches after we sin in this way. The Father is the “vine grower” who sent Jesus to reconcile us to Himself. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation Jesus can re-graft us onto Himself. Spiritually dead, we can come back to life.

6 May 2010
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

The first ecumenical (world-wide, general) council was the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325 from which we get the Nicene Creed which is recited every Sunday. But it wasn’t the first Church council. That distinction goes to a meeting around the year 49 that is described in today’s first reading. It was the Council of Jerusalem which met after there arose “no little dissension and debate” (see yesterday’s first reading). Those who think there was an idyllic time of unity and peace in the early Church are badly mistaken. Human weakness will always make Christians vulnerable to the work of Satan who wants to divide and conquer.

The early Christians did not, at first, see themselves as separate from Judaism. Thus they strictly followed the Mosaic Law, including the rite of circumcision. It seemed natural that Gentile Christians would also be circumcised. But the Holy Spirit showed them otherwise. The Spirit came upon the Gentiles without their being circumcised thus proving that observance of the Mosaic Law does not save; now there is a New Covenant and “we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

Then why, after declaring that circumcision was not required, did the Council of Jerusalem require three things from the Mosaic Law—avoiding pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, and eating meat of strangled animals and blood? The first two seem logical, but what about that dietary restriction? Jewish Law saw in blood the life-force that belonged to God alone. In order to encourage table fellowship among Jews and Gentiles, this small stipulation was asked of the non-Jews. Though this was not a matter of salvation it was a matter of charity, before which certain less important principles must bow.

7 May 2010
Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

We’ve heard it so often that we tend to no longer be shocked by it. Jesus said: “I no longer call you slaves…. I have called you friends….” Why is this so shocking? Because, as the Carmelite, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, points out in his classic work “Divine Intimacy,” true friendship is between equals. Fr. Gabriel writes: “Friendship requires a certain equality, community of life and of goods…. But what equality and community of life can there be between a creature who is nothing and God, who is the Supreme Being? None, from a natural point of view. However, God willed to raise man to the supernatural state by giving him a share in His nature and divine life. It is true that man always remains a creature—though divinized by grace—and God remains the inaccessible, transcendent Being; but in His infinite love He has found a way to raise man to the level of His divine life.”

This is the mystery of the Incarnation. As St. Augustine and other saintly theologians wrote: God became human so that humanity could become divine. The Son of God lowered Himself to our level in order to raise us to His level. Thus, Jesus can call us friends because, through our transformation in baptism, we really are that. We’ve been raised to His level and in that way have been given the equality that allows us to be true friends.

Unlike our ancestral parents who grasped the forbidden fruit in order to “be like gods” (Genesis 3: 5), Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped” (Philippians 2: 6). Nor do we. God always takes the initiative. Ours is always a response to a love that has already been given. We cannot make ourselves friends of Jesus; He invites us to that friendship in baptism when “sanctifying or deifying grace” (“Catechism of the Catholic Church” #1999) is given to us. Now our lives are a continuing response to Jesus’ call to be His friends. We do that when we follow His command to “love one another” because He has made us all His dear friends.

8 May 2010
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

In the first reading Paul has his co-worker circumcised. This seems to contradict the earlier position of Paul that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. Is Paul waffling? No. He continues to be firmly convinced that salvation comes from the grace given by Jesus Christ. Why then does he have Timothy circumcised? To open doors.

Though Timothy’s father was a Greek Gentile, his mother Eunice was Jewish. This made Timothy Jewish, though he had not been circumcised. Paul knew that Timothy would not receive a hearing in the Jewish community because it was known that though he was a Jew he had not been circumcised. Thus, for the sake of the Gospel, in order that there be no unnecessary impediment to people’s hearing it, Paul had Timothy circumcised. Paul tried, as we see in the travelogue described in the rest of the first reading, to open as many doors as possible to the Gospel.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit prevented Paul from going to certain places, so that he might go through other doors where there was more fruit to be harvested. And sometimes, as Jesus said in the Gospel, doors would close in the face of the early Christians because, as the world hated Him, so would it hate His followers. The world, with its values, doesn’t want the self-sacrificing love that Jesus lived and to which He called His followers. The Beatitudes that Jesus taught make no sense to the world and so it rejects and persecutes those who strive to follow them.

In light of this we should always ask ourselves the question: If I am not experiencing the rejection and persecution that Jesus promised His followers, am I really following Him?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Magis Institute

I'm in Wernersville, PA once again, at the Jesuit Center which used to be the novitiate of the Maryland Province. I arrived on Sunday and have been directing a retreat for about 20 priests and permanent deacons from several dioceses: Allentown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Newark, and Albany.

I had hoped to send readers of this blog to the web site of the Magis Institute but the spirituality section of the Institute's web site is currently under construction. Several Jesuits write daily reflections for the site and this week has been my turn. I don't have a regularly scheduled week but fill in as needed. You can subscribe to a service that will send you a daily email with the reflection, but the web site doesn't have that information on it just yet. When it does, I'll post it. In the meantime, here are the reflections that I posted for the last few days:

2 May 2010
Fifth Sunday of Easter

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote a book entitled “The Road Less Traveled” which sold over 7 million copies and remained on the “New York Times” bestseller list longer than any other paperback in history. It began with these words: “Life is difficult.” If this is true for life in general, it should be no surprise that in our first reading today Paul and Barnabas proclaimed: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Why? Jesus told us why in today’s gospel: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Our world thinks of love as a feeling yet in his extremely popular book, Peck wrote that love is not a feeling but an act of the will, a choice, a decision, action. Anyone who has truly loved has suffered. Dorothy Day frequently quoted the great Russian novelist Dostoevsky that “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” In his encyclical “God is Love,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote that in a world in which the word “love” is used in all sorts of contradictory ways, a definition for true love must begin by “contemplating the pierced side of Christ.” This is, in his words, “love in its most radical form.” This is the love that Jesus commands.

But Jesus does not command like a task-master. He gives what He commands—the power to love as He loved—by giving us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. United to Jesus we are able to give all and to receive all—the new heaven and the new earth where every tear will be wiped away and death will be no more.

3 May 2010
Feast of the Apostles Philip and James

In the first reading St. Paul writes that through the Gospel he preached, the Corinthians “are also being saved.” Wait a minute! “Being saved?” Didn’t Christ die for our sins and rise on the third day? Aren’t we “saved?” There are some who so emphasize the work of salvation that Jesus accomplished that they in essence deny the human freedom to reject the salvation won for us. They claim, “once saved, always saved.” In other words, once you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, that’s it. You’re assured of your salvation.

It isn’t that simple. Yes, Jesus died and rose for our salvation. In this way He indeed won our salvation. But we, in our life on earth, are in the process of accepting or rejecting the salvation He won for us. We are “being saved” when we cooperate with God’s grace. And this cooperation isn’t a one time, irrevocable decision. As Paul writes in another letter, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2: 12).

We see in the Gospel another line that, when taken out of context, can lead to a simplistic view of faith: “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” The name of Jesus is not a magic word that gives the one who asks whatever he or she wants. To ask “in the name of Jesus” means to ask as He asked. It means asking, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, but always adding “yet not my will but Yours be done, Father.” Asking in this way may involve some “fear and trembling”, but in the end it will mean cooperating with the grace Jesus won for us on the cross, and following Him into eternal life.

4 May 2010
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

In today’s Gospel Jesus makes a great promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” But then He qualifies His gift: “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” In other words, the peace of the world—no problems, a carefree existence, and the absence of suffering, or, the stand-off peace of mutually-assured destruction—is not the peace that Jesus leaves. His peace is deeper. It’s like the calm of the depths of the ocean though storms rage on the surface.

St. Paul knew that peace. He faced so much opposition and so many “hardships” that he was even stoned and left for dead, as we read in the first reading from Acts. Though he was only stoned once, he was given 39 lashes five different times, was beaten with rods three times, and was shipwrecked three times. His only anxiety was not for himself but for the churches he had founded (see 2 Corinthians 12: 23-28).

How can peace and such suffering co-exist? Jesus warned us that “the ruler of the world is coming.” C.S. Lewis wrote that we are living in “enemy-occupied territory.” St. Ignatius said that we are each faced with a choice to stand under the flag or standard of Satan or under the standard of Jesus whose “appearance [is] beautiful and attractive.” Under His standard we can be at peace, we can have untroubled and fearless hearts. Why? Because with His death and resurrection the outcome of the war has already been determined. The victory over sin and death has been achieved. We need only embrace it ourselves.