Friday, June 25, 2010

John the Baptist

Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist. Once a month I am the spiritual director for the call-in spiritual direction show called "The Inner Life" on Relevant Radio. I began yesterday's show by talking about St. John the Baptist and what he has to teach us.

1. Humility. As the crowds came to John in the desert and wondered whether he might be the much-anticipated messiah, he could have claimed that title and had a great popular following. But he didn't. Committed to the truth, he pointed to the real messiah, his cousin Jesus. Humility means that we are honest with ourselves (and others) and that means recognizing that we are creatures in need of God. The world does not revolve around us. Or, as the common expression goes: "It's not about you!" The best definition of humility that I've heard is this: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." In other words, humility does not mean putting ourselves down or beating ourselves us. When we do this we are still the center of our attention. True humility is taking the focus off ourselves and putting it on God and neighbor. That's exactly what Jesus said the greatest commandment was: loving God and neighbor. Humility is the foundation of the other virtues. Without humility, other virtues--patience, chastity, temperance, faith, hope, and even love--can become sources of the pride that precedes the fall.

2. Dying to self. John the Baptist shows us that the way to humility and holiness is to die to self. This means dying to our self-centeredness. It means drawing attention not to ourselves but to Christ. It means making an offering of ourselves to God for His service and glory. This is the meaning of John the Baptist's famous phrase which would be a good Scripture quote to memorize and keep in mind throughout the day: "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3: 30).

3. Being the voice of the Word. When asked who he was, John replied, quoting Isaiah: "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord" (John 1: 23). We are called to be People of the Word, people who pray with the Scriptures so that the Word of God becomes part of us. Then, as we go about our daily lives, we will give voice to that Word. That doesn't mean quoting Scripture passages at people as much as living the Word and expressing it through our words and the deeds which speak louder than words. It means giving flesh to Gospel values and witnessing to those values in the way we live.

4. Witnessing to the truth. John witnessed to the truth. He witnessed to Jesus who called Himself "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14: 6). He also witnessed to the truth of the moral order, confronting King Herod who was living in sin. This led to the ultimate witness of his martyrdom where he showed that moral principles are greater than physical life. We can paraphrase Jesus here: What does it profit a person to gain a few more years of earthly life and in the process lose his or her integrity, conscience, and soul? For most of us, witnessing to the truth won't lead to death but rather rejection or hurtful words. People will get angry at us or make fun of us and we will have an opportunity to die to human praise and our own vanity, our need to be accepted and liked. In that way, we will decrease but Jesus will increase.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us that we too may be courageous voices for Jesus in the world today!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bread Broken for Others

The idea behind "offering it up"--taking the moments and events, the sorrows and the joys, the sufferings and the consolations of each day--is Eucharistic. It's the way that we live the Eucharist in our daily lives.

As I was preparing my talk for last weekend's Sacred Heart Communities in Collaboration conference in Willimantic, CT, I ran across some words of Pope Benedict that confirm this. Here's what he said to a conference that was held by the Diocese of Rome last week:

"The celebration of the Eucharist challenges us and at the same time empowers us to become, in our turn, bread broken for our brothers and sisters, coming to meet their needs and giving ourselves. Because of this, a Eucharistic celebration that does not lead us to meet people where they live, work, and suffer, to bring them the love of God, does not show the love it contains. To be faithful to the mystery that is celebrated on the altars we must, as the Apostle Paul exhorts us, offer our bodies, ourselves, as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God (Romans 12: 1) in those situations that require dying to our "I" and which constitute our daily 'altar.'"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer Time

"Summer time, and the livin' is easy." So goes a song of George Gershwin that premiered in the 1935 musical "Porgy and Bess." It's summer time at the Apostleship of Prayer and it's not the fish that are jumping, as in the song, but all of us.

The dream of several young Jesuits, priests and scholastics, is being realized this summer with "The Jesuit Mission Band." It's not a musical band, but a group of Jesuits that is going around the Midwest offering to young adults (18 to 35) a brief (Friday night and Saturday) retreat based on the "Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius" and the practical spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer. They've been in the office this week preparing their presentations and it's been exciting to see their energy. It's all part of the revival of the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S.

This weekend I'll be at a conference run by a group called "Sacred Heart Communities in Collaboration." This national conference is entitled "Hearts on Fire: New Beginnings; New Challenges," and I'll be the first of three speakers. My talk is entitled "Wells of Love: Our Covenant Relationship with the Father through Jesus."

The 14 talks from my preached retreat based on the "Spiritual Exercises" are now posted online at Creighton University's Online Ministries site. They were recorded last April at the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, also known as Demontreville.

After receiving encouragement from a publisher to whom we submitted a book proposal, I've begun writing a book. Right now the title is "The Power of Praying for Others" and our hope is that it will fill a void that exists among the many books on prayer. Our ambitious hope is that this book will inspire people with what we call "the simple and profound way of life" of the Apostleship of Prayer in the same way that Jesuit Fr. Henri Ramiere's classic book of the late 1800's ("The Apostleship of Prayer") did.

Along with these tasks there are the monthly and daily radio and web reflections.

There's certainly no moss gathering around the Apostleship of Prayer this summer.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

It’s natural that the feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus should be followed by a feast in honor of His Mother’s Immaculate Heart. For without that Immaculate Heart, there would have been no Sacred Heart. The Son of God from all eternity would have existed, it’s true, but He could not have taken flesh and become human without Mary’s acceptance of God’s will into her Heart. It's been said that Mary first received into her Immaculate Heart what she then conceived in her womb--the Word of God, Jesus.

In honoring the Heart of Mary we commit ourselves to having hearts like hers. That means hearts which are free of sin, free of any obstacle to God’s grace, pure and totally committed to the will of the Father. It also means having hearts which ponder the events of Jesus’ life, keeping “all these things” in our hearts as today’s Gospel (Luke 2: 41-51) says Mary kept them in hers.

In the “Spiritual Exercises” whenever there is a particularly important grace that St. Ignatius wants us to pray for, he invites us to use a Triple Colloquy or intimate, heart-to-heart conversation. He explains: “The first colloquy will be with our Blessed Lady, that she may obtain grace for me from her Son and Lord….” Then having asked the intercession of Jesus’ Mother and ours, we go to Jesus Himself and ask for the grace. Thirdly, we go, as it were, with the Mother and the Son, to the Father and ask for the grace. Such conversations—with the Mother whose Heart was completely open to the will of the Father and with the Son who was obedient unto death to the will of the Father—will prepare us to approach God the Father with the same desires of the Sacred and the Immaculate Hearts. I think the lyrics of a U-2 song apply here: "Two Hearts Beat as One." The Hearts of Jesus and Mary beat as one in their total surrender to God's will. Our devotion to the Two Hearts should lead us to have hearts that are also purely devoted to the will of the Father in our lives.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

One of the earliest images of Jesus in sacred art is that of the Good Shepherd which we see in both today’s first reading from Ezekiel and the Gospel. It is because the Heart of Jesus is filled with love for humanity that He is the Good Shepherd who says He will go to any length to recover wandering and wounded humanity. Any length, including the torture and death of crucifixion. As St. Paul writes in today’s second reading from his Letter to the Romans, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” There could be no greater proof, no greater sign, of God’s love.

That sign continues now and is made present in every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that is celebrated. Yet, what is humanity’s response? What is my response? In the Third Week of the “Spiritual Exercises,” St. Ignatius wants us to be aware that the love revealed on the cross is for me, so that if I were the only human being who ever existed, Jesus would still have done this for me. St. Ignatius writes: “In the Passion it is proper to ask for sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and deep grief because of the great affliction Christ endures for me.”

Only such a personal awareness can lead to a conversion of heart. When Jesus revealed His Heart to St. Margaret Mary in 1675 He lamented: “There it is, that Heart so deeply in love with men, it spared no means of proof—wearing itself out until it was utterly spent! This meets with scant appreciation from most of them; all I get back is ingratitude—witness their irreverence, their sacrileges, their coldness and contempt for me in the Sacrament of Love.”

Jesus asked for today’s feast so that humanity might make up for its ingratitude. Let us thank God today for the proof of His love that He gave us in Jesus who continues to love us with His Sacred and Eucharistic Heart.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Corpus Christi Adoration and Procession

Families in His Presence is a group in the Milwaukee area that fosters Eucharistic adoration for the entire family, including children. The founders of the group approached me a few years ago to help them get established and I sent them to Dick Boldin and the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate who helped them get going. Several times a year they gather families together for Eucharistic adoration in an extended holy hour. Yesterday they gathered at St. Joseph's parish in Wauwatosa and I had the privilege of presiding.

Along with periods of silent adoration, acts of faith and adoration and thanksgiving and love, a decade of the rosary led by a father and his two sons, an outdoor procession with the Blessed Sacrament, and Benediction, I gave a few short talks.

First I showed the children (some of whom were dressed in their First Communion dresses and suits) who came close to the sanctuary where they sat and knelt on mats, a picture of the three Children of Fatima and asked them if they knew who those children were. A few did and from this starting point I talked about Francisco who loved to visit "the Hidden Jesus" in church. Even when he was sick and unable to go to church, he asked others to go visit "the Hidden Jesus" for him. I told the congregation that we were about to bring "the Hidden Jesus" from the tabernacle and place Him in a monstrance where we could see Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament.

After Exposition and a time for prayer, I talked about why we bow before Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. We only bow before God. We do not prostrate ourselves before anyone else. When we bow we express our faith that Jesus, who is God, is present in the Blessed Sacrament. We bow but the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity also bowed low when He became a little baby and grew to become a child and a man. I quoted something Pope Benedict said at his 2008 Corpus Christi Mass:

We Christians kneel only before God or before the Most Blessed Sacrament because we know and believe that the one true God is present in it, the God who created the world and so loved it that he gave his Only Begotten Son (cf. John 3: 16). We prostrate ourselves before a God who first bent over man like the Good Samaritan to assist him and restore his life, and who knelt before us to wash our dirty feet. Adoring the Body of Christ means believing that there, in that piece of Bread, Christ is really there....

God, out of love for His human creatures, first bent over us, and we show our love as we bend before Him.

Then I told the story of the Eucharistic miracle of Santarem, Portugal, a place that I visited when I went on pilgrimage to Fatima last December. The story of this miracle really caught the attention of the little ones. I told them that sometimes Jesus performs miracles like this to help people believe that He is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, but that we were there in church to show Him that we believed without seeing such a miracle. Jesus told Thomas who believed that He was risen only after he touched Him: "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed" (John 20: 29). Jesus tells us that we are blessed because we believe He is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Lastly, before Benediction, we processed with the Blessed Sacrament through the church and outside to a small altar that was set up. I introduced the procession by referring again to Pope Benedict's homily for Corpus Christi 2008 when he said that our procession with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament reminds us that on our journey through life Jesus is always walking with us. He does not want us to get lost on our way to heaven and so He not only gives us a map to follow (the Ten Commandments and teachings of the Church) but He also walks with us to guide us. Bringing our Eucharistic Lord outside also declares in a very public way our belief in the Real Presence. Our procession is a prayer that Christ may reign over our streets, our city, our nation, and the entire world.

During the reception afterwards several people thanked me for helping with this special Corpus Christi celebration. But all I could think and say was that I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate this beautiful feast.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Feast of Corpus Christi

St. Paul's letters are the oldest part of the New Testament and so today's Second Reading (1 Corinthians 11: 23-26) for this feast in honor of the Holy Eucharist is the oldest account of the Last Supper. St. Paul relates, in words that we continue to use at Mass during the Consecration, what Jesus did "on the night he was handed over." He didn't say, "This is a symbol of my body," but "This is my body," and then he told them, "Do this ... in remembrance of me."

I sometimes think about doing a survey after Mass as people leave the church, asking them, "How was Mass today?" And if they say "Good," to ask "Why?" I imagine most people who say that Mass was good would say something about its length (an hour or less), the homily (short and practical and humorous), the music, or the sense of community they felt. I imagine Jesus standing outside of church taking this little survey and asking, "But what about me? Did you remember me? I told you to do this in remembrance of me."

Today's feast began in the Thirteenth Century to foster the faith of people in the presence of Jesus at Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament. It's a presence that continues to be ignored or forgotten. No Catholic who recognizes this presence would leave the Church in search of better preaching, better music, and a greater sense of community. Jesus is "the real deal" and He's there at Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament "body and blood, soul and divinity." Why settle for less? And why not grab every opportunity you can to be united to Him in Holy Communion?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mobile Archdiocesan Retreat

I just returned from giving a retreat to the priests, two archbishops (one of whom is retired), and two of the four transitional deacons (who will be ordained in a week) of the Mobile, Alabama Archdiocese. It's clear that the spiritual life is an emphasis for a diocese when all its priests and bishops gather for a few days of annual spiritual renewal. The retreat took place at the beautiful Manresa on the Mississippi Jesuit Retreat House in Convent, Louisiana, about an hour west of New Orleans.

The theme of the retreat was: "Having a Priestly Heart like the Heart of Jesus." I gave six talks and preached at the three Masses we celebrated. My talks were: 1) Go Deeper in the Spiritual Life; 2) The Sacred Heart: the True Love Story; 3) The Heart of Jesus in the Liturgy of the Eucharist; 4) The Heart of Jesus in the Liturgy of the Word; 5) Exercising the Virtues of the Heart of Jesus; and 6) Living the Eucharist with the Apostleship of Prayer.

Since before I became the U.S. Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, the Archdiocese of Mobile has been receiving our monthly leaflets and including them in their mailings to the priests. Several priests told me how much they appreciated the leaflets and use them both for their personal prayer as well as in the Sunday Prayers of the Faithful.

It was a blessed time: a good way to support some of my brother priests and to begin the month of June, the month of the Sacred Heart.