Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Light Weigh

On my recent trip to St. Louis for a parish mission at St. Dominic Savio Parish, I met a young woman who resonated with my message of seeing our lives--and every moment of them--as Eucharistic, as an invitation to make an offering of ourselves with Jesus to the Father. She resonated with it because this idea of "making offerings" has been part of a healthy eating program to which she belongs. It's called "Light Weigh." Some of the materials she showed me included a daily journal in which one makes a review of the day, looking for God's presence, gifts, and challenges in every hour of it.

She also shared with me a 2001 "Our Sunday Visitor" article about "Light Weigh" where the following comments caught my attention:

"The key is eating a smaller amount and offering the rest as a sacrifice for a specific intention."

"In addition to weight loss, [one participant] says the idea of offering sacrifices as gifts to God has helped everyone in her family. 'I home school our four children, and when things get frustrating, we all grab the sacrifice beads,' she said."

What are "sacrifice beads?" A string of beads on which one counts the sacrifices or good deeds that one does. Marie Martin, the older sister of St. Therese, gave her a set of such beads when she was quite young and her mother Zelie, who died when Therese was only four, once wrote about her: "Even Therese wants to start making sacrifices now. Marie has given each of the little ones a chaplet on which they can keep count of their good deeds. ... But the most charming thing of all is to see Therese slip her hand into her pocket time and time again and move a bead along as she makes some sacrifice."

I share all this as an example of how the spirituality of "offer it up" has all sorts of contemporary applications. While it's wonderful to see how it is helping people in the Light Weigh program lose weight, it's even more wonderful to imagine the spiritual power of those sacrifices and all the good they are doing in the world.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Before the Palm Sunday procession today, we read the account of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem from the Gospel of Luke. The final line of the Gospel is the reply of Jesus to the Pharisees who told him to tell his disciples to be quiet: "I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!" This line always reminds me of a poem by Richard Wilbur, who was the United States Poet Laureate in 1987. Though it's called "A Christmas Hymn," it's a reminder that the mystery of the Incarnation is not only about God becoming a baby. It's about God becoming human in order to share in our life and our death. Here's the poem:

A Christmas Hymn

And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. St. Luke XIX, 39-40

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David's city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God's blood upon the spearhead,
God's love refused again.

But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver

On the various trips I take to give parish missions, retreats, and talks I make new friends and meet new groups. This morning I concelebrated Mass at a convent of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver. Before meeting the Sisters I learned a bit more about them and what I learned made me look forward to our meeting.

First, they publish a very good bi-monthly magazine called "Echoes from Africa and Other Continents." In it they publicize the monthly prayer intentions of the Holy Father.

Secondly, they are named after the Jesuit saint who ministered to African slaves in Colombia.

Thirdly, their foundress, Blessed Mary Theresa Ledochowska, was the sister of Fr. Wlodomir Ledochowski who as the General Superior of the Jesuit Order from 1915 to 1942.

These Sisters promote mission awareness and I look forward to working with them to do the same through the monthly mission intentions of the Holy Father.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

St. Joseph's in West St. Paul

From St. Louis to St. Paul. I left the former and drove to the latter on Friday, arriving at St. Joseph's Church in West St. Paul, Minnesota. I've known Fr. Michael Creagan, the pastor, for about ten years, having first met him when I was on the staff at the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, MN and he was an associate pastor at St. Michael's Church in Stillwater, MN. A few years ago, when he was pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Robbinsdale, MN, he invited me to give a parish mission on the Sacred Heart. Tonight and tomorrow night I'll be speaking on the theme, "Living the Eucharist." Having spent about ten of my years as a Jesuit in the Twin Cities, it's good to be back, though the temperature change from Missouri to Minnesota was a bit of a shock.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vatican II and Offering Up

As I was praying the Divine Office or Breviary this morning, I was happy to see something in the second reading of the Office of Readings. That reading was an excerpt from the Vatican Council II's pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, "Gaudium et Spes" (#37 and 38). The reading talked about the new commandment of love which Jesus gave us and went on to say:

Jesus "assures those who have faith in God's love that the way of love is open to all men, and that the effort to restore universal brotherhood is not in vain. At the same time he warns us that this love is not to be sought after only in great things but also, and above all, in the ordinary circumstances of life. ... Yet he makes us all free, so that, by denying their love of self and taking up all earth's resources into the life of man, all may reach out to the future, when humanity itself will become an offering acceptable to God."

The is the "Offering Spirituality" of the Apostleship of Prayer. Jesus offered himself to the Father. He wants to join all creation to himself and to his perfect offering. We are part of that creation and we strive to join everything--every moment of the day, every work and prayer, every thought and feeling, every breath and heart beat, everything we touch and influence by our actions, all of the creation that we are and that surrounds us--to Jesus' perfect offering.

As the document says, this offering is an act of love that "is not to be sought after only in great things but also, and above all, in the ordinary circumstances of life."

This is the meaning of the daily or morning offering prayer that we commit ourselves to praying and living.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Yellow Food Bus

One of the blessings of giving parish missions around the country is seeing how the Holy Spirit is at work in different ways in different parishes. Here at St. Dominic Savio Parish near St. Louis, Missouri, there is a very active St. Vincent de Paul Society. They have a small yellow school bus with which they go around to various restaurants and bread thrift shops to pick up food before it's discarded. Then they take it to food pantries around the area. They do this five out of seven days a week! It's truly a work of mercy and an example of the following description from the parish web site: "Our parishioners are living examples of true Christian love. They are supportive of each other, reach out to each other and work together to fulfill the gospel mandate of Jesus Christ." I would add: And they reach out to those in need beyond the parish community. At Mass this morning I quoted a slogan I saw some years ago: "If it were against the law to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" There's plenty of evidence here at St. Dominic Savio's.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baptismal Consecration

Yesterday morning and today, as part of the parish mission I'm giving in Affton, Missouri, I went around to the grade school classrooms to talk about baptism. Most of the students had no memory of their own baptism, but in a few cases there were students who had been baptized as children, and in some other cases they had been present at the baptisms of their siblings. They remembered that the ceremony included water, oil, a candle, and a white garment.

We then talked about the oil, the sacred chrism. I asked them: "Besides baptism, what other three times is sacred chrism used?" The easiest of the three other times was the sacrament of confirmation. With a little prompting they were able to figure out the third time--at the ordination of a new priest. But they had trouble with the fourth time. An eighth grader was the only one to answer: "At the blessing of a new church."

Sacred chrism is very special. It is used to anoint the walls of a new church, setting that space aside for a holy purpose. It's used to anoint the altar of the new church, setting it aside for a holy purpose. It's used to anoint the hands of a newly ordained priest, setting them aside for God's service, the holy purpose of offering the sacraments. And it's used to anoint the heads of the baptized and the confirmed, setting these Christians aside for a holy purpose, consecrating them for God's service. One of the ways that we serve God and fulfill the holy purpose that we've been given in baptism and confirmation is to pray.

At this point in our little baptismal lesson I asked the children if they ever prayed for other people and they went through a survey of the people for whom they pray. Then I showed them how at every Mass we pray for the local bishop and for the pope. This is a general kind of prayer and I asked them: "If the pope asked you to pray for something would you?" The answer I get is usually a pretty spontaneous and enthusiastic "yes!" And then I told them about the very specific monthly prayer requests of the pope. In some cases I was able to show the students the Apostleship of Prayer web site and how to get to the "Kids' Page" or the "Teenagers' Page." And I left every teacher with a leaflet that has the pope's intentions for the year and with the encouragement to remind their students about those intentions at the beginning of each month.

Monday, March 15, 2010

St. Louis Parish Mission

Actually the parish where I'm giving a mission this week is in Affton, Missouri, right next door to St. Louis. The parish is St. Dominic Savio and it must have been one of the first churches named for this young saint who died on March 9, 1857, less than a month shy of his fifteenth birthday. Pope Pius XII canonized him in 1954 and this parish was established two years later. In the back of the church, above the baptismal font and paschal candle, there is a statue of St. Dominic who, from that perspective, watches over the worshippers and joins them, as all the saints do at Mass, in our perfect act of worship--the Eucharist.

The mission I am giving is entitled "Come Walk With Jesus ... and Live Out Your Baptismal Calling." I preached at all the Masses this weekend and last night (Sunday) we began the mission with Mass and a full church. Here are the topics for the coming nights:

Monday night: "Come to the Water: The Transforming Power of Baptism."

Tuesday night: "Behold the Lamb: Our Baptismal Call to be Prophets"

Wednesday night: "In the Breaking of the Bread: Our Baptismal Call to Share in Jesus' Priesthood."

Thursday night: "Prepare the Way of the Lord: Our Baptismal Call to be a Royal People."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Prodigal Father

Today's Gospel is from Luke, Chapter 15, the well-known story of the Prodigal Son. I looked up the word "prodigal." The first definition certainly describes the behavior of the son who grabbed his part of the father's estate and went off to a distant country "where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation." He was "recklessly wasteful."

But wasn't the father also "recklessly wasteful" in giving his son part of the estate? The son had demanded: "Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me." When should the estate come to the son? At the father's death. What the son says to his father is truly terrible. So how could the father give in to his son's demand? How could he divide the estate and give this unloving son half of it? Because he was "recklessly wasteful."

The other definitions of "prodigal" are: "extravagant" and "profuse in giving." Here we see how prodigal the father is. He is prodigal in love. His abundant love leads him to be "recklessly wasteful," at this moment in giving the estate away and later, in mercy. When he catches sight of the lost son he can't wait. He runs to embrace him and doesn't let him finish his speech. He doesn't put conditions on his return to the family. He doesn't tell the son that given his track record he better prove that he will be faithful before he's accepted back. Again the father is "extravagant" in his love which is revealed in his mercy.

Jesus uses this parable to teach about God the Father. He is a Prodigal Father who gave all He could to prove His love and to show His mercy. He was "extravagant" in His love. He was, we could say, "recklessly wasteful," giving His Son to be crucified in order to reconcile sinful humanity to Himself.

Now we are called to do the same. The older brother did not call the lost son "brother" but, speaking to his father he called him "your son." As we become more aware of the extravagant love and mercy of God, we are better able to see others, even our enemies, as brothers and sisters who are dearly loved by our one heavenly Father.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Modern Desert Amma

Sister Martina D'Amour is a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Their motherhouse is next door and they rent space to us in the building that used to be one of their high schools. Sister Martina lives there with other retired Sisters and, as often as she can, she comes to do volunteer work for us.

The "Desert Ammas" were the first religious women in the Church. Like the Desert Fathers or Abbas they went to the desert and dedicated themselves to a life of continual prayer and simple work that would not distract them from their prayer. I think of Sister Martina as a contemporary example of this.

She has entered the desert of an elderly person. She is no longer able to do the work to which she had so faithfully dedicated herself. Her health is not what it used to be and she has had to let go of some of her independence. This winter she had to prove that she could make the short walk over to our building and when it was icy she had to be accompanied by someone else.

Within this desert her love for God and her neighbor burns strong. The other day Sister Martina said that with every new enrollment envelope that she seals she says a prayer: "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: save souls!" That short prayer, like the short "arrow prayers" of the early Desert Fathers and Mothers, surely accompanies every enrollment that leaves our office. It probably also spreads to the whole world as she asks the Holy Family to bring all people to know the love of God and be saved.

French was Sister's first language. Though I know just a few French words I know that Sister Martina's last name is a perfect description of her: L'Amour. Love. Filled with the love of God and a love for God, she wastes no opportunity to offer her prayers and simple tasks for others. She is a true Apostle of Prayer and we are blessed to have her helping us.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Great Publicity

The Apostleship of Prayer has received some great publicity recently, and as a result we are receiving phone calls from around the country. I've always felt that what we are doing is important and good, and that if we could only get the word out, more and more people would respond, joining us in offering up their lives to God one day at a time and praying for the Holy Father's two monthly intentions.

A media organization called "Rome Reports" recently aired a two minute piece that included an interview with our international director, Fr. Claudio Barriga, S.J. This video has in turn been picked up by other web sites.

Journalist and author, Tim Drake, interviewed me recently for the National Catholic Register. I first heard about Tim when I worked in the Twin Cities and a spiritual directee of mine told me about a book he had written entitled "There We Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover Their Catholic Roots." Shortly after this I met Tim's father-in-law who makes regular retreats at Demontreville, the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, MN. Finally, a few years later, I met Tim himself at the annual conference of the Institute on Religious Life. The interview we had begins with my vocation story and moves to the Apostleship of Prayer. It's entitled "The Art of Offering It Up."

We don't know how many people consider themselves members of the Apostleship of Prayer, but Fr. Barriga estimates that there are 50 million of us around the world. With publicity like this, I don't think it's unrealistic to think that we will be adding millions more to that number.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Marlette Parish Mission

On Saturday I left Port Austin, Michigan and drove an hour south to Marlette. Fr. Andrzej Boroch, from Poland, is the pastor here at St. Elizabeth's. He is a fervent young priest (ordained in 1995) and asked me to give a parish mission here after I directed the Saginaw priests' retreat last year. As far as we know, this parish which was established in 1948, has never had a parish mission so we tried to put together a program that would make the mission convenient for all the parishioners.

As always I spoke at the Masses on Sunday, including Mass at St. Michael's parish in Wilmot which Fr. Boroch also serves. At 3 P.M. on Sunday we had a Holy Hour with exposition and benediction. I talked about going deeper in our spiritual lives and quoted Pope John Paul II who said, at the turn of the millennium, "it would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer life 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.'"
Today we celebrated Mass at 11 and my homily was on the topic of what Catholics believe about the Eucharist and how this affects the way we participate in the celebration of Mass and how we treat one another. After the homily we celebrated the Anointing of the Sick and after Mass we had lunch. This evening there will be four priests celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation from 6 until 7 and then we will have a Holy Hour and a repeat of this morning's homily.

Tomorrow we will have a Holy Hour at 11 followed by lunch. The focus of my talk will be how the practical spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer can help the average person can live the Eucharist and find meaning in every day life. We will close the mission with Mass at 7 P.M. and a repeat of the morning talk.

It was been nice staying with Fr. Boroch. His rectory walls are filled with religious pictures and photos of Pope John Paul II. He has a statue of St. Faustina on a shelf next to a picture of the Divine Mercy image. Last night we visited with a Polish family and dined on traditional Polish food: golabki (stuffed cabbage rolls) and the best potato pierogi I've ever had. A lot of times potato pierogi is stuffed with a very bland filling of mashed potatoes. These were mashed potatoes with farmer's cheese, butter, and onions. On this particular mission, the laborer is certainly being fed well!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Loving with the Heart of Jesus

I related today's Scripture readings to the parish mission I am giving in the Port Austin, Michigan area.

In the first reading, the Old Testament story of Joseph, there is a clear example of something I talked about on the first night of the mission. There we see two ways that sin works. First, a lot of sin is recycled hurt. "Hurt people hurt people." When we get hurt we tend to pass the hurt on to others. Joseph's brothers were hurt that their father Jacob showed favoritism toward Joseph. A resentment built up and they acted on it. They treated Joseph like an object. This is the second way that sin often operates in our lives. We deny the inherent dignity of others and treat them as objects, either for pleasure, or in this case, as problems that can be dismissed and disposed of. Joseph's brothers first decided to dispose of him but then sold him like a piece of property to a caravan of traders.

Jesus was also rejected and disposed of. The parable in today's Gospel anticipates this.

But in both cases, God took the sin and made it work toward good. Because Joseph was sold and ended up in Egypt he was able to help his family survive a famine. Because Jesus died on the cross He reconciled humanity with God. As Paul writes in Romans 8: 28, "all things work for good for those who love God."

Lent is a time for us to be converted from recycling the hurt of our lives and from treating other people as objects. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation we are forgiven and healed, but the process of our transformation really progresses through the Holy Eucharist. I spoke about this last night, saying that our union with Jesus in the Eucharist makes us one with Him and with one another. This helps us to see one another differently.

In the Holy Eucharist we receive Jesus, Body and Blood, soul and divinity, including His Sacred Heart. Today is First Friday, a day to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We do so when we let the Heart of Jesus transform our hearts from hearts of stone (like those of Joseph's brothers) into hearts of flesh, hearts like the Heart of Jesus. With this Heart united to ours, we see each other differently. We are able to love, as Jesus Himself loves, even those who have hurt us.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Port Austin Parish Mission

Lent is the time of year for parish missions and I will be on the road quite a bit in the coming weeks. Right now I'm in Port Austin, Michigan, located in what is known as "the thumb" of the lower peninsula. The pastor of St. Michael's parish, Fr. Andy Boom, was on a retreat that I gave to priests of the Saginaw Diocese last year and he invited me to come for a parish mission. Last year he started a "40 Hours Mission". On each of three days Mass is celebrated at 8:30 AM and is followed by Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Parishioners sign up and come to adore our Lord throughout the day. I am available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation at 6 PM. At 7 PM we celebrate Vespers and I give a mission talk. Yesterday's talk was entitled "Reconciliation: A New Look at an Old Tradition" and tonight's talk is entitled "The Eucharist: Healing the Wounds of the Body." We close each evening with Benediction and repose the Blessed Sacrament until the next morning. The 40 Hours Mission will end Friday evening with Mass and a homily about the "Living the Eucharist through the Daily Offering."

For the past two months Fr. Boom has also been the administrator of two nearby parishes--St. Edward the Confessor and St. Mary of Czestochowa--ten miles south in the town of Kinde. So our 40 Hours Mission is on the road just as I am. We began yesterday at St. Edward's and today we are in St. Mary's. Tomorrow we will finish in St. Michael's here in Port Austin where I am staying.