Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Take Lord, Receive"

Today is the feast day of the founder of my religious order, the Jesuits. It's the feast of St. Ignatius who was so in love with Jesus and so wanted his companions to share that same love, that he called his congregation the Company or Society of Jesus. He did not want it to be named after him. His disciples were not to be followers of Ignatius but followers of Jesus.

I'm at the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota and I can't think of a better place or way to be celebrating the feast. One of the great gifts that God gave to the world through St. Ignatius was his retreat manual which was based on his own spiritul experiences. It's called, simply, "The Spiritual Exercises." I'm giving those "Exercises" to a group of 56 men and in giving them I'm blessed to be experiencing as well their grace.

"The Spiritual Exercises" are the basis for what we call "the simple and profound way of life" that is the Apostleship of Prayer. It really is very simple. The "Exercises" help me to know that God loves me very much and has given me everything that I am and have. How should I respond to such love? With all my love, giving all to God in a return of love for love. The "Exercises" end with a simple prayer of offering which in Latin is known as "The Suscipe." It's one of my favorite prayers and I use it every morning along with a few others when I wake up and before I get out of bed. The version I use goes like this:

Take Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will, all that I have and hold and possess. You have given all to me; to You, O Lord, I return all it. All is Yours. Dispose of it wholly according to Your will. All that I ask is for Your love and Your grace. With these I am rich enough and want for nothing more.

This prayer is basically the culmination of the "Spiritual Exercises." It is an offering of love that can be renewed every day with the Daily or Morning Offering Prayer. Thus the daily offering spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer flows naturally from "The Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius and it should be no surprise that the Apostleship was founded by a Jesuit.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Three "Favorite" Prayers

Recently, Anne Bender, a friend and fellow blogger, "tagged" me for something called a MEME. I've never heard of it nor have I been able to find out what it stands for. It seems that someone started this blogging "chain" in which someone shares his or her three favorite prayers (apart from the Mass and the Sacraments) and then tags five other bloggers to share theirs. I'm going to do the first, but not the second part of this.

It's a bit difficult for me to do this. There are so many written prayers that I like, and I feel some obligation to include the Morning Offering, which is at the heart of the Apostleship of Prayer's spirituality of offering. Easter A., another blogger, was also tagged and she listed the Daily Offering and included our video presentation of it. So, I'll leave the Morning Offering for another post when I follow up with other favorite prayers of mine.

Here are the three I have chosen.

1. The Jesus Prayer. Tradition has it that the monks of the Egyptian desert took literally St. Paul's admonition to pray unceasingly and came up with a prayer that could be recited while doing other things. The key was to synchronize the words with one's breath and in that way to pray simultaneously with one's mind and one's body. Many books have been written about this simple prayer and there are different versions of it. It is an essential part of monasticism in the Eastern Church. I like it because I can use it wherever I am and no matter what I'm doing. When I'm walking on a golf course, huffing and puffing along, I pray this prayer. If I'm at a meeting and begin to get upset, I silently think of this prayer and recite the words with my breath. If I'm bored, waiting in line somewhere, I pray using this prayer. If I am tempted, I turn to this prayer to distract my attention away from the temptation. Fr. Antony Coniaris, a Greek Orthodox priest, wrote a book entitled "Confronting and Controlling Thoughts According to the Fathers of the Philokalia," in which he encourages people to pray the Jesus Prayer when temptation occurs. When temptation comes knocking at the doors of our minds and our hearts, he says, send Jesus to answer the door by praying the Jesus Prayer. It goes like this:

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

I synchronize each line with a breath and thus pray the prayer in four breaths. This is especially helpful if one is stressed out because it slows down our breathing and helps us to focus on the Lord of our lives. In the future I'll have to write more about the meaning of the words for me.

2. Anima Christi. This prayer appears at the beginning of the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius and also in lists of prayers after receiving Holy Communion. Though St. Ignatius did not compose this prayer, he used it frequently. I like to pray it after receiving Holy Communion but I add a phrase to it. Here it is with my addition in italics:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the Side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
Heart of Christ, inflame me with Your love.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Permit me never to be separated from Thee.
From the wicked foe defend me.
At the hour of my death call me
And bid me come to Thee
That with Thy saints I may praise Thee
For ever and ever. Amen.

3. Act of Love. The author of this prayer is the great Franciscan St. Bonaventure and it too appears in lists of prayers which one can recite after receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist. For me this prayer shows the kind of love that I want to have for our Lord.

Most loving Lord Jesus, pierce the depths of my soul with the blessed and life-giving wound of Your love, with serenity of spirit and a holy, apostolic charity, that my heart may ever languish and melt with love and longing for You, that it may desire You and yearn for Your heavenly courts, and look forward to being dissolved and living with You.

Grant that my soul may hunger after You, the bread of angels, the refreshment of holy souls, our daily and supersubstantial bread, having all sweetness and savor and every delight of taste.

Let my heart ever hunger after and feed upon You, on Whom the angels wish to look, and may my inmost spirit be filled with Your delight.

May it ever thirst after You, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the richness of the house of God.

May it ever aspire after You, seek You, find You, run to You, attain You, meditate on You, speak of You, and do all things to the praise and glory of Your Name, with humility and discretion, with ease and affection, with love and satisfaction, and with perseverance unto the end.

May You alone ever be my hope, my entire assurance, my riches and delight, my pleasure and joy, my rest and tranquility, my sweetness and peace, my fragrance and savor, my food and refreshment, my refuge and help, my wisdom and possession, my portion and treasure, in Whom may my mind and heart be fixed and firm and rooted immovably for all eternity. Amen.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Hole in our Hearts

I just finished a retreat for 37 women at the Jesuit retreat house in St. Louis, known as White House. When the number of registrants was low, we decided to write to all our Apostleship of Prayer members within a 50 mile radius of St. Louis letting them know about this retreat. Several people who received the letter signed up the last minute, thus boosting our numbers. But numbers ultimately are not what matters. All those who came--and I include myself in this as well--were blessed by three quiet days of prayer in a beautiful setting.

On the retreats I give I usually talk about St. Augustine's famous line from his autobiography, "The Confessions:" "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." We all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts, a longing for infinite love and beauty. Only God can fill that emptiness, but we tend to want to take the hunger pains away by filling the hole with substitutes--possessions and wealth, pleasure, power and prestige. We may feel satisfied for a while, but ultimately the restlessness and longing return.

When I travel to give retreats I often try to catch up on reading and this time I took a few back issues of the "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper. Something in the July 11 issue caught my eye immediately: an article entitled "Healing the hole in the Gulf--and in our hearts." The author is Fr. J. Brian Bransfield and he eloquently reflects upon the tragedy of the oil spill in the Gulf. While people struggle to cap the gushing oil we all need to reflect on what led to this tragedy and then, after considering the causes, reflect on what conversion needs to go on to prevent such tragedies in the future. The hole in the Gulf of Mexico is connected to the hole in our hearts that only God can fill.

Here's a little taste of the article: "If we fix the hole in the earth without healing the one in our heart we will simply keep opening old wounds. There is only one way to heal the hole in our heart. ...We are not meant to acquire ... we are meant to give; we are not meant to acquire pleasure ... we are meant to give beauty ... we are not meant to acquire pleasure quickly ... we are meant to give beauty slowly." Then Fr. Bransfield asks how do we learn this? His answer: "We must drill into the Sermon on the Mount in order to unearth heaven. This persistence is learned only by standing near another Heart, a Heart that was pierced, that flowed forth in a new and eternal spring that closed the gulf of sin ... the Heart that is the source of a fountain that never runs dry."

Fr. Bransfield is the assistant general secretary of the U.S. Bishops' Conference and his article in its entirety can be found online here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The word "hospitality" comes from the Latin word "hospes," guest. In the readings at Mass today, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, we have stories of hospitality.

In the first (Genesis 18: 1-10), Abraham and Sarah provide hospitality for three mysterious strangers who predict that in a year the two of them will have a son. The famous icon of the Trinity by Andre Rublev shows these three heavenly visitors under a terebinth, a tree. How is it that this story served as the basis for Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity, three Divine Persons who are One God? The passage begins, "The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth," and continues with, "Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby." He addresses them in the singular: "Sir, if I may ask you this favor...." Abraham and Sarah showed hospitality to God Himself who blessed them.

In the Gospel (Luke 10: 38-42), Martha and Mary provide hospitality for the Son of God. Martha served Jesus and Mary sat at His feet listening to Him. Both were forms of hospitality and Jesus praised Mary as having "chosen the better part" for, in listening to Jesus, Mary made Him a guest of her mind and heart.

In the Eucharist we receive Jesus as a guest in the Word and then in the Sacrament where we become a home for Him to enter in a most marvelous way. Then, nourished and transformed by the Eucharist, we are sent forth to provide hospitality for Jesus present in our brothers and sisters who are in need.

There is a story that when Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day were starting the Catholic Worker movement, they thought about different names for the houses where those in need would be received as Christ and given shelter, food, clothing, and, perhaps most important given what Jesus said about Mary in the Gospel, an open heart and listening ear. One possibility was to call the houses "Houses of Charity." But the word "charity" often has the connotation of giving a handout and sending people on their way. Hospitality, on the other hand, captures much more the sense of reverencing the dignity of someone made in God's image and likeness. Hospitality is charity in action.

Peter Maurin wrote about Houses of Hospitality in simple poems that are known as "Easy Essays." In one he contrasts Christian hospitality with the hospitality of the "Muni," a city-run shelter. He writes:

So people no longer consider
hospitality to the poor
as a personal duty.
And it does not disturb them a bit
to send them to the city,
where they are given the
hospitality of the "Muni"
at the expense of the taxpayer.
But the hospitality that the
"Muni" gives to the down and out
is no hospitality
because what comes from the
taxpayer's pocketbook
does not come from his heart.
So hospitality, like everything else,
has been commercialized.
So hospitality, like everything else,
must now be idealized.

We need Houses of Hospitality
to give to the rich
the opportunity to serve the poor.
We need Houses of Hospitality
to show what idealism looks like
when it is practiced.

Another of Maurin's "Easy Essays" contains a similar thought:

In the first centuries
of Christianity
the hunger were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at a personal sacrifice.
And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
"See how they love each other."
In our own day
the poor are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
but at the expense
of the taxpayers.
And because the poor
are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
the pagans say about the Christians
"See how they pass the buck."

Those are tough and challenging words. Dorothy Day liked to quote from the Russian novelist Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov": "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams." How true. That's why hospitality is "at a personal expense."
In showing such personally sacrificing hospitality we are imitating God who first showed hospitality to us.

Out of pure love God created human beings to share existence, life, and love. When humanity rejected God's plan, He did not close the door on us, but sent His own Son "at a personal sacrifice" to open heaven for us. God is Infinite Hospitality. God created us to share His own home--heaven--with us. There is a unique place in God's Heart that only you can fill.

In the Letter to the Hebrews 13: 1-2 we read: "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels." I would add today: "and God Himself."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Our Lady of the Cenacle

Last Sunday, after the retreat for deacon candidates of the Tulsa Diocese, I was able to stay overnight at a new Benedictine monastery named "Our Lady of the Cenacle." I first met its founder, Fr. Mark Kirby, a few years ago when I was giving a retreat in Connecticutt. The special charism of this new monastery is to go in adoration before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus and to offer thanksgiving, intercession, and reparation for priests. Fr. Kirby is also working with women who are called to be spiritual mothers of priests. I highly recommend Fr. Kirby's blog "Vultus Christi" for its beautiful prayers and images.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Having a Servant Heart like the Heart of Jesus

That's the title of the retreat that I have been giving this weekend to deacon candidates of the Diocese of Tulsa. In my last talk today I talked about being servants.

Jesus shows us that service is the way that we return love for love. Jesus was filled with love for His Father and this was shown in His response to the Father's love. He returned love for love by uniting His will to the will of the Father and giving Himself in service to the Father's human children, His brothers and sisters.

Jesus told the apostles and us, "I no longer call you slaves, ... I have called you friends" (John 15: 15). Our service of God, then, is not servile but loving. It is not a service done in fear of punishment or as part of a transaction that demands payment for services rendered. Like the service of Jesus it is a loving service. Christian servants share time and work with the truest and best friend ever--Jesus.

When was Jesus a servant? Answering that question we probably immediately think of all His activities of teaching and healing. And certainly forgiving sins was part of His service. On the cross His service culminated with the suffering and death by which He reconciled humanity to the Father and to one another.

But what about when he was growing up? His learning how to walk and talk and read? What about when He worked side by side with His foster father Joseph in the carpenter shop or accompanied him on trips to fix other people's things? What about when He kicked back to relax at the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in Bethany? Was eating and resting and sleeping also part of His service?

Yes. Every moment of His life was an act of love for the Father and for humanity, done in perfect obedience to the loving will of His Father and ours. Every waking and sleeping moment of His life was an act of redemptive love done as the perfect servant of God.

To have a servant heart like the Heart of Jesus means doing the same. It means making every act an act of love for God. It means making an offering of every thought, word, and deed, every prayer, work, joy, and suffering, every breath and every heart beat. Serving God is not a part-time occupation. It's our entire life. Only with the Heart of Jesus transforming our hearts will we be able to be a servant of God as Jesus was.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Subiaco is a place in Italy, famous as the site where St. Benedict, at the age of fourteen, withdrew from the world and began to live a monastic life. I'm in Subiaco right now, but not the one in Italy, rather, the one in Arkansas, where the Benedictine Subiaco Abbey is located. I'm here with 26 men who are in formation to be permanent deacons for the Tulsa, Oklahoma Diocese. We arrived yesterday for their annual retreat and will be leaving tomorrow. The title of the retreat is similar to ones that I've given to priests: "Having a Servant's Heart like the Heart of Jesus."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Offering up Golf

I am back from my brief golf vacation having played five times in six days. It mercifully rained one day so I could rest those muscles that don't get used for golf on a regular basis. Perhaps the title of this entry makes you think that I was in the rough a lot or had a lot of bad shots. After all, don't we normally think of offering up bad things? Truth be told, I did have plenty of bad shots and lost balls to offer up, but all in all I didn't play that poorly and there were enough really good shots to keep me coming back. There were also a lot of "joys"--also part of the traditional Morning Offering prayer--that I offered up.

Fr. John Patrick Donnelly, S.J., an avid golfer and professor at Marquette University, wrote an article in 1992 entitled "Golf as a Spiritual Exercise." In it he writes about finding God in the beauty of creation, in the game itself, and in his friends.

I thought of that article and a particular spiritual lesson that I took away from my recent rounds of golf. It has to do with staying in focus, living in the present, and taking one moment at a time. So often my mind starts racing off to the future or dwelling on the past. In golf I'll start thinking, after one bad shot or hole, how bad my score is going to be at the end of the round. Or after the bad shot I'll dwell on it and let it take my mind off the next shot. Or if I'm playing well I'll start thinking about how if I just keep it up I'll be able to break 90 for 18 holes or 40 for 9. Then I lose my focus and generally miss an easy putt because I get what are called the "yips." I lose my focus and put too much pressure on making that one putt in order to keep my good round going.

It's best when I hit one shot at a time and play it as though it were my only shot that day. It's best if I don't know how I'm scoring so I don't get distracted thinking about how well I might do, or how poorly I am doing and how I might not even break 100. It's best when I keep my focus on hitting that one shot as best as I can. One shot at a time. One moment at a time. Live in the present.

That's the lesson that I've known but need to have reinforced from time to time. That's the lesson I take away from my annual Fourth of July golf vacation with Jesuit friends from the East coast. And I'm reminded of something that Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan wrote in his little book "Five Loaves and Two Fish." He wrote it after South Vietnam fell to the communists and he was arrested. Wondering about how he was going to be able to serve his people now that he was under arrest, and what possible purpose his life could have now that he would not be able to exercise his ministry, he wrote:

"I will seize the occasions that every day presents to fulfill ordinary actions in an extraordinary way. Jesus, I will not wait. I will live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love. A straight line is made of millions of tiny points united to each other. My life too is made of millions of seconds and minutes united to each other. I will perfectly arrange every single point and the line will be straight. I will live perfectly every minute and my life will be holy. Like you, Jesus, who always did what was pleasing to your Father."

Bishop Thuan spent the next thirteen years in prison, a number of them in solitary confinement. After his release he went to Rome, was made a cardinal, and became head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He died of cancer in 2002 and the cause for his beatification was opened in 2007.

Holiness can be found anywhere, in prison or on a golf course. It all comes down to living each moment well and making of it an offering to God.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


The Board of Directors of the Apostleship of Prayer met in St. Louis on Tuesday. Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis attended his first meeting and showed great interest in getting other Bishops involved so that the Apostleship of Prayer might continue its revival in the U.S.

The Jesuit Mission Band has had two blessed events in Milwaukee and in Iowa City. One of the Jesuit scholastics who has been working on the these events wrote about them at a blog that he and several other Jesuits write called "Whomsoever Desires." Check it out!

Fr. Rigobert Kyungu, S.J. came to visit today. He is the Apostleship of Prayer director for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and he also coordinates the work of all the national directors in Africa. He is on the new international council that met in Rome last February. He came to the U.S. to attend a conference on the liturgy and he stayed some extra days in order to visit a friend in Chicago. We talked about the various activities of the Apostleship of Prayer in our respective countries, especially in terms of reaching out to young people.

Tomorrow I leave for the Jesuit villa in Waupaca, WI where I'll spend about six days on vacation. I wanted to spend a longer time there but a ministry opportunity came up that I couldn't pass by. More on that later....