Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blessed Zdenka Schelingov√°


One of the news services to which I subscribe in order to keep up on Church news is Zenit. On Saturday they ran Archbishop Charles Chaput's recent speech in Slovakia, entitled "Living Within the Truth: Religious Liberty and Catholic Mission in the New Order of the World." It's an excellent speech and one reference toward the of it particularly caught my attention. It was a quote from Sister Blessed Zdenka Schelingov√°, a Holy Cross Sister who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003. Archbishop Chaput paid tribute to Sister Zdenka, who served as a nurse, and other heroic Catholics who suffered under the Communists. He said: "We need to keep this beautiful mandate of Sister Zdenka close to our hearts." What is that mandate? The following--words which embody the meaning of living a Eucharistic life by making an offering of our day:

“My sacrifice, my holy Mass, begins in daily life. From the altar of the Lord I go to the altar of my work. I must be able to continue the sacrifice of the altar in every situation. … It is Christ whom we must proclaim through our lives, to him we offer the sacrifice of our own will.”

Friday, August 27, 2010

Feast of St. Monica

Last February, when I went to Rome for the first time, I visited the Church of St. Augustine, where the relics of St. Monica are venerated. I prayed there for all the parents whose children are wandering away from the Catholic faith and into self-destructive choices and life-styles.

On this, her feast, I have in mind a group of people whose slogan is "It is not hopeless and we are not helpless." They're called the Marian Mantle Group and they are a prayer and support group for those who have friends and relatives who are wandering the way St. Augustine did. St. Monica's prayers played a key role in his finding the right way and the Marian Mantle Group can be a great support to everyone who grieves over a wandering son, daughter, spouse, other relative, or friend.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sister Ida's Sisters

I'm back home and reflecting on my recent retreat with the Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. Members of my community ask me how the retreat went and who were the Sisters whom I led in retreat. Answering their questions gives me another opportunity to reflect on what a grace it was for me to meet them.

I'm still amazed at being able to meet courageous women who survived the Nazi and Communist occupation of their country, Hungary, and hearing how they were able to find freedom in Canada and then in the U.S. The stories of the early members read like the script of an exciting movie.

Sister Hermine, now 92 years old, invited the foundress, Sister Ida Peterfy, to go on a Jesuit retreat which changed Sister Ida's life. She once spoke about the experience this way: "Suddenly I realized that God knew me and loved me, Ida, personally. To God I am not just one of the cabbages in a cabbage field. He knows me by name! Then I asked myself again; if I pursue my career as a chemist, who will take care of the children? The Church will. But who is the Church? I am the Church!" Thus Sister Ida said "Yes!" to God's call to form a community of catechists who would care for the spiritual needs of children.

This was 1940 and in the next few years other women joined the two. One was Sister Eva with whom I spoke. She told me that at the age of thirteen, when she was in a boarding school, she told a Jesuit priest about her interest in religious life. He told her that a new community was just being formed and introduced her to Sister Ida who was studying at a local university. When she was seventeen, Sister Eva took a private vow of chastity for one year. All the Sisters lived separately at this time because it was too dangerous to come together as a community.

When World War II ended, and the Soviets became the occupying army in Hungary, Sister Aurelia was arrested because she had a German surname. She was sent to Siberia where, according to Sister Eva, this frail woman shoveled coal in a coal mine for two years before a falling beam of timber broke her back and she was shipped back to Hungary. She survived, escaped with the others to safety in North America, and died shortly after Sister Ida's death in the Jubilee Year 2000.

I asked Sister Eva how they were able to get out of Hungary. It took two attempts. On the first one, she was in sight of the U.S. flag in the American occupied part of Austria when she was stopped. Her alibi was that she was on her way to visit German relatives, but her bad German gave her away and her forged passport was discovered to be false. She was arrested and sent back to Hungary where she was sternly warned not to try to escape again and sentenced to four months in prison. On the second attempt, with another false passport, she succeeded, speaking as little German as possible.

Once the other Sisters were free, Sister Hermine made her way to the West with the help of a false passport and smugglers who got her to Austria through what was then Czechoslovakia. Sister Hermine had three brothers were who Jesuit priests, one of whom, Fr. Stephen, served as a missionary in China. Sister told me about how one of Fr. Stephen's fingers was crushed by the Chinese Communists before he was released and migrated to Canada.

I also heard stories of the present good work of the Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. Sister Arlene works in Taiwan at Cardinal Tien Hospital where she serves as a medical doctor. On September 3 she will be in Omaha for an International Medical Conference on NaPro Technology, sponsored by the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary. In her talk she will discuss her use of NaPro technology in Taiwan.

The spirit of these Sisters is contained in the following prayer that Sister Ida wrote:

"Come, follow Me." (Mt. 4: 19)

Lord Jesus Christ,
in baptism You placed Your hand upon me,
You chose me to belong to You.
You gave me new life.
Now I can respond to You.

I want You to make me holy.
I want to belong to You.
I want You to be the center of my life.
I want to love with Your Heart.

Let the splendor of holiness
shine on the world through me.
Help me to reach for more,
for holiness, for strength, for divine life,
to be like You,
to radiate holiness in the world.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sacred Heart Sisters

Soon I'll be celebrating my final Mass with the 44 Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart with whom I've been on retreat. The last eight days of retreat have been a very blessed time for me. When we began, I told the Sisters that I saw myself as John the Baptist--one who was there to direct their attention to Jesus, to facilitate their encounter with Him. The Holy Spirit is the real director of a retreat and last night, as the Sisters shared some of the graces they received on the retreat, I thought about what a privilege it is to give retreats to such blessed people.

During the retreat I was able to learn a little more about this community. It is an international and diverse group of young and old, including three of the founding Sisters. Here is a little bit of the history that I learned from them and from some of their printed materials from which I'll be quoting.

Sister Ida Peterfy was the foundress of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. She "was born on October 7, 1922, of a Hungarian Catholic family in Kosice, Slovakia. From her early youth God prepared her to be a leader, to work for others, and inspired her to establish a new religious community. On October 7, 1940, her eighteenth birthday, Sister Ida pronounced her first vows in Kassa, Hungary (now Kosice, Slovakia). This marks the beginning of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart."

Sister Ida felt called to teach children about God and others soon joined her in this work, including Sisters Hermine, Agnes, and Eva, all of whom I had the privilege of meeting and talking with during this retreat. "God called Sister Ida to bring forth a new community in times when the universal Church was under attack in her Chief Pastor and in her religious children. As the future of formal religious education became uncertain [given the Nazi and then Communist occupation of Hungary], the times called for religious who dedicate their lives to proclaim the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ in a new, appealing and personal way."

"Sister Ida's ardent faith in God and inspiration of the Holy Spirit developed an innovative catechetical method which initiated the community's religious education charism, the Five Step Illustrated Method." This method was so successful that the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart has introduced it around the world and it forms the basis for the Paul VI Pontifical Catechetical Institute in St. Louis. It also led to one of the Sisters being appointed to the fifteen member International Council for Catechetics which works closely with various Vatican Congregations.

Priests, religious educators, and parents saw how effective Sister Ida's Five Step Illustrated Method was and asked for more. The result was the production of the "Sacred Heart Kids' Club"--"a method's course on video, and 30 half hour video tapes with teachers' guides." This is a "unique religious education program for children in harmony with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The program spread to five continents in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Hungarian."

Though Sister Ida died on February 8, 2000, her charism lives on in the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. Her work continues through their generous and talented members who work in Southern California, St. Louis, Taiwan, and Hungary. I would like to tell more about their international work but the truth is that some of it includes work in dangerous places and I cannot talk about it without jeopardizing both the ministry and the safety of the Sisters.

This is the remarkable thing about the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. They were born at a time and in a place of danger and turmoil. Their work continues at a time when the Church is in desperate need of good religious education. And it reaches out to parts of the world where the Gospel and those who proclaim it are at risk. The blessing of this retreat has been for me to experience their heroic charity.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fr. William Doyle, S.J.


Several years ago, shortly after becoming the U.S. director of the Apostleship of Prayer, I was talking with a cloistered Carmelite Sister of the Monastery of Our Lady of Providence in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. She had a present for me, something that she had treasured for a long time. She felt that I would appreciate some extra heavenly help in my mission of promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and so she gave me two items: a leaflet from the 1930's with a picture and favorite sayings of Fr. William Doyle, S.J. and a badge which contained a tiny piece of his clothing. I had never heard of Fr. Doyle and she shared with me some books from the convent's library. Since then Fr. Doyle has been my traveling companion and I depend upon his prayers, as well as those of Fr. John Hardon, S.J. and Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J., as I try to fulfill the mission that I have been given by the Society of Jesus.

Today is the 93rd anniversary of the death of Fr. Doyle who was killed on the battlefields of Flanders during World War I. I reflected on him today in my daily YouTube video and I would encourage anyone who wants to find out more about this great Jesuit to go to a new blog, "Remembering Fr. William Doyle, S.J."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart


One of the blessings that I receive as I go around the country giving retreats and parish missions is making new friends. Here in Big Bear Lake, California, at the Sacred Heart Retreat Camp, I've become friends with the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. I had never even heard of them before being invited to give them their annual eight day retreat based on the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius.

They were founded in Hungary in 1940 when Sister Ida Peterfy pronounced private vows. Others, who shared her desire to teach children about the love of God in new and creative ways, soon joined her. Given the situation in Hungary during the Nazi occupation in World War II and the Communist domination following, they did not wear a traditional religious habit. They had to hide the fact that they were teaching people about God. By 1949 things had become so difficult and dangerous that a bishop advised them to flee Hungary to a place where their religious community could develop and then one day return.

In 1950 Sister Ida and five other Sisters made their way to safety in Toronto, Canada where they were able to obtain immigrant status by working as domestic servants for a year. They also supported themselves and their ministry by working during the summer on tobacco farms in Ontario as they learned English.

In 1956 James Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles invited them to bring the community to Los Angeles. At this point Sister Ida asked him about adopting a more traditional religious habit with a veil and was told: "Don't change. Mind my words: the Church will need you as you are." In 1985 the Society was formally recognized as a congregation of diocesan right in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Sisters met in a private audience with Pope John Paul II in 1991 and he told them: "You are blessing for the Pope. You are truly American and truly Catholic."

Sister Ida's vision of religious education was always international in scope. She developed media and materials, now used around the world, which teach the Catholic faith in very simple and practical ways. Sisters serve in Los Angeles and neighboring dioceses, as well as in St. Louis where they have an Online Catechism Certificate Program that is part of the Paul VI Pontifical Institute of Catechetical and Pastoral Studies. They also serve in Taiwan and, with the fall of the Iron Curtain of Communism, have returned to Hungary where they form catechists for the entire country as well as in Slovakia, Rumania, and the Ukraine.

Sister Ida died in 2000 but her vision is alive in the 50 Sisters who form the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. I'm now giving a retreat to 44 of them, including three of the original group who left Hungary. It's amazing to be part of their history in this small way.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Big Bear Lake


This morning I woke up and felt a bit dizzy. I remembered that I had not been pushing fluids the way I should here at 7,000 feet above sea level.

I flew into Ontario, California yesterday and two Sisters drove me up into the San Bernardino Mountains to their congregation's retreat house and camp on Big Bear Lake. We began their annual eight day retreat last night. The schedule is pretty simple: three 20 minute talks a day (9 AM, 4 PM, and 7:15 PM), Mass at 11:15 AM, and confessions or brief meetings for spiritual direction throughout the day. Forty-four Sisters are making the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius with me and they are an impressive group. I'll write more about them another day.

I didn't have to worry about mosquitoes last night, but when I left the main conference room to return to my cabin a short distance away, one of the Sisters warned me about a bear that travels around town at night.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Another Morning Prayer

Yesterday I wrote about the three prayers that I say after waking up and before getting out of bed. There was a fourth, but I couldn't remember it. I guess it only "kicks in" for me in the morning, or when I'm horizontal. I remembered it this morning and wrote it down. Here it is:

I thank You, Father, for giving me this, another day in which to serve You. Grant that every breath I breathe, every thought I have, every word I utter, every moment I spend on this earth will be for Your honor and glory and for the salvation of souls.

I can't recall where I found this prayer but it has become part of my morning routine. I like how it begins with gratitude and ends on the note of living a life like that of Jesus who sought not His own glory but that of the Father and gave Himself totally for the salvation of the world.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Praying with Your Calendar

I learned a lesson the hard way this week. On Wednesday morning I woke up at the usual time and immediately prayed the prayers I say before getting out of bed: the Morning Offering, the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, and the Suscipe or Offering Prayer of St. Ignatius. Then I showered and shaved, got some coffee and prayed. At 7 I went to breakfast in my Jesuit community and then went into our living room to take a leisurely look at the newspaper. At 7:50 I came to my room and started getting ready to go to the office and in doing so noticed that I had in my bag two folders with background materials for the Holy Father's monthly intentions. Ach! It's then I realized that I had missed the 7:30 phone call from KWKY of Des Moines, one of the radio stations that interviews me about the Pope's intentions at the beginning of each month. Sure enough. There was a message from Josh, the engineer. I called, but it was too late. We're going to have to reschedule, if we can.

So, what's the lesson? I suppose there are several but there's one that really hits home because it involves something that I tell people all the time, but haven't been following myself. Don't just "say" the Morning Offering, "pray" it! One way to pray it is to say the words and then look at your appointment book or calendar for the day to see what exactly you will be offering to God that day. If I had done that, if I had practiced what I preach, I wouldn't have missed that radio interview.

Looking back at the end of that day, I could see God speaking to me and teaching me even through that embarrassing mistake.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Jesuit Mission Band


Years ago Jesuits went around in "Mission Bands," preaching the Word of God, leading people in the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius, celebrating the Sacraments, encouraging people in their devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and introducing them to the Apostleship of Prayer. The practice faded until this summer when Fr. Phil Hurley, the director of youth and young adult ministry for the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S., pulled together a team of younger Jesuits who created a program for young adults. They journeyed to five cities in the Midwest (Milwaukee, Chicago, Iowa City, Des Moines, and Columbus) for an event called "Hearts on Fire." Some of it was captured on video and can be seen here. One of the Jesuit seminarians, Michael Wegenka, wrote about his experience on his blog, "A Scaffold of Score Brittle Bones." In our group evaluation last week, there was a strong desire to keep the Jesuit Mission Band going and so we've begun to make plans for a few events during the school year and some more next summer. Keep an eye on the Apostleship of Prayer web site to see if the Jesuit Mission Band will be coming to your city!