Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blessed Louis Guanella

As I come to the end of my retreat with the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, I’m grateful for a surprise favor: learning about their founder, Blessed Louis Guanella, who enrolled in the Apostleship of Prayer when he was he was a twenty year old seminarian in his native Italy.

Fr. Guanella was born in 1842, died in 1915, and was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1964. On July 1, 2010 Pope Benedict approved a miracle attributed to his intercession, thus opening the way for his canonization. He founded two orders: for women, the Daughters, and for men, the Servants of Charity. This wasn’t their original name. They were first called the Sons of the Sacred Heart, but Fr. Guanella changed that so they would not be confused with other men’s congregations.

It’s clear, though, that devotion to the Sacred Heart was the inspiration for all he did. His early biographer, Fr. Leonardo Mazzucchi, of the Servants of Charity, in his book “The Life, the Spirit and the Works of Father Louis Guanella,” wrote: “He had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus at a time when very few people practiced it. This devotion was to be the most fruitful source of his angelic piety, the inspiration of his particular love for the Blessed Sacrament and his practice of daily communion…. Therefore, he then and always thereafter promoted the Apostleship of Prayer, which is a useful and important form of this devotion” (page 19).

Fr. Guanella wrote an inspiring prayer book entitled, “In the Month of Fervor: Thirty Scriptural Maxims Developed on the Sacred Heart of Jesus for Christian Souls.” The following is a prayer at the end of his reflection for the third day entitled “The Heart of Jesus at His Birth in Bethlehem”:

O Most Holy Heart of Jesus, I cannot love you as the Blessed Mother loved you. I feel bad about it. I would like to love you, as the chaste Joseph did. At least, O Lord, make me love you with simplicity and affection equal to that of the devout shepherds. How happy will I be when I will really begin to love you! How fortunate I will be when, enkindling my accent, I will be able to applaud around you with the choirs of angels, saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will!”

It should be no surprise that the first church he built was dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Fr. Louis D’Antuono said the following about Fr. Guanella, this church, and the statue of the Sacred Heart in it: “With that he wished to show that they (i.e. the orphans, the aged, the needy women in the house) must not seek comfort except in this divine and compassionate Heart, who living in this world felt a lively pity for the poor and the unfortunate. Those poor residents are sick and afflicted, more in heart than in body. Since it is the heart that resents the strokes of bad fortune, it is the heart that gives them the greatest torment. So, there was a need of a heart to cure them and give them the lost peace. Very well then, Father Guanella, knowing that, sought this heart and found it in the Heart of Jesus. So the Church was consecrated to the Divine Heart. Father Guanella wanted to procure consolations for his residents, and gave them a Heart which is the source of every consolation. He wanted to procure mercy for them and gave them a Heart essentially merciful. He wanted to give them a father, a friend, a lover, and gave them the Heart of Jesus, Who is not only the father and friend of the poor but puts Himself in their place: What you do to the poor, he said, you do to me. That statue, raised in the new church, seems to say to all who pass through this blessed door: ‘These poor, these aged, these sick people, these unfortunate ones are my children. Do good to them and I will give you a reward’” (pages 78-9).

The love of the Heart of Jesus led him to especially love those who were most abandoned—the poor, the developmentally disabled, the elderly. Prayer led to service. This too is part of the Apostleship of Prayer. His biographer, Fr. Mazzucchi, wrote:

“In February 1894, Father Louis wrote: ‘We must always pray, but at this time it is necessary that we make prayer a real apostolate.’ So he presented the Apostleship of Prayer, which he wanted to institute in the Church of the Sacred Heart…. Later he wrote: ‘The Apostleship of Prayer is like the center of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The prayer of the agonizing Jesus pierces the Heart of God. This prayer, thus passing through the Sacred Heart, penetrates heaven and earth. In supplicating, the fervent Christian imitates this prayer of the Divine Incarnate Word. Thus the prayer of the good people sustains the world today, that it may not crash under the weight of iniquity’” (page 90).

In June 1912 Blessed Louis Guanella said: “Our Works gushed forth from the most august Heart of God, Who has fructified and sustained them; and we cannot expect them to prosper and be inflamed with charity unless we unite ourselves to the Heart of Jesus Christ to perceive His virtues and draw forth His favors” (page 171).

This devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which led him to have compassion on the poor and neglected of society, and to practical works of charity on their behalf, also inspired his love for the Eucharist. He saw the Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist and often made reference to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. On Easter, 1913 he wrote: “Let us seek to make our life the life of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, well convinced that we must fill our hearts with the spirit of faith and charity if we want to do good to our souls, to alleviate the grave needs that surround us, and to relieve the many corporal and spiritual miseries of our neighbors” (page 171).

In summary, we can quote Fr. Mazzucchi again: “We have affirmed that Father Louis Guanella’s piety was directed, above all, to honor and implore the mercies of the Sacred Heart of Jesus present in the Eucharist. As an Apostle of the Eucharist, Father Louis chose the Sacred Heart of Jesus as protector of his Work. Since he knew that daily material and spiritual graces would be abundantly showered from the Divine Heart upon his Houses, he wanted his followers to draw the strength, power of sacrifice, enthusiasm, and tenderness of Christian charity from that same Holy Heart” (page 348).

Blessed Louis Guanella was an Apostle of Prayer whose life was centered on the Heart of Jesus which, in the Eucharist, transformed his own heart. This led to a life of loving service and sacrifice. He lived a Eucharistic life, making an offering of himself with Jesus on behalf of those most forgotten and neglected.

I’m grateful to have discovered this new friend and fellow member of the Apostleship of Prayer.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn

"Turn, Turn, Turn." Folks of a certain generation will recognize those words as the title of a song by the Byrds that came out in the '60's and used the words from today's first reading at Mass, Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11.

It's actually a pretty grim view of life. Time is depicted as a series of cycles--ups and downs, good times and bad. Because God, as the reading says, "put the timeless into their hearts," people ask questions like, "Why?" "To what end or purpose are all these cycles?" "Is that all there is?" "Why do I feel that there should be more?"

Why? Because God created each of us with the "timeless" in our hearts. There is more. We're made in God's image and likeness. There is something immortal about us. We're made by Love and for Love.

Jesus redeems time from its meaninglessness. Who is Jesus? That's the question in today's Gospel (Luke 9: 18-22). Peter gets the answer right, telling Jesus He is "the Christ of God," the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior. Immediately, Jesus rebukes him. Why? Because of all the misconceptions surrounding "the Christ." Jesus teaches that "the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected ..., and be killed and on the third day be raised." He is not a political redeemer who will help Israel shake off the Roman rule. That would simply lead to one more cycle of war and victory and peace for a while, or war and defeat and further suffering. No, Jesus is not a political redeemer or messiah. He is the Redeemer of time itself. The Redeemer of death.

This is what He did on the Cross. His victory over time and death on the Cross continues in the Eucharist.

Now, in every celebration of the Eucharist, the timeless act of the Redemption breaks into time. The moment of His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave is made present in every Mass. This is the true focus of the Mass. It is the Holy Sacrifice in which Jesus' perfect offering of Himself is made present again in time.

Blessed Louis Guanella, the founder of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence and the Servants of Charity wrote a little book called "The Angel of the Sanctuary." In it we find these words: "In the Holy Mass, the Christian spiritually sets his heart for Mount Calvary, where he witnesses the agony and death of Jesus Christ, and finally his glorious resurrection."

At every Mass we are present at that moment because it is a timeless or eternal event that breaks into time. At every Mass we are able to unite ourselves to Jesus' perfect offering. We offer ourselves with Him to the Father in a perfect act of love.

In his Apostolic Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," Pope Benedict wrote that the Eucharist is a mystery to be believed, celebrated, and lived. We believe that in every Eucharist the eternal event of the Redeemer's death and resurrection is made present. We celebrate that event accordingly, with loving reverence. And we live it. We participate most fully in the Eucharist when we make an offering of ourselves with Jesus. Then, having communed with the Body and Blood of Christ, we leave the celebration to live the offering we have made.

We renew that offering often, beginning each day with a Morning Offering. We strive to recall that offering throughout the day as we offer our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings, every thought, word, and deed, every breath and heart beat. And at the end of the day we make a review of the offering that we have made.

In this way, time is redeemed. It is no longer an ongoing and meaningless cycle that ends in death. Every moment of the day, joined to Jesus' perfect offering on Calvary and in every Mass, becomes significant, eternally significant.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sacred Heart Retreat

Last month it was the threat of bears when I gave a retreat to Sisters in Big Bear Lake, California. This month it's the threat of acorns. All around, the trees are releasing their acorns and so far I've avoided getting beaned.

I'm in rural Pennsylvania, near Elverson to be exact, at the St. Mary of Providence Retreat Center. It's located in the beautiful 67 room mansion built in 1894 by Joseph D. Potts, a sixth generation Potts, whose family founded Pottstown, PA and many of the iron works in the area. In 1948 the mansion was sold to the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence and it served as a home for developmentally and physically disabled girls until 1984 when a new facility for them was built in Springfield, PA. Now the mansion and its surrounding buildings serve as a retreat center and housing for seniors.

I'm giving a weeklong retreat to thirteen of the Sisters. It's a retreat I haven't given in a few years and it's based on the 33 invocations in the Litany of the Sacred Heart. On almost every Sunday at noon the Pope, wherever he is--at home in St. Peter's Square or at his summer home at Castel Gandalfo or on the road somewhere--prays the Angelus with the faithful. But before doing so, he gives a little message. At various times from 1985 to 1989, Pope John Paul spoke about the invocations of the Sacred Heart Litany. His Angelus Message on Sunday, July 1, 1984 was entitled "In the Heart of Christ there is a synthesis of all the mysteries of our faith." And in his Angelus Message of June 27, 1982 he said: "This prayer, recited and meditated, becomes a true school of the interior life, the school of the Christian."

This week I and thirteen Daughters of St. Mary of Providence are going to this "school." Though I've been to it before, I find that I can always go deeper. That's because no one could ever plumb the depths of the infinite love that is the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NCDVD conference

The annual NCDVD conference is being held in Milwaukee this week. That's the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. Through the generosity of a benefactor the Apostleship of Prayer was able to have a table at the conference. I used the slogan that I've used with Serra Clubs and other organizations that promote vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life: "The Apostleship of Prayer: Creating a Culture of Vocations." I believe that using the Morning Offering can be an important step in planting a seed that could one day sprout in a call to offer one's life in service to Christ and His Church. Along with our CD's of the Morning Offering, I also offered to the participants our Evening Review CD in which I lead the listener through the Ignatian Examen, a way of discerning God's presence in one's daily life. I think that if a person is discerning those daily movements of the Holy Spirit, one will be better able to discern a vocational call.

The conference also gave me the opportunity to connect with friends, priests from dioceses where I've worked or given retreats and missions, as well as a local friend, Anne, who follows this blog and has a tremendous blog of her own called "Imprisoned in my Bones." And I made new friends, some of whom are priests who work at seminaries and who were at the conference to tell the vocation directors about priestly formation at their seminaries. My table was right across from two laymen, John Bradford and Ryan Anthony, who run a fascinating program called "Wilderness Outreach." They propose the following question to men: "Do you have what it takes to go deep into the Wilderness, deep into work, and deep into the Heart of God?" The last part of that question caught my attention because that's a key part of the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer--to enter more deeply into the Heart of Jesus.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's About Relationship

Over the past weekend I gave a retreat to 56 women at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, WI. I preached at Mass today and here is part of what I said.

Periodically I'll hear one parent say to the other: "That son of yours..." or "That daughter of yours...", as though that particular child wasn't his or hers. This is usually said when the child does something wrong and one of the parents seemingly doesn't want to take responsibility for what the child has become and done. We hear this same dynamic in the first reading today (Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14) and in the Gospel (Luke 15: 1-32).

In Exodus, Israel has just forsaken God and made a molten calf to worship. God says to Moses, "Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt...." It's as though God is disowning them, but not really. The people have disowned God, rejecting Him for an idol they can see and touch. Moses in turn asks God, "Why, O Lord, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt...?" Moses is right. God is the one who chose this people and brought them out of Egypt. Moses, though the instrument God has called to lead His people, is one among many. Moses reminds God of the relationship He has with this chosen people who have rejected Him.

In the Gospel, the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son rejects the relationship he has with his profligate younger brother, telling their father that he is "your son." The father's response is to remind the elder brother of the relationship he has, telling him that the younger son is "your brother."

It's all about relationship and we are challenged by these readings to examine how we view others, especially people who have hurt us or are our enemies or are living in ways that are opposed to us and our values.

We are all children of God our Father who created us all for eternal life with Him in heaven. We must see the deepest identity of others and recognize them as brothers and sisters.

Moreover, Jesus Christ shed His Precious Blood to save them as well as us. Quoting from the Council of Quiercy which met in the year 853, the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" states in #605: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer." He suffered and died for all. His Precious Blood, shed for all, makes everyone precious to Him and to us.

In the second reading (1 Timothy 1: 12-17), St. Paul writes: "This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." He did this by suffering and dying for them. Now we, His Body, must see others as precious to Jesus and do all we can for their salvation.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Belated Birthday Greetings

Belated Birthday Greetings to Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother!

I had hoped to make this greeting yesterday but it was a busy day in the office and in my community. So I'm a day late. September 8, nine months after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the Feast of the Nativity of Mary.

We didn't pray the rosary in my family when I was growing up. I remember praying it at wakes and on special occasions in the Catholic grade school I attended. It certainly wasn't part of my spiritual life in high school. So when Fr. John Eagan, S.J. proposed that I and my five friends who were about to leave Milwaukee on a two week camping trip with him in the summer of 1969 pray a rosary as we drove, I rolled my eyes. The rosary wasn't cool. Seven of us were crammed into a station wagon: three in the front seat, three in the back seat, and one in the very back behind all the equipment and supplies. That was the choice spot that we all took turns getting because the one in that spot didn't have to lead one of the decades of the five decade rosary. In fact, being in the back as the car rolled down the highway, he didn't have to respond. He could nap or read or just zone out.

By the end of the trip something had happened to me. It was my turn to sit in the back of the wagon and not participate in praying the rosary. But I declined. I wanted to pray the rosary. I can't recall the reason anymore. Somehow, on a level below any conscious reasons, I felt good praying the rosary.

After my high school graduation I went off to college, commuting 35 minutes in a car my parents had bought me for that purpose. I began my commute praying the rosary. Most of the time I recited the prayers fast to get through them and then turn on the radio to the local pop station. Nevertheless, the rosary had become part of my life and I can't help thinking now that in connecting myself to Mary in this way, she somehow came to play a greater and greater role in my vocation.

After one year of college I entered the Jesuit novitiate. At night, before our common prayer at 10, I would take a walk and pray the rosary. A couple times a week, when I returned to the novitiate at night after working as an orderly at a nursing home, I walked back from the bus stop praying the rosary. And when it came time to finish the novitiate and pronounce perpetual vows as a Jesuit, I considered Mary to be the Mother of my vocation. Jesuits don't change their names when they enter the novitiate or take vows as other consecrated persons, both men and women, often do. But we do have a tradition of taking a devotional vow name. It's an option and the six of us who pronounced vows as Jesuits in St. Paul, Minnesota in August, 1973 all took a vow name. I remember one took "Jeremiah" and another took "Ignatius." I took "Mary." As the Mother of my vocation, that was only natural. Moreover, my middle initial was already "M" for "Michael," so it worked well. Now, when I sign official documents and include my middle initial, I sign "M" for "Michael" but also think of it as "M" for "Mary."

That's why I didn't want to miss the opportunity of celebrating my Mother's birthday this year.

Friday, September 3, 2010


I was on Relevant Radio's call-in spiritual direction show "The Inner Life" today. Every Friday the topic is determined by the Gospel of the following Sunday and today's topic was "Detachment." The Gospel on Sunday is Luke 14: 25-33 and has the following line of Jesus: "anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."

I began the show talking about the context for this saying of Jesus. "Great crowds," the Gospel says, "were traveling with Jesus...." Why? Was it because they liked His teaching? Or was it perhaps because He was able to feed thousands and heal many? Were they interested only in the earthly benefits that Jesus could bring them?

To make sure that they were following Him for the right reasons, I think, Jesus gave them a challenging word, telling them that they must be ready to let go of everything they might hold dear in this life in order to receive eternal life. He made it clear to the crowds that if anything on this side of eternity got in the way of the goal of eternal life--a relationship, possessions, honor or position--they should be ready to renounce it.

St. Ignatius makes the same point in the "Spiritual Exercises" where he writes: "Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him. ... Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created."

This makes good sense and the world understands this lesson well when it comes to its plans. I can just imagine Jesus saying that the people of the world are much more clever and focused than the children of the Kingdom of God. Worldly people manage their time according to their goals. They plan everything around succeeding in business. They have a slogan: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." If this is true for success in business and acquiring earthly wealth, how much more true is it for success in eternity and acquiring heavenly treasure?

Jesus didn't mince words about being ready to renounce everything for the sake of the Kingdom. But I can't help thinking that a lot of people in the large crowd that was following Him slipped away. It's not a message people like to hear, then or now.