Monday, January 31, 2011


Do you have a favorite Gospel? I don't know if I can answer that question myself. There are things that I like about each of the Gospels and each of them have unique stories or parables that aren't found in the others. So I have to admit, I don't have a favorite. Yet, going through Mark's Gospel these days in the weekday readings at Mass, I find myself admiring the concreteness of the details I find there.

For example, I find today's Gospel, Mark 5: 1-20, the story of the Gerasene demoniac, particularly vivid. I can just picture the poor man "crying out and bruising himself with stones." I can picture the terrified villagers trying to restrain him with chains and shackles which he pulls apart and smashes. I've often thought of this scene in conjunction with how I am tempted to "bruise" myself with past sins. I think this is common. Satan, who is also known as "the accuser," loves to get us thinking about past sins and beating ourselves up with them, even though we've confessed them and have been forgiven.

Today I learned something else about this passage. I subscribe to a bi-monthly booklet called "One Bread, One Body" which is published by a group in Cincinnati called "Presentation Ministries." They were founded by a great diocesan priest, Fr. Al Lauer, who died a few years ago of cancer. His daily one page reflections continue to appear in this booklet and online at their web site and I always find them very practical and rich in Scripture references. So here's part of today's reflection that got me thinking:

"Jesus left the district, as the people requested. However, by declining the request of the former demoniac to accompany Him, Jesus made sure that His truth, power, and love would stay in the area through the new life of the former demoniac.

"We have many places, businesses, cities, nations, families, and even churches where Jesus has been told to go away. As requested, Jesus left. However, He also has left us behind. We live in these cities and families. We work in these businesses and churches. Jesus is still present through us, the members of His body. We are to be "other Christs" in the Christ-less situations of our society. We are to be sacraments, signs of Christ's presence. We are to be walking tabernacles, invading the secular world by carrying with us God's presence."

I've always wondered about Jesus telling the healed demoniac to stay where he was rather than to follow Jesus. Now I have a better idea why He may have told him this. Also, knowing God's mercy and dropping the stones of past sins that I may be tempted to beat myself with, I find myself challenged anew to be a "walking tabernacle."

Thank you, Fr. Lauer and Presentation Ministries!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

To Continue Dying

When I was a student at Marquette University High School some 40 plus years ago, I first met Fr. Dick Tomasek. He was a Jesuit scholastic or seminarian at the time and I remember him playing guitar on one of the retreats we had. Since then he has moved into other ministries including several years as the spiritual director for seminarians at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio and at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Fr. Tomasek is deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a supporter of the Apostleship of Prayer. He shared this spirituality with the future priests that he helped to form. Last summer he returned to the States and during his annual physical check-up was diagnosed with cancer. He had a tumor on his heart and surgery was performed. Since radiation and chemotherapy for cancer in that area were not recommended, he began a dietary and exercise regimen to fend off any recurrence. He went to work at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Tucson, Arizona.

The cancer has come back with a tumor appearing behind his eye. Surgery was performed and radiation and chemotherapy were recommended. Fr. Tomasek will be returning to the Milwaukee area to begin this next phase of his life.

Here is part of a letter that he wrote to parishioners at St. Mark's:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am immensely grateful for the many Masses, communions and prayers for my recovery. May this true treasury, like an overflowing granary, overflow to your hearts with grace as well! The Lord has rather abruptly invited me to continue dying. Of course, sharing a bit of His Passion is my greatest joy and stirs up my desire for God and folks of heaven, toward which we all journey. All it is a definitive "Yes, FIAT, let your will be done" and eternal life in Jesus gloriously begins! I will be happy to offer my own "prayers, works, joys and sufferings" (from the Morning Offering) for your own immense needs and graces.

Fr. Tomasek is an example of the mystery of "offer it up." Every day is a gift. Every moment can be made a prayer when it is offered to God for particular intentions. Our lives are practice for the final offering that we will make with our last breath.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"You Know not the Hour..."

"You know not the hour...." These words of Jesus were spoken in relation to His Second Coming, but they can also apply to the hour of our passing from this life to the next. I thought of that this week because of Bob.

Bob was my step-brother-in-law. After my mother died the year after my ordination my father remarried. In fact, I presided at his wedding. One of the gifts of a priestly vocation is to be able to celebrate in a sacramental way the weddings, baptisms, and funerals in one's family. It's unusual, though, to preside at the wedding of one's own father. As a result of it, I've become part of another family and, though my father has since died, I remain a part of it.

Last weekend I got a call from Dan, one of my step-brothers. He informed me of Bob's death. I'd last seen him on New Year's Day when my step-family gathered for its annual Christmas celebration. Bob was 75 and was on his way to a health club to work out. According to witnesses, he put on the emergency flashers of his car and began pulling to the side of the road. Before he could finish, his car zoomed ahead out of control, took out several mailboxes, went through a culvert and hit a tree. Bob was dead on the scene. He must have felt the heart attack coming and tried to pull over.

I always enjoyed Bob. He had a beautiful combination of seriousness and humor. We played golf together with Dan and his son once a year. The emails I'd get periodically from Bob were either humorous, patriotic, political, or religious.

At his funeral on Wednesday, I talked about the pain of unexpected death. Though Bob went the way he'd hoped--suddenly and without a lingering illness--it's hard on family and friends who don't have the chance to say "good-bye." His family and many friends showed up at the wake and funeral Mass to do so, but it's not the same. One could say that his life was his farewell. I sensed that he was ready. He'd lived his life well. The love of Rita, his wife of almost 55 years; the love of his two daughters, their husbands, and children; the love of so many other relatives and friends--that love spoke of his love for them. While we didn't get the chance to say "good-bye" during his earthly life, Bob's love for us was his "good-bye." I think he left with no regrets and no unfinished business.

It strikes me: that's the way to live, since we know not the hour.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Unborn Jesus Our Hope

Several years ago George Peate sent me the manuscript for a book that he was about to publish with Life Cycle Books. He asked me to look it over and write a review that could be used in the advertising that appears on book covers and jackets. After reading his book I was happy to help. The book is entitled "Unborn Jesus Our Hope" and it is a wonderfully diverse and ecumenical reflection on the first nine months of Jesus' life. The full review can be found on his web site for the Unborn Word Alliance. George and his wife Michele also have a blog called "Unborn Word of the Day" in which they offer insightful commentary, inspiring spiritual reflections, and great art.

I met George and Michele on a trip to California some years back. They told me that on one of the annual March for Life events, the Archdiocese of New York had purchased cards with their "Litany of the Unborn Christ Child" so that everyone going to the March would be able to pray with this devotion to the Christ Child in the womb of Mary. I thought of this when I was preparing for yesterday's Mass and march sponsored by Pro-Life Wisconsin and I decided to take along my copy of the Litany to pray in front of the abortion mill.

As we prepare for the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as "Roe v. Wade", I think it would be a good idea to download this Litany for our prayer. I also highly recommend getting George's book and cards with the Litany and other materials, all available on his web site.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Witness for Life

My good friend Peggy Hamill, the director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, asked me to preside and preach at a special Mass today. After Mass we marched to a local abortion mill where we prayed. In my homily I said the following:

Today's first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (4: 12-16) says that the "Word of God is living and effective." The Word of God is the Scriptures. It is also the proclamation of the Gospel at every Mass where Jesus is present speaking to us. But it is more. The beginning of John's Gospel says that "the Word became flesh."

Jesus is this Word that is "living and effective." He is, as Hebrews says, "able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart." He knows what is in our hearts and the hearts of all people. And, reading our thoughts, He is, as the first reading says, a compassionate high priest who is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses." The Word became flesh and lived our human life. Sharing our human nature, He "has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin." Jesus knows the temptations and struggles of our hearts.

After His baptism, Jesus went into the desert where He was tempted. We read about this every year on the First Sunday of Lent. Jesus was tempted as we are tempted.

In the midst of forty days of fasting, Jesus was hungry and was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. This was against the plan of God, the natural law that God has built into creation. In our world today we see a similar temptation to reject God's plan for creation and to go against the natural law, to define marriage and life in our own way rather than to accept God's definition.

Next, Jesus was tempted to throw Himself off the temple, to do something flashy to get people's attention so that He could manipulate them for His own purposes. In this way He could amass an army of followers who would be pawns for His purposes. But humans are not pawns, not objects to be manipulated and used. Our world is tempted to use the media in ways to manipulate people. We're tempted to view others--babies in the womb, the terminally ill, "the other side," our enemies--as objects to be disposed.

Thirdly, Satan tempted Jesus to fall down and worship him, to make an idol of a creature, to honor the rebel and his rebellion. And so are we tempted to make creatures and our own desires greater than God, to follow the original rebel and to make his plans for the destruction of humanity our own.

Sharing our human nature and tempted in every way that we are, Jesus understands us. He understands our battle. This is why we see Him in today's Gospel (Mark 2: 13-17) going out to sinners, to those who are self-destructing through sin. He came to them and spoke the truth with love. He came to call and to heal sinners. He continues to speak to us, to our world. He continues to reach out to sinners and to heal us and our broken world.

He comes into our world today through us. St. Augustine once said that Mary first received into her Immaculate Heart what she would later conceive in her womb--the Word. She gave flesh to the Word in this way. When we receive Jesus in Word and in Sacrament, as we do at this Mass, we too give flesh to the Word. Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified next May 1--Divine Mercy Sunday and the first day of Mary's month (there are no coincidences when it comes to God)--wrote in his encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia":

"At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood. ... As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord." (#55)

Before we receive our Lord's Body and Blood in Holy Communion, we say "Amen." Yes, I believe. Yes, I believe I am sent now to bring You into the world.

In a little while we will go forth to bring Jesus into the world. We will bring Him present in ourselves to a place of death. Like Jesus we will pray for conversion. Like Him we will sacrifice. Of course our sacrifice--the time we spend in the cold and wind--are as nothing compared to what He suffered on the cross for the salvation of sinners. But our prayers and sacrifices, joined to His perfect sacrifice, have great power, and so we go forth with confidence.

In closing, let us be strengthened in our hope and confidence by the words of Pope John Paul II from the conclusion of his encyclical "The Gospel of Life."

"The angel's Annunciation to Mary is framed by these reassuring words: "Do not be afraid, Mary" and "with God nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:30, 37). The whole of the Virgin Mother's life is in fact pervaded by the certainty that God is near to her and that he accompanies her with his providential care. The same is true of the Church…. Mary is a living word of comfort for the Church in her struggle against death. Showing us the Son, the Church assures us that in him the forces of death have already been defeated."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pasta and Prayer

Gratitude. That's what's most on my mind this morning. I am very grateful.

It was a full weekend. I gave a retreat based on the "Spiritual Exercises" to 69 men at the Jesuit Retreat House ("Demontreville") in Lake Elmo, MN, a suburb of St. Paul. The retreat went very well. I had good individual conferences with many of the men and a good number of them enrolled in the Apostleship of Prayer at the end of the retreat.

Yesterday, Monday, was also a full day. Much of the afternoon was spent in final plans and preparations for our first-ever event which we called "Pasta and Prayer." The Cathedral of St. Paul kindly hosted us. I celebrated the parish's 5:15 Mass, concelebrating with Fr. Johnson, the pastor, and his associate, Fr. Myer, and Fr. Phil Hurley, the Apostleship of Prayer Director of Youth and Young Adults. At 6:00 we began a simple but delicious meal of rigatoni, sausage and peppers, salad, and brownies. At 6:45 we began the "Prayer" part of our program in which I gave a talk called "The Power of Praying for Others" and Fr. Hurley gave a talk called "Making Prayer Real in Daily Life." By means of these talks we were able to speak to many of our friends about the power we have praying together in the Apostleship of Prayer and we were able to make many new friends.

I'm particularly grateful because of the turn-out. We needed a minimum of 40 for the catered food and a week ago we had only about 30 signed up. We decided to go forward and plan on lots of left-overs, and we prayed. In the end we had 95 people show up. Happily we were able to get word to the caterer and there was plenty of food. The food for the soul was also well-received. And I learned another lesson in letting go and trusting.

Yesterday morning I also had the opportunity to meet for a half hour with Mother Rose of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Prioress of the Carmelite Monastery on property located next to the Jesuit Retreat House. I had not seen Mother Rose in a few years. The 12 Carmelite nuns at this particular Carmel are my prayer "back-up." I send them my schedule and they support me and the ministry of the Apostleship of Prayer with their prayers. I'm convinced that the success of this first "Pasta and Prayer" and the other blessings that the Apostleship of Prayer has received in the past few years are in no small measure due to the prayers of these good Carmelite Sisters and many other people.

Truly there is a power in prayer, especially when we pray together. And that is definitely something that leads to a lot of gratitude.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


In the U.S. we celebrate the Epiphany on the Sunday after New Year's while in many other parts of the world it is celebrated today. In the Eastern Churches this day is called Theophany. Both words have to do with the "appearance" or "manifestation" of God. On Christmas we celebrated the birth of the Son of God and with Epiphany we celebrate the manifestation of His divinity.

The Mass readings this week, especially the Gospels which were specially chosen with Epiphany in mind, emphasize the divine power that appeared and worked through Jesus. In Monday's Gospel we heard about the beginning of Jesus' teaching and healing ministry. On Tuesday Jesus showed His divine power by multiplying food so that thousands could be fed. Yesterday Jesus walked on water and calmed the high winds that blew against His disciples' boat. Today we hear Luke's account of Jesus preaching in the synagogue of the town where He grew up, Nazareth, and tomorrow we will hear how Jesus healed a leper.

Our first readings at Mass have been from the First Letter of John and emphasize love. Yesterday we heard that "God is love" and that "perfect love drives out fear." Today's reading begins: "Beloved, we love God because he first loved us. ... Whoever loves God must also love his brother."

Since God is love, the divine activity that was manifested in Jesus involved works of love--teaching, healing, feeding, and calming. John challenges us to not be afraid of God and to really believe in His love, and then to manifest this love to the world. If we really love God, we will love those whom God created and redeemed out of love--the human family, our brothers and sisters. Such universal and self-sacrificing love is humanly impossible. That's why we can only love our neighbor if we love God and are filled with His love. We can only love God and neighbor if we have the Heart of Jesus.

In yesterday's Gospel, when Jesus came walking on water to the boat in which the disciples were struggling with stormy weather, He said to them: "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!" Take courage. The root of this word is "cor" or "heart." Jesus said to the disciples, "Take heart!" He continues to say to His disciples throughout history, "Take heart! Take my Heart! Let my Heart give you courage. Let my Heart and the total love revealed there take away your fears."

We can have courage and can love as God loved us through Jesus because we have His very Heart in the Holy Eucharist.