Thursday, April 28, 2011

IRL Conference

Divine Mercy Weekend is coming and I'll be in Mundelein, IL, at the annual Institute on Religious Life Conference. The overall theme is "Go Make Disciples: Utilizing the New Media for the New Evangelization." I'm on the board of directors of the IRL and I'm excited about participating in this year's conference because at the Apostleship of Prayer we've been hard at work this year making better use of the new media. In fact, we just started a newer and better "fan page" on Facebook. If you go there you'll see photos of the volunteers who came yesterday to help us with our spring mailing.

Tomorrow, Friday morning, I'll be at Alma, MI Mercy Sister Marysia Weber's workshop on "The Effect of the New Media and Technology on Priestly and Religious Vocations." Then in the afternoon I'll set up a display table with some of our materials. Cardinal Francis George will give the keynote address in the evening.

On Saturday there will be various talks in the morning and workshops in the afternoon. Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, MO will celebrate Mass and preach in the late afternoon. then in the evening there will be the annual banquet at which the IRL's annual "Pro Fidelitate et Virtute" award will be given. The recipient this year is a brother Jesuit--Fr. Kenneth Baker, who was the editor of the magazine "Homiletic and Pastoral Review" from 1971 to 2010.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

I will be leading my Jesuit community's "Celebration of the Lord's Passion" this afternoon. I can't help approaching this time of prayer from the perspective that St. Ignatius gives in his Spiritual Exercises. He invites us to not simply read the Gospel stories, to not just observe the scenes from the outside, but to enter into the story, to put ourselves in the Gospel scenes. We do that during the reading of the Passion when we prayerfully take on the roles of various characters and the crowd. But St. Ignatius would have us go even deeper. He would have us enter into the interior of Jesus and to experience what he thought and felt. We find this in the "Third Prelude" to the various Exercises in what is known as the "Third Week":

This is to ask for what I desire. In the Passion it is proper to ask for sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and deep grief because of the great affliction Christ endures for me.

With these words, St. Ignatius invites us to enter into the Heart of Jesus. We are to share his "sorrow" and his "anguish." We cannot experience his physical sufferings, but we can share his interior sufferings. We may even try to imagine what Jesus thought and felt as he looked out at the world from the cross. Imagine yourself there, one of the curious bystanders looking on to see this spectacle of blood and death. You are there in the crowd, but in a flash Jesus looks right at you. He catches your eye. You want to look away, but you are drawn to stay with the eyes that have caught your eyes. What do you see in those eyes?

Looking into the eyes of Jesus on the cross we see not condemnation but love, a deep personal love. Notice how the "Third Prelude" invites us to not only enter into the interior sufferings of Jesus but also to realize that he endured all this "for me." His suffering and death are very personal. If I were the only human person who ever lived, he would have done this "for me." He loves me with an infinite love. Our own experience of love is limited, for we humans cannot love with an infinite love. A deep and intimate love for one person naturally tends to be exclusive. Such love means there is less love for another, though parents will say that they love each of their children with an equal and total love.

St. Francis de Sales uses a striking image of God's infinite love. He says that the sun's light and warmth come to one flower and this doesn't mean that there is less light and warmth for the other flowers. If this is true for the sun, how much more true is it for the Creator of the sun and his love? Yet even this physical analogy of the sun pales in comparison to God's love. Clouds block the sun which sets at night, leaving the flowers in darkness. Not so God's love which is always there. Even sin, which separates us from God, doesn't extinguish the love of the Son on the cross. Remember, as St. Paul pointed out so clearly, "God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5: 8).

The love of Jesus is personal but it is also universal. The Catechsim of the Catholic Church, quoting the Council of Quiercy in the year 853, states: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer" (#605). It is this universal love that leads us, in the "Celebration of the Lord's Passion," to offer a long set of "General Intercessions." In them we pray for the entire Church, for the pope, for the clergy and laity of the Church, for those preparing for baptism, for the unity of Christians, for the Jewish people, for those who do not believe in Christ, for those who do not believe in God, for all those in public office, and for all those in special need.

Perhaps, as we offer these long prayers, we could do so with the love of Jesus. Looking into his eyes on the cross, we see his love for us--a personal and individual love. We also see that this deep love is for everyone. As we pray for the various groups, let us look upon them with the eyes of Jesus. Let us see them as Jesus saw them from the cross. Let us pray for them with the love of Jesus in our hearts: a love that desires everyone to know his love, accept it, and be saved; a love that proves itself by dying even for those who have rejected it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday

As I travel I'm always on the lookout for good religious art, particularly images of the Sacred Heart. Last year, while giving a parish mission in the Peoria Diocese, I visited the Community of St. John. I came across a painting in a meeting room there and someone I was with took a photo for me on his cell phone and sent me a copy. Unfortunately, I have no information about the artist and origin of the painting, nor does the Community have any reproductions.

This picture of the Last Supper shows John drawing near to Jesus whose Heart appears as the Eucharist. Both the Heart of Jesus and the Eucharist are important for the Apostleship of Prayer. The Second Vatican Council called the Eucharist "the source and summit of the Christian life." All Christians are called to make an offering of their lives (see Romans 12: 1), joining their offering to the perfect offering of Jesus on the cross. This offering is made present for us to see and to unite ourselves to in every Mass.

But to offer all, to live the Eucharist in our daily lives, is humanly impossible. At the Last Supper Peter relied on himself and proudly declared that he would offer all, giving his life by loyally standing with Jesus to the end. We know what happened that very night.

John, on the other hand, drew near to the Heart of Jesus at the Last Supper. He found there the greatest love the world has ever known. And, as the Song of Songs (8: 6-7) says:

For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.

This love gave John the courage to act against his fears and to remain loyal to Jesus to the end, standing under the cross with Mother Mary.

It is this Heart brimming with true love and devotion that we now find in the Eucharist. This evening the Church invites us to spend some time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We draw near, as Pope John Paul II put it in his apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine, "ready to wait patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart" (#18).

Come, let us adore Jesus and find in his Eucharistic Heart the love and courage to faithfully offer ourselves one day at a time to the end.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"When I Am Lifted Up..."

I'm giving a parish mission at St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in Zionsville, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis but part of the Lafayette Diocese. It's a very active parish and their website is phenomenal. One could make it a home page just for all the resources it has. My mission is based on Pope Benedict's Apostolic Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" and each night I'm covering one of the three ways that the Holy Father describes the Eucharist: a Mystery to be Believed, Celebrated, and Lived. I'm also preaching at the 9 AM Mass each day.

Today I talked about the serpent on the pole and Jesus on the cross. Both are sources of healing but how very different each one is. In the first reading at Mass (Numbers 21: 4-9) Moses took the image of a serpent (which had bitten the complaining Israelites) and mounted it on a pole. "Whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived." The symbol of punishment, sin, evil, and death became the source of healing.

In the Gospel (John 8: 21-30) Jesus declared, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM...." Jesus, the innocent one and author of life, when lifted up on the cross, will become the source of life for all who acknowledge him as God. I couldn't help thinking of the crucifixion scene in an old movie where the centurion next to the cross, played by John Wayne, says "Truly, this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27: 54). Jesus is "I AM," the name God revealed to Moses (Exodus 3: 13-15).

How is it that these two passages go together and that Jesus Himself used the passage from Numbers to refer to himself: "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3: 14-15)? Two passages from St. Paul can help us here. First, Galatians 3: 13: "Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree.'" And secondly, 2 Corinthians 5: 20: "For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him." In other words, Jesus took sin and death into himself and in that way destroyed them because he, the innocent one and author of life, had the power to do so.

This action of Jesus is given to us anew in every Mass when Jesus is lifted up again. His passion and death are made present every time we celebrate Mass. In his being lifted up at the Consecration, sin and death are overcome and we believe in him. One way that people have traditionally expressed that belief is to silently pray, when the host is lifted up and then when the cup is lifted up, the words of St. Thomas: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20: 28). This is essential to what we believe about the Eucharist. Our belief is not only that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, but that every Mass makes present the saving action of Jesus on Calvary. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter announcing the Year of the Eucharist Mane Nobiscum Domine (#15), put it this way:

There is no doubt that the most evident dimension of the Eucharist is that it is a meal. ... Yet it must not be forgotten that the Eucharistic meal also has a profoundly and primarily sacrificial meaning. In the Eucharist, Christ makes present to us anew the sacrifice offered once for all on Golgotha. Present in the Eucharist as the Risen Lord, he nonetheless bears the marks of his passion, of which every Mass is a "memorial"....

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hearts on Fire in South Bend

Last Friday night and Saturday morning I joined Fr. Phil Hurley, the Apostleship of Prayer's youth and young adult director, and three other Jesuits (aka the Jesuit Mission Band which included Michael Rossman and Joseph Simmons, both Jesuit scholastics or seminarians studying at Loyola in Chicago, and Fr. Brian Dunkle, a doctoral student at Notre Dame) for a "Hearts on Fire" event at the Sacred Heart Pastoral Center next to Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. These events for young adults began last summer and we have been able to continue them during the school year at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan and at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York). Next summer Fr. Phil and the Jesuit Mission Band will go to five East Coast Cities before going to World Youth Day where they will team up with the Knights of Columbus, the Sisters of Life, and several other groups at a site called the "Love and Life Center." A recent issue of the Knights of Columbus magazine Columbia had an article about all this. The Jesuit Mission Band will be giving presentations there throughout World Youth Day.

The South Bend event was my first experience of the "Hearts on Fire" retreat which includes talks, prayer, music, and a coffee house setting for socializing on Friday night. I was very impressed with how the retreat combined, in such a short time, key elements of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the offering and heart-centered spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer. Over 60 young adults came to the South Bend event and it was a blessing for me to be with them for part of their retreat.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Abundant Water

Today's first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapter 47, paints a picture of a tiny trickle of water that flows "from the right side of the temple" and becomes a river so high that it cannot "be crossed except by swimming." This water freshens and heals everything that comes into contact with it. Since this was the vision of a prophet, it's fair to ask, when was this prophetic vision fulfilled?

On Good Friday.

In John's Gospel, at what is called "The Cleansing of the Temple," Jesus said: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (2: 19). Verse 21 explains: "he was speaking about the temple of his body." It was from this body, this temple, that the water which Ezekiel saw came forth. After His death, when the side of Jesus was pierced by a soldier's spear, "immediately blood and water flowed out" (John 19: 34). The Heart of Jesus is the source of the abundant water that freshens and heals. From His Heart, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to renew the face of the earth by transforming all who are baptized, all who are "born of water and Spirit" (John 3: 5).

Praise the Sacred and life-giving Heart of Jesus!

Monday, April 4, 2011

How Does God Delight in You?

At 6 AM the storms rolled through Fenton, MO where I'm giving a parish mission, but no tornado. I preached at the 8 AM Mass and here's the gist of what I said. The readings of the day are Isaiah 65: 17-21 and John 4: 43-54.

When I was about four years old I was at my grandparents' house and was chasing my cousin Ronny around the dining room table. My father said, "Cut it out," and after a minute or so of obedience I started chasing Ronny again. I tripped on the rug, hit my head on the table, and started crying. My father said, "See. God punished you." This experience formed the way I saw God. I thought of God watching me, just waiting to catch me in some misbehavior and when He caught me, He would judge me and then punish me. God was policeman, judge, and executioner all rolled into one.

Our readings today give us a different image. Isaiah predicts that God's people will "be a delight," that God will rejoice and exult over them. One of the Sunday Prefaces during Ordinary Time says that the Father sees and loves in us what He sees and loves in Christ, His Son. That is because through baptism we have been joined to Christ. Yes, we are not perfect. Yes, we need mercy and healing. But in Jesus we receive that mercy and healing.

God made us for love, for union with Himself. He sent Jesus who performed "signs" like the healing of a servant in today's Gospel. John called this the "second sign" of Jesus. A sign points to something. The signs of Jesus point to two things: that He has divine power and that He has come to use that power for love, for healing. While physical healing is good, it is actually temporary because in the end we will all die. That's why Jesus enjoys healing people spiritually even more than healing them physically. He loves to touch the immortal part of ourselves and to bring mercy to our ailing spirits.

Most of us are "Half Empty People." You know the image: when you look at a glass, do you see that it's half empty or half full? Most of us tend to focus on what is missing, what is wrong. Today, why not take a moment to focus on the other part? Focus on the good that is there. Imagine God delighting in that good. Think for a moment: what are you doing that gives God delight? What is it about you that gives God delight? Savor that thought for a bit and be inspired to give delight to Him, always.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

St. Paul's in Fenton

I'm at St. Paul's Church in Fenton, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, where I preached at five Masses this weekend in order to drum up interest in the parish mission which will begin tomorrow evening and go through Thursday evening. On Monday night I'll be talking about "The Transforming Power of Baptism" and then on each of the successive evenings I'll talk about the Baptismal call to be prophets, priests, and kings or royal people.

It's providential that the pastor, Msgr. Michael Dieckmann, asked for this topic when I presented him some options a year ago. Baptism was the focus of Pope Benedict's message for Lent this year. In the first part of his message, the Holy Father wrote: "Baptism is not a rite from the past, but the encounter with Christ, which informs the entire existence of the baptized, imparting divine life...." We don't reflect on this enough. We tend, like Samuel in the first reading at Mass today, to judge by appearances. Like the Pharisees we focus on externals and do not appreciate the truth of Jesus and the truth of ourselves whose deepest identity is that of children adopted into God's family. Divine life is at work within us. In the conclusion of his message, Pope Benedict called Lent "the journey of conversion towards Easter [that] leads us to rediscover our Baptism." He continued: "This Lent, let us renew our acceptance of the Grace that God bestowed upon us at that moment, so that it may illuminate and guide all our actions."

The two priests at St. Paul's are in the process of moving back into the rectory which was extensively damaged by a tornado that landed on Fenton last New Year's Eve. I'm staying in a house that they rented less than a block from the church. Today the temperature reached 85 and storms are predicted tonight as a front approaches that will drop the temperatures back down into the 40's. Such drastic changes can only mean one thing: the possibility of severe weather. What are the chances that a tornado will hit here again just three months after the last one? Stayed tuned....