Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Feminine Genius

Blessed Luigi Guanella is going to be canonized on October 23 this year. I first made his acquaintance last year when I gave a retreat to some Sisters of one of the congregations he founded. Last Friday and Saturday I was in Chicago for their "community days," an annual gathering which brought together 43 women from around the U.S., as well as from Mexico and the Philippines. I gave six talks and one of them was entitled "The Feminine Genius."

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary when we remember how Mary, after receiving the news that she was to be the Mother of God, went to her kinswoman Elizabeth, an older woman whom Mary had just found out was pregnant. Her love and sensitivity to her relative's need overshadowed the shock of her own situation. She saw the need of another and responded to it.

That is the "Feminine Genius." It's no surprise that when Fr. Guanella saw the needs of the developmentally disabled people of Nineteenth Century Italy, as well as orphans, the poor, senior citizens, and whomever was marginalized, he turned to women for help. He founded the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence before he founded his congregation for men, the Servants of Charity. Though he may not have used these words of Blessed John Paul II--the feminine genius--he knew their reality.

Here are some excerpts from Pope John Paul II's writings about the feminine genius:

In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favors some, it pushes others to the margins of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that "genius" which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! --and because "the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13: 13). [1988 Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatis (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women on the Occasion of the Marian Year), #30.

[W]omen have the task of assuring the moral dimension of culture, the dimension, namely, of a culture worthy of the person.... How great are the possibilities and responsibilities of woman in this area, at a time when the development of science and technology is not always inspired and measured by true wisdom, with the inevitable risk of "de-humanizing" human life, above all when it would demand a more intense love and a more generous acceptance. [1988 Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World), #51]

Progress usually tends to be measured according to the criteria of science and technology. ... Much more important is the social and ethical dimension, which deals with human relations and spiritual values. In this area, which often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family, society certainly owes much to the "genius of women." ... Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. [1995 Letter to Women, #9, 12]

In a word, we can say that the cultural change which we are calling for demands from everyone the courage to adopt a new life-style, consisting in making practical choices--at the personal, family, social and international level--on the basis of a correct scale of values: the primacy of being over having, of the person over things. This renewed life-style involves a passing from indifference to concern for others, from rejection to acceptance of them. Other people are not rivals from whom we must defend ourselves, but brothers and sisters to be supported. They are to be loved for their own sakes, and they enrich us by their very presence. ... In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a "new feminism" which rejects the temptation of imitating models of "male domination", in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation. Making my own the words of the concluding message of the Second Vatican Council, I address to women this urgent appeal: "Reconcile people with life". [1995 Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), #98, 99].

The concluding message to which Pope John Paul II refers was part of the solemn closing ceremony of the Second Vatican Council on December 8, 1965. The bishops addressed special messages to various groups including the women of the world. Here is part of the message which once again makes clear how essential the feminine genius is for the good of the world:

Reconcile people with life and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of our race. Hold back the hand of man who, in a moment of folly, might attempt to destroy human civilization. ... Women, you who know how to make truth sweet, tender, and accessible, make it your task to bring the spirit of this Council into institutions, schools, homes, and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Heart on Fire

The other day, before my retreat in St. Louis started, I went to the Chancery and met with Archbishop Robert Carlson who is the episcopal member of the Apostleship of Prayer's board of directors. Afterwards, as I prepared to make a dash to my car through a thunderstorm that had quickly appeared during our meeting, I grabbed the most recent copy of the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper. I always like to read about the local Church in the places I visit and the cover story was on the four men from the archdiocese who will be ordained on Saturday. There was a brief biography for each of the four men and then some quotes. What soon-to-be Fr. Anthony Gerber said really caught my attention for what I'm sure will be obvious reasons. He said:

"I've learned that every day is a chance for us to offer our hearts to the Lord, to receive His Sacred Heart, and then to give His love to others. In this way, our hearts are set on fire. This is what I hope to be as a priest: one whose heart is on fire for Jesus and His Church."

In those few words Fr. Gerber captured the essence of devotion to the Sacred Heart. It's all about being filled with the overflowing love of the Heart of Jesus and communicating that love to all we meet. We open our hearts to Christ who gives us His Heart to transform ours. His Heart is, as the Litany of the Sacred Heart goes, "a burning furnace of charity" which melts and molds our hearts, uniting them to His.

Over the past forty or so years some people in the Church came to think that Sacred Heart devotion is old fashioned and has nothing to say to young people. I haven't found that to be the case and Fr. Gerber's reflection is another example of that.

Fr. Gerber, may you and all who are ordained this year have hearts on fire, hearts that are conformed to the Heart of Jesus.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mistaken Identity?

My good Jesuit friend Fr. Rob Kroll, who writes periodically for the Magis Institute, had a good reflection on today's first reading (Acts 14: 5-18):

We live in a culture that idolizes Hollywood stars graced with beautiful faces, athletes endowed with muscular bodies, rock stars showered with fame and fortune, and politicians wielding power. The attraction of beauty, fame, wealth, and power-and the desire to worship individuals possessing them-has existed in all societies and epochs, of course. The great temptation of the "rich and famous" is that they allow the adulation of the masses to go to their heads. They forget the divine source of all their gifts, and become puffed up with pride. Treated like gods by others, they begin to think themselves gods.

In today's reading from Acts, the crowds in Lystra seek to idolize Paul and Barnabas, worshiping them as gods after they heal a man crippled from birth. How might Donald Trump, Moammar Gadhafi, or Charlie Sheen respond if their supporters cried out like the Lycaonians, "The gods have come down to us in human form"? Fortunately Barnabas and Paul tear their garments and direct the crowds to the living God, humbly asserting that they themselves are mere mortals.
Each of us, too, can be tempted to pride. We might secretly aspire to be worshipped in some measure by others for our wealth, power, beauty, and talents-perhaps even our holiness! Let's remember today that all good gifts come from God and are to be used for His greater glory. May we humbly make the psalmist's words our own: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name give glory" (115:1).

I preached about this a little differently at the Jesuit retreat house in the St. Louis area where I began a retreat with 34 women this afternoon. The people of Lystra mistake Paul and Barnabas for "gods" because they see something of the divine in them. They perceive grace or supernatural power at work in and through them. This is how it should be for all of us.

As images of God we should reflect God to the world. As members of the Body of Christ, people should see Christ in us. I'm reminded of a song by the contemporary Christian musician Warren Barfield, "Mistaken." It brings these two reflections--Fr. Kroll's and mine--together. Here are a few of the lyrics:

Oh the more and more I disappear
The more and more He becomes clear
'Til everyone I talk to hears His voice
And everything I touch feels the warmth of His hand
'Til everyone I meet
Sees Jesus in me
This is all I wanna be
I wanna be mistaken
For Jesus

Do they only see who we are
When who we are should be pointing them to Christ
Cause we are who He chose to use
To spread the news
Of the way the truth and the life
Oh I want all I am to die
So all He is can come alive

This is the great mystery of the Christian life. In being emptied of ourselves we are filled with our truest, deepest self--Christ. We can say with St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2: 19-20). In dying to ourselves we are born to real life.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"In My 'Yes', Find Yours"

Last Monday, on the flight back to Milwaukee from Los Angeles, I was able to read Pope Benedict's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Vebum Domini" or "The Word of the Lord." A Synod of Bishops meets periodically and the last such meeting was in October, 2008. In 2010 Pope Benedict issued his reflections based on the planning documents and discussions of the Synod. That's what "Verbum Domini" is.

Three passages of that document speak very well to the "spirituality of offering."

1. "In stressing faith's intrinsic summons to an ever deeper relationship with Christ, the word of God in our midst, the Synod also emphasized that this word calls each one of us personally, revealing that life itself is a vocation from God. In other words, the more we grow in our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, the more we realize that he is calling us to holiness in and through the definitive choices by when we respond to his love in our lives, taking up tasks and ministries which help to build up the Church" (#77).

Our lives are a response. Each of us is called to respond to the great love that God has shown us when he offering everything to and for us. Our response depends upon the depth of our relationship with God. If our relationship is superficial, our response and our lives will be superficial. If our relationship with God is deep, our response and our lives will have depth.

2. "In the word of God proclaimed and heard, and in the sacraments, Jesus says today, here and now, to each person: 'I am yours, I give myself to you'; so that we can receive and respond, saying in return: 'I am yours'" (#51).

Jesus gives himself to us totally as the Word-made-flesh who continues to give himself to us totally in the Eucharist. In our Daily Offering we commit ourselves to making a return of love for love.

3. "The Gospel, on the other hand, reminds us that every moment of our life is important and must be lived intensely..." (#99).

Every moment of our lives is either a "yes" to God or a "no." Every moment either builds the civilization of love or contributes to the culture of death, the consequence of sin. Every moment can be lived intensely because it can be united to Christ's perfect offering on the cross and in the Mass.

Yesterday I was the guest spiritual director for Relevant Radio's daily call-in spiritual direction show, "The Inner Life." The focus of the program was "Marian Devotions." It was a lively show with several people calling in to share the story of the role that various devotions and prayers to Mary had played in their lives. A man named Dan talked about how had once questioned prayer to Mary and its significance. One day in prayer he heard in his heart these words: "In my 'Yes,' find yours."

I wrote those words down. Mary is the greatest example we have of responding totally to God's love. She said "Yes" with no "ifs," "ands," or "buts." In her "Yes" we can truly find the response to God's love that we want to make.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"The Most Outstanding Form of Devotion"

Last weekend I was at the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Alhambra, California to give a retreat to about 75 women, mostly from the Las Vegas area. A third of them enrolled in the Apostleship of Prayer at the end of the retreat. The talks were based on a word from the foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus of Los Angeles, Mother Luisita: "For greater things you were born." On Sunday night I was able to dine with members of the Korean Apostleship of Prayer groups from Orange County and from a parish in Los Angeles where members gather on Saturday morning at 8:00 to pray together for the Holy Father's monthly intentions.

One of the things I enjoy about making long trips like this is having time on the plane and in the airport to read.

On the way to Los Angeles I read a 1951 book written by the U.S. Apostleship of Prayer director at the time, Fr. Arthur McGratty, S.J. The Sacred Heart Yesterday and Today is a survey of the devotion written in an engaging style. I found out a few things that I didn't know and ran across the following papal quotes about the Apostleship:

Pope St. Pius X in a letter to Fr. Joseph Boubee, S.J.: "No more effective remedy can be devised for the great and varied ills afflicting human kind than the Apostleship of Prayer."

Pope Benedict XV on October 17, 1920: "The Apostleship of Prayer is the most outstanding form of devotion to the Sacred Heart."

Pope Pius XI on March 13, 1926: "The Apostleship has continuously, even unto our own times, proposed to itself as an end peculiar to itself the advancement of the social reign of Jesus Christ amongst the peoples and the nations."

Pope Pius XII in September, 1948: "We, even as Our predecessors, have made it known and once more most willingly declare that it will make Us very happy if all the faithful without exception enlist in this sacred militia to swell the army of Associates."

Reading these, I was confirmed in the work I am doing. True devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not an individualistic piety. The closer we grow in a personal relationship with Jesus, the more we take on his thoughts, attitudes, and values. And the more we take on the mind and heart of Christ, the more our hearts go out to our suffering world. We are filled with the compassion Jesus has for the poor and suffering of the world, victims of both material and spiritual poverty and violence. We are also filled with Christ's desire for the conversion of sinners, those responsible for the sad state of our world. As Christ offered himself on the cross for the salvation of the world, so we join ourselves to his perfect offering when we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and renew the offering we make there with our Daily Offering. This is why the popes of the first half of the Twentieth Century spoke so highly of the Apostleship of Prayer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


This evening I am going to celebrate Mass for a group of women who support one another in their spiritual lives. Part of that support has, over the years, included making and renewing the St. Louis de Montfort Consecration to Mary. I joined them in preparing for and then making this Consecration on December 8, 2003, a few months after becoming the U.S. director of the Apostleship of Prayer. We will renew the Consecration tonight and this is what I'll say in my homily.

Our first reading (Acts 8: 1b-8) begins on a very negative note--"a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem"--and ends on a very positive note--"There was great joy in that city [of Samaria]." What happened in the intervening verses to bring about such a change?

The persecution led the Christians of Jerusalem to leave the city and to scatter "throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria." They brought with them the Good News of Jesus. They brought healings, both physical and spiritual. Would these Christians have scattered had they not been persecuted? We don't know if they would have followed the command of Jesus to "make disciples of all nations" (see Matthew 28: 19), but we do know that God allowed the persecution to take place and used it to move the Church beyond Jerusalem. This is another example of what St. Paul wrote in Romans 8: 28: "We know that all things work for good for those who love God."

We struggle to believe that. Suffering seems pointless. We cannot see its value. We cannot see its effects other than the negative ones. Yet, as the Church has taught from the beginning, suffering has redemptive value. Blessed John Paul II was an example of that.

In Lent 2002, he asked Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche (The Ark), an international network of communities in which volunteers live with people who are mentally disabled, to come to Rome to address the press conference at which his Lenten Message was released. John Paul was 81 and suffering from Parkinson's. He was stooped, he walked with a cane, he slurred his speech, and he drooled. Vanier said the following:

"He's never been more beautiful. It is a blessing to have someone so fragile--he is an incredible sign for the world. He is teaching an incredible lesson in assuming his disability, his fragility and trusting in St. Paul's words: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'

"There is a great mystery around people with disabilities. It is a scandal, and we cannot underestimate the pain. The most oppressed people in the world are those with disabilities--in France, 96% of women who find out that they are carrying a child with disabilities will opt for an abortion. The disabled are often made to feel guilty for existing.

"It is scandalous, but it is the same scandal as the Cross. Many handicapped children cry out: 'My God, my God, why have I been abandoned?' It is the same cry from the Cross. This is the mystery--those who appear to be less human teach us to be human and those who are most rejected are those who heal us."

This is the lesson of Jesus that we are all called to follow. In today's Gospel (John 6: 35-40), Jesus says, "I am the bread of life." These are more than words, more than a metaphor. In John 12: 24, Jesus said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." Jesus is the grain that dies, the grain that is ground up to form bread to be consumed and give life. According to Pope Benedict, Jesus, at the Last Supper, anticipated his death on the cross and transformed it. In his homily at the end of World Youth Day 2005, he said:

"By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence--the Crucifixion--from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15: 28)."

Jesus can give life because he died. In today's Gospel Jesus goes on to say that he came to do one thing--the will of the Father which he says is "that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day." His entire will is united to the will of the Father which is that all people may come to eternal life in heaven.

Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary is one practical way that we follow the example of Jesus. In this consecration we offer ourselves to the Mother of Christ so that she in turn will offer us to him. She will purify all that is not worthy of God. She will complete what is lacking. In offering ourselves to Jesus through Mary, we declare that we want to die to ourselves, to our self-will. We declare that we want to surrender ourselves completely to the will of the Father, as both Jesus and Mary did, trusting that God will make everything work together for our good and the good of those with whom and for whom we live our lives.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Roses for My Mother and Yours

I started preparing after lunch. It was a perfect Mother's Day, weather-wise, with a bright sunny sky and a temperature hovering around 60. I knew from experience that I'd need some protection but I don't think a baseball cap really goes well with an alb and I don't have a biretta. So after lunch I put some sunblock lotion SPF 30 on my face and head. It was my final preparation before leaving for the 31st annual "Walk with Jesus and Mary."

I drove 10 minutes to the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Marian Shrine and saw all sorts of people I know from various organizations including our own Apostleship of Prayer. Many of our supporters and volunteers were there, gathering for a May crowning and Eucharistic Rosary Procession. Fr. Matthew Widder, ordained a year ago, carried the Blessed Sacrament around several blocks as we prayed the rosary and Fr. Don Hying, the rector of the local seminary preached. Deacon Christopher Klusman also participated. Deacon Klusman will soon become one of only 5 Catholic priests in the U.S. who is Deaf.

The event was sponsored by a group called "Roses for our Lady." This association of lay faithful was founded in the 1970's to "bring honor and glory to Jesus and Mary in our world today." They do this by the event we celebrated today as well as Eucharistic holy hours, special celebrations of Marian feast days, a rosary procession during Milwaukee's Festa Italiana, and a monthly holy hour for vocations at St. Francis de Sales Seminary. The current president is my good friend, fellow blogger, and Apostleship of Prayer volunteer, Anne Bender.

In his homily Fr. Hying talked about the significance of a Eucharistic procession through the streets of Milwaukee. Bringing the Presence of Jesus into the world reminds us of our obligation to bring Jesus into the world through our presence. From my perspective, this is what it means to be the Body of Christ. This is what it means to "live the Eucharist." "Ite missa est." Those are the words that were traditionally used at the end of Mass. "Go, you are sent." We are sent forth to bring Jesus into the world through His Presence in us and with us.

After Fr. Hying's homily, I led the following prayers of consecration:

O Mary, my Mother, I consecrate myself to your Immaculate Heart. I am all yours, and all that I have is yours. Keep me under your mantle of mercy, protect me as your child, and lead my soul safely to Jesus in Heaven. Purify all that I give you, and take it to Jesus, that He may use it to help save the world and souls. Amen.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, filled with infinite love, broken by my ingratitude and pierced by my sins and yet loving me still, accept the consecration that I make to Thee of all that I am and all that I have. Take every faculty of my soul and body, and draw me day by day nearer and nearer to Thy sacred side, and there, as I can bear the lesson, teach me Thy blessed ways.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, once in agony, have pity on the dying. Amen.

The day closed with benediction. It was a wonderful way to honor our Mother and her Son on Mother's Day. Lastly, here are the lyrics of a traditional Polish hymn that we sang:

Stainless the Maiden (Serdeczna Matko)

Stainless the Maiden
Whom He chose for mother;
Nine months she waited,
Bearing Christ, our brother;
Think of her gladness
When at last she saw Him:
God in a manger,
Bethlehem a heaven!

Lantern in darkness,
When the sick are sighing,
Threshold of brightness,
Comfort for the dying,
High she is holding
For a world adoring,
Hope of the nations,
Jesus Christ, our brother.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Pope Benedict's General Prayer Intention this month is for all those working in communication media: that they may respect the truth, solidarity, and dignity of people. The Message he wrote for the 45th annual World Communications Day, which will be celebrated on June 5, is also timely: "Truth, Proclamation, and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age." This past weekend I participated in the annual conference of the Institute on Religious Life and the theme was "Go Make Disciples: Utilizing the New Media for the New Evangelization." In one workshop I learned that 50% of Americans have a Facebook account and 1/12th of the human race has one, making Facebook users the third largest nation in the world, after China and India. And then, on May 2, 150 Catholic bloggers gathered in Rome at the invitation of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Pontifical Council for Culture. Communication certainly seems to be on every one's mind these days.

The Internet has been a blessing for the Apostleship of Prayer. We've been able to get information out to people much more quickly than in pre-Internet days. When the Holy Father has an urgent prayer request, we can join him more easily in that prayer by sending an email out to all our members inviting them to pray with him.

I'll be honest: I know how to use some of the media but not much of it. I call myself a "techno-weenie." I really don't know what MP3 files are, I don't have an iPod, and I've never listened to a Podcast. Or have I?

Recently the National Jesuit News blog interviewed me via telephone and posted nine minutes of the interview as a Podcast on its site. In the interview I talked about my Jesuit vocation, how I came to know about the Apostleship of Prayer, and some of the exciting things we are doing these days.

One of those exciting things involves World Youth Day. On Sunday the logo of the Apostleship of Prayer was flashed on the giant screens in St. Peter's Square before the beatification ceremony. We are one of the sponsors of the "Love and Life" site for English-speaking pilgrims at World Youth Day next August in Madrid. You can see the video at the "Firm in the Faith with Mary" Facebook page.

I don't know if I'll ever catch up with all the communications technology out there, but it's good to work with others who know how to use it. Let's pray with Pope Benedict that we all make good use of the media.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Divine Mercy Sunday

I led Divine Mercy devotions and celebrated Mass this afternoon at Sacred Heart Croatian Parish in Milwaukee. Here's what I said in my homily.

Divine Mercy Sunday is a celebration in response to a request from Jesus Himself. After His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, Jesus appeared from time to time on earth. The first such appearance was to Saul and it's recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. A millennium later, in 1210, He appeared to an eighteen year old woman, Blessed Juliana of Liege. He asked her to have a feast celebrated in honor of His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, what we now celebrate as Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Then, in 1673, Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary and revealed His Heart on fire with love for humanity. He asked that a feast of reparation for the ways in which humanity had ignored His love revealed in the Eucharist be celebrated on the Friday after Corpus Christi. In the 1930's Jesus appeared again to a Polish nun, St. Faustina, and after revealing that His greatest attribute was mercy, asked that the Sunday after Easter be celebrated as a feast in honor of Divine Mercy. He asked that an image of Himself be painted with the words "Jesus, I trust in You."

When Jesus appeared after His ascension into heaven His message was always one of merciful love. This is the mercy we see in today's Gospel when Jesus appeared to His disciples on the first Easter Sunday and then a week later. Jesus wants to be known and to be loved. To truly know Him means to love Him. The natural response to knowing one is deeply loved is to love in return.

People sometimes ask me: Doesn't devotion to Divine Mercy take away from devotion to the Sacred Heart? This question almost makes it sound like there's a competition between the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy. The answer is "No." These are just different ways of expressing God's love. Devotion to Divine Mercy takes nothing away from devotion to the Sacred Heart. St. Faustina's Diary makes it clear that the two devotions are related. The mercy of Jesus is revealed through His Sacred Heart. The image He asked St. Faustina to have painted shows red and white rays, symbolic of the blood and water that flowed from His pierced Heart, emanating from His Heart. Just as devotion to the Sacred Heart takes nothing away from devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, but is a further expression of it, so too with Divine Mercy. In the Blessed Sacrament we meet the Risen Lord, touch His wounds, and sense the beating of His Heart, as Blessed Pope John Paul said in his Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine. There, in His Eucharist Heart, we find mercy, divine mercy.

All these devotions have their origin in one devotion--God's devotion to us. God is devoted to humanity, so devoted that He was willing to share our life and our death, even to the point of a terrible death on a cross. God devoted to us and our devotion is simply a response to His.

Ultimately our response is not so much one of feeling but of action. When Jesus appeared to Saul He asked why he was persecuting Him. He asked Saul to stop this persecution and to be merciful to His followers. So too for us: the merciful love of Jesus calls us to acts of love, to works of mercy.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples He said "Peace be with you." Then He sent them to continue His work, saying, "As the Father has sent me so I send you." Jesus was sent to reconcile humanity to the Father. We are sent to carry on His work of reconciliation and healing. Jesus empowers His Church to carry on His work by breathing on the apostles the Holy Spirit. Here we see the Sacrament of Reconciliation. All of us, sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, are called to carry on His work. We do that when, after confessing our sins, we do penance. We make reparation for our sins and the sins of the world. Our prayers and penances and sacrifices repair the damage of sin and bring healing and balance into the world. Only in this way will we have the community described in the first reading, when everyone held everything in common and prayed and broke bread together.

This is why prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners are so important. They carry on the work of reconciliation that Jesus gave to the Church on that first Easter evening.

Why is conversion so important? Because it is the condition for mercy. After breathing the Spirit on His disciples Jesus said: "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." This almost sounds like there are conditions to mercy. Yet, God's love and mercy are infinite and unconditional. How is it that some sins are retained?

Freedom. Mercy, like love, cannot be forced. The only limit or condition on God's mercy is the one we put on it. God is always ready to forgive, but in order for true reconciliation to take place His mercy must be received. Forgiveness may be given but unless it is received, reconciliation does not take place. Mercy is offered but not accepted. In that case there is no reconciliation, no forgiveness, and the sins are "retained." Unless we recognize that we have sinned and need mercy, we cannot receive the mercy that God offers to us.

Therefore, we pray for conversion, for the recognition of sin, for sorrow for sin, and for the acceptance of God's mercy. Only then will we be truly free.

Jesus wants our freedom. He wants our love and our confidence in His love. He wants us to say to Him: "Jesus, I trust in You. Not in myself. Not in the stock market or the price of oil. Not in doctors and medications and cures for every illness. Not even in my family or my friends. You. Only in You, do I trust, Jesus. Why? Because You are mercy. You created us for heaven and your mercy is the only way, the only means by which we can attain this goal."

We will, as our second reading from the First Letter of Peter tells us, be tried and tested, just like Thomas. In that way our faith will be purified and strengthened. And through it all we rejoice because we have "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven." We "rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy" because we are attaining the goal of our lives and our faith--heaven. And all this is possible because of Divine Mercy.