Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I haven't been blogging as much as I would like for a number of reasons. One is my usual schedule of talks and retreats, work in the office, and creating daily reflections for the web site and radio/YouTube. The other reason is that I'm working on a book that I was asked to write by Ave Maria Press. The subject is the Sacred Heart and so this project is a labor of love, but there are some pressures because it is due September 1.

While I'm holding down the fort somewhat in Milwaukee, my assistant for youth and young adult ministry, Fr. Phil Hurley, is on the road with the Jesuit Mission Band. He has pulled together a new group of young Jesuit priests and seminarians and they are going to five cities on the East Coast before going to Madrid for World Youth Day in August. They've been to Washington and Philadelphia already and photos from those events can be found on our Facebook page.

Tomorrow, after getting some regular maintenance done on the car and renewing my driver's license (has it been 8 years already?!), I'm heading to the Jesuit Villa in Waupaca, Wisconsin for a few days of vacation before our July 7 board meeting in New York City. Several Jesuit friends of mine gather each year around the 4th of July holiday in order to golf at Foxfire Golf Course, just five minutes from the Villa. It's an interesting course which, because of the way I hit the ball, plays differently every time I play it. Every year I have two goals: 1) to not lose a ball in the water that is on both sides of the fairway and in front of the green on the 9th hole; 2) to not lose to Fr. Tom Gaunt, the Executive Director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and a good friend since we first met at St. Louis University in 1973, our first year of philosophy studies as young Jesuits.

Happy 4th of July Weekend!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The "Admiral"

From time to time a fellow Jesuit from my community at Marquette University calls the office and asks for the "Admiral." That's me. I'm the director of the Apostleship of Prayer but he refers to me as the Admiral of the Ship, the Apostle-ship that is. You can see: he's given to puns. So in light of this title I took the wheel of the boat that took us to Chambers Island last weekend for the retreat I gave there. Here's a photo to prove it, along with another shot from beautiful Holy Name Retreat House.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Door County Weekend

Though I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I'd never been to Door County, the peninsula that sticks out into Lake Michigan and forms the bay for which the city of Green Bay was named. I'd never been there, that is, until this weekend.

The Diocese of Green Bay has a gem called "Holy Name Retreat House" that is located on Chambers Island, a 45 minute boat ride from the harbor in the town of Fish Creek. I gave a retreat there from Friday to Sunday on the theme "Put out into the Deep: Entering into the Heart of Jesus." My first talk was the homily at Mass on Friday evening and the two talks on Saturday were "The True Love Story: the Sacred Heart of Jesus" and "Entering into the Heart of Jesus through Word and Sacrament." On Saturday evening we celebrated a reconciliation service during a holy hour of exposition, adoration, and benediction. The retreat ended on Sunday morning with a talk on "Living in Union with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus through the Apostleship of Prayer" and with Mass for which some of the 60 or so "Islanders" joined us. Holy Name Retreat House, which is celebrating its 60th year, is a beautiful, holy place, one of only two English-speaking island retreat houses in the world, and I highly recommend it.

On my way to Door County I stopped at the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, the first and only Church-approved Marian apparition site in the U.S. There is a small church and in the crypt under it is a statue marking the place where Mary appeared in 1859 to a twenty-eight year old Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise.

I also visited the Catholic Youth Expedition camp located in Baileys Harbor. I know several of the staff members and it was a pleasure to spend some time with them, get a tour of the facility, meet some of the other young and enthusiastic staff members, pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with them, and have lunch. They were getting the place ready for the 140 people who were coming for the Father's Day Weekend Family Expedition.

Though it was a grace to experience for the first time God's beautiful creation--Door County--I am savoring the greater grace of experiencing God's work at the shrine and in the lives of the enthusiastic and faith-filled people at the Catholic Youth Expeditions and Holy Name Retreat House.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Breath of God

I was recently asked a question: "What's new about Pentecost?" Today, Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate a great event--the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles who were gathered in prayer, as tradition has it, in "the upper room" in Jerusalem. Mary had already experienced the overshadowing the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation. When Jesus appeared to the Apostles on Easter night, as we hear in today's Gospel (John 20: 19-23), "he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" Obviously Pentecost was not the first appearance of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Holy Spirit was present from the beginning of creation and throughout the history of Israel.

The first verses of Genesis are: "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters." That's the New American Bible translation. The Jerusalem Bible is a bit different and identifies the wind that "swept over the waters" as the Spirit: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God's spirit hovered over the water." It was the Spirit--God's wind, God's breath--that brought order to what was a "formless void": "By the Lord's word the heavens were made; by the breath of his mouth all their hosts" (Psalm 33: 6).

The Spirit of God helped Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and govern them wisely. When the work became too much for one person, God shared his Spirit with seventy elders (see Numbers 11: 16-25), including two whose names were on the list of those chosen to help Moses but who were not present for the ceremony. When Joshua tried to stop them, Moses replied, "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!" (11: 29). The Spirit even came upon an enemy of Israel--Balaam--who was commissioned to curse them but instead, after "the spirit of God came upon him," blessed them (Numbers 24: 1-13).

This Spirit raised up others leaders for God's Chosen People--the Judges--and empowered them with gifts to lead the people in God's ways. Thus, we have Othniel, about whom is written: "The spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel" (Judges 3: 10). The Spirit also "enveloped" Gideon (Judges 6: 34), "came upon Jephthah" (Judges 11: 29), and "stirred" the long-haired Samson (Judges 13: 25).

After the time of the Judges, the Spirit of God came upon the Kings the Israel and the Prophets. The Spirit of God "rushed upon" Saul (1 Samuel 10: 10; 11: 6) and then, after Saul sinned and refused to follow the Spirit's direction, the prophet Samuel anointed David and "the spirit of the Lord rushed upon" him (1 Samuel 16: 13).

Isaiah, in words that Jesus used at the beginning of his teaching ministry, declared: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me" (61: 1). The Prophet Micah said: "I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, with authority and with might" (3: 8). When Ezekiel was called, it was the Spirit who "entered" him (2: 2) and "lifted" him up (3: 12) and "seized" him so that he went forth "spiritually stirred" (3: 14). The Prophet Joel, echoing the desire of Moses that all would have the prophetic spirit, anticipated an outpouring of God's Spirit with these words: "I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; Even upon the servants and the handmaids, in those days, I will pour out my spirit" (3: 1-2).

From this brief survey it's clear that the Spirit of God was at work in creation and in the lives of people from the beginning. What's so special, then, about Pentecost?

The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost in a new way to make people a dwelling place and to transform them into true children of God. Through baptism in "water and Spirit" (John 3: 5), each Christian becomes "the temple of God" in whom "the Spirit of God dwells" (1 Corinthians 3: 16). Through baptism we "received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry Abba, 'Father!' The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8: 15-16).

The word "spirit" comes the Latin "spiritus" which comes from the Latin verb "spirare" meaning "to breathe" or "to blow." The Holy Spirit is God's Breath blown into each Christian giving him or her supernatural life. As our natural breath is essential for our body's life, so the Breath of God is essential for our soul's life, for the life that will continue after our natural breath leaves our body.

A good prayer practice involves praying with your breath. This can be especially helpful during times of anxiety or stress. On a purely natural level, it helps the body to relax by taking deep breaths. So why not make those deep breaths a prayer? As you breathe in, imagine God breathing the Holy Spirit into you. Hold the breath and imagine the Holy Spirit filling you with life and strength and all the spiritual gifts you need at that particular time. Then breathe out, sending the Holy Spirit upon the people or situations that are causing you fear and anxiety, anger and resentment.

After teaching his disciples the prayer we know today as the "Our Father," Jesus spoke to them (and to us) about prayer. He said: "If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?" (Luke 11: 13). In saying this Jesus reminds us that we are beloved children of God our Father and that the best gift we can receive is the Holy Spirit. All other gifts pale in comparison. This is why we join our voices with Christians everywhere praying "Come Holy Spirit!" The Holy Spirit has come but we tend to forget the Gift we've been given. We tend to lose our awareness and appreciation of the Gift of God given to the Church at Pentecost and to each of us at baptism. With our celebration of Pentecost we are reminded that God is as close to us as our breath, and just as essential for life, true life.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Prayer of Abraham

Last Friday night I gave a short talk at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's monthly All-Night Vigil. My topic was based on the May 18 General Audience of Pope Benedict--Abraham and the Prayer of Intercession.

How did you learn to pray? What were your first prayers like?

I recall my mother kneeling with me beside my bed each night and praying for her and my father, for my sisters and other relatives, and for friends. Later, when I was tucked into bed, I might add a secret prayer--asking for something for myself, like a certain toy for Christmas. Sometimes I prayed in desperation, like the time my sister accidentally splashed dish water into Timmy the Turtle's bowl and he got very sick. I prayed that he would recover. He didn't.

When those prayers of desperation are not answered as we want, our faith is tested. That's especially true when we pray for important and good things--like the health of a loved one. When the loved one dies we ask: "Doesn't God hear?" "Doesn't God care?"

The answer is that God does hear every prayer and does care deeply for us, but sometimes the answer he gives to our prayers is the one that Jesus received in a garden called Gethsemane. Didn't the Father hear the prayer of his Beloved Son? Most certainly. Didn't the Father care for his Son? Yes. Then why? Why did the Father not take the cup of suffering and death away from his Son? Because God had a greater good in mind. It's truly hard to imagine, but God loved the sinful human race so much that he saved us through suffering and death, by sharing in our own suffering and death.

We're made in God's image and likeness. God is a Communion of Persons and as such God is Love Itself. Made in the image and likeness of Love, we're made by love and for love. That is our nature and our destiny. Through baptism we become children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus, temples of the Holy Spirit. We are called to believe this and to act on it.

What does that mean, to act on this belief about our deepest identity? It means loving as God loves.

Do you love God? Do you have God's love in your heart? Do you share God's concern for the world?

This is what brings us here to the monthly All-Night Vigil. We come together to pray for the salvation of all. We do so like Abraham who, according to Chapter 18 of Genesis, begged God to save sinful Sodom and Gomorrah. As Pope Benedict said last May 18: "By voicing this prayer, Abraham was giving a voice to what God wanted." What God wanted was not destruction but salvation. God wanted to save those two cities and Abraham's prayer gave voice to God's desire. Abraham's prayer opened, as it were, a channel for God's merciful grace to enter those cities. Unfortunately, that grace did not find a welcome, for there was no one to receive it. All rejected it, clinging instead to evil.

God desires to save. This is why God sent the Blessed Virgin Mary to Fatima in 1917. When she appeared in July of that year, the Mother of God revealed to the three children a terrible scene--Hell. Photos of the children that were taken afterwards show how badly shaken they were. They committed themselves to praying, fasting, and offering sacrifices for the conversion and salvation of sinners. The youngest, Jacinta, was particularly moved by what she had seen. She did not want anyone to go to that place of definitive alienation from God.

We are not so innocent. At one time or another we have held on to anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, and hatred. You and I have probably wanted to see our enemies--personal, ethnic, or national--rot in hell.

Not Jesus. He came to save humanity so that no one would rot in hell. He prayed for his enemies who crucified him. The New Testament calls us to bless those who curse us, just as Jesus did.

This is the prayer that unites us to God. This is the prayer that unites us to one another each First Friday and Saturday. Over the years it has united many, some who are no longer with us physically. They are with us spiritually now in a powerful way, praying and interceding with and for us. Good and gentle and holy Father Redemptus is with us tonight, praying.

Our prayer is that God may have mercy on all and give to all the grace to be converted, to accept the salvation that Christ won for us on the cross. We strive to make this a pure prayer, a pure channel for God's merciful grace to enter the world, a channel not clogged by rancor or bitterness.

This is the meaning of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These Two Hearts suffered for love of humanity, for sinners. The Heart of Jesus was pierced on the cross. The Heart of Mary was pierced by the sword of sorrow that only a mother could feel watching her own flesh and blood suffer and die that way. These Two Hearts continue to suffer for hurting humanity. They suffer for the terrible pains and sorrow people inflict on one another. They suffer for the consequences of sin that lead to self-destruction. Their suffering moves us to pray and do penance for the salvation of all those who suffer and for all who cause suffering.

Let us close with the words with which Pope Benedict ended his General Audience of May 18:

Dear brothers and sisters, the prayer of intercession of Abraham, our father in the faith, teaches us to open our hearts ever wider to God's superabundant mercy so that in daily prayer we may know how to desire the salvation of humanity and ask for it with perseverance and with trust in the Lord who is great in love.