Friday, July 29, 2011

Mass Media in Missouri

I'm in St. Louis giving a retreat to 84 men at the White House Jesuit Retreat House. I came a day early to do some video-taping at St. Joseph Radio in St. Charles, Missouri. I met this group in California last year and have begun to collaborate with them in producing CD's of talks and interviews as well as original DVD's. Lu Cortese is the woman of vision who began all this and the studios in St. Charles include a bookstore and even a coffee house known as St. Joe's Java.

Yesterday I went to their TV studio, IHS Productions, and after taping a one hour interview about the Sacred Heart and the Apostleship of Prayer with a local priest, Fr. Noah Waldman, I tried my hand at taping a show. We're hoping that it can become part of a series that would be offered to Catholic TV stations. I was a bit nervous because the sample show that I'd seen had the presenter seated in a chair talking to the camera. Thankfully the set in the studio had me behind a table where I could place my Bible, some notes, and my hands which tend to wander all over the place when I'm talking. I'm used to speaking to groups at a podium and this was a bit tricky because I spoke to a couple cameras which lit up, telling me when I should move my attention to one or the other of them. The talk I gave is one I often use on retreats--the Sacrament of Reconciliation from Jesus' Perspective--and so it flowed quite well and the technical people behind the scenes were happy with the way it turned out.

As I drove out to St. Charles yesterday morning I played a musical CD with which I prayed, offering praise to God for this opportunity and asking His help. I offered the coming hours up to God and prayed that all of them might be for His greater honor and glory and not mine. This is one of the beauties of "offering it up." In offering to God our day with its activities, we pray that His will be done and that as it is accomplished all praise and glory will go to Him.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jesus' Grandparents

Happy Grandparents Day! Now I know it is not the officiall U.S. Grandparents Day. Since 1978 that's been celebrated on the first Sunday after Labor Day which will be September 11 this year. But I like to honor grandparents today because it's the feast of the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary--Sts. Joachim and Anne--the grandparents of Jesus.

In the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, their feast day is September 9, the day after we celebrate the Nativity of Mary. I have a book by the Serbian Orthodox saint, Nikolai Velimirovic, entitled "The Prologue of Ohrid" and it has the following information about these saints:

"St. Joachim was of the lineage of Judah and a descendent of King David. Anna was the daughter of Matthan the priest, from the lineage of Levi, as was Aaron the high priest. Matthan had three daughters: Mary, Sophia and Anna. Mary married, lived in Bethlehem and gave birth to Salome; Sophia married, also lived in Bethlehem, and gave birth to Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Forerunner; Anna married Joachim in Nazareth, and in old age gave birth to Mary, the Most-holy Theotokos [God-bearer]."

In honoring the grandparents of Jesus, we're reminded of the tremendous influence that families have on the development of their children. Joachim and Anne must have been people of deep faith, a faith which they instilled in the sinless Virgin Mary, leading her to surrender completely to God's will at the Annunciation.

A few years ago Pope Benedict had the following to say on this feast:

“This occasion makes us think of the subject of education which has an important place in the pastoral work of the Church. In particular, it invites us to pray for grandparents, who, in the family, are the depositories and often witnesses of the fundamental values of life. The educational task of grandparents is always very important, and it becomes even more so when, for various reasons, the parents are unable to provide their children with an adequate presence while they are growing up. I entrust to the protection of St Anne and St Joachim all the grandparents of the world and bestow on them a special blessing. May the Virgin Mary who … - learned to read the Sacred Scriptures at her mother Anne's knee, help them always to nourish their faith and hope at the sources of the Word of God."

Lastly, though he is deceased, Fr. Al Lauer's wonderfully insightful reflections continue to appear on Presentation Ministries' web site. Today he reminds us that our lives, and every moment of our lives, have eternal significance. This is the meaning of the Daily Offering which unites the moments of our day to the perfect offering of Jesus on the cross and at Mass. Fr. Lauer wrote:

"Many grandparents don't feel they are having much influence on their children and grandchildren. We all feel frustrated by our limitations in impacting the world for Jesus. However, this feast day emphasizes that we have a much greater influence on our families and our world than the devil would have us believe. ... Everything we do for love of Jesus has personal, immediate, communal, international, and eternal significance. We are sons and daughters of God the Father. Our lives, actions, words, time, and decisions can be part of God's awesome plan of salvation."

Amen to that!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Eros and Agape of God

I'm at Christendom College this week, in a rural area near Front Royal, Virginia. I'm giving a class to 40 religious sisters, brothers, and priests who are part of the Vita Consecrata Institute. Last week the president of the college, Dr. Timothy O'Donnell, the author of the best current book on the Sacred Heart, The Heart of the Redeemer, spoke about the history of devotion to the Sacred Heart from Scripture to Blessed John Paul II. My classes this week focus on the spiritual and pastoral dimensions of the devotion. Today I directed the students to Pope Benedict's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, where he writes about the eros and agape of God. Eros is not normally a word we associate with God's love because in our experience erotic love is disordered; it's wounded by sin which breeds selfishness. I think the best and most succinct presentation of the eros and agape of God's love can be found in Pope Benedict's Message for Lent 2007.

He writes: "In the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I dwelt upon this theme of love highlighting two fundamental forms: agape and eros. The term agape, which appears many times in the New Testament, indicates the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other. The word eros, on the other hand, denotes the love of one who desires to possess what he or she lacks and yearns for union with the beloved." Now, God is perfect. How can God lack anything? What could God lack? It is the mystery of God who is Love itself that God created humanity for union with Himself. God loves us with an infinite love and desires only that we receive and return that love.

Pope Benedict goes on to point out that Old Testament passages in Hosea and Ezekiel and The Song of Songs "indicate that eros is part of God's very heart: The Almighty awaits the 'yes' of His creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride." God's eros or passionate love of us is so strong that it leads to His agape, His self-sacrificing love. "On the cross, God's eros for us is made manifest."

Then he goes on to say: "Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced on the cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the cross, it is God Himself who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. ... One could rightly say that the revelation of God's eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of His agape. ... The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome His love and allow ourselves to be drawn to Him."

A simple way of seeing how the eros and agape of God is to think about our one English word "passion" which has two meanings. The Heart of Jesus is both passionate and wounded. The passion of Jesus for us led to His Passion.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Mass Changes

Most Catholics are aware that changes will be coming to the Mass. On the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011, the Third Edition of the Roman Missal goes into effect with some significant changes to the prayers and responses in the Mass. Back in 2005 I remember how much time it took me to adjust to one little change that happened in the Eucharistic Prayer. I was so used to saying Pope John Paul’s name that after he died and Pope Benedict was elected to succeed him it took a while to get used to the change. In a few months I will need to pay close attention to the Sacramentary and the changes to the prayers that I’ve come to learn by heart and everyone will need the help of a booklet or a missalette to help them participate in the celebration of the Mass.

I think that’s a good thing. I see the changes as an opportunity to pray the Mass better. An unfortunate human tendency is to get into routines in which we repeat something and become so accustomed to it that our minds wander away from what we’re doing. I think that happens at Mass. It even happens to priests celebrating Mass when they go on “automatic pilot” and lose track of where they are and what they are saying. We all need to commit ourselves to “praying the Mass” and the changes in the language of the liturgy is a golden opportunity for us to recommit ourselves to doing that.

I recently ran across a very good book, one that can help all of us pray the Mass. It’s "A Biblical Walk Through the Mass" by Edward Sri and published by Ascension Press. This is a timely and timeless book.

It is timely because of the changes that are coming. In less than 150 pages Dr. Sri presents the changes and the reasons behind them. He shows how the new prayers and responses are much more Biblical and he explains the various parts of the Mass. I couldn’t help thinking of another Scripture scholar, Dr. Scott Hahn, and his conversion story. He was a Presbyterian who went to Marquette University to get a doctorate in theology and Scripture. One day he snuck into the lower church of Gesu, the church where I was ordained. Later, in his book “Rome Sweet Home” he called this a “fatal blunder” for he discovered that the Catholic Mass was not the superstitious worship that he had thought. It was, rather, “steeped in Scripture.” He wrote: “I wanted to stop everything and shout, ‘Hey, can I explain what’s happening from Scripture? This is great!’”

Dr. Sri’s book is the explanation of the Scriptural basis of the Mass. In that sense, it is not only timely but timeless. I wish that this book had been available when I was in the seminary 30 years ago. It is clear and concise. My copy is now thoroughly highlighted and I suspect I’ll be referring to it from time to time to help me to avoid routine and to pray the Mass with greater understanding and fervor. Its subtitle is definitely on the mark: “Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"A Call to a Deeper Love"

Today is the feast of the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, Zelie and Louis Martin, and my friend Maureen O'Riordan, whose web site "Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway" is a great resource, recently informed me that a book of their letters has just been published in English. It's called "A Call to a Deeper Love" and it consists of 16 letters of Louis which have survived and 218 of Zellie's letters. In his homily at the time of their beatification on October 19, 2008, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins said: "This beatification of Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin, whom Therese defined as parents without equal, worthy of heaven, holy ground permeated with the perfume of purity, is very important in the Church. My heart is full of gratitude to God for this exemplary witness of conjugal love, which is bound to stimulate Christian couples in practicing virtue just as it stimulated the desire for holiness in Therese."

Maureen shared with me part of a message she received from a young woman who wrote her senior thesis on Therese last spring. Here's what she wrote: "You don't know how excited I am about this edition of the letters of Blessed Zelie and Louis Martin coming out in English. It's just been bumped up to the top of my summer spiritual reading list. I'm incredibly excited to delve deeper into the world of these two married blessed. Since I myself have been discerning marriage as my vocation, it'll be wonderful to see what it means to be a saint as a married woman. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy so that I can start reading it. Thank you so much for letting me know about it!"

St. Therese enrolled in the Apostleship of Prayer in 1885 when she was twelve years old and is our second patron saint, along with St. Francis Xavier on whose feast the Apostleship began in 1844. I've always thought that St. Therese learned the spirituality of making an offering of her life and her day through both her parents and the Apostleship of Prayer, and so I'm interested in learning more about these two holy people through this book of their letters. I've ordered my copy through Maureen's web site and encourage anyone who is interested in St. Therese and the family in which she grew up to do so as well.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Receiving the Word

Today I celebrated Mass with the Sisters of St. Francis, the group that owns the building in which the national offices of the Apostleship of Prayer are located. Here is a summary of what I said in my homily.

According to our First Reading (Isaiah 55: 10-11), God's word is powerful and universal. God's word accomplishes what it was sent to do. In Genesis we see that when God spoke, creation came out of nothing. Like rain, God's word comes to the whole world; it comes to the just and the unjust. God sows the word, scattering it over a variety of terrains and peoples, as we read in the Gospel.

But, as we hear in the Second Reading (Romans 8: 18-23), "all creation is groaning." All creation, including ourselves, is made for more than what we currently experience. We're made for more than sin and its effect, death. We're made for what Isaiah prophesied in Chapter 11: 1-9--a peaceable kingdom where there will be total harmony, a time when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (verse 9). When will this be? In another letter of St. Paul's, Ephesians, we hear that it will be when our destiny is fulfilled, when the union for which we are made will be consummated, when God will be "all in all" (1: 22). Or, as Paul puts it a few chapters later, when we and all creation will "be filled with the fullness of God" (3: 19). In short, the groaning will be over when the seed of God's word is received and brings forth the fruit of eternal life.

The seed, the word, is a person. It is Jesus, the very Word of God. After the 2008 Synod of Bishops, Pope Benedict wrote the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini in which he said that the Word of God is more than a book, more than the Scriptures. It is the Living Word whom we encounter through the Scriptures. Throughout Verbum Domini Pope Benedict speaks about the "encounter" and the "relationship" to which we are called and which is facilitated through the Scriptures.

Jesus is the Word-Made-Flesh, God's perfect communication to creation. But communication is a two-way street. Spouses know this well. If one of them is reading the paper or watching television or surfing the Internet and the other is talking, communication does not occur. "Huh? What was that you were saying?" is the response to the one who asks a question, hears no response, and declares "You aren't listening!" God wants communication with us, the basis for a relationship. God does not want to talk at us but to us. God wants us to listen and receive His Word. God wants to talk with us, eager for our response to His communication. In Verbum Domini 86-87 Pope Benedict writes about this process which is called "lectio divina," divine or sacred reading. It involves not only listening to God speak through the Scriptures but also responding in prayer and in action, in the way we live our lives.

Prayer isn't easy. Many people get discouraged because as they read from a book or from the Bible they become distracted. The words seem to pass before their eyes while the thoughts in their minds are very different. This seems to be natural. Our minds always seem to race with thousands of thoughts. This is even more true today when so many distractions--radio, television, the Internet--are part of our daily lives. It isn't easy to focus on the words of a prayer or of the Bible. It requires hard work and discipline. When our minds wander away from the words on the page, we ought not get discouraged but should simply bring the words back into focus.

The ultimate example of this is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was receptive to the Word, not passive. She had focus. Her Immaculate Heart was not filled with the birds and weeds of temptation and distraction. Her Pure Heart was purely open and devoted to the will of God. And, as St. Augustine said, after receiving the Word into her Heart, she then conceived the Word in her womb. She received the Word first into her Heart and then gave flesh to that Word.

Every time we celebrate Mass we do the same. We encounter the Word in the proclamation of the Scriptures and in the Sacrament. We open our minds and hearts to receive Him. We open our mouths to praise Him and to receive Him into our bodies. We receive the Word so that He might be "all-in-all" in us. We receive the Word and are transformed. We receive the Word-Made-Flesh, His very Body and Blood, and become what we receive. Having received the Word in the Scriptures and Sacrament, we now give Him flesh and bring Him to others.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Remember the Marvels the Lord has done"

I prepared my homily this morning but neglected to look at the Responsorial Psalm and its antiphon "Remember the marvels the Lord has done." When I got up to proclaim the Gospel after hearing those words repeated between the verses of the psalm, I thought, "How appropriate!"

I'm in New York, at Fordham University, where we've just finished our annual meeting of the board of directors of the Apostleship of Prayer. In the morning I gave the director's annual report and Fr. Phil Hurley, S.J. followed me with his youth and young adult director's report which included videos and slide shows from our "Hearts on Fire" events. Having shared those two reports about the good things that we've been able to accomplish, we celebrated Mass with Archbishop Robert Carlson presiding. Thus, when I got up to preach, those words of the Responsorial Psalm resonated deeply in my heart.

We have much for which to be thankful and it is very clear that all we do is God's work. Our Mass readings today were just as appropriate as the Psalm Response. The story of Joseph, Jacob's son, and his brothers is a clear lesson that God takes what we do--our weaknesses, sins, failings, mistakes, and errors--and turns them into good if we let Him. So we can trust. That is also the lesson of the Gospel (Luke 10: 7-15) which challenges us to go forth with very little, trusting in God. It would be nice, I told the board, to have an endowment of a couple million dollars for the work we do, but not having one leads us to trust year by year on God's Providential care. Somehow, through the generosity of many good people, we can present a balanced budget to the board.

I get anxious about this. I breathe a sigh of relief when the annual board meeting is over. And I also hear the Lord telling me: "Let go. Don't worry. Let me handle things. Just offer yourself to me one day and a time and I'll take care of the rest."

Friday, July 1, 2011


Happy Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus! Today's readings present devotion to the Sacred Heart in three simple steps.

1. In our first reading (Deuteronomy 7: 6-11) Moses tells the Israelites that they "are a people sacred to the Lord." The "Lord set his heart" on them and "chose" them. This is all because "the Lord loved" them and "because of his fidelity." In other words: God is devoted to his people, to us.

2. St. John declares in the second reading (1 John 4: 7-16) that "God is love." He explains: "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins." This being the case, John continues, "if God so loved us, we also must love one another." Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not our devotion but God's. It is God's devotion to us revealed in the Pierced Heart of his Son. Our devotion is a response to God's devotion. Our devotion is expressed in loving all those for whom the Heart of Jesus was pierced, i.e. all humanity.

3. We learn to do this by responding to Jesus' invitation in the Gospel (Matthew 11: 25-30):
"Come to me... and learn from me." We come to Jesus in the Eucharist where we enter into his Heart through the Liturgy of the Word, listening to Jesus speaking to us and taking on his thoughts and feelings. Then, in Holy Communion, Jesus gives himself to us. He gives his Heart to us because he is fully present in the Eucharist. With this Heart now transforming us through Word and Sacrament, we can respond as we ought to respond to the great love of God revealed in the Heart of his Son, Jesus.