Sunday, November 27, 2011

Last Night in Rome

In an hour I'll be meeting a Jesuit who is one of the spiritual directors at the North American College, the place where U.S. seminarians live as they study here in Rome. It will be my first visit there and we'll celebrate Vespers with the community and have supper.

My meetings this week with the Advisory Council of the Apostleship of Prayer went well and were clearly guided by the Holy Spirit. From beginning to end I sensed the prayer support of many people from around the world. We basically began working on a strategic plan for the Apostleship. We were able to work on a mission statement, some objectives, and some practical ways that we will work to realize those objectives. One of the things that makes this a difficult task is the diversity of the Apostleship. In Latin America it takes the form of a more traditional membership model, something that is also true in the Philippines where members wear a special Sacred Heart scapular for meetings and when they attend Mass in their parishes. It is also very visible and growing tremendously in Africa. In Europe and the U.S. it seems to have taken on a form that is modeled less on societies with membership lists and more on groups that are connected via the internet. The beginning of the mission statement that we worked on captures both of these realities: "The Apostleship of Prayer, entrusted by the Holy See to the Society of Jesus, is a worldwide network of prayer that helps people find hope and meaning in their lives by leading them to a deep, personal and trusting relationship with the risen Christ."

Last Monday, before our meetings began, I was able to visit St. Peter's Basilica and the tomb of Blessed John Paul II, as well as to buy some souvenirs. I had "Pranzo," the large midday meal, with Cardinal Raymond Burke, a great friend of the Apostleship of Prayer who always includes our annual leaflet in his Christmas cards. Our meetings began on Tuesday and I was busy with those through Saturday when we met with Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, the General of the Jesuits and Director General of the Apostleship. On Saturday night we went to a place that figures into Jesuit history--La Storta--where St. Ignatius had a vision of the Father placing him with the Son who was carrying His cross. He heard the words, "I will be propitious to you in Rome." As we celebrated Mass in this tiny chapel, we offered our work to the Father with the Son, praying that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide us and the Apostleship of Prayer around the world. We were grateful that God had been so "propitious" to us during our meetings.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Touring Rome

I arrived in Rome yesterday and spent the afternoon touring some of the places that I wasn't able to visit on my first trip here in February, 2010. It was a long walk from the Jesuit Curia, which is right next to St. Peter's Square, to the first church I visited--the Basilica of Saint Mary Major or Santa Maria Maggiore. This church figures into Jesuit history because St. Ignatius, when he wasn't able to get to the Holy Land to celebrate his first Mass, came to this church for that celebration because there is a relic of the manger of Jesus here.

On the way to the next Church I wanted to see--the Basilica of St. John Lateran--I stopped at the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori where the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is venerated. St. John Lateran is the Pope's church, his cathedral where his "chair" or "cathedra" is located. I also discovered that it is the largest church in Rome. Perhaps you're thinking--but what about St. Peter's Basilica? Yes, that's larger but, strictly speaking, it's located in Vatican City, not in the city of Rome.

Lastly, I walked to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem or Santa Croce. There are numerous relics of Christ's Passion there: pieces of the Cross of Jesus, one of the nails, two of the thorns, the board which Pilate had placed on the Cross declaring Jesus' crime, and a large piece of the cross on which the Good Thief hung. There is also the bone of the index finger of St. Thomas the Apostle who touched the wounds of Jesus with this finger and came to believe in the resurrection.

But after seeing these relics, a great surprise awaited me. In Santa Croce there is also the tomb of little Nennolina, a six year old Italian girl whose cause for canonization was opened a few years ago. I'd heard about her and so coming upon her resting place was a good surprise. This heroic girl was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was five and in time had to have a leg amputated. She made an offering of her sufferings and wrote letters to Jesus that are quite remarkable. Coming upon her tomb was the highlight of my day. It's one thing to visit churches, the beautiful buildings filled with history. It's another thing to come upon a holy "living stone" who is a special part of the Church, the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I got back yesterday afternoon from my annual eight-day retreat which I spent alone in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin. I basically had no interaction with people and was able to walk on the trails of Peninsula State Park. I also immersed myself in the Gospels. I felt called to focus my retreat this year on the life and teaching of Jesus and my spiritual director affirmed that before I left for my retreat.

As supplementary reading to the Gospels, I picked up parts of the first volume of Pope Benedict's "Jesus of Nazareth" where I found some interesting observations about prayer. Chapter 5 is a reflection on the prayer of Jesus, the Our Father. In the preface to his reflections on the actual parts of the Our Father, Pope Benedict writes:

God addresses every individual by a name that no one else knows, as Scripture tells us (cf. Rev 2: 17). God's love for each individual is totally personal and includes this mystery of a uniqueness that cannot be divulged to other human beings.

In other words, each of us is a unique individual and though we share a common human nature we relate to God in unique and very personal or individual ways. I like to put it these two ways: 1) there's a place in God's Heart made just for you and just for me; 2) each of us gives God a delight or pleasure that no other human being can give God.

Pope Benedict goes on to say:

We are all familiar with the danger of reciting habitual formulas while our mind is somewhere else entirely.

So often people ask me how to get over distractions in prayer. I usually respond with "Welcome to the club!" Isn't it consoling to know that the Holy Father writes about being familiar with distractions?

Then he goes on to talk about prayer as relationship and as the foundation of life.

Most importantly, though, our relationship with God ... should be present as the bedrock of our soul. In order for that to happen, this relation has to be constantly revived and the affairs of our everyday lives have to be constantly related back to it. The more the depths of our souls are directed toward God, the better we will be able to pray. The more prayer is the foundation that upholds our entire existence, the more we will become men of peace. The more we can bear pain, the more we will be able to understand others and open ourselves to them. This orientation pervasively shaping our whole consciousness, this silent presence of God at the heart of our thinking, our meditating, and our being, is what we mean by "prayer without ceasing." ... This is what prayer really is--being in silent inward communion with God. it requires nourishment, and that is why we need articulated prayer in words, images, or thoughts. The more God is present in us, the more we will really be able to be present to him when we utter the words of our prayers.

In these words I find two approaches to prayer. One is the necessity of spending some quality time with God. This is what a retreat is; it's what a daily period of personal prayer is. This is the "nourishment" that our relationship, our communion with God requires. But we also need a time of prayer in which "the affairs of our everyday lives" are related back to God. This is the Examen or Evening Review or Examination of Consciousness. Through this prayerful review of the day we look back at what we said we were going to offer to God when we began the day with our Morning Offering. We look not only at what we offered to God but what God offered to us--how God was present in the events and people of our day; how God was speaking to us throughout our day. We can in this way "pray without ceasing" because God is present in every moment of our day. The more attuned we become to God's presence there in the moments of our day, the better we will be able to listen and the deeper we will grow in our relationship with God.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

God's GPS

I happened to read a passage from Deuteronomy today and thought of a GPS. Since getting a Garmin GPS to help me in my travels last year, I've been pretty impressed. It certainly was very helpful to me when I had to maneuver around the freeway system of Los Angeles. Here's the passage from Deuteronomy 30: 11-14:

For this command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, "Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?" Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?" No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.

One way of thinking of "this command" in the passage is as the conscience which is part of every human person. Every person has an innate sense of right and wrong, of fairness. One boy hits another on the playground and the one who has been struck demands the opportunity to hit back to make it all "even-steven." There is an innate sense of the need for balance. Or if either sex is shown favoritism by a teacher in grade school, the other sex cries out that it is "unfair." These are not lessons that they learned from adults but a basic sense of fair play. It comes from their conscience.

St. Paul recognizes this as well in his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 2. In verse 14 he recognizes that Gentiles can "observe the prescriptions" of God's law "even though they do not have the law," even though they have never been taught the law. "They show the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them..." (verse 15).

Our conscience is an internal GPS guiding us in the right direction. But, as Paul indicates, our thoughts and desires can come into conflict with our conscience. We can then choose a path different from the one this God-given GPS indicates. Our conscience, if it is well formed, will protest "Recalculating!" It will try to get us back on track, going in the right direction. Tired of listening to our conscience, we might choose to turn it off.

Besides this spiritual GPS, God gives us two other helps for our journey through life to the goal of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. One is the Son, Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14: 6). He is the Truth about what it means to be a human being and the Way that leads to Life. He is the map that lays out the best path to follow to God's desired destination for us--heaven. We not only follow his teachings which guide us on our journey but we have him present with us in the Eucharist. He unites himself to us so that together we will take the best path.

The other help that we have is the Holy Spirit whose name, Paraclete (see John 14: 16), has many meanings including Guide. With such divine help, we have even more than a spiritual GPS. We have a power that not only points us in the right direction but also, as it were, takes the wheel with us. United to Jesus in Holy Communion and filled with the Holy Spirit, we do not drive alone but God is holding the wheel steady and helping us drive when we feel lost or too tired to continue.

Our conscience. Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit. God is doing everything possible to make sure we don't get off track on our journey through life. We just have to be humble enough to accept the help.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

International Meeting and Renewal Process

I'm scrambling to get ahead in my work of web and radio reflections because I have a couple long trips this month. From November 8 to 15 I will be away from the office making my annual retreat. After giving many retreats throughout the year it's time to make my own retreat.

Then, from November 20 to 28 I'll be in Rome for a meeting of an international advisory council of the Apostleship of Prayer that was formed a few years ago. The General Superior of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, is the Director General of the Apostleship but he has a delegate who coordinates our work, Fr. Claudio Barriga. I am joined on his advisory council by the following Jesuits: Fr. Frederic Fornos (national secretary/director for France and coordinator of European directors); Fr. Rigobert Kyungu (secretary/director for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and coordinator of African directors); and Fr. Juan Antonio Medina (secretary/director for Uruguay and coordinator of Latin American directors).

In anticipation of the meeting, Fr. Barriga has asked us to invite people to pray a special prayer for both the meeting and our ongoing work of the renewal of the Apostleship of Prayer throughout the world. Here is that prayer:

Prayer for the Renewal of the Apostleship of Prayer

Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
about 160 years ago
you started a fire
in the hearts of men and women
that has spread all over the world.

They burned to tell your Good News,
to spread your gospel of love to all humanity.
Touching their hearts to the Heart of your Son,
you made them Apostles through Prayer.
You gave them to serve
the mission of your Church
in the heart of the world.

Today we men and women
of the Apostleship of Prayer
are still on fire with your love.
We still long to respond to the thirst
of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Take, Lord, and receive our lives.
Blaze up in us again,
make us docile to your Spirit.
May the worldwide mission of prayer
you have entrusted to us
bring your loving presence
today as yesterday
deep into the heart of humanity.