Thursday, February 24, 2011

For Greater Things You Were Born

Last weekend I was in Alhambra, California giving a retreat to 94 women at Sacred Heart Retreat House. This evening I'll be giving a retreat to about 50 men at the Jesuit Retreat House on Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

While the retreats in Oshkosh always follow the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius, the ones in Alhambra have a different theme every year. This year's theme is "For Greater Things You Were Born," a quote from Mother Maria Luisa de la Pena, also known as Mother Luisita, the foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who run the retreat house in Alhambra. Archbishop Jose Gomez, who will be installed as the new Archbishop of Los Angeles next Tuesday, quoted Mother Luisita when he was installed as the Coadjutor Archbishop of Los Angeles last year. Before the retreat the Sisters provided me with a quote from Archbishop Gomez that helped me prepare the five talks I gave. Here's the quote:

Venerable Mother Luisita will tell everyone, "For greater things you were born." That's it, my friends. That is the Good News we are called to proclaim to our city, to our country, throughout this continent and world, "Para grandes cosas hemos nacido." Each one of us has been made for love and for great and beautiful things. There is no soul that God does not long to touch with this message of love. But He wants to touch those souls through us. So let us make our lives something beautiful that we can offer it to God. Let us do everything, even the little duties of our days, out of love for him and for the love of our brothers and sisters.

As I prepared my talks, I couldn't help thinking how well this quote captures the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer. Here's a brief summary of the retreat:

Talk 1: "Put Out Into the Deep" Using the challenge of Jesus (see Luke 5: 4), which Pope John Paul II took up in his Apostolic Letter at the turn of the millennium (Novo Millennio Ineunte), I spoke about the call that all Christians have to go deeper in their prayer lives. The Sacrament of Baptism has transformed us. We are now called to be who we have been made to be--children of God. We are called to be holy as our heavenly Father is holy.

Talk 2: "Your Sins Are Forgiven You" In this talk I spoke about the obstacle to holiness--sin--and how in the Sacrament of Reconciliation Jesus waits for us in order to forgive us. In going to that Sacrament we give Jesus the pleasure of healing us spiritually, the thing that He most enjoyed doing when He walked this earth.

Homily at Saturday Mass: "I Believe. Help My Unbelief" I talked about how faith is a virtue, a spiritual muscle, which, like any muscle, physical or spiritual, needs to be exercised in order to develop and be healthy. Faith, like all the virtues, is not an "all or nothing" reality, nor is it a feeling; rather, it is an act of the will, a decision, a choice.

Talk 3: "Abide With Me" This talk was given right before a long period of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I talked about the amazing gift of the Eucharist and how, according to Pope Benedict's Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, the Eucharist is a mystery to be believed, celebrated, and lived. I focused on what we believe and how we celebrate the Eucharist.

Talk 4: "I Am With You Always" In Novo Millennio Ineunte, Pope John Paul said that in order to go deeper in our spiritual lives our parishes and communities need to be "schools of prayer." I went through seven ways of praying that the Holy Father mentioned: "imploring help," "thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly 'falls in love.'"

Talk 5: "Be A Living Sacrifice" Here is where I talked about the Daily Offering as a practical way to implement Archbishop Gomez's challenge: to do everything out of love for God and love for our brothers and sisters.

Homily at Sunday Mass: "Be Perfect" Sometimes "the perfect" can be the enemy of "the good." The devil loves to discourage us and make us think that we should give up our efforts because the ideal of holiness to which we are called is too high for us. It is. We are weak. But God's grace is powerful. What is impossible for us, is possible for God who gives us His grace through the Sacraments. With our eyes fixed on our goal of holiness, we walk one day at a time, not giving in to discouragement but striving to make progress little by little.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rome to Home and Home to Rome

Today I spoke to the MOPS group at St. Monica's parish in the Milwaukee area. MOPS stands for "Mothers of Pre-Schoolers" and about 17 young women who meet every month gathered for a presentation that was designed to help the group to understand the Church better and to see how Rome connects to their daily lives. The timing was perfect because today is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

The role of a mother is critical for society. Mothers are the first educators of their children. Some of the first words they teach their children include lessons about how to relate to others: "please" and "thank you" and "share with your brothers and sisters." All of these contain a standard of right and wrong. They are part of the first moral training of a child.

We live in what some have called an "age of relativism." "You have your truth and I have mine." The words of Pilate during his interrogation of Jesus are words that are commonly repeated today: "What is truth?" Once having agreed that there is an objective truth with objective values that tell us what is right and what is wrong, we naturally ask, "How do we know the truth? How do we know the truth about God and about ourselves, our human nature? How are we to know the truth about how we are to live?"

Many Christians will say that the Bible is "the pillar and foundation of the truth." That is where we are to go to find the answers. Yet this doesn't help us because there are so many different and conflicting ways of interpreting various Bible passages. And the Bible itself never states that it is "the pillar and foundation of the truth." What does the Bible say about this? St. Paul, in his First Letter to Timothy 3:15 is very clear. He tells Timothy that if he is delayed in visiting, he "should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth." If we want to know the truth, we go to the Church.

Jesus said much the same thing when, at the Last Supper, He told the apostles that He was "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14: 6). Jesus is not dead and gone. He is alive and present in the Church which is His Body. He is the vine and we are the branches (see John 15: 5). He is the Head and we, the baptized, are members of His Body. So Jesus, Truth itself, is in the Church and has sent the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth through the Church. Jesus also said at the Last Supper: "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth" (John 16: 12-13).

Today we celebrate the "Chair of St. Peter," not a piece of furniture but the authority to teach the truth. Jesus gave this authority to Peter, according to Matthew 16: 18-19, when Jesus told Peter: "I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." Then, again at the Last Supper, after Jesus celebrated the New Passover and predicted His betrayal and his disciples started arguing about which of them was the greatest, Jesus taught them that the greatest among them was the servant of all. Then he told Simon Peter that "Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers" (Luke 31-32). Clearly the power that will be at work in Peter won't be a human power, but divine. The power is one of loving service. St. Peter and his successors are to be the servants of the servants of God, teaching the truth with love and ensuring unity among the faithful.

Our family or Church history shows that this power is divine and not human. We've had schisms in which there were three popes at the same time. We've had a time when the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, lived in Avignon, France, and St. Catherine of Siena had to confront the one whom she called "Sweet Christ on earth" and tell him the Lord wanted him to return to Rome. This checkered history notwithstanding, "the netherworld," the forces of darkness and evil, have not prevailed against the Church built upon St. Peter and his successors. If we want to know the truth, we need to stay close to the Chair of St. Peter. We should go to the source for information about Church teaching. Don't trust what is written in the secular media but first go to the Vatican web site and read the Pope's words for yourself. Stay close to the Chair.

Besides providing true teaching, Rome also comes to the home by expanding our horizons. Our age tends to be very individualistic. We think in terms of ourselves, our parish, our diocese, and we are challenged to see that we are part of a worldwide family of God.

When St. Ignatius Loyola and his first followers decided to stay together as a new religious community, they went to the Pope to ask him where they should serve. They went to the one who had the big picture, who could see the needs of the universal Church.

When I give parish missions and visit the grade schools, I ask the children if they ever pray for others. After eliciting some of their prayer concerns, I ask if they ever pray for their pastor or their bishop. I tell them that at every Mass we mention the bishop by name in our prayers and we also mention the Pope. Then I ask them: "If the Pope asked you to pray for something, would you?" The answer is always a resounding "YES" at which point I tell them that every month the Pope has two particular prayer intentions for which he wants us to pray.

This is the work of the Apostleship of Prayer--to publicize these monthly intentions and to help people pray for them. From our beginnings in 1844, this prayer was not only of the mind, but also of our hearts and bodies. By means of the Morning Offering, we take each moment of the day--each thought and activity--and make of it a prayerful offering for the work of the Church and in particular for the Pope's monthly intentions. In that way, every moment of our days becomes part of the great work of evangelization and salvation. This is what St. Therese, whom many know as the Little Flower and who enrolled in the Apostleship when she was twelve, did. With the Morning Offering and prayer for the Pope's monthly intentions, we realize that we are not alone or isolated. We are part of a worldwide prayer community that's been estimated to number at least 50 million people. We pray for the Pope and for one another with each Morning Offering and we try to consciously live that offering during the day and then review it in the evening.

Rome to Home. The Pope teaches us the truth that we then share with our children. Home to Rome. We offer ourselves, our days, and our prayers for the Holy Father who shares with us his concerns through the monthly intentions.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Perfect Servant and Faithful Friend"

Those are the words that Jesus used to describe the Jesuit saint whom my community is celebrating today. St. Claude La Colombiere died on this day in the year 1682 at the age of 41. He was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1992. Jesus called him His "perfect servant and faithful friend" when He told St. Margaret Mary that he was the one He had sent to confirm that the revelations of His Sacred Heart were authentic. The following is from notes that St. Claude wrote during one of his annual retreats.

My God, if only I could travel all over the world and proclaim in every country what you require of your servants and friends! When God revealed his will to this person [St. Margaret Mary], and she had communicated it to me, I told her to put it down in writing. I have no scruples about copying the words into my retreat journal, for it is God's will to use me in this cause. These are the holy woman's words:

"Being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament one day of the octave [of Corpus Christi], I received from God excessive graces of His love. I was moved by the desire of making some return and of giving love for love, and he told me: 'You could not make me a greater return than to do what I have so often asked of you.'

"And showing me His divine heart: 'Behold the heart which has loved men so much that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, to prove its love to them. And as thanks I receive from the greater number only ingratitude, because of the disregard, the irreverence, the sacrilege, and the coldness which they have for Me in this sacrament of love. But what is still more offensive is that these are hearts which are consecrated to Me. That is why I ask that the first Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi be dedicated as a special feast to honor My heart by making a reparation of honor, ... by receiving communion on that day to repair the indignities which it has suffered during the hours it was exposed on the altars. And I promise that My heart will expand to pour out with abundance the graces of its divine love on those who will render it this honor.'

"'But, dear Lord [she answered], to whom are you applying? To a wretched creature, a poor sinner whose very unworthiness would be capable even of preventing the accomplishment of Your plan? You have so many generous souls to carry out your purpose.'

"'Ah, poor innocent that you are [Christ replied], don't you know that I make use of the weakest subject to confound the strong, that it is ordinarily the smallest and the poor in spirit to whom I make my power visible with greater brilliance, so that they will not attribute anything to themselves?'

"'Give me, then,' I said to Him, 'the means of doing what you command.'

"It was then that He told me: 'Turn to my servant N. [Claude La Colombiere] and tell him from Me to do all he can to establish this devotion and to give this pleasure to My divine heart. Tell him not to be discouraged by the difficulties he will meet with, for they will not be lacking. But he must learn that he is all-powerful who completely distrusts himself to place his trust in Me alone.'"

In May, 2003 during my annual retreat I read various things about St. Claude, a true Apostle of the Sacred Heart. I asked for his help because I was anticipating a letter from Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the Superior General of the Jesuits. It was the letter appointing me to be the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer and its arrival was delayed because it got lost in the mail. After the retreat, when I found that there was no letter awaiting me, I called the U.S. Jesuit Conference offices to ask if there had been a change in plans. There wasn't. A new letter was sent and I became the U.S. director on July 31, 2003. I went into this assignment with a desire to be an Apostle of the Sacred Heart the way St. Claude was and I've been consoled by these words of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary.

They echo St. Paul's words in his letters to the Corinthians. "God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God" (1 Cor. 1: 27-29). "But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us" (2 Cor. 4: 7). Jesus predicted difficulties for St. Claude in his life and his work. These difficulties were a sign that he was doing a good work that the devil opposed in every conceivable way. These difficulties led St. Claude to depend on God alone.

I find myself grateful today to be following in St. Claude's footsteps. I can't think of a better assignment in my Jesuit life at this time than to be an Apostle of the Sacred Heart.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Headed South

In a little while I'll be leaving for Convent, Louisiana and a Jesuit retreat house called "Manresa on the Mississippi." I'll be leading about 110 men in a retreat that begins this evening and ends on Sunday afternoon when I'll fly back to Milwaukee. During the course of the weekend I'll be giving 11 half hour talks designed to lead the retreatants through the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius.
The Jesuits came to a former college in 1931 to begin this retreat center. I'll be giving the talks in this conference room. Unlike other Jesuit retreat houses up the Mississippi River--White House in St. Louis and Demontreville near St. Paul--Manresa does not have an optional recreation period when talking is permitted after dinner. From start to finish the retreat is silent. On the cover of their retreat manual is a quote from a man named Louis Yarrut:


The chapel was recently remodeled and here is where we'll be celebrating Mass every day.

Lest anyone become jealous that I am leaving frigid Milwaukee where it was 4 below zero this morning, the weather forecast for the next two days in Convent includes a freeze warning. It's going to dip into the upper 20's at night. I'm sure the retreatants will blame me for bringing the cold, but before they can, I'm going to thank them for their Southern Hospitality--helping me to feel at home with the freezing weather.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Seek the Truth Above All

Last night I spoke at the 545th Monthly All Night Vigil within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The overall theme was "Be Not Afraid" and my talk was entitled "Seek the Truth Above All." Here is pretty much what I said:

One of the first lessons we learn when we are growing up is to tell the truth. It was a tough lesson to learn at times, especially when we did something wrong and wanted to hide that fact. Later, the importance of telling the truth as instilled in us when we watched TV shows set in courtrooms and heard an official ask a witness who is about to testify, "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God." With a hand on the Bible, the witness answered, "I do," and sat down. To not tell the truth after taking such a solemn oath was not simply a lie; it was perjury and was punishable.

Yet the world today seems to have become more and more like Pontius Pilate. Remember the scene of Jesus' trial before Pilate (John 18: 37-38)? After Jesus declared, "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth," Pilate responded, "What is truth?" I hear in those words a contemptuous, cynical response. It's the response the world makes today. It's as though Pilate were saying: "You have your truth and I have mine."

Have you ever heard that. Or maybe you've heard that same line of thinking a bit differently. Perhaps something like this: "That may be true for you, but it's not true for me." I always want to ask someone who says that, "Well, how do you know what you just said is true?" You see, that response begs the question. Whether we recognize it or not, we all have some sense of objective truth.

Let's imagine the dialogue going a bit further:

"Look, all I'm saying is that you can't know anything for sure."

"But you seem pretty sure about that."

"No, no, what I'm saying is that there are no absolutes."

"But isn't that an absolute statement?"

"OK. OK. I'm just saying that it's wrong to impose your morality on me."

"Wait a minute. When you say it's wrong, aren't you imposing your morality on me?"

You see, behind all of these statements is a sense of truth, a measuring stick for objective reality. It's this that the Church proposes to people. Pope Benedict has often said that the Church does not "impose" its teachings but "proposes" them. The Church says: "This is true. This is false. This is right and this is wrong. What is true and right are better for you and for society as a whole."

But isn't the Church being "mean" and "intolerant?" Shouldn't we be open to all opinions? Not when it's a matter of life and death. Let's say we have a bottle of liquid here and on the label is a skull and cross bones, or as we see more often today, a face with the tongue sticking out--"Mr. Yuck." Some say that since we don't know where it came from it's probably OK to drink it. Others say that maybe the label is right, that there's poison inside. We take a vote. Those who don't agree with the label win. The majority says it's OK to drink it. Is this the way we would deal with a life-threatening risk? How much more foolish is it to go with personal or public opinion when it comes to the risks not only to our physical well-being but to our spiritual well-being.

There is right and there is wrong. It is not being intolerant to say so. It's being truthful and loving. It's truthful and loving to warn someone about the poison in the bottle that he or she is about to drink.

Some years ago I read the following words in a college student newspaper: "We will not tolerate intolerance!" Now, I know what they were trying to say: that we should treat one another with dignity and respect. But the fact is there are some things in our world that are intolerable. I would challenge anyone to go to Poland and visit the death camp known as Auschwitz and say that we should have tolerated that which is so clearly intolerable. I was there in the summer of 2006 and I saw the buildings where they have glass cases filled with the possessions of the people who went through the camp: luggage of all kinds, eye glasses, shoes for men and women and children. For me the most chilling exhibit was the glass case that was half-filled with human hair. We and the world look at this and nobody says, "Well, the Nazis had their truth and we have ours. It's just the way they were raised." No, we clearly recognize that what happened there was not right. That it was wrong. It was evil.

The Church speaks the truth to a world that has begun to have problems with the very notion of objective truth. The Church strives to speak the truth with love, for we know that it is not enough to hammer others with the truth. To do so would deny the dignity that we recognize in our fellow human beings. It is loving to warn others of the poison they are about to drink, but our hearts must always be filled with love, with the desire for the ultimate good of the other.

Jesus is the truth. He said so at the Last Supper (John 14: 6). When asked for "the way" to where He was going, Jesus replied "I am the way and the truth and the life." Jesus, being fully divine, is the truth about who God is, that God is Love. All God wanted to communicate to us, He spoke in the Word, Jesus Christ. And, being fully human, Jesus is the truth that tells us who we are, what it means to be human, what's our goal and purpose in life. We are beloved children of God. So much so that when humanity sinned and rejected God's plan, He did not abandon us to ourselves, but sent His Son to save us from ourselves.

Think for a moment of the first sin. God told our ancestral parents a truth and warned them: "Don't eat of this one tree. If you do, you will die." Satan said that God was lying. He told Adam and Eve that they could eat and they would not die. In fact, if they ate, they would become like gods and be able to determine for themselves what was right and what was wrong. The "Father of Lies" told a lie and convinced the first humans to believe it. They wanted the power to determine for themselves what was true and what was false. We know the rest of the story.

God sent His Son to testify to the truth of His love for humanity, a love that was willing to suffer and die in order to free humanity from the lie that God was jealous and really did not have humanity's best interests at heart. Jesus came and lived and died for the truth. In doing so He showed us the way that leads to eternal life. He is the way that leads to eternal happiness.

We gather because we are seeking the truth above all. We are seeking Christ above all. Don't settle for anything less.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Presentation and Offering

A blizzard hit Milwaukee last night and I've been home all day. I have plenty of things to do but the snow invites me to spend a little more time in solitude and quiet. One of my favorite books for prayer is "Divine Intimacy" by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD. There are two versions of this work that many consider a classic. One is the original version in one volume and the other is a more contemporary version in four volumes that follow the current calendar of the liturgical year and include reflections from the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Both versions are great for daily meditations.

As I read today's reflection for the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, I especially enjoyed a prayer from St. Bernard with which the reflection ended. In this prayer we hear how this feast, when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the Temple, is a reminder of all that Mary and Jesus offered to us, and how our natural response should be to make an offering of our lives. Both--the first offering of Jesus for and to us and the offering of ourselves--are very Eucharist, and you can hear the Eucharist overtones in this little prayer. Here it is:

O holy Virgin, you offer your Son, the blessed fruit of your womb to the Lord. For the reconciliation of us all you offer the holy victim that is pleasing to God, and God the Father will at once accept this new offering, this most precious victim, of whom he himself says: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased..."

I too, O Lord, will willingly offer you my sacrifice, since you freely offered yourself, not through any need on your part, but for my salvation. I have only two poor possessions, O Lord: my body and my soul; would I could worthily offer you these two poor pittances in a sacrifice of praise! It would be better, much better for me to offer myself to you than be left to myself. In fact, if I remain alone, my soul is troubled, but in you my spirit is exultant as soon as it offers itself to you in complete dedication. Lord, you do not wish my death; shall I not then freely offer you my life? In very truth, that is ... an offering which please you, a living offering.